Spain is one of the most visited countries in the world and there’s a good reason for that. Close to 90 million people visit Spain every year but most of them stick to the same popular routes. But Spain is a beautiful country and there are a lot of exciting things you can only find in Spain and nowhere else. And if you don’t explore away from the big cities like Barcelona, Madrid, or Seville, you won’t find most of these things. That’s why we created this post of the most underrated cities in Spain that most people either don’t know about or don’t know what’s so special about them.
Durango, Basque Country
Located a short drive away from Bilbao at the foot of Urkiola Natural Park, you’ll find beautiful Durango; a prime example of the quaint charm of Basque Country. The town is located in the heart of the historical province of Biscay and is the local capital of Durangaldea, one of Basque Country’s comarcas. The town is surrounded by mountains from all sides and is crossed by three rivers which means there are a lot of natural beauties to be discovered in Durango. The city is also home to a charming old town, a quaint city center, and a surprisingly well-versed bar scene.
Speaking of the most underrated cities in Spain, we just have to mention Peniscola. Peniscola is an entirely walled medieval town on Valencia’s coast, 80 miles away from Valencia (ideal for a day trip from Valencia). The city has a beautiful old town, stunning architecture, including a 14th-century castle and a handful of interesting historical sites. Until a few years ago, it was relatively unfrequented by tourists but things are slowly changing after the city was featured in Game of Thrones representing the city of Meereen, the greatest of the three great city-states of Slaver’s Bay.
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With its sleeping town vibe, Cudillero is one of our favorite hidden gems in Spain. The town is located around a small cove in Asturias on the northern Atlantic coast. Cudillero is known for its beautiful colorful houses surrounding the harbor, tasty seafood, charming narrow alleys, and pristine beaches.
Even though it’s the largest city in Asturias, Gijon is arguably one of the most underrated cities in Spain, having in mind what all the city has to offer. Gijon has a fair share of Roman ruins, impressive outdoors, beautiful beaches, interesting museums, and monuments, with the most famous one probably being the iconic statue, Eulogy to the Horizon. Additionally, as the largest city in the region, Gijon also has a lot of amazing restaurants, bars, and vibrant nightlife.
One could argue that the entire region of Galicia is underrated but including the region’s largest city will do for now. Vigo is a large port city with a charming old town, delicious seafood, especially pulpo (octopus), sandy beaches, and it’s probably the best place in Spain to learn about Galician culture. And if that’s not enough, Vigo is located right next to the Cies Islands, a protected natural area that’s home to some of the most pristine beaches in Europe.
Ourense is another underrated town of Galicia surrounded by beautiful nature that closely resembles the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The city is also a hub of the local Galician-Celtic culture, so if this surprises you, don’t worry, you didn’t teleport to Ireland, you’re still in Spain. Some of the most notable attractions in Ourense include the Ourense hot springs, the ancient Roman bridge, the Ourense Cathedral, and a handful of interesting museums.
Leon, Castile & Leon
Castile and Leon is the largest autonomous region of Spain but ranks ninth when it comes to international visitors. Leon is the capital of the province and even though it’s not the next hidden gem and many people know about it, I think it’s one of the most underrated cities in Spain. The city dates back to 29 BC when it was founded as a Roman military camp. Leon is an important historical city and even today, you can find some ancient Roman remnants around the city.
But that’s not all. Leon is also home to the iconic Leon Cathedral (a.k.a. House of Light), the Basilica of San Isidoro, the museum-palace Casa Botines, and many others. If you’re planning to visit Leon, my recommendation is to visit during the Holy Week (Semana Santa). The city is even more vibrant around this time of the year with processions taking place throughout the city.
Burgos, Castile & Leon
Burgos is a perfect stop if you’re taking a Northern Spain road trip from Madrid because it’s halfway between Madrid and Bilbao. The city’s most notable attraction is probably the Burgos Cathedral, home to Spanish national hero, El Cid, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some other important landmarks include the medieval Huelgas Monastery, the Museum of Human Evolution (one of Spain’s most underrated museums), and a medieval gate that resembles the leaning tower of Piza (Arco de Santa Maria).
Avila, Castile & Leon
Avila is famous for being one of Spain’s last remaining walled cities. Sitting at 1,130 meters above sea level, Avila is the highest provincial capital in Spain. The city’s medieval walls are very well preserved and have eight gates, 88 towers, and more than 2,000 turrets. Avila also takes pride in being one of the cities with the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. Its proximity to the Spanish capital makes it a great fit for a day trip from Madrid but despite this, I think that the city still doesn’t get as many visitors as it should have, having in mind all it offers.
