Spain, a country on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, includes 17 autonomous regions with diverse geography and cultures. Capital city Madrid is home to the Royal Palace and Prado museum, housing works by European masters. Segovia has a medieval castle (the Alcázar) and an intact Roman aqueduct. Catalonia’s capital, Barcelona, is defined by Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical modernist landmarks like the Sagrada Família church.Spain Dialing code: +34Spain Capital and largest city: MadridSpain Destinations: Barcelona, Madrid, Majorca, Seville, Tenerife …
1.) The Mediterranean coast is paradise
Spain’s long, sandy Atlantic beaches and cozy Mediterranean coves are rightly famous throughout Europe. That most get over 300 days of sun a year doesn’t hurt either. (Photo by Naxos).
2.) …and the mountains are just around the corner.
3.) It has the best restaurant in the world
Ferran Adria’s legendary elBulli was number one in its day, and now another Catalan eatery, El Celler de Can Roca, has taken the reins as 2013’s best restaurant in the world. (Photo by guiarepsol)
4.) …and the oldest restaurant in the world
Casa Botín is the world’s oldest continuously-running restaurant (since 1725) and the painter Goya even worked there as a waiter. Plus, it serves a pretty mean roast pig. (Photo by Madrid Ciudad)
5.) There are Egyptian temples
Yup, there’s actually an Egyptian temple smack in the center of Madrid. The Egyptians, of course, didn’t live in Spain; the Temple of Debod was actually a gift from Egypt in 1968. (Photo by Pilar A. Bartolome)
6.) …lots of Roman ruins…
Italy takes the cake on this one, but ancient Hispania has some fine Roman ruins of its own. Plus some, like the Roman theatre in Mérida, are still often used for performances. (Photo by Rodrigo Nieto)
7.)…and Moorish palaces.
The Moors ruled Al-Andalus for nearly 800 years and their influence is seen on everything from the language to some of Spain’s most famous sights, like the Alhambra in Granada. (Photo by Eva PM)
8.) The parties are legendary
Few local parties make international news, but few places throw a party like Spain. The Tomatina is an annual fave and Pamplona’s Running of the Bulls drew nearly 100,000 people in 2013. (Photo by Albergue Tourism Rural)
9.) …and there are dozens you still haven’t discovered.
Most Spanish villages have their own summer fiestas, ranging from folk dances to 5-story human statues, flaming effigies, and battles involving paint, meringue, grapes, or oranges. (Photo by Viveydeja)
10.) There are amazing cathedrals…
Spain has cathedrals of every stripe, from Gaudi’s modern masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a place of international pilgrimage. (Photo by Santcer)
Sure, Europe is full of cathedrals, but how about 1000-year-old mosques? The Mezquita in Cordoba is unique in Europe and has been a World Heritage Site since 1984. (Photo by Romaine Labadie)
12.) …and mind-blowing water parks!
Lago Martianez, an oasis of sea water, palms, and volcanic rock in Tenerife, brings waterparks to the level of art. Plus, you can spend all day there for less than the price of your sunscreen. (Photo by Ireth)
13.) The whole place is riddled with hidden beaches
Calas (coves) are a Spanish classic. Skip the city beaches and head for the Balearic Islands and find endless gems hidden between pine forests and crystal-blue water. (Photo by Menorca en Barco)
14.) It produces the best wine in the world…
The La Rioja region makes some of the world’s best vino, including Wine Spectator’s Best Wine of 2013. Since most of it is consumed internally, it’s still deliciously affordable. (Photo by Alava Incoming)
15.) …and you get free food when you order a drink.
Serving something tasty with your drink is a time-honored Spanish tradition. In some cities, especially smaller ones, it’s entirely possible to have a full dinner just by ordering drinks. (Photo by Analia Plaza)
16.) You can visit Salvador Dalí’s house…
(Photo by May Lopez)
Come for the priceless works of art, stay for the Cadillac in the patio and giant eggs on the roof. (Photo by May Lopez)
17.) …and eat chicken grilled on an active volcano.
You read that right. On the volcanic island of Lanzarote, you can spend the morning hiking the volcano at Timanfaya National Park then enjoy a lunch cooked over an open volcanic vent. (Photo by Naxos)
18.) People decorate their houses like this
Andalucía is full of sunny bougainvillea-draped villages, and Cordoba even holds an annual competition for the most flowery courtyards which draws thousands of visitors. (Photo by Zu Sanchez)
See more photos of Cordoba
19.) There are countless varieties of paella
From rabbit and snails to mussels and prawns, paella comes in dozens of local varieties which are a matter of regional pride in many provinces. Lucky for us, they’re all mouth-watering. (Photo by Anadel)
20.) Mediterranean lifestyle, anyone?
While many stereotypes (daily siestas, achem) are more myth than fact, the culture of long family meals, Sunday snoozes, and summers on the coast certainly has its appeal. (Photo Fito R. Serrano)