Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, in that order, are Spain's three largest cities, and these three are certainly the most popular choice for Spanish City holidays. Barcelona has to rank top for offering the best all round Spanish city break. Take your pick from the Picasso Museum, Barceloneta's superb Barcelona urban beaches, the Montjuic leisure and cultural complex, Gaudi's numerous architectural masterpieces, more art at the Catalunya National Art Gallery and Joan Miro Foundation (both at Montjuic) and a historic old town to beat all around the Barri Gotic. Not forgetting the famous Las Ramblas stroll, Barcelona's most popular meeting place and hotspot for year round street performance.
Madrid might not be as slick as catering for the all round tourist package as Barcelona, but Madrid, Spain's capital has focused much of its attention in recent years on its three great art galleries - the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen, all within a short distance of each other. As a city for art, Madrid is certainly one of the world's best! Valencia, Spain's third largest city, is both an artistic hub and cutting edge centre for contemporary architecture, helped along by homegrown Santiago Calatrava. The modern architectural marvels at the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia cheer the soul and will have you transfixed.
The best city breaks are those which blend tourist attractions geared to families and all round leisure with cultural galleries, museums and historic attractions. Barcelona ranks as a top city break with superb tourist attractions.
To name a few, Barcelona's fab urban beaches at Barceloneta, the Port Vell leisure complex where you'll find the aquarium, a huge shopping centre and cinema, the Montjuic leisure complex with exciting cable car ride and how about family fun trips to Park Guell and the FC Barcelona stadium at Camp Nou. Visit too Barcelona's own mammoth amusement park at Tibidabo, Barcelona Zoo at Ciutadella Park and checkout what's on offer for kids at Montjuic's Poble Espanyol.
Most of Barcelona's Art Galleries and Museums cater well for kids. For fun packed city centre breaks for families head to Barcelona! The Sagrada Familia temple come cathedral, the work Antoni Gaudi is most remembered for, and now Barcelona's unofficial 'logo', is Spain's most visited attraction.
Barcelona's long list of museums and art galleries is huge - now more than 50 in all! (for complete museum and gallery listings check the Barcelona Tourist Guide right for details). The big ones on the Barcelona art side include the Picasso Museum in Barcelona's Ribera Gothic Quarter, the Joan Miro Foundation at Montjuic and the National Catalan Art Gallery also at Montjuic. See also the outstanding Barcelona Contemporary Art Gallery in El Raval. For Catalan and Barcelona History head for the History of Catalunya Museum on the waterfront, the Maritime Museum up from Monument Colon, the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat in the Barri Gotic and the Barcelona Archeology Museum at Montjuic. There are numerous other museums, including fun ones near or just off Las Ramblas such as the Museu Cera waxwork and the Erotica Museum. See the Barcelona Tourism guide for the full list.
As well as being a world centre for Art, Madrid is a delightfully compact city break, with main attractions including the great three Madrid Art galleries, Madrid old town revolving around Sol and Plaza Mayor and shops, theatres and parks all centrally placed and within a stones throw of each other. Madrid's superb metro, one of the tidiest in Europe, makes it easy to push out further to attractions such as Parque Oeste's cable car, Real Madrid's football stadium at Santiago Bernabeu and the Plaza de Toros famous Madrid Bullring at Ventas.
Velazquez, Goya, El Greco, Picasso, Joan Miro and others are all here in Madrid's three famous art galleries (the Prado Museum, the Reina Sofia Art Gallery and the Thyssen) which make up the now nicknamed Golden Art Triangle. Most popular is the Prado Museum for which there are understandable queues to get in daily - the world's best collection of Diego Velazquez, Francisco de Goya and El Greco paintings are in here.
Valencia City is booming, boosted by local architect Santiago Calarava's marvel - the City of Arts and Sciences situated to the south of Valencia centre. The architectural gem and attraction rich Arts and Sciences complex, Europe's newest, isn't the only string to Valencia's bow. Spain's third largest city offers some of the country's best collections of art at the Museo de Bellas Artes (both Goya and Velazquez are represented here) plus the IVAM Institute Valenciano de Arte Moderno for the best of 20th century contemporary Spanish art.
Add to this a host of historic architecture clustered in Valencia's centre including its elaborate Gothic cathedral, a selection of historic churches, pretty plazas and parks and gardens which Spanish cities do particularly well and you have the recipe for an amazing city break. Bicycle hire, as in Barcelona, is becoming popular in Valencia, especially for scooting from the City of Arts and Sciences through Parque Jardin Del Turia into Valencia centre. An alternative is the Valencia tourist open-top sightseeing bus (which you can hop onto at the City of Arts and Sciences) or Valencia's own metro. For city breaks or daytrips up from the Costa Blanca resorts to visit the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, Valencia is one of Spain's best! Valencia is less crowded than Madrid and Barcelona too, so no queues here for access to the art galleries!
The unique angle the Madrid area has is its huge choice of excursions and/or attractive holiday locations in surrounding areas. Spectacular landscapes are just a short distance from Madrid city centre to the north and west around the Sierra de Guadarrama and Sierra Pobre. Both winter skiing and summer walking are are the menu around Madrid's sierra outskirts. The striking 16th century El Escorial Palace and Monastery, the work of Spanish master architect Herrera who took over from Joan Bautista de Toledo, sits just to the north of Madrid easily accessible for daytrips. To the south and east of Madrid the landscape is a little more subdued, with a number of river basins and fascinating historic locations and pretty villages and towns such as Chinchon and Alcala de Henares.
Cordoba's city centre is a World Heritage Site, not surprising for this ancient Andalucian city founded by the Romans but from 711 a Muslim stronghold and the capital of the Islamic Iberian Peninsula. Cordoba's stunning array of architecture is testament to the number of times the city has changed hands. Today Cordoba is a modern and vibrant Andalucian city, blending superb modern facilties such as great shops and restaurants with its ancient monuments and huge choice of museums.
Granada is one of Andalucia's most historic centres, famed particularly for its glorious Alhambra. Granada's location is stunning, situated as it is at the foot of the Sierra Nevada. Winter skiing holidays are popular around Granada. Zaragoza (Saragossa), capital of Aragon, is an exciting centre for art, architecture and monuments, shopping, nightlife and and festivals. Compact and easily explored on-foot, Zaragoza has its own airport just 10km south-west of the city. You're only an hour and a half away from the Aragon Pyrenees in Zaragoza.
Seville of all the Andalucian city breaks is most certainly the liveliest! Capital of authonomous Andalucia, Seville's huge cluster of Arab, Roman and other historic monuments and historic sights (including one of the world's largest cathedrals) in its old town now has World Heritage status. Seville is a city with many unique angles all packaged into one - an Andalucian business centre, a centre for the arts particularly theatre and cinema, a superb choice of luxury and budget Seville city centre hotels and apartments and an excellent choice of tourist attractions including theme parks and waterpark. Add to this a riotous nightlife of discos, tapas bars, clubs and restaurants, a festival scene to beat all, a historic Plaza de Toros (Seville has long been an Andalucian centre for both bullfighting and flamenco) and the stunning Sierra Norte Nature Park just on Seville's doorstep. Seville's transport links are impressive, with direct fast train links now to Madrid and Andalucia centres such as Granada, Cordoba and Malaga. Seville Airport sits just 10km to the northwest of the city centre, with direct flight services from London Gatwick, London Stanstead and Liverpool UK airports.