Spain has so many treasures and so much history and culture that it’s nearly impossible to turn a corner without stumbling upon something fascinating. It is a country so special and unique that those who visit for the first time will most likely feel right at home, and will almost always return.
As evidence of its distinctiveness, here are 22 things that you can only do in Spain and nowhere else on the planet.
1. Ride the Only International Zip Line
Not many know, but Spain offers travelers the chance to ride the only cross-border zip line in the world. Limite Zero, David Jarman’s innovative project, allows thrill-seekers the opportunity to slide down a wire from the white Andalusian village of Sanlúcar de Guadiana to Alcoutim in eastern Algarve. The scenic one-minute ride will not only get you across the Guardiana River to Portugal, but will also take you forward in time, considering the time difference between the two countries.
2. Walk the World’s Scariest Pathway
Every year, skilled rock climbers and thrill-seekers from around the world come to test their adrenaline rush limits in the tiny Spanish village of El Chorro in the north west of Malaga, where lies what most people call the “world’s scariest pathway”.
Inaugurated in 1921 by King Alfonso XIII, the one-meter-wide Caminito del Rey (King’s Little Pathway) runs 100 m above the Gaitanes Gorge, virtually hanging off the sheer, vertical rock faces. Although extremely scenic, the hike itself is a big challenge as large sections of the path are full of holes or missing completely, leaving nothing to hang on to.
El Caminito del Rey reopened to visitors on 28th March 2015, after a €5.5million restoration project.
3. Attend the Festival of the Near-Death Experience
Spain is known all over the world for its crazy festivals, but this one takes the cake for being the most bizarre. Also known as La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme, the Festival of the Near-Death Experience takes place each year in the small town of Las Nieves, Galicia – an area with strong ties to witchcraft and paganism.
Celebrating the locals who had a near-death experience in the past year, this one-of-a-kind event consists of solemn processions that carry those people (who play dead) in coffins to the city’s Santa Marta de Ribarteme Church and then up the hill to the cemetery.
4. Experience the Real Tapeo
While going for tapas has become a popular pastime and eating option all over the world, and many famous chefs have elevated these small, tasty portions to high art, there’s no other country on Earth that can match Spain’s tapas culture.
For a truly authentic experience go to Madrid or Granada, where the free tapas tradition is kept alive in tucked away tascas that have maintained their character through the years. The real Spanish tapeo is much more than just food. It’s a way of life, a national pastime that involves eating, drinking, and socializing in a friendly and unpretentious atmosphere.
Culinary institutions such as Madrid’s fantastic Mercado de San Miguel or the cutting-edge Mercado de San Anton are also excellent places to get a true taste of Spain’s unique tapas culture.
5. Enjoy a Drink in the Only Ice Bar on the Beach
Nestled on the beach of El Somorrostro and overlooking the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea, Icebarcelona is the only beach ice bar in the world. With a spectacular interior made entirely of ice and an ambient temperature that fluctuates between -2° and -10°C, the trendy lounge is not just a great alternative for those who want to escape the scorching heat of the Spanish summers, but also a unique experience that can only be enjoyed in Barcelona.
6. See the Holy Grail
Not confirmed, but rumor has it that the beautiful Valencia Cathedral houses what many historians and Christian theologians consider to be the authentic Holy Grail.
On the other side, a more recent theory presented in Margarita Torres and Jose Ortiza del Rio’s new book “Kings of the Grail” suggests that the real cup used by Jesus Christ in the Last Supper has been kept in the Basilica of San Isidoro in Leon for 1000 years. Whether this is or not the Holy Grail, their arguments are pretty strong and well documented, and prove that the opulent onyx chalice, which once belonged to Queen Urraca of Spain, has been made between 200 BC and 100 AD and stolen from Jerusalem by the Muslims, who, around 1050 AD, sent it as a gift to King Fernando I of Castile in sign of gratitude for helping them during a famine.
Of course, chances are none of these two stories will ever be officially accepted, but theoretically speaking, these two revered objects are as close as you can get to the Holy Grail, and they’re both in Spain.
