best places to visit in spain for first timers

Best Places to Visit in Spain for First Timers (The Ultimate Guide)

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Are you planning your first trip to Spain and wondering where to start? I felt the same when I was planning my first trip! Spain is a country that offers a diverse range of experiences, from sandy beaches to bustling cities and historic landmarks. With so many amazing destinations to choose from, it can be overwhelming to plan your first trip to Spain. 

In this article, based on my personal experiences, I guide you through the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers. You’ll discover the main attractions of each city to help you plan your perfect itinerary so that you can experience the country’s unique charm and beauty.

Quick Answer: 12 Best Places to Visit in Spain for First Timers

Here are the best places to visit in Spain for first timers:

  1. Madrid – For Art, Culture, and History 
  2. Barcelona – A Unique City with Modernist Architecture
  3. Granada – the Heart of Andalucia
  4. Seville – Brimming with Andalucian Passion
  5. Cordoba – Dive into Spain’s Moorish Past
  6. Valencia – An Intriguing Mix of Old and New
  7. Cadiz – A Historic Port City
  8. San Sebastian – Foodie Paradise
  9. Bilbao – Home to the Magnificient Guggenheim Museum
  10. Santiago de Compostela – More than a Camino de Santiago Destination
  11. Mallorca – Spain’s Island Paradise
  12. Tenerife – For Nature-Lovers

Read on to learn the highlights of each place and why you should visit them! 

Best Places to Visit in Spain for First Timers

visit madrid for the first time in spain

Madrid – For Art, Culture, and History

Madrid is the heart of Spain, and there’s no better place to immerse yourself in the country’s art, culture, and history. 

Spain’s capital city is renowned for its world-class art museums, such as the Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza. But Madrid is not just about art; it’s a city that never sleeps, with a vibrant nightlife, excellent cuisine, and plenty of shopping opportunities. 

Madrid is also full of history. A free walking tour is one of the best ways to get a quick orientation to Madrid and learn about its colorful past (I like booking my walking tours via Guruwalk!). Make sure to visit Plaza Mayor and the Royal Palace. 

Some travelers opt to skip Madrid in favor of Barcelona… but that would be a mistake! In my opinion, Madrid is definitely one of the best places to visit in Spain because it has so much to offer. For sure, it has a very different vibe from Barcelona (and there’s an endless debate about which city is better!) so if you can, you can’t go wrong by visiting both cities. 

How many days to visit Madrid: 2-3 days (more if you want to visit all 3 museums!)

Madrid Must-Sees: Prado Museum, Reina Sofia Museum, Retiro Park, Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, La Rastro, Food markets like Mercado San Miguel & Mercado San Antón 

casa batlo in barcelona, one of the best places to visit in spain for first timers

Barcelona – A Unique City with Modernist Architecture

Best known for its stunning architecture, delicious food, and vibrant nightlife, Barcelona is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers. 

This popular Spanish destination exudes a cosmopolitan vibe but its unique modernist buildings by the famous Gaudi sets Barcelona apart from other major European cities. Gaudi’s work is splashed all over the city and iconic buildings like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, and Casa Batllo should definitely be on your itinerary. 

Don’t forget to stroll through the Gothic Quarter and explore the famous La Rambla. Barcelona’s historic center has its own charm and the winding cobblestoned streets are a delight to explore. Like in Madrid, I highly recommend doing a free walking tour in Barcelona!

Finally, a visit to Barca wouldn’t be complete without a visit to La Barceloneta, the city’s expansive urban beach where you can soak in the sun and the local atmosphere. 

How many days to visit Barcelona: 3-4 days 

Barcelona Must-Sees: Gothic Quarter, Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Batllo, La Barceloneta, Montjuic, La Rambla

Insider Tip: While there’s a ton to do in the city itself, this is one thing that I personally recommend doing while you’re in Barcelona – go to Montserrat. Set high up in the mountains, you’ll find a beautiful monastery and numerous hiking and walking trails. This is an excellent way to spend some time outdoors! You can do the day trip on your own or opt to join a guided tour for a hassle-free experience. 

alhambra in granada, spain

Granada – the Heart of Andalucia

Located in the Andalucian region of Spain, Granada is a city full of history and charm. If you only have time to visit one city in the south of Spain, I urge you to make Granada your top choice!

The main attraction is the Alhambra, a Moorish palace that is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Spain. Honestly, it’s an absolutely spectacular place and it’ll likely be the highlight of your Spanish trip. Other must-see landmarks include the Generalife Gardens (included in your Alhambra entrance), the Sacromonte neighborhood, and the Albayzin district.

Join a free walking tour of Granada to get a deeper appreciation of Spain’s Moorish, Christian, and Jewish histories. The city is where you can see the intersection of these three cultures and religions and having a local guide share stories and personalities will make this city come alive. 

