Winter may not seem the best time to visit Europe, but the rewards of traveling in low season are well worth the trouble. Tourist crowds are virtually nonexistent, prices are at their lowest, and if you go to a Mediterranean country like stunning Spain, the weather won’t even be that bad. You might not come home with a tan, but temperatures in many parts of the country stick to the mild 40s and 50s. Purchase a Eurail pass or rent a car to see as much of the country as possible at your own pace.
The cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is vast and sprawling. Fully exploring this vibrant metropolis could easily fill the whole of your vacation and still leave stones unturned. Marvel at the surrealist architectural gems of Antoni Gaudi, like the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia church or the fanciful Parc Guell. Get lost in the spider web of alleyways woven throughout the historic Gothic Quarter, take a leisurely stroll down the perennially popular La Rambla, or catch a stellar panoramic view from the top of Montjuic.
Spending all day on the beach might not be the best plan in the throes of winter, but a stop in San Sebastian is a must for the seaside resort town’s incredible Basque cuisine. When you think of Spain, you think of tapas, and the small plates tradition is more important in the northern Basque Country than anywhere. San Sebastian’s downtown Parte Vieja neighborhood is overflowing with pintxos bars to satisfy your tapas tooth. Just a few hours west lies the bustling commercial city Bilbao, home to the renowned Guggenheim Museum. Frank Gehry’s towering contemporary façade is as much of an attraction as the rotating art displays inside.
As the Spanish capital, Madrid is both the geographic and cultural heart of this fiery Mediterranean nation. From its world-class museums to its legendary nightlife, no trip to Spain is complete without at least a few days in Madrid. At the top of your must-see list is the famous Museo del Prado, where Spanish masters Goya, El Greco, and Velazquez lurk among a massive collection of paintings, prints, drawings, and sculptures from around the world. History buffs will be in heaven with magnificent examples of seventeenth and eighteenth century architecture like the Plaza Mayor and the Palacio Real. When it’s time to stop sightseeing, nurse a glass of fine local sherry and enjoy a thumping flamenco beat at one of the city’s many traditional watering holes.
Between its rich cultural heritage and breathtaking landscapes, sensual Seville and the other towns of the southern region of Andalusia capture the true essence of the Mediterranean. Closely situated next to Morocco, the region’s medieval Moorish history continues to shine through in its architecture and its traditional cuisine. Seville’s Alcazar, Malaga’s Alcazaba, and Granada’s Alhambra all trace their roots back to Muslim occupation and the result is a stunningly beautiful country peppered with intricate architecture and rich décor. Andalusia is also the true home of flamenco dance. Learn the art’s history at Seville’s Museo del Baile Flamenco before grabbing a seat at a local performance or, better yet, taking a class yourself.