Whether it’s the vibrant culture, delicious food and drink, beautiful beaches and cityscapes or more, there are hundreds of reasons why Spain is a king among European holiday destinations.

But for many British travellers, Spain begins and ends at Barcelona and Madrid. And while those are world-leading, must-visit destinations in their own right, Spain has a huge amount to offer beyond its two most famous cities.

Bilbao, Seville, Malaga and Valencia all have populations under a million, and while they’re smaller in size and scale than Barcelona and Madrid, each has a rich tapestry of culture, sights, food and drink and history.

Read on to discover our guide to uncovering the best of them.


What to see

There’s no shortage of sights in Bilbao, but its bustling Ribera market is guaranteed to pique the interest of any visitor passing through.

Housed in a 14th-century market building, it’s a cornucopia of fresh produce, authentic souvenirs and more. It’s also conveniently located right on the edge of the Casco Viejo, or old town, which is a patchwork of beautiful historic buildings, shops and restaurants.

For some perspective on the city’s location – on the Bay of Biscay and next to two mountain ranges – take a trip on the Artxanda Funicular, which lifts you from the heart of the city up the side of the Artxanda Mountain, providing spectacular views of the city and attractions, as well as restaurants to explore at the top.

What to do

Bilbao is a thriving metropolitan city, with abounding green spaces and public squares full of interest.

No visit would be complete without a trip to the Guggenheim: the museum is full of exciting exhibitions from local and international artists, but the building alone – designed by Canadian-American artist Frank Gehry and set on the banks of the Nervión river – is a modern marvel, and well worth the entrance fee.

What to eat and drink

The Basque Country has rightfully earned its place among the very best food destinations in Europe, with some of the most creative Michelin-starred destination restaurants in the world alongside a casual food scene that’s incredibly hard to beat.

Pintxos are the region’s localised version of tapas, and the best way to discover them is a whistle-stop tour of backstreet pintxos bars, stopping in for small plates and beers or glasses of txakoli, the Basque Country’s famous, lightly effervescent wine.

The Casco Viejo is home to most of the best boltholes for delicious snacks like the gilda, made with green olive, anchovy and pickled chilli, usually served inserted together as a small skewer.


What to see

Sun-drenched Seville has long been a favourite for holidaymakers looking for a city break that combines beautiful weather with great sights.

The capital of Andalucía is known for its Moorish influence – a hangover of the Islamic occupation of the region in the Middle Ages – in addition to Gothic architecture, and some of its most spectacular buildings display a touch of both.

A trip to the Plaza de España takes in some of the most beautiful sights in the city, and for a picture-postcard moment, book a trip in March or April to see the city’s famous orange groves – numbering more than 25,000 throughout the city – bearing fruit.

What to do

The Catedral de Sevilla and the Real Alcázar fortress (a Unesco World Heritage Site, no less) are among the heritage buildings definitely worth visiting – not least because the former is the site of Christopher Columbus’s tomb.

There are a number of impressive palaces to visit, too – top of the list should be Casa de Pilatos and Palacio de Dueñas.

Make time to wander through the back streets of the barrio de Santa Cruz neighbourhood, where you can visit one of the numerous flamenco ‘tablaos’ offering live performances.

What to eat and drink

Seville’s proximity to jamón-making towns in Andalucía and the neighbouring Extremadura means that, for meat eaters, the city is full of the incredible jamón ibérico, and Ibérico pork features throughout the city’s restaurant menus.

Tapas is the name of the game here, with simple and unassuming tapas restaurants making for an always stellar light lunch, while there are more upmarket destination restaurants serving contemporary takes on Spanish cuisine available, too.

Make sure you take home a jar or two of the city’s famous Seville orange marmalade.


What to see

Similarly placed in the region of Andalucía, Malaga is a beachside city on the Costa del Sol, in the very south of the country.

That means the same beautiful weather and gorgeous Moorish architecture as Seville, but fantastic beaches dotted around the region, too.

Malaga is a port city; the Port of Málaga area is great for a wander – the harbour’s superyachts frame a beautiful seaside district, lined with palm trees and full of great shops and restaurants.

What to do

The Museo de Málaga, which opened in 2016, is one of the biggest museums in Spain, featuring a huge range of fine art and archeology across its three stories.

If you’re looking for an afternoon of swimming and sunbathing, though, the Playa de la Malagueta is close to the city.

And for a bit of history, the Alcazaba – a Moorish medieval fortress – is beautifully preserved and with amazing sea views, and close by is the 10th-century Castillo de Gibralfaro, boasting some of the best views in the city.

Both are a reminder of the deep and rich history of one of the oldest cities in Europe.

What to eat and drink

Like its cousin Seville, classic tapas is the order of the day in Malaga’s bolthole restaurants, but its proximity to the sea means there’s plenty of fresh fish and seafood on offer, usually caught earlier in the day.

Fritura Malagueña is the given name to Malaga’s version of fritto misto, usually made with cod, squid and juicy prawns fried in crisp batter and served with a wedge of lemon.

While there are a few excellent fine-dining restaurants dotted around the city, its wine bars and cosy tapas joints will let you get the truest feel for Malaga’s cuisine.


What to see

Half-way down the east coast of Spain and on the banks of the Turia river, Valencia is a classic Spanish city, full of vibrant parks, gorgeous and historic squares, and with a sense of culture ingrained in pretty much every street.

The city was founded during the Roman era and colonised by the Moors in the Middle Ages, so much of its architecture follows suit, and a walk around the El Carmen neighbourhood is a great way to soak up some of the city’s history.

A trip to the Miguelete medieval tower provides spectacular panoramic views of the city, while the beautiful and serene Albufera Natural Park provides a chance to reconnect with nature just outside the city itself.

What to do

Culture is one of the big sells for Valencia, with more than 30 museums that cater to all tastes, whatever your interests, including fine and modern art, science and history.

The Museum of Fine Arts compiles some of the most stunning Spanish fine art from antiquity to modernity, while the lush Turia Garden is an enormous public park that provides a great afternoon out in its own right, but is also a particularly beautiful way to get from one end of the city to the other, on foot or by bike.

What to eat and drink

While you’ll find plenty of crowd-pleasing tapas restaurants, Valencia is the spiritual home of the classic paella, with the story going that it was invented by fishermen in Albufera and popularised in the city itself.

The classic paella Valenciana is traditionally made with rabbit, chicken and often a type of local snails called vaquetes, but you’ll find all types of variations, including that made with beautiful, fat prawns and fresh mussels caught locally, as well as fideuà, a variation made with seafood and using noodles instead of bomba rice.

For more information on these cities and more Spanish destinations, head to spain.info