Thanks to its great food, lively culture, beautiful beaches, and stunning cathedrals, Spain has become the second most visited tourist destination in the whole world.
So, if one asks, “What is Spain famous for?” a one-line answer won’t do the country justice. Let us take a closer look at the best-known cities, activities, dishes, and festivals of Spain.
All visitors fall in love with the laid-back culture of Spain. Siesta perfectly showcases the easygoing lifestyle of Spaniards. So, what is a siesta? An afternoon nap.
But, unlike most other nations, the people of Spain take these naps very seriously. Every day, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., all the local offices, government institutions, and shops close for lunchtime and siesta.
Many towns and villages of the country have enshrined the right to siesta in the local law. Admittedly, this element of Spanish culture has started to die out in the more hectic cities of Spain.
But, locals that work in the business district of Madrid are finding new ways to get some shuteye after their lunch break. For example, more and more nap cafés are popping up around the country.
The Mediterranean coastline is one of the best things about Spain. It is dotted with gorgeous seaside towns, serene fishing villages, and pristine beaches.
But not all of the country’s beautiful beaches are along the Mediterranean coastline. The Atlantic coast, Balearic Islands, and Canary islands, also boast a range of lovely and diverse sea resorts.
Tapas is more than a style of eating. It is also a cultural activity. Spain is known as one of the best destinations for those who love bar hopping. Traditional bar snacks and finger foods, locally called Tapas, have plenty to do with it.
It’s customary to serve tapas with drinks. Fried squid, fried potato cubes, croquettes, cheese, and olives, are just some of the famous Spanish appetizers. Every bar makes its own unique version of staple tapas dishes.
In some bars, guests often throw napkins and toothpicks on the floor after finishing their tapas. This is considered to be a compliment to the chef. So, the more toothpicks on the floor, the better the food.
Riotous street celebrations are one of the most interesting things that Spain is famous for. Barely a week goes by in the country without some form of a festival. Whether it’s a religious holiday or a wine harvest festival, the people of Spain like to take every opportunity to go out into the streets to party.
Of all the fun events in Spain, La Tomatina stands out the most. On the last Wednesday of August, every year, the townsfolk of Bunyol have a huge hour-long food fight. Tomatoes are the only weapon allowed, hence the name La Tomatina.
Tourists are welcomed to join, of course. If this seems like a big waste of food, you may be right since no one can really explain how La Tomatina started. And the tradition isn’t even that old, it started only 70 years ago.
But, it’s important to note the tomatoes used in La Tomatina are not fit for eating. There are rules to this crazy tomato fight. One of them is that you can only use low-quality, out-of-season tomatoes that are solely grown for the festival.
If you’d rather not attend a festival where you will get drenched in tomato juice, consider attending Patum de Berga. Taking place in a small town north of Barcelona, this traditional celebration stems from medieval parades and festivities. UNESCO has included the festival on its list of “Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
Paella, a world-famous rice dish, is a true staple of Spanish cuisine. Traditionally, Spanish people prepare paella with seafood or meat.
This national dish of Spain comes from Valencia. The original Valencian recipe uses vegetables and meat only, but people living in coastal areas of the country substitute it with seafood. Mixing seafood and meat to make the mixta version of the dish is a big no-no among Paella purists.
People love to prepare paella for large family gatherings; it is very popular all over Spain. But Valencians still make the best paella.
La Sagrada Familia
Spain is famous for its otherworldly buildings partly thanks to Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi is a Catalan architect who is known for his highly distinctive style.
La Sagrada Familia, a large Roman-Catholic basilica in Barcelona, is his most famous work. The church is a majestic combination of Art Nouveau and Gothic architecture.
Even though it is unfinished, La Sagrada Familia is so impressive that it became the most visited landmark in Spain. This unique architectural gem is even registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with six other Gaudi buildings in the city.
The city aims to complete the church by 2026—the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. While La Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular tourist sites in Spain, be sure to visit other monumental works of Gaudi as well. Most of them are in Barcelona.
Spain is known for its many internationally acclaimed football teams and players (you better not call it soccer while you’re there). El Clásico, which is any match between Real Madrid and Barcelona, is the biggest event of La Liga—the Spanish football league.
The showdown takes place at least two times a year. Each time, these two bitter rivals prepare an extraordinary spectacle for football fans.
Many consider these two Spanish football teams to be the best in the world. When Real Madrid and Barcelona play against each other, the level of feverish football fanaticism in Spain is at its highest.
Even if you are not a fan of the most popular sport in Spain, attending El Clásico is an unforgettable experience. The chanting alone is worth the price of the tickets.
Calat Alhambra is an old royal palace that lies on a hill over Granada. It is another UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Spain.
The palace of Alhambra combines two beautiful architectural styles—Islamic and Gothic. Many visitors are surprised to learn that medieval Moorish architecture is one of the things Spain is famous for.
The oldest parts of the building date back to the 9th century. Calat Alhambra is famous for its reddish appearance.
Like history and culture, art is another facet of life Spain is famous for. When it comes to famous Spanish artists, Pablo Picasso deserves a special place in history.
Pablo Picasso is known for co-inventing the collage and co-founding the Cubist movement. He turned his hand to set making, ceramics, printmaking, sculpture, and, naturally, painting.
