Fun Facts About Spain
- Population: 47.15 million
- Capital: Madrid
- Language: While Castilian Spanish is the most widely spoken language, Spaniards also speak a range of dialects including Catalan, Valencian, Galician and Basque
- Currency: Euro
- National Day: 12 October
Southern Spain: Best Places to Interrail
With all good interrailing trips inevitably comes the decisions of which places to visit. Undoubtedly, given the diversity and size of Spain, every region has something different to offer, whether that is food, architecture, history or climate. In this guide, we’ve decided to give you a glimpse of what is out there to discover in Catalonia, Valencia and Andalusia, three regions that lie along the southern and eastern Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
As the capital city of Catalonia, Barcelona is the one of the largest cities on the Mediterranean coast, and home to an array of spectacular sites. If architectural prowess is what you’re searching for on your interrailing adventures, Barcelona is a must. Park Güell in La Salut reflects Antoni Gaudi’s skill in architectural naturalism with La Sagrada Familia championing his adventurous Art Nouveau style. However, if Gaudi’s intricacy is too much for you, go and explore the Barcelona Pavilion, with its simplicity as a fine example of the sleek style of Mies van der Rohe’s work.
Admittedly, architecture isn’t for everyone, but you’re in luck as Barcelona has so much more to offer. For example, you can discover Spain’s national art museum at the Palau Nacional, amble through the stalls along Las Ramblas, arguably one of Barcelona’s most famous streets, or sit under the Quadriga de l’Aurora statue in the Parc de la Ciutadella while the Rose-Ringed Parakeets fly overhead. It is also no secret that Barcelona is home to one of the best football teams out there, and if walking in the footsteps of some of the sport’s greatest talents is what you’re interested in, Camp Nou offers tours to welcome the club’s supporters and football fanatics for an unforgettable experience.
Where to eat and drink while in Barcelona: While the stalls along Las Ramblas are enticing, venture off the main streets to taste the more authentic flavours the city has to offer. The Mercat de la Boqueria is a must-go location for local food while in Barcelona, and while you wander through the market past all the jamón, cheeses, seafood and fresh produce, sip away on one of the brightly-coloured juices that come in almost every flavour imaginable and are freshly made by the stall owners. The bars of Barceloneta offer up the opportunity to enjoy the sea air, and we’d recommend trying out somewhere along the beachfront, or in Port Vell, where you can watch the yachts and the sun setting behind the grand Barcelona headquarters of the Correos y Telegrafos.
Photo by Sophia Choudhury
Next up is Valencia, the original home of paella. Much like Barcelona, Valencia proudly boasts a rich history which can be seen today in a variety of ways, whether that is through the food, the architectural styles or the linguistical complexities of the area. One of the main attractions in Valencia is the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciènces, a modern cultural complex that houses the largest oceanographic aquarium in Europe, an opera house, and an interactive science museum, to name a few – even though it does not lie right in the centre, it is certainly worth the trip out of the heart of the city to discover the diversity of the site and attractions on offer.
Closer to the historic centre there are plenty of other sites to explore, such as the Cathedral, the old silk exchange called La Lonja that can be found next to the Central Market, as well as the Plaza del Ayuntamiento, an enormous square surrounded by some of the grandest buildings in Valencia, and host to many of the city’s major events, including the Gran Fira de Valencia in July, and Las Fallas in March. The latter is a quintessentially Valencian event and a celebration of the arrival of Spring – it is often seen as a chance to leave the trials and tribulations of the past year behind and involves bonfires and parades of huge puppets through the streets.
Where to eat and drink while in Valencia: It would be criminal not to have some paella in Valencia, seeing as it is where the iconic Spanish dish is said to have come from, so why not venture to La Riuà, a family-run authentic restaurant nestled in one of the oldest quarters of the city. Don’t forget to try something new while you’re travelling so go on a hunt for some fideuà, paella’s lesser-known cousin, or even orxata (horchata), a drink made from chufas, or tiger nuts, that looks similar to milk. Russafa, one of the areas in Valencia that lies right next to the station, is home to some of the best places to go out in the evening for food and drinks, so fuel as you arrive and depart on your train from the city is just a stone’s throw away from the platform itself.
