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SPAIN

“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than in most countries,” George Orwell once said. “How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” A country known for its lively festivals, vibrant night life, and a penchant for shared plates (that’s tapas, for those in the know)—one can easily imagine slipping into the friendly, fun-loving embrace of Spain. The Spanish have a knack for extracting as much of life’s pleasures as possible—whether savoring small dishes of fresh, local cuisine, setting a dance floor ablaze with a fiery flamenco, or running through the streets with a stampede of bulls. But they also know when to slow things down, opting to take midday siestas—resting up for another night of dancing, wine, and camaraderie.  

Long before Spain was known as a country of party goers, it was a land of explorers. Christopher Columbus led the charge during the age of exploration and eventual colonization of the Americas which helped Spain grow to become the most powerful European country at the time. Once Spain discovered the “New World,” as the Europeans then called it, the monarchy sent waves of people to South America, led by the infamous Conquistadors. The Conquistadors' search for gold, slaves, lucrative trade routes, and—of course—international fame helped Spain create their enormous empire.

In the more recent past, however, Spain has become more known for its contribution to the arts. Artists like Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali put Spain on the map, and the country sought to cultivate this appreciation for culture with the construction of lauded museums such as the Guggenheim. And art was not limited to paintings or sculptures—architects such as Antoni Gaudi created Modernist masterpieces like the awe-inspiring Sagrada Familia.

Spain exudes natural beauty as well—its landscape varies dramatically from rolling fields of olive trees to craggy mountains and spectacular coastlines along both the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea. No matter where you find yourself, Spain makes sure you are surrounded by beautiful sights, vibrant culture, and new-found friends.  

Most Popular Films

Films featuring Spain from international, independent filmmakers

Solea: The Flamenco of Seville

Get lost in the hypnotic beats of a local Spanish man’s passion-filled flamenco music.

Produced by Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee

Madrid

Join travel expert Rudy Maxa in the extravagant city of Madrid, "the next thing to heaven."

Produced by Small World Productions

Travelogue: Sierra Nevada & Seville, Spain 1930

Get a glimpse of the Sierra Nevada and Seville, Spain in this 16mm footage taken in 1930 by Oscar R. Houston, who was an avid traveler and amateur filmmaker.

Produced by David Conover & Paul Villanova

Metropolis: Barcelona

We’ve been working with independent international filmmakers to provide you with videos that portray the people, culture, and lifestyles of the countries you're interested in visiting. We believe this video offers a unique perspective on Barcelona.

Produced by Silvia Santamaria and Ian Cross

Finding Mimo in San Sebastian, Spain

Learn about San Sebastian’s eclectic cuisine—which you can experience on our pre-trip extension.

This film was first published on BBC.com Travel. Produced by Brad Cohen and Hyde Harper.

Spain Interactive Map

Click on map markers below to view information about top Spain experiences

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*Destinations shown on this map are approximations of exact locations

Featured Reading

Immerse yourself in Spain with this selection of articles, recipes, and more

ARTICLE

Discover what ignited Ernest Hemingway’s passion for the Spanish city of Pamplona.

ARTICLE

Discover the iconic dance that embodies the heart and soul of Spain’s passionate people.

ARTICLE

Get a taste of the origins and variations of this flavorful Spanish dish.

Compare Our Adventures

Click 'Select to Compare' to see a side-by-side comparison of up to adventures below—including
activity level, pricing, traveler excellence rating, trip highlights, and more

14 DAYS FROM $7,195 • $ 514 / DAY
Small Ship Adventure

Iberian Voyage: Lisbon to Barcelona

86% Traveler Excellence Rating
Read Reviews

Days in Spain
10

17 DAYS FROM $4,795 • $ 283 / DAY
Small Group Adventure

Northern Spain & Portugal: Pilgrimage into the Past

77% Traveler Excellence Rating
Read Reviews

Days in Spain
10

16 DAYS FROM $4,095 • $ 256 / DAY
Small Group Adventure

18 DAYS FROM $7,995 • $ 445 / DAY
Small Ship Adventure

Spain's Northern Coast & the Bay of Biscay

86% Traveler Excellence Rating
Read Reviews

Days in Spain
2

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Our Activity Level rating system ranks adventures on a scale of 1 to 5 to help you determine if a trip is right for you. See the descriptions below for more information about the physical requirements associated with each rating.

