Explore Spain

Spain Travel Guide

Budget airlines and affordable fares have turned Spain into a beach resort haven for northern Europeans wishing to escape their own (sometimes) damp and dreary climates. With sun-bleached beaches and a favourable rate of exchange for most travellers, it's easy to see why Spain is such a popular choice for an unforgettable beach holiday in Europe. An incredible 53 million people visit Spain each year (the second most in Europe after France), and the country deserves its formidable reputation as a tourist haven.

Some may feel that the Canary and Balearic Islands have been overrun by tourists, and this is true to some extent - Tenerife, Lanzarote and Mallorca have become synonymous with cheap package holidays and warm beer, and Ibiza's reputation has, for some, been tarnished by the revellers frequenting its famous dance clubs and beach parties. However, even in these crowded resort areas you will find many magical, unspoilt corners awaiting discovery.

Spain is comprised of numerous autonomous regions, offering great variation within one country. The hundreds of miles of Mediterranean coastline provide ample opportunity to get off the beaten track, and the country's vibrant cities and colourful festivals will amaze and delight even the most seasoned traveller. Art lovers can get lost in the Spain of Gaudi, Dali, and Picasso, of Goya and Velazquez - proudly displayed in the country's museums and galleries.

Spain's Pamplona is a unique experience of thundering streets that vibrate to the rhythm of man and beast during the annual running of the bulls, and while the whole country celebrates each February with the Carnaval, no place does it better than Sitges. Barcelona is Spain's showcase of the unique architectural style of Gaudi's bizarre organic turrets and balconies. For a more provincial experience, the Valencian town of Buñol goes wild every year with the La Tomatina festival, a time when the region's surplus tomatoes - following the annual harvest - are dumped on the streets and pelted about in a friendly riot.

Spain is also a country rich in heritage and the historic cities of Toledo, Salamanca, Seville and Granada promise a wealth of early Christian and Moorish buildings and monuments, as well as the remains of some incredible medieval sites. Spain has six cities that have been declared UNESCO World Heritage sites, more than any other country in the world.

The borderless region known as the Schengen area includes the following countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Sweden. All these countries issue a standard Schengen visa that has a multiple entry option that allows the holder to travel freely within the borders of all. Non-EU nationals must hold a return or onward ticket, all necessary documents for onward travel and sufficient funds. For travel to Spain, sufficient funds is defined as EUR 62.40 per day of stay with a minimum of EUR 561.60 or equivalent in other freely convertible currency. Visitors to Spain also require an invitation letter or confirmation of accommodation.

It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Granada and the Alhambra

Address: Costa del Sol

Granada, a high altitude city of romance and folklore, boasts one of the most popular tourist attractions in Spain, the Alhambra palace-fortress. Built primarily by the Nasrid rulers in the 14th century (although essentially built between the 9th and 16th centuries) the Alhambra is the most important and spectacular piece of Moorish architecture in Spain.

The huge complex, set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, includes the Summer Palace with its fountains and gardens, the Palacios Nazaries with its intricate ornamentation, and a hilltop fortress. The Alhambra is a place of spectacular beauty and grandeur and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The queue to get into the Alhambra gets ridiculously long and tickets should be booked online or booked weeks in advance to avoid disappointment. At least one full day is required to really explore the vast complex.

Although the Alhambra is the city's main attraction, Granada is a fascinating place and also boasts a number of other gems, including the Cathedral containing the Royal Chapel where Isabel and Ferdinand of Spain lie buried, and a Moorish medina area, known as the Albaicin, which has labyrinthine, narrow streets and whitewashed houses. North of Granada is Sacromonte Hill, famed for its cave dwellings, which were once the home of a large gypsy community. The Interpretation Centre has an Ethnographic Museum detailing the history and culture of the cave dwellers.

The Prado

Address: Paseo del Prado. Madrid

Admission: €14 (general); €7 (reduced). Monday to Saturday 10am to 8pm, Sundays and holidays 10am to 7pm.

Telephone: +34 91 330 2800

One of Madrid's most famous attractions is the 19th-century Prado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries, with more than 7,000 paintings that include masterpieces by Fra Angelico, Botticelli, El Bosco, Titian, Rembrandt and Velazquez. The museum began as a Royal collection, which succeeding dynasties have added to. The collection naturally focuses on the Spanish masters, particularly Goya, whose exhibited works fascinatingly follow the development of his painting from the sun-soaked early scenes of joyful festivities to the grim madness characterising his 'black period'. The Prado has few equals - and whether you are an art lover or not, you should check out this magnificent Madrid attraction. The collection is vast so cater at least a few hours for the Prado to really be able to appreciate it. There is a cafe and restaurant in the museum, as well as a gift shop and bookshop. Tickets can be booked in advance online, allowing the prepared to skip entrance queues. Guided tours are available, but groups wanting a tour must make reservations at least 24 hours in advance. Audio guides are available for hire in multiple languages. No photography is permitted in the galleries.

Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

Address: Villahermosa Palace, 8 Paseo del Prado. Madrid

Admission: €9 (general); €6 (reduced). Temporary exhibitions vary in cost. Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 7pm. Free access on Mondays between 12pm and 4pm.

Telephone: +34 91 369 0151

The second gallery in Madrid's 'golden triangle' of art museums is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Housing the former private collection of the Thyssen family, the works were bought by the city of Madrid to enrich its impressive collection of art treasures. The collection, housed in the restored 18th-century Palacio de Villahermosa near the Prado, contains more than 800 paintings, sculptures, carvings and tapestries, ranging from primitive Flemish works to contemporary pieces. Among the highlights are works by Renoir, Durer and Van Eyck, but many masters are represented in the Thyssen, including Claude Monet, John Sargent Singer, Vincent Van Gogh, Henri Matisse and Edvard Munch. The collection includes some major American works as well. There is a great gift shop and a cafe at the museum. Guided group tours with experts are available both during opening hours and when the museum is closed, but these must be booked in advance. The museum also hosts lectures, workshops, courses, concerts and all sorts of other events and activities - check the official website for details. For many people, the Thyssen is the favourite of the three famous Madrid galleries due to its compact nature, variety, attractive building, and atmosphere. It is also usually the least crowded of the three major galleries.

Reina Sofia National Art Centre Museum

Address: 52 Calle Santa Isabel Madrid

Admission: €8 (general); €4 (temporary exhibitions); concessions available. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday 10am to 9pm; Sunday 10am to 2.30pm and limited exhibitions open between 2.30pm and 7pm; closed Tuesdays.

Telephone: 91 774 1000

The third of Madrid's famed art galleries, the Reina Sofia is dedicated to 20th century Spanish art, having been designed to give Spain a museum to equal France's Pompidou Centre and London's Tate Gallery. The museum was opened by Queen Sofia in 1986, and is housed in the former Hospital de San Carlos. The artworks displayed here include those of Spanish masters Juan Gris, Julio Gonzalez, Salvador Dali, Equipo Cronica, Gerardo Rueda, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso, among others, and there are also international artists on display. The star attraction of the museum is Picasso's controversial Guernica, depicting the Nazi bombing of the Basque town in 1937 in support of Franco's cause in the Spanish Civil War. Until 1980 this famous painting hung in New York's Museum of Modern Art; for many art lovers this one piece justifies a visit. The top floor of the museum is a library dedicated to art, and there is a bookshop and a cafeteria. There is also outdoor sculpture garden, which is pleasant to stroll through. The museum is immensely popular, especially when there are high-profile temporary exhibits, and the queues can get very long making it well worth booking your tickets in advance online.

Royal Palace

Address: Calle Bailen Madrid

Admission: €11 (basic fee), concessions available. Guided tours and audio guides available for extra cost. Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 5pm, and Sunday from 9am to 2pm (October to March); Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm, and Sunday from 9am to 3pm (April to September)

Telephone: 91 454 8800

The massive, bright-white Royal Palace (Palacio Real) on the Plaza de Oriente in Madrid dates from 1734, when the 3,000-roomed royal residence was commissioned by Philip V. The imposing palace was built on the site of a Moorish fortress which dated back to the 9th century. It was last called 'home' by the royal family in 1931 - the present king, Juan Carlos, lives in the more subdued Zarzuela Palace outside Madrid - but is still officially a royal residence and is used for some royal events. Most of the rooms are now open to the public, and others are used for state business. English tours are run regularly, lasting about two hours, taking visitors to the reception room and state apartments, the impressive armoury and the royal pharmacy. The grandiose state apartments are filled with art treasures, antiques and opulent Rococo décor that could even rival Versailles. The palace gardens, in their current reincarnation, date from 1890 and contain a number of sculptures. The palace affords visitors great views over the city and there is plenty to explore in the vast palace complex. Apart from the guided tours, visitors can self-guide with a rented audio guide, or simply purchase a brochure in their language of choice.

Plaza Mayor

Address: Madrid

Madrid's famous central arcaded square dates from 1619 and was built by Philip III, whose statue still stands in the centre of the cobbled expanse. In medieval times the Plaza de Arrabal, as it was then known, was the venue for numerous public spectacles, ranging from knights' tournaments and festivals to the burning of heretics at the stake. The buildings surrounding the square, once made out of wood, were burnt completely to the ground three times, in 1631, 1672 and 1790, but always meticulously rebuilt, the final time producing the design we see today. The most famous building on the square is the Casa de la Panaderia, which predates the plaza, but has also been rebuilt several times. The Plaza Mayor was always intended to be a public gathering space, and has been used for bull fights, royal events and military parades. It remains a public gathering place, and is still the epicentre of certain celebrations in Madrid, but the majority of people who congregate in the sidewalk cafes to sip sangria on summer nights are tourists, enjoying impromptu music performances and watching the passing parade. The Plaza Mayor is invariably a stop on sightseeing tours of Madrid and well worth a visit.

San Antonio de la Florida

Address: Glorieta San Antonio de la Florida 5. Madrid

Admission: Open from 9.30am to 8pm, Tuesday to Friday. On weekends the chapel is open from 10am to 2pm. Closed on Mondays and public holidays.

Telephone: +34 91 542 0722

The Panteon de Goya (Goya's Tomb) is situated in the Glorieta de San Antonio de la Florida, and is known as Goya's Sistine Chapel. The artist decorated the dome and cupola of the little chapel with a fresco depicting the miracles of St Anthony, with the use of sponges, a project that took six weeks to complete. Amazingly, Goya persisted with the project despite the fact that he was struggling with deafness and apparently felt dizzy most of the time he was working on the ceiling. Mirrors have been placed in strategic places to provide better glimpses of the art. The chapel also contains the artist's tomb. Goya died in Bordeaux in 1828 and was buried there, but his remains were brought back to Spain in 1919 and entombed in the chapel. Interestingly, the tomb also contains the remains of a relative of Goya's, alongside whom he was buried in Bordeaux. The art work in his final resting place is more bright and cheerful than is typical of Goya, but his inclusion of ordinary working class people, not to mention prostitutes and beggars, angered the Spanish nobility; luckily his patron, King Carlos IV, approved of the fresco. Next door to the Ermita there is a replica of the chapel, which is used for religious services, so as to preserve the original as a museum.

Parque del Buen Retiro

Address: Madrid

Admission: Daily from 6.30am to 10.30pm

Madrid's lush central park, one of many green spaces in the city, covers 350 acres (142 hectares) and was laid out originally as the private garden of Philip IV. This beautiful, huge park, was opened to the public in 1868 and remains a favourite spot with locals and tourists. The vast park features formal gardens, a statuary, fountains, lakes, exhibition halls, children's playgrounds and outdoor cafes. Visitors can stroll among the trees, admire the rose garden, and take a boat ride on the lake.

Although usually quiet during the week, at weekends the park comes alive with buskers, clowns, fortune-tellers and sidewalk painters. Thanks to its size, even when the park is crowded it is possible to find a quiet nook. There is a lot to see and do in the park, but favourite attractions include the metal and glass Palacio de Cristal, among the trees to the south of the lake, which was once a greenhouse but is now used as a space for temporary exhibitions; and the Bosque del Recuerdo (Memorial Forest), in the southwest of the park, which is a simple memorial to the 191 victims of the 2004 train bombings. For people-watching, exercise, relaxation on the lawns, and picnics, the Parque del Buen Retiro is ideal.

Toledo

Address: Madrid

The magnificent hilltop city of Toledo, about 43 miles (70km) southwest of Madrid, was immortalised by Spain's renowned artistic genius El Greco in a cityscape that currently hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The city has changed little since El Greco captured it on canvas in 1597, with its golden spires and Gothic buildings spreading across the Tagus River Gorge, overlooking the plains of New Castille. Toledo was established by the Romans in about 192 BC and some Roman ruins are still visible outside the city walls. The ancient city was later the capital of Visigoth Spain in the 5th and 6th centuries and as time passed Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities all left their mark on the city's rich architectural heritage, from the Moorish gate (Puerta de Bisagrai), to the Gothic convent of San Juan de los Reyes. Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of all these wonderful cultural attractions throughout the city. Pride of place is held by El Greco's 'Burial of the Count of Orgaz', painted on the wall of the Santo Tome. The town's attractions and main street are packed with tourists throughout the summer, but it is easy to escape into one of the enchanting side streets, which wind up and down the hillside.

Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial

Address: Calle Juan de Borbon y Battemberg Madrid

Admission: €10 (unguided). Guided tours and audio guides available for extra cost. Concessions available. Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 6pm (until 5pm between October and March)

Telephone: 91 890 5903, or 91 890 5313

The huge granite rectangular edifice, topped with four spiral towers, is a foreboding sight in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 30 miles (50km) northwest of Madrid. El Escorial was a marriage of the power of the Roman Catholic Church and Spanish royalty in the 16th and 17th centuries, at once a monastery and a royal palace. The UNESCO World Heritage Site was completed in 1584 and took almost 21 years to build. The monastery/church/palace complex was built by Philip II as a memorial to his father, Charles V, as a summer residence, and as a final resting place for Spanish royalty. The complex is similar to the Alcazar of Seville and the Alhambra of Granada in layout, but the architectural style and decor is far more austere. Apart from the fascinating history, the complex is a vast storehouse for art, containing works by El Greco, Hieronymus Bosch, Titian and Tintoretto, among many others. A magnificent vaulted library, covered in frescoes, contains a priceless collection of more than 60,000 ancient manuscripts. The monastery itself houses a wealth of paintings and tapestries, and the Royal Pantheon beneath the royal chapel is the tomb of almost all Spanish royalty since Philip II. No photography is permitted in the complex. El Escorial is best explored on a guided tour or with the audio guide as the basic ticket doesn't grant access to as many areas and the majority of textual explanations are in Spanish.

Segovia

Address: Madrid

The ancient town of Segovia, lying on a slope of the Guadarrama Mountains with the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores Rivers below, is a delightful taste of the glorious past of the area known as Castile in central Spain. Segovia is 54 miles (91km) northwest of Madrid and is well worth visiting for its reputation as being the most beautiful city in Spain; the journey only takes about an hour by bus (and only 30 minutes by high speed train), making it the perfect excursion. The ancient town has been awarded a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list and is a joy for photographers, with its historic pedigree proudly displayed.

The ancient Romans turned the town into a military base, leaving behind Segovia's famous aqueduct, which begins nine miles from the city and until fairly recently still supplied the town with water. The other main attraction in Segovia is the fairytale Alcazar, a massive fortified citadel, built in the 11th century, perched on the edge of town. It is said to be the fortress that the Walt Disney castle is modelled on. The town overflows with Romanesque churches, 15th-century palaces, narrow streets, and small fountain-splashed plazas, and is best explored on foot.

La Rambla

Address: Barcelona

Arguably the most famous street in Europe, the wide tree-lined boulevard known as La Rambla (or Las Ramblas), is a long continuous pedestrian avenue that technically changes names five times as it cuts through Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gotic, from the Placa Catalunya to the city's port. It is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, and is usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying the sights and sounds. While simply walking around, people watching, and breathing in the atmosphere, is worthwhile, there are also some notable attractions along the way. The sprawling marriage of nature and creative architecture and ornamentation that is Gaudi's Guell Park is a must. The pretty square of Placa Reial, enclosed by impressive buildings and promising some fantastic restaurants and nightclubs, is a popular social venue and sometimes hosts concerts and live performances. Also look out for the iconic mosaic by Joan Miro as you walk over it, near the Liceu Theatre. The street is wonderful for shopping and attracts all sorts of buskers and street artists. It is a great area to visit at night, but travellers should note that the southern end of La Rambla becomes somewhat seedy after dark and is a sort of unofficial red light district.

Picasso Museum

Address: 15-23 Montcada Street Barcelona

Admission: €11 (adults). Concessions available. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm.

Telephone: 932 563 000

On Carrer Montcada, a street known for its elegant medieval structures, five palaces or town houses, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries, have been converted into the Picasso Museum, home to one of the most complete collections of works from his youth and formative years as an artist. Pablo Picasso spent his early years in Barcelona (between 1901 and 1906), and the museum is now one of the city's top attractions. It was Picasso's wish that his youthful work would be displayed in Barcelona and the core of the collection was donated by the artist himself. The permanent collection now consists of 4,249 works and the art is complemented interestingly by the old buildings, which showcase the Catalan Gothic style. The collection includes a number of childhood portraits and paintings, as well as engravings, drawings and art from his Blue and Rose Periods. It is important for visitors to understand that this museum does not house Picasso's most famous and recognisable pieces, but is dedicated instead to an exploration of the artist's formative years and development. Audio guides are available. The queues can get really long at the museum and it is best to arrive early or book in advance online.

Guell Park

Address: Barcelona

Admission: Free, but guided tours are available Open daily from 10am to 7pm (closing times may vary depending on the season)

Barcelona's famous architectural son, Antonio Gaudi, left his mark on the city nowhere more prominently than in the gardens of the Parc Guell. The park, sited on Camel Hill and offering splendid views of the city, was originally planned to be a garden city suburb, but only two houses were completed before it was turned into a public recreational park. The gardens are festooned with examples of Gaudi's strange and mesmerising work, including flights of stairs, columns and a plaza decorated with mosaics. Famous features include Gaudi's dragon, a mosaic lizard straddling two staircases which is frequently replicated in souvenir stores, and the Sala Hipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns. Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms in his art and the park is a fascinating mixture of art and nature. The pink fairytale house standing at the entrance to the park was once home to Gaudi and his niece, but is now a museum containing some Gaudi-designed furniture, décor, drawings and portraits of the architect. Guided walking tours of the park are available and usually very informative, but it is enjoyable to stroll around without a guide too. To fully explore the park at your leisure you will need at least half a day - don't forget the camera!

La Sagrada Familia

Address: 401 Calle Mallorca. Barcelona

Admission: Basilica: €14,80. Basilica and Towers: €19,30. Gaudi House Museum: €6,80. Basilica and Gaudi House: €18,30. Concessions available. Daily from 9am to 6pm. Opening times may change to accommodate events.

Telephone: +34 932 073 031

One of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks, the bizarre Church of the Holy Family, designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, was started in 1882, but remains unfinished and an object of controversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpiece until his death in 1926, imbuing the structure with his characteristic Art Nouveau style and creating a unique new interpretation of the Gothic architectural tradition. Work has continued sporadically since, but although Gaudi had models and plans for the completed church these were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, and plans for completion have been disputed since. The extraordinary building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite being incomplete, and is fascinating even to those who don't find it beautiful. The church has been consecrated and is used for religious services. When it is complete it will have 18 towers and is expected to be the tallest church in the world. The anticipated date of completion is 2026 - the centenary of Gaudi's death - but this may prove ambitious. The two completed facades of the church, the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade, are very different but both incredible, and the roof of the nave is one of the most stunning features. Visiting the church is an absolute must for travellers in Barcelona.

Montjuic

Address: Barcelona

Montjuic is a hill overlooking the city centre of Barcelona on which are situated some of the city's show-pieces, including the main sites of the 1992 Olympics; the Poble Espanyol (a replicated Spanish village displaying art and architecture); the Joan Miro museum; and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. The hill has been the site of several fortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these, the Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century, is still standing. The castle is now home to the Military Museum as well as the Museum of Comics and Illustration. There are also some leisure attractions and cool green parks festooned with fountains, popular for strolls on summer evenings. The magical fountains of Montjuic are a popular attraction that entertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour and music. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the Barceloneta port district is below the hill; the eastern side of the hill is sheer, providing glorious views over the city's harbour, directly below. The former fishing village that is now the port is renowned for its seafood restaurants and beach, which is lined with boardwalks and cafes. Those who want the exercise should walk up the grand staircase which begins at the foot of Montjuic, at the south end of the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and ends at the Palau Nacional, passing a number of historic buildings.

Tibidaboa

Address: Plaça Tibidabo, 3-4, Barcelona, Spain. Barcelona

Admission: General entrance is 28.50 EUR. 11am to 11pm, Monday to Sunday.

Telephone: +34 932 11 79 42

Barcelona's second landmark hill is Tibidabo, about four miles (6km) northwest of the city in a wooded range that forms a backdrop to the urban landscape. Tibidabo can be reached by funicular - the journey up is half the fun, with spectacular views - and is particularly popular on weekends with locals because it is home to the Parc d'Atraccions, an amusement park with some thrill rides and a renowned house of horrors.

Tibidabo also features the soaring Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, which offers visitors the chance to ride in a glass lift to an observation platform 377 feet (115m) high to enjoy a truly phenomenal view. There is also a large, interesting church called Temple del Sagrat Cor surmounted by a giant Christ statue, which also offers a lift to a rooftop viewing platform. The Carretera des Aigues trail is perfect for keen walkers who want to climb the hill on their own steam. It is an easy walk, which only takes about an hour, starting from the base of the funicular and ending at the church. There are a number of restaurants to enjoy on the hill. Tibidabo provides theme park fun, cultural attractions and much more, as well as offering the best views possible of Barcelona.

