16 Unique places to visit in Spain!
Planning a trip to Spain and want to explore some truly stunning hidden gems in Spain?
Whilst the vast majority of travellers prefer to stick to the more mainstream Spanish destinations such as Barcelona, Seville or Madrid, others, like myself, would much rather explore the length and breadth of the country, the non touristy places in Spain!
As such, I’ve asked a couple of my fellow travel blogger friends what their favourite ‘off the beaten path Spain’ destinations and recommendations would be.
Below is a list of 16 truly unique places to visit in Spain that will no doubt help inspire planning for your next trip!
- 16 Unique places to visit in Spain!
- Arcos de la Frontera, Andalucia
- Cardona, Catalonia
- El Rocío, Andalucía
- Garrotxa, Catalonia
- Italica, Andalucia
- La Alberca & Sierra Francia Mountains, Salamanca
- Llafranc, Catalonia
- Plasencia, Extremadura
- Pontevedra, Galicia
- Santo Domingo de Silos, Castile and León
- Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalucia
- Soller, Mallorca
- Terrassa, Catalonia
- La Valle de Gallinera, Alicante
- Zumaia, Basque Country
- Bonus hidden gems Spain: Camino Primitivo
- Related Posts:
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Arcos de la Frontera, Andalucia
By Chrysoula from Travel Passionate
For those wanting to get off-the-beaten-track in Spain, look no further than the Pueblos Blancos in Andalucia, a collection of stunning white villages surrounded by mountains and valleys.
One of the highlights of this region is Arcos de la Frontera, a Moorish town built on a cliff overlooking the Guadalete River. This town was built as a frontier stronghold during the time of warring Muslims and Christians in Spain. As you would expect, the town features a combination of Christian and Muslim architecture including the remains of a medieval Moorish castle, various churches, convents and chapels and the ruins of the ancient city walls.
Visitors to Arcos de la Frontera can spend time wandering the winding streets of the village, taking in peaceful squares, cafés and shops, as well as the stunning Iglesias and the Town Hall in the heart of Arcos de la Frontera. While there aren’t many bars, restaurants and museums, the picturesque architecture is the highlight here so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to soak up the views and take lots of photos!
After exploring the streets and cultural attractions, guests may want to venture down to the Guadalete River to the spot where you can enjoy a breath-taking view of Arcos de la Frontera from below. It is this vista, of the white-washed houses teetering atop the cliffside, that makes this village location so special.
From here you can continue your journey through the region to explore some of the other Pueblos Blancos.
By Mar from Once in a Lifetime Journey
Cardona is a beautiful small medieval village about 1.5h drive from Barcelona which was a very important county and area during the 9th to the 11th century. Founded by Wilfred the Hairy in a strategic enclave it remained an important spot for centuries and was never breached. Cardona is also known as one of the last remaining bastions of Catalan freedom during the Civil War.
The small village and its castle became so powerful in medieval times that its count-duke was known as the King without a Crown. This wealth and importance were both due to its location at the edge of the Caliphate as well as because of its incredible salt mines.
The walled city sits under a fortified castle that crowns a small hill and that has been well preserved. The castle is the stuff of fairy tales and today hosts a 4-star hotel managed by the Government-owned Paradores hotel chain. Parts of the castle and its large church can be visited through daily guided tours and the rest hosts the guest rooms.
Besides the important and beautiful castle, Cardona is famous because of its salt mountain, located adjacent to the village and castle.
This natural phenomenon that is unique in the world was created thousands of years ago when this part of Catalonia was covered in seawater. When the tectonic plates moved to create the Pyrenees mountains, the dried salt was pushed up and created something that is not only fascinating to see but also the source of wealth to the Count of Cardona who was nicknamed the Lord of the Salt.
The mountain measures 86m but its height changes daily with the rain and erosion. Interestingly, it continues to grow with every raindrop. Salt deposits go as far down as 2km below the ground and have been mined since the 10th century.
The Salt Mountain of Cardona can be visited today exclusively through daily guided tours (only Catalan and Spanish) that go down 120m below the surface. Until 1990, Cardona’s salt mountain was still mined for its potassium chloride (not as conventional kitchen salt) but the mines were abandoned when it became too costly.