7. Tour a Funeral Carriages Museum
Established in 1970, Barcelona’s Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres is unique in Europe and gives visitors an insight into the city’s funeral customs and traditions. The display features a stunning collection of elaborate funeral carriages, hearses, and other interesting objects used in the ceremonies honoring a dead person.
8. Eat a Gazpacho at McDonald’s
In a country with such a rich and varied cuisine, eating at McDonald’s is almost a sin. If you don’t have a choice though, at least try something you won’t find anywhere else such as a tasty, cold Gazpacho. Just like Poutine in Canada, McCurrywurst in Germany, or McMolletes in Mexico, this traditional tomato soup can only be enjoyed in a Spanish McDonald’s restaurant.
9. Visit the Only European Desert
Situated in the province of Almeria and bounded by the mountains of Sierra Nevada, Sierra de los Filabres, and Sierra de Alhamilla, the Desierto de Tabernas is one of Spain’s most spectacular sights and the only true semi-desert in Europe. Characterized by a hyper-arid climate and dramatic lunar landscapes, the Tabernas Desert has been used as a backdrop for famous western movies such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or A Fistful of Dollars, to name but a few.
Nowadays, the desert plays host to Mini-Hollywood, an area dedicated to a variety of American Wild West attractions, including a couple of old western towns and the 30-hectare Oasys Theme Park, with its sprawling zoo, wonderful cactus garden, pools, and restaurants.
10. Dine in the World’s Oldest Restaurant
If you’ve ever wondered which is the oldest restaurant in the world, the answer is the almost 300-year-old Sobrino de Botin in Madrid. Situated in the heart of the Spanish capital, just off Plaza Mayor, this beloved culinary institution founded in 1725 still uses the original 18th century wood-fired oven to prepare some of the best roasted lamb in town.
11. Visit the Tomb of Christopher Columbus
With the Dominican Republic claiming to have the remains of the world’s greatest discoverer, there may still be a bit of controversy on this one. However, recent studies and sophisticated DNA tests have revealed that the bones buried in the Cathedral of Seville do belong to Christopher Columbus. Accordingly, there’s no other place where you can see the tomb of Columbus (or Don Cristobal Colon, how they call him) than Spain.
Designed by Spanish architect Arturo Melida, the remarkable monument depicts an elaborate catafalque held aloft by four allegorical figures that represent the Spanish kingdoms of Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and Leon.
12. Sleep in a Gypsy Cave
Sleeping in a gypsy cave is unlikely to be on top of every traveler’s list, but if you have a taste for unique experiences, the Sacromonte district of Granada might be the right place for you.
Perched in the hills above Granada, the caves of Sacromonte (sacred mountain) play host to the city’s Roma community ever since the 15th century, when the Moorish empire fell to the Christians. Nowadays, tourists flock to the area to learn about their thriving history, get a taste of their unique culture and traditions, enjoy zambra (a local flamenco variation), and even spend the night in one of the whitewashed cave-homes buried into these sacred hills.
13. Satisfy your Sweet Tooth in the Only Dessert Restaurant in the World
In addition to many other wonderful sights and experiences, a trip to Barcelona gives you the opportunity to dine in the world’s only dessert restaurant. Tucked away in the Ciutat Vella, EspaiSucre (sugar space) is the brainchild of patissier Jordi Butrón and comes with an innovative concept.
The restaurant has a cutting-edge industrial-style design and is not just a tapas bar devoted to desserts, but also a cooking school, where both professionals and amateurs can come to learn the art of patisserie.
14. Beach, Ski, and a Melting Pot of Cultures, All in One Day
Taken as a whole, Spain is an alluring mix of sunny coasts, unexplored mountains, vibrant cities, and diverse cultures. But there’s hardly a better place to experience it in its entire splendor than Granada, a city where time-honored Spanish traditions and echoes of a Moorish past reverberate into the present through magnificent monuments, narrow whitewashed alleys, and a vivid flamenco scene.
The city’s uniqueness, however, lies in its fabulous location in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and Alpujarras mountains, yet only 65 km inland from the coast. These particularities of Al-Andalus’ last bastion offer visitors the chance to lie on a sunny beach, ski in the mountains, and immerse themselves into the rich local culture, nightlife, and tremendous tapas scene, all in the same day.