Tarragona

Address: Costa Dorada

The Costa Dorada's main city, Tarragona, has almost doubled in size during the last few decades, with its residential districts continually expanding around the beautiful medieval core. Tarragona, originally built on a rocky bluff, can trace its roots back to 218 BC, when it was founded by the ancient Romans as a legionnaires' military base. Impressive vestiges of its ancient past still remain in the form of ruins of the Roman amphitheatre, aqueduct, forum and other buildings situated on the Paseo Arqueologico (Archaeological Avenue), which leads to some panoramic viewpoints. A wide boulevard called the Rambla Nova represents the modern main street outside the old city walls.

A popular outing for visitors is to explore the old harbour, known as El Serrallo, to watch the fishing boats arrive and auction their catch. As if all this wasn't enough, the city also sports some excellent beaches on its doorstep, including Playa Llarga, regarded as one of the biggest and best on the Catalonian coast. Among the many museums is an archaeological museum devoted to Roman antiquities; the Diocesan Museum displaying Gothic paintings, sculptures and tapestries; and a house museum detailing the life and career of renowned cellist, Pablo Casals.

Montserrat

Address: Barcelona

Admission: Entry to the monastery is free, but the funicular ride to the Holy Grotto is €10 (return). Opening times vary according to section and season - check the official website for details.

One of the most visited sites in Catalonia is the monastery at Montserrat, 35 miles (56km) northwest of Barcelona. The monastery is surrounded by strange rocky crags and caves, and was founded in 1025 to celebrate local visions of the Virgin Mary. It has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain, sitting atop a 4,000-foot (1,200m) high mountain and housing about 80 monks. Its main claim to fame is a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of a black Virgin Mary, known as La Moreneta, which thousands come here to see and touch. There is lots to see at Montserrat, which has a fascinating museum housing masterpieces by artists like Caravaggio and Picasso, as well as exhibitions on the history of the sanctuary and the wider culture, religion and history of Spain. It has been traditional since the Middle Ages for young people from Barcelona and surrounding regions to make the pilgrimage to Montserrat and watch the sunrise from the heights at least once in their lives. The hike to the monastery is still popular for both pilgrims and travellers: there are several possible walking routes described on the website. The monastery on its mountain perch is most conveniently reached by cable car, with the short journey providing passengers with epic views.

Tossa de Mar

Address: Barcelona

The medieval fishing village of Tossa de Mar, 56 miles (90km) north of Barcelona, is the most attractive town on the Costa Brava, offering lovely sandy beaches and a lively atmosphere. Once the main port for exporting cork, Tossa is now dependent on tourism. Visitors are drawn to its 12th century walled town, Vila Vella, the ancient walls, battlements and towers enclosing a quaint historical labyrinth. There is also the ancient Castillo de Tossa de Mar, a one-time Roman fortress dominating the bay, which visitors are free to explore. There are four beaches within the town itself and numerous others flanking Tossa on either side. It is easy to get around town on foot, but there is a blue and white tourist train that offers tours of the town, and a green train that takes visitors up to the fort. It is possible to walk up to the fort but don't try driving yourself up as the roads get very narrow and there is no parking at the top. There are, however, wonderful views and photo opportunities, and a visit to the fort is worthwhile for this alone. There are diving shops and centres in town to provide equipment, advice and companionship for scuba expeditions, and glass-bottomed boat tours and snorkelling are also popular.

Girona

Address: Tourist office: Joan Maragall, 2 Costa Brava

Admission: Tourist office: Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, and on Saturday from 8am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm. In July and August the office is also open on Sundays, from 9am to 2pm

Telephone: Tourist office: +34 872 975 975

The city of Girona, on the route from the Pyrenees to Barcelona, is one of the most important historical sites in Spain, founded by the Romans and later a Moorish stronghold. Sitting astride the confluence of the Onyar and Ter rivers, this quaint medieval city attracts hordes of tourists from the Costa Brava resorts and Barcelona, all lured by the experience of walking through the old quarter, the Call, with its narrow alleyways and ancient stone houses.

Inside the ancient walls are such gems as the 12th-century Benedictine monastery of Sant Pere de Galligants and the14th-century cathedral built in the Catalonian Baroque style. The cathedral can be accessed by climbing up 90 steps. It includes a museum containing art works and rare manuscripts. Also of particular interest are the restored 12th-century Arab baths with their central octagonal pool, and the fascinating Jewish quarter where, between the 9th and 15th centuries, the culture and religion flourished on the narrow, steep streets. The arcaded promenade, the Rambla de la Llibertat, is lined with delightful cafes and shops selling souvenirs, crafts, antiques and curiosities. In addition the city is well supplied with museums and galleries.

Castell de Santa Barbara

Address: Costa Blanca

Admission: Free entrance but varying fees for tours and exhibitions. Check official website for details. Daily from 10am to 8pm (April to September); 9am to 7pm (October to March)

Telephone: +34 96 526 3131

The impressive Santa Barbara Castle, that towers over Alicante on top of the Benacantil Mountain, has its origins in the Muslim rule of the 9th century, but most of the chambers that can be explored today date from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. The fortress is massive, encompassing moats, drawbridges, tunnels, cisterns and dungeons, not to mention a stately tower and keep. It has endured many attacks, rebuildings and renovations during its long history and was opened to the public in 1963.

Today it houses the Museum of the City of Alicante. From the top of the castle superb views over the bay and the city can be enjoyed. The castle can be accessed in an elevator from the Explanada d'Espanya for a small fee (visitors over 65 are exempt from the fee), but if you walk up to the castle you can take the lift back down to the beachfront for free. The walk up from the beach is very steep - with a lot of steps - and is only suitable for the fit, but it is possible to drive up the mountain as well. The Castell de Santa Barbara is a fascinating attraction, and the fortress is well worth exploring extensively as the exhibitions and historical information is very interesting, but if nothing else, the views must be admired!

Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante

Address: Plaza de Santa Maria, Alicante. Costa Blanca

Admission: Free. Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 8pm; Sundays and public holidays 10am to 2pm; closed on Mondays.

Telephone: +34 96 514 0768

In the Plaza de Santa Maria stands Alicante's oldest building, a former granary dating from 1685. Ironically the city's oldest building contains its most notable modern art collection, donated by painter and sculptor Eusebio Sempere in 1977. The Museo de Arte Contemporaneo de Alicante is commonly referred to simply as MACA. Among the noteworthy paintings on display are those by Dali, Picasso, Calder and Miro, and one of the highlights is the section dedicated to Sempere's own geometrical, moving sculptures.

As other famous modern art galleries have realised, the contrast between an old building and a colourful modern art collection is striking and interesting. The building is located in the historic city centre, opposite the Basilica of Santa Mariaan, an area which most tourists will pass through on their sightseeing jaunts in Alicante. The museum is part of the project to revitalise the historic quarter. The gallery is cool and inviting on a hot day, with good air-conditioning, and seldom feels crowded. Guided tours of the museum are available free of charge, but must be organised in advance. It is a small but classy provincial gallery which is well worth a visit for art lovers.

Elche

Address: Costa Blanca

For a change from beaches, just 12 miles (19km) inland west of Alicante is Europe's only palm forest, forming a lush oasis around the city of Elche (Elx). The city boasts several beautiful parks, public gardens and palm groves. The Palmeral of Elche, an orchard of more than 200,000 palm trees, ia a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Parque Municipal is one of the most popular places to enjoy the trees, with the palms interspersed by grassy promenades and children's playgrounds. The most beautiful palm garden is the Huerto del Cura, filled with trees, water features and bright flowerbeds. Another attraction in the city, located right next to the municipal park, is the Altamira Castle, which was built in about the 12th century and was renovated in the 15th century.

The fortress has been used as a prison, a town hall and a fabric plant but now houses the Elche Archaeology and History Museum. A wealth of archaeological remains have been found in Elche, unsurprisingly as the region was settled by the Greeks, Carthaginians and Romans. The most famous find is the stone bust called the Lady of Elche, dating from about the 4th century BC, which is now displayed in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain.

Isla Tabarca

Address: Costa Blanca

The tiny islet of Tabarca is becoming an increasingly popular day trip destination from Alicante or Santa Pola, with its quiet fishing village offering an old fort, several very reasonably priced fresh seafood restaurants, a rocky beach with clear turquoise water, and several coves and tidal pools ideal for bathing. Tiny and picturesque, Tabarca is the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain and can very easily be explored on foot.

The islet is part of a marine reserve (Reserva marina de la Isla de Tabarca) and promises varied marine animals, clear unpolluted waters, and a healthy bird population. An artificial reef was planted near the island to further cultivate marine life. Formerly called Saint Paul's Island, in honour of the saint who is supposed to have made a landing here, visitors can still visit the Church of St Peter and St Paul, built in 1779. The island lies 10 miles (16km) south of Alicante and can be reached in an hour by ferry from the dock on Explanada d'Espanya in the city. The island becomes crowded in the peak summer months but is still a charming destination.

Seville Cathedral

Address: Avenida de la Constitucion. Seville

Admission: €8 (general); €3 (reduced); free for Seville residents and children under 16. Monday 11am to 3.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday 11am to 5pm, Sunday 2.30pm to 6.30pm (September to June); Monday 9.30am to 2.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 4.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm to 6.30pm (July and August).

Telephone: +34 95 421 4971

As a monument to Christian glory, Seville's cathedral has few equals, in fact it is still undecided whether it is the largest church in the world when measured against St Peter's in Rome and St Paul's in London. This massive Gothic edifice took more than a century to build, after a group of religious fanatics decided in 1401 to build a church so wonderful that 'those who come after us will take us for madmen'.

The cathedral was built on the site of the Almohad mosque, which was demolished to make way for it, leaving no more than the minaret, built in 1198, known as La Giralda, which is today open to tourists to climb. Along with the Alcazar and the Archivo de Indias, the cathedral has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is undoubtedly one of the highlights of a visit to Seville. The interior of the cathedral contains some marvellous sights in its 44 chapels, including mahogany choir stalls made from recycled Austrian railway sleepers. It is claimed that Christopher Columbus' remains are here in a tomb dedicated to him, but there is some controversy over this. Artworks to be seen include gilded panels, glittering icons, and intricately carved altar pieces. The cathedral is imposing and quite overwhelming in its scope, but the intricate detail is also incredible.

Alcazar of Seville

Address: Plaza del Triunfo Seville

Admission: €8.50 Open daily 9.30am to 5pm (October to March) and 9.30am to 7pm (April to September).

Telephone: +34 95 450 2323

Alcazar is Seville's top attraction and one of the most famous attractions in Spain. The palace complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an undisputed architectural masterpiece by any standards. The site of Seville's Moorish Alcazar palace has been occupied by the city's rulers since Roman times, and has been a favoured residence of Spanish kings since the Middle Ages.

The palace was established by the Moors as early as the 7th century, although it was primarily built in the 1300s, and has been added to and altered by successive occupants ever since. First to enlarge the building was the infamous al-Mu'tadid of the Abbadids, who reputedly kept a harem of 800 women and decorated the terraces with flowers planted in the skulls of his decapitated enemies. Of the early Christian additions most notable is the colonnaded quadrangle of the Patio of the Maids.

The golden-domed Salon de los Embajadores was a wing built by Fernando and Isabel, and was where the royal pair welcomed Columbus back after his discovery of America. The palace is set in beautiful, extensive gardens where it is possible to picnic if you bring your own food. Otherwise, there is a small restaurant overlooking the gardens. Visitors should allow several hours to explore this spectacular palace complex.

Santa Cruz

Address: Seville

Visitors usually need to visit a tourist office to obtain a detailed map of the winding alleys, gateways and courtyards of this enchanting and fascinating section of Seville, a former Jewish ghetto, where every street corner has a romantic legend attached to it. The balconies and windowsills are all festooned with flowers and the fragrance of jasmine pervades the air in this picturesque corner of the city, which can be reached via the Calle Rodrigo Caro. Santa Cruz is also bordered by the Alcazar, the Jardines de Murillo, and Santa Maria La Blanca. Some of the sights to look for are the Hospital de los Venerables, which contains Sevillian art works; the beautiful mansions in the Calle Lope de Rueda; the Convent de San Jose, which boasts relics of Saint Teresa of Avila; and the Iglesia de Santa Maria la Blanca, which features Murillo's 'Last Supper'. Apart from many notable buildings, the neighbourhood is home to numerous quaint and quirky shops, art galleries, artisans workshops, hotels, guest houses, tapas bars and restaurants, making it a tourists' paradise. Santa Cruz is also a favourite haunt for locals though, and the area is fun to visit during the day and at night. Many walking tours of the district are available and joining one makes for a good introduction to Santa Cruz.

Museo Provincial de Bellas Artes de Sevilla

Address: 9 Plaza del Museo. Seville

Admission: €1.50; free for visitors with EU passports. Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 8.30pm, Sundays 10am to 5pm (16 September to 31 May); Tuesday to Saturday 9am to 3.30pm, Sundays 10am to 5pm (1 June to 15 September). Closed Mondays.

Telephone: +34 95 422 1829

A restored convent, dating back to 1612 and hidden in a tiny plaza off Calle de Alfonso XII in Seville, houses one of Spain's most important and largest art collections. The museum was established in 1839, and houses art spanning from medieval times to the 20th century, with the pride of the collection being the range of paintings from the 17th century, Seville's Golden Age. Highlights include the religious paintings of Seville's own Esteban Murillo, but the collection also includes other Seville School artists such as the macabre works of Juan de Vales Leal and Francisco de Zurbaran.

There are also two paintings by El Greco among the exhibits. The museum has a surfeit of religious art, which will delight some and bore others; it is probably not the best attraction for children. The convent is an incredible housing for the collection, and would be worth exploring even if it were empty, with frescoes and ornate vaulted ceilings that make it hard to tell where the building ends and the art begins. On Sundays there is usually an art market in the square outside the museum where local artists set up stalls and sell their work. A must for art lovers, this gallery is generally considered to have the second best collection of Spanish art in the country.

Maria Luisa Park

Address: Seville

Regarded as one of the loveliest parks in Europe, this half-mile area in southern Seville, near the port, is planted with palms, orange trees, elms and Mediterranean pines. Bright and beautiful flower beds vie for the eye with hidden bowers, ponds, pavilions, water features and statues in this little paradise, which was designed in the 1920s and thus reflects a mix of Art Deco and Mudejar styling.

The park was originally part of Seville's World Expo, which brought a burst of creative architecture and rejuvenation during the 1920s, and which included the re-direction of the Guadalquivir River and the construction of some opulent buildings, like the stylish Guatemala building off the Paseo de la Palmera. Also fronting the park is the city's archaeological museum, focusing on the Romans and prehistory of the province of Seville.

Near the park is the Royal Tobacco Factory (today part of the university), immortalised by the fictional operatic gypsy heroine Carmen, who is said to have worked there. Many of the buildings surrounding Maria Luisa Park are attractions in themselves. The park is a pleasant refuge for relaxation and a stroll, and a great place to have a picnic in Seville.

Guggenheim Museum

Address: 2 Abandoibarra Et. Bilbao

Admission: €11(adults); free for children under 12. Concessions available. Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm (open on Mondays between July and August).

Telephone: +34 94 435 90 00

Locals in Bilbao are divided on whether it is a 'beauty' or a 'beast', but the bizarre multi-million dollar Guggenheim Museum, opened in 1997, has brought thousands of visitors flocking to the city to be awed or floored. The massive museum, designed by the famous Frank Gehry, has no right angles, resembles a metallic flower clad in shiny titanium, and is situated in the former dockyard alongside the Nervion River. There are also some huge, striking sculptures outside the museum and many visitors consider the exterior the highlight of a visit. Inside, apart from breathtaking and unusual spaces, the museum houses the works of some important 20th century artists, including Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Willem de Koonig and Clyfford Still. There are also sections displaying the work of young Basque and Spanish artists, and rotating exhibits lent by the Guggenheim museums in New York and Venice. There is a great cafe in the Guggenheim and a bookshop. It is a good idea to book your tickets in advance online to get a slight discount and to jump the queues at the entrance. The Guggenheim is undoubtedly one of Bilbao's greatest and most popular attractions and shouldn't be missed.

Museo de Bellas Artes

Address: 2 Museo Plaza Bilbao

Admission: €6 (adults); €4.50 (reduced); free for children under 12. Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm; closed Mondays.

Telephone: 94 439 6060

For a more mainstream artistic experience than that offered by the astonishing Guggenheim Gallery, the Museo de Bellas Artes in the Plaza Museo fits the bill admirably, with some valuable works on display behind an unassuming façade. The museum's impressive collection spans art from the 12th to 20th centuries, highlights being some excellent Flemish works from between the 15th and 17th centuries. There are also works by masters like El Greco, Goya, Gauguin, Francis Bacon, Picasso and Velazquez. The museum hosts regular temporary exhibitions - check the official website below to see what is showing during your visit. To the rear of the building there is a pleasant sculpture garden. Audio guides are available in multiple languages for an extra €1 and the museum is very well curated and maintained. Bilbao's Museo de Bellas Artes is becoming increasingly renowned internationally and generally receives rave reviews from visitors; in fact, it is consistently one of the top rated attractions in the city. Entry to the museum is free on Wednesdays, which is a big bonus for those travelling on a budget. Prints and other merchandise can be bought via the online shop.

Museo Vasco

Address: 4 Plaza Miguel de Unamuno. Bilbao

Admission: €3, with concessions available. Free for children under 10 and senior citizens. Tuesday to Saturday from 11am to 5pm, Sundays from 11am to 2pm.

Telephone: +34 94 415 5423

The Museo Vasco, also known as the Euskal Museoa or Basque Museum, is in the heart of the old quarter of the city, housed in a lovely 17th-century Jesuit cloister. The museum, established in 1921, depicts Basque culture, history and ethnology, and its exhibits span a wide range of interests including weaving, the blacksmith trade, pastoral life and maritime matters. The displays offer the chance to dip into Basque political and social life, using everything from model ships to reconstructions of rooms and gravestones to guide the visitor along. The maps and the exhibition on traditional music and dancing are highlights.

In an outdoor courtyard visitors can see a remarkable stone sculpture called Mikeldi, which is thought to date back to sometime between the 5th and 11th centuries BC. Although not all the information has been translated there are sufficient explanations in English. It is a simple, accessible museum, which children will probably enjoy. Budget at least three hours to take it all in. Conveniently located in the historic centre of town, the Museo Vasco is near a number of cafes and restaurants and a visit can be combined with a number of other attractions.

Bilbao City Hall

Address: Bilbao

Telephone: +34 94 445 2828 (Reservations)

Located on the right bank of the Estuary of Bilbao, across from the Puente del Ayuntamiento bridge, Bilbao's elegant city hall, in the Plaza Erkoreka Ernesto, dates from 1892 and was designed by Joaquin Rucoba. The Baroque building includes a spire and a magnificent façade featuring balconies, columns, numerous sculptures and a sweeping staircase. The highlight of the interior is the 'Arab Room', an opulently decorated chamber used for civil marriage ceremonies. The city hall was built on the site of a former convent. Guided tours, lasting about an hour, are available, though these need to be booked in advance by phone. A brand new city hall building was recently completed, situated right next to the historic old building, and the unique, modern design of the new contrasts very interestingly with the old. The two buildings now share the functions of the city hall and visitors will probably be divided over which building they find more interesting and aesthetically satisfying: the aggressively modern, which has colourful contemporary decor; or the ornate old, which is distinctly Baroque in its decor. The city is now well served by a combination of functional modern space and historic charm.

San Sebastian

Address: Bilbao

The Basque region's most popular beach, La Concha, is to be found in the genteel resort city of San Sebastian, 62 miles (100km) east of Bilbao. The town became fashionable as a summer getaway during the reign of Queen Isabel when she took to holidaying there in 1845. Today the town hums with boutiques, surf-shops and nightclubs, but the elaborate boardwalk and grandiose historic mansions lend an air of sophistication, as is appropriate for a resort endorsed by bygone royalty. For a spectacular view of the sea and countryside, ride the funicular to the top of Monte Igueldo, or opt for the opposite side of the bay where it is possible to stroll through shady woods to the summit of Monte Urgull, topped with a statue of Jesus blessing the city. The town's Museo de San Telmo, housed in a Dominican monastery, displays some interesting prehistoric Basque artefacts, and a few dinosaur skeletons. The house where Victor Hugo once lived is in the nearby charming fishing village of Pasajes de San Juan, which can be reached by ferry from San Sebastian. The main attraction, however, is definitely the lovely beach, which is wide, spacious and sandy. Various boat tours can be arranged from the pier.

Vitoria-Gasteiz

Address: Bilbao

British visitors are reassured by the presence of a statue of Wellington, the 'Iron Duke', standing on the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca in the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz, 41 miles (66km) south of Bilbao. The statue commemorates Wellington's victory in battle here against Napoleon's forces. The main reason for visiting this Basque city, however, is to enjoy the impressive new contemporary art museum, and soak up some of the charm of this green urban enclave, packed with avenues and parks. There is also an old quarter, full of Renaissance palaces, most of which are now art galleries and museums. The Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is the tourist hub of the old town, surrounded by old mansions, and is a good place to start explorations of the city. Vitoria-Gasteiz also has two Gothic cathedrals: one dating from the 14th century, the beautiful Cathedral of Santa Maria, with a 17th-century tower and paintings by Rubens and van Dyck; and one 20th-century Neo-Gothic creation, the Cathedral of Mary Immaculate, which is also definitely worth a visit. It is a city with many churches, and also two 17th-century nunneries. Vitoria-Gasteiz hosts a number of popular music festivals and attracts many music lovers.

