When visiting Spain, some cities just look like good places to stop to break up the journey. Other times, a city has a famous name or airport so you assume it is worth visiting. In both cases, you could be mistaken. Here are a few cities in Spain which, though not necessary bad, are not worth your time when there is so much more to see in Spain.
DISCLAIMER: Before You Email or Tweet Me to Complain About This Article
Whenever I am critical of a city in Spain, a disgruntled local, expat or Study Abroad student tells me they've had a great time in the city in question and that I'm wrong. Before you email/tweet me to complain, remember these points:
- I know Gibraltar isn't in Spain. I know! I say so below! There's no need to inform me. This guide is for visitors to Spain. Visitors to Spain are often tempted to visit Gibraltar, so it's my job to tell them not to. If I was factually accurate, I would have to leave off Gibraltar and then some poor soul would end up going there. I can't live with that guilt.
- This is an opinion piece and opinions differ. I'm sure you love Marbella, or Valladolid, or wherever else. But I think there are better places to visit.
- I know there are worse cities in Spain. In terms of crime, or unemployment, or amount of green space. But the truly worst places aren't on the tourist radar. The places on this page are cities or towns that tourists might be tempted by, and they shouldn't be. There are far, far better places to visit than the ones below, but these are the ones tourists might actually waste their time going to.
- Having a sense of humor is good for you. Give it a go, you might like it.
- If you really think I'm wrong and that visitors to Spain should include Valladolid on their trip rather than Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Granada, San Sebastian, Valencia or Santiago de Compostela, why not share your opinion on this page? You can defend your city by posting at the bottom of the page. Insults against this writer will not be tolerated, but all sensible suggestions will be published.
See also: Top Ten Cities in Spain.
I get a lot of abuse from Malagueños who tell me, without a hint of irony, that Malaga has the nicest people in Spain and that my mother is a w**** because I don't agree with them.
Malaga's fame stems from two things - its airport and the fact that Picasso was born here. But Picasso hardly spent any time in Malaga and the airport is there for you to get to the beach, not to visit the city.
But let's clarify a few things...
Why do I think Malaga is the worst city in Spain?
- Malaga is overrated
- Because of its airport, too many tourists end up here and don't get to explore the rest of Andalusia's many, many charms.
Malaga has a fine nightlife and some good (very cheap) restaurants, but so do many other cities in Spain. You can see the best of Malaga in a day - and even then, that day could be better spent elsewhere.
What do the locals say?
What, apart from the fact that my mother is a w****?
I was sent this post on What's Good About Malaga to prove me wrong. But if the grave of Jorge Guillén is a key attraction in the city, you know there's a problem.
Another reader, who has a business they want to promote in Malaga, ultimately could say no more than that after visiting Seville, Granada and Cordoba, Malaga offers 'more of the same, but with a nice car-free zone'. Hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?
Malaga inhabitants, like most people in Spain, can't believe it when you don't love their city as much as they do. Many people in Malaga who don't know the rest of Spain so well, will tell you to miss out Segovia, or Cordoba, or Granada and visit their city instead. I cannot agree with this. I have to say that I have found dozens of spectacular cities, regions and villages and Spain and I implore you to explore Spain as much as you can. And that means missing out some places, such as Malaga.
Malaga has a good quality of life. If you want to live in the warmest major beach city in Spain, you won't be disappointed with Malaga. But that doesn't translate to it being worth visiting as a tourist when other cities offer so much more.
Read about Malaga Day Trips.
Alternatives to Malaga
For good tapas, visit Seville or San Sebastian. For cheap tapas, visit Granada. For museums, Madrid should be your pick. Instead of believing that you simply must visit the Alcazaba or the Gibralfaro, visit the Alhambra in Granada instead. For a good city with a beach, visit San Barcelona or Sebastian.
On the other hand...
If you want a weekend away at the beach, without needing to travel far from an airport to get to your hotel by the beach, Malaga is indeed your best option.
Despite the vitriolic abuse I receive from the lovely people of Malaga (in fact, I do think Malagueños are lovely, as are most Spaniards, but the ones who email me are the arrogant, vocal minority that give their city a bad name), I think my description of Malaga is balanced, and fair. Malaga is fine for a weekend. It's fun. If you know people who live there, you'll have an amazing time (but you'd have an amazing time in any city where you get to know the locals).
But if you're visiting Spain for the first time, you can do so much better than Malaga. Because few tourists end up in Albacete or Ciudad Real, I don't think those cities deserve so much attention on this page. But because so many millions of tourists arrive in Malaga and end up having a 'nice time' when they could see the rest of Spain and have an amazing time, I believe Malaga deserves the no.1 spot in my 'worst cities in Spain'.
If you don't agree with me, you can share your opinion here: Malaga is NOT one of the worst cities in Spain.
Though technically not in Spain (a fact some tiresome locals won't stop reminding you of, and some equally wearisome Spaniards won't stop whinging about), Gibraltar is one of your very worst options for places to visit when in Spain.
Gibraltar's anachronistic status as the last colony in Europe makes visiting 'The Rock' an irritating experience. There are long delays getting through customs, it's overpriced and after all the effort, you're left with what looks like a drab small British city. The monkeys may be cute, but that's it. The only reason the Spanish want it back is out of childish territorialism.
More: The Gibraltar Question
Another airport city (Ryanair flies here), there's not much to do here but continue to your next destination.
Valladolid is well connected to the rest of the region. So hop on a train or bus and see one of the many better cities in the are (such as Madrid, Leon or Salamanca).
Update: Even Ryanair, renowned for taking unsuspecting tourists to places in the middle of nowhere, stopped flying internationally to Valladolid. Now they only have internal flights here.
Read about Valladolid Airport
On the other hand...
Valladolid is in the Ribera del Duero wine district. You can get good Ribera del Duero wine in Valladolid. But Ribera del Duero wine is one of the most popular types in Spain - you can get it in almost any bar in the country.
Valladolid has some important historical associations, particularly with Christopher Columbus. If learning about Columbus is important to you, you might find the museum in Valladolid interesting. When I visited for the first time, the lady at the tourist board said this was the most important sight in the city.
Marbella and the other expat havens in the area (Puerto Banus being the worst of them) should be avoided like the plague. This is where the moderately rich retired British, Germans and Scandinavians pretend to be richer than they are and their spoilt teenage kids run riot in horrid 'sports bars'. I lived here for six months and hated every minute of it.
Marbella is so devoid of anything to set it apart from anywhere else in Andalusia, this blog post on Why to Move to Marbella failed to identify anything unique about the city. Every point they raise could be applied to anywhere in the region. And the claim to it having good infrastructure is questionable as it has no train station and, despite what the article says, no airport.
6. Ciudad Real
They opened an airport in Ciudad Real. No-one came. They closed it again.
A coastal city in Andalusia, famous for its ham on the road from Seville to Faro in Portugal - what could be better? Most places in Spain, to be honest. There are far better places to visit in Andalusia, the pigs farms are not in the city and it's the port that dominates life in this industrial town, not the beach.