January 1

21 Unusual Things To Do in Spain

Spain

Unusual things to do in Spain

Enjoy our inspirational collection of unusual things to do in Spain.

What makes Spain unique?

Sun, sea, sand, plus dazzling unusual things to do. That's Spain for you: ski slopes, Picasso, and Barcelona's ceramic lizard mixed with paella, flamenco and convivial, tasty tapas.

Every country is misunderstood to one degree or another. But I still remember my surprise on arrival at how vast and culturally rich the country was - and how the beaches were the least of it.

UNUSUAL THINGS TO DO IN SPAIN

Well, this is but one effort to share the secret that is Spain.

Without further ado, let me introduce you to unusual things to do in Spain...You could even add them to your bucket list, should you enjoy the term...

travel to Spain with @insidetravellab

  1. VISIT SAN SEBASTIAN AND LEARN ABOUT BASQUE CULTURE

San Sebastian, if it is known at all, generally picks up fame for its tasty tapas scene and proximity to Bilbao and the silver curls and swirls of the Guggenheim Museum. Yet it's the beating cultural heart of the Basque country, a land that spills over the border into France, with its own ultra-distinct language (don't let the "X" trip you up,) peppery culture and cuisine.

The beautiful beach from San Sebastian Spain to the Balenciaga Museum via @insidetravellab

San Seb's had some trouble in recent years, seeing bloody times with ETA and their fight for independence. But 2016 celebrates the peace that now breathes through the cobbled lanes and blustery coasts. Basque culture appears front and centre as San Seb (Basque name Donostia) becomes a European Capital of Culture in 2016.

Discover the success of local boy Balenciaga, pit your wits against the froth-topped surf along the sand-and-stone coast and stroll through the Old Town on a Sunday afternoon to see Basque berets and banter in full and friendly style.

Pimientos de Padron in San Sebastian via @insidetravellab

2. EMBRACE SPAIN'S FLARE FOR UNUSUAL FESTIVALS

I've heard rumours about the goat-throwing but I've been there for the tomato pelting. Tomatina is but one festival in this country that has more public holidays than there are days of the year - but, to be honest, the Tomatina is for the young and masochistic.

Far more dignified (and fun!) is the papier mache festival held each year in Barcelona. Residents from the edgy Gracia district build colourful characters that stand two storeys high and float music and sweet treats through the narrow streets of summer.

Or, if papier mache's not your thing, check out the flower festival instead in nearby Girona.

Swirling paper ribbon hanging from the sky in the narrow streets of Gracia, Barcelona ​

3. GO WHALE WATCHING AND BATHE ON BLACK SAND

Tenerife, indeed perhaps all the Canary Islands, are almost criminally underrated. True, some resorts serve up the standard stereotype of awful Brits abroad, but that's not the whole story. Flung off the coast of Africa, these volcanic islands give out an intoxicating Caribbean-African vibe, with quiet black sand beaches, mountains, mysterious pyramids and more.

Head to Los Gigantes and hop on a whale-watching boat and whip along the waves.

Pilot Whales ​

4. LEARN HOW TO POUR CIDER, THE TRADITIONAL WAY

Ready to test out your hand-eye coordination, throwing a dash of alcohol into the mix to complicate matters further help you relax? Travel to northern Asturias where the cider houses (sidrerias) give lessons in how to respect this appley beverage. 

Practising pouring cider in Asturias ​

5. VISIT THE WORLD'S MOST UNUSUAL PIZZERIA

Yes, I'll stop you right there. Pizza hails from Italy. Chaotic Naples in fact.

But travel to the tiny village of Llívia in Cerdanya in northern Spain to find the man who makes pizza cocktails, pizza sushi and, well, just plain pizza.

Not only does the life story of this former boxer add a taste of unusual into the mix, but the village of Llívia itself is a part of Spain entirely surrounded by France.

If only other parts of the world could resolve such border disputes so elegantly.