Pamplona

Address: Bilbao

Hordes of tourists flock to this town in Navarre, northern Spain, in early July each year for the Running of the Bulls, officially called La Fiesta del Fermin. The festival, in honour of the city's patron saint, was made famous by Ernest Hemingway's novel The Sun Also Rises, and it has become one of Spain's most popular events. A bust of Hemingway stands outside Pamplona's bullring, where the 8-day extravaganza of dancing, dashing through the streets ahead of rampaging bulls, and drinking, begins. The practice of driving bulls through the centre of Pamplona started in the 19th century as the most practical way to get them to the ring, and for many years the city authorities tried to prevent the practice of running with the bulls. Aside from the festival, though, Pamplona is worth a visit any time of year, boasting lush parks, a splendid Gothic cathedral, a huge citadel and a quaint old quarter. Pamplona is the capital of the province of Navarre, but its roots are Basque and a large percentage of its population are Basque nationalists. Those joining the throng of travellers who arrive especially to run with the bulls should note that the adrenalin-pumping activity is genuinely dangerous and every year there are serious injuries.

La Seo Cathedral

Address: Placa Almoina, Palma Palma de Mallorca

Admission: Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 6pm, Saturday from 10am to 2pm. Open for services on Sundays

Telephone: +34 971 723 130

Palma's magnificent Catalonian Gothic cathedral is a landmark of the city, standing in the old town overlooking the ocean. The cathedral is actually called the Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedral del Salvador) but is situated on the Plaza de la Seo and is commonly referred to as La Seo. The cathedral forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The cathedral was built on the site of an existing ancient mosque and ancient Roman forum, and construction on the Romanesque Cathedral began in 1140. There have been numerous rebuildings, additions and renovations since then, including an extensive restoration in the second half of the 20th century, when, among other things, the Roman and Muslim remnants were excavated and exposed. The cathedral has a rich and interesting history. From 1204 until the 15th century all Aragonese kings were crowned in this church and it was the venue for royal baptisms, weddings and burials. The head Inquisitor of Aragon, Pedro de Arbues, was assassinated in the cathedral while praying in 1485, leading to a tumultuous period when multiple citizens were killed for their alleged involvement in the assassination and for general resistance against the Inquisition. Pedro de Arbues was later sainted and is entombed in the cathedral.

Palau de lAlmudaina

Address: Palma de Mallorca

Admission: €9. Concessions available. April to September open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 8pm; October to March open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 6pm; Closed Mondays.

Telephone: 971 214 134

Opposite the cathedral in Palma stands an austere fortress palace that was erected by the Moors and later became the residence of the kings of Mallorca. The Moors built the fortress in 1281 and it was converted into a royal residence at the end of the 13th century, but evidence suggests that the Moors themselves built on an existing Roman fort. The palace is still officially a royal residence, although very seldom occupied, and is occasionally used for royal functions and events. Inside, most rooms and corridors are bare, but there are some beautiful Flemish Gobelin tapestries on display as well as a few antiques, art works and suits of armour. The royal apartments can be seen and there is an impressive Gothic chapel which showcases some rare late Romanesque architectural features. The palace, on the Plaza Reina, is surrounded by a pleasant Moorish-style garden sporting fountains, and offering panoramic views of the harbour. There is very little information in the fortress itself, but audio guides are available in English. Although visitors expecting lavish decor will be disappointed, exploring the palace is still fascinating and photographers will find plenty of worthy material.

Castell de Bellver

Address: Palma Palma de Mallorca

Admission: €4 (general), €2 (reduced) Monday to Saturday, free on Sundays. Monday to Friday from 8am to 9pm, and Sundays from 10am to 7pm (April to June, September); Monday to Friday from 8am to 9pm, and Sundays from 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 8pm (July and August); Monday to Friday from 8am to 8pm, and Sundays from 10am to 5pm (October to March)

Telephone: +34 971 730 657

This round hilltop castle, built in the 14th century, was the summer residence of the kings of Mallorca during the short period in which the island had a Royal family. The fortified castle with its double moat also served as a prison. Today, it contains Palma's Municipal Museum, displaying mainly archaeological artefacts and old coins. There are also models of archaeological digs to be seen. The castle is rather unusual which makes it interesting to explore. It is situated atop a lovely park area and the highlight of a visit is the building itself and the spectacular views and photo opportunities, rather than the museum exhibitions. Apart from the exhibitions on the ground floor, you can explore a series of chambers upstairs, including the former kitchen (although these rooms are closed on Sundays). Don't miss the prisoner's graffiti etched into the stonework, visible if you climb up to the roof. The Bellver Castle is on the route of the Palma City open-top sightseeing buses, but the walk up through the forest to the castle from Placa Gomilla is pleasant and not too strenuous, with many viewpoints to rest at along the way. Bellver Castle is one of the city's top attractions and a must-see for the views alone.

Museo dArt Espanyol Contemporani

Address: 11 Sant Miquel. Palma de Mallorca

Admission: Free. Monday to Friday from 10am to 6.30pm, Saturday from 10.30am to 2pm, closed on Sundays and public holidays.

Telephone: 971 713 515

Palma's most renowned art gallery contains works collected by the Juan March Foundation, housed in a restored mansion on the Carrer Sant Miquel. The collection focuses on modern works including Picasso's Head of a Woman and paintings by acknowledged masters like Miro, Dali, Juan Gris and Antoni Tapies, as well as art by contemporary Spanish artists. It is a small but impressive collection and the 17th-century mansion that houses it is in itself beautiful and fun to explore; the old building contrasts interestingly with the modern art.

The spacious, quiet, air-conditioned gallery is a wonderful refuge on a hot day. The museum is very active, organising lecture series, many temporary exhibitions, and art workshops which visitors are welcome to participate in free of charge. Guided tours of the gallery are available by prior appointment on week days between 11am and 3pm. There is a good museum shop selling exhibition catalogues, art books, posters, postcards and the like. The gallery is wheelchair accessible. The fact that a gallery of this calibre is free is quite remarkable and the museum is popular with tourists and locals alike.

Banys Arabs

Address: Can Serra, Palma Palma de Mallorca

Admission: €2 (adults). Open daily from 9.30am to 6pm

The only surviving Moorish building in Palma is the bathhouse of Banys Àrabs, located in the city's medieval quarter. It contains an elegant horseshoe-arched and domed chamber, supported by 12 columns, and is fronted by a lovely little garden with picnic tables. Although this is a small attraction, basically consisting of two empty chambers (hence the low admission cost), the old architecture is graceful and photographers should enjoy capturing the romantically dilapidated walls and columns. The baths are worth visiting to get some impression of the character of the old Arab city as they are sadly all that remains. There is a short video show, in multiple languages, providing some historical information about the building, but not much else. The site is generally deserted and is a serene spot to imagine the past and take a break from sightseeing to read or write in the peaceful gardens. Bring your own picnic and enjoy a slow lunch at the baths. Although it is located on a small side road, the building is well sign-posted and shouldn't be hard to find. Those interested in history or Moorish architecture should not miss this tiny but charming attraction in Palma.

Beaches near Palma

Address: Palma de Mallorca

There are several good, though usually crowded, beaches accessible by bus from Palma. El Arenal, seven miles (11km) to the southeast of the city, attracts many German visitors to its waterfront restaurants, bars and hotels. The long beach boasts white sands and turquoise water. Palma Nova and Illetes, six miles (10km) to the southwest, are smaller but equally popular and picturesque beaches. On the road to Palma Nova is Marineland, offering dolphin, sea lion and parrot shows, as well as Polynesian pearl-diving demonstrations. Other beaches nearby include Portixol, El Molinar, Coll d'En Rebassa and Can Pastilla. The most popular beach on the entire island of Mallorca, Es Trenc, on the southeast coast between Cap de Salinas and Cap Blanc, can be reached by bus from the Plaza Espanya in Palma. Es Trenc is a long narrow beach which is not affiliated to any resort and is therefore less commercial than many others on the island - although its popularity ensures it is still frequently crowded. It is a beautiful stretch of sand and an unofficial nudist beach. The local tourist office distributes an information leaflet on 40 beaches in the Palma area, clearly demonstrating the wealth of choice for travellers in search of sand, sun and sea.

Soller

Address: Mallorca

Soller, set in a lush valley of orange groves between the mountains and the sea, half way along the northwest coast of the island, is a popular day trip destination because it can be reached on a vintage train ride from Palma. The train, a wood-panelled 1912 model, takes passengers winding through the beautiful craggy landscapes and into the Golden Valley where Soller is situated. The town is awash with tempting pastry shops, ice-cream parlours and tapas bars in its quaint squares, but there is more to do than just eat and drink.

There are some good examples of modernist architecture, like the church of Saint Bartomeu with its 1912 arched tower above a rose window, and needle-like spires. There are also two museums: the Natural Science Museum displaying fossils, and the Museu Municipal filled with antiques. There is a vintage tram running between the town and the port (Port de Soller). Life is slow in Soller, which seems perpetually scented with citrus. It is an ancient town, with evidence that the area was inhabited by humans as early as 5200 BC, but rather than big tourist attractions visitors will find buckets of charm and many good reasons to just relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Valldemossa

Address: Mallorca

Admission: Cells open Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 6pm, and on Sundays from 10am to 1pm

Mallorca's favourite titbit of tabloid gossip has turned the monastery in the small town of Valldemossa, on the west coast, into a tourist attraction. In 1838 Frederic Chopin arrived with his lover, George Sand, to stay in a former monk's cell in the Cartoixa Reial monastery and carry on their affair away from the eyes of Paris. The shocked locals shunned the tubercular Chopin and his lover, and the couple were so unhappy that their relationship never recovered from the wet, windy and miserable winter in the monastery. Today the cells occupied by the lovers are open to visitors. The library and old pharmacy can also be visited and there is a small art museum with works by Picasso, Miro and Juli Ramis. Valldemossa is a picturesque town; in fact, it is one of the prettiest villages in Mallorca. It is quiet and traditional, with narrow cobbled streets and a backdrop of forested hills. The 13th-century monastery is the most famous attraction of the town, but many hours can be spent happily wandering the streets and exploring the lush countryside. There are lovely cafes, restaurants, art galleries and gift shops in Valldemossa. It is not a coastal town, but the port of the same name is very close and many beaches are within easy reach.

Santuari de Lluc

Address: Mallorca

About 20 miles (32km) beyond Soller, after a precipitous drive through the Serra de Tramuntana in the north of the island, is the remote mountain village of Lluc, in a valley that has been an important place of pilgrimage since the 13th century. Lluc became Mallorca's most sacred site when a shepherd boy discovered a dark wooden statue of the Virgin in a cleft in the rock. The miraculous statue somehow returned to its cave three times after being placed in the local church.

Now the statue, known as La Moreneta, has been encrusted with precious stones and resides in its own chapel, receiving pilgrims and tourists who come to pay homage each day. The main attraction of the town is the 13th-century Santuari de Lluc, the monastery which houses the statue, and remains a famous pilgrimage site. The sanctuary has a world-renowned boys' choir, established in 1531, which performs regularly. Although Lluc is primarily a special destination for the religious, it also has secular appeal, with some good restaurants and a scenic setting. The old town makes for a good break from the sun, sand and sea that tends to dominate a Mallorcan holiday, and many walking trails traverse the area.

Ibiza Old Town

Address: Ibiza

The old medieval district of Ciudad de Ibiza (Ibiza Town), the capital of the island, sports narrow cobblestone streets, picturesque whitewashed houses and Gothic buildings around courtyards bright with blooming geraniums and bougainvillea. Ibiza'a Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with architecture spanning 2,500 years of history. The Old Town, enclosed by historic walls, is best entered through the Puerta de las Tablas, which sees visitors passing across a drawbridge flanked by ancient statues; there is another entrance, Portal Nou, behind the Plaza del Parque, which is somewhat less dramatic. The district is best explored on foot, and contains some interesting sights, most noteworthy of which is the Archaeological Museum. The museum, situated in Cathedral Square, contains artefacts from prehistoric sites on the Balearic Islands, dating as far back as the Punic period between the 5th and 7th centuries BC. Interestingly, the museum is said to be constructed on a Carthagean burial site of about 4,000 graves. Also in the Old Town is the cathedral with its 10th-century Gothic tower and 18th-century Baroque nave. From the battlements by the cathedral spectacular views can be enjoyed. There are plenty of gift shops, art galleries, pavement cafes and good restaurants in the area to keep tourists happy. The Old Town is delightful at night, and a candlelit dinner at one of the restaurants spilling out into the narrow cobbled streets is a must.

Santa Eulalia del Rio

Address: Ibiza

Santa Eulalia is a pretty, atmospheric little town about nine miles (14km) north of the island's capital, much favoured by tourists because of its proximity to some of the best beaches and for its scenic setting. The town is situated on the estuary of the only river in the Balearic Islands, overlooked by the Puig de Missa, a 16th-century fortified church situated on a hilltop. There are also a number of small museums and the remains of a Roman necropolis to investigate. Another attraction in Santa Eulalia is the Sant Carles settlement a few kilometres to the north: the last true 'hippie' commune on Ibiza island remaining from the 1960s ,when hippie cultists flocked here. The famous northern beaches of Ibiza, like Aigues Blanques and Cala Llonga, can be reached by bus or boat from the town. Santa Eulalia has its own beaches though: the Santa Eulalia beach has Blue Flag status and is very popular; the Es Calo de S'Alga beach, which can be reached on foot from the town, is a gorgeous little beach with calm, shallow water and good facilities; and the nearby Es Canar beach is perfect for water sports like jet-skiing. There are also some quaint fishermen's coves in the region surrounded by pine forests.

Cova de Can Marca

Address: Ibiza

Admission: €10 (adults), €6 (children aged 4 - 12). 10.30am to 1.30pm and 2.30pm to 8pm (May to October); 11am to 5.30pm (November to April).

Telephone: +34 971 334 776

A few miles north of the village of Sant Miquel, which has an attractive hill-top church and some good tapas bars, is the tourist attraction cave complex of Cova de Can Marca. The caves have been commercialised and fitted with some spectacular sound and lighting effects, providing for an entertaining guided tour. The caves are situated atop a rocky inlet and there is a spectacular view over the bay and of the islands of Murada and Feriradura from the cave site. The cave is said to be more than 100,000 years old and features underground lakes, stalactites and stalagmites. There was once a natural waterfall in the cave system but the waterfall featured on the tour today is a replica, as the waterbeds of the cave system are now fossilized. Only in some of the deepest caverns are stalactites and stalagmites still being formed. The caves were once used by smugglers to hide their cargo and it is still possible to see the marks they made on the walls to guide them through the cave system. Tours are held in various languages and take about 40 minutes. The tours are suitable for people of all ages and fitness levels and are very popular with tourists. It is not necessary to book in advance.

La Salinas

Address: Ibiza

One of Ibiza's famous landmarks are its salt flats, La Salinas, close to the airport on the southern-most tip of the island. The saltpans have been in use for more than 2,000 years, since the earliest colonists, the Carthaginians, traded with the 'white gold' left in the pans when water evaporates in the hot summer months. The sparkling salt lakes provide one of the world's most beautiful sunset photograph opportunities, and the saltpans are a wonderful destination for bird watchers.

The famous Las Salinas beach, on the southern tip of Ibiza, is named for the saltpans, and attracts a glittering crowd of sun worshippers and party animals, including many celebrities. It is one of the most fashionable haunts for the wealthy and beautiful in the world! The sea is particularly salty, giving swimmers some extra buoyancy. There are numerous beach bars to try out. The salt flats can be found in the nature reserve that surrounds this gorgeous beach, along with pine forests, sand dunes and a general abundance of natural beauty. It is possible to just stroll into the woods from the beach, but there are also many tours to the saltpans from various towns on Ibiza.

Formentera

Address: Ibiza

The tiny island of Formentera covers 35 square miles (90 sq km) and is home to just over 5,000 people. It can be reached by ferry from Ibiza town, with a regular service running every two hours. Recently ferry services to Formentera from the mainland have also been established, due to the island's increasing popularity. The island is a popular day trip from Ibiza, and is relatively unspoilt by tourism development, although it is not as empty of crowds as it once was. Accommodation options are very limited. The main attractions on this flat piece of land are some pretty villages and marvellous beaches flanked by palms and pines, many frequented by nudists. The best way to explore it is on a rented moped, or on a bicycle, as there are well-maintained cycling tracks traversing the island. The main port is La Sabina, and the other villages include beautiful Las Salinas, San Francisco Javier and San Fernando, all featuring quaint white-washed houses. Recommended beaches are Es Pujols in the north, Mitjorn in the south, and Cala Saona in the west. Other beaches of note are En Boster, Ca'n Xico Mateu and the natural port of Es Calo. The highest point on the island is in the southeast corner at El Mirador.

Mahon

Address: Minorca

Minorca's capital town, Mahón, is an unavoidable port of call for visitors arriving on the island, and most head for the string of restaurants and cafes that line the harbour, before passing through to other destinations on the island. The town itself is sedate and conservative, featuring classic Georgian townhouses (bearing testimony to the British occupation of bygone days) and tall apartment blocks. Mahon does have some worthwhile attractions for those interested in making more of their holiday than dashing off to the beach.

The mansion house of Golden Farm overlooks the harbour, and was once occupied by Admiral Lord Nelson. Also on the sightseeing list is the Xoriguer Gin Distillery, where famed Minorcan gin is produced in an age-old process. The celebrated organ (with more than 3,000 pipes) in the church of Esglesia de Santa Maria la Major is also a draw for some visitors; the Swiss-made organ was brought to Mahon during the Napoleonic wars and is used during an annual music festival held in July and August. The historic centre of Mahon has been steadily renovated in recent years, and the old part of town is picturesque. The city has one of the deepest natural harbours in the world, and the waterfront is a worthy tourist hub with lots to see and do.

Ciutadella de Menorca

Address: Minorca

Minorca's former capital city, the compact port of Ciutadella de Menorca - usually just called Ciutadella - is west of the modern capital and linked to it by the main island road. Ciutadella is very different in character to Mahon, sporting a distinct Moorish and Spanish influence in its Gothic and Baroque grand mansions and palaces. It is an ancient town, reputedly founded by the Carthaginians by the 4th century. During its long history Ciutadella changed hands multiple times, memorably having all 3,000 or so surviving residents taken as slaves by invading Turks in 1558 after a siege of the city.

Ciutadella remains the island's religious centre and is still the home of the bishop. The Cathedral of Menorca, located in the old quarter, was built in 1287 on the site of an even older mosque, and is one of the city's greatest attractions. The town hall, formerly the palace of the Arab governor and then the royal palace, is also an interesting old building. Although the city boasts few specific sightseeing attractions, it does offer excellent restaurants, interesting shops and arcades as well as a relaxed ambience that is just perfect for wandering around. There are also some coves nearby inviting exploration.

Naveta des Tudons

Address: Minorca

Regarded as the 'cathedral of prehistoric monuments', the Naveta des Tudons is the best-known archaeological site on Minorca. One of numerous navetas on the island, it is situated just outside Ciutadella on the road from Mahon and stands two stories high, shaped like the upturned bow of a ship. It is accepted that navetas were funereal structures, but they remain surrounded by mystery and legends. The Naveta des Tudons is Minorca's most remarkable megalithic chamber tomb as it is the largest and the best preserved. The structure was used as a collective ossuary between 1200 and 750 BC, and held the remains of more than 100 skeletons. The interior is not accessible to the public but it is still well worth visiting the site.

Another important ancient site on the island is the Torre d'en Gaumes, the largest prehistoric village in the Balearic Islands, which is on the south side of Minorca between the village of Alaior and the Son Bou beach. The village features three talaiots (stone towers) surrounded by a defensive wall, pillared naves and a taula (a T-shaped stone temple structure). There is also a dolmenic burial chamber at the site.

Minorca Beaches

Address: Minorca

Minorca is blessed with a beautiful coastline and offers visitors a variety of beaches and resorts. Fornells, an attractive fishing village on the north coast, is on a spectacular bay ideal for windsurfing and watersports. Close by is the beach Cala Tirant. Cala Galdana is one of the most popular beaches, set in a horseshoe bay, and complete with all desired amenities; while Santo Tomas, with its stretch of golden sand, is a small resort favoured by families and honeymoon couples.

Son Bou is one of the longest sandy beaches on the island, backing on to open countryside and unspoilt by development, although there are a few shops, bars, restaurants and a discotheque nearby. Binebeca and Binisafua, on the southwest coast, were Minorca's first resort centres, but are now mainly residential areas filled with private villas fronting numerous sandy bays. There are some interesting caves and rugged little coves on the stretch of coastline between Mahon and Calan Porter, making the area fun for nature walks and snorkelling along the rocky shore. Calan Porter itself has a famously lovely sandy beach and a very picturesque setting.

Those looking for something a little less commercialised may enjoy Cala Mitjana, south of Ferreries, a small, idyllic cove surrounded by pine forests, which offers no facilities but is beautifully situated and usually not crowded.

Museo Canario

Address: 2 Verneau Dr. Gran Canaria

Admission: €4 (adults); children under 12 free; concessions available. Free entry on Mondays. Monday to Friday from 10am to 8pm, weekends from 10am to 2pm.

Telephone: +34 928 336 800

The main museum in Las Palmas is well worth a visit, boasting the world's largest collection of Cro-Magnon skulls and a few mummies. The permanent exhibition of the Museo Canario is devoted solely to the aboriginal population of Gran Canaria, who inhabited the islands from the second half of the first millennium BC up until the 15th century. Gran Canaria's original inhabitants, the fair-haired and light-skinned Guanche people, were conquered by the Spanish in the 15th century.