If you have more time, Granada is also a great base to explore the white villages of the Alpujarra mountains. 

How many days to visit Granada: 2-3 days

Granada Must-Sees: Alhambra, Albayzin district, Sacromonte neighborhood, Flamenco

las setas in seville

Seville – Brimming with Andalucian Passion 

Seville is a city that will steal your heart!

It’s a great place to experience the vibrant spirit of southern Spain. The city is renowned for its stunning Gothic Cathedral and the iconic Alcazar Palace. Other must-see attractions include the Plaza de España, the Santa Cruz Quarter, and Las Setas.

While most of Seville’s tourist attractions are located in the historic center, don’t forget to venture across the river and explore the neighborhood of Triana. Here, you’ll find a more authentic side of the city. It has an artsy, creative vibe and it’s known to have produced numerous flamenco artists, talented potters, and distinguished bull-fighters. 

Be sure to enjoy the food in Seville. Eat your way through the city by discovering tapas bars and restaurants. A tapas crawl is a great way to get to know the local cuisine and the best local spots!

If you have more time in Seville, rent a car and explore the famous pueblos blancos (white villages) in the area. 

How many days to visit Seville: 2-3 days (you can easily spend more time here!)

Seville Must-Sees: Free walking tour, Seville Cathedral, Royal Alcazar of Seville, Plaza de España, the Santa Cruz Quarter, Flamenco show in Triana 

Click here for our ultimate Seville Travel Guide for more on this stunning city!

cordoba, one of the best places to visit in spain for first timers

Cordoba – Dive into Spain’s Moorish Past

Steeped in history and culture, Cordoba was once the capital of Moorish Spain and its fascinating history makes it one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers. 

The main attraction is the Mezquita, a stunning mosque-cathedral that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, Cordoba is home to four (count ‘em, F-O-U-R) UNESCO World Heritage Sites – the other three are its historic quarter, the Medina Azahar, and its Festival of Patios held every May. 

Other must-see landmarks include the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Roman Bridge. Don’t miss the chance to explore the city’s charming Jewish Quarter and indulge in some traditional Cordoban cuisine.

The best part? Cordoba can easily be seen in a day and works well as day trip from Seville or from Malaga

How many days to visit Cordoba: Can be done as a day trip although 2 days are highly recommended

Cordoba Must-Sees: Free walking tour of Cordoba, Guided tour of the Mezquita, Historic quarter, Patios, Medina Azahara guided tour

For more on Cordoba’s main attractions, check out the Top 10 Things to Do in Cordoba!
cadiz is one of the best places to visit in spain for first-timers

Cadiz – A Historic Port City 

Cadiz wasn’t on my radar on my first trip to Spain but when I finally visited, I wish it had been!

Located in the southwestern region of Spain, this coastal city boasts a long history: it’s one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe. You can see vestiges of its past in historic landmarks such as the Roman Theatre and the baroque Cathedral of Cadiz. 

Cadiz has a charming old town with narrow cobbled streets, stunning plazas, and numerous churches. Other highlights include the Torre Tavira (for an aerial view of the city) and the central market (be sure to try some seafood here!).

Another highlight of Cadiz is its beaches. The city boasts some of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in southern Spain, such as La Caleta, Santa Maria del Mar, and Victoria Beach. These beaches are perfect for relaxing, swimming, sunbathing, and taking part in water sports activities.

How many days to visit Cadiz: 2-3 days 

Cadiz Must-Sees: Free walking tour of Cadiz, Old Town, Torre Tavira, Mercado Central Cádiz, and its beaches  

valencia for a first time visit in spain

Valencia – An Intriguing Mix of Old and New 

No other Spanish city offers a mix of ancient and modern like Valencia! 

This coastal city is famous for its futuristic City of Arts and Sciences complex and the stunning Turia Gardens. On the other hand, you can explore Valencia’s rich past in its historic center, which features ancient landmarks such as the Valencia Cathedral and the Mercado Central.

To add to Valencia’s charms, it’s also home to several beaches which lends it a laid-back, relaxing vibe. If trying paella is on your Spain checklist, there’s no better place to do it than Valencia, the birthplace of this iconic Spanish dish. The local drink horchata is also worth trying; it’s especially refreshing on warm summer days! 

How many days to visit Valencia: 2-3 days 

Valencia Must-Sees: Free Valencia walking tour, Valencia Cathedral, Mercado Central, City of Arts and Sciences, and the city’s beaches 

beach in san sebastian, spain

San Sebastian – Foodie Paradise 

The north of Spain is a bit more low-key but it’s full of places that are worth visiting even for first-timers to Spain. Located in the Basque Country, San Sebastian is a foodie paradise with world-class restaurants and beautiful beaches. 

