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Tourists Welcome! Uncrowded Travel Destinations in Spain | Frommer's margouillat photo / Shutterstock

Tourists Welcome! Uncrowded Travel Destinations in Spain

While many of Spain's most popular destinations struggle with overtourism, here are 10 places that deserve more visitors. 

“Tourists go home.”

Those words, daubed on walls and reproduced in countless news stories this year, make uncomfortable reading for anyone thinking of visiting Spain

The sentiment poses a dilemma as well for those of us who write travel guides to this wonderful country. While we’ve always encouraged visitors to venture beyond the hot spots, it is troubling that some citizens in must-see places like Barcelona, Seville, and Granada are crying “Enough!”

Yet you’d be wrong to think visitors are no longer welcome in Spain. This year more than 80 million people will visit, yet many exquisite places remain largely untouched by tourism. 

In the spirit of what the travel industry calls “dispersal,” here are 10 spectacular Spanish destinations that deserve more—not fewer—visitors.

(Plaza Alta in Badajoz, Spain | Credit: Angelo DAmico / Shutterstock)

Badajoz and Olivenza

In Spain's little-visited western region of Extremadura, Badajoz has long been outshone by its better-known neighbors, Cáceres and Mérida. But now Badajoz is emerging from the shadows. The recently restored Plaza Alta, resplendent in red and white, is a great place to start a walking tour. Afterward, stroll along the ramparts of the Alcazaba, the enormous 12th-century citadel that overlooks the city and the Guadiana River.

To experience the benefits of the renovations that Badajoz’s hospitality industry is undergoing, don’t miss Las Tres Campanas, a 19th-century toy emporium repurposed as a hotel and dining complex.

Half an hour’s drive from Badajoz, Olivenza feels like another country entirely. The town belonged to Portugal until 1801, and the intricately embellished architecture of the churches and public buildings makes it one of Spain’s most attractive locales. When we visited in May, we had the broad streets and monumental castle almost to ourselves.

Cuenca

The setting alone—perched on a deep gorge between two rivers—demands your attention. But that’s just the start. Since the 1960s Cuenca (pictured at the top of this page) has been the center of Spain’s abstract art scene. Among the cutting-edge galleries here, one even occupies a historic clifftop casa colgada (hanging house)

Cuenca is also celebrated for its cuisine. Another hanging house reopened recently as a fine dining restaurant, while the city’s pastel-painted Plaza Mayor is a picturesque spot to try the specialties of La Mancha.

(Hot springs in Ourense, Spain | Credit: Peter Barron)

Ourense

The green, northern region of Galicia is best known for the world-famous pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, but Ourense—30 minutes by train from Santiago—is worth the detour, especially if your limbs ache. The city is blessed with a spectacular setting on the Minho river and has around 70 natural hot springs, many of which can be enjoyed for free. 

Or treat yourself at Termas Outariz, a Japanese-style onsen offering zen circuits and massages. Just don't get so relaxed that you skip the city’s busy bars, where Galicia’s trademark scallops (volandeiras) abound.

El Puerto de Santa María

After Jerez and Sanlúcar de Barrameda, El Puerto de Santa María is the less-visited third point of the Sherry Triangle. It was once called the city of a hundred palaces—built on trade with the Americas—and some of those structures still stand, embellished with ostentatious coats of arms. 

El Puerto is home to Osborne, one of Spain’s oldest wine and brandy makers. Visit the bodegas to taste rare old sherries and learn the history of the famous black bull logo you’ll see silhouetted on highways across Spain. Take a bus ride from town to reach excellent beaches with lifeguards, toilet facilities, and bars. 

(El Doncel funerary statue in the Cathedral of Sigüenza in Spain | Credit: Santi Rodríguez Muela [CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sigüenza

There are thousands of castles scattered across Spain, but few where you can spend the night. Sigüenza’s parador hotel is set within a magnificent hilltop fortification dating from the Middle Ages. 

At the other end of this walkable city is one of Spain’s finest restaurants. El Doncel offers Michelin-starred cookery and paired wines at surprisingly reasonable prices. The name El Doncel refers to Sigüenza’s most famous son, a young nobleman who died in battle in 1486. You can visit his family home and see his touching tomb in the cathedral, where an alabaster statue depicts the knight lying on his side and reading a book. 

Úbeda and Baeza

Two hours by bus from Granada, Úbeda is a tranquil town filled with Spain’s finest Renaissance buildings—the work of the architect Andrés de Vandelvira, who was commissioned by wealthy local nobility in the 16th century. The best way to appreciate this UNESCO World Heritage Site is simply to wander at length around the plazas and churches. You could start and finish in Plaza de Vázquez de Molina, which might just be Spain’s most perfectly proportioned square. Then visit Úbeda’s craft shops, which specialize in beautifully decorated ceramics and esparto basketry.

If finding one Renaissance gem in the middle of the Andalusian countryside is a surprise, there is another just 10 kilometers (6 miles) down the road. Baeza is about half the size of Úbeda, but contains almost as many Renaissance buildings.

(Iglesia de San Pablo in Valladolid, Spain | Credit: tichr / Shutterstock)

Valladolid

It was once—briefly—the capital city, and Valladolid has witnessed many key moments in Spanish history. The Catholic monarchs married here, Columbus died here, and Cervantes wrote part of Don Quixote in a house you can still visit. 

Marvel at the elaborate facade of the Iglesia de San Pablo, where Felipe II was christened, having been spirited through the window of a palace next door. Valladolid’s vast, red-painted Plaza Mayor is reminiscent of its famous counterpart in Madrid, minus the tacky caricaturists, living statues, and throngs of tourists. 

And speaking of Madrid . . . 

(Quinta de los Molinos park in Madrid | Credit: vali.lung / Shutterstock)

Madrid’s Less Touristy Side

What is Madrid doing on this list? Spain’s thriving capital seems to have little difficulty absorbing the visitor numbers that drive other cities crazy. But when you go, try to get away from the busiest tourist areas.

Of course you should see El Prado, one of the world’s great art museums, but also seek out the Goya-focused Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando or Museo Sorolla, where Impressionist master Joaquín Sorolla lived and worked.

Madrid has lots of green spaces besides El Retiro park. Wander through the almond groves at Quinta de los Molinos or combine art and a riverside walk at Matadero, the huge cultural complex that occupies Madrid’s former slaughterhouse.

Avoid touristy bars on Plaza Mayor and Plaza de Santa Ana and head instead to where madrileños go, such as Calle de Ponzano or Plaza de Olavide.

And leave behind the Sunday morning crowds at El Rastro flea market for more creative fare at Mercado de Motores on the second weekend of each month.

Peter Barron is a co-author of Frommer's Spain, available in paperback and e-book versions

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