25 Famous Landmarks in Spain, for Your Spanish Bucket List
Planning a trip to Spain? Spain is a gorgeous country, a heady mix of diverse landscapes, world famous landmarks, massive cathedrals and iconic museums. Spain has a national obsession with ham (jamon Iberico), flamenco, wine, and tapas.
There are so many amazing things to see and do in Spain. In this guide, I describe 25 of the very best must see landmarks, for your Spanish bucket list. From Barcelona's patron saint Antoni Gaudi to Frank Gehry to Madrid's Golden Triangle, we'll travel through Spain soaking up culture along the way.
Many of these must see Spanish landmarks are UNESCO World Heritages sites. They could be mini vacations in and of themselves. These landmarks can also be combined as road trips destinations through Andalusia, central Spain, or northern Spain.
The Most Amazing Landmarks and Monuments in Spain
Here are 25 must see landmarks in Spain to tick off your Spanish bucket list.
1. Alhambra, Granada
The Alhambra is the world's last and greatest Moorish fortress. It's one of the most visited sites in Spain, and even in the world. The orange toned Alhambra sits on a stunning piece of real estate – a high, mountainous location on Sabika Hill with sweeping views over Granada.
The complex is Spain's most beautiful monument. It's vast. There are four must see sites: the Nasrid Palace, Charle V's Palace, the Alcazaba, and the Generalife Gardens.
The Nasrid Palace is the finest example of the refined, intricate, and elegant architectural style of the Moorish civilization. Every inch of its rooms are decorated, top to bottom, with ceramic tiles, elaborate plaster work, calligraphy, filigreed windows, and stucco stalactite ceilings.
Click here for my comprehensive guide to visiting the astonishing Alhambra.
2. Casa Battlo, Barcelona
Antoni Gaudí 's Modernist masterpieces, now museums, are among Barcelona's must see and most visited sites. To many Catalonians, Barcelona is Gaudí. Or at least he's the city's unofficial saint.
Casa Batlló is Gaudí at his hallucinatory, dreamlike best. The building is a must see site in beautiful Barcelona, especially if you love Modernist architecture or are on the Gaudí trail in Barcelona.
For Casa Batlló, Gaudí conjured a building in the image of a dragon. The strange bone-like facade commands your attention. It's studded with skull mask balconies and capped by a sinuously scaled roof with a solitary sword-like tower.
At Casa Batlló, the entire facade is a kaleidoscope of blue, mauve, and green tiles. A marine-like surface. Though it's a bit hard to see, the facade's actually uneven and slightly wavy, like a calm sea.
Casa Batlló's interior is filled with beautiful tiles, curved wood, and stained glass -- all in organic forms and curvy shapes. The motif is an undersea grotto lit by skylights shaped like tortoise shells. The ceiling droops and swerves poetically.
If you need more Gaudi, here are my other Gaudi guides: Gaudi architecture in Barcelona, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens, Casa Calvet and El Capricho.
3. La Pedrera | Casa Mila, Barcelona
One of my very favorite Barcelona sites is the intriguing Casa Milà. Or, as it’s more commonly known, La Pedrera, which translates to “The Quarry." It's a masterpiece of nature. In classic Gaudí fashion, the nature theme is visible in its overall look and down to the tiniest detail. Everything carried forward the theme.
The building ripples and waves like a burbling ocean. There's not a right angle or straight line anywhere. Gaudí wanted it to resemble a "petrified wave." To that end, he used contrasting elements -- a heavy stolid stone facade and a wavy shape.
The undulating facade isn't a load bearing wall. It's a self supporting curtain wall that connects to the internal structure of each floor via curved iron beams. This gave Gaudí freedom to create irregular floor plans. It was one of his cutting edge architectural innovations.
For more information, click here for my complete guide to La Pedrera.
4. Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The undisputed jewel of Barcelona is Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s wildly creative opus. Construction began on the "Sandcastle Cathedral" in 1882 and it's still unfinished (but ongoing). When it's completed, Sagrada Familia will be the world's largest church with 18 tapering towers.
The exterior appears like a strange looking sandstone mountain. It's a hodgepodge of architectural styles with spindly towers of various heights. There are three facades --the Nativity, Passion, and Glory facades. Each appear like huge altarpieces, depicting different themes.
