Like most countries, Spain is divided into different areas or regions. The regions of Spain are very diverse and interesting. Some you may have visited or at least heard of, some you probably wont know much about. This article will give you a quick and simple guide to all of Spain’s regions.
There is a lot of history, conflict and politics within Spain. We won’t be going into that here, I want to focus on all the positive things that each area of Spain offers to visitors.
This guide will cover the main tourist attractions, the terrain, weather, local traditions and food within each regions of Spain. Helping you plan your travels to Spain or research for your holiday. It’s a quick guide because it will be just a few paragraphs on each region.
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I say this a lot but I love how each region of Spain is so different to the next. It makes every area a unique and exciting place to explore.
There are 17 different regions of Spain, officially called the autonomous communities of Spain. Each community is then divided into provinces. This guide will help you to quickly learn a little about each and understand how and why each region of Spain is so different.
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The 17 regions of Spain
- Basque Country
- Navarra (Navarre)
- La Rioja
- Catalunya (Catalonia)
- Castilla y León (Castille & Leon)
- Castilla la Mancha
- Valenciana (Valencia)
- Andalucía (Andalusia)
- Islas Baleares (Balearic Islands)
- Islas Canarias (Canary Islands)
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Galicia is in the area known as “Green Spain” and has beautiful lush green coastline. The coastal landscape reminds me of Ireland or Cornwall and Galicia has some Celtic roots.
It’s probably most famous for the Cathedral in its main city Santiago de Compostela, as it holds the shrine of Saint James. Anyone taking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage will be heading here. There are many routes to take and it’s very popular for religious reasons and as a hiking and cycling trail.
The best seafood in Spain comes from Galicia so it’s the perfect place to indulge in delicious seafood tapas. A particular local delicacy are goose barnacles called percebes and pulpo a la Gallega. The local wine region Rías Baixas creates some amazing Albarino wines.
The beaches on Galicia are soft sandy coves, backed by grassy dunes and rugged woodland. Carnota and Catedrais in particular are quite idyllic. The Summer is a great time to hit the beach here as there is less chance of rain during July & August. It does get busy with locals but not so many overseas tourists venture here. The sea may be a little colder than expected, as this is the Atlantic ocean.
The most well-known towns in Asturias are Oviedo and Gijón. Rainfall is high in this area but as such, it’s one of the greenest part of Spain. Vast stretches of green fields with grazing livestock are the kind of views you can expect in this region.
The Cantabrian mountains lie to the south providing some amazing areas for climbing, walking and caving. Lovely unspoiled beaches also line the coast, little coves of clear turquoise water hide below the dramatic cliff drop. The best beaches are Playa de Silenco and Cuevas del Mar.
In the past Asturias was known for its industrial production of steel and coal mining but nowadays fishing and milk farming are the main local produce. Also, apple groves are in abundance here and they make a very good quality natural cider or sidra. Its tradition to pour the cider in a particular way, holding the bottle above head height so that it, pours in one long vertical line. The cider splashes and fizzes into the glass and its customary to splash a little on the floor.
Cantabria is famous for its cave paintings, the cave of Altamira was the first European cave to show pre-historic drawings. The Cantabrian mountains cover most of the land mass of this region and snow is frequent in high areas. There are many rivers that run through the valleys and into each of the surrounding seas.
The main city is Santander on the Bay of Biscay. A port city that is home to the famous worldwide bank. The temperatures and sunshine hours here are much lower than the rest of Spain and more comparable to Paris or London. The city is a hub of local activity with many fiestas throughout the year.
There are 7 national parks in Cantabria. Woods, grass and marshland all given special nature reserve protection. As with other areas of “Green Spain” the seas provide great quality fresh seafood. A typical local Cantabrian dish is long strips of deep fried squid called rabas.
4. Basque Country
The two big cities to visit in the Basque region are Bilbao and San Sebastian. Both are awesome cities and very much worth visiting. Don’t be put off by the high chance of rain, or try to visit in the summer months, when the rest of Spain can become quite unbearable.
The main sights to see in Bilbao are the Guggenheim museum and Maritime museum. It’s an industrial port surrounded by green mountains that’s been revitalised by modern architecture and art. Across the bay in San Sebastian you’ll find impressive beaches, harbours full of sail boats and a choice of high-quality restaurants.
