The Spanish Bucket List: 30 things to do in Spain before you die
From Flamenco to FC Barcelona and Finisterre, Nicola Brady brings you the ultimate Spanish bucket list.
1. Climb Picos de Europa
Think Spain is just about beaches, tapas and sangria? Well, think again. Picos de Europa is an epic, sprawling set of mountains, with craggy peaks and formidable trails. Take the Fuente Dé cable car up and trek the final section - you'll see people sprinting up and down as you go (a rather dispiriting sight). Tick another item off the bucket list with a stay in the nearby Parador de Cangas de Onís, a former monastery.
If you like that, try this: Exploring the Catalan Pyrenees.
Do it: Stays at the Parador start at €85. See parador.es, cantur.com
2. Do the Prado in Madrid
As art galleries go, this is a stunner. The grand building is a mammoth celebration of art, its airy rooms adorned with over 1,500 paintings. Take your time ambling between the floors and rooms, from the dark era of Goya to the grandiose work of Velázquez.
If you like that, try this: Museu de Belles Artes in Valencia.
Do it: Admission is €14. See museodelprado.es
3. See FC Barcelona at the Camp Nou
If you've ever roared at a screen while Messi, Suárez and Neymar zip around Camp Nou, then imagine seeing the action in person. Join throngs of FC Barcelona supporters for a match at the team's home ground - just remember which team you're cheering for. You can tour the stadium, too, and The Camp Nou Experience is the most visited museum in Catalonia (take that, Dalí).
If you like that, try this: See Real Madrid at Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.
Do it: Find tickets for matches (from €53) and tours (€23) on fcbarcelona.com
4. Snowboard in Sierra Nevada
Ready to swap the sunlounger and Kindle for something a little more action-packed? Well, pack your thermals and ski pants and head to Sierra Nevada for some high-octane snowboarding. The best news? You don't have to sacrifice the sun completely. Combine with a jaunt to the Costa del Sol and you'll get the best of both worlds.
If you like that, try this: Surfing in Mundaka.
Do it: Find holidays with lowcostholidays.ie
5. Crash out on the Costa del Sol
It's the original package holiday - a week spent soaking up the sun, with a cocktail never far from your grasp. And there's a reason it's still popular after all these years. The flight is short, the weather is warm and the prices are unbeatable. A week in the sun for the cost of a weekend in Dublin? Yes, please.
If you like that, try this: Costa Brava.
Do it: At the time of writing, Budget Travel had seven nights in Torremolinos from as little as €152pps. See budgettravel.ie
6. Eat at the world's best restaurant
Put down the tortilla and push aside the paella: it's time you ate the best dinner in the world. Girona's El Celler de Can Roca has topped the World's 50 Best Restaurants twice now, in 2013 and 2015. Good luck scoring a reservation - your best chance is to hover over your laptop, credit card in hand, on the first day of each month at midnight, when availability is released.
If you like that, try this: Mugaritz in San Sebastián (currently at No 6).
Do it: Reserve at cellercanroca.com
7. Follow in Hemingway's Footsteps
If the running of the bulls at Pamplona had one loyal fan, it was Ernest Hemingway, who attended the festival nine times and used it as the setting for The Sun Also Rises. Follow the Hemingway route in Pamplona and you'll take in his favoured haunts, like Café Iruña, Bar Txoko and Hotel La Perla.
If you like that, try this: Don Quixote route.
Do it: See turismo.navarra.es for information about the route.
8. Eat Pintxos in San Sebastian
Oh, to spend an evening hopping between bars, nibbling on slivers of jamón, plump olives and salt cod croquettes. Pintxos are the Basque version of tapas, and you'll find San Sebastian (a European Capital of Culture 2016) overrun with options that will tickle your fancy. Pair your findings with a frosty glass of Txakoli and you'll be in heaven.
If you like that, try this: Tapas in Barcelona.
Do it: Find hotels on hotels.independent.ie
9. Hike the Camino
It's going to be a busy year for pilgrims. Pope Francis has declared 2016 a 'Holy Year of Mercy', which means there will be special events in both Rome and Santiago. The 'Holy Door' will be open both in the cathedral and in St Peter's Basilica, as well as other spots along the routes. Go the extra mile and head out to the 'The End of the World' at Finisterre, adding your hiking boots to the traditional pile. Your clothes too, if you dare…
If you like that, try this: Horse-riding in Andalucía.
Do it: Find packages at caminoways.com
10. Drink Rioja in Rioja
You'll never beat the motherland when it comes to quaffing your favourite wine. The best stuff is often held back for the locals, and picking it up sin duty tax makes for a happy wallet, too. Visit Rioja during the grape-stomping festival, or pop into the vinotherapy spa at Marqués de Riscal.
If you like that, try this: Taste Albariño in Galicia.
