8 of the most underrated destinations in Spain

Oct 23, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

With sun-drenched beaches, iconic tourist attractions and a thriving gastronomy and nightlife scene, it’s no wonder British tourists flock to Spain in droves. In fact, this Mediterranean country is the most visited country by residents of the U.K. by a landslide.

Rodas beach in Cies Islands, Pontevedra, Galicia, Spain. (Photo by © Santiago Urquijo)

But beyond its most-visited beaches and popular cities, Spain has plenty of hidden gems to offer tourists. If you’ve already explored Barcelona, sunned yourself on the beaches of Benidorm and Marbella and survived the typical family package holiday to Tenerife, here are some other, more underrated alternative destinations where you can enjoy a true taste of Spanish culture and cuisine.

Sign up to receive the daily TPG newsletter for more travel and airline news.

For more Spanish travel inspiration, check out 15 of the best villages in Spain and How to choose the right Canary Island for your trip.

1. León

León, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Ciudad Photos/Getty)

If you want to immerse yourself into the local tapas and wine scene, head straight to León, a small city just a few hours north of Madrid. Gastro enthusiasts should roam the Barrio Húmedo and the Barrio Romántico for a DIY tapas bar crawl. A glass of wine (opt to sample Bierzo, made from the Mencia grape) will run you less than €2 (£1.69) at most bars. This city was made for carnivores — pair your strong red with some cecina (cured beef) cured beef, or morcilla (blood sausage).

When you’re not eating or drinking, you should be admiring the art and architecture the city offers. León is famous for its gothic cathedral, which dates back to the 13th century. The city also has a charming Plaza Mayor, as well as the San Marcos convent. And Barcelona isn’t the only place in Spain to admire Gaudí’s magical creations, so make sure to see his Casa Botines building while in León.

2. Covadonga

A lake in Covadonga at sunset. (Photo by Unaihuiziphotography/Getty)

Located in the lush northern region of Asturias, Covadonga is a verdant, mountainous area part of the Picos de Europa National Park. Start by visiting the sacred cave, a sanctuary built into the rock overlooking a small waterfall. Then, soak in the serenity of the pink limestone Santa María la Real Basilica, which sits perched on the edge of a cliff.

Later, drive down Covadonga’s lakes, Lake Enol and Lake Ercina. It feels almost more Switzerland than Spain, and you’ll probably encounter a cow or two along the twisting, turning road up and then down to the lakes. The area is also ideal for hikers and walkers wanting to enjoy the tranquillity of nature.

3. La Gomera

La Gomera, Canary Islands. (Photo by Westend61/Getty)

One of Spain’s seven Canary Islands, La Gomera is easy to take on to a visit to the more popular island of Tenerife: It’s just under an hour by ferry. Much less crowded and much greener, this volcanic island is known for its massive laurel forest, the Garajonay National Park.

Visitors should check out Los Órganos, a massive volcanic rock cliff that has been shaped into columns resembling an organ thanks to the ferocious waves of the Atlantic. Hikers can head up to the Roque de Agando for expansive views of the island’s unique flora and fauna and ocean below.

4. Extremadura

Trujillo, Spain. (Photo by © Juan M. Casillas/Getty)

Extremadura is a landlocked region in western Spain that many visitors overlook when planning a trip to the country. But if you want to visit ancient Roman ruins, visit hidden lakes and explore traditional Spanish villages, this region is for you.

Highlights include La Vera, a microclimate of greenery where you can sample saffron, the flavourful spice used in one of Spain’s most famous dishes, paella, and Trujillo, a historic town known as part of the Route of the Conquistadors. Travellers should also plan to see the Roman theatre (yes, there are Roman ruins in Spain) in Mérida, as well as the town of Cáceres, a melting pot of Spanish history surrounded by 12th-century medieval walls.

5. Madrid

Madrid, Spain. (Photo by Tanatat pongphibool/Getty)

While Madrid’s capital is known to all, it often flies under the radar, overlooked in favour of more cosmopolitan Barcelona, coastal Valencia or charming Andalusia. But visitors could spend months in the Spanish capital and never get bored, and the city is always bathed in just the right light, so budding photographers or those wanting winter sun, take note. Art lovers can enjoy the Golden Triangle of Art, which includes famous museums like the Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza, as well as explore lesser-known art hubs like the Sorolla or the Cerallbo Museum.

The cuisine is affordable and delicious, and the city is alive with energy day and night for those wanting nightlife or simply a midnight stroll. And strolling is a must: besides wandering through parks like the Retiro, Casa de Campo, the Botanical Gardens or El Capricho, walking around attractions like the Plaza Mayor, Plaza Cibeles and the Palacio Real never get old.

6. Córdoba

Córdoba’s Mosque. (Photo by Allan Baxter/Getty)

Most travellers head straight for Seville, Granada’s Alhambra or the beaches of Málaga when visiting Andalusia. But the region offers so much than just its most famous attractions. The UNESCO-recognized city of Córdoba is an easy side trip to add on from a hub like Seville — there’s nothing quite like admiring the over 350 striped reddish arches of the city’s famed Mosque.

Córdoba also features a Roman bridge dating back to the 1st century BC which spans the Guadalquivir River. And if you don’t mind the city at its busiest, head over in May to enjoy the yearly Patio Festival, which showcases private patios in some of Córdoba’s most beautiful homes, decked out in all their floral glory.

7. Cíes Islands

The Cíes Islands. (Photo by O. Alamany & E. Vicens/Getty)

Most people imagine Ibiza and Lanzarote when thinking about Spanish islands. But if it’s truly wild white sands you’re after, this small island archipelago is off the coast of Galicia is an unspoiled island paradise. A protected natural environment, these islands are best visited by boat (about 45 minutes) as a day trip.

Once there, there isn’t much to do besides enjoy the natural wonders: white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and hiking trails, most of which offer magical views of the islands, the sea, and the Iberian Peninsula in the distance.

8. Cuenca

Cuenca, Spain. (Photo by I just try to tell my emotions and take you around the world/Getty)

This walled city in central Spain is best known for its ‘casas colgadas,’ one-of-a-kind buildings that precariously dangle off the edge over the Huécar Gorge. Besides snapping photos of this famed attraction, the old town is a charming spot for anyone looking to explore rural Spain. Wander the cobbled streets, stopping for tapas and visit the majestic Cuenca Cathedral.

Cuenca features some other unique places to explore, such as the Túnel Alfonso VIII, a secret underground passageway that was once used as an escape during the Spanish Civil War and the ruins of the Cuenca Castle. A hike up to the nearby Cerro Del Socorro, a hill that offers bird’s eye views of the hanging houses and the town below.

Bottom line

A patio in Córdoba, Spain. (Photo by Jeremy Woodhouse/Getty)

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with spending your holiday along the beaches of the Costa Brava, or exploring the beautiful city of Seville. But getting a little further off the tourist circuit by visiting some of these alternative destinations, or even spending a week in Madrid is a way to experience all that Spain really has to offer beyond just its most popular attractions.

(Feature image of Santa María la Real Basilica in Covadonga by THEPALMER/Getty)

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.