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Did You Know…?

  • Columbus is buried in Seville; Ferdinand and Isabella are in Granada.
  • Africa is eight miles from Spain, across the Strait of Gibraltar.
  • The Basque language is not related to any other language.
  • Spain’s Melilla and Ceutra are the only European territories left on mainland Africa.
  • An estimated 24,000 bulls are killed in Spain’s bullrings each year.

Bienvenidos a` Espana

Spain has a long and colorful history that left distinctive marks on architecture, the arts and everyday traditions — just about all the things that interest a significant number of tourists who travel off the North American continent.

It also is a pretty country with a pleasant climate and a varied terrain allowing for skiing in winter and lots of beach activities. The latter can be year-round in some places.

It’s a comfortable place to visit, too, because the Spanish are welcoming, the food and wine are good and many North Americans speak some Spanish. This sunny Iberian country is popular across all personality types.

Understandably, history and the arts are major draws, but Spanish culture offers more than buildings or paintings produced by dead men. Food is a case in point. With an emphasis on seafood, Spanish menus offer plenty to please the palate, with wine to match. Vacationers acclimate to long lunches (although the siesta is disappearing) and to very late dinners, typically at 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.

Speaking of culture, Spain is all the more interesting for its variety, as indicated by languages. Basque country in the north is home to a people whose language is unlike any other; its largest city is Bilbao, site of the Guggenheim Museum. Galician, similar to Portuguese, is spoken in the northwest; Galicia abuts Portugal’s northern border. Finally, in Catalonia, with Barcelona as its capital, the native tongue is Catalan, another Romance language.  However, Spanish is understood anywhere in the country.

Activities of interest to visitors may include outdoor sports, participation in lively annual festivals, a self-drive tour or language lessons. Bullfights draw the tourists, but the Humane Society International recommends against attending because attendance supports animal cruelty.

Spain is in a sunny, warm part of Europe, but it has seasons. Even in summer, it is not too hot everywhere because much of Spain is a high and dry plateau, and that puts a lid on temperatures. This plateau is broken, in turn, by hills and mountains — the better to provide settings for those outdoor activities that appeal most to active travelers.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Go skiing in the Pyrenees in the northeast or in the Sierra Nevada in the south.
  • Run with the bulls in Pamplona at the July San Fermin Festival, but be aware of the risks. The bulls fatally injured more than a dozen runners in the 20th century.
  • Attend festivals with unusual themes. To wit: the Batalla del Vino in Haro, where on a June day participants battle one another with Rioja wine, and La Tomatina in Bunol, an August event that closes with a huge tomato fight, turning more than 120 tons of the fruit into paste and juice.  But the real eye-popper is the Fiesta of the Near-Death Experience in Las Nieves where survivors of a close call may ride to a cemetery and church in a coffin.
  • Go deep-sea fishing off the Atlantic or Mediterranean coasts.
  • Hike in the soaring Picos de Europa (up to 9,000 feet above sea level), which are in the north of Spain less than 20 miles from the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Enter a bike race. Each year, there are more than 5,000 cycling races at all levels across the country. Check with the Spanish Cycling Federation for information.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Barcelona is a lovely city made most memorable to visitors by the Gaudi style. The biggest of the architect’s projects was the unfinished Sagrada Familia Cathedral, which looks like one grand fantastical sculpture. Visit this cathedral, and get up into the cathedral spires for a view of the church below and parts of the city.
  • Visit ski resorts at off season and you can go canoeing or try your luck with a fishing rod.
  • Attend a soccer game and watch fans who get crazier than American football fans.
  • Go fly-fishing in the Pyrenees. Follow in the footsteps of writer Ernest Hemingway and choose the Irati River mentioned in “The Sun Also Rises.”
  • Go horseback riding in Andalusia in southern Spain.
  • Plan a driving trip that traces the steps of American writer Washington Irving who, in his fascination with Spanish Muslim civilization, visited and traveled between Seville and Granada.  The Spanish tourist board suggests a number of other themed driving tours, as well.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Eat local specialties including paella, gazpacho and lots of seafood — baby eels, crabs, sardines, squid.
  • See the sights in Madrid, then get out of town to nearby Toledo, a dramatically situated walled town and repository for many El Greco paintings, and to El Escorial, one of the world’s largest buildings — A palace, monastery and burial site for many Spanish monarchs.
  • See a performance of flamenco dancing.
  • Play golf on the Costa del Sol, or any number of other coastal areas, with the sea as a backdrop.
  • Overnight in one or more of Spain’s paradores, which are luxury state-run hotels. Some are former castles or monasteries.
  • Go bird-watching in the spring. The Strait of Gibraltar is a key crossing point for raptors, storks and other birds on their migration paths between Africa and Europe.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Tourist Office of Spain at  and, to find travel agents who are Spain Specialists, go to and click on Spain Specialist Travel Agents, or go directly to