15. Get a Degree in Gastronomy and Culinary Arts
With its own research and development center, a Faculty of Gastronomic Sciences, and an International Advisory Committee made up of some of the world’s leading chefs, the Basque Culinary Center is the first institution on the planet to offer an accredited degree in Gastronomic and Culinary Sciences.
Much more than a just culinary school, the innovative center in San Sebastian focuses on both training and research in various areas of gastronomy and food science, from business management and social alimentary responsibility to plant biology and culinary arts.
16. Cheer at El Clasico
Known as “El Clasico”, the football game between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that can only be lived in Spain. The two star-studded teams share the biggest rivalry in the football world and the match itself is much more than just the action on the pitch. It’s a social occasion, a fantastic spectacle, a vibrant cultural experience, and the second most followed club football match on the planet after the annual UEFA Champions League Final.
If you’d like to know more about this amazing event, check out these interesting El Clasico facts.
17. Party in the World’s Biggest Nightclub
It comes as no surprise that Ibiza, the Island that never sleeps, plays host to the world’s biggest nightclub. As stated by the Guinness Book of Records, Privilege takes the throne as the largest place to party on Earth. Founded in the 70’s as a bar and public swimming pool near the village of San Rafael, the club has a capacity of 10,000 people and is especially famous for its extravagant burlesque parties, acrobatic shows, explosive atmosphere, and extraordinary resident and guest DJs.
18. Drink a Bharma Beer in the World’s First Lost Themed Bar
Inspired by the American TV show “Lost”, Bharma greets the fans of the mind-bending series with “Black Smoke” sandwiches, Bharma Initiative brew beer, and pieces of wreckage of Oceanic Flight 815 hanging on the walls. Situated in Barcelona, this cool themed bar filled with Lost memorabilia is a one-of-a-kind experience.
19. Marvel at the World’s Largest Cathedral
Declared by UNESCO a World Heritage Site, the awe-inspiring Seville Cathedral (Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See) is an architectural treasure built to celebrate and display the city’s wealth during the years following the Reconquista. With its 80 chapels, 15 elaborate doors, and lavish nave that rises 42 m above the floor, this majestic Gothic structure is the biggest cathedral in the world and the third-largest church after St. Peter’s Basilica and the Basilica of the National Shrine of Our Lady Aparecida in Brazil.
20. Visit the Birthplace of Picasso
Art lovers will be spoilt for choice in Spain, the country which gave birth to Gaudi, Miro, Dali, Tapies, and Pablo Ruiz Picasso. Museo Casa Natal, the house where the 20th century’s greatest artist was born and raised, is situated in Plaza de la Merced, Malaga and can be visited daily between 09:30 and 20:00. Also hosting the Picasso Foundation, the facility boasts an exhibition hall with family memories, as well as a library and research center dedicated to the study of Picasso’s life and work.
21. Eat Food Cooked over an Active Volcano
Set amidst the apocalyptic landscapes of Timanfaya National Park on Lanzarote, Canary Islands, El Diablo Restaurante offers the ultimate in BBQ culinary experiences by searing meats and fish on a piping hot grill powered by the geothermal heat of an active volcano. Founded in 1970 by famous local artist Cesar Manrique, the unique restaurant overlooks a breathtaking volcanic area that resembles the surface of Mars.
22. Mingle with Astronauts, Physicists, and Nobel Prize Winners under the Clearest Milky Way
When rock stars, astronauts, Nobel Prize winners, and the greatest minds in science meet, great things happen. Put Stephen Hawking, Alexei Leonov, and legendary Queen guitarist Brian May together in a place which has some of the world’s best conditions for astronomical observation, and you have the Starmus Festival.
The brainchild of astrophysicist Garik Israelian, this fabulous event is unique on the planet and combines art, music, and science into a mind-blowing experience. Expect 5 days of extraordinary talks and presentations, music, documentaries, space-art exhibitions, and vibrant stargazing parties under the darkest, clearest, and most spectacular night skies in Europe, in the Canary Islands.