As far as European countries go, the one with perhaps the liveliest citizenry would arguably be Spain. It is evident in its street festivals, its nightclubs (especially on Ibiza), and in the numerous bars that fill up with enthusiastic patrons after the day’s work is done. Add a mix of Christian and Islamic influence over the past 2,000 years, and you have a destination that will make the culture hound and your average hedonist equally happy.
Languages: Spanish, Catalan, Galician, Basque
What To Do
Start your Spanish adventure by exploring the Royal Palace of Madrid, which is arguably the capital’s biggest cultural attraction. While Spain still has a monarchy, and this residence has the title of being the official home of the King, this hasn’t been true for some time as he and the Royal Family live at a lower key palace just outside city limits of Madrid.
It is still the venue for state functions though, and when they aren’t going on, members of the general public can tour its interior and grounds for 12 Euro. Vast plazas, impressive facades and statues, and lush gardens await on the outside, while the interior’s highlights include one of the world’s best stocked armouries and an expansive Royal Library.
When you make your way down to Barcelona, do not leave town without checking out the ever-expanding Sagrada Família (until 2020 at least), which is one of the gaudiest cathedrals in the world. It was the creation of world famous architect Anton Gaudi (see what I did earlier?), with construction of one of his most ambitious projects beginning in 1882.
With financial support drying up during the wars of the 20th century, progress slowed down considerably, but the modern age has seen a revival in interest, with the final brick being scheduled to be laid in a mere five years from now.
The parts of the church that are complete feature columns, reliefs and statues that are stylistically different from most others, so don’t rush through, as there are a lot of individual touches that are worth discovering.
During the medieval period, much of the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Moors, and during that time, they built many fabulous palaces across Spain. The Alhambra in Granada is one of the best that remain intact today, as it has many courtyards, murals and Islamic design features that make it an essential part of any traveler’s itinerary when exploring this country.
While exploring the cultural aspects of Spain is well worth the time that you put into it, at some point you’ll want to let your hair down and relax on some of the best beach resort areas in all of Europe. Many hold the Costa del Sol in this regard, as the beaches that lie between the glitzy A-list destination of Marbella and Malaga, which is a favorite of those of slightly more modest means.
In addition to the obvious draws of the region, Roman ruins, gross displays of wealth and some of the nation’s best golf courses are also highlights, making an extended stay in this place an interesting time indeed.
Spain is also known for its paradise isles, from the Canary Islands in the subtropics off the coast of Africa to the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean. Ibiza is one of the best known spots in the latter archipelago, as it contains nightclubs that draw party travelers from across the globe every summer.
By day, they bake in the sun, play hard at various water sports and feast on locally made street food treats. By night, they strut their stuff in front of the world’s best DJ’s, many of them make their summer home on the island, as they play big sets once per week during this time.
What To Eat
One of the best known culinary contributions to the world that the Spanish has made, Tapas is a bar snack that will be an ever constant companion during your time out at Spanish pubs. With nibbles ranging from albondigas (meatballs) to elaborate creations like Cojonudo, which are slices of Chorizo sausage with fried quail egg served over a slice of bread.
When it comes time for a full meal, make one of your main courses in Spain one of the many forms of Paella that have been created over the ages. It was said to have been created in the port city of Valencia during Moorish times, and while many versions of this dish feature seafood like shrimp, this popular meal can be had with land lubber friendly meats as well. Try to get your Valencian paella made over a wood fire, as it is traditionally cooked with orange and pine branches, giving it a distinctive taste.
When dessert time rolls around, treat yourself to some Churros, as this sweet deep-fried pastry is a delightful way to end a perfect day in Spain. Covered with cinnamon and sugar after being fried in oil for several minutes, they are also eaten at breakfast by some locals, as they dip them in a cup of rich hot chocolate for a sugar-enhanced start to their day.