Thank you very much, thanks. I'm Rick Steves and
thank you for coming to this talk. I'd like to share with
you my favorite–about an hour or so of
information on Spain, and I want to welcome everybody who's was
here in person, and also welcome all of the people who are viewing on the streaming
presentation of this talk. This is our Spring Festival, and we've got lots
of great classes going on, and it's just fun to be able to spend four months
a year traveling.
Make a lot of mistakes, take a lot of notes, come home and share
our favorite discoveries. So we'll get right into Spain here. And you've got
the handout that lists all the places we're talking about. And I do want
to remind you when you're thinking about Spain, we are thinking
about a very–a country that is vast, and a
country that is diverse.
I want to give you just a quick kind of
geographic run down before we get into some specifics on how to travel in Spain,
and then I want to talk about the highlights from a sightseeing point of
view. But when we look at the map of Spain, of course Spain is cut off from
Europe by the Pyrenees Mountains. And that way it kind of blocks it from a lot
of history in a lot of ways. I got a degree in European history, but in so
many cases it doesn't go over the Pyrenees Mountains.
The Pyrenees are
wonderful place to travel these days, and you've got on one end Basque country.
Right where Spain hits France is the region where people speak Basque, it's a
ethnic region, very proud and and quite autonomous. And on the other end, where
the Pyrenees Mountains hit the Mediterranean, you've got Catalunya. And
this is an industrial powerhouse in Spain. And these days as Europe is
uniting, the regions have more flexibility and freedom to wave their
flags, and Catalunyian, we're going to learn in this talk, has been booming as a
culture and as a language.
And of course the powerhouse over there is Barcelona.
In the center of Spain we have Madrid, one hour north of Toledo, which is the
historic capital of Spain, and nearby are a number of good side-trips, including
Segovia in Salamanca. Traveling about six hours or four hours, depending on the
speedier train south, you come to Andaluca. And that is our quintessential
image of Spain, I think. And Andaluca has three great cities, Crdoba, Granada,
We'll see all of that. We got the most touristy coast in that
corner of the world, the Costa Del Sol, we'll check that out. And from Gibraltar,
on the very south tip of Spain, you can take a boat ride for an hour and go to
Morocco. So you can see there's a lot of variety in Spain, you've got some
mountains down here, with some sort of atmospheric, and picturesque hilltowns,
whitewashed hill towns, we'll check that out.
And then in the far northwest of
Spain, just across the water from Ireland, is a Celtic region called Galicia. That's
the destination of Camino de Santiago. The capital there is Santiago
de Compostela, and we'll check that out with the pilgrims as they arrive on
their trek that goes all the way from the Pyrenees Mountains to that northwest
corner of Spain. One of the longest stable borders in all of Europe is the
border between Spain and Portugal.
And these are distinct countries. The
Portuguese are proud of their culture, and it is sort of a dead end in a lot of
ways that geographically, and a lot of people don't get past Madrid, but if you
get as far as Spain, remember you're very close to Portugal. I was just over in
Sevilla in Andaluca, and rented a car in Sevilla, and just drove for an hour and I
was in Portugal. And it's a huge opportunity to enjoy some variety, to
enjoy a much less crowded beach resort, and so on.
So when you think about Spain,
also think about Portugal. So on this talk, I believe we're going to start in
Barcelona, and then we're gonna head over to the center around Madrid, and then
scoot on down to the south, little side trip in Morocco, and then we'll finish
off in the north in Basque country and in Galicia. We think of Spain as a place
of the fun in the sun on the beach, and that's what most Europeans do. Many
Europeans to go ahead all the way down to Spain looking not for a change in
culture, but for a change in weather.
And that is one dimension of Spain, but I
don't go to Spain for fun in the sun, I. Go to Spain for the culture, and for the
history, and for the people, and for the food. When you think about the story of
Spain, its many levels, it goes back obviously even before Roman times. But
from a sightseeing point of view, there's plenty of Roman sites in Spain.
and time again you're going to see buildings that were Roman, built on a
foundation of Roman ruins, and then you had the Moorish, and then you've
got the Christian conquistadors, and then the modern world.
There's all of these levels. This is in Segovia, where you've got a
Roman aqueduct brought into the people of Segovia 2,000 years ago by conquering
conquering Romans. Of course when you're going to Spain, you're always going to be
hearing about the Moors. The Moors swept in from Africa, Mohamed came in the
seventh century, established Islam, and that religion spread like wildfire
across the map.
And today every–five times a day there's a global wave of praise,
with the call of prayer going all the way from Malaysia to Morocco. And in 711,
the Moors, the Muslim Moors swept in from Africa into Spain, and they conquered
Spain, and they even moved well into France. For the next many centuries,
Europe was united in trying to push the Moors back out. That was called the
The Moors, being the enemies of the Christians, don't get a very good
shake from our point of view, but when you look at the Moors in an unbiased
kinda way, it was a very elegant society, highly cultured. In a lot of ways, the
greatness of Ancient Europe was lost to Europe in the Dark Ages, absorbed into
Islam, and given back to Spain and Europe through the Moors when they came in. And
you will find lots of incredible Moorish accomplishments and examples of their
culture when you go to, especially, southern Spain. We'll be talking about the
Moorish time and that distinct Muslim style of aesthetics.
Now a big part of
Spanish history is pushing the Moors back out, the Reconquista. You can imagine
how Europe was all excited about that. And when you see a place called "de la
Frontera," and there's a lot of towns called "so-and-so de la Frontera." Arcos
de la Frontera, Vejer de la Frontera, and so on, that is a town that was on the
frontier. They pushed the Moors out, they planted the flag, "this is Christian now,"
and it's on the frontier, assuming that this is the frontier of the Muslim Moor
south, and then pretty soon "de la Frontera" was embedded in reconquered
Spain, and it's no longer on the frontier, but it still has that name.
built during that period. When Spain was united, back Christian again, and Isabel
and Ferdinand married their kingdoms together. You've got Spain being the
sort of the celebrator and defender of the Catholic faith, the richest and most
powerful country in Europe, in part because of all that discovers and all
the golden riches they brought in, and the El Escorial was the sort of symbolic
headquarters of the Inquisition. And this was Counter-Reformation in the 1500s
and 1600s, and when you travel you'll see a lot of that
Counter-Reformation stern, proud, political Catholicism in Europe coming
out of the Spanish royalty.
And remember the biggest war in Europe in the 1600s
was the Hundred Years War. I think it finished in 1648. After
the Reformation, Martin Luther 1517, all
sorts of chaos after that because Catholic no longer was
universal. Spain, being the self-appointed defender of the Catholic Church, loved
nothing more than to go to Germany and tromp on Protestant.
They had the money,
they had the wherewithal, they had the political and economic reason to defend-
-and the faith I suppose, to defend the Catholic notion of Christianity. And it
was considered by a lot of people the First World War. Almost all the nations
in Europe were involved, and Spain was certainly a big player in that. Not
fought on Spanish soil as much, but Spain's interest in the rest of Europe,
back when a few families really ran the whole show, and one of the biggest was
the royalty in Spain.
Lots of money, lots of power, lots of passion lots of
creative people, lots of competition, that means lots of great art. And Spain really
is underappreciated when it comes to art. And when you go to Spain I challenge you to
think of it with the same enthusiasm and gusto you would think of Italy. We
all love Caravaggio, and Botticelli, and Rafael.
Find the Caravaggios and
Botticellis of Spain in your travels, and it'll behoove you. You've got
Velasquez, you've got Goya, you've got El Greco, much, much more worth checking out.
And you've got the sugary, over-the-top, Catholic propaganda artists like Murillo,
painting all sorts of Madonnas and children, and sculpting Madonnas and
children. And they're–today you've got the galleries filled with great art, and
you've also got festivals. Every time I go to Spain
there's festivals bursting out all over the place.
When I'm filming in Spain, we're trying to focus on filming a
dinner, suddenly there's a big parade outside
and I just wish I had three cameramen, you know.
You just–there's things
happening all around you. When you get into town, make it standard operating
procedure to ask, "what's going on tonight, is there anything happening?" There's all
sorts of festivals. They feel impromptu, but they're part of this whole beautiful
culture, this vibrant culture in the streets that you find in Spain.
Springtime especially, around Easter and April Fair, all over southern Spain
you've got great stuff going on. The Catholic Church is very strong in Spain,
and a lot of your sightseeing will involve abbeys, and monasteries, and
convents, and beautiful sweets cooked by nuns that have lots of egg yolks
left over, because they starch the sheets with egg whites.
Tour guide tips. You
learn about that when you travel in Spain. Now Spain had a very difficult
20th century with their Civil War, and it was, you know, a decade before WWII.
