Before we set off, take a look at these maps if Spain. Spain is a big country by European standards, to see it all would take you a long time. Luckily, there are pockets of attractive destinations dotted around the country – Catalonia, in the north-east; Andalusia, on the south coast; Valencia, to the east; the capital, Madrid and the northern regions of Galicia and Basque Country – so if you pick one of them, you won’t go far wrong.
The capital of Spain, Madrid is the center point of the country, quite literally, around which all else revolves. Most of the other major cities are on the coast, typically at least six hours away from the capital by car. Between these are a lot of agricultural villages and barren land, with Seville, Granada and Salamanca the main in-land cities of note.
Madrid is a good place to arrive, as the capital it is well connected by train, bus and internal flights (see Transport in Madrid). But that isn’t to say you should hurry out of the country’s premier city. While Madrid isn’t in the league of other European capitals like Paris and London, it is a living, breathing city with every kind of bar, restaurant and leisure activity you could desire. It is also the only sensible base for day trips to the wonderful aqueducts of Segovia and the historical delights of Toledo, with El Escorial also a short train ride away. Read more about Day Trips from Madrid.
The tourist brochure image of Spain, with its flamenco dresses, bullfighting and blistering hot sunshine is not as universal in Spain as many think – but if you go to Andalusia, you won’t be disappointed. With the Alhambra of Granada, the Mezquita of Cordoba, and the, well, everything of Seville, there is more than enough in Andalusia to fill several vacations.
If it is beaches you are after, head to the Costa del Sol (strictly speaking a part of Andalusia, but generally viewed apart from the rest of the community), the Costa Brava or the Costa Blanca. In many parts of these regions you can go a long time without hearing a word of Spanish, so popular is it among Brits, Germans and Scandinavians; this is not the place to go if you are looking to rough it with the locals!
For a more cosmopolitan experience, there is Barcelona in the north east, in the community of Catalonia. The locals say it isn’t really Spain at all and, while this is not the time to get into a political discussion, Barcelona certainly does have a different feel to it from the rest of Spain. Its spectacular Gaudí architecture, solemn Barri Gòtic and lively Ramblas street are as iconic as you can get in Spain.
But to really experience the diversity of Spain, you have to explore Spain's northern-most regions – Galicia, Asturias or Basque Country. Galicia's national instrument is the bagpipe, while in Asturias you are more likely to find cider than sangria, so you can see that life here is quite different to what tourists usually expect of Spain.
There is, of course, a lot more to Spain that just that, but these are the regions that tourists spend most of their time in. I hope you've enjoyed your little virtual tour – it’s even better when you actually get there!