The award-winning museum houses the most complete and comprehensive archaeological collection in the Canary Islands and should be of great interest to anybody keen on archaeology, anthropology, and the ancient history of the Canary Islands. The exhibition covers things like religion and mythology, funerary practices, economic activity and the organisation of society. There is a room full of the skeletal remains of the ancients, which is spooky but fascinating. The information provided in the exhibitions is invariably only in Spanish, but at the entrance you should be given a booklet explaining the displays in your own language. The museum is popular with tourists and is one of the top-rated attractions in Las Palmas.

Casa de Colon

Address: Columbus Street, Las Palmas Gran Canaria

Admission: €4 (general), €2 (reduced). Monday to Friday from 9am to 7pm; weekends from 9am to 3pm

Telephone: +34 928 312 373

Christopher Columbus is believed to have stayed for different periods in the Casa de Colon, in the historical quarter of Vegueta in Las Palmas, on his way to the Americas. The house now serves as a museum displaying relics of early transatlantic voyages and pre-Columbian cultures, as well as acting as a cultural centre for the study of the Canary Island's relationship with the Americas. The building is a famous example of the architecture of the Canary Islands, with heavy wooden balconies, patios, fountains, and some unusual ornamental features. It was once the residence of Las Palmas's early governors.

There are now 13 permanent exhibition halls, a library, and a research centre, which contain some fascinating artefacts and even some colourful parrots among the palm trees in the courtyards. Although competition is not steep in the city, Casa de Colon is probably the most popular museum in Las Palmas and generally receives rave reviews from visitors. The museum is situated next to the cathedral and is worth an hour or two of sightseeing time in the city. If you are interested in maritime history Casa de Colon will delight you: the old maps are a particular highlight.

Pueblo Canario

Address: Gran Canaria

Admission: Tuesday to Friday from 10am to 8pm, Sundays from 10.30am to 2.30pm

The whitewashed Pueblo Canario was the pet project of Canarian artist Nestor Martin-Fernandez de la Torre, who conceived and oversaw the creation of this idealised representation of a typical island village next to Dorames Park, Las Palmas. Buildings surround a square where performances of traditional folk music and dance take place every Sunday morning. The dancers and musicians dress up in full traditional garb and use traditional instruments. Audience participation is welcomed so bring your dancing shoes! Those who just want to enjoy the free music and show can sip on a beer or a coffee in the pleasant square, or have a meal at the restaurant. The village also contains the Museo Nestor, in which is housed a collection of the artist's modernist paintings a playground for children, and some handicraft shops where visitors can pick up some souvenirs. The entertainment is simple and old-fashioned and the village is picturesque and worth strolling around, especially in combination with the park that borders it. Pueblo Canario gives travellers a taste of rural Canarian culture and charm in the middle of the city. The best time to visit by far is on Sunday mornings.

Arucas

Address: Gran Canaria

The delightful town of Arucas sits beneath a dormant volcano on the northern coast of Gran Canaria, and is one of the most popular places for tourists to visit. The neat town is dominated by the majestic Church of San Juan Bautista, carved in stone by local workers. The town is also the centre of sugar and rum production on the island and visitors are welcome at the Fabrica y Museo del Ron to witness how sugar cane is turned into rum. It is possible to take a short walk out of the town to the Montana de Arucas viewpoint for a panoramic look at the northern coastline.

The town is scenically situated, surrounded by fields of corn and potatoes and banana plantations, and the Palmitos ravine provides some beautiful vistas. The stunning, UNESCO-listed Gran Canaria Biosphere Reserve is also easily accessible from Arucas. The town is very close to the city of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, which is the co-capital of the Canary Islands and has numerous historical attractions as well as the pleasures of sun, sea and watersports to offer visitors and is one of the main travel hubs in the region. Arucas is therefore a great excursion from the city, providing a bit of rural charm as a break from the urban glories of Las Palmas.

Palmitos Park

Address: Gran Canaria

Admission: €29 (adults); €21,50 (children aged 5 - 10); €8 (children aged 3 - 4). Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission at 5pm).

Telephone: +34 928 140 276

A colourful and entertaining look at nature is presented at Palmitos Park, a botanical garden, zoo and aquarium situated four miles (6km) inland from Arguineguin on the south coast. The park is a subtropical oasis containing thousands of birds, fish, animals, trees, plants and particularly orchids. The orchid house is the largest in the Canary Islands and the range is astonishing. There is a cactus garden too, a huge butterfly house and an aquarium featuring a recreated riverbed. Attractions include dolphin shows and a number of bird shows including displays by birds of prey, parrots, and exotic birds. The park also houses a selection of reptiles and other animals including aardvarks, wallabies and meerkats. Another highlight is Primate Island, which is inhabited by entertaining gibbons and orangutans. There are numerous picnic spots and view points in the park, which is blessed with some ruggedly beautiful scenery. There are also cafes selling refreshments for those who don't bring their own food. All displays and shows are included in the entrance fee. Check the official website listed below to see what time all the different animals perform. There is a substantial reduction for online booking via the website.

Teide National Park

Address: Tenerife

Admission: Cable car operates between 9am and 4pm daily, weather depending

The Parque Nacional de las Canadas del Teide was declared a protected area in 1954, and has become recognised as offering one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world, including an enormous volcanic crater with a circumference of 30 miles (48km), out of which rises the highest peak in Spain, Mount Teide. It is the largest, one of the oldest, and the most visited national park in Spain and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since 2007 it has also been one of the 12 Treasures of Spain. In contrast to the coastal regions of Tenerife the temperatures in the reserve can be extreme: winter in the park, which lies at about 6,562ft (2,000m) above sea level, brings snowfall and gale force winds, while in summer temperatures can soar to above 104ºF (40ºC). A cable car carries visitors to the summit of Mount Teide, but many prefer to hike the route to experience the flora and fauna, including rare specimens like the violet of the Teide, the Tajinastes, as well as the many varieties of lizards and birds. There is a refuge near the summit which you can book to stay in, and reserving this accommodation includes the permit you will need to climb Mount Teida. Many well-known movies have used the dramatic and unusual scenery of the park as a setting.

Piramides de Guimar

Address: Calle Chacona, Guimar Tenerife

Admission: Variety of ticket options available. General entry: €11 (adults); €5.50 (children aged 9-12); children under 9 free. Daily from 9.30am to 6pm

Telephone: 922 514 510

On the east coast of Tenerife, south of Santa Cruz, stand six mysterious step pyramids of which archaeologists have yet to discern the origin. The pyramids were initially thought to be the remains of agricultural stone terraces, or random piles of stone cleared from fields by early Spanish settlers. However, Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who lived in Guimar on Tenerife until his death in 2002, thought differently. His research indicated that the pyramids were constructed on similar principles to those in Mexico, Peru and ancient Mesopotamia. The pyramids are now enclosed in an Ethnographic Park; the site includes a museum, life-size replica of Heyerdahl's reed ship Kontiki, a cafeteria, and souvenir shop. The structures remain the subject of some debate among archaeologists, and the first real excavation of the pyramids, in 1991, didn't reveal anything to help definitively date them. The park, however, is lovely, and is of botanical as well as archaeological interest, with paths winding through miles of Canarian vegetation. There is also a Secret Garden dedicated to poisonous plants. There are picnic areas dotted around the park and it is a good idea to bring a picnic to fully enjoy the area.

Masca

Address: Tenerife

For great scenery, a visit to the northwest tip of the island of Tenerife, around the picturesque village of Masca, is hard to beat. The village is set in the Teno Mountains, clinging to the slopes of a deep, green ravine beside a narrow road full of alarming hairpin bends. Until recently Masca was off the beaten track and not accessible by road. The zigzag drive from Santiago del Teide has now opened up the village and its magical setting, reputed to have once been a pirate's hideaway. The village has a little market and some restaurants as well as accommodation options but its main selling point is the spectacular scenery.

Hikers have popularised a two-hour walk, from the village through a gully to the sea at the base of the majestic cliffs of Los Gigantes. The hike is a glorious way to experience the landscapes, but is not suitable for those afraid of heights as things get rather steep. Once you reach the beach you will find a picturesque bay with black volcanic sand and clear water which is lovely for a picnic, a swim and a snorkel. In summer there are water taxis transporting people between this bay and Los Gigantes every two hours or so, which is a great option if you don't want to hike back up the way you came!

Tenerife Beaches

Address: Tenerife

The volcanic nature of the island of Tenerife means that the land has few natural beaches. Those that exist are characterised by black shingle stretches created from the island's volcanic rock foundations. The demand for tourist sun-bathing space, however, has led to the creation of resorts and man-made beaches, with golden sand having been imported in some cases. Many of the beaches of Tenerife have been awarded the European Blue Flag for their cleanliness and the quality of their sand. The good beaches on Tenerife for sunbathing and soft sand are Los Gigantes and San Juan in the west; and Fanabe, with its soft, yellow sand, showers and other facilities, located to the south. Also popular are Torviscas with its marina, Playa las Americas for its grey sandy stretches, the soft yellow expanse of Los Cristianos' beach, Las Vistas, and Los Cristianos. Candaleria in the east has a small black shingle beach. Up north Puerto de la Cruz has a beach with fine black shingle, but at Santa Cruz golden sand has been imported for its Terasitas beach. Although the imported white sand is ideal for sunbathing, the black volcanic beaches of Tenerife can be very beautiful and are often less crowded.

Arrecife Museum of Contemporary Art

Address: Lanzarote

Admission: Free Art galleries: Monday to Sunday from 11am to 9pm

Telephone: +34 928 807 929

Modern art in an old building works well in Lanzarote's capital, Arrecife, where a collection of works by international artists is on permanent display in the Castle of San Jose, a fortress built between 1776 and 1779 by King Carlos III of Spain to defend against pirate attacks. The castle was in military use till 1890 and then stood vacant till 1974 when it was converted into a modern art gallery and restaurant by architect and artist Cesar Manrique. The Museo International de Arte Contemporaneo is a small but fascinating gallery space which showcases an interesting collection; the main attraction is actually the building itself and the contrast between the old fortress and the modern art. Some of the artists featured are Bacon, Picasso, Miro, Botero, Damaso and Luis Feito. The restaurant, which serves superb food and has a funky decor, is a big drawcard and has fantastic views over the docks and ocean. It is worth visiting for drinks at the bar at least. Sunset is the best time to enjoy the views and a meal, as the view changes dramatically between day and night. Although there are usually tables available it is recommended that you book in advance to get the best views.

Timanfaya National Park

Address: Lanzarote

Admission: Daily from 9am to 5.45pm.

Telephone: +34 928 840 057

Timanfaya National Park, in the southwestern part of the island of Lanzarote, is unique because it is the only national park in the world to have been developed by local residents. Also unique is what the park offers, including a volcanic field filled with a variety of geological and geothermic phenomena. In fact, the reserve is almost entirely made up of volcanic soil, and volcanic activity continues beneath the surface, although there is only one active volcano, the one the park is named for. Attractions include some geysers by the restaurant. Although the landscape is strange and stark 180 different plant species do survive in the park.

The whole of Lanzarote is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and Timanfaya is one of the core protected areas. Access to the park is strictly regulated to protect the delicate ecosystem and visitors must stick to designated routes. A journey through this landscape is hugely enriched by having a guide so don't shy away from organised tours. Some tours offer camel rides as part of the package. In the restaurant, which has spectacular views, visitors can end their guided tour of these wonders by enjoying a meal cooked on geothermal heat emanating from natural steam vents and geysers.

La Cueva de los Verdes

Address: Lanzarote

Admission: €9 (adults), €4.50 (children aged 7 to 12). Daily from 10am to 6pm. Last tour at 5pm.

Telephone: +34 928 848 484

In the northern part of Lanzarote, close to the Monte de la Corona volcano, is a spectacular system of underground grottos known as La Cueva de los Verdes. This is one of the largest volcanic galleries in the world, at just over four miles (6km) long, formed approximately five thousand years ago in a prehistoric eruption when a massive stream of lava boiled down to the sea, hardening around the spaces inflated by gases. Where the tunnel enters the sea there is an underwater section called the Tunnel of Atlantis. More than a mile (2km) of these grottos is accessible to visitors, and lighting effects have been added to accentuate the contours and colours of the weird shapes resulting from the lava flows. Feeling like a journey into the mysterious bowels of the earth, exploring the tunnels is a thrilling experience. Tours take just under an hour and are conducted in Spanish and English. Those with mobility issues may struggle negotiating the uneven surfaces, but tour guides are generally accommodating and adjust their pace to suit the group as a whole. Evening concerts are sometimes held in the caverns, and it is incredible to hear the music reverberating off the ancient walls.

The Cactus Garden

Address: Lanzarote

Admission: €5 (adults); €2.50 (children aged 7 - 12). Daily from 10am to 6pm.

Telephone: +34 928 52 9397

Situated between Guatiza and Mala is an unusual sightseeing attraction that combines art with nature. Artist Cesar Manrique created a work of art in the form of a cactus plantation in an old quarry. The Cactus Garden was Manrique's final piece of work in Lanzarote. More than 7,000 cactuses from well over 1,000 different species from all over the world are represented in the garden, with many coming from Madagascar, Mexico, Chile, Morocco, the US and the Canary Islands. The plants come in all shapes and sizes and have been arranged beautifully in a landscaped garden with many water features. The site also features a restored windmill, which visitors can climb. It is a weird and wonderful collection which makes you feel like you're on another planet, and most people need at least two to three hours to explore. The old quarry is a sun trap and gets really hot, so it is best not to visit on a sweltering day, or at least to avoid the hottest time of day. There is a cafe at the site which sells light meals and provides welcome shade and lovely views over the garden. The Cactus Garden is an unexpected and unusual attraction which receives rave reviews from visitors and should amuse people of all ages.

Terra Mitica

Address: Costa Blanca

Admission: There are many different ticket options but a day pass is about €26. Opening days and times are different every month - check the calendar on the website for details.

Telephone: +34 902 02 0220

Situated on the outskirts of Benidorm, Terra Mitica is Spain's largest theme park and, with its rides, shows, restaurants and shops, can be a great day - or week - out for the whole family. Rides like the Tizona, an inverted roller coaster that reaches speeds of 62mph (100kmh) and heights of more than 100ft (31m) with visitors suspended beneath the track, and attractions like Warrior of the Dawn (a simulated game) provide exhilarating entertainment for all ages. The park is divided into five themed zones: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Iberia and the Mediterranean Islands. Recently the park has been further divided into two separate zones: Iberia Park is a free to enter area which operates on a token system; and Terra Mitica is a pay to enter area where all rides are free once inside. Although the park's size prevents queues from getting too long, there is not much shade and visitors should go prepared for the sun, especially in summer. The queuing sections are almost all cooled down by sprinkler systems which is a relief, and there are some great water rides to cool down on. In the peak summer months the park is often open till midnight and visiting at night is a wonderful option. Those who have difficulty walking can hire scooters to get around.

Pollensa

Address: Mallorca

Situated in the hills, towards the northeast of Mallorca, Pollensa is a peaceful old town that has been largely unaffected by tourism. The town was established a few miles inland to protect against any sudden pirate attacks; its harbour, Puerto Pollensa, was left as an unprotected outpost. Today the port has grown into a popular family resort. Some of Pollensa's medieval centre remains around the Plaça Major, the main square, including the church of Nostra Senyora dels Àngels.

From the outside, the church is fairly austere, the sheer stone façade is pierced only by a large rose window, but the interior is highly decorative, particularly during the packed Sunday morning services when it is ablaze with candles. Other than the church, the main square houses a cluster of bars and cafés, and on Sunday mornings, a busy market. Just north of the square is the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross), a long stone stairway bordered by ancient cypress trees.

At the top, in a small chapel, is a much-revered statue of Mare de Déu del Peu de la Creu (Mother of God at the Foot of the Cross). On Good Friday, a figure of Jesus is slowly carried down the steps by torchlight in the Davallament (Lowering). Perched on a hill just south of Pollensa is a rambling 18th-century monastery, a peaceful and serene spot to take in wonderful views of the surrounding area. The monastery is an hour's walk from town.

Arta

Address: Mallorca

The ancient hilltop town of Arta, close to the east coast of Mallorca, has been occupied for about 3,000 years, and today welcomes visitors to the remains of its Bronze Age settlement at Ses Paisses, just outside the town in a grove of olive, carob, and holm oak trees, which dates back to about 1300 to 100 BC. Arta is thought to have been inhabited ever since the island was first colonised, and some interesting archaeological artefacts can be viewed in the The Regional Museum of Arta.

The ancient town presents a picturesque sight from the Santuari de Sant Salvador, the chapel-shrine on top of the hill, with its bleached rooftops spilling down the hillside below the battlements of a Moorish fortress. The Baroque church was built in 1892 and is connected by a staircase of 180 steps to the parish church of Transfiguracio del Senyor at the foot of the hill, which is a Gothic structure built in 1573, on the foundations of an older mosque. Little is actually known about the Moorish fortress which dominates the skyline, with its one metre thick walls and nine towers. The town is particularly lively on Tuesdays, market day, but the narrow streets and palpably ancient feel of the place is thrilling on any day.

Parque de los Cocodrilo

Address: Villa de Aguímes. Gran Canaria

Admission: Sunday to Friday from 10am to 6pm

Telephone: +34 928 784 725

This Crocodile Park is home to more than 300 crocodiles and alligators from all over the world. Visitors shouldn't miss the crocodiles' feeding times, which occur daily at about 12pm, 2pm and 4.15pm, during which the animals are at their most active. The other half of the park is a zoo, which houses other reptiles, various birds, monkeys, chimpanzees, tigers, jaguars, camels and much more. There is a restaurant in the centre of the park where visitors can see a show where parrots perform various tricks, including doing a jigsaw puzzle and roller skating! The crocodile shows are, of course, the main attraction and are very educational, allowing audience members to touch baby crocs, among other things. The park is near the town of Aguímes, a few miles southwest of the airport.

Those with a soft spot for reptiles should also consider visiting Reptilandia, situated a little off the beaten track, near Agaete, in the northwest of the island. This park houses a collection of snakes, tortoises, turtles and lizards. The Komodo Dragon here is believed to be the largest lizard in the world. There are also sections on spiders and monkeys. Kids are bound to love both attractions, and they are good options for families wanting a short break from the beach.

Alcudia (Old Town)

Address: Mallorca

The ancient town of Alcudia, not to be confused with the popular modern resort two miles (3km) to its south, has a fascinating and turbulent history. The Phoenicians and Greeks settled here and the Romans made it their capital in the 2nd century BC. Destroyed by the Vandals in the 6th century it was rebuilt again by the Moors before being liberated by King Jaime I of Spain in the early 1200s. The Spanish sensibly fortified the city, and its massive city walls date from this era.

Today, visitors still enter the narrow streets of the old town through one of the two gates, which are guarded by large towers. Strolling along the ancient walls is a good way to explore the town. There are lots of little cafes and a great market twice a week, on Sundays and Tuesdays, which brings the old town to life and attracts big crowds. The market is the perfect place to go souvenir shopping in the area. On other days, when there is no market, Alcudia is quiet and sleepy, which some travellers prefer. Near the town, at Polentia, there is a well preserved Roman amphitheatre and the Orator de Santa Anna, one of Mallorca's oldest churches. There are a couple of boutique hotels in Alcudia for those who want to spend some time in the charming medieval town.

PortAventura Theme Park

Address: Costa Dorada

Admission: There are numerous ticket options and online specials which change frequently. Check the official website for details. Daily from 10am to midnight (closes earlier in the off-season). Open on some weekends during winter and closed from 7 January to end of March

Telephone: +34 977 779 090

This massive theme park, based on Busch Gardens in Florida, attracts holidaymakers from far afield to its 'Five Worlds' (Far West, Mediterránia, Mexico, China and Polynesia). There is now also a new children's section with a Sesame Street theme. Visitors can be at the Great Wall of China one minute and at the ruins of Mayan Mexico the next, and meet some cowboys for a taste of the Far West before cooling off by jumping into the great lake from the summit of the Tutuki Splash Volcano. Popular attractions include the Sea Odyssey underwater adventure, the Stampida roller coaster ride and the Grand Canyon Rapids water ride.

The Shambhala ride, in the China section, is said to be the tallest and fastest ride in Europe and is guaranteed to thrill! The park is enormous and is part of a resort complex which also includes a water park, four hotels and a convention centre. Apart from numerous rides and restaurants, there are many shows and entertainment options at PortAventura. It takes much more than a day to experience everything, particularly if you want to visit the water park as well (combination tickets are available), and many visitors opt to spend a night or two at the resort. Some of the snack kiosks and entertainment venues do close outside of the summer months.

Puerto del Rosario

Address: Fuerteventura

The main town of Fuerteventura, Puerto del Rosario, located on the western side of the island, was once called Puerto de Cabras ('port of the goats'), and even today it is said that goats outnumber people in this whitewashed town. Only recently capitalising on the tourist trade, the streets in charming Puerto del Rosario have been resurfaced and the harbour promenade rebuilt. The main street provides some good souvenir shops and the old harbour area features some attractive examples of Canarian architecture. The home of exiled poet Miguel de Unamuno, which has been turned into a museum, is situated in the harbour area. There are two beaches in Puerto del Rosario: Playa Blancal, to the south, has Blue Flag status and is home to some surf schools, but the currents can get dangerously strong; Playa Chica, right in town, is a small but popular beach with good facilities. A great excursion from the town is a trip inland to Tefia, where the Ecomuseo La Alcogida can be found: an open-air 'village' made of of restored, abandoned buildings, which give visitors an idea of the hard life the locals used to live, scraping out an existence from the land. Some traditionally clad artisans work in the village, making handicrafts.

