The 12 best places to visit in Spain shown here are some of the best sights you can hope to see in the Land of the Bulls. A couple of weeks in Spain and you can see them all. First, let’s take a look into the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur.
Spain honours the Minotaur (Half Man/Half Bull) Myth
In Greek mythology, Theseus entered a labyrinth in the hope of slaying the Minotaur. That’s not all. After that he had to escape from the labyrinth, which was thought to be impossible. The thread attached to Theseus allowed him to make his way back to the entrance after the ordeal. They had real good imaginations back then.
Sounds pretty farfetched to be true, but there happens to be an even crazier tradition in the modern world. The famous Running of the Bulls in the town of Pamplona in the northern part of Spain is just as weird. No forced combatants sacrificed this time, just a town full of crazy volunteers willing to risk their life or suffer a serious injury.
Imagine being a soothsayer and predicting this crazy myth to the people of ancient Greece. You may want to say something like this. “Fellow Greeks, in the future I predict the existence of a small town in a faraway land where thousands and thousands of crazy people will gather. They’ll run with bulls through a maze of labyrinth like narrow streets. They’ll do it for fun and to prove their bravery as part of a bull cult festival held every year. As you can imagine, a few unlucky participants will be seriously injured and every so often someone will be gored to death, yet it will go on. Most of you listening to this may not believe any word of this prophesy, but neither will the people of the future believe in your scary Minotaur. Half man, half bull, who’ll believe that? Only someone with a monkey brain would believe that.”
How did the Running of the Bulls begin? What began this obsession with bulls in Spain? Not only does Spain hold the Running of the Bulls, but bullfighting is huge in Spain. Could their obsession with bulls in anyway be linked to the myth of the Minotaur?
The island of Crete where the Minotaur myth is supposed to have originated from has ancient artwork depicting traditions of ancient Minoans participating in extreme bull acrobatics. Playing with bulls is a custom going way back.
The Running of the Bulls sunk into my own consciousness after I’d seen it on tv many times prior over the years. It had a strange kind of appeal, looked like a foolhardy thing to do, but you also admired the courage of the participants. I decided when planning a trip to Europe to to include this event on my agenda. While in Spain I also wanted to explore a few other parts of the country as well. I’d go sightseeing on a whim, without much of a plan in place. Do my research on the go, from one town to the next.
I’ll share with you twelve of my most memorable highlights during this trip to Spain of mine.
The other destinations I really wish I had time to visit while in Spain would’ve been to stay on one island in the Balearic sea, such as Ibiza, Menorca or Majorca. Visiting the seaside town of San Sebastian to relax on a beach for a while, and Bilbao to marvel at the Guggenheim Museum would also have been great experiences. Both places were situated very close to Pamplona and I missed them both, because of my ignorance and slow paced research. Then again if I went there I may have missed out on some of these great sights.
The 12 best places to visit in Spain from my own experience includes:
1. Pamplona – Running of the Bulls
I arrived in Pamplona around midday with just a small day backpack after a long bus trip. My plan involved to run with the bulls, stay the night and leave the next day. I thought I’d be able to find a cheap place to stay after arrival but quickly gave up on the idea. I didn’t expect this many people in town. The whole town seemed to be celebrating a major festival. I thought it was just about running with the bulls, but it’s so much more than that.
Most of the people were wearing white and red clothing. There were carnival rides, food stalls and side shows creating a family friendly atmosphere, during the day anyway. This is not what I expected at all.
When the time came for the main attraction. I found myself squashed in a street filled with loads of other people. How anyone could actually run with the bulls had me perplexed. There were too many people where I stood. I was scared more of getting trampled by people.
Before I knew it a few bells were ringing in the distance and the noise was getting closer and closer. The bulls quickly approached. A parting of the sea occurred and they passed by. It was all over in what seemed like 10 seconds. If you blinked you would have missed it. It was a blur. I started thinking that the bulls which passed us must have been the first batch of bulls, used to warn everyone, but no, that was it. It was over and I had survived. Thank the Greek Gods for that.
This photo shows everyone looking in the direction of the bulls soon after they had passed us.
Cheapest Accomodation in Pamplona
That night the temperature dropped dramatically. My clothing could’t keep me warm and I really needed a jumper. It was hot during the day, but as the sun faded it turned cold and kept getting colder throughout the night. I actually started shivering as the night progressed. I had to find a way to escape the cold wind. After midnight I felt tired and wanted to go to sleep, but where. I looked around and became desperate. That’s when I came up with the idea of catching a bus and sleeping inside it while it drove around. I didn’t care where it went, I would deal with it in the morning.
I fell asleep quickly sitting upright at the back of the bus. In the early morning however I woke up to some very loud shouting. The bus driver screamed at me in Spanish. He calmed down quite quickly though and with a half laugh managed to let me know in rough English that the next final stop would be at the bus station. The bus service had just about finished and I had to get off.
After what was a pretty good nap, I left the bus. I was the only passenger at that time. It worked out pretty well for me and daylight arrived soon after that.
My biggest advice to anyone going to the Running of the Bulls Festival is to stay a minimum of two nights in Pamplona with accommodation pre-arranged. Get a map of the entire course showing the path the bulls take when running through the streets. Talk to the locals and pick a good location. Try and pre-arrange a seat in the stadium for the day’s grand finale. It looks like a great festival. Also buy some white/red clothing, so you’ll fit in much better. If you plan the Running of the Bulls properly you’ll have a great time. Pamplona is a very charming town.
2. Bullfighting Stadium
Seeing a bullfight for the first time gave me a great appreciation for Spanish culture. However, after the second bullfight extravaganza in another stadium, I started to wish the bull would win for once.