And it was a horrific thing, and today there's a lot of scars left over
from that Civil War. Every country has baggage, Spain has Civil War baggage,
Franco baggage, and when you travel to Spain you'll see lots of remnants of
And the more you know about Franco and the Civil War, the more you'll
be able to clue into this stuff, which sometimes is a little bit subtle, but it
behooves you to know that. If you go to a Subway sandwich shop in Madrid, or
the Spanish equivalent, you're likely to find four languages on the menu. And
they're all Spanish languages. This wouldn't have happened a generation ago,
but now as Europe is uniting, there's a celebration of regions and ethnic
And when you go–this is an ATM. Machine for instance in Barcelona. And
the top button would be Catalan for the cat–people of Catalunya, opposite that is
Espaol, for most Spanish people, the next button on the left is Galego for
the Celtic people in northwestern Spain, and then opposite that is Euskara, for the
Basque people, alright. So it's important to remember
they've got four real languages, not museum languages, real languages being
spoken in Spain today.
One of the great ways to enjoy just the energy of Spain is to be out during the paseo. All across
the Mediterranean, this is a very important tip. And I–you need to take a
siesta in the afternoon if you have to, like the locals, and the evening, when the
sun goes down, people have made their money, everybody's together, it's a
multi-generational festival. It's out in the streets, strolling, be there.
standard operating procedure when you check into the hotel, ask, "where do people 'paseo'?"
Get it written on the map. And they'll circle where the people all stroll.
And then you go, and the fun thing is, all the different generations are out. It's in–in Salamanca for instance,
the main square, my favorite Spain in– square in all of Spain,
it's a big Plaza Mayor, that's what they
all have, is this big square, main central sq–meeting place
for the community. The men circulate cou–clockwise, the women circulate
counterclockwise, everybody's checking out everybody, the old ladies who don't
walk so well anymore are there, they're up in the windows looking down, disgusted
at how trashy the young girls are dressing this year.
It is a beautiful,
beautiful thing. And you need to be out there strolling with people, and
picking things up. Have this sense of, "I gotta do it like the local
people are doing, you know, dress like the
locals if you can," eat when the locals eat, drink
what they drink, you go to– and a lot of times it's a moveable feast,
they're going tapas hunting, you know. You go from bar to bar
eating ugly things on toothpicks and washing it down
with local wine.
I just love this scene, and it's not a
museum, you don't need a reservation, you don't need to speak the language, you
just got to be out there, rubbing shoulders with the locals as they make
the scene, cruising without cars every late afternoon and early evening with
the passeggiata. If you just want to sit and make it a spectator sport you
certainly can. I've been saying this all my life and
for my favorite things to do is just sit on the bench with the old guys, and watch
the world flow by. Now you've heard of the crisis, and of course Spain is one of
the four countries most heavily mired in debt.
Portugal, Spain, Ireland, and Greece.
And they're in for serious trouble, but that means serious
trouble if you're hoping on a retirement and you're
a worker in Spain. Or serious trouble if you run a
construction business in Spain. But as a tourist in Spain, I'll
tell you, you're going to be out on the streets in the evening and
you're wondering, "what crisis?" I've been there each year for the
last several years, and it's hard to find a place in the restaurants. So the
tourism is a little bit free of that, it's got a parallel kind of economy.
there's a lot of people going into Spain, and people are out, they're about, they're
eating, you will not feel the crisis as a traveler, except for related strikes and
marches. And there's a lot of marches and there's a lot of strikes, and that's just
part of European democracy. It's not a big deal, it's kind of fun, it's reality.
You know, a lot of American travelers just can't handle reality, you know, and
that's–and there's a place for them, that's what Orlando is for. You can go
to Orlando, there's no strikes at Orlando, everybody's happy.
But I think it's
really important that we go to Spain. And remember, when you see demonstrations
on the news, they are designed to boost viewership and so on, I mean they're just
doing what they can to get on TV, and the camera zooming right into it looks
really exciting. Don't overreact to this stuff, don't be
risky, I mean, if there's something falling apart you don't want to go there, but
generally you're going to see demonstrations in Spain from now on out,
and there's still tens of millions of people living there, having fun there,
eating, and drinking, and dancing, and doing all the festivals, just like they
always have. I will tell you though, that when times are tough, the
thieves get more aggressive.
And when times are really tough, in the
old days they would break your window at a red–at a stop sign, and
grab your purse in the backseat. That really doesn't happen anymore,
but I remember it was really tough in Spain a couple of decades ago. But still, if you're a tourist, you are
targeted by thieves. It's just common sense for a thief in
Spain to target American tourists.
Not because they're mean, but because they're
smart, it just makes sense, we've got all the
good stuff in our purses and wallets. Don't be vulnerable. You're going to see
roving bands of a lot of times families, lot of children who are trained to do
this, they're not going to mug you or knife you, they're just going to get you if
you're sloppy. Wear your money belt, button it in, leave it at your hotel, don't be paranoid, just don't be sloppy.
got so many friends who have gotten sloppy and lazy and been ripped off in
the predictable places around Spain. Ramblas in Barcelona, the Plaza Mayor in
Madrid, anytime there's a commotion, assume it's a fake commotion. If an old
lady falls down an escalator in the subway system, step back. It's probably a fake commotion.
thieves at work. If there's a pushing match on the main square, you know, it's
exciting to get in there and see what's going on. There's pockets being picked.
Shell game, people crowd around, pockets being picked. So just don't be green
You are targeted because you're a tourist. If there's two thieves in town you're gonna
meet 'em. If you know what's going on, it's not a problem. Spain has a great
abundance of hotels.
Different kinds of hotels. I've got friends who run these
hotels, I've been going to these places for 30 years, I've even got a room named
after me in one place. The Rick Steves Periodista Turistico, the grand
touristic journalist, okay, and there's my own room. Spanish people seem to be very
officious, and if they have a two-bit celebrity in town they'll have–the mayor
will be there to welcome you.
And I've got–this is my room right here, it's
in Arcos. It used to have a footboard on the bed, I-
-one of my pet peeves is foot boards. I'm 6'2" and the bed can be great, but if
it's 6'1" I'm not happy. So I.
Went back and I said, "if you're going to
name this room 'Rick Steves' it cannot have a footboard," okay, so now it
doesn't have a footboard. But when you go around Spain
you'll find a lot of funky, simple rooms– rooms like this, a lot of times
with a view of the sea, and half the price you'd find in
other places in Europe. I love the funky little family run hotels in Spain.
There's a lot of institutional kind of very efficient, and very artistic, and
stylish youth hostels, and guesthouses, and private homes, and as a
good budget travel you should find out about these. There's Airbnb, there's
couchsurfing, there's a all sorts of grades of kind of hotels, and then you
get into the fancy, government endorsed sort of historic inns, the Pousadas and
Paradores of Spain and Portugal, which you pay extra, but you're staying in a
historic place with really over-the-top service and a stuffy clientele.
all these different things that you can choose from in your travels. Do remember
that cities of Spain are quite congested with traffic, and they've got
clear signs in Spanish that say, "if you go past this line, you're
going to get a $100 ticket." Alright? And don't drive into town when
you see, "attention, there's a camera," because that probably means you can't go
in here unless you're a bus or a taxi or have a reservation at a hotel. Now if you
have a reservation at your hotel, call your hotel or email, and can confirm
the ritual here to get to your hotel with your car, even in the Old Town. I'm thinking of my
favorite hotel, for instance, in Granada, they're well within that no traffic zone,
where only taxis, and local residents, and service vehicles can go.
If you have a
genuine reservation at a hotel you're legit down there, but you've gotta drive
to the hotel, and then they have 24 hours to fill out the bookwork and report you
to the police so you won't get a ticket. It's routine,
it's a little bit nerve-racking from a tourist's point of view, but they do it
all the time. So recognize that, and be up-to-date on the downtown driving
restrictions, 'cause they can be frustrating and expensive. You don't get
the ticket on the spot, they mail it to you.
You may think, "well how do they know
who I am?" You rented a car, they know everything about you. And the car company's
not going to pay your ticket, they've got your credit card, alright.
So it's an interesting situation. When it comes
to eating, I show this photograph because this is a restaurant
at 7:30, when you might want to go to eat dinner. And if I'm researching my
guidebook, and I got all my favorite restaurants at 7:30, the staff is eating,
and it's like this, and I feel like a fool.
Don't try to eat lunch at noon or dinner at
7:30 or 8:00. Lunch is 2:00, dinner is 10:00. And when you know that, you're going
to be okay, or, what I really like about eating in Spain, is tapas. Because
frankly I don't want to eat at 10:00, you know, I've got–I'm going to be up in
the morning, and sightseeing, and everything.
I want a characteristic meal,
I want local cuisine, and what I do is, I eat in bars, and I eat tapas. This is a
whole different universe from restaurants. The food is just as good, it's just as
legit, you can sit down, you can have a menu and everything, but it is tapas.