Betancuria

Address: Fuerteventura

The old town of Betancuria was founded in 1405 and was the first capital of Fuerteventura. The town enjoys a fantastic location and offers attractive views of the hilly terrain and winding river below. In the town are several beautiful buildings and churches worth visiting, including the church of Iglesia de Santa Maria de Betancuria and the convent of San Buenaventura. The Casa Museo Arquebiologico has some interesting artefacts including fertility idols and farming tools that reflect the earliest history of the island, before recreational visitors arrived as the final conquering force. The town was built primarily to defend against pirate attacks and in 1593 it was all but destroyed by pirates and then slowly rebuilt. There are various shops and stalls in Betancuria that sell some of the best handcrafts and local produce on Fuerteventura, and one of the best places to get a feel for the folk culture and handicrafts of the region is the Centro Insular de Artesania, located next to the museum on the main road. This peaceful, sleepy old town is a very pleasant place to visit; the town seldom hosts tourists and accommodation is limited, but it makes for a very popular and worthwhile excursion, providing insight into the history and culture of the Canary Islands.

Fuerteventura Oasis Park

Address: Ctra. General de Jardia s/n Lalita Pajara. Fuerteventura

Admission: €25 (adults); €12.50 (children aged 3 to 11). Some activities cost extra. Open daily from 9am to 6pm.

Telephone: +34 902 400 434

The little fishing village of La Lajita, on the east coast of Fuerteventura, has been put on the tourist map because it offers one of the island's main attractions, the 'Oasis de Los Camellos' zoo (usually referred to as the Fuerteventura Oasis Park). The zoo is home to more than 3,000 animals from 250 different species, including giraffes, camels, hippos, elephants, flamingoes, lemurs and much more. The park is big and features nature trails winding around the enclosures; it is the only botanical garden in Fuerteventura, showcasing indigenous and tropical flora. There are parrot shows, birds of prey shows, sea lion shows, and reptile shows, as well as horse rides and camel safaris. The lemurs are a highlight, and for a little extra visitors can stroll through their enclosure and interact with the friendly animals. It is possible to buy food to give the various animals at the entrance. There is a petting zoo and playground area designed for small children as well. While waiting their turn visitors can relax under the palm trees at the zoo's bar, or try out one of the restaurants. Every Sunday there is a fresh produce and craft market at the park, where visitors can browse if they aren't too occupied with the animals.

La Oliva

Address: Fuerteventura

The village of La Oliva was formerly the home of the military governors of the island, between the 17th and mid-19th centuries, and some historic buildings from this period can still be visited in the town. The Governor's townhouse (Casa de los Coroneles) has been restored and is open to the public, boasting some intricate woodwork. Also in the centre of the village is the pretty church of Parroquiade Nuestra Seiiora de Candelaria, with a square bell tower and finely carved wooden door. The interior of the church features a painting of the Last Judgement, a Baroque altar painting by Juan de Miranda, and some wonderful trompe l'oeil work. The village also has an art centre exhibiting the work of Canarian artists (Centro de Arte Canario Casa Mane). The somewhat desolate and barren natural landscape of the interior gives way dramatically to the bright turquoise water of the sea, and the beaches around La Oliva are very pretty. The water tends to be calm, making it a good swimming destination. Many tourists find it worth their while to spend some time in La Oliva and a number of fun outdoor activities are available, including sailing and mountain biking jaunts, and excursions into the Parque Natural de Corralejo.

Beaches on Fuerteventura

Address: Fuerteventura

You won't need to go far on Fuerteventura to find a perfect beach, even if you are intent on seeking out solitude away from other holidaymakers. The best beaches can be found around Jandia, on the southern tip of the island. Juan Gomez is one of these, with an enticing stretch of golden sand, reached by turning off the Morro Jable-Punta de Jandia road. In the same section of the island is the pebbly black volcanic beach of La Pared, while right next door is the beach of Viejo Rey, a long stretch of golden sand flanked by dunes. For real peace and quiet the black volcanic sand of Giniginamar is recommended, surrounded by palm trees and other indigenous plants. If you're looking for a family-friendly beach, the southern Costa Calma is a great option because the conditions are ideal for safe swimming and the facilities are good. For remote beaches tourists can hire a 4 X 4 and explore the tracks leading to the sea on the west coast. Nudism is tolerated on all the island's beaches. Despite the idyllic and peaceful appearance of the ocean on most of Fuerteventura's beaches, drownings do occur. Most major beaches have lifeguards and a flag system: if the red flag is hoisted swimming is considered dangerous.

Flamenco at Corral de la Moreria

Address: 17 Calle Moreria Madrid

Admission: €38 to €40 per show, not including dinner and drinks. Open daily from 8.30pm to 2am

Telephone: +34 91 365 8446 and +34 91 365 1137

Listed as one of Madrid's top ten sights, the tablao flamenco (flamenco show restaurant) is renowned as the oldest and most famous flamenco show in the world. The multi-award winning establishment draws kings and queens, international presidents, film stars, and well-known artists and writers who come to witness the nightly performances of top flamenco stars while receiving excellent service and dining on exquisite meals prepared by some of the best chefs in Madrid. The Corral de la Moreria was opened in 1956 and is widely lauded as the best flamenco venue in the world. It has hosted some of the finest professionals of the flamenco discipline, as well as world-class singers and musicians. Shows last for about an hour and 15 minutes and feature about 10 artists. Prices vary slightly depending on the time and day. The restaurant is also superb, serving up some exciting interpretations of traditional Spanish and international fare, but visitors should note that food is not included in ticket prices. Check who is performing and buy tickets online via the official website listed below. You can find the venue right in the centre of Madrid, next to the Royal Palace.

Almeria City

Address: Costa Almeria

Telephone: Tourist information: +34 950 280 748

The ancient Andalusian city of Almeria lies sheltered at the base of a bay, proudly dominated by the amazing Alcazaba, a huge Moorish citadel with three walled enclosures dating from 995. A 16th-century Christian castle was built on the foundations of the original Moorish citadel, creating a potent aesthetic mixture of architectural styles. From the citadel visitors have a good view of the city's most impressive and important Christian monument, the Cathedral, dating from 1524, designed more like a fortress than a church because of the need to defend it from pirate attacks. The Cathedral contains numerous art treasures, including a tabernacle dating from the 18th century and designed by Ventura Rodriguez. With its interesting medieval architecture, Almeria's old town is a delight to stroll through with its tranquil squares, archways and colonnades. The city also has a fascinating archaeological museum and unique cave dwellings in the hillside above the old gypsy quarter. The ancient city's breathtaking scenery is advertised by its popularity with film makers; many famous movies have been shot in Almeria, including Never Say Never Again (James Bond), Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade, Lawrence of Arabia, and Patton.

Tabernas

Address: Costa Almeria

Admission: The movie lots are open daily. Times of shows vary

Movie buffs in particular will enjoy a visit to the little village of Tabernas, about 16 miles (26km) from Almeria city, set between the Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres in a barren landscape of canyons and rocky wasteland reminiscent of the American Wild West. A few decades ago, when Western movies were the most popular Hollywood genre, legendary stars such as Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson strutted their stuff here in the dry heat on film sets which fans will recognise from movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven.

The movie lots have now become theme park tourist attractions. There are three to visit: Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood and Western Leone. All offer a fun day out in Europe's only desert region, with stagecoach rides, live shows, a zoo and the opportunity to quench your thirst in the saloon. Tabernas is the name of the desert itself, with the barren, eroded landscapes typical of the badlands from cowboy movies, and those who want to experience the real thing, instead of playing at it on the movie sets, can organise horseback treks into the desert.

Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park

Address: The park can be accessed from the village of San Miguel de Cabo de Gata. Costa Almeria

Telephone: +34 950 160 435

A lighthouse stands at the tip of the Cabo de Gata peninsula, north of Almeria city, marking the extremity of Andalusia's largest coastal nature reserve, a fascinating landscape cocktail of arid desert, volcanic mountains, jagged sea cliffs, sand dunes, wetlands, a lagoon, and hidden sandy coves. Mountain bikers, hikers, bird-watchers and water sports enthusiasts of all persuasions get away from it all in this natural wonderland, which encompasses some quaint fishing hamlets, historic ruins and magnificent stretches of beach.

The park encompasses some stunning and unusual beaches: two of the most popular are Playa de Monsul, which has picturesque volcanic rock formations, and Playa de los Genoveses, which is within walking distance of San Jose. Tiny rock islands cluster off the rugged coastline and there are extensive coral reefs along the shore. The salt flats between the village of San Miguel and the Cabo de Gata point are home to thousands of flamingoes, a delight for bird-watchers. The abandoned mining villages around Rodalquilar are interesting and slightly spooky to explore. The small Morrish town of Nijar is incredibly picturesque and the best place to seek out arts and crafts. The Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park is a paradise for photographers because of its unworldly and unique landscapes.

Salvador Dali Museum House

Address: Portlligat, Cadeques. Costa Brava

Admission: €11 (general); €8 (reduced); children under 9 free. Open daily but opening times vary according to season and day. Entry to the museum must be reserved in advance as numbers inside are limited.

Telephone: +34 972 251 015

The busy fishing village of Cadaques draws plenty of visitors, but they do not come for the local beach, which is rather narrow and stony. Rather the resort town's attractions are its picturesque natural harbour, some excellent restaurants, numerous galleries, fashion and art and craft shops, and the former home-turned-museum of world-renowned surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, situated in Portlligat Bay, just to the north of the town.

Dali's somewhat bizarre home consists of a labyrinthine cluster of fishermen's huts, added to the original building in various stages by the artist over a period of 40 years. Visitors must reserve a time for entry in advance as only about eight people are allowed in the museum at a time. You can book via the website, by phone or by email and must arrive at the museum to collect your tickets at least half an hour before your appointed entry time. Touching any of the art is strictly forbidden.

Despite how strict this all sounds, the staff are very friendly and the limited admission makes the experience more intimate and rewarding. Tours are not guided and the house is remarkable, as one would expect from Dali. The house is very prettily located and there are lovely sea views from some of the windows.

The Medes Islands

Address: Costa Brava

Situated scarcely a mile from the beach of the popular resort town of L'Estartit, on the Costa Brava, the protected Medes Islands have been dubbed 'heaven for divers'. It may not look like much above water, but the craggy little archipelago of seven islets and a few reefs form one of the most important and rich marine reserves in the Mediterranean. Meda Gran, the largest of the islands, is the only one of considerable size, and there is a 10th-century lighthouse on it. In the 15th century a fortress was built on Meda Gran, but it was destroyed in 1811. Most of the islands are just rocky outcrops jutting out of the sea, with little vegetation. However, the magic happens underwater: millions of fish and thousands of animal and plant species inhabit the shallows, crevices and submarine caves at the base of the island cliffs, and are a delight to behold for divers of all levels of experience, whether splashing with a snorkel or descending to the depths in scuba gear. Visitors can take glass-bottomed boat trips around the islands, departing hourly in season from L'Estartit, or arrange a fully equipped diving trip through one of the numerous tourist diving centres in the resort town.

Banyoles

Address: Tourist Office: 25 Passeig de la Industria. Costa Brava

Telephone: Tourist Office: +34 972 575 573

The historic lakeside town of Banyoles, just north of Girona, is well known for hosting international rowing events, but it is also a fun, attractive and interesting place to visit and perhaps work off some energy in a pedal-boat or on a bicycle. The bright blue lake itself is the only one in the world fed by two merging subterranean rivers, the clean water flowing in at 600 litres a second. There are numerous options available to those wanting to take to the water, from a swimming dock to cruises or hire boats, and a grassy bank for sunbathers or a network of shady footpaths for those who prefer the shore.

The lake is traditionally used for rowing events, and was the site of the rowing races during the 1992 Olympics. The town of Banyoles dates from 812, having grown up around a Benedictine monastery, and its old section is full of fascinating ancient buildings, including the Sant Esteve de Banyoles Monastery (around which the town was built), the Gothic Church of Santa Maria dels Turers, and the Gothic palace called the Pia Almoina. The natural history and archaeological museums are worth visiting, and all are centred around a lovely arcaded square where a traditional market has apparently been held every Wednesday since medieval times.

City of Arts and Science

Address: 7 Autopista del Saler Valencia

Admission: Combined tickets for the all areas cost €36,25 (adults) and €27,55 (reduced), entry to specific areas can be paid individually. Check website for details. Daily from 10am to 7pm (2 January to 30 June, and 16 September to 30 December); 10am to 9pm (1 July to 15 September)

Telephone: +34 902 100 031

The impressive, futuristic landscape of the City of Arts and Science covers a vast area, rising out of a man-made lake in what was formerly the bed of the River Turia, and encompasses various attractions, accessed along a magnificent arched walkway overhung with an array of flowering aromatic plants and shrubs. The city consists of five areas: the Hemisferic, containing the IMAX cinema and other digital projections; the Umbracle, a landscaped viewing and parking area; the Principe Felipe Science Museum, dedicated to interactive science; the Oceanografico, the largest aquarium in Europe, housing more than 500 marine species; and the Palau de lest Arts Reina Sofia, which hosts opera, theatre and music performances. The cost of exploring the whole 'city' is considerable but well worth the expense; the exhibitions and various features are stimulating, educational and entertaining and the beautiful, otherworldly architecture makes you feel as though you are in a sci-fi movie. It is Valencia's most celebrated modern tourist attraction and a must-see for visitors. The city requires a whole day of your attention if you want to experience everything, and there are some great restaurants for refueling and resting in between attractions. Even if you don't enter a single building strolling around and admiring the exteriors is very rewarding.

El Carmen

Address: Valencia

The picturesque Old Town of Valencia remains the heart of the city, and within this ancient district El Carmen is the city's favourite 'chill out' zone, with its narrow alleyways, honey-coloured buildings, Bohemian atmosphere and nooks and crannies packed with bars and cafes. Apart from being the ideal spot for people-watching, El Carmen also has several interesting attractions, including the remains of the medieval city walls, the Gothic towered gates of Torres de Serrano and Torres de Quart, the latter pocked with cannon-ball marks dating from an assault by Napoleon. Also in El Carmen is a convent complex dating from the 13th century, and several museums. Roman and Moorish influences are clear in the Old Town of Valencia and the numerous squares and narrow streets give the area an authentic medieval atmosphere despite the invasion of tourists as the city increases in popularity. El Carmen is the best place to enjoy the cafes, bars and restaurants that spill out onto the cobbled streets and bustle until the early hours of the morning. The Cathedral of Our Lady is a good starting point for a walking tour of the Old Town, and climbing the cathedral's tallest tower will earn travellers fantastic views. Mercado Central, one of the largest indoor markets in Spain, is also quite an experience.

Valencia Cathedral

Address: Valencia

Admission: €5 (general); concessions available.

It is reputedly the resting place of the Holy Grail, but whether you believe that or not the ornate Valencia Cathedral is worth a visit just because of its unique history and combination of architectural styles. Since it started out in 1262, it has shuffled back and forth from being a mosque to a Christian church, and has been added to accordingly in a variety of styles from Romanesque to Gothic, Baroque and even Moorish. It houses an interesting museum, treasury and the Holy Grail chapel. Also look out for paintings by Goya. Most visitors, though, make a pilgrimage to the cathedral simply to climb its octagonal medieval tower, which provides a wonderful panorama of the city if you have the staying power to make it to the top of the winding staircase (262 steps!). Climbing the tower entails a small extra fee. The entrance fee to the cathedral includes an audio guide, in multiple languages, which takes tourists to 21 different points of interest in the cathedral and ensures all the highlights are taken in. The square outside the church is lovely, with numerous cafes and restaurants, and is itself a tourist hub. Part of the cathedral is always open for prayer, but tourists are only let in at certain times, according to the service schedule - check the website for opening times to avoid disappointment.

Silk Exchange (Lonja de la Seda)

Address: Plaza del Mercado. Valencia

Admission: €2 (general); €1 (reduced). Admission is free on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays. Tuesday to Saturday from 9am to 2pm and 4.30pm to 8.30pm; Sundays and public holidays from 10am to 3pm

Telephone: +34 96 352 5478

One of Valencia's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the old Silk Exchange, founded in 1469, copied from a similar structure built in Palma de Mallorca. The crenellated tower and flamboyant Gothic trading hall, once used for the trade of precious items like silk and gold, is widely regarded as the city's most beautiful building, and is now a top tourist attraction, often used for hosting art exhibitions. The immensely high vaulted ceiling tops some unusual and very attractive pillars, the floors are lovely, and there is lots of intricate stonework and Gothic detail to admire. There isn't much information of any kind inside, but informative guided tours are available in multiple languages for a small extra fee. A good time to visit is on a Sunday morning, when a popular stamp and coin collectors market makes for a lively trading buzz. The Silk Exchange is located opposite Valencia's Central Market, which some visitors may also want to investigate. The Exchange only requires a short visit, although keen photographers may be difficult to drag away!

Crypt of Saint Vicente

Address: Plaza del Arzobispo Valencia

Admission: €2 (free on weekends and public holidays). Open Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 2pm and 5.30pm to 8pm, Sunday from 9.30am to 2pm. Closed on Mondays.

Telephone: +34 96 394 1417

The Crypt of San Vicente is an ancient part of Valencia and exploring the space takes visitors on an intriguing archaeological journey through the history of the city. The crypt has existed in many different incarnations: it was once part of a Visigoth chapel; was converted into palace baths during Muslim rule; and was incorporated into a Christian chapel dedicated to the martyr San Vicente (although it is unclear whether the saint was ever actually imprisoned here as some historians claim). There is even evidence of Roman architecture in the crypt, which is located in a district once occupied by Roman nobles. It is possible to wander in and see the ruins, but without explanation it is not that interesting. History lovers are encouraged to book the audiovisual tour (conducted in English or Spanish) which takes visitors through the history of the crypt with images projected on the walls and a voice over detailing every different era in the building's past. Tours should be booked at the City Museum opposite the crypt, but if a tour is about to be conducted when you arrive you will be invited to join. Whoever books the tour decides on the language.

Plaza de la Virgen

Address: Valencia

One of Valencia's loveliest squares, the Plaza de la Virgen is a great place to sit and soak up the atmosphere among the flapping pigeons. In the centre of this square, which was once the site of the ancient Roman forum, a fountain representing the Turia River gurgles away, surrounded by plenty of open-air cafes. On one side of the square is the impressive Gothic façade of the Palau de la Generalitat, seat of government for the Valencia region, and opposite is the Baroque Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Desamparados, a grand name for a grand church dating from the 17th century and containing fascinating frescoes. The Plaza de la Virgen is an entertainment hub during the famous Fallas Festival in Valencia. The spring festival (March) sees the community building big, creative sculptures in the square and later burning them. It is a medieval festival in honour of Saint Joseph. Most evenings street entertainers come into the square during the evening and those sitting at cafes are treated to performances by flame-throwers, jugglers and the like. Even when there is no entertainment, the square is ideal for people-watching and photography. It is one of the best known landmarks and gathering places in Valencia.

La Pedrera (Casa Mila)

Address: 92 Paseo de Gracia. Barcelona

Admission: €16.50 (adults), €8.25 (children aged 7 - 12). Concessions available. Daily 9am to 6.30pm (4 November to 28 February); daily 9am to 8pm (1 March to 3 November).

Telephone: +34 902 400 973

Another fantastic construction by the creative genius Antonio Gaudi, Casa Mila, commonly known as La Pedrera, was the last civil work that Gaudi undertook before dedicating all his time to the assembly of La Sagrada Família. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and demonstrates the signature style of Gaudi with elaborate designs, globular shapes, assorted sculptures, colourful tiles and intricate details. Built between 1906 and 1912, the distinct architecture of La Pedrera and her counterparts was unconventional and unheard of in the popular Spanish architecture of the time. The remarkable building is now a cultural centre that organises a range of activities and hosts exhibitions of various kinds. Areas open to visitors include: the roof, providing lovely views and a close look at the weird and wonderful architectural elements on top of the building; the Espai Gaudi, an attic space dedicated to an exhibition on Gaudi's life and work; the La Pedrera Apartment, an area that recreates the home and lifestyle of a bourgeois Barcelona family in the early 20th century; and the spectacular courtyards and exhibition rooms of the first floor. Guided tours are available, in multiple languages, but these must be arranged in advance.

Barri Gotic

Address: Barcelona

Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona's oldest district. A former fortified Roman settlement, the maze of atmospheric narrow streets house spectacular Gothic buildings and cathedrals, marking the city's heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries. There are many significant sights to visit in this quarter, the most illustrious being the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtaking façade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops and delightful sidewalk cafés in a picturesque setting, the Barri Gòtic is a worthwhile day out. To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known as Barcino, visit the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat in the Palau Real, where Roman streets are still visible in the extensive cellar. There has been some controversy over the authenticity of the Gothic Quarter, as many of the district's most attractive features were actually added, in the Gothic style, in the last century, to promote tourism and restore the appeal of the area; however, it is a delightful district to explore and much of it is, or certainly feels, authentic. Most of the area is closed to regular traffic and largely pedestrianised, which adds to its charm, but taxis and some service vehicles are still allowed to traverse the quarter.

FC Barcelona Museum and Stadium

Address: Avenida Arístides Maillol Barcelona

Admission: Museum visit and Camp Nou Tour: €19 (adults), €15,50 (children). Concessions available. Open from Monday to Saturday 10am-6:30pm (till 8pm from 6 April to 4 October). Open on Sundays and public holidays 10am-2:30pm. Tours not available on days of league and Champions league matches, but the museum is still open until 3pm.