Bull fightings stadiums exist throughout Spain. Madrid, Pamplona, Seville all have stadiums, and they seem to hold events regularly during summer.
3. Barcelona – La Rambla
La Rambla is a long pedestrian strip filled with tourists who walk up and down it. It’s great for people watching. The paved road is approximately 1km long, so going back and forth keeps everyone fit, especially if you do it a couple of times a day.
Some people are always in a mad rush. Check this guy out.
The truth is that this guy is a human statue. He isn’t moving at all. There are many human statues along this street.
4. Barcelona – Magic Fountain
This very entertaining magical fountain changes colour and shape in response to music played in the background.
It’s a very popular tourist attraction, but is easily missed if you don’t know about it.
I thought it was amazing sight.
The magic fountain can vary quite a lot in shape and colour.
This video will give you a better idea of what the Magic Fountain can do.
I found the coastal city of Valencia to be very romantic. Valencia also has a futuristic precinct which includes a scientific interactive museum and aquarium.
One thing that really sticks in my mind is buying what tasted like a soy based milk drink right outside these futuristic buildings. A couple of ladies focussed on selling this cool drink, which they scooped into a cup from a large metal container. It has to be one the most refreshing drink I’ve ever had. Absolutely delicious. I bought a second cup after gulping down the first one on a boiling hot day.
Neptune (Poseidon) is the central figure of the Turia Fountain at the Plaza de la Virgen in Valencia. He can be seen here lazing around in the main square surrounded by eight naked women.
6. Madrid – Museo Del Prado
My camera flash went off lighting up the whole room when I took this photo. Flashes were not allowed and an angry guard quickly approached another person and demanded their camera thinking they’d done it, but it was actually me. I quickly made a getaway into another room. You can easily see the flash light reflected on the painting.
Check out some of the Greek mythology paintings in the Prado Museum.
This painting in the Prado Museum depicts the myth of the re-population of the earth after the Great Flood. The husband and wife having consulted the Goddess Themis, threw stones over their shoulders to give birth to a new generation of man. The stones thrown by Deucalion became men, while the stone thrown by Pyrrha gave life to women.
7. Madrid – Lake, Fountains, and Water Parks
Estanque grande del Retiro is a beautiful rectangular lake in Madrid, where you can hire a row boat and enjoy the beautiful serenity. Being on land is also very calming.
This is a really beautiful spot in Madrid. Madrid can feel very hectic, but come here and you’re in another world.
The Neptune (Poseidon) Fountain is in Madrid. It really surprised me when I saw it.
On one very hot day I visited a water park on the outskirts of Madrid. It’s hard to beat a water park when the is extremely hot weather. There were many Spaniards enjoying themselves at the water park.
I felt I had travelled back into medieval times. Shop windows sold impressive looking swords. If you want to buy a medieval sword then this is the place to be. This mystical city served as the capital of past empires, which is very easy to see why. This is a hilltop fortress town. Walk across an old bridge and make your way up to the top of this historic town for an awesome experience.
Entering Toledo is spectacular.
This city gave me the feeling that I had entered the cultural capital of Spain. You’ll feel like Zorro if you’re a guy.
10. Flamenco performance
Two smoking hot dancers entertain a small group of us in an intimate setting in Seville.
11. Granada – The Alhambra
There’s a saying associated with the dreamy Alhambra.
“If you die without seeing the Alhambra, you have not lived.”
While this may be an overstatement by today’s standards, you can easily see how someone came up with this saying. I can imagine a harem of beautiful women enjoying its fine splendour in ages long gone. The magical site is remembered as the last Muslim stronghold in Spain.
Loved the Alhambra.
Don’t miss out on seeing the Alhambra.
Neptune (Poseidon) can also be seen in Granada.
I highly recommend a trip to Granada. This town is a vibrant University town and it’s a fabulous place in Spain to base yourself in for a couple of nights. You won’t be disappointed by the beauty of the Alhambra. It’s spectacular!
12. Rock of Gibraltar
Known in ancient times as the Pillars of Hercules. Believe it or not, Greek mythology even extended this far west. Technically this isn’t Spain, but it’s close enough.
You’ll never guess what I saw on top of the gigantic rock? I saw a half monkey, half man getting into a vehicle. Would anyone believe me without seeing this photo? Probably not. Well here it is.
Who’d ever believe you could see a monkey on the Pillars of Hercules? Could the Greek Gods and Goddesses in a sly way be letting us know that they’ll make a monkey out of all of us in the end. Could these monkeys be the descendants of higher beings? Zeus has been know to transform people into animals.
Seeing a half man/half monkey made me think that the Minotaur myth had an element of truth about it. A half man/half bull, didn’t seem that impossible anymore.
On reflection, maybe all Bull Runners in Spain celebrate and pay homage to the Minotaur myth. The Minotaur is king bull after all.
I departed Spain after paying for a train ticket somewhere at the bottom of Spain with the intention of making my way to San Sebastian up top. I kicked myself for not going there straight after my visit to Pamplona.
The lady at the ticket counter told me the train would be leaving in five minutes. She thought I’d be able to make it in time. Guess what, I missed it. I went back to the counter and somehow got into an argument with her. She then threatened to call the security guard if I didn’t leave. I decided to leave Spain and go to Portugal right then and there. I’m so glad I missed that train. I ended up catching a bus into Portugal, a country I probably would’ve missed otherwise. Portugal like Spain is awesome. Spain had revealed a little bit of magic to me, and Portugal did the same. The Greek Gods and Goddesses truly work in mysterious ways.