With so many amazing places to see in Spain determining an itinerary can be a real challenge. With the help of some friends, we put together this list of 17 of Spain’s World Heritage sites to give you a bit of a starting point. If it makes a UNESCO list, it’s got to have something going for it 🙂
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What you will find here
Cordoba – Historic Center
Maya and Sari from Chasing Lenscapes bring us one of my favourite Spanish cities Cordoba. With 4 sites to its name, Cordoba holds the honour of being the city in the world with the most UNESCO sites.
Cordoba, the beautiful Andalusian city, is a bit of a hidden gem that many tourists skip for more famous Spanish cities; however, for history lovers and UNESCO enthusiasts, a visit to Cordoba is a must.
Walking through the charming historic centre of Cordoba, most of which has already been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is such a pleasure. From the beautiful alleys of the old Jewish Quarter to leafy green patios, chapels and synagogues, there are many monuments to admire.
Start with the most famous attraction in the city, the Great Mosque of Cordoba, known as the Mezquita, which was listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1984. The Muslims built this extravagant mosque in the 8th century, and it’s considered to be one of the largest in the world.
However, what makes it so unique is not it’s size but the architecture. The hundreds of columns, the red and white arches, the impressive ribbed dome and the beautifully decorated doors all make it an extraordinary sight. Since this is the main tourist attraction in the area, try and come early to avoid the crowds.
Two other must-see attractions are the Calahorra Tower and the Roman Bridge, from here you’ll also get to see Cordoba and its river in their full glory. The views are so beautiful both during the day and during the night that it is best to visit would be in the afternoon so you can experience both. Watch the golden colours of the sunset and then enjoy the sight of Cordoba and its historic centre illuminated so beautifully at nighttime.
With all these sites it’s no surprise that Cordoba has its own Hop on Hop off bus that is a great way to see the city in a day.
Getting there: Cordoba is located only 2 hours away from Madrid by a fast train.
Read more about the attractions of Cordoba on The Chasing Lenscape website.
Madinat al Zahra
Naomi from Probe around the Globe shares her visit to one of Spains most recently recognised UNESCO sites just outside of Cordoba
The archaeological site of Madinat al Zahra (also named Medina Al Zahara) was recently added by UNESCO to their World Heritage List. And rightly so! When you visit the ruins, just outside of Cordoba, you’ll see the history of a grand city structured palace unfold before you in the hills. Caliph Abd al Rahman III built the city around 940 AD. You can roam through the streets of the city, walk under the arches and recognize the same stripped decor, similar to the famous Mezquita of Cordoba.
The city of Madinat al Zahra was only used as the capital of the Caliph for 35 years before it was sacked. Although much of the historic city was used as a building material for the surrounding landscape, what remains today is enough to show the grandeur of city with the market square, the porticos and the house of the prime minister as top sights to see. Whenever you’re close to Cordoba, make sure to check out the newest addition to the Unesco World Heritage list!
Getting there: Madinat al Zahra is located only 8 km west of Cordoba, which makes for an easy day trip from Cordoba or a half day tour from the city. You’ll start at the museum where you can get your free ticket for the shuttle bus to the ruins.
There are lots of affordable day tours to Madinat al Zahra on offer, we like this 3 hour one comes with a drink and a tapa for under $30
Read more about Naomi’s day trip to Madinat Al Zahra here.
Michelle from Travel After Five shares her knowledge on Toledo which makes an excellent day trip from Madrid and a must for anyone interested in history.
The UNESCO historic city of Toledo was Spain’s old capital before it was moved to Madrid. The city has a history of Christians, Muslims, and Jews living together within its walls, giving rise to unique architecture and a variety of churches and mosques to explore.
The Toledo Cathedral, formerly known as the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary of Toledo, is the fourth largest cathedral in the world and is well worth a visit. The entry fee includes an audio tour that gives an excellent description of the unique and phenomenal interior.
After your visit to the cathedral, check out Alcázar de Toledo, an old stone fort. This military museum can keep you busy for an entire afternoon and is located at the highest point of the city.
