Ah, Spain! The perfect all-rounder. Beach holidays, family holidays, romantic couples getaways… you name it. Spain has it all! Oh, we can’t forget to mention city breaks too. Spain has some of the best short breaks in Europe, offering a superb variety. Whether it’s a beach break in Barcelona or a shopping trip in Madrid, we’ve put Spain’s best cities in a head to head to see which reigns supreme as the best city breaks in Spain to visit… alright, we admit it – they’re all among the best!
If you like to mix the hustle and bustle of the city along with deep blue seas, there are two serious contenders in Barcelona and Málaga. Although many travellers leave the city of Málaga for favoured seaside resorts like Torremolinos and Benalmadena, they’re missing out on a real gem. Málaga is not only home to sweeping views but also to a thriving arts scene and tons of culture.
Barcelona and Málaga have sights by the bucket load including Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia and the hilltop Gibralfaro ruins, respectively. Plus, art runs through the veins of both cities too. Barcelona showcases the work of Pablo Picasso in Museu Picasso, whilst Málaga is the home of the famous artist featuring a generous selection of his works in his former house.
Nice! But what about the beach?!
But aside from the great city activities, you’re hoping for a beautiful beach to go with it. Barcelona has a whopping 4.5km worth of beaches to choose from. Barceloneta is perhaps its most well-known due to its close proximity to the city (just a 20-minute walk away) and lined with restaurants. On the other hand, Málaga’s main city beach, La Malagueta, is also just a 20-minute walk away, however it still oozes a city chic vibe. There’re views of high-rise buildings as well as palm trees, very much merging the two worlds together.
The winner: It’s a draw! Both are beautiful in their own right and perfect for a Spanish beach city break. We simply couldn’t choose between them. Why? Well, they both have a great combination of city activities to enjoy and their beaches are definitely one of the highlights. Barcelona is popular for a reason, but we absolutely love Málaga too, so if you’re looking for a less touristy Spanish beach break, it should be top of your list.
Now, if there’s a place which has a series of celebrations every month, it’s going to be Spain. The Spaniards just love to party, and we love to join in! So, when you visit Spain, it’s always worth checking out what’s going on during that month. After all, you wouldn’t want to miss out on the fun.
But for all the festivals that happen in Spain, there’s two cities which stand out. Seville and Valencia. Firstly, there are plenty of festivals or fiestas in both of these cities, but in Seville, it’s Feria de Abril which catches our attention. It takes place two weeks after the popular Semana Santa (Easter Holy week) celebrations and represents the true essence of spring time. The city of Seville becomes a fairground filled with flamenco, sherry and over 1000 casetas (private party tents) to host the crowds. There are also daily bull fights, plenty of tasty food and the drinks are continuously flowing. Feria de Abril lasts for a week, with the festival closing out with vibrant fireworks on a Sunday.
Flamenco or fireworks?
On the other hand, Valencia is perhaps best known for Las Fallas and La Tomatina. You’ve probably no doubt heard of the latter, where truck loads of tomatoes make their way down narrow alleyways, as thousands of festival goers throw tomatoes at each other. La Tomatina is fun, exciting and thrilling (who knew flaunting a red tint would be so amusing?) and it actually takes place in a town called Buñol, 39 kilometres from Valencia. Las Fallas, however, is all about puppets and fireworks, plus it’s Valencia’s biggest festival. The city creates a vast variety of intricate ninots or giant statues, prizes are awarded and then these statues are set to burn in a final ceremony, which ultimately welcomes in the spring time.
The winner: Seville wins the battle of the festivals! Aside from the wide variety of celebrations which take place here, Seville’s Feria de Abril is perhaps one of the best traditional Spanish festivals to experience. The atmosphere is amazing, the food is glorious and the sounds and dance of Flamenco are out of this world.
A lot of eras have been and gone in Spain. A lot of different people have travelled through its cities and left traces of history and culture. Many, if not all of Spain’s cities wear its past throughout, but Córdoba and Granada are just a couple which wear it best. These are two Spanish cities which history buffs will fall in love with pretty easily.
