18 Sep, 2011 @ 22:00
3 mins read

My Top 10 places to visit in Spain

Recently Paul Whitelock wrote about his top 10 places to visit in Andalucía. Now he selects his Top 10 from the whole of Spain, a country he has been visiting regularly for over 40 years. Here, in alphabetical order, are his Top 10 favourite places in Spain.

LISTS are always controversial, but they’re a good starting point for a discussion.

After more than four decades of visiting every region of Spain bar one – regrettably I’ve yet to get to Galicia – it’s virtually impossible to narrow it down to 10. But here goes anyway. These are all places that have meant something to me and have been significant in my life.

Baeza (Jaén) – We visited this stunning town for the first time earlier this year. The old quarter with its beautiful honey-coloured medieval buildings takes you on a journey back in time.

Barcelona – The first place I ever visited in Spain, back in 1971, as a student. We stayed in a cheap fonda on Las Ramblas and I fell in love twice over – with the city and with a fellow student. The latter love soon fizzled out, but my affection for Barcelona remains.

Córdoba – This is the best of the big three Andalucían cities, as far as I’m concerned. La Mezquita outstrips even the Alhambra in Granada and Sevilla’s cathedral.  I’ve been twice, with my first wife in 2001 and a second time with a girlfriend circa 2006. I enjoyed the company and the city both times.

Cuenca (Cuenca) – The only possible rival to Ronda for sheer location – sheer being the appropriate word! The town is split by two gorges, compared to Ronda’s one, and is nothing short of spectacular. Las Casas Colgadas (Hanging Houses) seem to defy gravity. I spent several happy days there with my first wife and son in 2003.

Guadalupe (Extremadura) – We stayed at the Parador, formerly a medieval hospital, in 2002. High in the mountains, the town has a religious or contemplative air, with the cathedral housing the black Virgen de Guadalupe as the focal point. Breathtaking scenery all around.

Jaca (Huesca) – I spent a romantic fortnight here in 1998 whilst doing a two-week Spanish refresher course at the university. In the foothills of the Pyrenees and near the Ardesa national park, the area offers fabulous scenery and a host of outdoor activities.

Madrid – I’ve been to the Spanish capital twice. Didn’t much like it the first time back in the early 80s, but when I attended a conference there in December 2003 I fell for the place. Small, beautiful, atmospheric, lots to do.  There is a saying in Spanish “De Madrid al cielo”, which means much the same as the English “See Naples and die!” I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it is a lovely capital city, comparing favourably with London, Paris, Prague and Vienna.

Ronda (Málaga) – This would be my number one, if this list wasn’t alphabetical. I first visited Ronda in 2000 with my first wife to celebrate our Silver Wedding Anniversary and we were enamoured of the place we bought an apartment here the following year . Two years later we bought a house to renovate. By 2005 we were divorced, and I had retired, so I could spend more time in the town. During this period I renovated another house in Ronda for a lady friend, organised a wedding in the Palacio de Mondragón for her daughter and got to know lots of Ronda folk, Spanish as well as foreign. I sold my renovated house in May 2008, fell in love with someone new in Ronda in September of that year and moved out full time on New Year’s Eve 2008. I’m now remarried and Frau W and I live happily in the campo just outside the town.

San Sebastián (Guipúzcoa) – This Basque city would be my number two. After arriving in Barcelona back in 1971, we moved on to San Sebastián to study at the University for three months. I loved this elegant seaside resort so much, I stayed a further three months and went back every summer for a good few years afterwards, working as a tourist guide. When I visited again in 1998, 2004 and 2009 I wasn’t in the least bit disappointed.

Toledo – This former capital of Spain is a beautiful walled city which has been largely preserved intact. I’ve visited a couple of times, though never stayed overnight, regrettably.  El Greco lived here, so his art is all over the place. The monuments are well worth seeing and the atmosphere in the city is vibrant yet relaxed.

So, that’s my rather personal top 10. I also considered Cala San Vicente (Mallorca), Girona (Catalunya), Hondarribia (Guipúzcoa),  La Gomera (Canaries) and Oviedo (Asturias), but I had to draw the line somewhere. This is obviously a very personal list and others will have other favourites.

Post a comment so that we can all hear about your favourite places in Spain.

Paul Whitelock

Anglo-Welsh, born 1950. Two children (b. 1983 and 1987). Retired school inspector, and former languages teacher. Living in Serrania de Ronda. Re-married 2010. Freelance writer, translator and interpreter.


  1. It’s a very long list, but I would go for Merida (Extremadura), simply for its stunning Roman remains. Was lucky enough to be there in May to see a huge cast of local schoolchildren perform a play in the Roman theatre. Then walked back though the streets under Trajan’s Arch, passing the forum and Temple of Diana. Quite amazing.
    La Coruna (Galicia) with its naval history, superb harbourside location and unique architecture must be up there, too.

  2. Indeed, Pierre, I would also incude Segovia. Most definitely.
    And Ian, yes, I would include Mérida.

    I have been to all the places, save one, mentioned in Paul’s list.
    Granada would top my list (I came there to study all those years ago, so it holds a special place in my heart).

    Then Madrid, Segovia, Toledo, …it is so hard to choose!


  3. Thanks to Ian, Pierre and Patricia for their comments. I thought I should only choose from places I’d visited and, alas, I’ve not made it to Segovia yet, and I only passed through Mérida briefly a few years ago. After I’ve visited those places, together with Santiago de Compostela, León and Burgos, I’ll probably have to revise my list.

  4. Patricia, Also visit once Ronda and it’s region ( la serrania de Ronda ) , you will love it.

    I am there 4 times a year, since I am married with a Rondeña. :-)

  5. Yes, Pierre, Ronda and the serranía are wonderful. Having lived about half an hour from there for most of my life, I have visited Ronda and outlying villages more times than I can ever remember. A lot of memories.


  6. Hello

    I am going with my mother to Spain in September. we will be ther just for 22 days. I really struggling to organise the trip and to know what places we definitely cant scape. i have been in Madrid. we will arrive to Barcelona. do u think it is a good idea to just take a flight from barcelona to Malaga rent a car and go from there. my plan is to visit.
    Barcelona, malaga, andalucia, granada, cordoba, sevilla, toledo, segovia, avila, and still thinking if Valencia. :( i need your help xxx thank u in advance

  7. Number one, Barcelona. Number two, San Sebastián. Number three, Bilbao. Madrid didn’t do it for me. Going to Valencia and Malaga this year; we’ll see if my list changes. So much to see in Spain.

  8. I would definitely include Sevilla, Santiago de Compostela,Burgos and Zaragoza. I agree that there are so
    many wonderful places to visit in Spain. Oh Spain!

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