Getting there: You can reach Toledo easily from Madrid as a day trip. It is a short drive if you have a car or you can take the train from Madrid in under an hour. There is no need to buy your ticket in advance. Just purchase one the day you plan to go.
Tip: Once you arrive at the station in Toledo, you can take a bus to the city, or take a 15-minute scenic walk. Hop-on-hop-off tours are available; however, the town is very walkable if you choose to go the less expensive route. Another option is the cute tourist train that travels around the city and is very affordable.
If you prefer a guided tour, this full-day tour from Madrid includes a walking tour with a guide as well as lots of free time to enjoy Toledo.
Follow more of her travels on her website Travel After Five.
Charles and I visited the Alhambra on our 6 week trip to Spain and after more than 40 years of travelling, I can say with certainty that this is my favourite site in the world.
The Alhambra was added to the list in 1984 and is the only surviving palatine city of the Islamic period . One of the top sites in Spain if you could only visit one site on this list this is the one I would recommend.
The Alhambra site is extensive and made up of a 9th-century fortress, two palaces and extensive gardens. To tour the entire site will take you at least 3 hours although you could easily spend an entire day here. You can read more details about the site on our 3 days in Granada itinerary.
This is one place you need to be really organised as a limited number of visitors per day and it sells out months in advance. You can book tickets or more extensive guided tours depending on your level of interest.
Getting there: You can reach Granada from Malaga (a great budget airport) in an hour. The Journey from Madrid takes about 4 hours.
The Albaicín Granada
Joanne from family travel blog Sunsets and Roller Coasters enjoyed her time in Granada as we did and shares Granada’s second site the Albaicín.
The Albaicín and the Alhambra are located on two adjacent hills, separated by the river Darro, and together they form the medieval centre of Granada. The Alhambra was named a World Heritage Site in 1984 and it was extended to include the Albaicín ten years later.
At one time, much of Andalucia, including Granada, was under Muslim rule. The Albaicín is the old Arab quarter of Grenada that is filled with narrow, winding streets that travel on a very steep hill. At one time, this area housed over 30 mosques. During the Reconquista, in the late 1400s, the Catholic monarchs overturned Muslim rule. They destroyed the mosques but allowed the Moors to remain in their homes in the Albaicín. Over time, much fighting continued and the Moors were expelled, leaving their homes to the remaining Christians to build their carmenes.
These carmenes, typical homes in Granada’s Albaicín, have walls that separate them from the street and often include an inner garden which looks up at the incredible Alhambra. We were fortunate to be able to stay in a beautiful carmen during our stay in the Albaicín and it was beautiful. We highly recommend looking for one when booking accommodation in Granada.
Whether you stay in the Albaicín or not, you have to explore this amazing area while in Granada. The Albaicín is close to Plaza Nueva and there are several buses that travel through the maze of narrow streets. Due to its steepness, it’s better if you start to explore from the top and work your way down.
Tip: While at the top, don’t miss the Mirador San Nicolas, a scenic outlook next to San Nicolas Church, as it has one of the most beautiful views of the Alhambra. The Albaicín is also home to 11th-century Arab baths, markets and wonderful restaurants. It’s truly worthy of UNESCO distinction!
Follow more of Joanne and her families travels via their Pinterest boards.
Seville Cathedral and Real Alcazar
Helen who writes at Helen on her Holidays brings us one of my most memorable Spanish sites in Seville.
Seville Cathedral and the Real Alcazar form a single UNESCO site in Seville, Spain. On the UNESCO list since 1987, the two sights are just steps from each other and are both fascinating, in very different ways.
Seville Cathedral was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, but not as a Christian church. The original purpose of the building was a mosque, and parts of the structure still hint at Islamic roots; the famous Giralda tower was originally the minaret.
The magnificent cathedral visitors see today was built to show how powerful and wealthy Seville had become. When the decision was taken to revamp the old mosque, the cathedral elders said: “Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will take us for mad”.