Palaces fit for kings and queens
Both Córdoba and Granada are situated in the southern region of Andalucia. There’s no doubt Andalucia has some of the most intriguing history to tell. So, venture around and admire the stunning architecture and sights which unlock specks of the past. Córdoba and Granada are both filled with breathtaking Moorish palaces which show off mind-blowing architectural details and intricacies. La Mezquita de Córdoba (Mosque of Córdoba) boasts beauty inside and outside its walls. It also bears evidence of Spain’s Muslim influence which remains to be seen. The Roman Bridge of Córdoba stretches out over the Guadalquivir River and is home to many street artists and entertainers. Whilst the stillness and tranquility of Alcázar de Córdoba will have you reminiscing of kings and queens of days gone.
Then, there’s Granada. A city which just oozes charm and grace. The big attraction? It’s got to be the Alhambra. An eye-catching clifftop Moorish palace which attracts the wandering eye of travellers who visit the city. It’s stunning to say the least and a place where you can see for yourself the importance of complex shapes and elaborate designs. The Court of Lions is a picturesque courtyard that’ll have you pulling out your camera, as well as the Palace of Charles V, also located on the complex. Other beauties in Granada include the Royal Chapel which towers over Plaza de Bib Rambla and the Palacio de Generalife.
The winner: Granada. It’s a hard one! But there’s something about Granada which just screams winner to us. It’s probably to do with the sheer elegance and allure of the Alhambra which is unlike any other. Anyone that loves a historical city break, will absolutely love Granada.
Shops, museums and all that city break stuff: Madrid vs. San Sebastián
And then there’s just your typical city break all rounder. Yep, Spain has those too. From Madrid to San Sebastián, it’s even hard to pick from this pair. These two cities are pretty in their own unique ways and yet quite different from each other. Madrid is of course the Spanish capital, so it’s pretty big with a population of around 6.7 million people. San Sebastián on the other hand is a coastal city with just a mere 190,000 people.
Madrid is obviously home to Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, so there’s a lot of sports fans around here. But if you’re not drinking a couple of pints at the sports bar, there’s still tons of exciting things to do in Madrid. There are, of course, luscious parks like Retiro Park which is perfect for relaxing walks. Or you could even hire a paddle boat and enjoy a rendezvous in the lake. Plus, the museums! Prado Museum is one of the best-known museums in the world and you’ll find it right in the heart of Madrid. It’s brimming with national art features and is definitely somewhere to tick off your list. Then, there’s also Reina Sofia for your modern art works. Whilst Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum boasts a collection of historical and contemporary art to complete what is known as the Golden Triangle of Art in Madrid.
We can’t forget the shopping opportunities in Madrid either! Calle Gran Vía is the most famous shopping street, home to high street names like Mango, Primark, H&M and the biggest Zara in Spain. Calle de Serrano is where you’ll find your popular designer names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Whilst El Rastro is where you’ll get your flea markets, selling everything from clothes to electronics.
However, San Sebastian offers a different kind of all rounded Spanish city break. It’s located right on the Bay of Biscay, so you’ll have beautiful beaches to choose from. Playa de la Concha and Playa de Ondarreta being the best-known of the bunch. Plus, the beachfront promenade is perfect for leisurely strolls which are of course accompanied by stunning views of the sea. San Sebastian’s Old Town or Parte Vieja is bustling with high-end shops and pintxo bars which serve local wines and tasty food. When it comes to sights and museums, check out the San Telmo Museum for a look back at Basque history. Also, San Sebastian’s Gothic Cathedral is worth getting the camera out for.
The winner: Madrid. There’s a reason both of these cities got honorable mentions. They’re both well worth a visit! But as there can only be one winner, we’ll give this one to Madrid. The simple fact that there’s just a never-ending list of things to do and see in the city makes it a worthwhile break.
Despite the winners, none of these cities are losers! In fact, these are some of the best Spanish city breaks you can discover. So, if there’s somewhere here that tickles your fancy… don’t hesitate to get yourself out there!