With 49 World Heritage sites, Spain has a historical and cultural legacy that shines. While all are worth a visit, here are 15 you must absolutely make sure are on your bucket list.
The mission of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is to help identify, protect and preserve the cultural and natural heritage sites that add a great value to humanity. In this sense, it declares monuments and places from all over the world World Heritage sites in order to promote their conservation and spread their historical interest.
With 49 World Heritage sites, Spain has an enriching historical and cultural legacy all around the country. In fact, it is one of the countries with the highest number of sites on UNESCO’s prestigious list. Although all of them are absolutely worth a visit, we have selected 15 (in no particular order) that must be on every traveler’s bucket list.
1. The Alhambra, Granada
UNESCO has recognized the iconic history-rich Alhambra, the stunning Generalife gardens and the Moorish district of Albaicín. Together, they form the medieval center of Granada, which boasts an unrivaled collection of Arab constructions. Soak up the spirit of Al-Andalus by strolling through the fortress, gardens and neighborhood when you’re in Granada.
2. Alcazar of Seville
The Cathedral, the Alcazar and the General Archive of the Indies of Seville have been World Heritage sites since 1987. These three buildings in the center of Seville stand out for their Arab influence. Here, you can admire the mythical minaret of the Giralda next to the cathedral. The temple houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Does the Alcazar look familiar to you? If you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you might recognize this magnificent structure as the Water Gardens of Dorne.
3. Old town of Santiago de Compostela
The old town of Santiago de Compostela was added to the UNESCO list in 1985. One of the world’s largest pilgrimage sites, the Camino de Santiago, the famous Pilgrim’s Way ends in the old own which is steeped in a rich Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque legacy. Don’t leave without visiting the tomb of the apostle James inside the cathedral.
4. The architecture of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona
Barcelona and Gaudí are practically synonymous with one another. It is impossible to stroll through Barcelona without glimpsing traces of the modernist master. His extraordinary monuments include Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, the Nativity façade and the crypt of the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Park Güell, Palacio Güell and Colonia Güell. You should see these seven UNESCO-protected works at least once in your life.
5. The old town of Toledo
When it comes to charming old towns, Spain definitely brings its A-game with Toledo having been declared a World Heritage site in 1986. Several civilizations passed through this city which boasts a particular and unequaled blend of Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
6. Biodiversity and culture of Ibiza
Since 1999, the biodiversity and culture of Ibiza has been included on UNESCO’s list thanks to the fact that this Balearic island is a model of interaction between marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition to its impressive seabed, Ibiza has also been recognized for its archaeological remains such as the settlement of Sa Caleta and the necropolis of Puig des Molins.
7. Old town of Alcalá de Henares, Madrid
The first planned university city, the historic quarter of Alcalá de Henares together with its university has been a World Heritage site since 1998. It has subsequently served as an example for other universities around the world. If you are in Madrid, we suggest you spend a few hours here.
8. The archaeological site of Tarraco, Tarragona
Imagine the rich Roman history of Tarragona coming to life by visiting the medieval heart of Catalonia, once a great center for worship on the Iberian Peninsula. With spectacular amphitheaters beside the Mediterranean, you can appreciate the importance of ancient Tarraco in terms of Roman urban planning and development.
9. San Cristóbal de la Laguna, Tenerife
The third most populous city in the Canary Islands, San Cristóbal de la Laguna was declared a World Heritage Site in 1999. Located in Tenerife and comprised of an Upper City, which has an unplanned structure, and the Lower City, which was planned according to philosophical principles, La Laguna is full of churches and other historic buildings from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries.
10. Old town and aqueduct of Segovia
Discover the charm of Segovia and the history behind its well-known aqueduct during an excursion from Madrid. This magnificent Roman structure has been standing since 50 AD and has been kept in very good condition. Don’t miss the old town of Segovia either, especially the Alcazar and the cathedral.
11. Old town of Salamanca
One of Spain’s most popular university cities, Salamanca and its atmosphere must be experienced in person. The spectacular porticoed Plaza Mayor is an emblem of the city, and the historic center boasts a rich Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque legacy. A stroll through the old town will delight everyone.
12. Cathedral of Burgos
The Cathedral of Santa María de Burgos, for which construction began in the thirteenth century, was added to UNESCO in 1984. This Gothic building stands out for being the third largest in Spain. Its interior is akin to a museum, housing a superb collection of valuable Gothic sculptures, paintings, altarpieces and stained glass windows.
13. Monastery of Poblet, Tarragona
The Monastery of Poblet, in the south of Catalonia, is Spain’s largest Cistercian abbey. Standing beside a thirteenth-century church, this monastery is equal parts majestic and austere, housing the pantheon of the kings of Aragon.
14. Silk Exchange, Valencia
A visit to Valencia is not complete without a stop at the Silk Exchange, a collection of fourteenth- and fifteenth-century buildings designed, as their name suggests, for the silk trade. While its commercial functions have evolved over time, the grandiosity and details of the architecture will most certainly wow you.
15. Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe, Cáceres
The Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe, located in the Extremaduran town of Cáceres, joined UNESCO in 1993 due to its historical symbolism. The Virgin of Guadalupe that rests inside the monastery represents the colonization of the New World.
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