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Travelers should be able to climb 25 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 1-2 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last at least 1-2 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

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Moderately Easy

Travelers should be able to climb 40 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 2-3 miles over some uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for at least 2-3 hours at a time. Altitude can range from zero to 5,000 feet.

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Moderate

Travelers should be able to climb 60 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 3 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 3 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 5,000 to 7,000 feet.

Activity Level 4:

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Moderately Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 80 stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 4 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 7,000 to 9,000 feet.

Activity Level 5:

1 2 3 4 5

Strenuous

Travelers should be able to climb 100 or more stairs consecutively, plus walk at least 8 miles over some steep slopes and loose or uneven surfaces without difficulty. Walks typically last for 4 or more hours at a time. Altitude can range from 10,000 feet or more.

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A Literary Love Affair

Hemingway and the city of Pamplona

by David Valdes Greenwood, for O.A.T.

“To me a heaven would be a big bull ring with me holding two barrera (ringside) seats …” wrote Ernest Hemingway in a 1925 letter to fellow novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald. Hemingway was about to return to Pamplona, a Spanish city that had become precious to him, and one he often encouraged others to visit—just as a mentor had once inspired him.

Two years earlier, Hemingway had sought out Pamplona on the advice of Gertrude Stein, a literary titan and fellow American. In fact, without Stein, The Sun Also Rises—Hemingway’s debut novel about a group of ex-pats who venture to Pamplona for its annual running of the bulls—might not have been written at all.

The woman behind the journey

Stein and her partner Alice B. Toklas were avid art collectors and traders who sold a Matisse during World War I to fund a trip to Spain. While there, they found the sunny island of Mallorca especially to their liking and later returned for a longer stay. Though Stein called Mallorca a “paradise,” she knew such an idyllic setting wouldn’t appeal to everyone; so when she became close to Hemingway in the post-war years, she steered him to the city of Pamplona instead.

According to Hemingway’s grandson John, “[Stein] knew my grandfather well and probably thought, where else in Europe could a war veteran go and expect to find the same danger and exhilaration that comes from living on the edge, the same camaraderie and apparent contradictions that [he] had seen on the Austrian front in Italy in 1918?”

Following his mentor’s advice, Hemingway headed for Spain and came back a changed man. In fact, the experience was so influential that when Hemingway’s son Jack was born a year later, he was given two middle names—one of which was Nicanor, after Pamplona matador Nicanor Villalta.

Into the ring

Some historians errantly claim that Hemingway was just an observer of the corridas (bullfights) and the annual running of the bulls during Pamplona’s San Fermín festival. But he leapt at the chance to experience these passionate traditions firsthand, as photos from his first two trips make clear.

In 1924, Stein received a postcard featuring a black and white photograph of a bullring filled with multiple sets of matadors and banderilleros (essentially the matador’s back-up squad). Hemingway and several of his friends are shown in the scrum. On the back of the card, Hemingway describes getting around the bull’s horns and finally getting the beast’s head down.

In letters to other friends that same year, he describes being thrown several times, but also successfully passing the cape over the bull in moves known as veronicas and naturales. He may have even run with the bulls, as a photo on display at the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston shows him decked in white at the end of the run, close on the horns of an angry animal.

Apparently, Hemingway didn’t feel like his actual exploits were good enough for storytelling, so he made up a press release claiming he and a friend had been gored, a falsehood that was reprinted on the front pages of newspapers from Chicago to Toronto. Though untrue (he wasn’t hurt at all and the wounded friend had broken ribs but was not gored), it helped establish his reputation early on as an adventurer and rogue.

Despite the gap between fact and fiction, Hemingway did, in actuality, know firsthand what he was talking about when he wrote, “A really brave fighting bull is afraid of nothing on Earth … and, to me, is the finest of all animals to watch in action and repose.”