El Rocío, Andalucía
By Dearbhaile from This Wild Life of Mine
Thirty minutes from Seville, on the border of Doñana National Park, lies a small town that feels born right out of the ground itself. The streets are sand-covered, horses stand quietly tied to wooden posts outside stone houses and carts are more common than cars. It’s like stepping back in time.
El Rocío hugs the shores of a small, shallow lake, so it’s a paradise for bird watchers. It’s also one of the gateway towns to the national park, with several tour offices ready and waiting to take you into the UNESCO World Heritage Site to discover its unique landscapes.
Though I didn’t get the chance to visit the park that day, I did discover a beautiful herd of semi-wild horses grazing by the lake on the opposite side to the town. With the whitewashed houses lined up by the lakeshore, dominated by the oversized church in the centre, it made for a beautiful scene.
The church itself, huge despite the small size of the town, is filled with golden decorations on the inside, a breathtaking contrast to the bright white walls. Like most of the churches in Spain, Nuestra Señora del Rocío is the centrepiece of the town and plays an important role in the daily lives of its people.
Though El Rocío is small, each year in May it becomes overwhelmed by a million visitors taking part in an annual pilgrimage. But outside this one day, it is a peaceful little place, perfect for escaping the hustle and bustle of Seville for a while.
By Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
The volcanic region of Garrotxa, in Catalonia, is one of the most incredible and unique places to visit in Spain. It’s the kind of place where you can expect to have an all-encompassing experience, where you will be able to hike an extinguished volcano or even the Pyrenees during the day and have a fine dinner with the most delicious food in the evening.
Among the highlights of Garrotxa, there is La Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park, a place perfect for walking and hiking and where you will find lovely small Romanesque churches in the middle of nowhere – the most unique one is Santa Margarida de Sacot, which was built at the centre of a volcano crater.
You will find many quaint villages and small towns in Garrotxa. Olot is the biggest city in the region. It’s famous for having being built on top of two extinguished volcanoes and for the many art nouveau buildings scattered around its historical centre.
Santa Pau is a lovely village with a medieval feel – make sure to walk around the historical centre and to admire the castle from a distance. Yet, the prettiest place to visit remains Besalu, famous for its Pont Vell (Old Bridge) which was built in the 12th century in Romanesque style to connect the two sides of the river, and for its Jewish quarter.
By Paulina from Paulina on the Road
One of my favourite off-beat places to visit in Spain is Italica. You might never have heard of this place…and this besides the fact that it is located at only a stone’s throw from Seville, the capital of Andalucia. It’s a must of any Seville itinerary, especially if you are into history.
However, the historical background of this place is jaw-dropping. Italica was the birthplace of three Roman emperors – Trajan, Hadrian, and possibly Theodosius. Nowadays you can see 25,000-seater amphitheatre, which was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. But also, the remains of the Traianeum, temple of Emperor Trajan, the Roman baths and the sophisticated sewer system normally seen in larger cities.
Besides this, you can have a look into the five large houses of prosperous families with well-preserved, colourful mosaics.
This site is so spectacular, that even in 2016, Italica was the film set for Game of Thrones Season 7.
La Alberca & Sierra Francia Mountains, Salamanca
By Matt from The Travel Blogs
The Sierra de Francia is a small, mountainous park in western Spain, about an hour and a half south of Salamanca. The most famous place to visit in the park is the mountaintop monastery, La Peña de Francia, but there is a lot more in the local area with many picturesque towns and villages that demand a visit.
The most popular of them is the largest in the region, La Alberca, that looks like it is right out of an Alpine tale. The town’s heartbeat is the historical Plaza Mayor where locals and tourists sit out in front of their favourite coffee shops to gossip about the latest local scandal. Narrow streets lead away from the square lined with timber-framed buildings that burst with colour from the floral displays the locals are so proud of. This beauty was recognised back in the 1940s when it became the first town in Spain to be given the legal status of a Historic-Artistic Monument for its architecture.