And they're open all day long, you can eat at 5:00 and have the same service,
and you don't feel awkward. Now tapa skills are really
important, and I should mention, everything I'm talking about today
is in my Spain book.
It's really important to recognize–
obviously in this little one-hour class, I don't have time to get into all the
specifics. If you have my Spain book, this will give you five pages of phrases
and skills just for eating and tapas. It will give you all the specifics
on the different kind of hotels I was talking about, and the deal about driving
into town, and all the specifics are in this year's edition of Rick Steves' Spain.
A tip–any Spaniard knows, a good bar gives a tapa like this for free when
you buy a glass of wine. Now the tourist is going to say, "I'll have a glass of
wine, and I'll have some patatas bravas, and some peppers, and
a little bit of that calamari." Well then you're not going to get
The Spaniard will say, I'll have a glass of wine," with an expectation
of a free plate of food. After the free plate of food comes, then you say, "and can
I see the menu to order some more food," you follow me there? This, for a lot of
people, is like a light meal, and the glass of wine costs two dollars.
That's budget travel. Know your vocabulary so you get a good glass of
wine. Life is too short to have a one dollar
glass of wine in Spain.
I want to splash out for a two dollar, or if I'm in a good
mood, even a three-dollar glass of wine. You just need to know a
few words, "crianza." That's gonna–"vino tinto" is
going to get you a table wine. It's the cheapest thing you
get–it's cheaper than bottled water, really. You want to know how to get
a good wine, and if nothing else, just ask for the more expensive one.
It's for locals, and they'll pay triple
for good reason. The tapas scene is wonderful, and I just–it's this–it's–for
me, it's endlessly entertaining, and I. Love to eat, and it's so Spanish, you're
surrounded by people. Now when you- -talking about tapas.
Tapas, they don't
make a lot of money on tapas, they're little two or three dollar tiny plates.
They'd rather sell you a "racin," or a portion, or a half a "racin." These are
big plates of the tapa stuff designed for small group. If you don't know your language skills and
you ask for "jamn," you're going to get a plate of jamn instead of a tapa of jamn.
So you gotta know how to ask for it. You can look at the menu, "racines"
means big tapas. "Bocadillos" is another thing you see a lot, that is sandwiches.
And "bocadillos" is everywhere.
So know what your options are, when you go to a
restaurant you will generally have your– you sit outside, sit at the bar, sit at
the terrace, you'll have the tapas, you'll have the "racines," you have the
half "racines," you've got all these different opportunities. It's all there, and it's just fun to be
able to master that. I like it because a lot of times they'll say, right there,
what are your prices, and these would be little generally open-faced sandwiches,
and little plates of goodies, and they're just a couple of euros each. So
it can be a real fun way to have an adventure.
I like to know what my
favorite tapas are and just make that be my standard. Pimiento de Padrn is
beautiful peppers, beautifully cooked up, and there's–you can have them here but
there's nothing like having them over there, and they're sort of like peppers
roulette, one of them is very, very hot. And the Spaniards just love this. But I
just love to have a drink and a plate of peppers roulette, and it just adds a
little adventure to my day, okay.
But whatever you know that you like,
remember also, Spain celebrates its many different regions. And if you know a
little bit about Asturias, and Navarre, and Catalunya, and Basque
country, and Galicia, Andaluca, you can go to a bar and say,
"that's clearly this or that region," you know, if they pour the wine
in a theatrical way and it falls down into a copper–or no, pottery cup,
you know that would be from one part of Spain. If they've got
toothpicks and they just add up the toothpicks on the plate at the end of
the meal, that's from another part of Spain, and after a while you get the hang
of that. But each bar has its characteristic, and you need to bully up
to the counter and assert yourself, because tourists will be shoved
into the eddies and never get anywhere.
And it's just not a rude thing, it's
just the cultural thing. You gotta hold your spot at the table,
reach in there and say, "pardon," you know,
and point, and be aggressive or you'll never be served. It's not bad service,
it's just you don't speak the language so you're
at a disadvantage, and you got a muscle in there and
and get that. I like the kind of bars that have all the toothpicks because you
can just add it up.
And they come back whenever something is newly cooked,
they prance out with this new plate of stuff, and you just have to go, "yes," and
then, "yes." And then when it's all–you don't worry about the money, they don't
worry about the money, and at the end you just give–you got eight
toothpicks so you owe 'em 16 euros or
whatever, you know. So find out what the toothpick costs. And
it's just a fun situation. I think that's Basque, if it's got toothpick situation
it's a Basque bar, and Basque is famous for its gastronomic tapas.
So imagine you're
just here hanging out with people talking to the baristas there, and
you got all these different open-faced sandwiches, and little tapas, and they all
cost the same. That's a fun dinner for me. Ah, very fun,
yeah. And I've got great guides that have helped me, and on our tours we got these
wonderful Spanish guides, and they're just all into food.
With my guidebook,
you'll have what you need so you can eat your way through Spain very well. And I
do want to stress that things have gone "gastro" now. There's very high-end
gourmet ta–bars that serve gourmet tapas. Don't always just go for what's on the
table, you'll see on the chalkboard stuff that they would like to cook.
cook it in five minutes, and it's there, and it can be a gorgeous meal in in bar
food kind of price. All over Spain you've got simple, industrial-strength
cafeterias, where you can sit down and have your basic meal, and remember, you
got super cheap sandwiches to go, and so on that's Che–it's just amazing, compared
to the rest of Europe, how cheap it can be to travel in Spain. I do want to remind
you that "jamn" is the national dri–food, and you can pay–you can get a cheap
plate of ham, or you can pay triple for the "jamn ibrico." I generally don't go
top-end on many things, but when it comes to ham, order less and get the very best.
At least experience what good "jamn" is all about, okay. Because
it seems counter-intuitive, why would you pay $10 for a plate of
ham when you could get it for $3? Well because it's five times as good, the
So give it a whirl for sure. And your dessert,
traditionally, would be churros–or not
your dessert but your late-night snack or your breakfast, greasy
donuts dipped in pudding-like chocolate. "Churros con chocolate."
I just love that, mhm. Spain is getting hot.
They've moved the bullfight hours later
into the evening because it's too hot to sit in the stands in the late afternoon,
and they put canvases over the streets in southern Spain to protect people from
the heat. It is brutal in the summer. And you might want to seriously consider
traveling in shoulder season if you can. And most hotels will have air-conditioning
these days, but it's quite hot in Spain.
Also remember, you've got discount
airlines letting you fly from, you know, Galicia to Barcelona for $100. From
Barcelona down to Malaga for $100. And you can go cheaper
yet if you play the game, but I just go for
the standard–well I. Just, you know, find the reasonable
fare, but it's just so fast, and convenient, and safe to fly within Spain.
Spain also has its Ave Train System, which is one of the bullet trains of
It's like three hours now to go from Madrid down to Sevilla, and you can
stop in Crdoba on the way. That used to be an eight-hour trip. So you've
got these super-fast trains, it comes with security, Spain had a horrible–it's got
its own 9/11. They had that horrible bomb in their train system–or in their subway
system in Madrid, consequently today you've got a lot of security.
used to putting your bag through a x-ray machine to get onto an airplane, and be
thankful for that. There's a lot of soft targets, and Spain does a very good job
of its security. Driving around the countryside of Spain can
be a delight, I've never been impressed by it
being a lot of traffic, I find wide open roads, and beautiful
vistas. And remember Spain a few years ago–or a few decades
ago had no freeways at all.
Today it is laced by super freeways,
it's part of the EU. When you're in the EU, you're either a
net receiver or a net giver. Spain would be a net receiver,
they give in less they get out, they get a lot of money from the EU
to build their road system so they can be part of that big 400 million person
free trade zone, and work with France and Germany. The good news about that is,
you can drive around Spain quite well these days on the new freeways.
remember, it's hot, it can be overwhelming, you've got too much to see with too
little time, and there's–maybe there's even three or four of you in your group, taxis are a good value. Hop in a taxi. If
there's four of you especially, you should go almost everywhere by taxi. It's the same cost as a bus.
Four bus tickets, one taxi rider.
your time's worth a lot. So don't–we always
think taxis are for people who have
lots of money. I think your time is a precious resource,
so you'll find taxis, and in Spain a lot of times it's hard to flag them down, you
go to the taxi stand. It varies from town to town, but either go with the taxi
stand or flag them down, but use those taxis, as well as public transportation.
Also, getting in from airports is quite easy, every Airport that I've been to in
Spain has a convenient bus shuttle into the town center.
I'll be flying into
Barcelona in a few weeks, and I'm not even gonna take the taxi. Even if I had
all the money in the world, I'm not going to take the taxi. Four times an hour for
three dollars you got this bus that takes you right to Plaza Catalunya,
and most of your hotels are within a couple of blocks of Plaza Catalunya. So
that's the quick cheap way to get downtown.
