Many visitors to the Spanish east coast on the Mediterranean go no further than Barcelona. A few might find a cheap flight to Valencia. The rest head straight to a beach resort. But there is a lot more to Spain's east coast than these places.
There's the Dali Museum in Figueres, more paella than you could ever eat in Valencia, Roman ruins in Tarragona, modernist architecture and vermouth in Reus, and the 24-hour party town of Benidorm.
Here are some of the best places to visit along the east coast, along with some eating and drinking recommendations that will make your stop there memorable and delicious.
Barcelona has a well-deserved reputation as an exciting destination. It has Spain's best architecture; iconic barrios such as the Gothic Quarter, El Born, and Gracia; some of the best bars in the country; beaches; and excellent food. It's also a fantastic base for day trips.
For a tapas-style lunch, go to La Cova Fumada. For paella, try El Rey de la Gamba. For a sit-down three-course lunch, go to La Pubilla, in Gracia. For Spanish-style vermouth, check out one of the classic old vermuterias in Gracia, such as Vermuteria El Tano. Gracia is also where you'll find the best gin-and-tonic bar in Spain, Bobby Gin. Plus, don't forget Barcelona's burgeoning craft beer scene. The biggest bar is called BierCAB, but Cat Bar is the only one that guarantees all its beers are Spanish.
Tarragona has some of the best Roman ruins in the whole of Spain, second only to Merida. It's also very convenient to reach from Reus.
Categorically not a paella restaurant, El Llagut is a rice restaurant serving some of the best "sticky rice" dishes anywhere in the country and is worth a stop. Check out the spicy octopus dish. For a taste of local goodness, get a glass of vermouth in Placa de la Font.
Reus, the birthplace of Antoni Gaudi, is a paradise for architecture buffs, with its selection of great modernist buildings throughout the city. It is also the home of Catalan vermouth. Reus is a good day trip from Tarragona or Barcelona.
Reus has a museum dedicated to vermouth. The place is not that friendly to English speakers (the menu is only in Catalan), but the selection of vermouths available is unmatched. Vermuts Rofes, in a former vermouth factory, has an excellent menu of the day and is a great place to fuel up.
Spain's third largest city is the birthplace of paella, and that is a top-of-the-list reason to visit. The Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) is a popular draw, as are the beaches.
Restaurants throughout the city serve excellent paella. The restaurants around the central market are a good place to try, as is Hotel Hospes Palau de la Mar, which came second in a recent international paella competition. For some great craft beer check out Olhops.
Figueres is the home of the Salvador Dali Museum, an eye-popping collection of the surrealist's best works; even the building is an attraction in itself. There are very few accommodations in Figueres, and restaurants are average. Figueres is a good half-day trip from Barcelona or Girona.
OK, Cuenca is two hours' drive from the sea, so it can't really be described as on the east coast of Spain, but it takes less than an hour to get from Valencia to Cuenca by high-speed train, and it counts as an essential stop on your itinerary. Cuenca is on the high-speed train line between Madrid and Valencia, so it's a convenient stop.
Cuenca's famous casas colgadas (hanging houses) dominate the skyline as you approach the city. Plus, the city has some excellent modern art museums and a fun science museum. Inland Spanish cuisine is dominated by meat, so go the whole hog and go for a roast at Asador de Antonio.
Benidorm does exactly what it sets out to do: Offer cheap eating and drinking in virtually year-round good weather, along with sun, sea, and sand. Visit at any time between April and September for pretty much guaranteed sunbathing conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, Benidorm is not completely dominated by British tourists. Estimates say that the Spanish and English roughly divide the town in half, with around 45 percent of visitors from each country, with the final 10 percent a mixture of German, Dutch, and Scandinavian travelers. So for Americans, it is an undiscovered pleasure.
La Cava Aragonesa is an institution in Benidorm on the Plaza de Constitucion. It serves a vast array of tapas, and its drink-and-food deals are some of the best in town. Walk up along Calle Santo Domingo for more great tapas joints. For cheaper (lighter) bites, head to Carrer del Rosari, where free tapas are given out with most drinks.
More Popular Places
- In Girona, walk along the city walls, visit the San Pere de Rodes Monastery or explore the old Jewish quarter.
- The white-washed houses in old town Altea, up on the hill overlooking the modern town center, along with the blue-domed church and nearby beaches, give tourists from Benidorm an escape from that town's alcohol-fueled hedonism.
- Alicante, the third-largest city on Spain's east coast, has a great tapas scene and a convenient airport.
- Roses is a popular beach town close to Figueres, making a great beach-vacation-with-culture.
- By air: There are airports in Barcelona, Girona, Reus (near Tarragona), Valencia, and Alicante. Ryanair and EasyJet have lots of flights to these airports from all around Europe.
- By train and bus: There are high-speed trains from Madrid to Barcelona, Valencia, Tarragona, and Alicante.
- Where to base yourself: Barcelona is the obvious place to stay, with more than half the places to see on the east coast a day trip away.