The best feature of Sagrada Familia is its luminous interior. The nave is effectively a sculpture, reinvented as architecture. It's lined with pale columns that look like a forest, with trees branching out. And, in fact, Gaudí believed that "trees were buildings."
For more information on this must see monument, here's my complete guide to visiting Sagrada Familia.
5. Park Guell, Barcelona
Park Güell might be Gaudí's most fantastical creation. It's a 45 acre public park and garden complex located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona. It's a little wonderland.
Initially, Eusebi Güell asked Gaudí to design a mini city with luxury homes. Gaudí worked on the project from 1900-14. But the plan backfired; it was a commercial flop. Only 4 of the planned 60 houses were built.
Before the plug was pulled, Gaudí had created a plaza, two Hansel and Gretel gatehouses, a serpentine bench, colonnaded walkways, and steps. He actually purchased one of the homes and lived there for almost 20 years before he moved into Sagrada Família.
The most famous icon at the Park Güell is the multicolored mosaic lizard known as "El Drac," or the dragon. Gaudí collaborated with Joseph Maria Jujol, a much younger architect, on the tile work.
Most of the park is free to visit and provides some nice views over the city. But the central Monumental Zone has a fee. If you want to visit the former home of Gaudí, the museum is located just outside the Monumental Zone in the free section of the park.
6. Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona
Palau de la Música Catalana is a gaudy rose-covered wonderland and must see site in Barcelona. This magnificent concert hall was designed in 1905-08 by Lluis Domènech i Montaner -- an architect who was just as famous as Gaudi at the time.
You have to see it to believe it. Musicians love its acoustics. Tourists love its unique design. It's a veritable symphony of stained glass, mosaics, sculptures.
Palau de la Musica is located along a claustrophobic, densely packed street in the Gothic Quarter. Montaner countered the claustrophobia with color and levity. The arches and intricate mosaic columns draw your eye up to the roofline. Stained glass windows bring in the natural light.
You begin at the marble Lluís Millet Grand Staircase, named after a famous Catalan composer. As you as ascend, gaze up at the eye catching ceramic glazed ceiling. You’ll enter a waiting area, the Lluís Millet Hall, enveloped in massive stained glass windows. Parts of the panels are clear so you can see the dramatic mosaic columns outside by Sala Millet.
The auditorium is almost overwhelming. The piece de resistance is the intricate stained glass ceiling by Antoni Rigalt. Iron and glass chandeliers create a starry night effect. And sculptures curve up the sides of the stage, including a glowering Beethoven and Valkeries from Richard Wagner's operas.
7. Royal Palace | Palacio Real, Madrid
Completed in 1751, the Royal Palace Madrid is Europe's third largest palace, after Versailles and Schonbrunn. The Bourbon dynasty built the palace in an Italianate Baroque style. It served as the supersized royal residence until 1931. Of its 2800 rooms, only 50 are open to visitors.
The highlights of the Royal Palace are the opulent Throne Room, the Gala Dining Room (seating thousands), the Royal Armory, the apartments of Carlos II, and the Gasparini Room. Each room reflects a different historic period and decorative style.
The palace is also renowned for its painted frescos and the stunning artwork. Inside, you'll find paintings by many artistic luminaries -- Velázquez, Goya, Rubens, El Greco, and Caravaggio. There are also plenty of incredible tapestries, beautiful stuccoed ceilings, and lavish chandeliers.
8. Plaza Mayor, Madrid
The 17th century Plaza Mayor is the beating heart of Madrid. This lively square was once an open air theater hosting festivals, markets, bullfights, royal promenades, and the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition. As you sit in one of the alfresco cafes in the center of Plaza Mayor, you can easily imagine these historical events.
Present day entertainment is more tranquil, though still as busy. Local artists paint pictures of bullfights, people queue up for food samples, and there's a myriad of craft shops filled with visitors souvenir hunting.
The iconic square features symmetrical three story burgundy colored buildings, which are now expensive private apartments. In the center of the Plaza, there's a statue of King Phillip III astride his mighty stallion. If you happen to be in Madrid on a Sunday morning, you’ll find a bustling stamp and coin collector's market.
9. Golden Triangle, Madrid
Madrid's Golden Triangle is a triad of three absolutely world class art museums -- the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza.
The Prado is special. It's Spain's cultural jewel, boasting one of Europe's finest and most sensuous painting collections. The Prado is a must see site in Madrid.