Telephone: +34 934 96 36 00

FC Barcelona, one of Europe's most beloved football teams, has an informative museum with displays of photographs, documents, memorabilia and trophies, covering over a century of club history, that will satiate the fascination of even the most dedicated fan. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the famous stadium on the Camp Nou Tour which takes fans to the heart of the club, the changing rooms, tunnel and Nou Camp pitch. With a panoramic view of the stadium from the grandstand, visitors can get a taste of the heady atmosphere of a FC Barcelona match on their home ground. The museum also has an official store where club jerseys, caps and accessories can be purchased. Be sure to check the tour schedule as game days do disrupt the timetable. It is actually best not to make your visit on a game day because some parts of the stadium will be restricted and you may miss out. Exploring the stadium allows fans to make informed decisions about which seats to book if they are attending a game. If you are lucky you may well see some of the FC Barcelona players in the complex. There are discounts for booking online via the official website listed below.

Joan Miro Foundation

Address: Parc de Montjuic Barcelona

Admission: €11 (adults); audio guides €5. Concessions available. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm (October to June) and 10am to 8pm (July to September); open Sundays and holidays from 10am to 2.30pm. Closed on Mondays.

Telephone: +34 934 439 470

A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalan surrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miró, the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona houses the majority of the artist's works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and textiles. Distinguished by his use of primary colours, simple lines and two-dimensional geometric shapes, Miro refused to be categorised into an established art movement and as a result continued to create unparalleled works of art. Another product of original artistic genius from Barcelona, the works of Miró at the Joan Miró Foundation allow visitors to further delve into the unrestrained creative energy of this exceptional city. The building housing the collection was designed by Josep Lluis Sert and is unique and odd, an appropriate shell for the works of Joan Miro. The museum hosts a wide variety of temporary exhibitions by other artists, aiming to promote contemporary art in general, rather than just the work of Miro, and also hosts some workshops and lectures. As an added bonus there are some fantastic views across the city from the museum. Tickets can be booked online via the official website and audio guides can be rented, which are a big help in understanding and interpreting the art.

Barcelona Beaches

Address: Barcelona

Many people forget that Barcelona is not only a big bustling city and cultural centre, but that it's bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, and that its coastline offers a string of attractive beaches, the ideal diversion after excessive sightseeing and shopping. Visit the popular Barceloneta Beach, only ten minutes from the city centre, where there is a selection of beach bars: cool down with a refreshing swim and marvel at the bizarre architecture of by Rebecca Horn. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular activities on this always bustling beach. The end of Barceloneta and the beginning of Icaria Beach is marked by Frank Gehry's Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudist beach, but although nudity is tolerated many people choose to keep their clothes on. Marbella is also frequented by gay and lesbian sun worshippers and sometimes hosts energetic beach parties. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look no further than Caldetes which is invariably almost empty. Although the famous Barceloneta strip is the most entertaining, the best beaches are further out of the city: St Pol de Mar is an hour-long train ride from the city centre, but it is arguably Barcelona's most scenic beach, backed by picturesque hills and with a lovely little cove that has become a nudist zone.

Museum of Contemporary Art

Address: 1 Plaza dels Angels Barcelona

Admission: €9 (general); €7 (reduced). Children under 14 free. 25 September to 24 June: 11am to 7.30pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; 10am to 9pm Saturday; 10am to 3pm Sunday; closed Tuesdays. 25 June to 24 September: 11am to 8pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; 10am to 8pm Saturday; 10am to 3pm Sunday; closed Tuesdays.

Telephone: 934 120 810

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in the once-shabby Raval District, just off La Rambla. Over the years its front plaza has become synonymous with international skateboarders, being fondly known as the famous MACBA, drawing skaters and creatives from around the world to unite, compete and collaborate against the backdrop of this chic white building. Being a work of art in itself, the Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to take advantage of as much natural light as possible and the cool, airy interiors confidently hold the works of modern art luminaries such as Basquiat, Klee, Tàpies and Barcelò. Kids will enjoy the museum as there is a lot to touch and interact with - this is not your usual uptight gallery space. The museum has also made great use of technology, with an exhibition that allows visitors to download mobile apps which give additional information on each installation, even linking to YouTube clips about the artist of work of art. There is free wifi in MACBA and a comfy chill-out zone in which to take advantage of it. A perfect union of two art forms, MACBA and the attendant throng of talented skateboarders are a sight to be experienced.

Puerta del Sol

Address: Madrid

One of the most well-known plazas in the country, Puerta del Sol is the historical and geographical heart of the city. Named after Madrid's eastern city gate of the same location; the 15th-century entryway earned its name by being bathed in the rays of the rising sun due its eastern position. Littered with famous landmarks, Puerta del Sol is home to the famous Spanish clock tower whose bell marks the beginning of the New Year. The official symbol of Madrid, the El Oso y El Madroño, a 20-ton statue of a bear eating fruits off a Madrono tree, as well as a large equestrian statue of King Carlos III are also on display. Unmistakable is the luminous Tio Pepe sign, a longstanding hallmark of Puerta del Sol, and more discreet is the marker on the pavement, which signals the official starting point of six of Spain's major highways and symbolically places Puerta del Sol at the centre of Spain. This geographical importance is mirrored politically and socially: the plaza is a popular site for rallies and protests, and remains an important venue for social gatherings, festivals and events. Madrid's most famous plaza is well worth a visit and the area is popular with tourists, with many hotels nearby.

Royal Botanic Garden

Address: Plaza de Murillo Madrid

Admission: €3 adults; concessions available. Children under ten are free. Daily from 10am to 6pm (November to February), 7pm (March), 8pm (April and September) and 9pm (May to August)

Telephone: 91 420 3017

Located nearby the Prado Museum, the Royal Botanic Garden of Madrid is one of the oldest botanic gardens in Europe. With the foundation of the garden ordered by King Ferdinand VI in 1755, the Royal Botanic Garden has been cataloguing and nurturing rare species of flora for over 200 years. A welcome break after hours of art, architecture, and frenetic streets, the garden is a small haven of natural splendour. Divided into three terraces and extending only eight hectares, the garden boasts an array of 30,000 plants and flowers and 1,500 trees. Not only interested in exhibiting plants, the gardens' initial aim was to teach botany, and to promote expeditions to discover new plant species and classification. Nowadays the Royal Botanic Garden houses a cutting edge research centre, an extensive herbarium and a large library. Visit the Classical Romantic Garden, Villanueva Pavilion, the Graells Greenhouse and the Exhibition Greenhouse. Guided tours can be arranged (best to book in advance via the website), but there is also a series of self-guided tours set out on the website, suggesting what to see on a number of trips to the garden arranged by themes like 'the evolution of the plant kingdom', 'aromatic plants' and 'outstanding trees'.

National Archaeological Museum of Spain

Address: 13 Serrano Madrid

Admission: Free Tuesday to Saturday from 9.30am to 8pm; Sundays and Festivals from 9.30am to 3pm

Telephone: 91 577 7912

A worthwhile visit in a country known for its rich history, the National Archaeological Museum was founded in 1867 with the purpose of being a depository for the collection of numismatic, archaeological, ethnographical and decorative art collections compiled by the Spanish monarchs. Situated in a stately neoclassical mansion alongside the National Library, the museum's collection ranges from prehistoric times to the 19th century. One of the major exhibits is the famous Iberian statue, , a carving from the 4th century BC found on the southeastern coast of Spain. Other intriguing exhibits are the Islamic collection, outlining the long and influential history of the Moors in Spain, and the replica of Altamira Cave, inhabited over 18,000 years ago, with rock paintings depicting bison, horses, boars and human handprints. The replica of the cave can be found in the garden and is particularly notable because the original has been closed to the public to prevent deterioration. The museum also holds interesting collections of Visigoth, Roman and Greek artefacts. With three floors of exhibition space, this museum is a treasure trove for those interested in the archaeological history of Spain.

Sorolla Museum

Address: 37 General Martinez Campos Madrid

Admission: €3 (general); €1.50 (reduced). Free admission Saturdays between 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays. Tuesday to Saturday 9.30am to 8pm; Sunday 10am to 3pm; closed Mondays.

Telephone: +34 91 310 1584

A hidden gem, the Sorolla Museum was the home of renowned Spanish Impressionist painter Joaquín Sorolla and his family. Donated to the government in 1929 by Sorolla's widow, the house now operates as a memorial and museum, displaying a large collection of Sorolla's glowing works and other contemporary collections including sculpture, ceramics, furniture and jewellery. A fine example of a bourgeois Madrid home from the early 20th century, the attractive museum has an intrinsically Spanish style with brightly painted walls and dark furniture. The little garden is also lovely. Much of the house remains as Sorolla left it, right down to his stained paintbrushes and pipes. Although known for his portraits of aristocrats, Sorolla's passion lay in depicting the everyday lives of Spanish people, with many paintings depicting Spaniards in their native dress, going to the beach and engaging in work or leisure activities. Informative audio guides are available for an extra €2. Afternoon visits are recommended for those wanting to avoid crowds, as school and tour groups usually come in the morning. The museum is delightful, but small, and won't require much time to explore.

Fornells

Address: Minorca

Located in the north of Minorca, which is known for its unspoilt and very often deserted beaches, Fornells (also known as Fournella) is a sleepy resort and fishing town. Originally founded to serve the 16th-century castle as a defence against the Barbary pirates, all that remains of the military is the watchtower perched upon a hill, which visitors can stroll to and climb for gorgeous views over the town and harbour. Fornells' quaint waterfront area, lined with shops and restaurants, bustles during the summer months, but remains quiet the rest of the year. The town is only home to about 1,000 permanent residents and although it is popular with tourists it has retained its sleepy charm and authentic character. Travellers can enjoy water sports here, especially windsurfing, and scuba divers can enjoy an excursion to the marine park off the north shores and marvel at the magnificent colours and marine life. It is also possible to charter boats from the harbour. Fornells is small enough to explore on foot, but if you want a lovely sandy beach it is best to make the short drive (10 minutes) to Son Parc.

Ferreries

Address: Minorca

Surrounded by rolling green hills, the 13th-century town of Ferreries lies nestled in the centre of Minorca, next to the island's second highest mountain. It is the highest town on the island. Travellers are attracted to the area by the Castell de Santa Agueda, the ruin of a Moorish castle, built atop an ancient Roman stronghold, which was the last site of resistance for Arab inhabitants when the island was conquered by King Alfonso III of Aragon. The ruined fortress is accessed via an ancient Roman road and there is a chapel dedicated to Saint Agatha next to the castle.

Ferreries itself is a sleepy little place, with a character typical of the island. With orange tiled roofs and pokey, narrow streets, this little town may not be an obvious attraction, but it's natural charm and location make it a great place to stop and see how real locals live. A farmer's market is held in the town every Tuesday and Friday which attracts locals from all over Minorca, and is a great place to buy local produce (the region is particularly celebrated for its cheeses). Ferreries is only a short, 30-minute drive from the airport and is a good starting point for walking tours of the island.

Calan Porter

Address: Minorca

One of the largest coastal developments along the central south coast of Minorca, Calan Porter (also called Cala'n Porter and Cala En Porter) is a picturesque and breathtaking cove with a beautiful beach that has tourists flocking to its shores throughout the summer season. Famed for its Cova d'en Xoroi, Calan Porter is located on the edge of sheer cliffs, boasting spectacular views over the Mediterranean and creating the perfect vantage point for watching the mind-blowing sunsets. Calan Porter was one of the earliest developed beach resorts on the island and is less than 20 minutes-drive from the airport. By Minorcan standards this resort is lively, but visitors should not expect to find pumping clubs and bars like on sibling Baleariac Islands Mallorca or Ibiza. Having said that, the bar and nightclub called Cova de en Xoroi - usually simply called 'The Caves' - is a dreamy drinking and socialising venue, which tunnels through the steep cliffs above the cove and offers patrons incredible views. There is a selection of other restaurants, bars and shops clumped together in the centre of town, near the road down to the beach. There is a good range of accommodation to suit all budgets.

Parc de La Ciutadella

Address: Avenida del Marques de lArgentera Barcelona

Located in the centre of Barcelona, the Parc de La Ciutadella is a great place to spend a sunny summer's afternoon relaxing under a tree with a book, a picnic and the family. Originally the site was chosen for a fortress in 1714, but in 1869 it was decided that the area should be a park and the palace was demolished. Featuring a lake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, exploring the park and being out on the water is a fun way to unwind. The paths for walking, jogging and cycling are wide and well-maintained, and there are plenty of park benches and shady areas. There are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park and some striking buildings. The Cascada is a giant water feature designed by Fontsere with some help from his student Gaudi. The Catalan Parliament building is in the park, as is the Barcelona Zoo and the Castle of Three Dragons, which now houses the Zoological Museum. The Geology Museum, housed in an imposing neoclassical building, can also be found in La Ciutadella. The enormous, red triumphal arch, Baroque in design, marks one entrance to the park. Apart from being one of the best places in Barcelona to sit and people-watch, there is a lot to see and do in the Parc de La Ciutadella.

Barcelona Aquarium

Address: Moll dEspanya del Port Vell Barcelona

Admission: €20 (adults); €15 (children aged 5 - 10); €5 (children aged 3 - 4). Concessions available. Open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 9pm; Weekends and public holidays from 9.30am to 9.30pm; in June and September until 9.30pm, and in July and August until 11pm.

Telephone: +34 93 221 7474

Featuring thousands of brightly coloured and exotic fish, the Barcelona Aquarium is a must for children of all ages. With 35 different tanks holding creatures from different oceans, the aquarium is the largest of its kind in Europe and features species such as giltheads, moray eels, sunfish, rays, sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks. The Oceanarium is the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world and the showpiece of the Barcelona Aquarium, with a transparent tunnel winding through it that gives visitors the exhilarating feeling of walking underwater. The whole aquarium houses about 11,000 organisms from 450 different species. The best time to visit is during feeding times: scuba divers feed the sharks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 12pm and 1pm; the entertaining penguins are fed twice daily, on weekdays at about 1pm and 5pm, and on weekends at about 1,30pm and 5pm; and the rays are fed between 1.30pm and 2pm every weekday. The aquarium offers scuba diving and cage diving activities for an extra cost. A fun outing for the whole family, the Barcelona Aquarium provides a welcome break from traditional sightseeing in the city.

Poble Espanyol

Address: Barcelona

Admission: €11 (adults); €6,25 (children aged 4 - 12). Concessions available. Monday 9am to 8pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 9am to midnight; Friday 9am to 3am; Saturday 9am to 4am.

Telephone: 93 508 6300

The mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-air architectural museum featuring workshops where visitors can see different types of craftwork taking place. The village is made up of 117 buildings, streets and squares which have been reproduced to scale giving the true feel of a Spanish village. The village was built in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition and some of the replica buildings have now outlived the originals, which were found in villages across Spain. The village is a great attraction for those travelling with children, with fun activities like treasure hunts to take part in, and some fantastic shopping opportunities. More than 30 craft workshops demonstrate the traditional secrets of the different art forms, producing high-quality crafts. The workshops produce handmade dolls and puppets, embroidery, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, baskets, textiles, leather work, soap and much more. Various art exhibitions and studios can be found in the village, including a sculpture garden. The village also showcases Spanish gastronomy, with a wide variety of restaurants dedicated to different Spanish culinary traditions, and plenty of events and activities organised for foodies. A deservedly popular tourist attraction, Poble Espanyol is a wonderful cultural experience.

Safari Park

Address: Carretera de Cadalso de los Vidrios, Navalcarnero, Aldea del Fresno (50km from Madrid) Madrid

Admission: €16 (adults); €12 (children). Daily from 10.30am to sunset

Telephone: 91 862 2314

A great day out for the kids is a trip to the Safari Park, set in an African-style savannah landscape and home to giraffe, camels, zebras, elephants, hippos, bison, bears, baboons and rhino, as well as some entertaining monkeys, among other things. The main wildlife attraction of the park are the big cats, including lions, tigers and cougers. Many of the animals are allowed to roam free, simulating an African safari experience that lets visitors game view from their vehicles. Those who have been on real safaris will find the park a disappointing experience, however. There is a reptile collection, including a number of exotic snakes, and some interesting birds. There are daily lion-taming shows and bird shows, as well as activities like camel rides. Small kids will be delighted with the selection of meek, cuddly animals that they are allowed to interact with. There are two picnic areas in the park and a swimming pool and slide that offer a welcome respite after a day of game viewing. There is even a go-karting track and some paddle boats to play on. It is recommended that visitors bring their own food and also something to feed the animals. Animal food is on sale at the park but it is far cheaper to bring your own.

Madrid Zoo and Aquarium

Address: Casa de Campo, s/n 28011. Madrid

Admission: €22.90 (adults); €18.55 (children). Concessions available. Hours change according to season and there is a detailed calendar on the official website, but the zoo is usually open between 11am and 6pm.

Telephone: 91 512 3770

Home to nearly 3,000 animals from all over the world, as well as an impressive aquarium, the Madrid Zoo is a great attraction for kids on holiday in the city. Highlights of the zoo include koala bears, pandas, zebras, raccoons, bears, reindeers, rhinos, otters, lions, chimpanzees, hippos, lemurs, lynx, buffalo, elephants, wolves, orangutans, baboons, gorillas, giraffes and tigers. The zoo also boasts a good variety of reptiles and birds. Marine animals include the ever-popular dolphins, seals, penguins and sharks. There are dolphin and sea lion shows. The queues can get long at the entrance, and there are discounts for booking online, so it is worth booking your tickets in advance via the official website. Luckily once inside the zoo is so vast that it seldom feels too crowded. Those who have trouble walking or are in a bit of a lazy mood can rent golf carts to get them around. There are plenty of snack kiosks and eateries spread throughout the grounds, but it is also possible to bring your own picnic. It's a good idea to travel to the zoo on the metro, because parking can be a problem on a busy day. The Madrid Zoo can easily keep the family occupied and entertained for a full day.

Parque de Atracciones

Address: Casa de Campo Madrid

Admission: €28,90 (adults); €11,95 (children). Concessions available. Discounts for online booking and family groups. Opening times vary according to season and day - check the official website for a calendar.

Telephone: 91 463 2900

Parque de Atracciones is a fantastic amusement park in Madrid, and a particularly good option for those travelling with kids. The park is big and modern and offers a number of rides and attractions for all ages. There is plenty for the thrill-seekers to enjoy, but also some more relaxed rides. The park is divided into five large sections: Maquinismo (machinery), where many large rides can be found; the Gran Avenida (main avenue), which boasts shops, restaurants, shows and street performers; Naturaleza (nature); Tranquilidad (relaxation); and Infantile, an area designed for young kids. There are a number of shows, games and spectacles to keep everybody entertained. The Virtual Cinema is a simulator with moving chairs that kids will love, and the Spectacle of Sound, Light and Water show has fireworks and lasers that are also a favourite. There are about 15 food outlets in the park, including restaurants, fast food joints and snack kiosks. Booking tickets online (at least three days in advance) allows you to skip queues at the entrance and earns you substantial discounts. It is best to arrive early as queues can get long in the park.

The Ibiza Express

Address: Ibiza

Telephone: +34 971 33 9772

This mini-train departs from Platja d´Es Canar along a variety of routes around the island. The gentle pace and open sides are ideal for watching the scenery roll by. The train stops off at scenic places for the kids to stretch their legs and sunbathe or swim. Visitors can choose from the four tours available. The Sant Carlos and Beaches route takes three hours and stops at some of the more remote beaches on the island. The highlight of this tour is the village of Sant Carlos with its picturesque 18th-century church. The Santa Eulalia evening tour takes about two hours and gives passengers the opportunity to see the quaint village of Santa Eulalia, where visitors can stroll along the promenade or engage in some souvenir shopping. The three-hour Environment and Culture tour allows visitors to explore the spectacular Ibiza landscapes before stopping for snacks at a 17th-century farmhouse. Photo enthusiasts should take the train along its Prtinatx - Puerto San Miguel - Cala San Vicente route. Passengers on this route get the opportunity to explore many of Ibiza's beaches, wonderful shopping opportunities and the scenic white churches of Sant Llorenc, Sant Vicente and San Joan, as well as the oldest church-fortress on the island, the 13th-century Sant Miquel.

Gran Canaria Golf

Address: Gran Canaria

There are a number of world-class golf courses on Gran Canaria and golf is a popular activity in the Canary Islands. El Cortijo was home to the Spanish Open in 2002 and is just outside Las Palmas. The Real Club de Golf is nearby in Bandama and is Spain's oldest golf club, founded in 1891; it is closed to non-members at weekends. The Maspalomas Club de Golf is located close to the sand dunes within a nature reserve, while the newest club, Salobre, is just 10 minutes drive east of Puerto Rico. Other notable golf courses on Gran Canaria include Las Palmeras Golf, Oasis Golf, Anfi Tuaro Golf and Meloneras Golf.

Las Palmeras Golf Course is located in the city centre and boasts views over the Atlantic Ocean and the picturesque Canteras beach. The Oasis Golf Course in Autopista del Sur is a quirky miniature copy of famous American courses and many consider it to be one of the best replicas in the world. It also has floodlights which allow visitors the opportunity to play a round of golf at night when the daytime heat has dissipated. The Anfi Tuaro Course in Mogan features both a pitch-and-putt course of 9 holes and a par-72 18-hole course complete with lakes, flowers and spectacular mountain views. Golfers travelling to the Canary Islands also have the option of playing on the Meloneras Golf Course which is split so that nine holes focus on gorgeous mountain scenery and the other nine feature stunning ocean vistas.

Aqualand Mallorca

Address: Palma, Arenal Motorway. Mallorca

Admission: €26 (adults); €18,50 (children aged 5 - 10); €11 (children aged 3 - 4). Family package deals available. Open mid-May to September: July and August from 10am to 6pm; May, June and September from 10am to 5pm.

