You could spend years visiting all the best Spanish landmarks. We’ve been travelling back and forth to Spain for over 25 years, and we could have listed at least 100 must see Spain landmarks in this article. For now, we’ve compiled a list of 30 of the best landmarks in Spain to whet your appetite.
So where do you start visiting the top landmarks of Spain? The Catalan capital, Barcelona, is a great place to start, with five Barcelona attractions making our final list. The capital of Spain, Madrid, also contributes five famous Spain landmarks to our list.
The other famous landmarks in Spain we have listed are spread all over Spain and its islands. Another five of the best landmarks Spain has are in the Andalucia region in the country’s south. We hope you enjoy this armchair tour of these famous Spanish landmarks, some of which also feature in our top European landmarks article.
- 1 PARK GÜELL – BARCELONA
- 2 CASA MILA – BARCELONA
- 3 ROMAN AQUEDUCT SEGOVIA
- 4 LA SAGRADA FAMILIA – BARCELONA
- 5 THE ALHAMBRA, GRANADA
- 6 SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA CATHEDRAL
- 7 BURGOS CATHEDRAL
- 8 ROYAL PALACE MADRID
- 9 MUSEO GUGGENHEIM BILBAO
- 10 ALCAZAR SEGOVIA
- 11 CORDOBA MEZQUITA
- 12 GIRALDA, SEVILLE
- 13 VALENCIA CITY OF ARTS & SCIENCES
- 14 PLAZA DE ESPANA SEVILLE
- 15 PRADO MUSEUM MADRID
- 16 THE WALLS OF AVILA
- 17 PLAZA DE CIBELES, MADRID
- 18 SANTA BARBARA CASTLE, ALICANTE
- 19 ARC DE TRIOMF– BARCELONA
- 20 PALAU DE LA MUSICA CATALANA – BARCELONA
- 21 EL ESCORIAL
- 22 NUESTRA SEÑORA DEL PILAR BASILICA, ZARAGOZA
- 23 PLAZA MAYOR SALAMANCA
- 24 SALAMANCA CATHEDRALS
- 25 METRÓPOLIS BUILDING, MADRID
- 26 CASAS COLGADAS, CUENCA
- 27 TOLEDO CATHEDRAL
- 28 CADIZ CATHEDRAL
- 29 WINDMILLS OF CONSUEGRA
- 30 TOWER OF HERCULES, LA CORUÑA
PARK GÜELL – BARCELONA
Several of Antoni Gaudi’s works were carried out for the same patron, industrialist Eusebi Güell (pronounced Gway). One of the most popular Gaudi sites in Barcelona, Park Güell was conceived as a housing development, with inspiration from sources as diverse as English garden cities and the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece. Only two of the houses were built, and Gaudi himself bought one of them. Apparently living in what look like gingerbread houses was not terribly popular in the early 20th century. These aside, the Monumental Zone, as it has now been designated, is one of the best places to see Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, with the famous mosaic dragon and the mosaic bench above, which has great views over the city.
CASA MILA – BARCELONA
Also known as La Pedrera (‘the stone quarry’), Casa Mila is a Barcelona must see. This famous Spanish landmark is one of several works by Antoni Gaudi around Barcelona, and after the Sagrada Familia church (see below) is possibly the best-known. It is an apartment building on a corner of Passeig de Gracia, one of the main streets in the Eixample area of Barcelona. It was commissioned by Pere Mila and Roser Segimon – the latter had inherited a fortune from her father’s coffee plantation in Guatemala. It was built between 1906 and 1912, and much derided at the time because of its unusual irregular shape with curved walls. The exterior is now recognised the world over. Don’t miss the extraordinary roof terrace, with its sculptures and chimneys.
