Surely you have a list, either real or mental, of places you would love to visit at some point in your life. So do we, of course. And many of the cities on it have one thing in common: they are UNESCO World Heritage cities. I’m sure one of these cities will also appear on your list. After all, they have been recognized in this way for having that magical mix of history and beauty that puts them in the spotlight of any traveler.
In our country there are up to 15 World Heritage cities, so we have a wide range of nearby options to choose from. Will you join us to discover the most fascinating World Heritage cities?
One of the World Heritage cities (and of Europe) with more history behind it is the city of Córdoba. Founded by the Romans, it is a city that must be approached slowly, enjoying a tour of its old town (the second largest on the continent), letting yourself be surprised by the little things; such as the corners with their flowery courtyards or the tapas that can be enjoyed in the Jewish quarter. Of course, you can’t miss the city’s main artistic attraction, its majestic mosque-cathedral. It Is worth going to this part of Andalusia to enjoy this essential monument where the culture of the East meets that of the West.
However, the city does not end with a visit to the mosque. While you relax in its Arabic baths or enjoy the spectacle in one of its lively flamenco tablaos, you will still be discovering the many faces that Córdoba can show you.
Surrounded by the overwhelming environment of the mountains, Cuenca is another of those destinations that have much more to offer than you might think. This unknown city has spaces capable of making you fall in love, such as the Santa María Cathedral or the famous San Pablo Bridge, the result of industrial architecture. From here you can enjoy the best panoramic view of the place and admire the perfect fusion that the centuries have achieved between the city and its surroundings. Cuenca has a powerful cultural offer that will undoubtedly surprise you, led by what was the dream of a group of artists in the 1960s: the Museum of Spanish Abstract Art.
Today that dream is a reality that is located in the unmistakable space of the hanging houses, one of the best known of the place, which contrasts in a unique way with the valuable works it contains. With options that range from staying in a medieval convent converted into a Parador, to taking a route through the natural spaces that surround it. Cuenca has everything you need to offer you a visit you will not forget.
Romans, Visigoths, Arabs… all passed through it and all left their mark. Mérida, the capital of Extremadura, is a jewel that brings together the best of each of the cultures that inhabited the peninsula. Here you will find the oldest Muslim citadel, the aqueduct of the miracles or the best preserved Roman theatre in the peninsula, monuments scattered all over the city that will catch you with their millenary stories.
In addition, Mérida was named Ibero-American capital of gastronomic culture 2016. Therefore, here you can find the best products from a region as tasty as Extremadura. Do not hesitate, the greatest pleasure is to check it out by tasting the specialities they prepare in their restaurants. It is one of the World Heritage cities that has internationally recognized raw materials. For example, the paprika from La Vera or the famous ham from the pasture of Extremadura.
The ancient city of Santiago de Compostela is another one of our World Heritage cities, which constitutes, together with Jerusalem and Rome, one of the major pilgrimage centres of Christianity where thousands of people travel every year along the famous route. The heart of the city is its famous cathedral, the largest Romanesque building ever built in our country, whose beauty, both inside and outside, is something you cannot miss on your trip to the city.
Around it, its meticulously carved doors form large squares around which the historic centre grows. Among its old and baroque streets you can always find a pilgrim. There are also numerous establishments where you can enjoy a good piece of beef, octopus, and of course, the best Galician seafood, the star dish you will find at the end of the Way. One of the most fascinating World Heritage Cities.
In the so-called city of the three cultures and one of our World Heritage cities. Jews, Christians and Muslims lived together and this crossbreeding forged the character of Toledo for centuries, just as the city’s craftsmen forged the famous swords that can still be purchased in its streets. The result is a charming place that will take you back to the Middle Ages. So you can lose yourself in the labyrinthine streets of its walled enclosure, amidst an endless number of mosques, churches and synagogues, or stroll along the banks of the Tajo, the river that has defended the city with its embrace since time immemorial.
The primary cathedral, the Alcazar or the monastery of San Juan de los Reyes are some of the architectural wonders that you should not miss in Toledo. It is a World Heritage city that most surprises the visitor, no matter how many times he or she crosses the Puerta de Bisagra again.
Surrounded by mountains and olive groves of Jaén, the historic town of Baeza rests on the River Guadalquivir. In every corner of this place you will find the reasons why you once wanted to visit it. An endless number of churches, noble houses and palaces make the town look like a small acropolis full of the constructions that remind us of the past splendour. It became so important that it even had its own university. You can still visit the majestic building where it was located, a place that also hosted the French classes given by Antonio Machado.
Without a doubt, this is a place that will be enjoyed much more by architecture lovers, as here you will find examples of practically all the architectural styles that have been found throughout our history of art.
The ancient Roman Tarraco, one of our World Heritage cities, is today a modern city that proudly displays the heritage accumulated in its midst for centuries. On a guided tour, Tarragona will reveal all its secrets in the form of a Roman amphitheatre or the primary cathedral of Santa Tecla. From here you can look out over the sea or climb the mountains.
The choice is yours, but the possibilities are offered by this provincial capital where the beauty of the ancient world, a privileged location and an adequate concern for cultural aspects are conjured up. It is one of the World Heritage Cities that has managed not only to preserve the best of its past, but also to offer an adequate range of museums. Only in this way will you be able to understand the marvels of so many centuries of history and so many cultures condensed into a single city. Or perhaps it is much more than just a city.