We have a very, very popular tour program
with 35 different itineraries, all of Europe, and our Spain itinerary is one of
the most popular, and basically this is what we think is the best two weeks in
Spain. And I'm gonna take you on this tour right now in the next 15 or 20
minutes. You fly into Barcelona and then you take the train, or you fly
to Madrid. From Madrid you can side-trip to Segovia, and then go down to Toledo.
the way, the little numbers are how many nights I would spend in each spot. From
Madrid and Toledo, you head down into Andaluca and Granada for the Alhambra,
and then over to the Costa Del Sol, and stop in Ronda, the best of the hill
towns, and Arcos, a beautiful old town. And you finish with the real cultural
capital of southern Spain, Sevilla, and fly home from there, or you could take
the Ave Train in three hours back up to Madrid. But that's how I would spend two
weeks in Spain.
Of course you could spend lots, lots more time, but we've got
limited time, we Americans have the vacations in the rich world. Okay. I'm gonna whip through a bunch of
sights now, and we're going to start in Barcelona. And I spent a lot of time just
in general travel skills, because I think in Spain it's important to have these
cultural skills so you–because if you know how to order tapas, if you know how
to use the public transportation, if you know what your hotel options
are, Spain is one place where those kind of skills really,
really do make a huge difference.
Okay, Barcelona is an industrial and
economic power house. It's the cultural capital of
Catalunya, a proud region, kind of halfway between Spanish and French. They were
kept down during Franco's time, but now the people in Catalunya can speak their
language first. Their kids speak Catalunyan at home, and they learn Spanish
at school as a second language, okay.
It's an exciting time in Catalunya, and while
you're there, of course they'll speak English or Spanish, but it behooves you
to learn a few words in Catalunyan, it just endears you to the locals, if
nothing else. "Visca Catalunya." It's like viva–"viva
Espaa, visca Catalunya." Now it's Cata– Barcelona, like many cities, has an old
town, you can see in the middle here this jumble of streets, when you look at the
map. The jumble of streets is the medieval town, and then you'll see a
circular boulevard. There's always a circular boulevard circling the jumble
of streets, that was the medieval wall.
And of course in modern times, the jumble of
street stays the same so you have the congested, labyrinthian Old Town. You got
what was the bou–the circular wall now torn down, providing a Grand
Boulevard that circles the city, and then beyond that you've got the modern grid
planned town. That's how cities are all over Europe. And the grid plan town
up here is called Eixample, which means the "extension." So you have
the old medieval Gothic Quarter and then you've got the Extension.
You want to
decide where you want to kind of hang out. The Extension is elegant, and broad,
and wonderful pedestrian boulevards, the Gothic Quarter is a characteristic, and
full of beautiful little shops, and wonderful adventures, and the Ramblas is
one of the great boulevards of all of Europe. The Ramblas goes from the center,
Plaza de Catalunya, that's the sort of the Times Square of the Catalunyan people,
really, and it goes all the way down to the harbor. And that's what you would
stroll, that's a pedestrian street, the Ramblas, with the great
market halfway down.
The salty old harbor has been all fixed up after the–
they had a grand exposition, and I think a World's Fair there, and now they've got
the–what used to be an industrial wasteland is a whole series of elegant,
trendy bars, and beaches, and fun zones, that you can get on a bike and enjoy. In
fact, biking around Barcelona is more and more popular than ever before. This is the Ramblas of the sea, that
grand boulevard I mentioned goes down to the harbor, and then it actually
continues out into the sea, with lots of trendy little shops and restaurants. And
this is that strand where you've got fancy places to live, fancy places to eat, and drink, and play,
and enjoy wonderful beaches.
Wonderful beaches by the way, in Barcelona.
Barcelona is one of three or four ports in the Mediterranean where cruises start
or finish. It's interesting, you could have the greatest cruise port in the
Mediterranean, but it might not have the capacity to handle three thousand
tourists coming and going in a embarkation kind of way. Barcelona may be the biggest, and that's
where I started my cruise, and Barcelona's port is just a five minute taxi ride
from the Old Town, and it is very handy to the Old Town. If you are taking a
cruise, give yourself a few extra days before or
after in Barcelona.
It's one of the great cities in Europe, and you're really
appreciate to have that extra time. By the way, we wrote a new book–one of our
most popular new books is the Rick Steves Mediterranean Cruise Ports
guidebook, and it just retools all the existing chapters we had for all
those great cities from the country books, puts 'em together in a way that
spans the Mediterranean. Ideal for cruisers that just have one day in
Barcelona, and then one day in the co– in the the French Riviera,
and then one day in Rome, and one day in
Dubrovnik, and and so on. Now in now old Gothic Quarter, the
centerpiece is the cathedral.
And the cathedral is very historic.
And in front of the cathedral, after Mass,
it's something you'll want to check out, it's the precious,
patriotic, national sardana dance. And the traditional old–old-timers
especially, get together in this beautiful, kind of slow-moving circle
dance with music, and a lot of people gathering around. And
it's celebration of Catalunyan culture
with live music. It's free, it's after Mass on Sunday, don't
miss that while you're in Barcelona.
I. Mentioned the Ramblas, but there's a
number of wonderful shopping boulevards all through Barcelona, old Barcelona,
where you can stroll and be out with the people. As you're going down, gently down
that great Champs-lyses of Catalunya, the Ramblas, halfway down is the Boqueria.
And the Boqueria is touristy, but just vibrant, and lots of fun. In researching
my book last time I was there, I found a local style market just 15-minute walk
away, that's more typical of locals, but still, the Boqueria is
the place to go, it's the–it is your–you know how every town in America
has a great, sort of, farmer's market kind of
scene, this is one of the ultimate in Europe.
And we've got these
characters in the market. This guy's name is Juan, Juan. And he's
always got a big smile and a couple of thumbs up for
you when you drop in. He's in my book with this photograph, so
now everybody comes with the book, and he smiles and does his thumb up.
So when he
sees you, he'll give you a big smile and thumb up, and it makes a nice photograph. A
lot of people, that's what I like about our guide books, is we connect people
with people. So when you're thinking about Barcelona, remember you've got that
Extension where the broader streets are designed with broader sidewalks, even
with the corners of the buildings cut off so the intersections are octagons
instead of squares, so it has more airiness. And you can enjoy that why
you're exploring Barcelona.
And when you get into the Eixample, you'll find a
lot of wavy Art Nouveau kind of buildings. Every country around Europe has
its own Art Nouveau, that was the art from, you know, around the turn of the
last century, a little more than a hundred years old. And Art Nouveau is
this wavy, organic kind of answer to the Eiffel Tower art. The Industrial Age
brought along all this straight stuff, and some people wanted to be more curvy and
Antoni Gaud was the leading Art Nouveau guy in Barcelona and
Catalunya, and that style in Catalunya is called Modernisme. You'll find Modernisme,
and it is the, you, know it's these chimneys sort of playing volleyball with
the clouds kind of stuff, and they're all open to the public. Casa Mil is one of the most famous.
There's a whole string of these called the Rue[Block] of Discord, where every
rich guy hired a different Modernist architect, and enough of this conformity,
everyone's going to be, you know, breaking rules and and making a scene. There's a park, an entire–it was
going to be a planned retirement community but it became just
a park, called Park Gell, and it's worth going out there.
Wonderful, you know, mosaic kind of art, and then, you know, you gotta have a church
in the Modernist style, and this is the Sagrada Famlia by Antoni Gaud.
this is a work-in-progress, it's expensive to pay your admission,
it'll cost you $15 or $20, but you're contributing
to the ongoing construction. In the Middle Ages, people took
centuries to build a church. They're taking a century to build this
church, and when you get there, it really is one of the outstanding
architectural experiences in Europe. If there's any building I want to see
finished in Europe, it is the Sagrada Famlia by Antoni Gaud in Barcelona.
And you can go in there and see the guys doing the construction.
You can see them,
you know, through glass windows, doing all of their fancy architectural
work. And you can go inside now and actually worship, its consecrated, and
they are holding Masses there, and it's amazing that it's weather-tight, and it's
well on the way to becoming finished, and that's the great church
architecture of our age, really. And you can see these organic forms that
are just so delightful, when you look at it from–as Gaud did. Outside of Barcelona is the
place called Montserrat.
That's literally the "serrated mountains."
You see the mountains are jagged. We would have the Grand Tetons, they
had the Serrated Mountains, Montserrat. And that's where the soul, the
the spiritual soul of the Catalunyan people resides. Up there there's a Black
Madonna, and people have been going up there for centuries to celebrate their
faith, and their Catalunyan culture.