ROMAN AQUEDUCT SEGOVIA
The city of Segovia is one of the most fascinating historical places of interest in Spain, with three standout sights – the Alcazar (see below), Cathedral and Roman Aqueduct. It’s justifiably a famous landmark of Spain, and is if anything even more impressive than the stunning Pont du Gard in France, one of the greatest bridges in Europe, which dates from the same period. The main section crosses a main square in the north of the city centre, with two layers of arches reaching 28 metres in height. I once stayed in a hotel there with a view of the Aqueduct from my window, one of the best views from a room I’ve ever had.
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA – BARCELONA
Most Barcelona sightseeing tends to start at the Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Holy Family). It truly is one of the great Europe landmarks, a colossal century-long construction project that is nearing completion (due 2026). It is the brainchild of celebrated Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, who is responsible for the first two entries in this article. Gaudi drew much of his inspiration from nature, and you can see this inside, where the pillars resemble the stems of plants. This is the one building of our times that resembles the great medieval cathedrals, which usually took centuries to build.
THE ALHAMBRA, GRANADA
The Alhambra is a palace and fortress complex on a hillside in the Andalucian city of Granada. Along with the Mezquita in Cordoba, it’s one of the high points of Islamic architecture in Spain and, indeed, Europe. The Alcazaba is the fortified section, and the rest of it is largely palatial, built as the retreat of the region’s Nasrid rulers. The guidebooks all point out the Patio de las Leones, but be sure to spend enough time to take in the stunning calligraphy and tracery in the Court of the Myrtles (Patio de los Arrayanes) and the vaulted ceiling of the Sala de los Abencerrajes Hall. The Generalife gardens are exquisite, especially in spring and early summer. The best view of the Alhambra is from the Mirador de San Nicolas, across the valley in the Albaicin district of Granada.
SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA CATHEDRAL
Santiago de Compostela, in the north-western province of Galicia, is purportedly built over the tomb of St James the Great, one of the Apostles of Jesus Christ. During the Middle Ages it became the destination of one of the main pilgrimages in Europe, as more and more travellers took to the Camino de Santiago. The Camino is probably as famous as the Cathedral where it ends. This is one of the great European cathedrals, mostly built between the 11th and 13th centuries in Romanesque style. Its most recognisable element, however, is the 18th century Baroque façade overlooking the Praza do Obradoiro square. It’s worth the journey to see this, one of the most famous monuments of Spain, alone.
The Cathedral at Burgos, in the far north of the historic province of Castile & Leon, is one of the great monuments of Spain. It’s one of the high points of Spanish Gothic architecture, with some dating from the 13th century and other parts from the 15th and 16th centuries. The outline of Burgos cathedral is distinctive, with soaring twin spires on the west front and a magnificent octagonal lantern tower at the crossing. It’s the burial place of Spanish knight and national hero El Cid, who was born close by. The Cathedral is the only one in Spain to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its own right.
ROYAL PALACE MADRID
The Palacio Real in Madrid is a vast place complex that is the official residence of the Spanish King, Felipe VI – although neither he nor any family member live there. It was built on the site of a 9th century palace – the successor to this was almost completely destroyed by fore in 1734. Much of it is now a museum, with a tremendous art collection. Inside, the highlight is the fine frescoed ceiling above the Grand Staircase by Corrado Giaquinto. The best place to appreciate this Madrid must see palace is from the Campo del Moro gardens to the west.
MUSEO GUGGENHEIM BILBAO
The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao put the city on the tourist map in the late 1990s. The Basque capital was a largely industrial port, and this one building changed everything, quickly becoming one of the top Spain tourist attractions. It’s an amazing structure, its exterior clad in thousands of titanium plates. It resembles waves in the sea, or perhaps the scales on a fish. Bilbao makes an ideal starting point for exploring the Basque Country (Euskara) and the north coast of Spain, and one of the most famous buildings in Spain is a great place to begin.