Pizza Ideas - Pizza in a glass

6. FIND THE REAL RIVER OF GOLD IN ALPUJARRAS

Well, OK, so it isn't really gold it just looks like gold. But don't let the chemistry bog you down: the fuente agria shimmers as it flows amid scented almond trees and snow-tipped peaks. A trip to the Alpujarras mountains fits nicely on to any itinerary that takes you to the nearby Alhambra: the most famous site in Andalucia.

River of Gold And Iron with Green Leaf at the Fuente Agria in Spain ​

7. SIP GIN IN THE BALEARICS

Yes, it surprised me too, but Menorca has a history with gin. Apparently, the drink arrived here during some sailor-type British occupation and the locals took the parts they liked and improved on the rest. The Xoriguer gin distillery overlooks the harbour in Mahon and offers a dash of history amid the baskets of juniper berries, bulbous bronzed equipment and connoisseur's collection of gin.

Menorcan Gin Distillery

8. Search for Golden Letters in Madrid

Madrid's literary quarter earns its name from the homes of two of the greatest and most influential writers of all time: playwright Lope de Vega and Cervantes, author of the world's first novel, Don Quixote. 

A visit to the literary quarter in Madrid is fun for its tapas and cerveza bars. But you can also add it to your collection of unusual things to do in Spain by seeking out the golden letters that shimmer across the streets. 

9. The Cultural Side of Churros y Chocolate

And while we're on the subject of turning earthly pleasures into cultural experiences, Madrid has something else to offer: the oldest chocolatería in the city. Forget the soggy and flacid fare you may have found elsewhere. Served piping hot and crunchy, churros and chocolate done right is one of the best things to do in Spain.

Hot Air Balloon Pyrenees

Glide above the Pyrenees and See the Sparkling Coast

10. Glide Over the Mountains and the Sea at the Same Time

There aren't many places in the world where you can ski in the morning and lie on the beach by the afternoon. There are even fewer where you can take to the skies in a hot air balloon and see both the sparkle of the snow and glitter of the coast at the same time. Costa Brava is one such place.

 What's it like to go on a hot air balloon ride? It's one of the dreamiest and most unusual thing to do in Spain.

11. Sleep in a Castle and Royal Palace

Who doesn't want to live like a king? Well, you know, with all the good bits like living in luxury and having staff wait on you and none of the having to ride a horse into battle and marry your cousin side of things. 

The Parador system in Spain converts palaces and castles into hotels - and the involvement of the state makes them relatively affordable. You'll find them across Spain but one of my favourites lives well and truly off the beaten path in an intriguing place called Zafra. Read about a stay in the Zafra Parador here.

Abigail King walking through Anaga Natural Park

Anaga Natural Park

12. Stride through a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve

Step back in time, seven or nine million years or so, to the incredible Macizo de Anaga in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in Tenerife. This mind-blowing hiking destination lies only a short drive away from two other UNESCO World Heritage Sites yet still most of us think of Tenerife as only a cheap sun and sangria kind of place. 

Add it to your list of unusual things to do in Spain right now!

The Windmills of Don Quixote in Consuegra

The Windmills of Don Quixote in Consuegra

13. Tilt at Don Quixote Windmills

Yep, the windmills that featured in Don Quixote are real and you can see them in La Mancha. If you're lucky, you may run into the man himself, and his sidekick Sancho.

Visit as a day trip from Madrid or rent a car and spend a weekend in and around Toledo in Castilla La Mancha.

NO8DO Seville

NO8DO Seville

14. Decipher Drain Covers

Artists never miss a trick when it comes to old Spanish cities. In Seville, look at the underside of balconies to see patterns more ornate than I have in my entire house. 

And in the drain covers, seek the hidden meaning of NO8DO.

15. Join an Olive Oil Harvest

It may be a cliche to describe olive oil as liquid gold but on the rolling groves of Andalusia in southern Spain, the meaning becomes more clear. This region alone is one of the world's biggest producers of the peppery-green stuff, yet family plots survive alongside the big business. 

