Spain is a diverse and always fascinating country, steeped in history, art and many traditions. If you’re planning a trip to Spain, our tour leader Dr Jeni Ryde has given us a list of hidden gems well worth seeking out, covering the cities of Granada, Cordoba, Seville, Madrid and Barcelona! Please note opening times and prices are as correct as possible but should be checked.
What to do in Granada
Up above the Albaicin are the caves of the Sacromonte, where the gypsies based themselves in the 19th century and developed the hub of Flamenco in the city. The Museum of the Caves of Sacromonte is quite interesting and the views of the city from here are amazing. At night there are many flamenco shows in the bars and discos.
From the centre take Bus 34 up to Sacromonte and get off at the Venta El Gallo Flamenco school. Check museum opening hours as it usually closes on Mondays and daily between 2pm and 4pm.
Jardin de Carmen de los Mártires:
This garden is not as grand as the Generalife but is great to have a wander around and there are very few tourists. A hidden gem.
This park is on the opposite hill to the Alhambra. Take Bus 30 or have the hotel call a taxi. Current opening hours are Monday to Friday 10am-2pm and 4pm to 7pm. Saturdays and Sundays 10am-6pm. Free entry.
Hammams al Andalus:
After seeing the 11th-century bañuelo you might enjoy this approximate recreation of some Arabic baths. Tastefully done with 3 pools of varying temperatures, a steam room and a massage for approx. 30€. The experience lasts about 1.5hrs. Very relaxing!
Calle Santa Ana, 16. Near Plaza Nueva below the Alhambra. Bookings advised. The same company has a similar baths in Cordoba if you miss this one.
NB: While you are nearby, you might like to visit the Convento de San Bernardo, on Carrer del Darro. This Cistercian convent, located underneath the Alhambra on the Darro River, is often open in the morning and evening for the sale of the sisters’ sweets. The transactions take place in silence, with lots of pointing and the pastries passed to you through a grated window, so the nuns do not have to break their silence. Note that the opening hours here are not reliable, so you might just like to take a look if you are already in the area.
What to do in Cordoba
Palacio de Viana:
A Renaissance Palace with 12 lovely patios which are worth visiting on their own, but the full tour includes a guided tour of the Palace and all the treasures the former occupants, the Marqueses of Viana, accumulated in Paris and Spain.
Full tour 8€ or just patios 5€. The guided part is only in Spanish but you get a leaflet in English. This Palace is a 20-30 min walk from the hotel, north of the centro near Santa Marina. Closed Mondays. Open Tuesday to Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday and Sundays 10am-3pm.
Secret Cordoban Patios:
Not far from the hotel, in the area around San Basilio, from April to June, there is the possibility of seeing the patios entered in the May ‘competition of Cordoban patios’. A selection of home owners volunteer to open their gardens between the hours of 11am and 2pm and 6pm to 10pm and you see an alternative reality behind the tall outside walls. A map of the patios can be got from the tourist office. Admission varies. Highly recommended.
If you are a fan of horses then this mix of horsemanship, tradition and flamenco is a good evening’s entertainment.
Royal Stables in Cordoba. Approx 9pm, Weds, Fridays and Saturdays and Sundays. 15€. The hotel can make a booking for you, ask at reception.
What to do in Seville
La Casa de Pilatos:
This beautiful Andalusian palace is famous for its tiles (azulejos) and dates from the 16th century.
About a 5 minute walk from the hotel on the Plaza de Pilatos. Open daily 9am to 6pm. 8€ full entry or 6€ ground floor.
Hospital de los Venerables:
Also close by in the Barrio de Santa Cruz, is this Baroque palace finished in 1695 with a fine example of a Spanish patio. It often houses art exhibitions. The tiny square outside is a lovely place for a meal or drink, and you will find the celebrated Hosteria del Laurel here too. (It was the subject of a well-known Spanish tale in the 19th century.) The streets around the Venerables are filled with shops selling ceramics of all kinds.
Open from 10am–1.30pm and 4–7.30pm. Cost €4.75
Hospital de la Caridad:
This charity hospital, which is still a functioning hospital today, is another fine example of the Baroque architecture of the 17th century. Being a hospital and also a place of worship the opening hours vary and you can only access the central courtyard, church and lateral patio, plus any temporary exhibitions. There are a number of lovely paintings by Murillo inside, as well as two very striking paintings by Valdés Leal on the subject of death! The gardens opposite are a nice place to sit if you have a moment.