The Alcazar of Segovia is one of the most famous Spanish places, an unforgettable white castle on top of a sheer triangle of rock, with the beautiful city and Sierra de Guadarrama mountains forming a spectacular backdrop. It’s one of the most beautiful castles in Europe, and an inspiration for the fairytale Disney castles around the world. The slate-grey spires and turret roofs are unmistakable. It dates from the 13th to 16th centuries, primarily by Juan II of Castile and Felipe II. It served both as a fortress and palace, with spectacular Mudejar decoration within.
The Great Mosque, or Mezquita, should be the first thing on any things to do in Cordoba Spain itinerary. Under the rule of the Moors, Cordoba was a flourishing city, one of the most powerful in the world when London and Paris were still in the so-called Dark Ages. The culmination of many great achievements in the arts and sciences is the Great Mosque of Cordoba. The prayer hall is beautiful in its simplicity, with seemingly endless rows of identical red-and-white-striped arches stretching away into the distance. A Roman Catholic cathedral was later built around it. Outside, its bell tower, the Torre del Alminar, rises gracefully above the Juderia, the Jewish district of Cordoba Old Town.
One of the first things to see in Seville is the Giralda, the bell tower of Seville Cathedral. It was originally the minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, but it only served this purpose for around 50 years, before the Christian reconquest of Seville. The Islamic influence is visible, especially the exterior decoration. The upper section was completed in the late 16th century. The Giralda may not quite be the most famous landmark in Spain, but its influence has been greater than most. It has inspired the likes of the Wrigley Tower in Chicago, Terminal Tower in Cleveland, Ohio and, perhaps most surprisingly, some of the Stalinist Socialist Realist towers of Moscow and ‘Uncle Joe’s Cathedral’ in Warsaw, Poland.
VALENCIA CITY OF ARTS & SCIENCES
The City of Arts and Sciences has been one of the top things to see in Valencia since the turn of the millennium, when the first buildings were inaugurated. It was mostly designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava, who was also responsible for the fourth bridge over the Grand Canal in Venice. The building exteriors are all white, contrasting powerfully with the blue summer sky. The buildings include the Hemisferic IMAX cinema, the Science Museum, an Oceanarium and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia.
PLAZA DE ESPANA SEVILLE
The Plaza de España (literally ‘Square of Spain’ or ‘Spain Square’) is one of the top things to see in Seville. It was built in 1928 by Anibal Gonzalez for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929. It’s a mixture of older and contemporary styles, with Renaissance, Baroque, Mudejar all revived along with Art Deco. It’s part of the Parque de Maria Luisa, and is a vast semi-circular plaza with a moat running around it, crossed by bridges. Its most beautiful features are the ceramic tiled alcoves around the edge, each representing a different Spanish province. Avoid in the summer, when it’s way too hot. The best time to visit is in spring or early autumn when it’s wonderfully balmy, and it’s one of the best places to visit in October in Europe. A Seville must see.
PRADO MUSEUM MADRID
The splendid Neoclassical exterior of Museo Nacional del Prado is one of the best-known landmarks in Madrid. It’s also, without putting too fine a point on it, far and away one of the best art galleries in the world. It’s up there with the National Gallery in London, the Louvre in Paris and the Hermitage in St Petersburg as one of the best museums in Europe, with the finest collection of Spanish art anywhere. I spent five hours there on my first visit. It’s an astonishingly rich collection, with highlights (not even skimming the surface here) by Hieronymus Bosch, El Greco, Goya, Velazquez and the Venetian great Tintoretto.
THE WALLS OF AVILA
The city of Avila is one of the great historic sites of Spain. The town is another UNESCO World Heritage Site for its town walls and several outstanding churches, more on which again. The medieval town walls of Avila are astounding. They were built between the late 11th and 14th centuries, and they are a complete intact circuit of the old city, over 2.5 km (1.5 miles) long. You can walk around half the circumference of the walls. There are 88 semi-circular towers in the entire circuit of the town. They’re a mightily impressive sight, and one of the finest monuments in Spain.