It was almost outlawed during Franco's
time, today it's wide open, you can get up there with pilgrims, you
can get up there with tourists, and it's a beautiful
opportunity. Monserrat. Farther north from Barcelona is Gaud
country–or Salvador Dal country, and he's the great surrealist, and you–
flamboyant promoter and so on. And you can go–in Gaud country you can go to his
home, Cadaqus, and you can go to the place where his mausoleum is.
And his mausoleum is actually turned into a museum
filled with his art.
You stand on the tomb of
Salvador Dal, surrounded by all of his edgy, you know, politically incorrect, fun
art, and it's really quite an interesting experience. This is actually
Dal's home right here. I've been to the homes of lots of dead
people over my lifetime, and this is probably the most interesting home I've
ever toured. They only let about 10 people go in every 20 minutes
because it's small and intimate, but you
go in with a guide, you have to make a reservation.
If you're interested in Dal it is
well worth the trouble.
Cadaqus, the hometown of Salvador
Dal, celebrates liberty. They've got a double dose of liberty there, and a lot
of people just really enjoy Cadaqus. His home is a delight
with his–with his–what do you call it–his
artistic–your partner that is your inspiration–muse,
his muse, Gala, yeah. So Gaud had his–or Dal had his muse.
And he and Gala had a wonderful, wonderful domestic pad from where they
did their creative stuff.
Of course Dal eventually died, and this is the
mausoleum filled with tourists enjoying all of his work. And that's something you
wouldn't want to miss also. Here's like, the famous furniture set, and when you
look at it from the right angle it's Mae West, okay. Okay, Madrid, the modern capital
of Spain, and this is the center of Madrid, this is the Puerta Del Sol.
And this is looking out the window
of my favorite hotel. I really like to stay
right on the Puerto Del Sol. Look how pedestrian-friendly this is. It used to be one big parking
lot, now everything's underground, everything
It used to all be parking on the sidewalks,
now they have these bollards, these posts that keep the traffic off of
the sidewalks. Madrid in Spain has come a long way from the chaos of 20 years ago
to where they are today, and this is the center of Madrid. You walk that way for
15 minutes, you get to the second most impressive palace in all of Europe, the
Royal Palace. You walk 15 minutes in the other way, and you get to the
greatest collection of paintings in all of Europe, the Prado Museum.
around you you've got wonderful culture. You go downstairs and you
hop on the metro, and you can go anywhere in
town for a small price. So here we have the map, in the
center you've got the Puerto Del Sol. 10-Minute walk from there is the Plaza
I mentioned these cities have a square–a square square, a circle with a
colonnade, it's sort of like an inside-out Coliseum. And it is the Plaza Mayor,
that's the main square. And all of the sights you can walk to in this area, and
it's bookended on the left by the Royal Palace, and on the right by the Prado, the
great collection of paintings, and as you can see with all the green here, there's
lots of parks in the city. Now when we're looking at Madrid, we're finding it's
pedestrian-friendly, and as I mentioned, is important to be out when people are
out, brutally hot in the day, be out in the evening strolling around.
Madrid like any Spanish city, there's districts that are famous for their
tapas. You want to find the right area, and then have those–the roulette of
the hot peppers, okay. And with the new–it feels affluent to me, I know Spain's
having a tough time, but all the fancy trendy restaurants outdoors I find are
very very appealing, and you've got plenty of chances to eat well, you've got
lots of traditional bakeries to pop into. Find out from your guidebook, and I
cover these a lot in my guidebook, what local pastries you want to eat, and
eat 'em literally hot out of the oven.
That's as important is going to the
museums. Pop into the bakeries, eat what everybody's crowding up to eat. Use the
public transit system, you'll see the security, you see the security officer
there at the door of this subway, they had that bomb, that terrorist attack, in
their subway system, and there's even a memorial for it in
Madrid, and they are very careful not to let
that happen again. The grand palace of the Bourbon family,
the king of the Spanish Empire, ruled, you know, a good part of Europe in his day.
And because of the importance–the rich– the most powerful man in Sp–in Europe
was the King of Spain for a while.
That's why they have so much art there
and so many grand buildings. You've got a lot of the best art from the
Netherlands, because the Netherlands used to be called the Spanish Netherlands.
You go through the Palace, you see the
elegance of that Palace, it's really worth checking out. And then
I said, on the other side of town you've got that Prado Museum, and here you've
got the masterpieces of Spanish culture, like Velazquez, plus the art that the King
of Spain had access to because he was so powerful. If he liked the best paintings
from the Netherlands, like Hieronymus Bosch's great Garden
of [Earthly]Delights, he gets it, right there
in his palace, and now it hangs in the Prado.
So you can see
all of this great art, you can also see the masterpieces of Goya. I love Goya,
the first painter with a social conscience in a lot of ways, and his
masterpieces are there in Madrid at the Prado. The most important painting of the
20th century, many would say, is Guernica by Picasso. He painted this after
Guernica was bombed by Hitler, who was helping Franco keep people down in this
feisty little town in Basque country, Guernica, and Hitler saw it
as a chance to have some aerial bombardment practice
leading up to WWII.
So Hitler said to Franco,
"yeah, I can help you out, I got this new idea to drop
bombs out of airplanes, what town do you wanna try it out on?
Guernica would be a good one to shut up." So the German planes came and they
just really leveled Guernica. It was a unprecedented
kind of slaughter with an aerial bombardment,
everybody was appalled. Picasso dropped what he was doing, and he
made this grand collage kind of painting in exile, and this was the painting that
was featured in a big World's Fair, and it really became the
pacifist's piece of art of the 20th century. And what it does is it tries to
put a human face on what is written off as "collateral damage." The Guernica is
incredible and it is, in a lot of ways, the Spanish national piece of art, and
it's in a museum near the Prado called Reina Sofa, which takes the Prado
into the modern age, much like the Orsay would take the Louvre into the
modern age in Paris.
If you like modern art don't miss Reina Sofia, just a few
blocks away from the Prado. Bullfights are a big deal in Spain. If it was just a
touristic spectacle I wouldn't promote it, and I don't even feel like I'm promoting
it, I'm just saying what it is 'cause a lot of people think it's wrong to even
talk about it. But it exists.
When you go to a good bar in Spain, the bullfight is
on TV, just like we've got baseball on TV. And it's just–people live for this. When
you want to know what's going on with the latest bullfight in Spain, you don't
look in the sports section of the newspaper, you look
in the culture pages. Because a bullfight is
considered an art form.
So if you want to see a bullfight, they're
most Sundays from Easter until September, and the biggest ring and the best matadors
are in Madrid. And you go out there, and there's lots of spectacle, and then
there's six, or seven, or eight bulls and each bullfight takes 15 or 20
minutes, it's a lot of, lot of brutality and killing and after
four or five bulls I'm ready to go. I remember leaving after four bulls, just
with a bunch of mothers who were leaving with their crying children, and I was
going out feeling like, about as strong as those kids, you know. And I remember
one little kid looked at me and just went, "nasty," you know.
It was just nasty
stuff, they kill the bulls. It's a thing that's been going
on for a long time, but if you want to check it out it's kind of
predictable — the bull always loses. And they drag him out and they
bring out another bull. You need to buy your ticket,
and you can–you can– there's two kinds of bullfights,
if you see "novillada" that would be rookie matadors compared
to the serious bullfight, and the prices would be about double for the serious
bullfight, but for most amateur viewers like us, it's probably
not that big a deal.
If you don't want
to go a bullfight, if you have a problem promoting
it with your patronage and so on, but if you're curious, you can go to a bull bar.
I list these in my books because there's all these old-timers that are into
bullfights, just like old timers here are into **** Ruth. And you
go to the bull bar, and you got all the
trophies all around you, says who killed him, how much he
weighed, and there's the knife that went into his head to knock him off, and
then there's photographs. What's really interesting to me is
there's photographs of matadors who did not do very well.
And I like these photographs because it just
balances it out. But I mean there are incredible gorings, and there's always a
photographer there to get them.
Now this guy, he really messed up. And he looks like, like he's toast, but
he actually survived and there's the whole story of this. But I–maybe it's
just like voyeurism, but I really find these bull bars fascinating, because you
get a close-up photographic look at all of the most spectacular bullfights. You
got Robert F.
Kennedy, and Che Guevara, and Castro, and, Hemingway, and Franco in
their macho poses with the matadors and everything. And if you want to wrap
it up with a little munchy, you can go have bull tail soup, okay. That's a delicacy which I think you only
want to eat once. You get on the train and in about half an hour from Madrid, you
get to Toledo.
Toledo is the historic, spiritual, and artistic capital of Spain.
