Think Spain is beach and sea and nothing else? Amy Ryan explains why it's so much more.
Where is the first place which comes to mind when searching for sun, sea and sand? Spain, where else! With flights to Spain as cheap as chips, this is a favourite holiday destination for Irish holiday-makers. Spain is a second home to many people from Ireland and the U.K., so much so that some towns in Spain have tailored their tourist industry to cater for us, and have lost their heritage and character along the way.
 
Hotspots like Salou and Malaga have become commercialised nightmares where it’s difficult to walk down a street without coming across a bunch of loud-mouthed, beer-bellied hooligans! Nothing could appeal to me less. So I have a few recommendations of where you can find the ‘real’ Spain.
 
Barcelona
 
Barcelona is very unique, with mountains overlooking the beach, which lies right by the centre of the city. It gives you a taste of the beach with spectacular mountainous regions surrounding it, which can provide the fresh air you may need from the bustling city.
 
There are lots of wonderful sites to see. Montjuïc, the magical fountain, is one of my favourites. Every evening, a huge crowd assembles to watch the fountain show which is accompanied by Disney music; appropriately magical!
 
Catch the wonderful views of the city as you leave the shopping centre, that served it’s time as a bullring in the past. Parc Guell is another must see, along with all the other Gaudi architecture scattered throughout the city. Monserrat is around an hour’s train journey outside the city and there, you can have a climb up rocky peaks.
 
But the sites aren’t the only things that Barcelona has to offer. Spanish cuisine is not lost in this multicultural city. Try some tapas and do a spot of people-watching in the restaurants scattered throughout the winding streets. You won’t get tired out gazing at the quirky individuals skating and strolling past.
 
And the shopping will feed any addict hungry enough for all Barcelona has to offer. They have all the typical brand stores, bigger and better than in Ireland. There are small, home-grown stores than offer more unique items at great prices. Don’t miss out on the leather shoes and bags in these stores. They can be picked up at affordable prices and can’t be beaten on quality! Passeig de Gracia, the avenue where the designer brands hang out, is great for a stroll. You can window-shop and stop into a couple of free museums along the way. I visited a handbag museum the last time I was there, it was great!
 
Santiago de Compostela
 
If you’re looking for a more active holiday, Santiago is the final destination of thousands of pilgrims every year. St. James the Great lays in the magnificent cathedral, drawing pilgrims since the 9th century. The old town in the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
 
The pilgrimage is not reserved for the pious; it would suit anybody looking to pound the roads in search of an adventure! There are some amazing beaches along the coast of Galicia; in fact, I would hand over the ‘Best Beaches’ award to them.
 
Galicia is very different to other parts of Spain. They have weather that compares to Ireland’s miserable weather during the year but thankfully, when summer hits, the sun comes with it. I guarantee that you will feel right at home with its vast greenery, Celtic heritage and wonderful hospitality.
 
Are you a fan of fish and seafood? Well, if you are, you might not want to leave Galicia either. They are obsessed with seafood and they really know how to serve it up too! I wasn’t the biggest fan when I arrived but their passion for it encouraged me to start trying what they had to offer, and I’m glad it did! Lamb is another dish that is not to be missed in Galicia too.
 
Lastly, I must include that Galicia is one of the few places in Spain that maintain free tapas. With every beer you buy, that costs you a measly €1, you will get mini meals to go with it. The Spaniards spend every Sunday hopping around the bars in the area lapping up the free tapas, so take advantage of this rare generosity!
 
Sevilla
 
Sevilla is the most beautiful city that I came across in my travels around Spain. Rich in history and culture, you are sure to experience the authentic vibes of the south of Spain. Here, you will find people dancing flamenco and singing through the winding streets, and don’t miss out on the paella!
 
There are plenty of sites to see here too. The Giralda, the bell tower in Sevilla’s cathedral, will provide phenomenal views of the city. The Alcázar is situated right alongside the cathedral and this will visually show you the influence of Moroccan culture in its architecture.
 
Plaza de España is just spectacular also. You can chill out for a while here and I would definitely recommend renting a row boat to take you around the canal surrounding the square.
 
The architecture throughout the city is so unique and really enhances the experience. The narrow shopping streets are laden with bars and restaurants where you can experience the atmosphere of the animated Southerners and pick up a few souvenirs.
 
This is only a taster of different areas in the country which you can explore. Each region of Spain is completely unique in so many ways, so it’s the perfect destination for anyone.
 
Spain is best for its food, hospitality, architecture, culture, climate…the list goes on! Why not try out a new kind of holiday in Spain this time round!