Dream Vacations: Spain, a country of diverse food, architecture, and culture
Most people have a dream vacation destination. Maybe your desktop background is of a tropical beach in the Bahamas, or you have a Pinterest board full of tips for touring Europe. If you love to travel, our “Dream Vacations” series will help you pick the perfect location for your next trip (if you can convince your parents to take you).
Located in southwest Europe, Spain is a country filled with history and tradition mixed with modern day elements. With everything from churches to plazas to museums, Spain has something for everyone.
Must sees/Must Dos
Toledo is a city located about an hour outside of Madrid in the heart of Spain. In Toledo, you can see a variety of old architecture that contrasts the modernity of Madrid. There is also a mix of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish architecture, as Toledo was a place of religious tolerance where these three groups lived in harmony for many centuries. I visited Santo Tomé, a Catholic Church, and the Santa María la Blanca, a synagogue. I was awed by the elaborate architecture and ornate decorations of the Santo Tomé, such as detailed stained glass windows and artwork, but I also appreciated the simplicity of the synagogue.
Toledo is also where the famous architect and painter El Greco lived and created his works. You can also view his famous paintings such as “The Burial of Count Orgaz, in the Santo Tomé,” which are beautiful to see in person. Additionally, you can tour a sword factory because Toledo is famous for making swords. I visited one of these factories on a guided tour and got to see each of the steps in the process, from forming the metal into the sword to decorating the handles of the blades. This was one of my favorite parts of my trip because I got to learn about a major part of the culture of Toledo while seeing a really cool process take place. I also spent time in the store, where I had a chance to hold the real swords and purchase pendants and necklaces handmade with real gold.
Santiago Bernaéu Stadium
This is the stadium of the world famous soccer team Real Madrid. You can pay to tour this stadium when the team is not playing. I toured the stadium and got to see the the players’ locker rooms, sit in the VIP seats in the stadium, and see the team’s award room. It was interesting to see all of the awards the team won, especially all of the championships. I also got a chance to visit the store at the end of the tour and was able to buy some souvenirs for my family. It is much cheaper to buy the players’ jerseys at the stands surrounding the stadium, but be careful about their authenticity.
The Prado and Museo Nacional de Arte de Reina Sofía
These museums are perfect for art lovers but are still neat for casual observers. You can see a large collection of works by famous Spanish artists, including Salvador Dalí and Joan Miró. You can even see Picasso’s “Guernica” at the Museo Nacional de Arte de Reina Sofía. Make sure you spend a good amount of time at these museums so you can see all that they have to offer. It also helps to go on a guided tour to see and learn about the museum’s most famous artwork.
Different places have different specialties, and Spain specializes in Paella and chocolate with churros. Many local cafes sell these items, which helps to keep the price affordable.
Paella is a Spanish dish that is made and served in a large shallow pan. There are several different types of Paella, including rice, saffron, chicken, and seafood. This dish is hard to make and therefore takes a long time to prepare, but it is definitely worth the wait. I had to wait about 35 minutes for the paella to cook, but when it came out it, it was warm and tasted amazing.There was more than enough for the six of us that ate it. Getting this dish was a great way for us to share a meal and save money by splitting the bill. Make sure you look around first for the price because often different cafes in the same area are cheaper than others.
Chocolate and churros is a popular dessert in Spain. I was surprised that the churros and chocolate were made to order. They took a while to cook, but they were delicious. The chocolate in Spain is much thicker than it is here. Once you run out of churros to dip in your chocolate, I recommend drinking the rest as it tastes like a thick hot chocolate.
Make sure to convert some of your money to euros before you get to Spain. While airport currency exchange rates can be expensive, it is good to have some money with you for food, transportation, and anything else you might need before you can find a place to exchange the rest of your money.
Pickpockets are a problem in Spain. The plazas and tourist attractions are often very crowded, so it is important to keep an eye on your belongings at all times. I recommend purchasing a hidden pocket that can either hang around your neck underneath your shirt or can be hooked to the belt loop of your pants. In addition, you can bring a locked suitcase to put any valuables in to be sure that they stay safe while you are not in the hotel room.
Keep your passport with you at all times, as you never know when you might need it. Also, some of the hotel room keys are actual keys made specifically for your room, so make sure to turn in your key before you head out for the day and ask for it back when you return. If you don’t, you could lose the key and pay a fine of over $150.
I would recommend spending at least a week in Spain to get a chance to visit many of the destinations and appreciate all that the country has to offer.
Things to Consider
Still not sure if Spain is the right place for your next vacation? Consider these following tips to help you decide:
- Do you like walking? It’s easier to get to many places in Madrid and other Spanish cities by walking rather than using a car as narrow streets and close knit plazas make car travel difficult. If you are traveling a farther distance, however, you can use the Metro trains to get to where you’re going.
- Do you like art and architecture? Spain has many museums dedicated to art such as the Prado and the Museo Nacional de Arte de Reina Sofía that offer tourists the chance to view a wide variety of Spanish art. Toledo is a city that contains old Spanish architecture, which contrasts the modernity of Madrid. Some cities like Barcelona even provide a mix of both modern and antiquated architecture.
- What kind of weather do you prefer? Spain can get pretty hot and stays relatively warm throughout the winter. Temperatures in the summer months can be up to 113 degrees Fahrenheit.