The Best Travel Books on Spain

Spain’s remarkable history makes it a compelling destination for travellers. Its origins go back to at least the 11th century BC, when Greek and Phoenician settlers first encountered indigenous Iberian tribes. As the Roman province of Iberica, Spain was the birthplace of the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, before becoming a substantial Visigoth kingdom. Seven centuries of Moorish Islamic civilization – unique in Europe – created an artistic legacy of glittering palaces and mosques. By the early 16th century Spanish rulers controlled most of Europe and the New World, heralding a period of unprecedented wealth, and an explosion of building and artistic patronage. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a new dynamism and independent spirit emerged, expressed in exuberant modernista art and architecture.

With such an overwhelming history, we recommend taking the time to read up on this fascinating destination before planning a visit! But where to start? With so many books on offer, we asked our tour leader Dr Jeni Ryde for her comprehensive list on the best reads to prepare you for a tour of Spain.


Blue Guide: Spain

By Ian Robertson (A&C Black, 2002)

Blue Guides are perfect for the kind of cultural tour we take and strong in their treatment of art history. The Blue Guide for Spain has not been reprinted since 2002, but copies are available on secondhand book websites (more information below on how to access these) and most of the information is still relevant.

Spain: Eyewitness Travel Guide

By Nick Inman (DK, 2011)

A readily available travel guide which is well illustrated.

The Rough Guide to Spain

10th ed. Rough Guides, 2002.

Rough Guides are often available in e-book formats (for those with Kindles, iPads and iPhones).



The Cuisines of Spain

By Teresa Barrenechea

We have cooked from this book, and can say that the recipes are as good as the essays! The latter contextualise the diversity of Spanish cuisine in the country’s history and geography and are great for those with an interest in gastronomy.

An Interpretation of Spain and the Spanish People

By John A. Crow

This work is a standard text for undergraduate history courses so it’s readily available. A history of the various groups that have settled in Spain and their differing cultural outlooks. It can be heavy-going in parts.

Fire In the Blood

By Ian Gibson

The book is a companion to a BBC series and covers the “New Spain” after Franco. A natural companion to Crow, focusing on a more recent history. You should be able to locate secondhand copies easily online.

The Shock of the New

By Robert Hughes (Knopf, 1991. Various editions, and also a TV series for PBS in the late 1970s.)

Iconoclastic Australian art historian Hughes’s work is useful because his direct approach forces the reader to make up their own mind! The Shock of the New treats modern art generally and puts Spain’s modernista and surrealist movements into a global perspective. Barcelona is a sensitive biography of the city.

The Arts in Spain

By John F. Moffitt, John F (Thames & Hudson, 1999)

From the World of Art series, this introductory work covers the earliest surviving origins of Spain’s art (the Iberian and Roman periods) and works its way systematically through to Modernism. A useful survey.

Time of Silence: Civil War and the Culture of Repression in Franco’s Spain

By Mike Richards (Cambridge UP, 1998)

This book is particularly good for those with an interest in the Spanish Civil War. It offers a close reading of Spain’s time under Franco. A special-interest study.

The Story of Spain

By Mark Williams (5th ed. Santana, 2005)

This is better written than the widely available Traveller’s History of Spain. You may need to look for it online, and it will also be available in a number of museum shops on our trip.



Don Quixote

By Miguel de Cervantes

This work is to Spanish literature what Shakespeare is to English. We don’t recommend that you attempt to read all of it, but a brief encounter with it will demonstrate its wide-ranging interest in the human condition.

The Islam Quintet, particularly Shadows of the Pomegranate Tree

By Ali, Tariq. Verso, various editions.

This Pakistani film director, journalist and activist has an abiding interest in the history of Islam and its interactions – peaceful and otherwise – with the Christian West. The first book in his Islam Quintet is set in Granada just after the Reconquista and considers the clash of Islam and Christianity from the perspective of one family.

The Shadow of the Wind

By Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Penguin, 2005. and various editions)

A gripping mystery set in Barcelona under Franco’s Spain, this bestselling work owes much to the style of writers like Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, but is perhaps more accessible!

The Sun Also Rises and For Whom the Bell Tolls

By Hemingway (Available in numerous editions)

Hemingway’s style – and subject matter – is not for everyone, but he presents an unflinching account of the ways in which violence and disorder can underpin the most basic human emotions and needs.

Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba

By Federico García Lorca

A poet, dramatist and theatre director, García Lorca’s political activism brought him into conflict with the anti-Communist feeling of the Spanish Civil War and he was probably “disappeared” by the death squads. The Rural Trilogy we recommend above gives a good sense of Spaniards’ relation to their earth.

As I Walked Out One Midsummer’s Morning and A Moment of War

By Laurie Lee (various editions)

These come highly recommended: Lee details, in the first, how he caught a ferry to Spain in the 1930s and walked the length of the country before the outbreak of the Civil War. In the second, he fights with the anti-Franco movement alongside other prominent intellectuals. Very evocative and beautifully written.

Homage to Catalonia

By George Orwell (various editions)

Orwell served in Catalonia and Aragon for six months, fighting in the Spanish Civil War. In this work he chronicles his time there and offers a powerful message about the dangers of totalitarianism.




The UK-based website, Book Depository ( has a massive inventory of new books at heavily discounted rates and does not charge postage to Australia. Abebooks ( brings together the inventories of second-hand bookstores the world over, and you can narrow your search down by country (which brings down the postage). Check delivery times as these vary according to the provider you choose.

Dr Jeni Ryde

Dr Jeni Ryde is a linguist and art history specialist with over fifteen years experience leading tours to Italy, Spain and Portugal. She is passionate about art, design and architecture both ancient and modern and particularly enjoys how both complement each other. Her special interests are the simplicity of the Romanesque and the breadth and depth of the Renaissance. Jeni holds two undergraduate degrees with majors in Anthropology and French and Interpreting and Translation with NAATI qualifications, two Masters degrees in Italian Linguistics and TESOL and a cross disciplinary PhD in Renaissance Art History, Tourism and Museum Management.


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