10 Most Charming Towns in Spain
Our love for Barcelona and Madrid is no secret, but we’d be lying if we said it’s not worth booking a train (or renting a car) bound for Spain’s smaller towns, where incredible food, old-world architecture, and family-run businesses tied to the land and the sea have defined local life for generations. From Lastres to Cadaques, our 10 favorite villages in Spain have charm to spare.
Spain’s smash-hit TV series “Doctor Mateo” put this once sleepy northeastern fishermen’s town on the traveler's map. Despite Lastres' newfound fame, you'll still find the same level of old-world charm that wooed location scouts. Namely, a clutch of red-roofed historic buildings (like the Hotel Palacio de los Vallados) tumbling down towards the sea, with the Sueve Mountains in the distance. Don’t miss the famous fish auction at the seaside market, the 15th-century Clock Tower, or the Jurassic Museum—home to fossils of dinosaurs that once roamed the region.
The traditional Andalusian architecture of this medieval mountain town—whitewashed buildings; a labyrinth of steep alleys linked by staircases—might remind you of the Grecian islands, but its Moorish city center (where every plaza has its own tiled plaque explaining its history) brings you right back to Spain. The 9th-century Lizar Castle, at the top of the hill, is a beautiful spot to take in views of the countryside and the sea—as is the sweeping balcony along Carretera Circunvalacion, a buzzy street where locals and visitors come to shop for produce and handicrafts.
RELATED: [Taste the Flavors of Andalusia on a Road Trip Through Southern Spain](Taste the Flavors of Andalusia on a Road Trip Through Southern Spain)
A little over two hours’ drive from Barcelona makes this whitewashed coastal village on the Costa Brava an easy weekend getaway. Salvador Dalí famously summered in Cadaques (his house is now a museum)—which might explain why Picasso, Miró, and Duchamp also spent time here. The town center even has a sculpture of Dalí, but even if you’re not that much of an art buff, there’s much to explore. Follow one of the cobblestone lanes down to the town's pretty beach, which is lined with local shops and seafood restaurants whose outdoor seats give you perfect views of the colorful boats bobbing in the bay.
Overlooking the Bay of Biscay, this hillside fishing village is where Spainards come when they're seeking quality seafood and beach time but want to escape the crowds. Cudillero's pastel-hued houses are arranged in a kind of half-moon shape around the bay, where you can watch fishermen hoist in their catch on the small but buzzy dock. After a refreshing dip in the sea at Playa del Silencio, the rest of the afternoon is best spent feasting on fresh fish and a glass (or two) of caña at one of the taverns in the town center, then making the short drive outside town to take in stunning cliff views from the lighthouse at Cabo Vidio.
The one-hour train ride from Mallorca’s capital, Palma, to this picturesque port town—arguably the prettiest on the island—is worth the journey. The baroque-style church of Sant Bartomeu (with its massive rose window and arched tower façade) dominates the central square, from which café-lined streets fan out towards the mountains and the sea. You won’t be able to escape the smell of the surrounding orange groves, even on the beach (and that’s okay with us). Speaking of which, a freshly squeezed orange juice is the best antidote following long strolls around the Museu del Casal de Cultura—an 18th-century manor house filled with antiques—and the botanical garden on the outskirts of town.
For those familiar with Spain’s Andalusian region, once you’ve seen one whitewashed Moorish village, you’ve seen them all. The exception is Ronda, whose two sections—an old Moorish settlement and younger 15th-century town—were built on the edge of a 400-foot-deep canyon and linked via stone bridges. Fun fact: Orson Welles was so taken with this village that he was buried here. Together, the town possesses a rich and varied history, home to well-preserved ancient baths, palaces-turned-museums such as the Palacio de Mondragon (whose garden overlooks the valley gorge), and one of Spain’s oldest bullfight rings.
Anyone interested in medieval history will fall in love with Besalú, a walkable town in Catalonia whose streets and landmarks are so well-preserved, you might think you’ve stepped out of a time machine. Its most talked-about points of interest include a 12th-century Romanesque bridge that spans the Fluvià River, the 11th-century Monastery of Sant Pere, and the remains of a medieval Jewish synagogue and mikveh (bath).
Much of this isolated mountain town was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but instead of modernizing, the Spanish government painstakingly restored its red-roofed houses and cobbled streets to how they looked back during the 11th and 12th centuries. Today, the striking pink and orange village-scape melts perfectly into its rocky canyon surrounds. The town is small—just 1,000 people live here—which makes it that much easier to navigate the winding streets, home to a beautiful cathedral, a castle (built on top of its original foundations), and pieces of the remaining curtain wall—the rest of which has been restored over the years.
Setenil de las Bodegas
This tiny Cádiz town, built along the Rio Trejo, has a rather unique feature: sections of overhanging rock (part of the river gorge) serve as the rooftop for numerous buildings built directly beneath it. For centuries, people lived in surrounding natural caves, eventually erecting modern homes beneath the rock outcropping as a means for shelter. Having a coffee on one of the café’s outdoor patios beneath the enormous cliff is a must, as is a visit to the castle, which dates back to the 12th century.
As far as Spanish beaches go, it doesn’t get much better than Basque Country, home to picture-perfect La Concha, in San Sebastián. Here, the local surfing culture is matched only by the food: the city's local dining scene has been hailed one of the best in Europe. La Concha's golden sands line one of Spain’s hippest neighborhoods—Gros—which happens to be home to a clutch of incredible restaurants. Be it at Michelin-starred Mirador de Ulia or more casual Casa Senra, the fresh coastal ingredients and creative Basque recipes you'll find is next-level. Be sure to get a taste of pintxos (Basque-style tapas) and txakoli (the local white wine) while in town.
- 11 Secret European Beaches
- Where to Stay in Barcelona and Madrid for Under $250
- 11 European Castles You Can Actually Sleep In