Pedraza, Castile & Leon
Pedraza is another medieval walled town located in near proximity to Madrid. It’s probably even less known than Avilla and I could say it’s one of Central Spain’s best-kept secrets. The town is dotted with stone houses with colorful, flower-filled balconies and charming narrow streets that will make you feel like you took a trip back in time.
Salamanca, Castile & Leon
Even if you’re not in your 20s, there’s just something special about student towns and Salamanca is one of Spain’s oldest. The city is home to the University of Salamanca, founded in 1134, making it the fourth-oldest university in the Western Hemisphere. As such, the city has a rich history and tradition as one of Spain’s major student hubs. Like most other student towns, Salamanca has a vibrant, exciting nightlife but the city is also home to some of Spain’s most interesting museums (i.e. the Museum of Art Nouveau and Art Deco Casa Lis), and a handful of important historic buildings.
Consuegra, Castile-La Mancha
If you read Don Quijote, you probably heard about the famous windmills of La Mancha. Today, this part of Spain is one of the country’s least-visited parts and a great representation of traditional Spain at its finest. The town is also home to a medieval castle and a few other important historic buildings, and if you’re looking for a different experience in Spain, you should definitely consider adding Consuegra to your Spain bucket list.
Cuenca, Castile-La Mancha
Speaking of underrated cities in Spain, our list wouldn’t be complete without Cuenca. Cuenca is an amazing city and I was honestly surprised by the low number of tourists the city gets on an annual basis. The city is home to the legendary hanging houses of Cuenca, a sight that has the potential to become one of Spain’s hottest tourist attractions. In addition to this, the whole city has an intact medieval vibe, a lot of old, well-preserved buildings, including a medieval cathedral, and is known as the “capital of Spanish abstract art”.
One could argue that the entire province of Extremadura is severely underrated but the city of Caceres definitely deserves a spot on this list. Caceres doesn’t have beautiful beaches or mesmerizing national parks but the city is home to some of the finest restaurants in the south of Spain, medieval walls, castles, and buildings that date back to the Moorish era, and it is one of Extremadura’s major art hubs.
Merida is another underrated city in Extremadura. The city was founded by the Romans and today, it has some of the most well-preserved Roman ruins in Europe. This includes a 2,000-years-old Roman amphitheater, a coliseum, and a big museum filled with Roman artifacts. Surprisingly, you can enjoy all these sites without hearing dozens of different tour guides shouting in different languages and without rubbing elbows with hundreds of other tourists (as it’s the case in some other tourist sites that date back to the Roman era).
Arcos de la Frontera, Andalusia
Arcos de la Frontera is a charming Andalusian town located at the edge of a large plateau surrounded by the northern, western, and southern banks of the Guadalete river, and spectacular views of the peak of San Cristóbal, the coast of Cadiz, and the Guadalete Valley. The city is surrounded by towering vertical cliffs and has an authentic medieval charm with many narrow, winding streets, interesting architecture, and plenty of whitewashed buildings.
Setenil de las Bodegas, Andalusia
Setenil de las Bodegas is a picturesque small town that’s literally carved into a cliffside. Needless to say, a city carved into a cliff has a unique charm but the main reason why we chose to include Setenil de las Bodegas in this list of underrated cities in Spain is its unique architecture. Most of the houses in the town are basically whitewashed constructions built into the cliffs. So, technically, I suppose one could say that the people of Setenil de las Bodegas technically live under a rock (as well as in and under a rock).
Priego de Córdoba, Andalusia
I wouldn’t be surprised if Priego de Cordoba becomes one of the most visited destinations in Southern Spain. The town has all the predispositions of a future tourist hub. It’s home to one of the most beautiful baroque cathedrals in Spain (Church of La Asuncion), one of the most underrated old quarters in Spain, and a beautiful surrounding nature that connects the city with Subbeticas National Park.
Estepona is one of the most charming towns in Malaga’s countryside and yet it’s very easy to pass by it without knowing it exists despite the fact that it’s located an hour away from Marbella; one of the most popular tourist destinations in the province of Malaga. Estepona is a beautiful coastal town with some of the most pristine beaches in the region, making the city the ultimate hidden gem of el Costa del Sol. In addition to beautiful beaches, the town is famous for its vibrant, colorful houses that decorate its charming streets ruled by a typical, laid-back Mediterranean vibe.