The Real Alcazar is a beautiful complex of Royal palaces, some of which are still in use by Spain’s royal family. They’re set in stunning gardens, full of fountains, orange groves and even resident peacocks. Inside the Real Alcazar’s walls, you can imagine that you’re a royal yourself as you stroll through the grounds.
It’s really easy to visit Seville Cathedral and the Real Alcazar, although both sights require a little planning, especially if visiting in Spring and Summer.
You can buy tickets for the Real Alcazar online in advance, and it’s well worth doing so if you’re visiting at a busy time.
Tip: When you visit the Seville Cathedral I’d recommend doing the rooftop tour, which you can book in advance. It really enhances the experience.
The Old Town of Cáceres
Justine Ancheta from Latitude 41 shares her visit to Cáceres.
Declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1986, the Old Town of Cáceres is a testament to the history’s ancient battles starting from pre-Roman times. This quaint town in Extremadura has been occupied by the Romans, Arabs, Jewish and Christians. It’s incredible how structures have been well-preserved like the 15th-century church and convent of San Mateo built on a mosque, the baroque-style church of San Francisco Javier, and the 12th-century Tower of Bujaco.
You’ll be impressed to see 30 towers still standing strong, all the way from Moorish times! Because of its well-preserved architecture, it’s also one of the filming locations for the Game of Thrones and other period film and TV series. It’s also interesting to see the juxtaposition of modern life in the Plaza Mayor, where teenagers, young families, and grandmothers relax among the ancient buildings.
Old Town Cáceres is also quite peaceful – unlike other highly touristic Spanish cities like Madrid or Barcelona. Be sure to look for the unique stork nests in random trees and rooftops and peacocks meandering about the cobblestone streets.
Getting there: To reach Cáceres take the train from Madrid to Cáceres Railway Station. The trip takes about 4 hrs. The station is about one kilometre from the city centre. It’s free to walk around the Old Town, so you don’t have to do any special planning.
Read more about the beautiful medieval old quarter of Cáceres on Justine’s blog Latitude 41
James Ian at Travel Collecting shares the marvel of the hanging houses at Cuenca.
The walled town of Cuenca sits atop a rocky outcrop surrounded by a deep gorge. The houses sit right on the edge of the cliffs. In fact, several of these houses have balconies that jut out over the empty space, with the ground far below. This has created the moniker “casas colgantes” or “hanging houses”. There is a narrow footbridge, the San Pablo Bridge, stretching over the gorge right beside the balconied houses, providing wonderful views of them.
However, Cuenca is more than this strip of cliffside houses. The main square, the Piazza Mayor, of the medieval village has several restaurants where you can hang out, enjoy tapas and sangria and watch the world go by. There are large arches, providing a narrow entrance that vehicles need to squeeze through. The town is made for walking, and you can easily spend a day wandering the steep, narrow, winding streets and exploring cute shops and stopping off at delightful cafes along the way.
There are also several viewpoints from the surrounding hills, and a stunning old monastery that has been converted into a Parador, a luxury hotel with views of the gorge lit up at night, that makes a perfect place to appreciate the historic walled town.
If you are staying in Madrid you can do a full day tour that includes a visit to the hanging houses and plenty of free time to explore
Getting there: From Madrid a high-speed train will have you to Cuenca in under an hour. From Valencia it is about 1 hour by bus.
Corina from Another Milestone is sharing her experience of El Escorial.
El Escorial, the castle-monastery built in 16 the century, is located 1-hour drive outside Madrid, making it perfect for a day trip.
Once you are there, you will need around half a day just to explore the place. Pay attention to the hidden details in the library, visit the two palaces (Bourbons and Felipe II), enter the basilica and descend the stairs to see where the kings of Spain and other royal family members are buried.
The king’s tombs were the most interesting part of the complex, but if you like mysteries, you can spend more time in the library. Around 40000 books and manuscripts are kept here among colourful paintings, scientific instruments and hidden symbols. There, you will understand why this place is UNESCO heritage.
Getting there: From Madrid, you can get there by car or by train, but the road from Avila to El Escorial will offer you the perfect view of the monastery.