The Prado opened in 1819 as the Royal Museum of Paintings. Its artistic anchors are Francisco Goya, Diego Velázquez, and Peter Paul Rubens. But there are also masterpieces by Titian, Bosch, and El Greco.
I've written previously about the highlights of the Prado and tips and tricks for visiting, so won't repeat myself here.
But be sure to see the Hieronymus Bosch' The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, the Black Paintings of Francisco Goya (The Dog is my favorite), Diego Velasquez's Las Meninas, the newly restored Fra Angelico Annunciation, and José de Ribera's intriguing The Bearded Woman.
Opened in 1992, the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s fantastic modern art museum. Its collection is comprised entirely of art work from 1900 to the present.
There's a special focus on Spain's favorite sons, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and their respective schools of Cubism and Surrealism. The iconic star of the Reina Sofia is Guernica, Picasso’s grim depiction of the Nazi bombing of Guernica Spain in 1937.
The Reina Sofia is also a great place to get weird with Surrealist Salvador Dalì. Head to the Sabatini Building, 3rd Floor. Dalì’s quirky paintings reveal his obsessions, sexual fetishes, and terrors. Other featured artists at the Reina Sofia include Joan Miró, Juan Gris, Rene Magritte, Paul Klee, and Eduardo Chillida.
Housed in the Villahermosa Palace, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is named after art collector Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza. Opened in 1994, the Thyssen museum offers something for everyone. Mixing contemporary and classic, the museum covers every major period in Western art, from 13th century Italian Renaissance to 20th century Pop Art.
It also has an important collection of 19th century American paintings not found elsewhere in Europe. This is where you'll find some fan favorites -- Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, German Expressionists, and Surrealists. You'll find artists like Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Sargent, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, and Hopper.
10. Altamira Caves, Cantabria Region
Just over a mile from the enchanting town of Santillana del Mar in northern Spain lies the 14,000 year old cave paintings of animals in the Altamira Caves. This UNESCO-listed site is home to some of the best prehistoric rock art in the world.
The paintings were created during the Upper Paleolithic period. The well preserved charcoal and polychrome paintings depict a herd of now-extinct steppe bison, as well as deer, wild boar, and horses.
Access is strictly limited to small private tours. But there’s an exact replica of the caves in the Altamira Museum cave.
11. Royal Alcazar, Seville
The Royal Alcázar is one of the world's greatest cultural treasures, a centuries old complex of palaces and fortifications, lovely courtyards, and extensive gardens bursting with orange, purple, and green colors. It's a breathtaking 10th century palace that King Pedro the Cruel gave a 14th century Mudéjar facelift.
Inside, the highlights are the Hall of the Ambassadors, the Courtyard of the Maidens, the Courtyard of the Dolls, and the Hall of Tapestries in the Gothic Palace. The Ambassador’s Hall, or Throne Room, is the big showstopper. It’s nicknamed the "Half Orange" Room, in honor of its gilded cedar domed ceiling.
Outside, there's a series of verdant lush gardens. They are an exotic, labyrinthian paradise, encompassing 80% of the Alcázar grounds. Don't miss the Baths of Maria De Padilla, King Pedro's mistress. The baths are one of the Alcazar's Game of Thrones filming locations, a place where the Sand Snakes plot.
Here's my complete guide to visiting the magnificent Royal Alcazar. It's my favorite place in all of southern Spain.
12. Seville Cathedral, Seville
Seville Cathedral is a massive Gothic affair. It's the largest cathedral in the world.
In 1402, after vanquishing the Moors in the Reconquista, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella began work in earnest on a Gothic style cathedral. They wanted a showy display of Seville’s wealth, power, and influence.
There are 15 doors on the cathedral’s four facades and each one features a unique relief or carving. The nave is the longest in the world. The glittering altar is elaborately detailed and finished in gold leaf. Along the sides, there are 80 chapels to explore.
You’ll find spires and reliefs depicting biblical events dedicated to saints. There's a large mirror reflecting the intricate ceiling, which you'll have to queue up to look into.
The Cathedral also houses the tomb of the explorer Christopher Columbus. Many places lay claim to bits and pieces of Columbus. But apparently DNA tests have confirmed that a bit of him is in Seville, maybe a shin bone or something.