While seemingly far away geographically, Seville is relatively accessible via trains from Valencia, and therefore is it our next stop along this route. The Cathedral is definitely one of the most well-known sites in Seville, with its bell tower, known as the Giralda, reaching almost 100m into the sky. Even though the height might suggest there are plenty of stairs to climb in order to enjoy the views from the top, there is in fact barely a step in sight, as internal ramps were built to allow horses to ascend the tower given the tower’s previous purpose as a military vantage point. Peeking out from the windows and the lookout at the top, you can see orange trees lined up in the Cathedral’s courtyard below, as well as over the walls of the neighbouring Real Alcazar, a royal palace with exquisite gardens that should be your next sight to see.
Other locations that are certainly worth exploring include the Plaza de España, a huge building originally built in the Parque de María Luisa to house the Ibero-American Exposition in 1929; the Setas de Sevilla, which claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world and is reminiscent of the architecture found at the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciènces in Valencia; as well as the Torre del Oro and nearby Plaza de Toros that will take you down towards the river too.
Where to eat and drink while in Seville: Given its proximity to some of the main sights in Seville, the Calle Mateos Gago is the perfect place to find a bite to eat, whether that is in the morning at Biomio Brunch ecológico, or some evening tapas in somewhere such as Cervecería Giralda Bar, which is in fact housed in a rediscovered and repurposed 12th-century hammam. There are in fact some fantastic rooftop bars in Seville too, and we would recommend getting a drink on top of the EME Catedral Mercer Hotel. But you have been warned – the bells in the Giralda are loud when they chime on the hour!
Photo by Sophia Choudhury
The final stop we have for you on this route is Granada, where you can find the Alhambra, a palace complex that is one of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture in Europe, and dates back to 1238. It takes at least half a day to just begin to explore the Nasrid Palaces, the Palace of the Lions and Carlos V’s palace as well and so planning your time in Granada ahead of your arrival is a good idea. Great views of the Alhambra are also available throughout the area of Albaicin that sits on the hillside opposite, but our recommendation for the best spot is the Mirador de San Nicolás, which is especially beautiful at sunset.
An amble along the banks of the Darro River will also take your through Plaza Nueva, passing the Palacio de los Olvidados, a museum dedicated to local history as well as the Spanish Inquisition. While this particular collection is not for the faint-hearted, as it has exhibits 70 instruments of torture from the time, it offers an eye-opening insight into a pivotal period of Spanish history, which cannot be ignored whilst travelling around Andalusia. The atmosphere created by the narrow streets and artisan shops of Zacatín Market next door to Plaza de Bib-Rambla is reminiscent of this era, which makes it the ideal place to pick up a souvenir from your trip, ready to head home again.
Where to eat and drink in Granada: If tapas-style sandwiches are what you’re searching for then La Buena Vida can provide you with some of the best mini bagels (roscas), while Kiosko Las Titas can serve up montaditos (mini baguette sandwiches) from a wide variety of different fillings. Granada has a fantastic range of different types of bars but our top suggestions to try out include Chupiteria 69, a bar that has 120 different sorts of €1 shots to choose from, and Pub Wall Street, a quirky bar where they update their drinks prices every five minutes and display the prices on large screens as if they were stocks. Calle Angel Ganivet also has some more up-market bars and restaurants, as well as some clubs so you can truly enjoy Granada whatever time of day or night.
Some final suggestions of how to make the most of your trip:
- As with a lot of things and experiences nowadays, booking online in advance can not only save you precious time, as it removes the need to queue for tickets, but often the actual ticket prices are cheaper too. However, beware of scams and fake websites so head to the official venue websites ahead of your arrival in each place – time certainly well spent on the trains between each city!
- Even though we’ve given some pointers as to where to eat and drink in the cities we’ve chosen for this route, tapas tours are a fantastic way to discover the hidden gems in each city, meet some new people, and explore the local cultures and histories even more.
- Check out this route on the Interrail Planner: https://interrailplanner.com/plan/173367/calendar