Our Top 10 UNESCO Sites in Spain

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Martin Andersen

26 May 2017

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Spain is a colourful bouquet of distinct regions, each with their own flavours, fashions and amazing sights. From the rugged peaks of the Basque Country and Catalonia to the sun-baked shores of Andalucía, as well as the urban bustle of the Castilian plateau around Madrid and the island gems in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean, Spain offers a seemingly endless supply of enticing holiday destinations. A nation full of history and culture, it boasts an impressive 45 UNESCO Heritage Sites, generously scattered across the mainland and islands, and although it’s difficult to decide, we’ve chosen our 10 favourites that you have to see if you’re holidaying in Spain.

Alcazar, Seville

This magnificent complex of courtyards, grand rooms and gardens was founded by the Moors in the Middle Ages and added to the UNESCO list in 1987. The name Alcazar loosely translates as “Royal House” and as you wander through the elaborately decorated corridors and the meticulously landscaped gardens, you can’t help but feel a bit regal yourself. Along with the Plaza de España, which is located right next to it, in the heart of Seville, the magnificent palace is a wonderful way to discover the many different brushes of history that have painted the last dozen centuries and made Spain a fascinating destination to explore.


Teide National Park, Tenerife

Did you know that the tallest mountain in Spain is not located on the Iberian mainland, but is found on the island of Tenerife? The 12,198 ft tall Mount Teide and the surrounding national park, rise majestically above the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the island. The island’s original population, the Guanches, thought that the mountain was the gate to hell and thus named it as such. The Spanish derivative of this developed into its modern name of Teide. The park consists of unique landscapes where each shape and colour has been created by volcanos, and regardless of where you find yourself holidaying on the island, the national park is easy to reach and perfect for a few hours of hiking.


Old Town of Segovia and Aqueduct, North of Madrid

Constructed by the Romans in the 1st century, the aqueduct still runs through the centre of the quaint old town of Segovia, situated just north of Madrid. A perfect destination for a day-trip, if you’re holidaying in the Spanish capital, Segovia’s fascinating history is visible throughout its narrow streets and plazas. Apart from the imposing aqueduct, the city also boasts an impressive former royal palace, located on the top of a hill, lots of Romanesque churches as well as a gigantic Gothic Cathedral. If you want to explore the diverse history of Spain, this town is a place where every building has a story to tell.


Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, North of Madrid

A short drive north-west from Madrid will take you to the stunning palace known as the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Concerned by the rise of Protestantism across Northern Europe in the 16th century, King Philip II used the seemingly endless inflow of gold from South America to create a truly awe-inspiring palace in the heart of Spain to stand as a monument to the nation's dedication to and position within the Catholic Church. A Renaissance behemoth of colossal scale, the palace and its surrounding gardens somehow seem to complement the surround hilltops of pine-clad mountains, and you can spend hours just wandering through the numerous majestic rooms, squares and halls, without ever really appearing to discover all of it.


Alhambra, Granada

Founded in the 9th century, the majestic, hilltop fortification of Alhambra towers over the ancient city of Granada in Southern Spain. Initia lly a fortress to cement the power of the Moors on the Iberian Peninsula, the complex grew in size gradually as the various centuries saw different rulers and styles sweep through the region. Today, the Alhambra includes not only walls and battlements to keep out invaders, but it’s also the home of grandiose Renaissance palaces, romantic courtyards and serene paths and corridors. Immediately next to it, the vast gardens of the Generalife, opens up in green splendour and regardless of which part of the Alhambra you find yourself exploring, you’re never far from breathtaking views of the city of Granada and the Andalusian hinterland that sprawls in front of the palace.


The Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana, Majorca

The island of Majorca is geographically divided between the serene beaches and urban south, and the more rugged, mountainous region in the north, known as the Serra de Tramuntana. A more rural and raw landscape than the tourist-friendly regions around the capital of Palma, this part of the island offers its own stunning sights and holiday gems. The local villages and farms have, for over a millennium, work hard to transform the hard mountain range into farmland through ingenious agricultural inventions. Interconnected irrigation systems, water mills and terraces surround the villages and as you travel through this beautiful landscape, you can experience the friendly, local communities that exist here and try some of the delicious food, made from produce grown in the hills and mountains around you. 


The Works of Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona

Barcelona wouldn’t be the cultural and architectural jewel that it is today, without the amazing buildings and structures designed by Antoni Gaudi that adorn the streets and boulevards of the city. Arguably most famous for his still unfinished Sagrada Família, the works of Antoni Gaudi appear as playful and adventurous buildings across the city, and even if you’re not a great fan of modern architecture, you can’t help but being amazed by how the great vision and imagination of one man has shaped the look of the city. From the soft, natural beauty of Park Güell to the colourful and idiosyncratic Casa Batlló and the imposing magnificence of Sagrada Família, Barcelona is very much Gaudi’s live canvas.


Garajonay National Park, Canary Islands

A large, pristine natural spot located in the middle of La Gomera in the Canaries, the Garajonay Park is a green haven, where the lush Laurel forest, or Laurisilva, covers around 70% of the area. This fertile landscape is only interrupted by the tall, jagged peaks, from which the national park takes its name. The separation of the Canary Islands from the African mainland means that places like La Gomera have been left uninterrupted for millions of years. Visitors to this wonderful park will discover plants and trees that exist nowhere else on this planet, giving it a feel of a truly prehistoric place.

Garajonay National Park

Sa Caleta Phoenician Settlement, Ibiza

Discovered and unearthed by archaeologists in the 1980s, the Sa Caleta ruins stand as a testament to a time when the area was a thriving Phoenician settlement. The nearby salt marshes gave the settlers a lucrative commodity to trade with other empires across the Mediterranean, and visitors can stroll through the surviving ruins of what was once a prosperous neighbourhood and learn more about the area and the Phoenician Empire. Located just west of Ibiza Town and surrounded by scenic beaches, this is a place that should definitely be visited when holidaying on this sunny island.  

Sa Caleta

(Source: WikiCommons. Author: Javiwapo)

Tower of Hercules, A Coruña

Built almost 2,000 years ago, the Tower of Hercules is today the oldest Roman lighthouse still in use. Rising majestically over the Atlantic Sea and the Galician city of A Coruña, this monolith has faithfully safeguarded sailors from the rugged cliffs of Northern Spain since its creation. Today, visitors can ascend the lighthouse and learn more about the stories and legends that surround this magnificent structure. Nearby, you’ll also find the statue erected in honour of Breogan, the Gaelic king said to have constructed a large tower as well as founded the city that predates A Coruña. 

Tower of Hercules

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