Spain is one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe. After a punishing economic recession that pushed unemployment past 25 percent during the early 2010s and virtually destroyed the country’s once-vibrant real estate sector, Spain is also one of the cheapest vacation destinations in the Eurozone. And as a spacious, biologically diverse country, it’s far more engaging and exotic to experience than many of northern Europe’s smaller principalities.
All this aside, Spanish vacations sometimes revert to well-worn cliches. Sure, there are plenty of fancy old museums in Madrid and endless beaches along the southern coast. But where is the “real” Spain — the pure, unspoiled, and most importantly uncrowded country we’ve all read about in centuries-old novels?
It’s out there, somewhere. Marti Diaz, a Cuban American who loves visiting Spain, suggests these four often-overlooked, rarely crowded Spanish attractions offer a great introduction to romantic otherworldly Spain.
- Granada and the Alhambra
To be clear, the city of Granada is most definitely a tourist attraction. Tucked into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada (not to be confused with the American mountain range of the same name), Granada is possibly Spain’s most beautiful and temperate city. It’s also home to the Alhambra, a stunning palace that was home to the country’s Moorish (North African) overlords for several centuries.
Today, the Alhambra is open to the public, its ornate halls and stunning tapestries delight even the most jaded of visitors. The best part: There’s rarely a wait to get in, and the surrounding park is well worth exploring when there is a bit of a line.
- Jerez (de la Frontera)
According to Young Adventuress, Jerez is a smaller city in southwestern Andalucia, not far from the passage to Gibraltar. On its face, it’s no different from the hundreds of other picturesque old towns that dot southern Spain. But Jerez comes alive during the feria, an annual festival marked by flamenco dancing, flamboyant costumes, parades and lots of wine.
Girona is a very overlooked Spanish attraction near the country’s geographical and political heart. Most savvy travelers know its airport as a secondary hub for Barcelona; many of Europe’s budget carriers fly into Girona instead of Spain’s second city. But Girona itself is surprisingly well-preserved, and it boasts a unique culture that’s part and parcel of its Catalonian surroundings. In many ways, Girona is more authentic than crowded, often impersonal Barcelona. And if you’re a fan of fresh seafood, you won’t be disappointed by the menus here.
- Santiago de Compostela
Santiago de Compostela has been popular with religious pilgrims since, get this, the 13th century. It’s still one of the most popular pilgrimage sites in Christendom, though it doesn’t have the allure of the actual Holy Land. And you don’t have to love ancient history to appreciate the soaring cathedrals here.
Have you ever been to Spain? What’s your favorite overlooked Spanish attraction or landmark?