This area of Spain is known for its innovative cuisine and many renowned professional chefs have restaurants here. Basque is also famous for the pinchos or pintxos served in bars. This is small portions of meat, fish or vegetables served on top of a piece of bread. You will see pinchos across Spain but the Basque region does the finest offering.
Basque Country was given is own nationality within Spain and residents speak Basque, a local language also known as Euskera.
5. Navarra (Navarre)
A more inland area of Northern Spain, the Navarra or Navarre in English, is mostly dominated by the Pyrenees mountains. Its famous for being the home of the Pamplona Bull race with happens yearly as part of the San Fermin festival. The seemingly crazy ritual of running in front of a group of live cattle, while wearing a white shirt and red neck-scarf. The running of the bull’s fiesta attracts big crowds every year and is a very important tradition in this area.
Navarre is said to lead the way in Europe for renewable energy technology and with their wind farms, water turbines and biomass plants. Farming is a big industry and milk, wool, wood, wheat and tomatoes are all produced here.
6. La Rioja
There are over 500 wineries in La Rioja region and this is the area where most of Spain’s red wine comes from. The area is covered in rich groves of various trees, flora and fauna and the hills are full of vast vineyards. The wine produced here is exported across Europe, to USA and Canada.
It’s said that dinosaur footprints were found in in the rocks of La Rioja. And that the first ever written word of the Spanish language were in La Rioja. The capital Logroño is full of history and architecture from the Middle Ages.
The capital of Aragon is Zarragoza, a vibrant city where more than half of the regions inhabitants live. This region of Spain borders France and encompasses the highest part of the Pyrenees and Spain’s largest river, the Ebro.
The irregularity of rains results in alternating dry and wet seasons. Lush pastures mean that lamb and beef are typical cuisine here. Also rainbow trout and crab are local delicacies along with a selection of sweets.
In Zarragoza there are remains of old Roman walls, a castle plus some Visigothic architecture. There is an awful lot of history and Spanish culture hidden here.
8. Catalunya (Catalonia)
Catalunya or Catalonia in English is known for its amazing beaches. The coast here benefits from a warm Mediterranean climate and welcomes many summer holidaymakers. The Costa Brava in particular has gorgeous coves of turquoise waters that are very inviting for swimming. And the stretches of long sandy beach on the Costa Dorada are perfect for tourists. There are many great holiday resorts to choose from in Catalunya and some lovely rental properties.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya and is the most visited city in Spain. It has a huge international airport, many harbours and a large cruise and shipping port. It’s also very well connected by train and road with the rest of Spain.
The most iconic sights to see in Barcelona are the work of Gaudi, the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Vicens to name a few. The close proximity to the beach makes this vibrant and bustling city a great city break. The world famous football club FC Barcelona are based here and tours of the Camp Nou stadium are very popular.
Locals speak Catalan and many are fighting for independence from Spain and for this area to be recognised as their own country. There are many Catalan customs and traditions that are kept alive today such as Castell human towers and Sardana dancing. A typically local dish is bread or toast topped with crushed tomato, olive oil and salt. It’s a very popular snack or breakfast. The delicious Spanish sparkling wine Cava is mostly produced in Catalunya.
9. Castilla y León (Castille & León)
An inland region with no access to the sea Castilla y León covers a large area with many historic cities and towns.
This region holds 60% of Spain’s heritage sites and the famous historical cities of Segovia, Avila, Salamanca and Burgos are all here. Castilla y León is regarded as having the largest collection or Romanesque art in the World. Spain has 46 World Heritage sites and 8 of them are in this region. Making it a wonderful area to explore if you are interested in history or architecture.
The landscape is dry and arid and almost surrounded by mountains, rainfall is scarce in the lower plains. Winters here are long and cold and summers are short and hot. The Camino de Santiago routes also run through here, so it does get quite busy with travellers passing through on their pilgrimage.
This area is home to the Iberian wild wolf, lynx, brown bear, ibex and many other interesting animals that live in the mountains and scrubland. Wheat, barley, oats and other similar crops are grown here. Wine production, sunflower oil and livestock are other local industries. Local foods fit the Medieval feel, with suckling pig, blood sausages and young roast lamb mostly on the menu.