Hemingway’s haunts

Many of the locations Hemingway frequented during his nine trips to Pamplona—as well as those mentioned in The Sun Also Rises—can still be found in the modern-day city, where they continue to draw curious visitors.

For instance, sprawling more than three acres in the heart of the city is Plaza del Castillo, where covered arcades outline a pedestrian square as popular now as it was then. Hemingway’s characters stayed in a hotel overlooking the expanse, eating and drinking in cafés below. Their favorite coffee shop, Café Iruña, remains fully recognizable after 90 years, with its Art Nouveau black-and-white tile flooring, mirrored walls, ornately adorned pillars, and white globe chandeliers.

Nearby sits Bar Txoko, Hemingway’s tavern of choice on his last visit. Smaller, simpler, and devoid of buzz, it’s now just a spot for a casual bite or a drink in the narrow bar area. It may be harder to feel the period flavor of the Hemingway era, but it’s still easy to slip inside for a cocktail or two—a very Hemingway-esque pursuit.

On the northeast corner of the plaza, the Gran Hotel La Perla was Hemingway’s favorite hotel. His room (the number of which changed from 217 to 201 after renovations) has gained a new bathroom since his visits but otherwise retains its character, with the same pink loveseat, white rotary telephone, twin beds, and writing desk.

And of course, visitors to Pamplona can still retrace the half-mile route of the running of the bulls on foot, starting below Town Hall on Santo Domingo Street and then following Mercaderes. And on the long chute-like stretch of narrow Estafeta Street, it’s easy to imagine the space between man and bull collapsing—understanding how rapidly things could go wrong, and how much adrenaline must be pumping to get a runner safely into the Plaza del Toros at the finish.

The end of an era

A love of Pamplona stayed with Hemingway throughout his life—even as his time in Spain dwindled, with nearly three decades between the first seven visits and the final two. By the end of the 1950s, his grandson John says Hemingway came to a sober realization about Pamplona and life alike: "You don't own it. Nothing is permanent and everything is ephemeral and passing.”

When Hemingway sipped cocktails at Txoko in 1959, he didn’t know for sure it would be his last visit, but he had an inclination that his legend would live on in Pamplona. That bittersweet trip is echoed in his final book, The Dangerous Summer: “The wine was as good as when you were twenty-one, and the food as marvelous as always. There were the same songs and good new ones that cracked and suddenly pounded onto the drums and the pipes. The faces that were young once were old as mine, but everyone remembered how we were."

Hemingway and the city of Pamplona

Flamenco: Heart of Spanish Dance

A national culture displayed through fiery movements & a pulsing beat

by Carley Thornell

The resounding chords of a furiously strumming guitarist keep the precise rhythms of compas, Spanish metre and time signature. An impassioned vocalist claps and walks to the beat. The vibrations from a cajon drum box beat like a collective heartbeat. And a dancer assumes the spotlight.

This woman with dark bun, swirling ruffles, fringed shawl, ruby lips, and nails to match, has come to symbolize the very essence of flamenco. This lined yet beautiful face, this body that is no longer slender but still lithe, belongs to one of the art form’s most recognizable women: Matilde Coral.

This septuagenarian embodies the essence of the duende, or soul of flamenco. Unlike other forms of dance, where dancers turn professional early and youth is often the most valued quality, flamenco dancers don’t peak until they’re in their 30s—or beyond. It’s an art form that embraces wisdom and experience, all channeled into passionate, and at times plaintive, movements. The Spanish Civil War-era poet, dramatist, and theater director Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote of this essence:

The duende, then, is a power … I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat, the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

For Matilde, this spirit was cultivated from the time the soles of her feet learned to walk on the Andalusian terrain. Born in 1935 in Seville—credited as the birthplace of flamenco dance (baile), guitar (toque), and song (cante)—she started dancing in clubs at age 16, borrowing the ID of her 18-year-old cousin to work legally. At age 20, she was hired to work at El Guajiro, the seminal club that pioneered the phasing in of tablao flamenco establishments in lieu of cabarets nationwide. There, amidst the mirrored walls and bullfighting posters, she met her husband, Rafael El Negro.