Calle Temprado (near the river) about 1km from hotel. Opening hours generally: Mondays to Saturdays 11am-1pm and 3.30pm-7pm, Sundays, 9am-12.30pm. Cost €5.
Plaza de España:
This monument was built in 1928 for the 1929 exposition. It is an example of Spanish revival architecture with art deco and Mudéjar elements. Each alcove represents a different province of Spain, done with tiles.
In the Parque Maria Luisa, open air. Open 9am to 10pm. Free entry. About 2kms from the hotel.
Fine Arts Museum / Museo de Bellas Artes:
A medium-sized rounded collection of essentially Spanish art, including works by the major Spanish painters – Murillo, Zurbaran, Velazquez, El Greco, Ribera, Valdés Leal, Goya.
Plaza del Museo, 9. Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 09:00 to 19:30. Public holidays and Sunday from 09:00 to 15:30. Closed Mondays. Entry €1.50
What to do in Madrid
The former 6th-century Visigothic capital of Hispania is an atmospheric walled town with cobbled streets and is crammed with churches and museums and examples of Arabic, Mudejar Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Highlights include the 13th-century cathedral (10.30-18.30 weekdays), the medieval castle and Santa Maria La Blanca Synagogue. Also make time to view the masterpieces by El Greco, including The Burial of the Count of Orgaz in the church of St. Tome (10.00-17.30 daily).
Toledo is only a 35 minute train ride from Madrid Atocha station. There is a train nearly every hour and a second class ticket should cost around €15 each way. Tickets should be bought in advance to avoid delay or disappointment.
‘Hop on, hop off’ bus: a great way of getting an overview of the city.
Buses run from 9am to 10pm and there are two routes. The nearest stop is a five minute walk down the Gran Via to Circulo de las Bellas Artes. Cost is around €20 for the 1-day pass.
Parque del Buen Retiro:
This fascinating park which once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy is a social hub for Madrid with lovely walks down avenues filled with sculptures and which fill with joggers and rollerbladers in the evenings.
The park is free to enter and is open from 6am to 10pm. About a 15 minute walk down the Gran Via and on to the Puerta de Alcalá.
Museum of Romanticism:
Opened in 1924, this museum gives a view of the Romantic period of the 1920s in Spain, in a global context.
Access from Metro Tribunal, or Metro Alonso Martinez, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 9.30-20.30. Cost €3.
Archaeological Museum of Madrid:
This museum, which was closed for renovations for many years is now reopen and is a must. It is beautifully set out and interpreted and amongst its treasures are Visigothic hoards with wonderful gold items, ancient Iberian sculpture and Moorish artefacts from Granada and Cordoba. There is an excellent prehistory section and a replica of one of the caves from Altamira. It is only 1km from the hotel, up the Paseo de Recoletos.
Tuesday-Saturday, 9.30 am – 8 pm. Sundays and public holidays, 9.30 am – 3 pm. Entry €3
Real Fábrica de Tapices:
See the Royal Tapestry Factory in which Goya made a name for himself designing cartoons and designs. The factory still produces tapestries and embroideries – and still uses Goya’s designs for these. You can take a tour, and even take home one of the costly products!
Located on Calle de Fuenterrabía 2, just below the “Golden Triangle” of Madrid’s primary museums. The nearest transport hubs are the Atocha station and the Metro Menéndez Pelayo. Mon-Fri 10.00-14.00 (September-July). Admission €2.50. www.realfabricadetapices.com
What to do in Barcelona
La Seu cathedral:
Barcelona’s original cathedral built in the Gothic style, can be found on the big square Plaça de la Seu in the centre of the Gothic Quarter. It was built between the end of the 13th and middle of the 15th centuries and has impressive vaults and arches as well as an interesting cloister area with palms and orange trees. The gaggle of 13 geese supposedly represent the age at which the young St Eulalia, to whom the cathedral is dedicated, was martyred. On Sunday afternoons the cathedral square is filled with Catalans dancing their traditional dance, the Sardana.
Opening hours – some of the cathedral is open all day but tourists are encouraged to come between 13-17.00 and for €6 can see the church, cloister, terrace and museum. You can also ascend to the roof for a panoramic view.
Mercat de la Boquería:
this market on La Rambla and is a must-do. There are fantastic stands of fresh fruit and juices along with cheeses, hams and other regional delicacies. Great stop for ingredients for a hotel picnic! Or visit the bar at the back (Bar Central la Boquería) on the left for great tapas.