PLAZA DE CIBELES, MADRID
The Plaza de Cibeles is a vast square that should be part of any Madrid sightseeing itinerary. It’s next to the lovely Retiro Park, and is where the Paseo del Prado and Calle de Alcala meet. The fountain, the Fuente de Cibeles, and the Palacio de Comunicaciones behind it, are among the most popular Madrid landmarks, and look especially impressive at night. This is where fans of local football (soccer) team Real Madrid go to celebrate victories.
SANTA BARBARA CASTLE, ALICANTE
The Castillo, or Castle, of Santa Barbara towers above the seaside town of Alicante on the Costa Blanca. The Castle site has been occupied since the Bronze Age, and was fortified during the Moorish occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, most likely in the 9th century AD. It’s a formidable site, atop a rocky mountain offering superb views over the modern city and Mediterranean Sea and coastline. It was captured from the Arabs by Alfonso of Castile in 1248. It was again captured by the Aragonese under James II of Aragon, and then rebuilt several times in the late medieval period. It fell into disrepair by the 18th century, eventually being used as a prison. You can now visit this Alicante landmark by taking an elevator (free for over-65s). As with the Fortezza in Rethymno, Crete, much of the site is empty, but worth the visit for the amazing views.
ARC DE TRIOMF– BARCELONA
The Arc de Triomf is a popular Barcelona landmark at the northern end of the Parc de la Ciutadella, which contains several other architectural treasures. It was built in a mixture of stone and red brick as the entrance gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair – the grounds were later turned into the Parc we now see. It’s built in an updated version of the Mudéjar style of architecture. This style evolved after the Muslims were expelled from Spain in 1492, the Christians adopting and adapting elements of Islamic architecture. Some of the best places to see more Mudéjar architecture include Teruel in the Aragon region and Évora in Portugal.
PALAU DE LA MUSICA CATALANA – BARCELONA
The modernista buildings of Antoni Gaudi are among the top things to see in Barcelona, but he wasn’t the only architect of his time working magic in the city. His contemporary Lluis Domenech I Montaner also left a tremendous legacy, and his crowning achievement is the Palau de la Musica Catalana. It’s an outrageously beautiful concert hall, the exterior pillars decorated with florid patterns. Inside, the main concert hall is lit by a beautiful glass skylight. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but doesn’t get the recognition the work of Gaudi does. The Palau is set in a narrow side street in the Casc Antic, and it deserves better. Don’t let it put you off – this is one of the best things to see in Spain.
The Monastery of El Escorial is one of the most popular day trips from Madrid. This austere granite monastery and palace is one of the most famous Spanish buildings, a vast complex built by powerful King Philip II (Felipe II) in the second half of the 16th century. It is also the burial site of many Spanish kings, including Philip himself.
NUESTRA SEÑORA DEL PILAR BASILICA, ZARAGOZA
The Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar is one of the most striking famous landmarks Spain has. From across the River Ebro, the four towers and cluster of domes evokes the skyline of an Eastern city, as the much earlier Basilica of St Anthony in Padua does, and also the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The vast church dates from the 17th to 19th centuries, replacing earlier buildings that were destroyed. The local tradition is that the Virgin Mary appeared to the Apostle, St James, at the site in 40 AD, and instructed him to build a church on the spot. He did so within a year, and it’s believed this was the first church in the world to be dedicated to St Mary. A wooden statue of her in the Basilica remains an object of pilgrimage and veneration.
PLAZA MAYOR SALAMANCA
The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is one of the most beautiful squares in Spain. Many of Salamanca’s buildings are constructed from a local old gold sandstone which lends itself particularly well to carving. Plaza Mayor is one of the most famous places of Spain, a grand, handsome square where you can sit and people-watch at one of the many cafes or sit on the ground and people-watch like the many local students do. The nearby University is well worth a visit, especially for the exquisite, intricately carved main façade in the local late-medieval Plateresque style.