If you prefer not to drive this day tour from Madrid is a good option.
Tip: If you come by car, there is a big parking lot just in front of the monastery. From the train station, you must walk around 20 minutes through the park. To visit the complex, you need to climb and descend a lot of stairs, so it is not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers.
Fellow Aussie Shandos from Travelnuity shares the amazing Las Médulas in Northern Spain.
One of my favourite World Heritage sites in Spain is Las Médulas. Spain is home to multiple impressive Romain ruins, in particular at Mérida and Tarragona (both also World Heritage sites), but the ruins at Las Médulas aren’t your typical Roman ruins.
Las Médulas was an ancient Roman gold-mining site, the most important gold mine in the entire Roman empire. The technique used here to mine vast quantities of gold wasn’t your typical mining process. Instead it was known as “ruina montium” or “wrecking of the mountains”. It utilised large quantities of water to literally destroy the mountains, with the gold deposits being found in the outflows of water. The resulting landscape looks like the weathered canyons found in southwestern USA.
The highlight of our visit was entering one of the old Roman tunnels (after paying a small fee). It was incredible walking through a tunnel that dates back to Roman times. Luckily we were wearing hard hats, just in case, although our dog was also allowed to enter, no hard hat required.
I also recommend taking in the view of the area from the multiple look-out points (search for Mirador de Orellán on Google maps), and taking a hike through the resulting valleys.
Getting there: The area isn’t easily accessed by public transport. Instead, I recommend stopping off by car on your way to or from Santiago de Compostela or northern Portugal.
Shandos has been exploring Europe with her dog Schiztnel and has lots of advice about exploring UNESCO sites in Spain with your furry friend.
Diana from Elusive Family has been based in Europe for the past four years. This young family found la Sagrada Familia a very special spot.
Located in Barcelona, Spain the Sagrada Familia is an amazing piece of architectural history. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, this enormous cathedral is still being completed, more than 135 years after it began. The cathedral is a spectacular combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture and its exterior is mesmerizing for its intricate design and detail.
The interior of the cathedral has beautiful stained-glass windows that are span across entire walls and are floor to ceiling in some areas. As a result, when the shine suns through, there is a kaleidoscope of dancing colours on the floor of the cathedral during the daytime. Many of the columns found inside are made of volcanic rock, basalt or granite. The columns and design create an ethereal and enchanting forest-like atmosphere inside the cathedral.
La Sagrada Familia is the most visited tourist spots in Barcelona drawing millions of annual visitors. Buy tickets in advance for a specific time to avoid the long queues which can sometimes stretch several hundred people long. There are six options to purchase tickets including an option of visiting one of the towers.
You can also book a guided tour if you would like to learn more about the building on your visit.
Getting there: Reaching the cathedral is simple via public transport. The closest Metro lines are the 2 and 5, at the exit for Sagrada Familia Station or take one of the nine different buses that have stops nearby the cathedral.
Check out some more of their family travels on their website.
The Wyld Family from Australia are on a world tour and currently based in South East Asia. We almost crossed paths with them in Spain when they disembarked a flight that we were waiting to board!
Casa Mila in Passeig de Gracia was the last private residence that Gaudi built in Barcelona. It is also one of the most recognisable attractions in Barcelona and received UNESCO World Heritage status in 1984.
The stone quarry as it is known because of its resemblance to an open quarry was built between 1906 and 1912. Its ripple stone facade and 32 warped wrought iron balconies make it a truly unique design.
A visit can be one of the coolest things to do in Barcelona, however, unlike many of the other sites here entry is not free. The inside is just as amazing as its facade and worth touring. The rooftop provides an amazing view over the city of Barcelona.
In peak seasons there are often long lines so this is one site you should consider buying tickets for in advance if you plan on touring.
Getting there: Casa Mila is in Barcelona. Take the subway to Station Diagonal ( Line 3 or 5)
Or, from My Path in The Word lists Spain as her favourite country in the world and she thinks Segovia is up there when it comes to the top UNESCO spots in Spain.