Another favourite of mine is the smaller village of Mogarratz. Aside from the fact it is on the local wine route, most visitors come here to see the giant canvas paintings hang from the houses. The images, painted by local artist Florencio Maillo, are based on a series of 388 photos that were taken for identity cards in the 1960s that now hang like ghosts above the homes they once lived in.
By Oksana & Max from Drink Tea & Travel
Located about 80 kilometres from Barcelona, Llafranc is a delightful seaside town with crystal clear waters, charming houses that line the beach, and an atmosphere that is something special. It is a destination that is not known to the masses but there are few local tourists that usually descend on the town and beach to make it feel simultaneously fun and relaxing.
There are lots of restaurants and cafes which serve fresh seafood on outdoor terraces, local markets to explore, and little bed and breakfasts to stay in. You can stroll the promenade, visit the beach, the nearby archaeological ruins, or botanical gardens. The San Sebastià Lighthouse is a 15th-century watchtower with great views of the sea.
20th-century artists like Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali used to frequent this area and it’s easy to see why. The pop of colour and style of the town is arresting.
This town became a firm favourite of ours on our trip up the Costa Brava coast. We came for the beach but were impressed by the town. It’s a great place for families, friends or couples looking for a peaceful Spanish beach holiday in a more relaxed location.
When it comes to hidden gems in Spain, it doesn’t get much better than Llafranc.
Contributed by Wendy Werneth of The Nomadic Vegan
Plasencia, Spain is well and truly off the beaten track Spain, and you’re very unlikely to come across any other foreign tourists here. Located in Extremadura, a remote and largely overlooked region in the far west of Spain, Plasencia’s quiet, sleepy appearance belies its illustrious history. It sits along the Ruta de la Plata (the “Silver Route”), an important trading and pilgrimage route in centuries past.
Many of the conquistadores who “discovered” and colonized what we now call Latin America came from this area, and they used the wealth they plundered from the New World to build opulent palaces for themselves and their families. Some of these palaces are still standing in Plasencia today, along with an impressive set of city walls. Visit the Interpretation Center of the Medieval City, located inside one of the towers of the city walls, to learn more about these fortifications and enjoy the views from the walls themselves.
The Cathedral of Plasencia is also a must-see highlight and is actually two cathedrals in one. The older cathedral is built in the Romanesque style, while the newer addition is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance.
And finally, like in most Spanish towns, the Plaza Mayor is the centre of the action and a popular hangout for locals. At City Hall to see the unique symbol of the city. A life-size figure, known as “abuelo Mayorga”, clings to the top of the bell tower.
By Inma from A World to Travel
If you are looking for something away from the idea that most people have of Spain, my homeland, and that usually has lots to do with the three ‘s’: siesta, sun and sangria with a bit of ‘party’ and ‘flamenco’ in the mix; then today I want to propose that you set your sights on the Northwest part of the country. More precisely, in the Galician region of Rías Baixas.
Starting with the city of Pontevedra as a base, from there you can explore everything the area has to offer. Namely, the Illas Atlánticas national maritime park, an enviable coastline full of stunning – and mostly uncrowded! – beaches, acquainted fishing villages, and some other gems you can uncover in my article on the best things to do in Pontevedra.
I promise you that neither the natural beauty of the place nor its acclaimed gastronomy, or its people for that matter – will leave you indifferent.
Now pay attention, should you be one of those who prefer to visit destinations in good weather, the best time to explore Pontevedra is from May to September. Just remember to pack an umbrella, Galicia is beautiful because it rains a lot and its dense forests are proof of this, among many other things.
You’re going to love it!
Santo Domingo de Silos, Castile and León
By Christina from City Sea Country
Santo Domingo de Silos is a very small, tranquil place and not yet well known. Less than 300 residents live here. Nevertheless, the village would easily make it onto the list of the most beautiful places in the northern part of Spain.
The reason is the historically significant abbey, especially the Romanesque cloister.
Monastery life in Santo Domingo de Silos began as early as the 7th century. In 1041 St. Domingo came to Silos and was the abbot of the monastery, which was named after him. He also had the cloister built, which was completed by his successors in the 12th century. The remaining buildings of the Romanesque monastery were also built during this time. The cloister is designed as a square and consists of a lower and an upper part.
