Spain is Europe’s second-largest country and a major economic, cultural and geographic power. It is home to a wildly varied landscape and people, from rain-swept mountains to the sun-drenched beaches of Andalusia and beyond. Its capital, Madrid, is a lively metropolis that has become a hub for fashion, cuisine and high culture.
The government system is a constitutional monarchy, with the chief of state (the King) and the head of government (the Prime Minister). Spain has a mixed capitalist economy in which private freedoms are balanced by centralized economic planning and government regulation. The Spanish population is largely of Hispanic origin, with many residents speaking both Spanish and their native language.
The main religion is Roman Catholicism, with a strong influence from Moorish tradition. The Catedral de Sevilla is the world’s largest Gothic church, and its bell tower can be climbed for panoramic views of the city. Visitors should also take a tour of the Alcazar palace complex, where the Spanish kings resided during the medieval period.
The most famous Spanish artist is Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years in Barcelona. His oeuvre is represented at museums around the world. Other top attractions include the Prado Museum in Madrid, a masterpiece collection that spans five centuries of art, including works by Van Gogh, Rembrandt and Velázquez. The Museo del Prado is free to enter but ticket lines can get long, and it’s best to arrive early or book online in advance.
Spain has a large number of castles and palaces, some of which have been converted into museums. The dazzling Royal Palace of Madrid is one example, and it’s also worth visiting the Plaza Mayor and its historic cafes and shops.
Among the country’s other highlights are the Alhambra palace in Granada, and the palace and gardens at the Moorish city of Cordoba. In Andalusia, the birthplace of flamenco and bullfighting as we know them, it’s possible to watch a real bullfight in a bullring, though many visitors find the sport disturbing.
The country is a major tourist destination, and it’s easy to travel around by bus. The buses are comfortable and cheap, and many offer wifi on board. The currency is the Euro, and locals speak primarily Spanish, although some English speakers are to be found in touristy areas. Having some basic Spanish phrases, or an online translator app, is helpful. Bringing cash is always a good idea, as some establishments don’t accept credit cards. Having a map of the country is helpful as well. Using public transport is very popular in Spain, and most cities have multiple buses and trains that run throughout the day. It’s also possible to rent cars for longer journeys. The bus is the preferred method of transport for budget-conscious travelers. It’s a little slower than the train, but it offers a much more flexible schedule. It’s also a convenient way to visit remote villages that aren’t served by trains or buses.