Telephone: +34 971 44 00 00

Aqualand is one place that is not to be missed by families on holiday in Mallorca. Children of all ages and parents alike will have a grand time splashing in the pools, riding the slides, floating on tubes or jumping in the wave pools. Rides such as the Kamikaze, Harakiri, Anaconda, Tornado and the Black Hole are great for older kids, while the little ones can enjoy splashing in the shallower waters of the Mini Park and Polynesia (some of the more adrenalin-pumping rides do have height restrictions). Those who don't relish excitement can enjoy the lazy river or the Jacuzzis, and the whole family will enjoy the surf beach and group rides like the Grand Canyon.

There are lockers and sun loungers available to rent for a small extra charge and there are various options for food and refreshments in the park. Benches and beach areas provide space for relaxation in between the thrills and spills. The park generally receives rave reviews from tourists and provides a fun day out for all age groups. There are discounts for booking online and having your ticket when you arrive allows you to skip any queues there may be at the entrance. Arriving early is also a good idea to get a jump on the crowds at this popular attraction.

Marineland

Address: C/Gracillaso de la Vega 9, Costa d en Blanes Mallorca

Admission: €24 (adults); €16.50 (children aged 5 - 10); €8 (children aged 3 - 4). Open daily from 9.30am to 5.30pm.

Telephone: 971 675 125

A must for families travelling in Mallorca with children is a trip to Marineland, where kids can enjoy watching the dolphin and sea lion shows. Marineland also has other attractions including Europe's largest collection of sharks, a parrot circus, aquariums, crocodiles and snakes. For a fee, visitors can choose to touch and have photographs taken with the dolphins and other animals after their shows. Children of all ages will love discovering all the animals and watching the spectacular shows.

There is a wide range of options for refreshments in Marineland, with restaurants and pizzerias serving up simple food. It is also possible to take your own picnic. There is a gift shop well stocked with potential souvenirs. If watching all the animals cavort in the water makes you jealous, Marineland offers direct access to one of Costa de Calvia's loveliest beaches, where you can end your day with a swim, or lounge in the sun between shows. There are discounts for booking online and booking in advance allows you to skip queues at the entrance. For details on the times that the various animals perform and feeding times check the official website listed below.

Katmandu Park

Address: Avenida Pedro Vaquer Ramis, next to the Hotel Magalluf Park. Mallorca

Admission: Cost of attractions vary, starting at about €16 for adults and €10 for children. Open daily 10am to 9pm (February, March, April), 10am to 10pm (May, September, October), 10am to 1am (June, July, August). Closed in November, December and January.

Telephone: +34 971 134660

A brand-new, big-budget development, taking over from the very popular Palma Nova Golf Fantasia, Katmandu Park is a theme park and mini-golf complex that is already proving wildly popular amongst younger visitors to Magaluf. Featuring cutting-edge technology, The House of Katmandu provides a thrilling and interactive 'haunted house' experience for youngsters; The Asylum, aimed at older visitors (12 years and older), takes passengers on a scary journey through an abandoned mental asylum; the interactive motion ride Desperado is a comical cowboy gun slinging experience; and there is a 4D cinema to enjoy.

The 36-hole (two 18-hole courses) Expedition Golf area of the theme park is hugely impressive, featuring fun and challenging courses, elaborately ornamented and themed, that even adults will find tough to master. Restaurants include the Kat Bar and Diner, serving American-style food and cold drinks, and the Tequila Villa, a themed restaurant offering Texan and Mexican food. The Tequila Villa is popularly used for stag and hen nights, which demonstrates that Katmandu Park is enjoyed by adults as well as little ones. Take kids of all ages to Katmandu Park for a day of fun and excitement they won't soon forget.

Aqualand Gran Canaria

Address: Ctra. Palmitos Park, Km 3 Gran Canaria

Admission: €25,50 (adults); €18,50 (children aged 5 - 10); €8,00 (children aged 3 - 4). Family package deals available. Discounts for booking online. 10am to 5pm (September to June); 10am to 6pm (July to August).

Telephone: +34 928 140 525

Aqualand is a must for all families visiting Gran Canaria, especially those with children. The wide range of slides, pools and rides will keep the young and the young at heart happily entertained for hours. Those looking for an injection of adrenalin should try the new Boomerang ride, which involves a steep slide and fall in a tandem tube. Other thrilling rides include the Speed Boats, the Aquamania triple slide, the Crazy Race group racing slides, the Anaconda slides, the Rapids tube ride, the Adrenalina, the Kamikaze, and the Tornado.

Young children have their own fun watery playground with mini slides and swings, and kids will also love swimming with sea lions. There is a surf beach and a lazy river which families can enjoy together. There are plenty of benches and beach areas for relaxing and picnicking. Lockers and sun loungers cost a little extra, but visitors do get free bags to keep their towels etc in. The park is clean and well-maintained and generally receives rave reviews from tourists. It is open all year, but does close if the weather is very bad. Queues are usually not too long, but it is worth arriving early in the day in peak season to get a jump on the crowds.

Holiday World

Address: Avda. Touroperador Tui, Maspalomas. Gran Canaria

Admission: Prices start at €5 for 10 credits in the Funfair. Childrens rides require three credits while other rides cost four or five credits each. The Funfair is open in autumn and winter from 5pm to 11pm, and open until midnight on weekends. During spring and summer, the Funfair is open every day from 6pm to midnight.

Telephone: +34 928 73 04 98

Featuring a wide variety of activities, Holiday World is a fun park which caters specifically to families on holiday in Gran Canaria. Kids of all ages can enjoy rides such as bumper cars, a Ferris-wheel, roller coasters and a pirate ship, as well as games such as ten-pin bowling and things like pony rides and a parrot show. There is a playground area for children too young to enjoy the rides. A range of restaurants and fast-food outlets are available and after dark there are some nighttime entertainment options, with frequent live shows and music concerts, an Irish pub and some other drinking and dancing venues.

Adults who don't want to partake in the funfair attractions can luxuriate or sweat in the wellness centre, which offers gym facilities and spa treatments. On Tuesdays there is a craft fair at Holiday World, with stalls showcasing the local handicrafts and cuisine of Gran Canaria, as well as traditional dance, music and folklore performances, making this the best day of the week to visit.

Baku Water Park

Address: Corralejo Fuerteventura

Admission: €25 (adults), €19 (children and seniors). Concessions available; the price is reduced after 3pm. Open Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 17 May to 20 June and 20 September to 30 November from 10am to 5pm. Open Daily from 10am to 6pm from 21 June to 19 September.

Telephone: +34 928 867 227

A perfect day out for the whole family, Baku contains a water park with gentle slides and shallow pools for young children, an exciting 'animal experience' feature, and Parque Europa which opens in the evening offering a range of shows and entertainment. The variety of slides makes the park fun for people of all ages and features like the Big Jacuzzi, the lazy river and the wave pool will appeal to those who shy away from the more thrilling rides. For very young children there is an infant play area, but the park is definitely geared towards kids and many of the slides are child-friendly, with only a few exceptions. There is even a mini-golf course if the family needs a break from the water for an hour or two. There is a kiosk selling a variety of food for replenishing energy and on week days, between 9am and 2pm, there is a crafts market set up in this area where visitors can browse for souvenirs from the Canary Islands and even the nearby shores of Africa. For simple fun in the sun the Baku Water Park is a great attraction - just take plenty of sunscreen. Check out the website for details on the free bus to the park which services Castillo, Jandia and Costa Calma on certain days.

Castell dAlaro

Address: Mallorca

Mallorca's most popular hiking trail is the climb from the town of Alaro up to a ruined castle and hilltop chapel, which offers panoramic views of the sea and plains as far as Palma. From Alaro the walk takes about two hours to complete depending on fitness levels. A castle has stood on this site since Moorish times and the fortress was once so impregnable that the Moors managed to hold out against the Christian conquest for two years. Later, in 1285, Mallorcan independence fighters tried to defend the castle against Alfonso III of Aragon, but they were defeated and burned alive for their impudence.

The castle ruins now visible on the hilltop date from the 15th century and dominate the landscape. They seem to grow out of the rock and are rather romantic and picturesque, fuelling the imagination. At the summit there is a restaurant and bar to refresh weary climbers. If you fall in love with the place it is possible to spend the night on the summit in one of the simple rooms. On Sundays the trail becomes rather busy. It is possible to drive almost all the way up if you don't mind dealing with rather scary, steep roads that aren't in the best state, but hiking is generally more satisfying.

Garrotxa Nature Reserve

Address: Costa Brava

Telephone: +34 972 266 012

Visiting dormant volcanoes is not one of the typical things to do in Spain; however, for those who take the time the experience offers stunning scenery and a one-of-a-kind experience. Sandwiched between the Pyrenees and Costa Brava, the region of Garrotxa is home to a multitude of prehistoric volcanoes as well as many castles and country houses. Visitors wanting to experience more of Spain than the quintessential beach and city breaks should head to Garrotxa Nature Reserve, just outside of Girona, to experience a land of amazing and rugged landscapes, fire and ash.

The reserve showcases the best of rural tourism in Spain, and is perfect for enthusiastic hikers. The volcanoes in this area formed over 11,000 years ago and the region is unique to Europe. Visitors can walk, hike or horse ride along any number of tracks and trails in the reserve and enjoy a land of stark contrasts. There are also hot air balloon rides available in the reserve, which is a very exciting way to experience the beauty of the region. Some chefs in Garrotxa create what they call 'volcanic cuisine', trying to express the landscape through food, and Michelin-starred restaurants like Les Cols are the perfect place to sample these interesting meals.

Parque Natural de Bardenas Reales

Address: Barcelona

Telephone: +34 948 820 020

The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Reales offers visitors the chance to walk through a moon landscape. The area is a semi-desert and the malleable clay, chalk and sandstone of the landscape has been eroded into surprising and unusual shapes by wind and rain over the millennia. Vegetation of any kind is scarce in the reserve, as is human habitation, and the streams that flow across the barren, otherworldly landscape, are seasonal. The rugged cliffs, hills and ravines are home to Egyptian Vultures, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, with a total of 24 species of birds of prey, as well as many other bird and animal species. Visitors to the park can also see the ruins of Peñaflor Castle, while the nearby towns of Arguedas and Valtierra boast a variety of attractions and historical sites for visitors to enjoy, as well as accommodation. The region is actually comprised of three nature reserves and is an absolute joy for photographers. There are a number of well signposted routes traversing the park which can be followed on foot, by bicycle, on horseback or by car, and a number of reputable tour companies can arrange tours and activities within the park.

Ronda

Address: Seville

Admission: 2 hours from Seville by car

Credited both as the birthplace of bullfighting and the home of one of Spain's great architectural feats, Ronda is an easy and entertaining escape from the city. Dramatically situated on the edge of a deep gorge, Ronda is a very picturesque place offering plenty of fodder for photographers. Ambling about the cobbled streets, handsome mansions and well-established artisan boutiques is enough to fill a day, but no visit would be complete without a trip to the beautiful old bull ring and Ronda's most famous attraction, the Puento Nueveo (The New Bridge). The structure straddles a magnificent chasm and connects the old town to the new, while allowing visitors a vista of the region unfolding around them. The Old Town, La Ciudad, is a labyrinth of narrow streets and historic old buildings which is a delight to explore. Calle la Bola is the main shopping street, and La Alameda, right next to the bull ring, is a pleasant park for a rest in the shade. Ronda is small and best explored on foot, with plenty of drinking fountains in the Old Town. Those who have energy to spare can walk down to the bottom of the gorge, which affords great photo opportunities.

Gibraltar

Address: Seville

This large lump of limestone stuck to the end of the Iberian Peninsula is as famous for its bizarre geology as it is for its overly-friendly furry friends. Though many countries have claimed the beacon over the years, it's officially owned by the British government and thus it is advised that tourists exchange Euros for Pounds here for ease and economy. The Rock of Gibraltar is easily conquered by cable car, but it's worthwhile to hire a guide (around 25 USD per person) to explain the countless caves and mites, and to coax the wild monkeys to give a toothy grin while atop your head. On clear days visitors can even view North Africa.

St Michael's Cave, long believed to be bottomless, is a thrilling attraction with many myths and stories attached. Part of the massively deep cave is open to visitors and is even used as a concert venue. The labyrinthine Great Siege Tunnels, an incredible defense system constructed to repel the Spanish and French invaders between 1779 and 1783, is also fascinating. The Moorish Castle complex, dating back to the 11th century, is another impressive attraction in Gibraltar. The fit and brave should consider walking up the steep Mediterranean Steps, which wind up the eastern side of the Rock, providing stunning views, but this hike is not suitable for those afraid of heights!

El Cotillo

Address: Fuerteventura

This rustic little village has plenty of charm and character for those looking for a quiet getaway and some gorgeous beaches. El Cotillo has a rich history, and was previously a smuggler's harbour used by Fuerteventurans shipping goods off to Gran Canaria where the prices were better. The 18th century Fortaleza del Tostón overlooks the town from the cliffs to the south of the harbour. The Museum of Traditional Fishing, housed in the old lighthouse, may also interest some visitors. The main attraction of a visit to El Cotillo is indisputably the coastline, which boasts spectacular beaches and lagoons, providing calm, sheltered swimming spots and long sandy stretches for walking and sunbathing. As there are rock pools and the water stays shallow for a few metres, the beaches are great for kids. Some nudity is common on the beaches, but there are so many secluded coves and so much space that it should be easy to find some privacy. It is also a good destination for surfers, with some decent waves and even a surf school for those who want to learn or hire wetsuits and boards. There are some pleasant bars and restaurants close to the shore, but no sun loungers or umbrellas to hire, so bring whatever you need for a comfortable day on the beach.

Loro Parque

Address: Avenida Loro Parque s/n, Puerto De La Cruz Tenerife

Admission: €33 (adults); €22 (children aged 6 to 11); children under 6 free. Daily 8.30am to 6.45pm.

Telephone: 922 37 38 41

This amazing animal park, both an aquarium and a zoo, in the north of the island is Tenerife's top attraction. The entrance fee is not cheap but considering you get a full day out, the ticket is good value. The dolphin and orca shows are particularly thrilling and the penguins even have their own glacier to cavort on. There are also sea lion and bird shows to enjoy. Animals in the park include gorillas, tigers, alligators, chimpanzees, jaguars, marmosets, otters, sloths and meerkats, each in a lovingly maintained micro-climate. The park was originally established as a sanctuary for parrots and these colourful and characterful birds are still one of the highlights. Loro Parque just might be the most entertaining and ecologically sound zoo you will ever visit. For those planning on going to Siam Park, a combined ticket is available that provides a good discount on entry. There are at least seven restaurants and bars strategically placed in the park for rest and refreshments, but if you want to save money you can bring your own food and drink. For those watching the budget there is also a free train to catch from Puerto De La Cruz. Loro Parque has received numerous awards and generally receives rave reviews from visitors.

Siam Park

Address: Autopista TF1, Salida 28, Costa Adeje. Tenerife

Admission: €33 (adults); €22 (children aged 3 - 11). Open daily from 10am to 6pm (May to October); 10am to 5pm (November to April).

Telephone: +34 922 06 00 00

This new water park provides both excitement and respite from the heat with its Thai-village themed rides. A lot of effort has gone into the look of the place and the rides are numerous and world-class. Lazily float down the Mai-Thai river or take the challenge of the Tower of Power with has a 28-metre vertical drop. There is a big beach area and a wave pool and a special watery playground area for small children. The Floating Market, styled like a Thai village, has shops and restaurants and even offers spa treatments for those who would rather be pampered than thrilled by the rides and slides. There are some nice touches, like the sea lion enclosure, where you can watch the animals at play, and a shark tunnel and some rapids as an optional extra on the lazy river. The park is very popular and in the summer months the queues do get long. It is recommended that you book your tickets in advance online so that you can at least skip the entrance queue. There are things like lockers and sun loungers available for rent. A free bus runs from Los Cristianos, Las Americas and Costa Adeje. Siam Park should provide a fun day out for people of all ages and is especially good for entertaining teenagers.

Garachico

Address: Tenerife

The town of Garachico offers a very different experience of Tenerife for those visitors wanting to see a more traditional and historical side to the island's character. Once a prosperous port town, Garachico suffered a weeks-long volcanic eruption in 1706 that destroyed the port but created rock pools that are today rich in marine life and perfect for swimming in. The rock pools are a highlight of a visit to Garachico and make it a good destination for those travelling with kids. The village streets that fan out from the wonderfully picturesque main plaza, La Libertad, are narrow and cobbled, with restaurants and rustic buildings hiding around every corner. The old convent in the centre of town is open to visitors and well-worth checking out for its striking architecture. Garachico should delight photographers, particularly as it has retained its authentic character and charm, making it a refreshing break from the more homogenized resort areas. The drive to the village can be a bit stressful, because of all the curving little cliff roads, but the views more than reward the effort, and are considered some of the prettiest on the island.

La Orotava

Address: Tenerife

The beautiful town of La Orotava is firm proof that there is much more to Tenerife than lovely beaches and a fun nightlife. Known for its aristocratic heritage and exceptional architecture, La Orotava is famous for its ornate balconies, many of which are concentrated on Casa de los Balcones. The town was settled by noble families in the aftermath of the Spanish conquest and they set about a flourish of competitive building, a legacy that modern-day visitors can enjoy at their leisure. The west of the island was home to Tenerife's noble families who built many fine houses. There are many churches and monasteries here too: don't miss the Gothic marvel of Iglesia de la Concepción. Other attractions in La Orotava include the theme park PuebloChico, which reproduces iconic buildings and landscapes of the Canary Islands in miniature. La Orotava is beautifully situated, with volcanic black beaches, and mountains that encourage hiking and other outdoor activities. The perfect time to visit this picturesque town is during the festival of Corpus Christi, in early March, when the streets are decorated with carpets of flowers. This incredible and unique site draws visitors from all over the world.

Monkey Park

Address: Tenerife

Admission: €10 (adults); €5 (children aged 5 - 12). open daily 9.30am to 5pm.

Telephone: 922 790720

This park is a sure-fire hit with kids and a must for animal lovers of all ages. Monkey Park is a privately-owned conservation and breeding centre for endangered animals, specialising in primates, and doesn't put on any animal shows, aiming rather to educate visitors and let them enjoy interacting naturally with the animals. The park is home to a quirky variety of monkeys, parrots, iguanas, giant tortoises, lemurs, crocodiles and other curious, furry creatures. Some animals are in enclosures, but others, most notably the comical and friendly lemurs, are allowed to roam free and interact with visitors. The best way to make sure you're popular with the animals is to bring fruit for them to eat (grapes are a particularly good option); there is feed for sale at the ticket desk, but the animals have become rather bored of this ordinary fare. It is also a good idea to bring refreshments for yourself as the only snacks and drinks available are from vending machines. Families should cater to spend at least two to three hours in the park, which is small but will delight children. The park is off the bus route so a taxi or hired car is needed to get there.

Sherry Bodegas

Address: Seville

Andalusia's chalky soil is ideal for the cultivation of the palomino grape, from which the world-famous sherry (jerez) of the region is made. The main sites of sherry production in Andalusia are Jerez de la Frontera and Montilla, and these charming towns are home to plenty of self-proclaimed sherry connoisseurs, who will debate the quality of the sweet amber-coloured blends with the seriousness usually reserved for appraising the finest French wines. An increasingly popular tourist activity for visitors to southern Spain is to tour the bodegas of the region, wineries with a history dating back to Roman times, which specialise in the fermentation of palomino grapes and the production of sherry.

Tasting tours of these bodegas are fun and informative, and - especially in the case of Jerez de la Frontera - can be combined with other great cultural attractions, such as checking out a flamenco dance performance, or admiring beautiful Andalusian horses at a dressage event. A bottle of Andalusian sherry makes for a great Spanish souvenir for friends and family back home: visit the bodega of Pedro Domecq and pick up a bottle of their amontillado variety. Many tour operators offer day trips to the bodegas but it is also easy to explore without a guide.

Cuenca

Address: Madrid

Just two hours southeast of Madrid lies Cuenca, one of the most charming small towns you'll find anywhere on the Iberian peninsula. Located on a steep spur, above the confluence of two deep river gorges, Cuenca's magnificent geography is matched only by the architectural wonders contained within its medieval city walls. In fact, the entire town centre of Cuenca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (and has been since 1996), and visitors to Spain who are looking for a romantic town to wander around in for a few days are strongly encouraged to give Cuenca a try. Cuenca is full of Moorish fortresses, Gothic cathedrals with 'unum ex septem' signs outside (if you pray while looking at one of them, you'll get five years' worth of forgiveness for your sins), rococo-style convents, museums and parks. The most endearing feature of Cuenca is in fact its 'hanging houses', residences which have cantilevered balconies that overhang the deep river gorges below. The strange angularity of these buildings is said to have inspired the artistic movement known as Cubism. A wonderful place to ramble around for a couple of days, Cuenca is an ideal stop for those travelling to Barcelona from Madrid.

El Raval

Address: Barcelona

One of two districts bordering La Rambla - the other being the established tourist area of Barri Gotic - El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with a long and chequered history. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had a multicultural and slightly seedy character, leading to it being dubbed Barri Xinès ('Chinatown') by locals. After struggling with social problems like crime and prostitution through much of the 20th century, in the late-1980s the Barcelona city council began a concerted program of urban rejuvenation in the area, which saw many of its best sites, such as the MACBA Museum and the CCCB Cultural Centre, being constructed. These days, El Raval remains an exciting, multicultural area (nearly half of its population are foreign-born), that is particularly popular with backpackers and revellers keen to check out some of Barcelona's racier bars and clubs. The area is still a little sleazy and tourists should be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night, but it is lots of fun. El Raval is full of cool bars and funky cafes that beg to be explored, from Bar Marsella with its Art Nouveau interior, to London Bar, a run-down though stately place once frequented by artists like Hemingway, Picasso and Mirò. Another great sight in El Raval is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's lesser-known masterpieces, featuring large parabolic gates decorated with beautiful ironwork.