Do it: See the spa menu at spamarquesderiscal.com
11. See the City of Arts & Science in Valencia
The crazy buildings may look a little like sinking spaceships, but the City of Arts and Sciences is a must-see in Valencia. In the gleaming complex you'll find a planetarium, aquarium, IMAX cinema, interactive museums and an opera house. And that's not even the full list. Visit during Las Fallas (fallasfromvalencia.com), and you'll find all of Valencia ablaze with festivity.
If you like that, try this: Cidade da Cultura de Galicia.
Do it: A combined ticket to the aquarium, Hemisfèric and Science Museum costs €36.90. See cac.es
12. Witness the bonfires of San Juan in Alicante
It's often seen as just a gateway to the resorts of Costa Blanca. But there's so much more to Alicante - a rambling old town of ramshackle buildings and cast-iron balconies, a thriving nightlife and a pretty decent beach of its own. Visit at the end of June for the bonfires of San Juan, when the start of the summer is celebrated with fire, music and fireworks.
If you like that, try this: Guadalest.
Do it: This year, San Juan is from June 20-24.
13. Take a Picasso trail in Malaga
Want to walk in Picasso's footsteps? Pay a visit to Malaga, where you can soak up the artist's genius in the house in which he was born. Don't miss the museum either. The brainchild of the man himself is housed in a gorgeously restored 16th-century palace.
If you like that, try this: Do Goya in Cádiz.
Do it: Entrance to the Birthplace Museum is €3, and the Museo Picasso Málaga is €7. See fundacionpicasso.malaga.eu; museopicassomalaga.org
14. Cycle the Pyrenees
Want to kick your cycling up a gear? Then take to the trails the professionals train on, in the majestic Pyrenees. You can power through the mountains, and your screaming thighs will earn you some pretty spectacular views. On this trip, you'll cycle from the Pyrenees down to the Mediterranean coast, where you'll ride on part of the 2009 Tour de France route.
If you like that, try this: Biking in Alicante.
Do it: Adventure Holidays has a self-guided trip from €900 for five days, excluding flights. See adventure-holidays.ie
15. Toss tomatoes in Bunol
Forget chasing bulls in Pamplona. The only streetfest worth your salt is La Tomatina, where 20,000 people descend upon Bunol to pound each other with tomatoes. Think that's weird? The 'fight' doesn't start until a volunteer shimmies up a greased pole to reach the leg of ham at its peak. Crazy? Sure. But at least nobody gets gored.
If you like that, try this: La Batalla del Vino in Haro.
Do it: To participate, you must have a ticket. You can buy tickets including bus transfers from, from €50.
16. Learn Spanish in Salamanca
Is "dos cervezas por favor" the height of your Spanish? Well, there's no better way to brush up your skills than a language course in Salamanca, home to Spain's oldest university. While you're there, visit the Roman aqueduct in Castile & León and marvel at the city's sandstone architecture - all en español, naturalmente.
If you like that, try this: A painting holiday in Andalucía.
Do it: Prices for a two-week intensive course start at €425. See salamanca-university.org
17. Catch the cable car to Montserrat
If you can survive the knee-trembling, stomach-churning, 1,350m ascent up a mountain, then your bravery will be rewarded. The views on the way up Montserrat are literally breathtaking (because you're too scared to breathe). But from your dangling cable car you'll soar past the craggy green peaks of the mountain to the Montserrat Monastery. Where, quite frankly, we can't believe you're not met with a stiff drink.
If you like that, try this: Caminito del Rey cliffwalk, Andalucía.
Do it: A return ticket costs €10.
18. See the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres
Is there anyone as deliciously bonkers as Dalí? Spend some time in the Dalí Theatre-Museum and you'll struggle to think of any. Even the exterior is pure Dalí, from the turrets adorned with gigantic eggs and pineapples, to the enormous dome at its peak. Cast your eyes skyward in the Wind Palace room - you'll be met with the soles of God's feet.
If you like that, try this: Salvador Dalí House in the fishing village of Portlligat.
Do it: Admission is €14. See salvador-dali.org
19. Experience Easter in Seville
Sometimes it can be tough to equate Easter with anything other than chocolate. But visit Seville during Holy Week and you'll be transported into a mythical land of candlelight, processions and slow, pounding drumbeats. 'Semana Santa' sees men in white robes and hoods walk slowly through the streets in a haunting act of contrition.
If you like that, try this: Semana Santa in Malaga.
Do it: Holy Week in 2016 falls between March 20-27.
20. Go on a gander in Cádiz
The oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, Cádiz is a tumbling mass of neighbourhoods, settled on a narrow strip of land, surrounded by the sea. Meander between the streets of the old town and explore the cathedral, the Roman theatre and the buzzing bars and cafés. For a real kick, visit during its slightly bananas carnival, loosely based on the Venetian version.
If you like that, try this: Toledo.
Do it: The next carnival is March 2-12, 2017. See andalucia.com
21. Eat octopus in Santiago
You'll see the etchings of octopuses hanging from shop fronts of restaurants and bars all over the cobbled streets of Santiago. Pitch up at a pulpería and order up a sizzling plate of pulpo. Far from calamari, pulpo is slow-cooked and served with a healthy dousing of paprika and salt, for a dish that's hearty, rich and full of punch (and tentacles).