After the tour in the abbey, a walk through the village is recommended. Through the gate of San Juan, there is a path nearby that leads up to a small church (Eremita de la Virgen del Camino). From there, the view over Santo Domingo de Silos is particularly beautiful. The visit is rounded off with a cold red wine in the quiet village on the main square.
While staying in Santo Domingo de Silos be sure to visit the Desfiladero de la Yecla. The La Yecla Park with its gorge is only a few kilometres away from Santo Domingo de Silos. In addition to the gorge, the wild vultures that circle right above, are the highlight.
The gorge in La Yecla Park winds along a small stream. With only 300 m, the path is not particularly long, but definitely worth hiking through it. In some places, it is so narrow that you have to squirm through it. Griffon vultures appear over and over again and make walking through the gorge a unique experience.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalucia
By Joanna from The World in my Pocket
Setenil de las Bodegas is a unique and charming white village in Andalucia. What makes Setenil de las Bodegas so special is that the entire village has been sculpted into the rocks, in the narrow canyon carved by the river Trejo.
Usually, in Andalucia, the Moors have always built their settlements on top of hills. However, Setenil de las Bodegas grew from the inside of a cave network. Today people still live inside these caves, which now have white, house looking facades. There are plenty of opportunities to visit the caves: by eating at one of the caves restaurants, by visiting the local museum or by booking a B&B and spending the night in one of them.
Besides the beautiful alleys and streets covered with boulders, Setenil has some historic sites as well. The 12th century Nazari Castle overlooks the village from its highest point. Today there is only one tower remaining but, in its glory days, there used to be 40! Next to the Nazari Castle stands tall the Our Lady of the Incarnation, built on the ruins of an old mosque.
The village gets very lively around lunchtime, when all the cafes on the main road in town, Calle Cuevas del Sol, get filled with both locals and tourists.
Getting to Setenil de las Bodegas is very easy, from both Malaga and Cadiz. It takes around 2 hours to reach Setenil de las Bodegas from Malaga and around one hour and a half from Cadiz, by car.
By Sarah from Travels of Sarah Fay
Not far from Palma, Mallorca is Soller, both places are on the same island, but they offer a very different experience. Soller is truly off the beaten track, wedged between the mountains and the Port de Soller. Both are connected by an old school trolley that makes you feel transported back in time. The route goes through stunning scenery making its way from Palma to Soller, with its last stop being at the Port De Soller.
The moment you arrive in Soller, you find a slower pace in the lifestyle of the locals. One of the favourite activities to do in Soller is taking hikes in the surrounding olive groves, Tramuntana mountains, or to the beach at Cala Tuent and back. There are many trails all with worthy views that will make your trip worthwhile.
Soller is the perfect spot in Mallorca to experience the culture of the Balearic Islands. Here you can take an olive oil tour, an amazing boat tour that will take you to some isolated parts of the island, as well as have some of the best Paella on the island.
Whilst you can stay in the Port area, there is much more to do after your days of exploring in the old square area in the town of Soller.
By Elisa from World in Paris
Terrassa is a Catalan city located 30 km north-west of Barcelona. Its easy connection to the Catalan capital and its cultural and architectural heritage make of Terrassa an excellent day trip from Barcelona.
Terrassa’s sky is dotted with many brick chimneys that recall Terrassa’s industrial past. Indeed, Terrassa was during the 19th century an important textile centre in Catalunya and the owners of the most important textile businesses became the new bourgeoisie, who invested their fortunes in beautiful private mansions and more spacious workshops all designed in Modernist style. Today, these Modernist buildings are listed as national heritage and make of Terrassa an interesting and unique city to visit.
Visitors in Terrassa can follow the Modernist trail to admire the finest examples of Modernist architecture, like the city’s town hall, the covered market with its elegant glass and iron structure or other public and private buildings. The textile workshops are beautiful too, and some of them today host themed museums showcasing different aspects of the history of the city.
Another must-see in Terrassa is La Seu d’Ègara (on the picture), a medieval ensemble of Romanesque churches and chapels recently restored. The current churches were built during the 11th and 12th century and they are a wonder. In these medieval complexes, visitors can also see some Roman tombs and remains. This is because the complex was built not far from the ancient Roman city, named Ègara.