The view of Salamanca from the Tormes River is dominated by the dome and tower of the Catedral Nueva, the new cathedral of Salamanca. It’s only when you get close that it becomes apparent that there are actually two Salamanca Cathedrals. The earlier, partly Romanesque Old Cathedral (Catedral Vieja) is just to the south of its larger neighbour. It was decided to build a new cathedral in the 15th century as the city had outgrown the old one. Fortunately it was left intact, so we now get to see two rather than one. The Old Cathedral is fairly sparse sand humble inside, except for the cycle of paintings behind the high altar and the Last Judgement fresco above it. The New Cathedral is much airier and more spacious, with Gothic arches and a Baroque style dome.
METRÓPOLIS BUILDING, MADRID
The Edificio Metropolis is an instantly recognisable landmark in Madrid. It’s a lavishly ornate Beaux Arts building by Jules and Raymond Février. It was commissioned by the insurance company La Union y El Fenix, and little expense was spared: there are over 30,000 24-carat gold leaves on the dome. It was taken over by the Metropolis insurance company in 1972. It has become such a Madrid icon because of its central location, on the corner of Calle de Alcala and Gran Via. It’s just a few minutes’ walk from there to the Plaza de Cibeles.
CASAS COLGADAS, CUENCA
The Hanging Houses of Cuenca are possibly the least-known landmark in Spain in our feature. This is probably because of their location, which involves a bit of a trek from any of the major cities – it’s roughly 3 hours by train from Madrid, and 4 hours from Valencia. It’s a pity that Cuenca gets overlooked, as it enjoys one of the most spectacular settings of any city in Europe. The Casas Colgadas are built on the edge of a precipice high above the ravine of the river Huecar, and three of them remain. One is a Museum of Abstract Art, showcased brilliantly in an outstanding setting. The old walled town of Cuenca is one of the best hidden gems of Spain, making it worth at least a couple of nights’ stay.
The ancient city of Toledo is one of the best places to visit in Spain, a city built on a hillside full of narrow streets and alleyways, a medieval medina that it takes quite some time to find your way around. The only two buildings that really stand out above the city are the Alcazar and the amazing Gothic Cathedral, one of the most famous buildings of Spain. It’s one of the most beautiful churches in Europe, a staggering achievement that took over four centuries to complete. The interior is astounding, with enough things to see to detain you for half a day. The main altar retable (altarpiece) is one of the last from the Gothic era, dwarfing the altar. There are enough things to see in Toledo to keep you there for five days, though few do so.
The city of Cadiz, on the south-west coast of Andalucia, is one of the great historical sites in Spain. It’s one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe and was also one of the main naval bases and ports in Spain. This brought considerable wealth to the city, but this was a double-edged sword. It came under repeated attack, and much of the Old City was burned by the English in 1596. The Cathedral we now see on the seafront replaced the one destroyed by the English. It’s one of the most popular things to see in Cadiz, an impressive Baroque and Neoclassical church in a superb setting. Most of the Cadiz skyline is only two or three storeys high, and the Cathedral absolutely dominates it. A fascinating place, and one of the best cities in Spain that I’ve visited.
WINDMILLS OF CONSUEGRA
One of the best-known images in Spanish literature is of Miguel de Cervantes’ protagonist Don Quixote tilting at windmills. In the famous novel Don Quixote believes the windmills he sees are giants and a threat to him, so he attacks them with his lance, usually ending up on his backside with his horse. The windmills at which he tilted are most likely those on the hilltop ridge in Consuegra. Along with the medieval Castillo (Castle), they form one of the most iconic sights in Spain, high above the plains of Castilla La Mancha below.
TOWER OF HERCULES, LA CORUÑA
The oldest famous Spanish landmark on our list is the superb ancient Roman Tower of Hercules (Torre de Hercules), on the Galician coast in La Coruña. This awesome 2nd century AD lighthouse may well have been modelled on the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was built as an offering to the Roman god of war, Mars. It has been in use for 1,900 years, and was last renovated in 1791. One of the great historical sites of Spain.