Located almost at the centre of the country, it’s one of the most populous areas. Even though it’s a big, built-up city there are lots of surrounding areas of natural landscape. Madrid city is the Capital city of Spain and where Government meetings are mostly held.
This region has hot summers and very cold winters, due to its high altitude. Madrid is between 600-1,000 metres above sea level across the region. The main sights to visit here are the Royal Palace, the art galleries and many museums such Reina Sofia and Prado. Plus, the 2 big green spaces Retiro Park and Casa de Campo. The nearby historical landmarks of El Escorial, Alcala de Henares and Aranjuez are easily accessed by public transport. The world famous Real Madrid football club are based here and you can visit the Santiago Bernabeu stadium.
Madrid airport and its 2 major train stations connect the city well making travel to Madrid simple from most worldwide destinations. The city is vibrant with nightlife, gastronomy options and shopping facilities making it a very popular city break location. Day trips are easy to the surrounding regions and the high-speed train connects to all other Spanish cities.
Local food are hearty stews of sausage, chickpea and vegetables and the beer and tapa bar culture is strong here.
11. Castilla la Mancha
The capital of Castilla la Mancha region is Toledo, a very popular tourist destination that’s within easy reach of Madrid city. Toledo is known as the city of three cultures, as it celebrates it’s Christian, Muslim and Jewish past. It’s a charming city full of history and culture, with many museums and galleries to explore.
Another iconic sight in this area are the old windmills in Consuegra. Castilla la Mancha is one of the biggest regions in Spain but is sparsely populated with vast plains between each city. Wheat, grapes and olives are all cultivated here. It’s common for tourists to book farm homestays in this area.
The delicious Spanish cheese Manchego, is produced in Castilla la Mancha and it goes lovely with the local wine. Sheep, goat and rabbit are eaten locally as well as salt-cod.
12. Valenciana (Valencia)
Valenciana region is on the South East coast of Spain and is a very diverse area. The Capital city is Valencia, which is the 3rd biggest city in the country. The city offers beaches, as well as a historic old town full of character and great architecture. If you prefer to admire modern design head to the famous City of Arts and Science which is a 20 min walk from the centre. There is lots to do here including exploring museums, arts galleries and an impressive aquarium.
The region enjoys a lovely climate of short winters and long hot summers, so it’s perfect for a beach holiday. Down on the Costa Blanca there are many famous holiday resorts like, Denia, Javea and Benidorm all easy reach from Alicante airport. Inland there are huge areas of marshland and lagoons full of nature and wildlife.
Valenciana is home of paella and the traditional version of the dish with chicken on the bone, chunks of rabbit, green beans and white beans is enjoyed across the region. Another local delicacy is horchata y fartons a sweet, cold milky drink with soft bread cakes.
The port of Valencia is one of the biggest in Europe and exports include foods, drinks, ceramics, textiles. A number of famous festival are held in this region such Fallas and Tomatina plus major sporting events like the European Formula One Grand Prix and Moto GP races.
Murcia is most known for its fantastic beaches. The soft white sand of the Costa Calida is a big draw for holidaymakers. The areas micro-climate means all-year round high temperatures. The most popular spots are in Aguilas and Cartegena.
The capital city of the Region is Murcia, inland from the coast it’s a bustling University town with lots of original architecture. There are many Gothic and Baroque style buildings and lovely plazas and pedestrian streets.
The region has a large area of green mountains and a huges fields and orchards. There is an amazing salt lagoon called Mar Menor that attracts migrating birds, including flamingos. Separated from the sea by a strip of land known as La Manga, which is busy with hotels, shops and restaurants. Aerial views of this area look more like Dubai then Spain.
Extremadura is the Western region bordering Portugal. The main cities are Merida, Badajoz and Cáceres. Caceres is often hailed as one of the prettiest cities in Spain or as one of its best kept secrets. Like most Spanish cities its full of Roman buildings, all beautifully restored and perfect for photography lovers. Being that bit further from the coast and the major Spanish Cities it’s a lot less busy and touristy.
Merida has an iconic roman amphitheatre that is still used today plus the remains of an aqueduct and other roman ruins. Badajoz has more of a Moorish look with its big open plazas and a grand castle.