San Sebastian is well-known for its gastronomy and it boasts some of the best restaurants in the world, including several Michelin-starred establishments. But there’s something for everyone here. Be sure to sample local delicacies such as pintxos (Basque-style tapas), fresh seafood, and Basque cider, as well as the city’s famous cheesecake.

One of the main draws of San Sebastian is its beautiful beaches, including La Concha, Zurriola, and Ondarreta. These beaches are known for their pristine waters, golden sand, and stunning views, and are perfect for sunbathing, swimming, and surfing.

San Sebastian is also known for its cultural scene. The city is home to several museums, including the San Telmo Museum and the Aquarium, which offer insights into Basque history, art, and marine life. You’ll want to explore Parte Vieja, the old town, which is full of narrow streets, charming squares, and historic buildings.

This is a great base for exploring the Basque Country region, which is known for its rugged coastline, charming towns, and unique culture. 

How many days to visit San Sebastian: 2 days (more if you’d like to use it as a base for day trips)

San Sebastian Must-Sees: Old Town, Pinxtos and wine food tour, beaches like La Concha and Zurriola, San Telmo Museum, La Catedral del Buen Pastor, Palacio de Miramar

bilbao, spain

Bilbao – Home to the Magnificent Guggenheim Museum

Also located in the Basque Country, Bilbao is a city that’s full of contrasts. The stunning Guggenheim Museum and the traditional Casco Viejo neighborhood make it a fascinating destination and a city that’s worth visiting for first-timers to Spain. 

Art lovers will already know Bilbao as it’s home to the Guggenheim Museum. This iconic building designed by Frank Gehry houses a collection of contemporary art featuring works by artists such as Jeff Koons, Richard Serra, and Andy Warhol.

Another highlight of Bilbao is the old town, or Casco Viejo, which is full of narrow streets, historic buildings, and charming squares. This is where you can discover the city’s cultural heritage, sample local cuisine, and shop for souvenirs.

Bilbao is also known for its excellent cuisine, which is a blend of Basque and Spanish flavors. Don’t miss pintxos, the Basque-style tapas, or sample traditional dishes such as bacalao al pil-pil (cod in garlic sauce) and chuletón (a large steak).

How many days to visit Bilbao: Can be done as a day trip from San Sebastian or stay 1-2 days 

Bilbao Must-Sees: Free Bilbao walking tour, Guggenheim Museum guided tour, Casco Viejo

best place to visit in spain - santiago de compostela

Santiago de Compostela – More than a Camino de Santiago Destination

Santiago de Compostela is most known as the end point of the Camino de Santiago but even if you’re not doing the camino, it’s still one of the best places to visit in Spain for first-timers. 

This historic city is located in the northwestern region of Spain and it boasts a rich cultural heritage, stunning architecture, and beautiful surroundings.

The most famous attraction is the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which is said to be the final resting place of Saint James. The cathedral’s stunning façade, towers, and intricate interior make it a must-visit site for all visitors. Pilgrims who have completed the Camino de Santiago walk to the cathedral’s altar to pay homage to the saint.

The city’s historic old town, or Casco Antiguo, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is full of charming narrow streets, historic buildings, and beautiful plazas. Landmarks worth visiting include the Monastery of San Martin Pinario, the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, and the Palace of Raxoi.

Santiago de Compostela is surrounded by beautiful countryside, including the stunning Galician coastline and the rugged mountains of the Picos de Europa. Visitors can take day trips to nearby attractions, such as the beautiful beach town of La Coruña or the stunning Cíes Islands.

Foodies, don’t miss Galician food! The local specialty is Galician-style octopus and they’re on the menu in many restaurants in the city. 

How many days to visit Santiago de Compostela: 2 days

Santiago de Compostela Must-Sees: Free walking tour, Museum & Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Casco Antiguo, Monastery of San Martin Pinario, the Hostal de los Reyes Catolicos, the Palace of Raxoi

mallorca, spain

Mallorca – Spain’s Island Paradise 

For a different side of Spain, head to the Spanish islands to unwind, relax, and enjoy nature in an island paradise. One of the best Spanish islands for a first-time visit is Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands

Located in the Mediterranean Sea, Mallorca has some of the most beautiful beaches in Spain, which range from small coves to long stretches of golden sand. Some of the most popular beaches include Cala d’Or, Cala Millor, and Playa de Muro, which offer crystal-clear waters, stunning views, and a range of activities such as swimming, snorkeling, and sunbathing.

Mallorca is also home to the stunning Tramuntana mountain range, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can enjoy the outdoors by hiking, cycling, or driving, and enjoy breathtaking views of the coastline and countryside. The charming towns of Valldemossa and Deià are located in the Tramuntana mountains and are worth a visit for their beautiful architecture, history, and culture.