Monday to Saturday 8.00-20.00.
Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat:
The museum of the history of Barcelona showcases the Roman remains of the city of Barcino in the basement which can be discovered via a series of walkways. The upper levels of the museum are dedicated to the Medieval era and more contemporary history.
Tue-Sat 10.00-19.00 (closed Oct-May 14.00-16-00) and Sun 10.00-14.00. Entry fee €7.
The Church of Santa Maria del Mar:
Is a beautiful and important 14th-century church, considered one of the finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture. The interior was burned out by locals in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, after the Church sided with Franco against the people. Smoke still blackens parts of the vault, but the resulting lack of furnishings enhances the architecture’s simple beauty. This is also a lovely part of the city for wandering, with fashion boutiques, artisan jewellers and bars and restaurants.
Monday to Saturday, from 9am-1.30pm & 4.30pm-8pm. Sunday & holidays, from 10.30am-1.30pm & 4.30pm-8pm.
Church of Santa Maria del Pi:
The name of this Church means ‘St Mary of the Pine tree’ and it is another example of 14th-century Gothic architecture. It features a beautiful rose window and stands at the heart of 3 pretty little squares where there are often markets. The squares really come alive at night (and the church is often open for concerts then too), with a number of bars and restaurants where you can enjoy dinner.
Everyday from 9.30am-1pm and 5pm-8:30pm.
This museum is dedicated to the formative years of the artist and the strong influence the city had throughout his life. It was opened in 1963. Picasso’s major works are housed in Paris so do not expect to see them here. Address: Montcada 15-23, in the El Born area. Closed on Mondays, other days other days 09-19.00, open late on Thursday till 9.30pm. Entry fee €11 (€7 for over 65’s), audioguide available for €5. Beware, you really need to book in advance as entry is now timed.
This comprehensive exhibition of Miró’s work is up on the Montjuic hill and makes a nice half day excursion if you go up by funicular from metro station Universal (near Poble Sec) and then come down on the cable car (teleferic) over the city, which brings you down to the beach of Barceloneta. The view of Barcelona is amazing.
Opening hours: Closed Mondays, Tuesdays to Saturdays 10.00-19.00, Sundays 10.00–14.30. Entry fee €10. The funicular is included on a metro ticket; the cable car costs around €7 for the one way journey.
Some of the best known modernist architecture and impressive views of Barcelona in the midst of nature; this area created by Antoni Gaudí is now a symbol of the city. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and is now the most visited park in the Barcelona.
The park is open from 8am to 8pm and costs €7 to enter, or €5 for over 65’s. Entry is now timed and you should purchase your ticket in advance online at the following site to reserve your time: http://www.parkguell.cat/en/buy-tickets/ You can access the park from the metro (stops Lesseps or Vallarca on the green line L3), but there is still about a 15 minute walk so it might be best to get a taxi.
Torres Belleguard or Casa Figueras:
For years this work of Gaudí’s was not open to the public, but this has now changed. Located at the foot of Mount Tibidabao on a hill in the outskirts of Barcelona (about 6kms from hotel), this private house built for Jaume Figueras has beautiful mosaic benches, wrought iron railings, brick borders, colourful windows and ivy-shaped balustrades and pipework. The building is more rectilinear than other of Gaudí’s works because he wanted it to replicate the castle of the House of Barcelona which stood here in the fourteenth century.
Buses leave from Plaza Catalunya (no’s 58 or 22) or the sightseeing buses stop here. Opening times are Monday to Saturday 10am to 7pm. General entry €7 which does the outside areas with an audio guide, or full tours at 11h00 and 12h00 access all areas and last about 1 hour €16 (pre booking required).
Park de la Ciutadella:
Is located next to Barcelona Zoo and very close to the Arc de Triomf. It is a lively place where you can watch the locals take a boat out onto the lake, enjoy the sun or stroll along its tree-lined paths. It is an open-air museum that houses sculptures, such as a life-size stone mammoth and El Desconsol, a female nude by the Catalan sculptor Josep Llimona, situated in front of the Catalan Parliament building. The Castell dels Tres Dragons, by the architect Domenech i Montaner, and Umbracle, a greenhouse designed by Josep Fontseré, are great examples of Catalan modernism.
Open 10am to 7pm daily, free entry. It is a 1.5km walk from the hotel, or a short taxi ride.
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.