La Valle de Gallinera, Alicante
By Izzy & Phil from The Gap Decaders
On a long and leisurely road trip around Spain, we stumbled upon the stunning valley of La Vall de Gallinera to the north-east of Alicante in the rugged mountainous Marina Alta region of Spain. The valley runs east to west and is home to the hamlets of Benirrama, Benialí, Benissivà, Benitaia, Carroja, Alpatro, the abandoned Llombai and Benissili. There are a lot of ‘Benis’ in the area, leftover from the Moorish occupation hundreds of years ago, and meaning ’son of’.
The valley is a true hidden gem of Spain, bursting with cherry, olive and almond trees which are a gorgeous sight in spring when the blossom ranges from pure white to deep pink. But there is much more biodiversity than just fruit trees; holm oak and coastal pines grow wherever they can set down roots, wildflowers and herbs grown in abundance and numerous species of animals and birds live here, including the royal eagle.
Take the marked Trail of the Eight Villages, starting in pretty Benirrama by the fountain and finishing 16km later in Benissili. From here you can head up the valley to see the remote and ruined Moorish castle at Benissili. Another favourite, and more dramatic hike, is up the steep southern incline to La Penya Forada (hole rock) from where you can see the beautifully terraced La Vall de Gallinera and the neighbouring La Vall d’Alcalà spread out at your feet.
Zumaia, Basque Country
By Stephanie from Ethno Travels
If I ask you about the places to visit in the Basque Country, you will certainly tell me about Biarritz on the French side, or San Sebastian, on the Spanish side. But did you know that Game of Thrones 7 was shot in the Basque Country, in two other off the beaten track places? San Juan de Gaztelugatxe – the dragon castle – and Zumaia!
The whole Basque coast is famous for a very specific geological specificity, Flysch stones. Zumaia is the epicentre of flysch and you can visit the geopark by walking or sailing. It’s even one of the most important geological sanctuaries in the world, covering 4 300 hectares of land and sea.
If you want to enjoy an incredible sunset on the flysch, go to Sakoneta beach. After a 15 minutes’ walk in the middle of the forest then along the cliffs, you will see the most beautiful part of the flysch area. The best time is at low tide. The place is also nice during the day but the sunset is unforgettable.
If you like hiking, start the flysch trail from Deba, following GR121 until Zumaia. Ask for the map at Deba tourism information and check the tide as you can access some beaches only at low tide. The 15kms up and down the trail will offer you the best views of the flysch and coast. It’s also on the Compostela trail called Camino del Norte!
Bonus hidden gems Spain: Camino Primitivo
By Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
The Camino de Santiago is a network of pilgrimage routes in Europe. All routes start in different towns and cities across Europe and finish in Santiago de Compostela in Spain.
Most people know about the most famous route the Camino Frances that starts in a small French town St. Jean Pied de Port on the border with Spain. Every year thousands of pilgrims from all over the world walk this route. Not many know that there are other Camino routes that have all the infrastructure of the main route but significantly fewer people. The Camino Primitivo or the Original Way is one of them. Only 5% of all pilgrims that arrive in Santiago every year walk this Camino.
The Original Way was the first Camino ever walked. In the 9th century, the Spanish king Alfonso II started his pilgrimage to the recently discovered tomb of Apostle St. James from the Cathedral in Oviedo. The route starts in Oviedo the capital city of Asturias and finishes 320km later in Santiago de Compostela. It takes between 12 and 14 days to complete this Camino.
The route goes through Asturian mountains and Galician forest. Due to many steep ascents and descents, the Camino Primitivo is considered to be one of the toughest Camino routes. It is a great route to choose for those who love nature and tranquillity.
There are only three cities on the route Oviedo, Lugo and Santiago de Compostela. The Original Way is an ideal Camino to walk if you want to skip crowds of the busy routes and discover some hidden gems of Spain.
I hope that these Spain hidden gems have given you some food for thought on where to travel next in this naturally beautiful, historic and truly diverse country.
If you have any other suggestions for the best hidden gems in Spain, then I’d love to hear from you. Feel free to share these in the comments section down below.