Sometimes when planning our upcoming trips, one of the first things we would try to find out is if our destination has any UNESCO World Heritage Site. These sites tend to have significant cultural and historic importance to the country in which it is located. In total, there are 1, 1121 UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the world, and the majority of them are found in Europe. Italy and China have the most certified world heritage sites, with 55 each. However, our interest today is in Spain.
We are going to share with you a list of the 15 best UNESCO world heritage sites in Spain, so make sure you include them or a number of them in your bucket list. Spain has the third most number of UNESCO world heritage sites with 48, which makes it the second most sites in Europe. Below is the list of the best 15 of them.
Hanging Houses of Cuenca
This unspoiled medieval fortress city is located about 145 kilometers southeast of the capital Madrid. Its three sides are surrounded by deep chasms formed by two converging rivers. The houses in the city were built in the 15th century but more renovations followed thereafter as more houses were added, but the city itself was built by the Moors between the 6th and 12th centuries.
These houses appear to defy the law of gravity, as they cling to the edge of a deep bluff on the Cuenca Gorge. Some of them raise a high as seven stories and if you were to stand on a balcony of one of the houses, you will basically be floating over the ravine itself.
The city is geographically found in Castilla La Mancha, where the famous novel Don Quixote (1615) was set.
Cuenca was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site due to the hanging houses as well as the walls of its old city, the first-ever Gothic cathedral in the country, the medieval fortress, and other architectural structures from built between 12th and 18th centuries.
The Alhambra, Granada
Set atop a hill and overlooking the skyline of Granada, the Alhambra Palace is one of the best UNESCO world heritage sites in Spain. The Moorish-Christian fortress along with its rose-colored walls is the most visited tourist site in Spain, attracting over 2.5 million visitors annually, and it is easy to see why.
This hilltop fortress began as a small citadel before being excessively extended during the era of Nasrid. It usually raved as the most beautiful Islamic building in the whole of Europe. Alhambra, particularly its Nazaries Palace, is a perfect example of Islamic architecture, design, and craftsmanship.
Around the palace are the Generalife gardens, which have a pleasing display of patios fountains, flowers, and primeval hedges. The gardens are also a part of the world heritage site.
Historic Center of Cordoba
Originally, Cordoba, in the southern region of Spain, was a very powerful city after the Moors’ invasion in the 8th century. During their time in the Iberian Peninsula, the Moors constructed a lot of palaces and mosques, but the highlight of all is the Great Mosque, which was completed in 784, but later turned into a cathedral.
The center of Cordoba possesses a mixture of Moorish, Roman, and Christian influence, and each of these cultures has its share of the city in terms of architectural design.
The aforementioned mosque is perhaps the most visited site in the city center, thanks to its unique design of red and white archways and columns as well as a serene orange tree patio.
The City of Toledo
The scenic city of Toledo is another one of the best UNESCO world heritage sites in Spain. It is located some 73 kilometers south of the capital Madrid and sits on more than 2,000-year secrets, including the era of the Romans and the Visigothic Spain as well as the coexistence or convivencia – a rare period where Jews, Muslims, and Christians coexisted peacefully.
Today, you can find Jewish quarters, gothic cathedrals, and mosques.
Segovia aqueduct is one of the many Roman World Heritage Sites within the Spanish borders. The aqueduct is the most dominant structure at the city center of Segovia, which is located northwest of the capital.
It has some amazing history too. For instance, it has 166 arches, which were used to transport water from the River Frio, some 17 kilometers from the city center. It is because of this and many other facts that make this aqueduct one of the well-preserved Roman aqueducts on the planet.
Even most interesting is the fact that the structure is held by only gravity. It should also be noted that the aqueduct was built in the 1st century AD.
Paleolithic Cave Art of Altamira
Dating back some 35,500 years back, the cave art of Altamira were created during the period of Upper Paleolithic. The paintings, which were done using polychrome and charcoal, show handprints and animals in different shades, are well-preserved due to the depths of the caverns.
The upper side of the cave features colorful paintings of steppe bison, which is now extinct, along with horses, wild boar, and deer.
Tarragona Roman Remains
Though Spain has a number of Roman ruins, the most complete of all are located in Tarragona, the northeastern region of the country. The city used to be important to the Romans as it was where they first settled in Spain.
Today, it is listed into the UNESCO world heritage site due to its forum, the 2nd century AD amphitheater, the Roman walls, and the circus.
The structure took a whopping 130 years to be built to where it is now, which is longer than the Giza Pyramids took. But that is just up to where it is now. It is estimated that it will fully be completed somewhere in 2026, which is 100 years after its architect, Gaudi died.
The inside of the building is as magnificent as its exterior.
Palau de la Musica Catalana
Having been listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 1997, the Palau de la Musica Catalana is one of the 9 world heritage sites in Barcelona. It is one of the most standout structures in the city and offers a stark contrast with the buildings around it.
It was designed by Lluis Domenech I Montaner and is the only concert hall in this design to be named a UNESCO world heritage site.
Santiago de Compostela Old Town
Located in Coruna, the Santiago de Compostela Old Town was built in Gothic, Baroque, and Romanesque styles. The cathedral has three façades and was designed specifically to welcome the catholic pilgrims who came to worship at the tomb of St. James.
This southwest city of Spain has a total of three sites listed as UNESCO world heritage. The first one is the General Archives of the Indies. The building houses more than 43,000 documents about the stock exchange of ancient city merchants.
The second UNESCO world heritage site is the Royal Alcazar, which carries the crown of the oldest palace in Europe still in use. The palace and its beautiful gardens have featured in a number of films over the years.
Last but not least, Seville Cathedral and Giralda, the second-largest cathedral on earth, is another heritage site in the city of Seville. It was built in the 15th century and its spire can be seen from every corner of the city.
Teide National Park, Tenerife
Away from the architectural structures, Teide National Park is another heritage site in Spain. It is known for its Teide-Pico Viejo stratovolcano, which raises to 3,718 meters high, making it highest peak in Spain.
When measured from the ocean bed, it is the third-largest volcanic structure in the world.
Tower of Hercules, A Coruna
Located at the entrance of the port of A Coruna is the Hercules lighthouse. It was built in the 1st century AD and named Farum Brigantium by the Romans. It was renamed in the 20th century and today, it is the only Greco-Roman lighthouse to have preserved its structural design and continued to be used to this day.
Biodiversity and Culture, Ibiza
The entire of Balearic Island in Ibiza is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its culture and biodiversity. It is considered the perfect example of the interaction between coastal and marine life. This side of the island offers an interesting contrast to the wild side of Ibiza which is known for parties.
Avila Old Town
Widely known for its medieval walls, Avila was originally built in the 11th century to keep the region away from the Moors. Its walls are considered the most complete medieval city walls in Spain.