While we at Barcelona SAE are slightly partial to Barcelona itself, there is something to be said for the other cities in Spain. So, here are a couple points to keep in mind while traveling around Spain, or the “what to see where” guide.
First off is Madrid, the capital of Spain and the center point geographically. To me, Madrid has always seemed like the slightly livelier version of Washington D.C. It has the landmarks and the museums but still has a great night-light and cultural activities. For museum lovers the Museo del Prado is the historic art museum. This museum houses the pieces of art stretching back over 1,000 years and is a must see for anyone who is interested in history. Within walking distance is the Reina Sofia, or the modern art museum. Here you can check out famous artists such as Picasso. Completing the “golden triangle” of art is the Thyssen- Bornemisza museum, also definitely worth a visit! Retiro is the Central Park of Madrid, this huge spans of park is filled with tennis courts and soccer fields, performers, a central lake (complete with row boating or paddle boating) and my personal favorite, the Crystal Palace. This building is made completely of glass with changing themes every several months. While it can be tricky to find getting lost in Retiro is a relaxing and fun adventure. For students less interested in checking out the museums there are lots of other activities ranging from getting a tour of the Palacio Royal. While less known globally than Buckingham Palace this palace is no less regal. Tours are infrequent so be sure to check the website. The Mercado de San Miguel is another local favorite. While there make sure to visit the entire wing dedicated to chocolate and try the truffles! If you continue along the route from the Palacio Royal to the Mercado de San Miguel you will find yourself in Plaza Mayor. Like all great Spanish plazas this expansive architectural structures traditionally served as the cultural center of Madrid. Check out all the local vendors around the area but is careful of pickpockets in this location! Continuing on this route you will find yourself in Sol. Sol is the center of nightlife in Madrid but also the center of Spain. Challenge yourself to find the star on the ground that pinpoints the geographic center of Spain! Additional sights to see in Madrid include the Casa de Campo (or futbol stadium) and the Plaza de Toros (the home of the legendary bullfights). Madrid is a historic and beautiful city, while traveling around Spain definitely designates a couple days to see some of the most well-known and historic sites in Spain.
In the surrounding area of Madrid are several smaller but great day trips. Cities such as Salamanca, Avila, Segovia and Toledo each have a unique personality and are well worth a visit. Salamanca hosts the most well-known university in Spain, the Universidad de Salamanca. To me it seemed that Salamanca was the Spanish version of a large college town. It is a young city full of life with the typical mix of Spanish history. Visitors need to be sure to find the miniature frog on the cathedral as the Spanish regard this as good luck, and in the age of smart phones and Google be sure not to cheat! Avila is the half way point between Salamanca and Madrid. This is a smaller town but be sure to check out the wall surrounding the city! Segovia is famous for their aqueduct. One of the oldest in Europe this impressively large structure continues to dazzle visitors with the size and manpower needed to create it. Segovia also plays hosts to a medieval castle, which visitors can tour, leading to great views of the city and surrounding landscape. Finally Toledo, this city is only a short train ride from Madrid and is a great city to spend a day getting lost in. Filled with winding roads and small side streets Toledo is large enough to get lost in but small enough that you can always find your way home. Known for their gold and black jewelry as well as their swords both men and women should be prepared for some great shopping in this town.
Cordoba is another must see in Spain. The most well known architectural piece here is the famous Mezquita. This expansive mosque is a perfect example of the mixture of Muslim, Jewish and Christian heritage as the three religions all resided within this city. Cordoba is especially well known for their Jewish heritage and landmarks left over from this time period. In addition visitors must check out he Madinat al-Zahra. This palace city was built in the tenth century and appears to be more of a living community then a palace with its expansive passages and living corridors. The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is a favorite for history lovers as it once hosted both King Fernando and Queen Isabel in 1486, just 6 years prior to Columbus’ famous expedition. Finally art lovers should be sure to check out the Museo de Bellas Artes. Cordoba is a very historic city known for the landscaping and monuments.
Finally Sevilla, one of my personal favorite cities in Spain, this city has a different type of beauty then other cities. Similar to Toledo, it is a great city to wander through and get lost in. The Plaza de Espana at the center hosts a wide variety of visitors, vendors and performances in front of the fountain space. La Giralda tower is a famous cathedral, stretching into the sky and providing great views of the city. The Alcazar, similar to that in Cordoba is the famous castle in Sevilla. Finally the Flamenco dance shows in Sevilla are especially well known through out the country.
While traveling Spain there are many important facts to consider, weighing time vs. money. Spain itself is a small country however it can be difficult to get around. As students you have to be economical however acknowledge that you are only in Spain for a short while. For example the AVE train between Madrid and Barcelona is only about 2 hours and 30 minutes however it costs dramatically more then the 8-hour bus ride. Also trains often run at a different schedule then we are used to in the USA, while we expect the same buses to be running daily in Spain you have to be more careful as buses have a more irregular schedule. In addition many trains and buses are running that are not listed online. The best solution is to go to the train or bus depot in advance to purchase tickets. These are just a couple of the must-sees in Spain but be mindful of the other great locations!