Perfect as a day trip from Madrid, Segovia is one of the best places to see UNESCO Sites in Spain.
Arriving in Segovia, the first landmark you’ll notice is its Aqueduct. Not only is it an important historical monument standing for almost 2,000 years, but also a Roman architectural gem consisting of about 25,000 blocks and 170 arches. But the undeniably beautiful aqueduct is not the only World Heritage Site in Segovia.
Thanks to some incredible monuments, the old city of Segovia is another UNESCO Site worth exploring. The two most important ones you should visit are the Alcazar of Segovia, a medieval royal castle that looks like it belongs in a fairytale, and the Segovia Cathedral, the last Gothic cathedral built in Spain.
Dating back to Moorish times, you can also climb the Walls of Segovia to enjoy some remarkable views over the city. If that’s not enough, Segovia’s old city is also home to several Jewish sites like El Pinarillo cemetery and the former main synagogue.
Getting there: From Madrid, the easiest way to get to Segovia is by train. I recommend booking your ticket in advance on Renfe’s (the Spanish train company) website. If you want to discover Segovia’s treasures with a guide, you can also book a guided day tour from Madrid.
You can also take a guided tour from Madrid that includes a 1.5-hour walking tour and 3 hours of free time.
Check out Or’s Instagram feed for some more fabulous views of Spain.
The Old City of Salamanca
Joel Baldwin from World Heritage Journey is on a mission to visit all the World Heritage sites he can find. He thinks Salamanca is pretty special.
Spain is blessed with many “Old City”-type World Heritage sites, but the Old City of Salamanca might be the most interesting of them all. Located in Castile & León in western Spain, the city of Salamanca has a fascinating history. The biggest attraction in town is the incredible University of Salamanca, the world’s third-oldest university – dating back to 1218! University students make up a large percentage of the town’s population, giving it a vibrant atmosphere any time of the day and night.
Salamanca is also home to a gorgeous and unique Cathedral; actually, two separate cathedrals combined into one building! You have the Old Cathedral from the 12th century, built in a Romanesque style, and then right alongside (sharing a common wall!) is the New Cathedral, built in Gothic and Baroque styles during the 16th and 17th centuries.
Wandering around inside the old city is a great experience, as there’s much more to see including the magnificent Plaza Mayor, Casa de las Conchas, many beautiful sandstone buildings, and a 2000-year old Roman bridge.
Getting there: Getting to Salamanca is quite easy, as it’s just a short 90-minute RENFE train trip from Madrid. There are also bus options from Madrid, and it’s well connected to Spain’s excellent freeways – though parking in the Old City area will be a challenge!
You might like to take an affordable guided tour with a local to get an insider view of Salamanca.
Tip: Make sure you visit the local tourism website before which has lots of great information and even a smartphone app with a built-in walking tour and audio guide!
I highly recommend you take a look at Joel’s World Heritage Journey channel on Youtube for an amazing collection of historic sites.
Serra de Tramuntana
Linn from the Brainy Backpackers travel blog has visited the Serra de Tramuntana on the island of Mallorca.
Serra de Tramuntana in Mallorca was awarded a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011, because of the great physical and cultural significance of the area. The mountain range stretches across the islands northwest coast and besides amazing hiking opportunities, there are some breathtaking views, mighty cliffs, adorable beaches and charming villages to explore. The rural landscape is dominated by ancient stone terraces covered in old olive trees and colourful citrus trees. In the winter months, the almond trees blossom and cover the countryside in beautiful, white flowers.
The small picturesque villages have been popular among foreign artists during generations. Among others, the British poet Robert Graves used to live in Deia and the famous pianist Chopin lived in Valldemossa during a period where it is said he wrote his most beautiful pieces. With the surroundings of these villages, I am not surprised.
Getting there: The best way to explore Tramuntana is by car. This way you can visit all the little villages and enjoy the best viewpoints. You can easily rent a car at the airport for a road trip in Mallorca. However, there are bus services from Palma as well as the iconic tram running between Palma and Soller. The easiest way to get to Mallorca is by plane, though you can take a ferry from Barcelona (7,5 hours), Valencia (7,5 to 8 hours) or Denia (5 hours) in Spain mainland.
