Being a Meddeas Language Assistant is not my first time in Spain, not by a long shot. My first time in Spain was a three-week exchange when I was 16, and that exchange has blossomed into a long and happy love affair. I have travelled all over Spain and would consider myself well-versed in all of the best sites Spain has to offer. There are 49 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain, and I am going to tell you my top 10 Spanish UNESCO sites and why they mean so much to me.
Yes, I know how countdowns work, but I usually scroll immediately to the bottom to find out what #1 is, so I’ll save all my fellow skimmers the trouble and start with number one.
1. The Historic City of Toledo
Toledo has my heart completely. This is where my three-week exchange took place when I was 16, and it is breathtaking. The cathedral is my favorite in Europe (and I have travelled Europe extensively, so I know what I’m talking about). There is also a fortress converted into a museum, a Greco Museum, and several different churches and synagogues with their own amazing stories to tell. One of the best things about Toledo, which is loved by both locals and tourists, is the Mirador del Valle which is the spot where you go for the most incredible panoramic view of the city. I highly recommend going at sunset because you can watch the whole city light up as the sun goes down. I get goosebumps just typing about it. Toledo is truly a magical place with a rich history and is, hands down, my favorite place in Spain.
2. The Cathedral and Alcazar in Seville
I don’t know why English speakers insist on calling Sevilla “Seville” but whatever you want to call it, Sevilla takes the number two slot. Sevilla is also known for its incredible cathedral and palace (Alcázar). Sevilla’s palace is unique compared to what you would imagine a European palace being: there is a great deal of Moorish influence. There is magnificent tilework all throughout the palace, but the real highlight is the gorgeous garden, making Sevilla a perfect springtime destination. While the cathedral and Alcázar are the UNESCO sites, my personal favorite place is the famous Plaza de España. Pictures cannot do it justice, it is something you have to see and experience for yourself.
3. Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona
Sliding in at number three we have the works of Antoni Gaudi, located in Barcelona. When I went to Barcelona, I’m shocked that my travel buddy didn’t hit me because of the number of times that I made jokes about Gaudi’s style being too “gaudy” for my taste. I was lying of course. I am a princess at heart and Gaudi is my architectural prince. Everyone wants to go to Barcelona to live their Cheetah Girls music video fantasy, but the Cheetah Girls wouldn’t have been able to “Strut” their stuff without Gaudi creating the backdrop. Parque Güell is a must see and there are several other houses open to the public that you can visit to appreciate the genius Gaudi was.
4. The Alhambra in Granada
Everyone talks about how amazing the Alhambra is, and if you look at places to go in Spain, it is always ranked within the top ten, and I can attest that it 100% lives up to the hype. The attention to detail that existed when the Alhambra was constructed in the 1200s simply does not exist anymore. I’ll take the intricate stone carvings on the walls over floral wallpaper any day. If the structure itself isn’t enough to impress you, there are also gorgeous gardens and fountains to be explored. The only really important catch to visiting the site is that tickets must be bought in advance. They generally sell out two to three months in advance, so if you want to see the Alhambra, you might need to book your ticket to see the site before you book your flight.
5. The Old City of Salamanca
Honestly, 5-10 could be ranked in any order for me I love them all and they deserve to be seen so in no particular order. Salamanca is next. I first experienced this city on a weekend trip as part of study abroad. It has a lot of magnificent cultural aspects that I love, but it also holds many fond memories with an awesome group of people. Anyhow, if you go to Salamanca the two cathedrals and the university are must-sees. I know, I know, another cathedral, but as an American, I’m constantly blown away because many of the cathedrals in Europe took longer to build than the United States of America has existed as a country. Salamanca has two cathedrals, known as the Old Cathedral and the New Cathedral (really took a genius to come up with those names).
The New Cathedral has a carving of what looks like an astronaut by one of the entrances. Speaking of carvings, the University of Salamanca is a relatively prestigious university, but the cool thing about it is that somewhere among the hundreds of carvings surrounding the main door of the building, there is a carving of a frog. Supposedly, if you find the carving of the frog, you will have good luck. I did find the frog and I was called by Meddeas three years later. I’ll let you decide if it was a coincidence or if the power of the frog is real.
6. The Historic Walled Town of Cuenca
People in Cuenca live on the edge… literally. Cuenca is a city that should be viewed from afar before exploring within mostly because many of the buildings are constructed on the edge of a cliff. This unique design choice is what makes Cuenca a great place to visit and a spectacular photo opportunity. The San Pablo bridge will give you the best view and you can also visit several of the “hanging houses” and learn about how they were constructed. Cuenca is not as popular as many of the other destinations on this list, but is definitely worth visiting if you are in the area.
7. The Old Town of Segovia and Its Aqueduct
Segovia is another completely amazing city. The aqueduct was built almost two thousand years ago and was a working aqueduct until the middle of the 19th century. The thing that makes it so remarkable, other than its age, is the fact that no cement or mortar was used to hold the stones together. It is also one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts today, which definitely makes it worth a visit. Segovia is also known for its beautiful palace, but more importantly its suckling pig. Cochinillo is the name of this famous dish and Segovia is the city that made the dish famous. The meat is known to be so tender that it can be cut with a plate. I can guarantee that eating cochinillo in Segovia will be one of the culinary highlights of your trip around Spain.
8. The Historic Center of Córdoba
Córdoba is an excellent city to visit in the spring. The most famous site in Córdoba is the Mosque-Cathedral hybrid. It is the third largest mosque in the world and after t
he city was taken under Catholic control, a cathedral was built on top of the mosque. If the thought of that alone doesn’t entice you, I don’t know what will. Córdoba is also famous for having many different patios that can be explored, each one filled with beautiful flowers. The day I went to Córdoba it was a torrential downpour, so I spent much of my day dumping water out of my shoes and exploring cute indoor markets.
9. The Monastery and site of El Escorial Madrid
El Escorial is an impressive construction located about an hour outside of Madrid that is comprised of a church, monastery, palace, and library. My two
favorite parts of El Escorial are the library and the Royal Pantheon. Of the three libraries in El Escorial, the Royal Library is the largest with over 40,000 volumes. They say the smell of old books is good for the soul and stepping into this stunning library will definitely have that effect. The Pantheon is where the bodies of most of the king and queen regents have been buried from the 17th century to the present. El Escorial is definitely worth a day trip out of Madrid to see.
10. The Old Town of Ávila
Ávila and Salamanca are pretty close together, so after going on a wild carving chase in Salamanca, you can hop over and see the walled town of Ávila. The wall is the main highlight of the city. I know walls are a touchy subject right now, but seeing and walking on the walls of Ávila in person is quite exciting. Visiting vila is like stepping back in time and any history buff should jump at the chance to embrace their medieval side.
That’s my take on the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain. All that I’ve visited have been as outstanding as they’ve been described. Let me know what places you have been to and which ones you would definitely recommend for travellers to visit!