15 Best Under-the-Radar Places to Visit in Spain

Formentera aerial view

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If you're taking a trip to Spain, you're likely planning to stop in Barcelona, Madrid, or even Seville. All three of them are incredible cities, but they're just a small part of a country that's as culturally and geographically diverse as Spain. Any local would tell you that Spain's true magic lies in the hidden gems outside of the major urban centers, which range from small towns with a medieval history to sun-kissed islands that feel more like the Caribbean.

For a more authentic view of Spain, try any one of these destinations which are favorites for locals but very much off the beaten tourist path. Whether you're looking for natural beauty, cultural history, superb wines, or tasty gastronomy, Spain has it all. As an added bonus, cities in Spain outside of the major tourist areas feel like a bargain with their cheap prices. Regardless of which ones you choose, they all offer something you won't find anywhere else.

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Cíes Islands (Galicia)

Cies Islands in Galicia, Spain

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If an unspoiled island paradise is what you're after, the Islas Cíes just off the coast of Galicia are calling your name. However, you can't just hop on a ferry and make your way out to this breathtaking archipelago on your own. Only 2,200 visitors are allowed to access the islands every day to preserve their natural beauty. There are no cars, no hotels, and just a few essential restaurants. For the most part, it's just you and nature.

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Picos de Europa National Park (Asturias & Cantabria)

Covadonga Lakes hiking route, Asturias, Spain

Miguel ngel Reguera Gil / EyeEm / Getty Images

 

Picos de Europa was Spain's first national park, earning the prestigious designation more than a century ago. It's home to stunning views and some great hiking, as well as the tallest mountains in the Cantabrian range. With its rolling, verdant hills and craggy sierras, this park is probably a far cry from the image of Spain's landscape you may have in mind—and that's precisely why it's so incredible to see in person. If you need a place to base yourself, the Asturian capital city of Oviedo is within easy access to the mountains, and don't forget to try Asturian cider while you're there.

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Getaria (Basque Country)

Getaria, Basque Country, Spain

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A quaint fishing village just half an hour down the coast from San Sebastian, Getaria has made a name for itself in recent years as one of the top day trip destinations in the Basque Country. Picturesque scenery aside, the town is also home to some of the best local gastronomy in the region. Freshly caught Atlantic anchovies and crisp txakoli wine are staples of the local diet and must-tries for anyone visiting. And if you're into fashion, don't miss the Balenciaga Museum—the famous fashion designer hailed from Getaria.

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Wine Country (Navarra)

Vineyard in Navarra, Spain

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When you think of Spanish wine regions, La Rioja might be the first that comes to mind. However, don't count out its vineyard-filled neighbor Navarra, either. Often overlooked in the Spanish wine world in favor of its big-name neighbors Rioja and Ribera, those in the know are discovering what Navarra has to offer, enologically speaking. Archaeological evidence shows that the Ancient Romans were producing wine here, and the tradition still holds active even today. Book a vineyard tour and get to know the best-kept secret of Spanish wine for yourself.

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Haro (La Rioja)

Festivity of the wine, Haro, La Rioja
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Another fabulous destination for wine lovers, the town of Haro in nearby La Rioja helped put the region on the international map. It's perhaps best known for the annual wine festival that takes place in early summer which includes the "Battle of the Wine," where festival-goers basically have a giant water gun fight outside in the town. But instead of filling the water guns with water, they're filled with wine. If you can't make it to the yearly event, it's still a great destination at any time of year. The friendly, small-town feel makes it a great home base for exploring one of Spain's most iconic wine regions.

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Albarracín (Aragón)

Town of Albarracín, Spain

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In the tiny village of Albarracín, Moorish and medieval cultures converge. The picturesque pueblo in Aragón's Teruel province has long been recognized as one of Spain's most beautiful small towns. The red-hued buildings look especially magical at sunset, and its winding streets provide endless opportunities to explore. Right outside of the city are numerous hiking trails so travelers who love to enjoy the outdoors. When you get hungry, stop at a local restaurant to tuck into a hearty plate of local cuisine, much of which is based around meat and legumes.

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Pyrenees Mountains (Catalonia)

Village in the Catalan Pyrenees, Spain

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With a lush, green landscape dotted with villages that look straight out of the Alps, look no further than the Catalan Pyrenees. This quintessentially European mountain range straddles the border with France, and you can even cross over to explore the French side of the Pyrenees. Easily accessible from some of the region's largest cities, including Barcelona, the mountains are perfect for hiking, skiing, or simply just exploring Catalan culture in a traditional village. Base yourself in one of the larger towns such as Puigcerdà or La Seu d'Urgell, and explore from there.