Figueres

Address: Barcelona

A wonderful daytrip destination from Barcelona, Figueres is a lovely Catalonian town that also happens to be the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The main reason for visiting Figueres is to see the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí), a suitably bizarre-looking building - pink, studded, and crowned with enormous eggs - that was not only designed by Dali, but which houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output including paintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weird and wonderful installations, such as a living-room with furniture that looks like the face of Mae West when viewed at a certain angle. The mortal remains of the artist are kept in the museum's basement. There is simply no better way to get an appreciation of Dali's genius than by visiting the Teatre-Museu Dalí, and, whether you end up loving or hating his creations, they are sure to keep you thinking and talking about them for months after your visit. Be warned that many of Dali's works are erotic or grotesque in nature, and may upset younger visitors, making the museum a dubious attraction for families with kids. Feeling like a journey into the artist's mind, this museum is a must for fans.

Mijas

Address: Costa del Sol

Although the Costa del Sol is home to some magnificent beaches, with golden sands and sparkling clear waters, it is also an area that has been somewhat dominated by mass tourism, with some uninspiring resort hotels dominating its cityscapes. For all-inclusive package holidays these resorts are hugely popular and for good reason, but for those tourists looking to take a break from the beach and spend some time ambling through a pretty Spanish village, with a real sense of history and traditional Andalusian character, Mijas is a fantastic choice.

A popular day trip destination, Mijas is easily reached by bus, and offers visitors the chance to wander through narrow streets lined with white-washed buildings and historic sights. Mijas has reputedly been inhabited since ancient times archaeological finds reveal the town's foundation by the Tartessians, interactions with the Ancient Greeks and Phoenicians, Roman and Visigoth influence, and Moorish rule. Mijas also has its share of history from the Spanish Civil War. Once a tiny place, Mijas is growing in size and popularity and now boasts wonderful cafes, restaurants and bars, and is an ideal shopping destination for those looking to pick up a few Spanish souvenirs for their loved ones back home.

Santillana del Mar

Address: Bilbao

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre called Santillana del Mar "the prettiest village in Spain", and to this day, it remains one of the undisputed highlights of Spain's northern coastline. Santillana del Mar is tiny - only six blocks long, and home to just 4,000 permanent inhabitants - and makes a wonderful base for exploring the alluring Cantabrian coastline. In the village, which is full of gorgeous Romanesque architecture lining ironstone streets, locals still sell fresh milk from open stable doors, and well-heeled visitors have the chance to spend the night in one of Spain's grandest paradores (the Parador de Santillana), a converted 17th-century mansion offering luxurious and unforgettable accommodation. Santillana del Mar is also the closest urban area to the Cuevas de Altamira (Altamira Caves), featuring amazing Upper Paleolithic cave paintings, and often dubbed 'the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art'. Because Spain's northern coastline doesn't see nearly as much annual tourist activity as its southern coastline, independent travellers keen to avoid the crush of sun-seekers on the Costa del Sol are strongly encouraged to visit Santillana del Mar, which offers a relaxing seaside atmosphere as well as the chance to feel as though you've truly 'escaped' the hustle and bustle of the modern world.

Nerja

Address: Costa del Sol

Nerja is a special Costa del Sol destination for those seeking a more authentic, less commercialised coastal village in the region. Nerja is more quaint and picturesque than many of the popular beach resorts that dot the coastline and is a good place to find charming tapas bars and a great restaurant scene as well as the usual fun in the sun.

The narrow winding streets and many squares are lit up beautifully in the evening, and the town has a romantic atmosphere. The village is nestled among the sandy coves and rugged cliffs where the Sierra de Almijara Mountains meet the sea, and the Balcon de Europa is one of many viewpoints that allows visitors to enjoy spectacular views in and around Nerja. There are more than five miles (9km) of beaches stretching to either side of Nerja, including long, sandy stretches for walking and activities, and tiny secluded coves.

Nerja is the name of the whole municipality as well as the town, and the area boasts some amazing attractions, including the famous caves of the same name, and some impressive Roman remains. Nerja is about 31 miles (50km) east of Malaga, making it a convenient and popular excursion from the city, which is the capital of Andalusia and often the starting point for travels in Costa del Sol.

Montblanc

Address: Costa Dorada

Visiting Montblanc can feel like indulging in time travel as the fortified medieval centre of the village is gloriously well preserved. The historic old quarter is best explored on foot and notable sights include the Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, the Sant Miguel Church, the Sant Marcal Church, the Royal Palace, the Castla Palace, and much more, all dating back to the 13th and 14th centuries. The picturesque village celebrates its medieval heritage every year in April with a two-week festival filled with parades and fireworks, which commemorates the legend of Saint George killing the dragon. The locals believe this famous event occurred in their village and a plaque commemorates the legend at the St Jordi Gate.

Montblanc is inland from the port city of Tarragona and very close to the UNESCO-listed Poblet Monastery, which is one of the most famous attractions in the Costa Dorada. Poblet was once one of the most powerful monasteries in Spain and was founded in 1151 by the Cistercians. The kings of Aragon and Catalonia were buried here. Many of the beautiful monastic buildings at Poblet have now been restored and a visit is a must for holidaymakers in the region. Montblanc and Poblet are only about five miles (8km) apart and can be jointly explored on an excursion from the coastal resorts.

Botafumeiro

Address: El Gran de Gracia 81. Barcelona

Food Type: Spanish

One of the most well known seafood restaurants in Barcelona, Botafumeiro consistently presents the finest regional cuisine of Galicia and prides itself on the freshness of its fish, clams, mussels, lobster, crayfish and scallops, which are either kept in large tanks near delivered daily from the ocean. The impeccable treatment of customers and the private atmosphere makes this a perfect dining experience for both business and pleasure. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations essential.

Agut

Address: Gignas 16, Ciutat Vella (Gothic Quarter). Barcelona

Food Type: Local

For almost a century this restaurant has been a family-run business and today the homey atmosphere still welcomes patrons with its old-fashioned, wooden panelling, and time-tested, traditional fare. Catalán paintings from the 1950s serve as reminders of Agut's time as a meeting place for artists and writers. The hearty food includes such dishes as sweet and sour wild duck, layers of pastry filled with Catalán sausage and mushrooms, or monkfish with prawns, while desserts are light and creative. Not to be confused with the Agut d'Avignon restaurant nearby. Closed on Mondays, no dinner on Sundays and the restaurant closes in August.

Can Majo

Address: Almirall Aixada 23, Barceloneta. Barcelona

Food Type: Spanish

On the beachfront, Can Majó serves delicious seafood that can be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Specialities include paella, but the fish is also superb. Choose from a daily catch including barnacles, prawns, crab, oysters and clams. Reservations required. Closed Monday. No dinner Sundays.

Oviso

Address: 5 Calle de Arai, Placa George Orwell. Barcelona

Food Type: Local

One of the many unassuming sidewalk café bars on Placa George Orwell in the Gothic Quarter, Oviso offers reasonably priced food and an intimate, bohemian ambiance. Good for breakfast or an afternoon snack, this bar restaurant often serves as a place to begin a night out or to end a long day. Great for people watching, Oviso attracts many artists and students and is a good choice for idling away a few hours in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.

Rubi

Address: Calle Banys Vells, 6 bis. Barcelona

Food Type: Modern Eclectic

Not called Rubi for nothing, this vibrant restaurant and nightspot is ideal for couples and friends looking for a chic but understated modern restaurant. With bright crimson booths, an elegant bar and high ceilings, Rubi has become one of Barcelona's quintessential nightspots. In true Barcelona style, Rubi is friendly and laid-back. Serving contemporary fusion cuisine made from only the freshest produce from local markets, Rubi also bakes homemade breads and desserts. After 11.30pm the restaurant shifts gears and the venue is transformed into a groovy bar with Latin American and funk tunes, heating things up a little. Open for dinner, Tuesday to Sunday.

Viena

Address: La Rambla del Estudis 115 Barcelona

Food Type: Local

For the best sandwiches in the city, and maybe the country, this hole in the wall take-away sandwich shop doesn't put on airs. Surrounded by fine dining restaurants and elegant tapas establishments, staff at Viena simply and quickly throw together the world's best ingredients between two delicious slices of bread and slides it across the counter. The restaurant is open from 8.30am to 11.30pm during the week and 12.30am on weekends.

Can Ravell

Address: Carrer Arago 313 Barcelona

Food Type: International

Some serious eating goes on here, in a little decorated and unpretentious room at the back of a delicatessen food store. Using speciality ingredients from around the world, gourmet food never felt so exclusive. Despite a city-wide reputation, the tiny restaurant feels like a guarded secret. Can Rovell is open from 10am to 9pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and closes an hour later from Thursday to Saturday. On Sundays this delectable restaurant serves lunch from 10am to 4pm. It is closed on Mondays.

Amaltea

Address: Diputació 164 (esquina Villarreal) Barcelona

Food Type: Vegetarian

Serving creative vegetarian cuisine, with dishes from all over the world and a keen eye for presentation, Amaltea is a well-known and frequented Barcelona vegetarian eatery. The décor is stylish but down to earth, ensuring that all the limelight is afforded to the colourful dishes of food that emerge out of the kitchen. For lunch there is a choice of four starters, mains and various house desserts with a fixed menu. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday and dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.

Comerc 24

Address: Carrer Comerc 24 Barcelona

Food Type: Local

This very trendy tapas hot spot dishes out extraordinary treats under the creative direction of Carles Abellan. Unusual food combinations are frothed, seared and caramelised until they complement one another. The dishes are more of a tasting experience than a full meal but enough of them can easily add up to a full stomach, and an eclectic way to try local cuisine.

Quimet & Quimet

Address: C/Poeta Cabanas 25 Barcelona

Food Type: Local

This old family-run room is not an ordinary tapas restaurant and is on the fly in more ways than one. With standing room only, perfect for fast eats, the chef rolls out seemingly random (but delicious) concoctions from a huge list of ingredients lining the walls. A superb but also random wine list is best enjoyed quickly with the unique snacks before carrying on one's way. Advisable to call beforehand and check opening hours.

Restaurante Botin

Address: Calle de Cuchilleros 17

Food Type: Spanish

Immortalised by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, when Jake invites Brett to Botin for the Segovian speciality, the Restaurante Botin has been catering to guests since 1725. Botin is a family-run restaurant that has spanned three generations, offering friendly customer service. Much of the décor pertains to the original restaurant, from the charcoal hearth to hanging copper pots and an 18th-century tile oven. The mixed fish casserole and the grilled filet mignon 'Botin' are excellent, a dessert favourite is strawberries with whipped cream. Open daily for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.

Zalacain

Address: Alvarez de Baena 4

Food Type: Continental

This intimate and luxurious restaurant is decorated in deep shades of red and gold, and furnished in the finest dark wood. The menu offers an array of mouth-watering temptations which include lobster salad with sherry vinegar, followed by duck stewed in port. The chocolate blini with pineapple rounds the evening off nicely. Open for lunch and dinner Monday to Friday, and dinner only on Saturday. Reservations essential.

Taberna La Bola

Address: Calle de la Bola 5

Food Type: Spanish

La Bola is one of the last restaurants in the city to don a blood red façade, initially operating as a wine shop in 1802. This family-owned restaurant has been passed down over seven generations and continues charming visitors with its 'olde worlde' décor of velvet, Spanish tiles and lace curtains. La Bola guarantees affordable prices and homemade dishes, packed with flavour. House specialities include Madrileña-style stew and roast lamb. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, and Sunday for lunch only. Reservations recommended.

Wagaboo

Address: Calle Gravina 18, Chueca

Food Type: Asian

A modern restaurant that offers cool interiors, tasty food and attentive service, Wagaboo is a good bet for lunch or dinner in Madrid. Specialising in pasta and noodles, Wagaboo has a great selection of contemporary Italian and Asain cuisine. The stylish industrial interior of exposed brick and piping is complemented with chic lighting, red leather seating and shiny dark wood tables. Contemporary art and photography adorn the walls, and the glassed-in kitchen allow patrons to see the pasta and noodles being made. Try an Asian stir-fry or the pizza with pesto, cherry tomatoes, arugula, feta and parma ham. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Bazaar

Address: Calle Libertad 21

Food Type: Mediterranean

Bazaar serves creative Mediterranean food in a trendy environment. Priding itself on fresh produce and modern cuisine, Bazaar offers dishes such as thinly sliced tuna with mango chutney, or tender ox with parmesan and rocket. With oils, wines and various fripperies on display, Bazaar has an initial delicatessen feel to it. Follow the large staircase to the dining area with cream leather banquettes, and windows overlooking the streets of Chueca - ideal for people watching. The menu is displayed as a list of dishes with no definition between starters, mains and desserts. There is a wide-ranging wine list. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner, reservations recommended.

El Club Allard

Address: Calle Ferraz 2

Food Type: Fusion

This extraordinary Michelin-starred restaurant (two stars) serves imaginative, unique food which is presented beautifully. Every dish is a work of art and foodies will relish the originality of the creations. Usually there are three set menus on offer and the creative meals are complemented with friendly service and a good wine list. El Club Allard is ideal for special occasions. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner from Tuesday to Saturday, but is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Reservations are recommended.

Casa Paco

Address: Puerta Cerrada 11

Food Type: Local

Maintaining its old world charm, quality dishes and unpretentious ambiance, Casa Paco has been a favourite of Madrilenos for over thirty years. A superb steak house, meat at this taverna is ordered by weight and the Casa Paco Solomilo (fillet steak) is a firm favourite. For those after something lighter, the sole and baby lamb are also first-rate dishes. The tiled dining room and traditional décor at Casa Paco add to the homely atmosphere, as does the old fashioned bar, natural sidra (cider) and conscientious service. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner.

Cafe Balear

Address: Sagunto 18 near Plaza de Chamberi

Food Type: Mediterranean

For the best paella and a quality selection of cavas (Catalan champagne-type wine) that complements this traditional dish, Café Balear is the place. The elegant dining room is simply decorated with white linens and curtains, lifted by art prints and potted palms. Try the stuffed aubergines a la Mallorquina, or perhaps the vegetarian paella with fresh ginger. Attentive staff and a friendly atmosphere add to the appeal of this lovely restaurant. Open daily for lunch and dinner.

Guggenheim Restaurant

Address: Avda. Abandoibarra 2 Bilbao

Food Type: Spanish

The Guggenheim Restaurant is located inside the world-class Guggenheim Museum, and it prides itself on being one of the city's very best eateries. Serving traditional Basque cuisine using the freshest local produce, diners can enjoy innovative dishes that have been expertly prepared by chef Josean Martínez, such as the mouth-watering perfumed 'euskal oiloa' chicken (Basque breed organic chicken) with rosemary and lime leaves, or the decadent pure chocolate with coffee ice cream and a hot marzipan sand. Bookings recommended. Open Tuesday to Sunday for lunch and Wednesday to Saturday for dinner.

Sumo

Address: Calle Ledesma 5 Bilbao

Food Type: Sushi

For a break from traditional Spanish and European food, this superb sushi restaurant is ideal. The friendly staff will help you select what you want to build your own take-away sushi box, or will make what you want if it is not available. There is no seating in the restaurant, but the glorious food can be enjoyed on the many benches outside or in a park nearby. Sumo also offers other traditional Japanese fare, like noodle dishes, but the sushi is definitely the highlight. Sumo is a good option for vegetarians.

Aretxondo Restaurant

Address: Bo Elexalde, 20. (Galdakao) Bilbao

Food Type: Spanish

Located in a quaint and charming country house just outside the city centre, Bilbao's Aretxondo Restaurant has a unique and distinctive character with modern and inventive twists on traditional cuisine. A popular venue for events, weddings and other special occasions, it boasts and extensive wine list, knowledgeable waiters, and simply heavenly food. Try the sautéed prawns with potato guacamole, tomato and condensed grapefruit, or the log on entrecote in fine herbs and black pepper, and end off with the mango cheesecake with mango ice cream and spices - deliciously light and decadent! Open daily for dinner, lunch on Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays, the first two weeks in January, Easter week and the first two weeks in August.

Etxanobe

Address: Avda Abandoibarra, 4 Bilbao

Food Type: International

Clean white linen tablecloths juxtaposed by the colourful and almost garish artwork on one of the walls creates a somewhat classic meets contemporary feel to this popular Bilbao eatery. Run by owner and chef, Fernando Canales, Etxanobe is located on the top floor of the Palacio Euskalduna and delivers innovative and intelligent dishes that tantalise and haunt the taste buds. Try the boneless suckling lamb with sweetbread or the Muscavado pudding with cinnamon and rice. Open Monday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Bookings recommended.

Zortziko

Address: Calle Alameda Mazarredo, 17 Bilbao

Food Type: International

The Michelin-starred Zortziko boasts a formal atmosphere and an air of grandeur and is, deservedly, one of Bilbao's finest eateries. Three distinctive and classy dining rooms, each with its own theme, create the ultimate sophisticated yet contemporary dining experience. Try the Bisket of rock fish or the Fricadellede chicken with pistachios, and for those with a sweet tooth, the chocolate sponge, Malden salt and oil Hojiblanca is pure indulgence. Reservations recommended. Open Tuesday to Saturday for lunch and dinner. Closed Sunday and Mondays and the second fortnight in August and the first two weeks in September.

ABAC

Address: Av. Tibidabo 1 Barcelona

Food Type: Spanish

The only 1-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, ABAC is "el bulli" style, but you can actually get a reservation. The tasting menu (without wine) is about €125-175 per person. The sensory experience and the amazing meal that accompany the price is well worth digging a little deeper into the wallet than normal. ABAC is known as one of the best restaurants in Spain.

El Rinconcillo

Address: C/Gerona 40 y Alhondigo 2 Seville

Food Type: Spanish

Moorish brickwork, a handsome mahogany bar and a ceiling that dates back to the seventeenth century give El Rinconcillo the kind of old-world charm that other restaurants merely aspire to. As one of the most famous tapas bars in the city, the venue not only claims a rich history, but also remains true to its Andalusian roots and the accompanying relaxed regional demeanour. Visitors can enjoy a full meal or a few light tapas portions. Open daily 1pm to 1.30am.

Restaurante San Marco

Address: Calle Meson del Moro Seville

Food Type: Italian

Styled to appear as a 12th-century Arab bath house, the lively atmosphere and delicious Italian cuisine make this a favourite among both locals and tourists. This particular venue is tucked away among the winding alleyways of Barrio Santa Cruz, but three other options - each uniquely designed - appear in different areas of the city. Reservations are crucial. Dinner is served from 8pm until midnight.

Egana Oriza

Address: San Fernando 41 Seville

Food Type: Spanish

Situated in a bright and airy mansion dating back to 1926, this stylish space allows guests the opportunity to dine in the equivalent of a contemporary indoor garden. The restaurant was once credited with a Michelin star, though nowadays, tapas and drinks are just as much an occasion as haute cuisine. Visitors can look forward to a fantastic wine list and very knowledgeable sommelier. Closed Sundays. Lunch is served 1:30pm to 4pm; dinner from 8:30pm to midnight.

Barbiana

Address: Calle Albaredo 11 Seville

Food Type: Seafood

Seafood specialities have buoyed Barbiana to regular appearances on any of Seville's top restaurant listings. Though the city is inland, the chefs go out of their way to source a fresh selection of succulent shrimp, squid, sea bass and white fish all the way from the coastal town of Cadiz. The restaurant is set in the heart of Seville, adjacent to the Plaza Neuve. Those pressed for time can enjoy an abbreviated version of the menu at the tapas bar in front.

Az-Zait

Address: Plaza San Lorenzo 1 Seville

Food Type: Spanish

Classically Mediterranean and reasonably priced, Az-Zait is your affordable answer to lunch and dinner. Set next to the Convent of San Lorenzo, the restaurant is comfortable, the service good and the cuisine reliable. The menu offers both Andalusian favourites (gazpacho) and more inventive options, like the honey-glazed cuttlefish. There is also a tasting menu available. Lunch is served from 11am to 4:30pm, and dinner from 8pm to 12:30am.

There are no health risks associated with travel to Spain, and no vaccination certificates are required for entry. Medical facilities are good in Spain, but comprehensive travel insurance is always advised. Spain has a reciprocal health agreement with most EU countries, including the UK, providing emergency health care for EU travellers on the same terms as Spanish nationals. EU travellers should take a European Health Insurance Card (EHIC). Note that the scheme gives no entitlement to medical repatriation costs, nor does it cover ongoing illnesses of a non-urgent nature, so comprehensive travel insurance is still advised. Travellers should take any medication they require along with them, in its original packaging and accompanied by a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what it is and why it is needed.

Smoking in public places is banned and stiff fines will be imposed for smoking in areas such as enclosed public spaces, areas where food is prepared and sold, public transport, non-smoking areas of bars and restaurants, and any places that cater for children. Drinking alcohol in the streets of Madrid, and in the Canary and Balearic Islands is illegal.

Hotel and restaurant bills usually include service charges, but additional tips are welcomed for services rendered. In established restaurants tips of about 10 percent are expected. In Mallorca value-added-tax is usually included in restaurant bills, designated 'I.V.A', and may be mistaken for a service charge. Drivers of metered taxis expect small tips and it is customary to tip about 5 to 10 percent for most services, including guides.

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Round pins. Description
Round pins.
Voltage
230 V
Frequency
50 Hz
Type
C
"Schuko" plug and receptable with side grounding contacts. Description
"Schuko" plug and receptable with side grounding contacts.
Voltage
230 V
Frequency
50 Hz
Type
F
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