The capital city of Mallorca, Palma, is another highlight of the island. The city boasts a stunning Gothic cathedral, La Seu, which overlooks the sea and is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. Palma is also known for its beautiful old town, or Casco Antiguo, which is full of narrow streets, historic buildings, and charming plazas.

How many days to visit Mallorca: 3-4 days

Mallorca Must-Sees: Free walking tour of Palma de Mallorca, La Seu Cathedral, stunning beaches, Tramuntana mountains, Caves of Ham, Catamaran cruise

best places to visit in spain for first timers - tenerife, canary islands

Tenerife – For Nature-Lovers 

The largest of the Canary Islands, Tenerife, is one of my favorite places in Spain and it offers a unique experience that you can’t get in other parts of the country. If you love nature and warm weather all-year-round, then you’ll want to put Tenerife on your Spain itinerary.

This island is home to numerous beautiful beaches, which range from white-sand stretches to black-sand volcanic beaches. Some of the most popular beaches are in the south of the island and include Playa de las Américas, Playa del Duque, and Playa de las Teresitas, which offer crystal-clear waters, stunning views, and a range of activities such as swimming, surfing, and sunbathing.

Tenerife is also home to the stunning Mount Teide, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the highest peak in Spain. You can take a cable car to the summit for breathtaking views of the island, or hike through the volcanic landscape for a unique outdoor adventure.

Overall, Tenerife is a great destination for outdoor activities such as hiking, cycling, and water sports. Explore the island’s many natural wonders, including the Anaga Rural Park and the Masca Ravine, or take a whale-watching tour to spot some of the island’s impressive marine life.

Aside from its natural wonders, don’t forget to check out the island’s historic towns, such as La Orotava, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, and Puerto de la Cruz.

How many days to visit Tenerife: 4-5 days

Tenerife Must-Sees: Free walking tour of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, El Teide, La Oratava, Anaga Rural Park, beautiful beaches in the south of Tenerife

planning first time to spain

First Time in Spain: Frequently Asked Questions

Still have questions about visiting Spain for the first time? Here are some commonly asked questions and their answers. 

First time in Spain: Madrid or Barcelona?

This is a controversial question! The answer really depends on who you ask but since you’re asking me, I’ll say that I personally prefer Madrid. That’s likely because I’ve spent more time in Madrid (about 2 months in total, over various visits) and I know it more intimately. 

While Madrid does attract a lot of travelers, I find it less touristy than Barcelona and it has a more lived-in vibe. I’m also fond of its art museums and the Retiro!

On the other hand, Barcelona and its Gaudi monuments are truly some of the most unique buildings I’ve ever seen and the city has a lively and charming vibe. 

If your itinerary allows, I would definitely recommend visiting both places and deciding for yourself! 

Is it easy to get around Spain?

Yes, it’s very easy to get around Spain. 

If you have a rental car, there are highways connecting the major cities. The roads are well-maintained and easy to navigate. Parking can be challenging, especially in the big cities, so be prepared to pay to use a parking lot if you want convenience. 

No car? No problem! Spain has an amazing rail network run by Renfe and you can travel by train to different areas in mainland Spain very easily. There are also nationwide bus services. Taking a bus is often cheaper than a train and, depending on your destination, it can sometimes be the better option as well. 

To get to the Spanish islands, you can find low-cost flights from other Spanish airports. You can also travel by ferry although it’ll often be more expensive and take a much longer time. 

Car Rental Recommendation

If you’re looking for the best prices for car rental during your stay in Spain, check out Discover Cars. Just plug in your location and dates and you’ll get the best deals available. Super convenient and easy! 

I’m a female solo traveler. Is it safe to travel to Spain alone?

Yes, Spain is a safe country to visit for female solo travelers. In fact, I did my first trip to Spain solo and didn’t encounter any problems. As usual, I’d advise you to take care of your belongings and exercise some caution when going through busy touristy areas during the day or quiet areas at night. 

What is the best time to visit Spain?

The various regions of Spain have different weather and different things to offer travelers so it’s hard to pinpoint just one specific best time to visit the country. 

In my opinion, the best time to visit Spain is April or May. That’s when the temperature starts warming up so you can enjoy pleasant weather and longer daylight hours. It’s also less crowded than the summer months so you can avoid the crowds and still have an awesome trip!

What are the best places in Spain to visit when traveling on a budget?

The good news is that compared to the rest of Western Europe, Spain remains one of the more affordable travel destinations. 

The major Spanish cities will generally be more expensive but you can easily find budget hotels and hostels to save money on accommodations. Choose buses over trains to cut costs. There are free activities you can do and some museums and attractions offer free entry at specific days/times, so it’s worth it to do a little research if you’re on a budget! 

I hope this post on the best places to visit in Spain for first timers has given you the inspiration and information to create your dream trip! Buen viaje!

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