It would be the modern capital of Spain except it was built smartly in the
Middle Ages, in a hairpin turn of the Tagus river. If you're building a
capital city that's perfect 'cause you got a fortification, a moat and cliffs on
three sides, you just build one hurky wall here with a nice grand gate, and you
get yourself a perfectly fortified capital city. That was Toledo until
the king of Spain became the most powerful man in all of Europe, and they
realized, "we need–we're not in danger of being invaded in our capital, we don't
have our city fortified any longer." They moved it one hour north
to Madrid where you have a modern capital.
But Toledo remains the artistic, spiritual, and–and–and
artistic capital of Spain. And it's perfectly preserved, and I just love
It's one of my favorite cities in Spain. The cathedral is massive, but you'll
hardly know it because it is jammed with all the buildings around it, with his
higgly-piggly medieval street plan. You step into the cathedral and it's–it's–if
it billed itself as a museum it would be among the best in Europe.
There's so much great art in the sacristy, including lots of El Greco's in
the sacristy of the Toledo Cathedral. You want to treat that Cathedral in
Toledo like one of the great artistic and cultural sites in Europe,
and an opportunity to see El Greco in his hometown.
There's lots of El Greco in the Prado.
If you like El Greco–he was one of– in a lot of ways the first modern artist,
he has this elongated, dreamy kind of a style, and learn about El Greco
'cause he's a great painter–he's Greek, that's his nickname, the Greek, El Greco.
He moved to Venice during the Renaissance in Venice, and he didn't
play the rules right there, and he didn't get much work, so we went
to the Wild West in Europe, to the court of the King in Spain, and
there he got in good with the King, and he performed well, and he became the
great painter of the King in Spain, and you see a lot of his work when you
travel around Spain. In the other direction from Madrid, about an hour away,
is Segovia. Segovia is famous for its castle, its roast suckling pig and, its
roman aqueduct. And I just love this Roman Aqueduct, I love–you can climb up to
the top of it, or you have in the past anyways, and you can see this huge
structure built to bring a little trickle of water into the town using
gravity, instead of peasants having to carry the water into town.
aqueducts would go for miles and miles, brought in by the Roman engineers so the
cities could have running water. And you can check out the roman aqueduct
when you're in Segovia, a reminder that Spain was part of the Roman Empire and
had a lot of stability during the Pax Romana. You can enjoy just the exuberance
and the liveliness in the streets when you're in Segovia. It's a small town, cozy
alternative to Madrid, and if you're really looking just for a work-a-day
Spanish town, that might give you a nice counter to Madrid.
And you've got this
famous Segovia Castle. I want to remind you, you, whenever you see
anything as pointy as this castle, it is not medieval. It is faux medieval.
Rebuilt in modern times, or in the 19th century during the Romantic
Age, in an over-the-top, ultra pointy, neo-medieval way. This castle was burned down, and then
in the 19th century they rebuilt it, and they just put in all the wild spires and
so on to make it look, like they thought, in a romantic notion of
And it's a beautiful
castle to check out. But I just want to remind you, sometimes
the–not to burst your bubble on that–but sometimes the most pointy
medieval stuff is fake medieval from the 19th century. By the way, we've made–
must have made eight different TV shows in Spain, and several shows on Portugal,
and they're all available if you'd like to get our DVD, if you want
to see 'em on public television. And in our new website now, we've
got all hundred of our TV shows available for viewing at
anytime on your computer.
It's free, you just go to ricksteves.Com,
and then you check out the TV section, and you type in Spain,
and you see eight shows, and you click,
and you're right there. We've also got eight years of
radio interviews. Every week we have a one-hour
show on public radio, and we've taken these–all the archives are
available in the radio section on our website–but what's really fun for me as
a travel teacher is, we've taken eight years of radio interview shows, we've
deconstructed all the shows, and we've collected the interviews in
country-specific playlists, and we offer these on my free app, along with guided
tours for all the great cities in Europe. So we got 40 or 50 different guided tours,
absolutely free, plus all the interviews.
It's Rick Steves Audio Europe, you don't
need the book, it doesn't cost anything, you can listen to it offline when you're
over there, but get this app on your mobile device, and you'll have a lot of
information as–in my radio show, I don't need to be the tour guide, I just get to
be the curious traveler. And I've got these incredible guests, and I get to
pick their brains, and then we design that interview in a beautiful way,
making both of us sound brilliant, and we then air it, okay. So you can
get all that information for free. Remember the TV show's on
the website, the radio show's at ricksteves.Com, and the app,
Rick Steves Audio Europe, free for Android or iPhones
at the app store.
When you go to Segovia be
sure you have an appetite, because you're going to want to
have some roast suckling pig. Roast suckling pig is little tiny baby pigs
that have only been having mother's milk, and that's why they're so tender, and then
they kill them, and they cook them, and they feed them to humans, okay. There's roast suckling goats also. And
It's a spectacle, it's a– just a delight for a lot of people.
So if you're–if you're carnivorous you
don't want to miss that.
Salamanca is a great city, it's a
university town, and this photograph reminds me that it's kinda like Where's
Waldo, whenever you take a picture with a wide shot in Spain, look around and
you'll probably find somebody taking a pee in a corner. Right in the middle,
under–between those arches there's a man– and I didn't realize that for years, but
then a lot of times in Europe you just find that somewhere low key area.
So be careful. Salamanca has that main square I talked
about, the greatest square in Europe, the Plaza Mayor, and that's where the–my
favorite paseo scene is in Europe, and as in any paseo thing, if you'd rather not
get the exercise you can sit down, pay the extra, it's gonna cost you fifty
percent more something like that, to eat out on the square instead of at the bar.
If you just want to slam down a cup of coffee for a dollar, go to the bar. If you
don't mind spending three bucks, sit there and enjoy it for a while, there's
no hurry, you're paying for the real
estate as well as the coffee, okay, so don't
complain about the high price.
It just costs more to
use the table and sit there all day, and
you're welcome to sit there as long as you want. A great
thing about this university town is its tradition of strolling troubadours. I wish
we had troubadours in our society, I. Think they went out back when we were
kids, you know, but the troubadours in Spain are all over the
place, they're called "tuna bands." And the
tuna bands play for weddings, they play for graduations, and
they stroll the streets playing for anybody who will give 'em a couple euros,
and it's just a lot of fun, you'll see that in your travels.
As you drive across
Spain, you'll see big huge bulls on the horizon. And they're all over the place,
these are actually advertisements for some sherry company, if I understand
correctly, but now they're just kind of icons of Spain. And La Mancha is the
windy, vast interior of Spain, and it's got lots of windmills, and it's got lots
of castle remnants, and reminders of the Reconquista. You know
that central part of Spain is called Castile, isn't it.
Castile, that means the land of the
castles. And all these castles, most of these castles, were built by the
Christians coming down and re-establishing their
territory as they pushed the Moors ever, ever south.
If you ask a European what happened in 1492, they
won't think about Columbus sailing the ocean blue. 1492, That was the year we
finally kicked the Moors back into Africa, and we recaptured Spain. Reconquered
And a great city for Reconquista history is Granada,
because Granada is the famous last home of the Moors, where they had their last
palace, the Alhambra. And people go to Granada today, a small town today, but in
its day it was a very, very important city because this was where the
Spaniards and the European Christians defeated the Moors. That was their
palace, the Alhambra, and down below you've got a–sort of an Arabic-Moorish
kind of town, and the sprawling modern town, and this is where Isabella and
Ferdinand, the Catholic Monarchs, the greatest Kings and Queens of Spain used
as their capital. That's where they're buried, not because Granada was more
important than other cities, but because Granada was symbolically the place where they kicked out the Moors, and
they're going to plant their flag there, they're gonna bury their kings there,
they're gonna have their palace there, they're going to inhabit the Moorish
palace and turn it into the Royal Palace.
That's what you do when you conquer
somebody, you take over their palace and you use it for your troops, and your
president, or your king, or whatever. So Isabella gave Columbus the orders to go
explore the–find the New World, or go around the world, or get to the east for
the spice trade from here, and this was an embarkation point for a lot of the
sailors on the river in in southern Spain, it was actually from Sevilla I
believe. And when you go to Granada you can see the tombs of Ferdinand and
Isabella. Ferdinand and Isabella, they married each other in the middle 1400s,
1460s I think, and that was really marrying together two great kingdoms, and
that created essentially what we have today as Spain, okay.
And when that happens
been really arrived. Ferdinand and Isabella, and they were so passionate
about their Catholicism, they're actually nicknamed the Catholic Monarchs. It
really was an alliance with Rome that way, and you will learn a lot about that
when you're traveling in Granada. Looking out from the Alhambra, that Moorish
palace, across the canyon, you see the Albayzn.
And this is a labyrinthian,
Moroccan, souk kind of marketplace city. You can lose yourself in this area, it's
a fascinating place to explore, and it does have that whiff of Arabia there.
Also in the hills nearby is–are the Gypsy caves, Sacromonte. Famous for
ripping off tourists, it is–no, no, you don't want to go there with any rings on,
or–or leave your wallet in the hotel, seriously. But if you want to venture up
there, you can go to touristic flamenco shows.
