Two Weeks in Spain

With time to sink your teeth into the savoriness of Spanish life, you can walk the cobblestone streets until your soles are worn, ride a funicular to a hilltop overlooking San Sebastián, enjoy tapas and Spanish wine with sunsets, and maybe learn to cook a dish or two of Catalan and Spanish specialities. And with cheap domestic flights, it’s a cinch to travel from Catalan Barcelona to British Gibraltar.

La Rambla, 58, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Learn to cook traditional dishes, and modern twists on old favorites, with the chefs at Barcelona Cooking. Sign up for an evening cooking class and learn to prepare dishes like seafood paella and Crema Catalana (the Catalan version of Creme Brûlée) and other regional dishes with seasonal ingredients purchased from Barcelona’s celebrated Boqueria Market. Interested in learning about how to select the freshest ingredients? You can accompany one of the school’s chefs on the hunt for ingredients at La Boqueria.
08024 Barcelona, Spain
A pilgrimage to this enchanting park is a must for any Antoni Gaudí fan. Located atop Carmel Hill to the north of the city, the park was inspired by English landscape gardens, but its fantastical elements make sure you know it was created by Catalonia’s most eccentric architect. Though there are multiple entrances, the most impressive is via a grand staircase guarded by an enormous, mosaic-tiled dragon. It leads to a sprawling plaza with a mosaic-covered cement bench stretching some 328 feet around the perimeter. Park Güell was originally designed as a gated residential development, but it failed; a show home built to lure buyers is now the Gaudí House Museum (not included with park admission). Visitors should reserve an online ticket to avoid lines.
La Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
The city’s old fishing quarter, Barceloneta, is a warren of narrow residential streets dotted with classic family-owned seafood restaurants. The neighborhood is charming, if a bit scruffy, but its biggest asset is its proximity to Barcelona’s urban beaches, a three-mile-long stretch of sand and sea that buzzes with activity day and night. Passeig Joan de Borbó is the grand boulevard that divides Barceloneta from Port Vell, the harbor area where gleaming mega-yachts have now taken the place of humble fishing boats. Lined with touristy cafés and souvenir shops, it’s nevertheless a pleasant street to stroll along on your way from the city to the beach.
La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
As you enter Barcelona‘s famous Mercat de Sant Josep de La Boqueria from La Rambla, one of the first stalls you encounter is Tocineria Marcos, purveyors of Iberico ham and a stunning array of other cured, cooked, and fresh meats. It’s just one of the dazzling displays of delicacies in this, the most famous of Barcelona‘s 40 or so food markets. (Another favorite, and slightly less touristed, is the beautifully remodeled Mercat de Santa Caterina, short walk away.) La Boqueria dates back to 1217; a pig market was conducted here starting in 1470; and the current metal roof was built in 1914. There’s no better place to shop for a taste of Catalan culture.
La Rambla, 65, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Amble down La Rambla, stopping to admire fresh flowers, original artwork, and Barcelona souvenirs at your leisure. Watch living statues come to life when you drop a euro in their cups—most will pose with passersby, for a price, of course. Keep an eye out for the pavement mosaic by Joan Miró at 80 Pla de l’Os and the Canaletes Fountain at the top of La Rambla (across from No. 133), where FC Barcelona fans come to celebrate victories.
Paseo del Prado, s/n, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Madrid’s Prado Museum, home to Goya, Velazquez, Murillo, El Greco, and numerous other greats, has so much to see that just one visit isn’t enough! If you have a few days in Madrid, drop into the museum in the afternoons (after 5pm) when there is no charge, rather than attempting to see the entire collection in one visit. If you only have time for one trip to the museum, stop by the gift shop to pick up a mini guide, which serves as cheat cheat to the museum’s highlights. Photo by vanOrt/Flickr.