If you like that, try this: Paella in Valencia.
Do it: Try Abastos 2.0 (abastosdouspuntocero.es) or Pulpería os Concheiros.
22. Visit Dinópolis in Aragon
Do you watch Jurassic Park and dream of a world where it could be a reality? Well, pay a visit to Dinópolis, squint a little, and you'll be as close as you can get. It's one of the largest palaeontology museums in the world, where you can walk among the dinosaurs, see rare skeletons and spy on the palaeontologists in the real-life laboratory.
If you like that, try this: Altamira Caves.
Do it: Admission is €28 for adults, €22 for kids. See dinopolis.com
23. Take a Gaudi trail in Barcelona
Gaudi is etched into the soul of Barcelona, from the rugged, sandy peaks of the Sagrada Familia to the explosion of vibrant mosaics at Park Güell. Wander on the rooftop of the Casa Milà, trailing a hand along the undulating sculptures, and you'll get a tangible insight into the architect's vision (as well as a killer view of the city). A tip: if you plan on visiting the Sagrada, book in advance online. The waits can be almost as long as the construction process.
If you like that, try this: Segovia aqueduct.
Do it: Find a suggested Gaudi trail on barcelonaturisme.com
24. Visit Cabarceno Natural Park
Fancy a bucket-list safari, without the long-haul flight? Cabarceno Natural Park is a beautifully rugged stretch of land in Cantabria. But this ain't your normal park. Look out upon the sweeping hills and you'll spot buffalo roaming as elephants graze, while a herd of fallow deer pass them by. And that's before you get to the giraffes or gorillas. It's a pretty incredible sight to behold.
If you like that, try this: Doñana National Park.
Do it: Full-day tickets cost €18 in low season. See parquedecabarceno.com
25. See Flamenco during Feria de Abril
It's passionate. It's uninhibited. It's oh so Spanish. Flamenco is the amalgamation of music, dance, singing and finger snapping, and it's best experienced during Feria de Abril in Seville. Not two weeks after the city is shrouded in Easter atonement, it comes to life in a celebration of hedonism. Cool yourself down with a glass of sherry (and maybe a cold shower). When the party winds down, head to Triana, one of the hotbeds in which the dance was born.
If you like that, try this: Zarzuela in Madrid.
Do it: This year, the festival will fall on April 12-17. See andalucia.com
26. Take a hot air balloon ride in Catalonia
Did you know that, just a short distance from Barcelona, there's a range of dormant volcanoes? La Garrotxa is home to a verdant collection, the last of which erupted 11,000 years ago. The best way to take them all in is by soaring above in a hot air balloon - you'll get to peek into the belly of the beast, a glass of pink cava to hand.
If you like that, try this: Helicopter tour of Barcelona.
Do it: Trips start at €170pp with Vol de Coloms - see voldecoloms.cat
27. See the Alhambra in Granada
The sandy, intricate fortress of Alhambra looks like it's been lifted from a Moroccan mountaintop and dropped in the Spanish hills. Take your time pottering between the palace, with its carved ceilings and elaborate tiles, and the grounds, scattered with fountains.
If you like that, try this: Take a hammam in Granada.
Do it: Take a guided tour for €55 - see alhambradegranada.org
28. Go to the Guggenheim in Bilbao
The museum itself is as much of a piece of art as the work it contains. The twisting mass of metal, glass, and limestone gleams on the River Nervión and is home to an exhaustive collection of contemporary art. Within the stark, white walls you can stand before works by Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. But Bilbao isn't just for art lovers - the city is taken over by the BBK Live festival in July.
If you like that, try this: MUSAC Contemporary Art Museum in Castilla y León.
Do it: Admission costs €13 - see guggenheim-bilbao.es
29. Take a rollercoaster at PortAventura
Want to keep the kids happy? A trip to PortAventura is a sure-fire hit. The rollercoasters inhabit different corners of the globe - you can face the Dragon Khan in China, or free fall on the Hurakan Condor in Mexico. The water park is pretty extensive, with an indoor area for cooler days, and Ferrari Land is shortly to open too. Don't skip Salou itself - seek out the tiny coves along the coast for some blissed out solitude.
If you like that, try this: Parque Warner, Madrid.
Do it: Find holidays to Salou with Falcon - see falconholidays.ie
30. Stay up all night in Madrid
In a country that doesn't eat dinner until at least 10pm, it's no surprise that it's easy to party the night away. And nowhere is this easier than in Madrid. After a leisurely, chilled out meal of boquerones and churros, hop between bars, following the strains of jazz and flamenco. It'll be dawn before you know it.
If you like that, try this: Valencia.
Do it: Find holidays to Madrid with Travel Department - see traveldepartment.ie
NB: All prices subject to availability. For more information, see spain.info.