And they're going to water down
your wine, and they're going to try to overcharge you, but it's–in a way, in a
quirky kind of way, it's all in good fun. You know, you're rich and they're poor, and
you're going to venture into their territory and let their women dance for
you, and they're going to see how much money they can take out of your pocket
before you go. So if you want to go there, I don't
necessarily promote it, but I go there and I find it very interesting. You got that option.
You'll have that
little bit of hippies and Gypsies coming in from the hills into that Albayzn
area. And it has this Moroccan, smoking dope, you know,
Blackfeet, they're called the Pies Negra, the rich kids who went to Granada and
they don't wear shoes anymore so they got black feet. And
there's these Bohemians, and these counterculture
types, and it all mixes together in a delightful
kind of way. Get a local guided tour.
All over Spain you can get good local
guides, and they'll take you around, and they'll explain things to you. This is one
of my favorite guides in Granada, and she reminded me Granada is the most Muslim
city in Spain. And the first mosque to be built since the Reconquista in Spain was
right here, and it's built not for Muslims– or for Moroccans that came in,
but it's for Spaniards who decided to worship as Muslims. Ten percent of the
city, or something like that, is Muslim, and they have a call to
prayer, and the local people said, "you can't
amplify it because it's annoying," so every
day, five times, the imam goes to the top
of the tower and he hollers out the call to prayer, instead
of amplifies it.
But there's this dynamic in Granada that is worth checking out. At
the balcony, overlooking the city as the sun goes down on the Alhambra, with the
Gypsy musicians playing, and a glass of wine and some nice munchies, it's a beautiful moment. When you're in
Granada, get romantic about the viewpoint, about the culture, about the history.
Remember when you go to the Alhambra you'll need a reservation, there's a number of sights in Spain that
require reservations because of their popularity, and Granada's Alhambra is
probably the number-one frustration that way. When you get your reservation, and
your guidebook to explain exactly how, you'll know how to get there without
waiting in line, and you can enjoy that sumptuous palace that,
until, you know, the 1400s, was the last
stronghold of the Moors.
The garden, called the Generalife, it's
spelled like "general life," Generalife, is the Moorish idea of what heaven looks
like. Lots of lavish gardens, and running water, and so on, and you can go there and
imagine the Moorish Sultan, or whatever, hanging out there. Now, south of Granada
you get to the Costa Del Sol. Generally I.
Do not like the Costa Del Sol. As I said
earlier, filled with Europeans from the rainy north going down there for a change
in climate, but not a change in culture. Consequently, got a Belgian town, with
Belgian radio, and Belgian newspapers, you got an English, you got an Irish, you got a
German town, and they're all on the Costa Del Sol with their timeshare condos, and
it's just–you know, it is what it is, you can go there, it's kind of quirky. Local people are kind of frustrated
because they can go to a restaurant and not find any Spanish on
the menus, literally.
Now I've looked in
the Costa Del Sol from one end to the other, and
there's one town I really like, and the town I really like is Nerja. N-E-R-J-A.
And I absolutely love Nerja. It's got this–a little bit of
English expat feeling. It's got a wonderful
beach, it's not as commercialized as the others, it's got
wonderful local style bars, it's easy to get to from Granada, it's got good
transportation connections, and–this is the Balcony of Europe
overlooking the Mediterranean coast there, it's a
great place — Nerja.
And this is the promenade in Nerja,
and the beach at Nerja. Okay, so we've been from Barcelona, and then we went
over to Madrid in the center of Spain, we side-tripped to Toledo and Segovia, then we
headed south to Granada in Andaluca, now we're heading on–we're on the Costa Del
Sol on the Mediterranean coast, we're gonna go to the hill towns of
Andaluca, and then we're gonna finish in Sevilla. Later on we're going to go north
to Basque country and to Galicia. Sevilla is the capital of Andaluca.
To me it's–
along with Barcelona and Madrid, the most important city to see. Sevilla has a huge
cathedral and a giant bell tower. And the bell tower of the cathedral used to be
the minaret of the of the Moorish mosque that stood there first. When you go inside the cathedral, you'll
find the tomb of Columbus, and you'll find a lot of gold leaf.
really prospered with being able to harvest the gold from the new land. The irony is, Spain had it easy during the
Age of Discovery because it just looted all the stuff from the new land, it
didn't need to be on the ball with the coming of the modern economy, and
Industrial Age, consequently, I think because Span had it
so easy during the Age of Discovery, it fell way behind and it was one of the
more poor countries after that. Nevertheless, when you go to cities like
Sevilla you'll find great art and beautiful jewels in the sacristies of
the church, and lots of history. This is the minaret of the mosque.
Christians came in they decided to tear down the mosque and build a church right
on top of the mosque. They kept the minaret and turned it–they just put
a Christian saint on the top, and it becomes a Christian monument.
When you go around you'll find the
Alczar, the old palace. A lot of that Moorish architecture
was embraced by the Christians, who conquered the Moors, and you find
Christian palaces that have the same kind of Moorish architecture. And a good
example of that is the Alczar there in Sevilla.
Seville is famous for its
festivals. In the spring you've got holy week, the Semana Santa, leading up to
Easter, and Seville does it in the highest, fanciest way, and you've got the
Spring Fair. April, May, a big time for two week-long festivals in rapid
succession. The Spring Fair is all about horses, ladies in polka-dot dresses, and
And it's just–everybody's out partying all over southern Spain
during spring time, they each have their different spring fairs. And
they have places called "casetas." A caseta is a tent where a big family or
business hosts a party every night for a week. And it's just–you know, big shots
spend the money, and they have the music, and the food, and everybody goes there. It's like, you go out to the fairgrounds
and it's like a hundred wedding parties going on at the same time.
private little tents, private parties of all these leading families. As a tourist,
if you're clever with your social skills, it's very easy to get invited in. Then he got all the drink, all the food,
all that drunk locals you could ever want, alright. So it's a–it's just an amazing
scene and it's worth checking out if you're there during this period.
Anytime a year you can see the latest
flamingo skirt or dress fashions in the windows as you do your shopping, and
every night there are four or five different flamingo shows going on in
Sevilla designed for tourists, and all very good. All very good. Be there during Semana
Santa and you'll find the floats that are from inside the churches out on the
streets, being carried through the streets. And it's just an amazing sort of
religious passion and traditional festival coming out.
This is Concepcion,
she's a friend of mine that does tours every day, taking people around in
Sevilla giving cultural insider tours. She can take into the museums and you
can better understand that Catholic style art, like the art of Murillo. And
remember in Europe they have the other side of the river, the wrong side of the
river, like we have the wrong side of the tracks. And in Sevilla you go over the
river into the Triana district, that's where you find the crusty locals, the best
restaurants, the people just out in the streets, the ladies getting together, and
it's just a cool scene.
I love Triana when I'm in Sevilla. Crdoba is the third
most important of the three big cities in southern Spain. It's got a Roman
history going way back, and then of course it's the home of the Moors and is
famous for its giant mosque. And inside the mosque is a huge cathedral.
Christians came they kept this big mosque and they built a church within
the middle of it. And it's called the Mezquita, the mosque, and it's well worth
checking out. Crdoba is a good example of the flowery, philosophical,
poet-filled culture of the Muslims when they came into Spain, and you'll get a big
dose of that. And remember you've got plenty of patios that are–people
doll up their patios, and they open them to the public,
and that is worth checking out.
Southern Spain is called the Route of the
Pueblos Blancos. All sorts of beautiful whitewashed towns, my favorite would be
Arcos de la Frontera. Arcos de la Frontera, it's a bigger town, a good home
base, and from there you can tour the other towns. Again, in these towns, people
are proud of their balconies, their little courtyards, and they open 'em up to
the public, and they leave their doors open, or the gates are there and you can
look in, and that's something that's fun to check out.
Ronda, maybe the most famous
of these whitewashed hill towns, is built straddling a gorge. In more modern times
they built a bridge across that gorge, and today you can visit the new town and
the old town. Ronda is famous for its bullring, the
oldest bullring in Spain, there's a wonderful museum there, and you can go
into the arena and just learn a lot about it while you're there. Gibraltar is an odd thing, it's a little
hunk of Britain right down there in the south strategic point, this rock facing a
rock on the other side in Africa called The Pillars of Hercules, or something
like that, and today you can go into Gibraltar if you like.