Although he was born in Malaga and grew up in Barcelona, Picasso spent most of his adult life in France. Guernica, a representation of the tragedies of the Spanish Civil War, and Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, the most renowned cubist painting, are his two most famous artworks.
Excellent wine is undoubtedly one of the top 10 things Spain is famous for. Spain is the third-largest producer of wine in the world. There are almost 3 million acres of vineyards in the country.
La Rioja is the most famous wine region of Spain. Wines from Rioja are usually made from a blend of different grape varieties. Every year, there is a huge wine harvest festival in Logroño, the capital of the region.
Jerez de la Frontera, a city in Andalusia, is famous for a fortified wine called sherry. Spain is famous for sangria and cava as well.
Sangria is an alcoholic beverage that originates from the Iberian peninsula. Each region has its own take on sangria, but the base ingredients are always red wine and local fruit.
Spaniards mix sangria with pears, apples, berries, nectarines, and peaches. The beverage often features additional ingredients, such as flavored liquor, sparkling water, or brandy. Under EU regulations, only sangria that comes from Spain or Portugal can be labeled as sangria.
Cava is essentially the Spanish version of champagne. In Spain, people like to drink cava on special occasions, such as birthdays and weddings.
Camino de Santiago
Camino de Santiago, known in English as the Way of Saint James, is a network of pilgrimage routes that lead to the shrine of Saint James in the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. As many as 300 thousand pilgrims walk the Camino each year.
The most popular route, known as the French Way, starts in St. Jean Pied-du-Port in France. It stretches over 500 miles, leading pilgrims through many gorgeous towns and villages of Northern Spain.
Other popular routes include the Northern Way, which starts in San Sebastian, and the Portuguese Way, which starts in Porto. There are also routes that begin in southern Spain.
The pilgrimage has become popular among people from all walks of life. Some pilgrims walk the Camino primarily to seek spiritual growth, while others do it to test their strength and endurance. Walking the Camino at the best time is a great way to experience all the best Spain has to offer.
Partying has always been one of the things Spain is famous for. But, the parties in Ibiza are different from those in the rest of the country.
Ibiza, the third largest Balearic Island, is known as the European hub of electronic dance music. Ibiza may even be the party capital of the world.
All of the world’s major EDM DJs descend on this small island every year. This includes names such as Sven Vath, David Guetta, and Carl Cox. Some of them have even made Ibiza their permanent residence.
Every day, dozens of nightclubs host over-the-top parties that last until sunrise. When you are done partying, the scenic, golden beaches of the island will help you forget all about your hangover.
Clubbing isn’t the only thing you can do in Ibiza. For example, you can explore Dalt Vila, the fortified old town of Ibiza that is on UNESCO’s list of world heritage sites.
From bolero to ensalada, music is one of the biggest things Spain is famous for. But when it comes to the music of Spain, flamenco has a very special place in the hearts of Spaniards. Flamenco isn’t just a music genre, it is a quintessential Spanish art form and a vital part of Spanish culture.
A typical flamenco performance consists of six primary elements: cante (song), baile (dance), jaleo (singing and choruses), toque (guitar playing), pitos (finger snapping), and palmas (hand clapping.
Although it is popular all over Spain, flamenco is more specific to the regions of southern Spain, such as Murcia, Extremadura, and Andalucia.
Flamenco, as it is known today, was developed by Roma musicians in the 19th century. However, the origins of Flamenco can be traced to Eastern Europe, where the ancestors of Spanish Roma musicians came from.
In Spain, they encountered the rich cultures of Moors and Sephardic Jews. So, flamenco is a result of centuries-long cultural intermingling.
When you ask people about things Spain is famous for, everyone will mention bullfighting. But these days, it may be more accurate to use the word “infamous” when talking about this age-old Spanish tradition.
Corrida de Toros, known in the rest of the world as bullfighting, is still popular in a few Spanish regions. The bullfighting season runs from April to September. During the height of the season, there is one fight a week in most major cities of Spain.
Because of a range of concerns, most notably animal cruelty, the practice of bullfighting is very controversial. Almost half of Spain wants to ban it. However, it will likely remain lawful for the next several years.
Bullfighting has been present on the Iberian peninsula since Roman times, in one form or another. But most of the world found out about this old Spanish tradition thanks to Hemingway who lived for a while in Pamplona.
A notorious fan of bullfighting, Hemingway wrote about this controversial aspect of Spanish cultural heritage in some of his most famous novels.
Top Things Spain is Famous For: Takeaway
Since there are so many things to mention, making a “Top 10 Things Spain Is Famous For” post wouldn’t be fair. In fact, even this list could go on forever.
From delicious food and unique street festivals to otherworldly buildings and great artists, Spain is a complex, many-sided country. If you really want to learn about the best things Spain has to offer, there’s no better way to do it than tour the country for a few weeks.
I love hiking, backpacking, and camping. From the Camino de Santiago to the West Highland Way in Scotland or simply a great day hike on the weekend. Hiking refreshes me, my mind, and keeps my body reasonably fit. So far I have walked three Camino routes and many other long distance hikes in the UK, Canada, and around the rest of Europe. One of the best was my hike up Ben Nevis.