Hot-blooded Spain is the fieriest sibling in the Mediterranean. Cruisers love flocking to its sandy, sun-soaked shores, to dine on tapas, drink Rioja and sangria, explore historic and cosmopolitan cities and enjoy the laid-back vibe. Spain’s Mediterranean coast is dotted with some of the most exciting cruise ports in the world, Barcelona, Valencia and Palma de Majorca to name a few. But there’s also northern Spain on the shores of the Bay of Biscay, where cultural hotspot Bilbao – brimming with museums and its own Guggenheim – and food lover’s paradise San Sebastián can be found. Spain is also the proud owner of the paradise Balearic Islands, the archipelago home of the world’s dance capital Ibiza, beachy Majorca and laid-back Menorca.
Why cruise Spain
Spain is very popular cruise destination, thanks to it sprawling, golden coastline (fringing both the Mediterranean and Atlantic) and its paradise Balearic Islands archipelago. Passengers are able to cruise Spain's Atlantic coastline, home to cultural hub Bilbao and the food-lovers' paradise that is San Sebastián, or sail to ports on the warm shores of the Mediterranean, like cruise hub Barcelona, Valencia, Seville and Malaga. The Balearics are also popular, with ports like Palma de Majorca, Mahón and the world's party capital, Ibiza. Most major cruise lines sail to Spain, from giants like Royal Caribbean, Princess Cruises, MSC Cruises and P&O Cruises through to smaller, more intimate, cruise lines like Tauck, Azamara, Windstar Cruises, Viking and Saga. For six-star luxury, there's Silversea, Seabourn and Crystal Cruises, to name a few.
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Best places to visit in Spain
The party never stops in Barcelona the capital of Catalonia fringed by warm Mediterranean waters and green hills carpeted with cava vineyards. Barcelona effortlessly combines history and culture with nightlife and a beachy feel, one of the oldest cities in Europe bursting with museums and many Gaudi architectural treasures. Cruise here to see Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, crazy Park Guell and modernist Casa Mila, and stroll down the leafy boulevard Las Ramblas with its tapas bars and shops. Its beach may be manmade, but it’s sandy, has great amenities and is perfect for unwinding after a day of shopping, eating and architecture spotting (though it does get pretty crowded).
Málaga often gets lumped in the same box as resort-packed shores of the Costa del Sol, but the city is actually beautiful, authentic and full of soul. Located on the southern coast of Spain, Málaga is a mix of modern high rises lining golden sand beaches and Moorish and Renaissance buildings paying homage to the city’s fascinating and multicultural history. Learn about Spain’s Islamic past at the clifftop Alcazaba fortress palace and see how 18th-century locals lived at the Museo del Vidrio – an intriguing museum set in a lovely old house. As the birthplace of Picasso, make sure to visit the world-famous Picasso museum and Jardines Picasso, before heading to the waterfront for trendy seafood restaurants and wine bars.
Surrounded almost entirely by water, Cádiz is a playground for history buffs, seafood lovers and sun worshippers. Providing the inspiration for Spanish colonised cities in the Americas, the sun-bleached Andalusian port is one of the oldest settlements in Europe, and the result is an eclectic mix of Arabic forts, brooding cathedrals and lively plazas. Along with its gastronomic Old Town, the ancient relic-packed Museo de Cádiz is well worth seeing, and if you’re lucky enough to visit in February, the wacky Carnival of Cádiz is one of the most famous in the world, bursting with colour, satire and lasting for 10 days.
Valencia is one of Spain’s most magnificent cities and the third largest behind Madrid and Barcelona. The seaside metropolis has a thriving cultural, drinking and dining scene – and has the birthplace of paella you can imagine the locals take things seriously. Valencia is famous for its City of Arts and Sciences, a space-age complex surrounded by reflecting pools with planetarium, huge aquarium and interactive museum. While the City of Arts and Science is seriously futuristic, you can see a glimpse of old Valencia in the city’s old quarter, 15th-century Unesco La Lonja de la Seda and gothic Valencia Cathedral. The city also has a fantastic stretch of sandy beach and is surrounded by lovely parks and botanic gardens.
On north in the Atlantic Bay of Biscay. Easily accessed from Bilbao port is San Sebastián, a Basque resort city-cum-food lover's paradise, where pintxos bars and Michelin-starred restaurants litter its narrow gothic streets. Nestled within green hills and lined by the golden sands of La Concha – once voted Europe’s best beach – the city is packed with old-world charm, and a visit to its 18th-century Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro is a must for any architecture fiend. Aside from pintxos, one of the city’s best gastronomic delights lies at La Viña bar, where locals flock to eat its famous burnt cheesecake.
As the largest island in the sun-bleached Balearic archipelago, Majorca is a playground for holidaymakers, with azure waters, vibrant ports and otherworldly rugged scenery. At the heart is its capital Palma, dominated by the Gothic Palma Cathedral. Its leafy and candy-coloured boulevards are lined with tiny tapas bars, art museums like the Fundación Pilar i Joan Miró and trendy boutiques, and its expansive harbour is packed with the freshest seafood cafes. However, Majorca’s star beaches lie outside the city and its nearby resorts. Head east for hidden sandy coves like Calo des Moro and the mystical Caves of Drach with endless piercing stalactites and turquoise underground lakes.
The tiny island of Ibiza is known the world over for one thing, and that’s having a good time. But away from the bar-lined coastline of Playa d'En Bossa you’ll find the White Isle sways to a less chaotic beat. In fact, Ibiza is home to luscious pine forests and has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, powder soft and fringed by pale blue waters dotted with yachts. Its capital, white-washed Ibiza Old Town is a Unesco World Heritage Site, with cobbled streets, a gothic cathedral, castle and fascinating Roman, Byzantine, Arabic and Spanish history. Come by day for sun-drenched tranquillity, and simply sail away as the night closes in and the tempo speeds up.
Menorca sways to a more laid-back beat than its sister islands, famous for Mahón cheese, gin, sobrassada and mayonnaise, but also for being a British colony. Cruise ship dock in Mahón, the lively Anglo-Spanish capital on the southeastern coast with narrow streets hiding tapas bars and squares. From Mahón it’s an easy drive to the sprawling ruins of British fortress La Mola, 18th-century Fort Marlborough and plenty of sandy beaches. Being Balearic, Menorca has a backdrop of craggy vegetation and clifftops plunging into Caribbean-like seas, and one of the island’s most famous venues is perched on one of these cliffs. Housed in caves and overlooking the ocean Cova d'en Xoroi is the ultimate sundowner spot, cocktail bar by day and party venue by night.
Best things to do in Spain
Catch a flamenco show
Flamenco heats up the streets of southern Spain, where impromptu street performances can happen and there are plenty of flamenco bars. Make sure to check it out if in Seville, Malaga or somewhere south.
Discover Catalan Modernism
Gaudi is the most famous Catalan modernist, known for the Sagrada Familia, and there’s a host of other Modernism to explore beyond Gaudi in Barcelona, like Josep Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller and the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site.
Go wine tasting
Barcelona has its cava vineyards and Bilbao is only an hour and a half from the famous Rioja wine region. Most ports in Spain are near a winery or two and it’s worth booking a tasting and tour to indulge on delicious Spanish wine.
Find a Spanish festival
The Spaniards love their festivals and you’ll find them around the country all year round. Bunol where the world-famous La Tomatina festival is held in August is just a 40-minute drive from Valencia
Hit the beach
Spain has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, especially on the Balearic Islands where sands are white and waters and clear and warm. Escape the city and port and head to a secret cove for a day.
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