There you got it,
right there, the rock. It's honeycombed with tunnels because it was of military
importance, it's been reclaimed, there's twice as
much land now as there was in the old days. When you get there, you park in
Spain and then you walk across an airstrip, very carefully looking both
ways, to get into the country. And then you've got the British town.
military town that's been decommissioned, it's a tacky, British tourists beach
resort town, it's sort of low-end English holiday-going. And I find it's kind of
quirky, and it's a fun little break from Spain. If you're interested in old British
history you get a lot of it there as you climb through the tunnels of
Gibraltar. And if you want a tour, there's a man named Bland who doesn't
have very good marketing sense compared to his ego, and his company's called
And you'll find lots of Bland tour buses there to show you
around Gibraltar, and it's actually more interesting than it sounds. They do this circular tour, and they go
up to the top of the rock where you can meet the famous Apes of Gibraltar, and
that's a lot of fun. Tarifa is the best town in southern
Spain for jumping up over to Morocco. Don't go to Morocco from Algeciras–or from
Gibraltar, go there from Tarifa, very important.
The boat ride takes about an
hour and a half to get there. You get down to Tangier, Tangier used to be the
armpit of Africa, now –like a, sort of a Tijuana of Africa. And like Tijuana it's
getting its act together, and Tangier is now a delightful place to travel. I think
one of the most exciting days you can have in Spain is leaving Spain when
you're in the south to take that hour-and-a-half ride over to Morocco, you
don't need a visa, and it's just a day trip, and you have a chance to wander
You can get a good local guide if you like, this is my friend
Aziz, he's in my guidebook, and you can get other guides too. And you wander
around, enjoying the markets and the scene. I'm going to go very fast now,
excuse me for my time limit, but we're gonna take a quick look at Basque country
and Galicia up in the north of Spain. One of our more popular tours for a–sort
of a return traveler in Europe is our Basque tour.
And it's two days in the
French part of Basque country, three days in San Sebastian, and two days in
Bilbao, the big industrial capital, with Guernica nearby. San Sebastian is the best
resort, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, over here by Bayonne is my favorite town in France. But
the point is, this is Basque country, when they drew the line separating the French
and the Spanish people, they forgot about the Basques. They have a completely
unrelated language, and it is worth checking it out.
And it is resurging
now, more people are speaking Basque this generation than last generation. This is
the beach in San Sebastian. And people just love this beach, but I go to San
Sebastian for the gourmet tapas. When you go to San Sebastian you–especially if
you hire a local guide, then you'll know exactly what to eat, but you just–every
night you're out there, wishing you had a bigger stomach.
Now if you have a tough time with your appetite, you can go to
these shops in Spain that sell all the gear for marijuana. We're talking a lot about marijuana
policy reform in the United States. In the United States we are not going the
way Spain goes, we're going to tax, and
regulate, and let people sell it in liquor kind of stores. In Spain, they say,
"we don't want anybody buying or selling marijuana, you can grow it on your own."
And there can be shops that give people the seeds, and the gear,
and the fertilizer, and the instruction,
so that you can home-grow, and if you don't want to go
yourself you can join clubs, and then you can get three or four plants here or
something like that.
But it is interesting when you travel in Spain,
you'll find marijuana leave outside of buildings, and you can step inside and
learn a little bit about how Europeans deal with drug policy in a pragmatic
harm reduction kind of way, and if you've never really had a chance to talk to
somebody about growing marijuana, there's a place there that would be a–give you
an extra dimension to your trip. Also another part of your experience in Basque
country will be to learn that this is not Spain. When you go to the ATM machine
there might be a sticker up above that says, "no this is not Spain,
this is Basque country." You're gonna get,
you know, you're gonna use Spanish to get this money maybe,
but it's a proud independent country. This is where Guernica was, Guernica is
kind of a hardscrabble little town, but it's the historic capital
of the Basque people, and a visit that is
Bilbao is famous for its Guggenheim
Museum, and it is a wonderful museum. The building itself, I find every bit as
interesting as the art inside. It's state-of-the-art, cutting-edge,
avant-garde art, with a Gehry-designed like, you know, a modern art gallery
building. And the whole city has got modern art, Bilbao is a fun place to check
One very popular town in the north of Spain, on the edge
of Basque country, is Pamplona. Pamplona is
good any time of year, but it's especially interesting during
the Running the Bulls. Each July they have the festival of San Fermn, and it
lasts for about a week, and every morning around eight o'clock, the bulls run. That
seems early in the morning but it's not, it's late at night.
People are up all
night long. And we were there filming, if you want to see you can Google
"Pamplona Rick Steves," or you can look at our Basque show and see what we we film,
but we had a great time there filming the Running of the Bulls. And, you know,
I'm not that into the big, wild, drunken brawl festivals of Europe, but this was
really good. I really, really had fun in
They know how to do it, and it's night after night, this incredible party,
everybody cleans up, they take away the broken glass, they drag away the
injured people, and then they do it again. And I just thought it was fascinating,
and it was a lot of fun, there was a very positive vibe, and if you're interested in
the Running of the Bulls, the only count– complication for you is finding a room.
If you can find a room, you got it made. And it finishes–every bull running
finishes with an amazing bullfight down at the arena. Lots of revelers from
all over Spain and all over Europe, and they're on their feet for a while
and then they take a little break, and then they're back on their feet again.
you travel out from Basque country, you'll get into Rioja, wine country.
And cutting-edge architects like Calatrava have been commissioned to design
beautiful centers for wineries showing off their goods in northern Spain. The
Camino de Santiago cuts across Spain from the Pyrenees, all the way to the
northwest corner, Santiago de Compostela. And for 1,000 years, pilgrims have been
hiking, many of them from Paris, all the way to here, in their religious quest or
their personal quest. These days it's not just Christians, it's people of all walks
of life, seekers wanting to get away from– or wanting to recalibrate, it's a beautiful
You'll stop in very important cathedral towns along the way. Leon has a amazing cathedral, this is
the symbol of the Camino de Santiago, it's the scallop shell. And it
starts up in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, up in the French part of the Pyrenees
Mountains, that's the kick off point for a lot of people, and then it's a 30-day
walk along the way, you follow the scallop shells. And when you go to the–
Camino de Santiago just means "the way–" You'll find a evocative bridges, and lots
of people with backpacks, and all of them have that scallop shell dangling from
Beautiful vistas, vast open spaces, cathedrals dot, you know,
spires on the skyline. It's a long hike, and every time–I've never done the hike
but I've spent a lot of time there researching and talking to people, everybody on that hike is having a
life-changing experience. If you ever have 30 days that you want to really
invest in your inner well-being, consider seriously this Camino de Santiago. It's dirt cheap because it's just–you
stay in these refuges for five or ten dollars at night, and everybody eats
communally, and it's just a beautiful up- with-life kind of thing.
You get stamps
on your little Camino passport all the way along, and then you finally get to
Santiago de Compostela. This is the cathedral, the culmination of that hike,
where for 1,000 years pilgrims have come from Paris all the way to there. And I
like to be on the square in Santiago de Compostela at ten o'clock in the morning.
That's–it's just–that last leg from the last refuge into the finale is just
about a two-hour walk. And they walk in, and these guys are just sunburned, and
ragged, and exhausted, but at the same time exuberant.
And when you see
them finally reached that square, they put their foot on that scallop
shell that's into the pavement, and then they look at the cathedral, and
they're just overwhelmed with joy. And you just have to hug them, just like
everybody's hugging everybody, it's just a gorgeous experience as you have that
finale of the Camino de Santiago. You meet characters like this, and they just
really are beaming, and it's worth checking out. There's so much exciting
history and culture that you can experience when you travel in Spain,
knowing what you're looking at.
And Galicia, it's the Celtic part of Spain,
remember if you set a boat out north from there you'd get to Ireland. They're
Celtic sisters and brothers. This is a very colorful area, it's got barnacles,
percebes, which are one of my favorite munchy treats anywhere in Europe.
Barnacles, you'll find 'em in Portugal and in Spain, they're quite expensive,
order just a little bit, but percebes is the word, barnacles, it's–they eat it
like beer nuts, you know, with their beer, and I just think that's a real treat. And
remember, in Galicia, it's that mix of Celtic and Spanish culture, it's kind of
where Riverdance meets flamenco, okay.
And I just stumble into, you know,
dance clubs having their practice sessions. Walk in, you're more than
welcome, and you get a sense of that proud culture. So once again, Spain has
lots to offer. This is–we do a tour which is a–we do a tour which is a "My Way"
tour, it's an unguided tour which gives a consultant or an escort, the hotels and
the bus transportation, but you're on your own, and it's a lot cheaper than the
And this is about 10 days, and that's what we would do. The fully
guided tour is about two weeks, and that's what we'd do, and we just
did that in this slideshow. And we've also got a little seven-day tour, which
is Barcelona and Madrid with a side- trip to Toledo. Look at our tour
promotional material even if you're not considering taking our tours, so you can
see a well-tested itinerary, and know if that would be right for you.
Okay. I hope that gives you some good
ideas for your Spanish adventures, and thank you very much for joining us today.
Happy travels. Thank you very much..