This is a large region with many mountainous parts. It’s generally a very dry area with very hot summers and often drought. There are two big wildlife and nature parks in this area. Wild black Iberian pigs roam here and provide the high-quality meat that makes jamón iberico.
15. Andalucía (Andalusia)
Andalucía, spelt with an S in English, is the most populous region of Spain and it encompasses some of the most famous cities and beaches. Seville, Granada, Malaga and Cordoba all lie in this region and are each wonderful Spanish cities in their own right.
The capital of Andalucía is Seville, it’s Alcazar, Plaza de España and Cathedral are all very big tourist attractions. The region has Arabic roots and throughout history many cultures and religions have influenced this area, leaving a mix of architectural styles. The Alhambra in Granada, Mosque of Cordoba and bridge in Ronda are just a few.
The iconic white wash villages originate from Andalucía as well as the famous Spanish flamenco music and dance and bullfighting. This all gives the region a very strong identity and is what the wider World have come to imagine when they think of Spain.
Its gets very hot here with Granada and Seville regularly recording the highest summer temperatures in mainland Spain. A series of mountain ranges run through Andalucia, combined with the heat and coastal winds this creates many micro climates across the region. It’s a very bio diverse area and has a number of protected parks and unique attractions.
This region has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline and is divided into the Costa del Sol, Costa de la Luz, Costa Tropical and Costa Almeria. Southern Spain is known for its golden sandy beaches, long hot summers and cool refreshing waters. Each Costa is dotted with holiday resorts, tourist attractions and busy towns that draw in lots of holidaymakers. Some of the most famous are Cadiz, Tarifa, Marbella, Fuengirola, Nerja, Mojacar.
Local food is mostly seafood based with lots of fish and shellfish coming in from the coast. On the beaches here its cooked espeto style which is barbequed on a wooden skewer over hot coals. Sherry and wines are produced in Jerez and the cold tomato soup gazpacho is very popular here.
16. Islas Baleares (Balearic islands)
Islas Baleares known as the Balearic Islands in English is the collection of islands off the East coast of Spain in the Western Mediterranean Sea. The four most famous and biggest islands are Ibiza, Menora, Mallorca and Formentera.
They are all very popular as holiday destinations due to the lovely summer weather and gorgeous beaches. You could pigeon-hole Ibiza as the party island, Majorca as family friendly, Menorca as the quiet island and Formentera as the nature escape. Look a little deeper and you’ll see that each island has more to offer then appears at first glance. But without doubt they are all perfect holiday locations. From the fishing villages and nature trails to the water parks and night clubs, there is something for everyone to enjoy.
There are many local dishes from the Islas Baleares such as local cheeses, pastries and sausages. Lobster stew is a popular dish in Menorca and seafood is eaten across all the islands.
17. Islas Canarias (Canary Islands)
Another collection of islands, the Islas Canarias known as Canary Islands in English are further south of mainland Spain. Located in the Atlantic Ocean they are west of Africa. The seven main islands are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro.
The location of the Islas Canarias means they get all-year round sun and are a great winter sun destination. Holidaymakers head here summer, through winter to bask in the sunshine on the beautiful beaches and enjoy the many natural attractions. Some of the most important natural attractions here are Maspalomas in Gran Canaria and Mount Teide in Tenerife.
With a fair amount of rainfall across the islands, there are many lush green areas and national parks. It can also get very windy and many surfing and wind surfing events are held on Fuerteventura. The variation in terrain is quite stunning from black rock areas of volcanic activity to pure white stretches of sand dunes. The Canary islands are known for their natural beauty as well as the many holiday resorts and towns catering to tourists needs. Local foods include papas arrugadas, roast lamb and goat and fish.
I hope that you found this guide to the different regions of Spain interesting or useful research for your travel plans. Spain is a very unique country and there are many unique sights and activities here. It’s a wonderful country and I encourage everyone to come and visit more then once!
There are also many unique things to see and do in Spain. Take a look at this great article by Passport Symphony blog showcasing the things that you can only experience in Spain.
If you are visiting Spain soon you might like to read more of Seeking the Spanish Sun guides and information…
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