2 Calle San Sebastián
Renowned chef Paco Roncero re-interprets everyday Spanish food without crossing the line into pretentiousness at Estado Puro; here, flavor matters more than presentation and dishes are perfectly portioned. Patatas bravas, fried potatoes spiked with red pepper, is perhaps the most typical bar snack in Spain however Estado Puro has successfully re-interpreted the ubiquitous dish. Using hollowed, roasted baby-potatoes filled with spicy sauce it’s a subtly new take on a Spanish classic. If you’re staying for a snack or meal try the chipirones, cod-fritters, and creative mojitos too. The restaurant is also uniquely designed. Under the glass-topped bar you’ll notice endless rows of tiny flamenco dancer dolls while above you’ll see undulating rows of peinetas—the traditional decorative comb used by Spanish women to hold their flowing mantillas, veils, in place. In Madrid the dinner begins late, so if you eat before nine in the evening you’ll feel as if you have the place to yourself. There are also two Estado Puro restaurants; one across from The Prado and another around the corner from the Plaza Santa Ana (one of Madrid’s liveliest squares at night).
Paseo del Prado, 36, 28014 Madrid, Spain
Anyone with an iota of interest in art will certainly visit the Prado while in Madrid. But be sure to save some time to visit another nearby museum, where there’s something wonderful to see before you even get inside. Just a 5-minute walk down Paseo del Prado you’ll find the CaixaForum Madrid, with its awe-inspiring vertical garden. From a distance, you might even think you’re looking at a mural there on the wall, but as you approach, the lush greens and earth tones come to life with varying textures that are luscious and welcoming. A masterpiece where nature is the medium!
Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain
A visit to Granada, Spain isn’t complete without a stop at the Alhambra. The Moorish architecture, robust gardens, and stunning views of Granada combine to make a truly memorable experience. Start your day with a tour of the Generalife Gardens. Take it slow to fully enjoy the blooming flowers and stunning water features at every turn. Make sure to pre-book your tickets to the Alhambra or you may miss out on a visit to the breathtaking Nasrid Palace portion. Tickets are easily purchased through the official Ticketmaster site, where you are able to schedule a morning or afternoon time slot. If you are unable to secure a ticket to The Nasrid Palace you can still purchase a pass to the Generalife Gardens and Alcazaba Fortress, and it’s well worth the time and money.
Calle San Miguel, 4, 29620 Torremolinos, Málaga, Spain
Marshy wetlands, shallow streams and grassy sand dunes cover the landscape of Doñana National Park, in the Huelva and Sevilla provinces. A small portion of it is protected parkland, but the area has been designated UNESCO World Heritage, and the trip is worth it for two intriguing reasons. First, in 2011 a team of American archeologists claimed to find remnants of the lost city of Atlantis in the center of the park, five miles from the coast inland, which was wiped out by an incredible tsunami. Second, and an only slightly more elusive reason to visit, come for the bird watching. The park is not only home to five endangered bird species, but is also one of the largest heronries in the Mediterranean region, and some half a million water birds migrate here for the winter. Bring your binoculars and camera for possible sightings of the Spanish Imperial Eagle.
Lanzarote, Las Palmas, Spain
On Lanzarote, the easternmost island of the Canaries, Spanish archipelago off the northwestern coast of Africa, there’s a volcanic semi-crater that has created a dense and salty green-colored lagoon. The lagoon has grown rich with algae and the contrast of the volcanic rock, black beach and green lagoon is stunning. If you’re looking for an inexpensive afternoon excursion, this one is worth the visit. The lake is protected so swimming is prohibited, however, visitors can still walk to the edge, and close ups are worth the walk for the geology and the fauna here.
Las Palmas, Spain
Part of Lanzarote’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, the 52-square-kilometer volcanic Timanfaya National Park is known for its Montañas del Fuego (Fire Mountains), where subsurface temperatures reach up to 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsius). Eruptions as recent as the 18th century have produced a Death Valley-like lava landscape. The artist César Manrique designed a tourist center here as well as the El Diablo restaurant that uses geothermal heat to cook traditional Canarian dishes.
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