Though she has found fame in her footwork, Matilde’s experience isn’t uncommon in that her training started in her mother’s small living room; likewise for Rafael, often referred to as a “gypsy dancer.” Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors. In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at Gitano (gypsy) weddings and gatherings in Spain, and etymology of the dance and its eponymous music is, in the eyes of many historians and countrymen, synonymous with this nomadic people.

Those many different forms have evolved, flamenco puro, with hips moving and arms curving around the head and body, is considered to be closest to these Gitano origins. This dance is performed solo, improvised rather than choreographed. Voluminous, commercialized costumes are discouraged, and props like castanets and fans are sometimes frowned upon. There have been no greater proponents of puro than Matilde and the late Rafael, whose Seville School of Andalusian Dance, founded in 1967, promotes these traditions.

Throughout the rest of Europe, where ballet uses academies and encourages precision and grace, its tutu-clad primas never outshine the choreography, each move executed as planned. Romance-language words ballet and baile sound similar, but they are worlds apart, the latter a poor man’s dance, of and for the people.

A national culture displayed through fiery movements & a pulsing beat

The Birthplace of Paella

Where a world-famous dish was born

by Amanda Read, from Insider

The resounding chords of a furiously strumming guitarist keep the precise rhythms of compas, Spanish metre and time signature. An impassioned vocalist claps and walks to the beat. The vibrations from a cajon drum box beat like a collective heartbeat. And a dancer assumes the spotlight.

This woman with dark bun, swirling ruffles, fringed shawl, ruby lips, and nails to match, has come to symbolize the very essence of flamenco. This lined yet beautiful face, this body that is no longer slender but still lithe, belongs to one of the art form’s most recognizable women: Matilde Coral.

This septuagenarian embodies the essence of the duende, or soul of flamenco. Unlike other forms of dance, where dancers turn professional early and youth is often the most valued quality, flamenco dancers don’t peak until they’re in their 30s—or beyond. It’s an art form that embraces wisdom and experience, all channeled into passionate, and at times plaintive, movements. The Spanish Civil War-era poet, dramatist, and theater director Frederico Garcia Lorca wrote of this essence:

“The duende, then, is a power … I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat, the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.”

For Matilde, this spirit was cultivated from the time the soles of her feet learned to walk on the Andalusian terrain. Born in 1935 in Seville—credited as the birthplace of flamenco dance (baile), guitar (toque), and song (cante)—she started dancing in clubs at age 16, borrowing the ID of her 18-year-old cousin to work legally. At age 20, she was hired to work at El Guajiro, the seminal club that pioneered the phasing in of tablao flamenco establishments in lieu of cabarets nationwide. There, amidst the mirrored walls and bullfighting posters, she met her husband, Rafael El Negro.

Though she has found fame in her footwork, Matilde’s experience isn’t uncommon in that her training started in her mother’s small living room; likewise for Rafael, often referred to as a “gypsy dancer.” Traditional flamenco artists rarely received formal training, instead learning by listening and watching relatives, friends, and neighbors. In its most authentic form, flamenco can be seen danced informally at Gitano (gypsy) weddings and gatherings in Spain, and etymology of the dance and its eponymous music is, in the eyes of many historians and countrymen, synonymous with this nomadic people.

Those many different forms have evolved, flamenco puro, with hips moving and arms curving around the head and body, is considered to be closest to these Gitano origins. This dance is performed solo, improvised rather than choreographed. Voluminous, commercialized costumes are discouraged, and props like castanets and fans are sometimes frowned upon. There have been no greater proponents of puro than Matilde and the late Rafael, whose Seville School of Andalusian Dance, founded in 1967, promotes these traditions.

Throughout the rest of Europe, where ballet uses academies and encourages precision and grace, its tutu-clad primas never outshine the choreography, each move executed as planned. Romance-language words ballet and baile sound similar, but they are worlds apart, the latter a poor man’s dance, of and for the people.

Where a world-famous dish was born

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