You might think that the southernmost point of Europe might be some kind of tourist attraction but not really. Tarifa might be more visited than some other cities on this list but we believe it’s still one of the most underrated cities in Spain in terms of what it has to offer. The city was founded as a Roman settlement more than 2,000 years ago and many of its oldest buildings are surprisingly well-preserved.
Tarifa has a beautiful old town, amazing beaches, and it’s one of the best destinations in Europe for wind sports. Because of Gibraltar’s funnel effect, Tarifa experiences the natural phenomenon known as Levante and Poniente (easterly winds from Africa and Atlantic winds).
Bubion is one of the rare places in Spain that have remained relatively unchanged throughout the years. The town sits at 1,350 meters above sea level on the gorge of the Río Poqueira and below the peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The town has characteristic whitewashed buildings with flat roofs, narrow winding streets, a lot of remnants of Moorish architecture, and of course, some of the most spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada National Park.
Almunecar was a former fishing village that’s slowly turning into a charming coastal town. The city lies along el Costa del Sol roughly 30 kilometers away from the resort town of Nerja but is a lot less popular despite its beautiful, pristine beaches. In addition to this, the city also has a rich history and you can find a lot of interesting historical sites in near proximity to Almunecar, including a Roman aqueduct and a medieval castle.
Cazorla is a beautiful, postcard-like town sitting at the foot of Pena de los Halcones with the beautiful Yedra Castle towering over the city off a steep cliff. To make things better, the city technically lies within the boundaries of Las Villas National Park (the largest protected park in Spain) and is a part of the Sierras de Cazorla (mountain range).
Murcia is the largest city on this list but we just had to mention it here because it truly is one of the most underrated cities in Spain. The city is the capital of the homonymous autonomous region and boasts over 500 years of Moorish history that heavily influenced the city. The main highlights of the city include the Cathedral of Murcia (which took 300 years to complete), Moorish architecture, Baroque buildings, and one of the most vibrant festivals in Spain, Fiestas de Primavera (Spring Festival).
Zaragoza is another large city that’s the capital of another autonomous region (Aragon) and it’s probably the city with the most tourists on this list but I can’t help but feel the city is still underrated. Overall, Zaragoza is an impressive city with rich culture and tradition. The local cuisine is one of Spain’s finest, it’s one of the best places to learn about and experience Aragonese folklore, and there are a lot of noteworthy attractions, such as the Basílica del Pilar, the Aljafería Palace, La Seo Cathedral, and the botched restoration of a painting of Christ.
In addition to this, Zaragoza is also (arguably) the birthplace of the Mudéjar Architecture of Aragon, an aesthetic architectural style that’s recognized and protected by UNESCO and can be seen in practically every corner of the city.
The entire town of Albarracin has been a National Monument since 1961 and tourism is slowly developing but the city is still severely underrated. Albarracin is best known for its light pink buildings that make for a breathtaking sight, especially during sunsets. The town also has a charming old town with beautiful cobbled streets, a charming riverfront, and a beautiful surrounding landscape dominated by the Guadalaviar River and the Sierra de Albarracín Comarca.
Even though one could argue that no city along the east coast of Spain can be deemed underrated because after all, this is the most popular part of the country, we still feel Girona isn’t getting as much attention as it should. The city has an incredibly rich offering of museums, galleries, and impressive architecture. In addition to this, Girona is also one of Spain’s most important historical cities. Because of the city’s rich tradition and history of withstanding invasions, it is also known as “The City of a Thousand Sieges” and once you start learning about its history, you will be amazed.
If you’re in Catalonia and passing through Barcelona but would like to do check out some non-touristy places and attractions, check out our list of unusual things to do in Barcelona.
Finally, we round up this list of underrated cities in Spain with Mahon. Located just off of Spain’s Mediterranean Coast, the island of Menorca has been living in the shadow of Mallorca and Ibiza for centuries. Even its name (Menorca) translates to “minor” but this has its own advantages too. In contrast to the vibrant nightlife and parties of Ibiza and Mallorca, Menorca offers a peaceful getaway to a beautiful city with pristine beaches and spectacular nature.
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Did you ever visit Spain? Which are some of your favorite destinations in Spain? Do you agree with our list of the most underrated cities in Spain? Let us know in the comments below!
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