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Ávila (Castilla y León)

Walls of Avila at sunset. Fortified building. Fence surrounding the city
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Though small in size, the medieval town of Ávila in central Spain is packed with history and culture and just a short drive away from Madrid. Its marvelously preserved city walls are nothing short of impressive, making this a must-see stop for history buffs. The city center is so well-preserved that it's just about the closest you can get to time traveling to the 1500s. It also has an impressive selection of religious history destinations (it was the birthplace of the famous 16th-century St. Teresa). Even if you're not religious, you can't help but admire the beauty of its many churches, chapels, and monasteries.

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Albacete (Castilla-La Mancha)

Town of Albacete, Spain

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As the largest city in the region of Castilla-La Mancha, it's a lively destination that doesn't draw many tourists—and they don't know what they're missing. Albacete is located in the heart of La Mancha, the traditional area of Spain that was made famous by the fictional adventures of Don Quixote. Come for the awe-inspiring architecture but stick around in the evening for a lively dining and nightlife scene that rivals more popular cities but at a fraction of the cost. This off-the-beaten-path destination is sure to surprise you.

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Gandia (Valencia)

Beach in Gandia, Spain

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Foodies, this one's for you. The coastal town of Gandia is home to one of Spain's most delectable traditional dishes, fideuà. Similar to paella but made with noodles instead of rice, it's at its best here in its hometown. But that's not all—Gandia is an easygoing, welcoming city that's perfect if you're looking to escape the hustle and bustle of nearby Valencia. It's also home to some of the region's best beaches, both in terms of scenery and amenities.

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Trujillo (Extremadura)

Main square in Trujillo, Spain

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An off-the-beaten-path town in the off-the-beaten-path region of Extremadura, Trujillo is the idyllic Spanish pueblo of your dreams. Dominated by a castle on a hill and full of winding streets that you could spend hours wandering, it's the kind of place you might not think to visit on your own but will be so glad you did. Be sure to try some of Extremadura's famous cured meats, such as ham and chorizo, while in town. If you happen to be around in springtime, the small town hosts one of the most important cheese festivals in the country every May.

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Cartagena (Murcia)

Monument in Cartagena, Spain

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The sun-baked region of Murcia in the southeastern corner of Spain is often overlooked in favor of its more famous neighbor Andalusia, but it shouldn't be. The city of Cartagena, in particular, encapsulates all the classic charm of southern Spain without nearly as much influence from the tourism industry. The city is compact and easily walkable, with architecture ranging from ancient ruins to spectacular Art Deco designs. And of course, the city's access to the beach doesn't hurt.

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Mojácar (Andalusia)

Whitewashed town Mojácar, Spain

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Whitewashed buildings, incredible food, and access to both the mountains and the beach—what more could you want? Mojácar is one of the most stunning villages in the province of Almeria, and a must on any Andalusian itinerary. There are two halves to the whole that make up Mojácar: pueblo (the town itself) and playa (the assortment of buildings down near the beach). Start in Mojácar pueblo, getting lost in the endless maze of white streets, and take the afternoon to relax on the beach.

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La Palma (Canary Islands)

Balconies on the island of La Palma

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The northernmost and arguably the most rugged of the Canary Islands is the island of La Palma (not to be confused with the city of Las Palmas—the largest city in the Canary Islands located on the nearby island of Gran Canaria). La Palma is a natural paradise that combines stunning mountains and volcanoes with breathtaking beaches, and its remote location means it's one of the best places for stargazing. Apart from its natural beauty, La Palma also has many charming towns painted in vibrant colors that are reminiscent of Latin America.

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Formentera (Balearic Islands)

Beach on Formentera island, Spain

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While most people are heading off to Mallorca, Menorca, or Ibiza, few make it to the tiny paradise that is the fourth inhabited Balearic Island: Formentera. While the island does have a tourism industry, it feels much more relaxed and authentic than its more famous counterparts. It doesn't have an airport, so you'll need to start in Ibiza and then take the short ferry ride over. Go to the beach, of course, but don't forget to explore its stunning white villages or natural landscapes, either. Many tourists stay for the day and then head back to Ibiza, but once the daytrippers have departed in the evening is one of the best times to be there.

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