You can stay up to date with the Brainy Backpacker on their Facebook page.
Teide Natural Park in Tenerife
Amber from Food And Drink Destinations takes us to a little part of Spain that sits off the coast of Africa.
Teide National Park is located on the north end of Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. The Canaries are a Spanish archipelago located off the coast of Northwestern Africa.
Teide Natural Park is a haven for nature lovers and hikers, but its main attraction is the dormant volcano located at its centre, which represents the highest point in Spain. To reach the summit, you can trek to the top, or take the handy cable car that makes the journey in only 8 minutes. Once at the top, be prepared for high altitudes because the observation area is about 2200 meters high.
From where the cable car lets out, it would take another 45 minutes or so to actually hike to the true summit of the volcano. The view from the observation area, though, is enough for most travellers. On a clear day, you can see much of Tenerife and the neighbouring highlands. The volcanic natural park is reminiscent of Mars in many spots and is a truly unique destination.
Teide Natural Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Tenerife, so it is best to reserve your cable car journey before arriving. It is even better to arrive early in the day when crowds are less and the chances of a clear view are better.
Camino de Santiago
Solo Traveler Jacomijn from Safe and Healthy Travel is the first of our two Camino walkers sharing their experiences of this epic 800km trek with us.
The Camino de Santiago, the way of St James, is an ancient old route that pilgrims walked to get to the tomb of St. James who was an apostle of Jesus. It started early 9th century when the tomb of St James was found in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Since then multiple routes have been created and I have walked that route in Spain from France. The starting point of that route: Saint Jean Pied de Port – France, in the Pyrenees, and so that route is called the Camino Frances, the French Route and took me around 800K walking to the tomb of St James.
It is a wonderful route that takes you through different landscapes and the most beautiful villages and cities. On the way you can visit cathedrals that the pilgrims visited on their pilgrimage. In the beginning of this route you walk the Pyrenees and slowly you enter the Meseta, a hard part for some as it has long stretches and not much to see. Last part takes you into Galicia which also gives other landscape and a totall different feeling.
Getting there: Starting the route is best done from France, flying into Toulouse or Bordeaux and then take the train for that last part to Saint Jean Pied de Port. Everything will be easy from there on. Lots of albergues (hostels) are there to sleep and lots of other pilgrims to help you along the way. For me, it is one of my best travel experiences ever. I was a pilgrim for 35 days and still miss my pilgrim life.
Read more detail on Jacomijn’s first 200 kms of the Camino.
Sam from Alternative Travellers has a slightly different type of site, one that is over 800km long and one that Charles is walking right now!
The Camino de Santiago is a different take on the traditional UNESCO site. Also known as the Way of St. James, this site is a medieval pilgrimage trail that stretches across northern Spain. Pilgrims follow the trail markers of yellow arrows and shells through a diverse range of landscapes and cultures, finishing in the beautiful city of Santiago de Compostela. St. James is said to be buried in the cathedral in Santiago, and his crypt is the reason why medieval pilgrims undertook the journey. Today people from all walks of life walk the route for a variety of reasons.
There are many different routes leading to Santiago, with the oldest being the primitive route through the mountains in the region of Asturias. In order to receive the “compostela,” or official document that shows completion of the journey, pilgrims must walk at least the final 100 kilometres.
In many ways, the Camino is a “choose your own adventure” affair, as you can choose to start wherever you like, walk as much or as little as you like each day, and spend very little as a budget pilgrim or stay in more luxurious accommodations. Packing for the Camino is essential, as you’ll be carrying days or weeks worth of gear on your back.
Getting there: Due to the well developed Spanish train system, it is quite easy to get to the Camino. Most travellers will fly into major airports (like Madrid) and take a train or bus to their starting point
So there you have it, 20 of the 47 UNESCO sites in Spain. You will find the full list here if you want to continue exploring.
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