Head into the scorched earth with a rake and a broom and join a traditional olive oil harvest. Then head further into the Sierra Nevada to hike and, in winter, ski. 

Valencia's City of Arts & Sciences by Night

Valencia's City of Arts & Sciences by Night

16. Skate Along a Riverbed

Riverbed in your way when it comes to ambitious town planning? Simply reroute it and allow residents to skate, run and segway along the groove instead. 

That's what happened in Valencia and this green stretch runs from the heart of the city right to the dazzling sharp white City of Arts and Sciences. Part museum, part architectural masterpiece, it's one of the most beautiful and unusual things to do in Spain you can find. 

17. Spot the Frog for Good Luck

The Spanish city of Salamanca impresses visitors with ornate cathedrals and one heck of an aqueduct. But it's the game of "spot the frog" that lands the city on this list of unusual things to do in Spain. 

See if you can find the frog in Salamanca and unearth what happens if you do.

Sargadelos lighthouses

Lighthouses. Big business in Galicia - and also in Sargadelos ceramics.

18. Climb the World's Oldest Lighthouse in Continuous Use

Yes, it's another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Spain. There are so many, it hardly seems fair. This one dates back to Roman times in the salty northern land of Galicia. It's also awash with lighthouses, rocky cliffs and sandy coasts, should you fancy extending one visit into a road trip. 

19 - See the Eiffel Bridge Instead of Tower

Turns out, Eiffel had more than one iron in the fire. Head to the gorgeous ochre and burnt red medieval centre of Girona to find the Eiffel Bridge. While you're there, tuck into some of the best food in the world (not an exaggeration, the El Cellar de Can Roca really does win those kind of accolades year after year after year.)

20 - Play the Bagpipes

Ach, and you thought they were just for Scotland?! Not at all! Bagpipes mark another tradition in the northern stretch of Spain known as Asturias. Amid frothing cider, national parks, stone town centres and more apples than you know what to do with, you'll find bagpipe displays as well in almost every small town. 

You're welcome. Er, I think...

Night Procession in Seville's Semana Santa

21 - See a Pointed Hat in a Different Light

This is NOT the Ku Klux Klan, nor anything to do with it.  

For centuries, religious orders in Andalusia have worn costumes like these for Semana Santa or Holy Week. Even today, processions take place all day and all night for Semana Santa through the narrow streets of Seville.

It's a scary sight. But it shouldn't be. It has nothing to do with the murderous movement in the US.

Disclosure - For some of these things to do I had assistance from the local tourist boards, for others I organised them myself. Regardless of the nuts and bolts and who did what where when and why, I always keep the right to write what I like. So, this list of unusual things to do in Spain comes fresh from my delectable memory and experience of living in and travelling through the country and nothing more. Enjoy and viva Espana!

Tortilla on bread in Spain

What have I missed? Share some of your unusual things to do in Spain below. And share on social to spread the word! Thanks!


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  • Great list! Can definitely vouch for Asturias cider pouring: they encourage it in many local bars. My dad tried and failed so many times when we were younger! I’d also recommend canoeing down the Sella river.

    Reply

    • Thanks for the tip! And, yes. My cider-pouring skills were rather, well, hit and miss!

      Reply

  • Great list, Aby. May I suggest Extremadura as an unusual destination to explore? It’s often overlooked by visitors and it’s probably the least popular region (a good thing!).

    Reply

    • Yes, great suggestion and brilliantly beautiful place! I think I need to update this article and include some more places. Thanks for the reminder!

      Reply

  • What a lovely list of unusual things! I must admit the unusual pizzeria appeals to me and I have not yet stepped foot on a black sand beach!

    Reply

    • It’s amazing how different a black sand beach feels. The eye/mind is so easily tricked. Loved the pizzeria, too, but in part for the enthusiasm of the chef!

      Reply

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