This beautiful city takes us back to the Golden Age, one of the richest periods that Spain has experienced and which in Alcalá de Henares had its greatest peak in the mid-sixteenth century with the figure of the famous writer Miguel de Cervantes. Visiting this town is like going back in time and coming face to face with that chivalrous world full of art and mystery. Due to its rich history, there are many literature museums and archaeological sites dating back to the Roman conquest. It is one of the World Heritage Cities that leave a mark on those who visit it.
It is also interesting to note the corral de comedias (the oldest stage in Europe) and its famous university, where great artists such as Lope de Vega and Quevedo studied. There are also numerous shows such as “La Noche de San Juan”, in which you can enjoy the theatre in the purest Renaissance style. Alcalá de Henares is a 21st century city designed to every millimeter for lovers of literature. Ideal for those who like to live the present from the romantic vision of those who shone in the past.
As in many other World Heritage Cities we have already mentioned, the richness of Ávila lies in the cultural variety that inhabited it in its day, composed of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Ávila belongs to the Network of Spanish Jewish Quarters. This provides it with great urban protection. This is especially necessary due to the beauty of its streets, where nature and the city merge. We are talking about the highest city in Spain, with a deeply medieval vision given by the great wall that surrounds it. Therefore, an indisputable fortress that once served as a fundamental method of defense.
Nowadays, the city of Ávila can be enjoyed both inside and outside its walls. In both, it is necessary to visit its palaces, temples, convents, residences, and of course, to taste its rich gastronomic variety. In addition, it is also advisable, if you have the possibility, to hire a tourist route through the city. This way you will not only see the incredible architecture that supports it, but also get to know its most exciting and enigmatic stories and legends.
The historical heritage of this city is given by its prehistoric past, followed by its Roman era and continued by the Middle Ages, modern and contemporary. Thus, Cáceres was home to a multitude of cultures that left their corresponding legacies. To visit Cáceres is to make a route in time that goes from the beginning of humanity to the consolidation of our days. In other words, we can see the heritage of Romans, Almohads, Jews, Portuguese, Castilians…
Perhaps the most impressive thing about Cáceres is its Monumental City, which can be accessed from a Roman and a Baroque entrance. We can also visit its Plaza Mayor, its Jewish quarters, its Almohad towers … Cáceres is characterized by being one of the World Heritage Cities of striking architecture. This varies depending on the area. It is made of stone and wood in the Valle del Jerte area and of masonry in the Valle del Ambroz area, although it also differs in other parts of the city.
Today in addition we can enjoy its center of Visual Arts, its fair of Latin American Art “South Forum”, its famous festival of music “WOMAD” or the Medieval Cross-border Market of the Three Cultures, considered one of most important of the world. Cáceres is undoubtedly a city to enjoy observing every detail, thus becoming part of it.
An island city where there are many, Ibiza (Eivissa in Catalan) was founded by the Phoenicians in 654 BC. Their Punic era left this city with a rich classical heritage that has come to merge in some way with the tradition of the Muslims, who invaded it from Al-Andalus. The characteristic that gives this island its very high cultural and historical value is the Renaissance fortress that embraces the old city, where you can find the Cathedral and the Castle-Almudayna. It is a wall built by the western culture and considered one of the best preserved in the world.
In this city there are three specific places from some of its most important periods. You cannot miss them, these are: the Punic necropolis of Puig des Molins, the sea barriers of Posidonia and the Phoenician settlement of sa Caleta. Ibiza is one of the most versatile World Heritage Cities. You can rest, go out to party, visit emblematic places, taste its gastronomy, learn about our history and enjoy it like never before.
Architecture, literature and art are the characteristics that have been the basis of this city since its origins. It is not only considered one of the World Heritage Cities, but also the European Capital of Culture. Salamanca, a city with a highly Renaissance legacy and the former home of important humanist figures such as Friar Luis de León and Francisco de Vitoria, today displays the remains of this historically and culturally rich past in its homes, convents, palaces and squares.
In front of the outstanding places we can see its cathedrals, the Anaya Palace, the Casa de las Conchas, and of course the famous University of Salamanca. It is the first oldest in Spain and the fifth in Europe. This last concept places Salamanca as a university city, since at present it receives hundreds of students from Spain and the rest of the world.
This time in the Canary Islands, San Cristóbal de la Laguna, belonging to the island of Tenerife, is a city that will make you fall in love from the first moment. Its streets, its old houses and its palaces give account of that beauty that brought with it the fifteenth century and has managed to preserve until today, showing how impressive it had to be this city at its historical peak.
It is also compulsory to take a tour and enjoy the heritage left behind over the years. For example, the church-cathedral of Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, the sanctuary of San Francisco, the Casa Salazar with its characteristic gargoyles and the palaces of Nava and Lercano, which show the remains of Gothic, Flemish, Baroque and Neoclassical art among many others. In this way, San Cristóbal de la Laguna is consolidated as one of the World Heritage cities where you can enjoy nature and the architectural and artistic variety.
Segovia is one of those World Heritage cities where you can breathe the essence of the past wherever you look. From royalty such as Alfonso X and Isabella the Catholic, to mystics such as San Juan de la Cruz and Teresa de Jesús, warriors such as Fernán García and writers such as Antonio Machado, came to this city leaving their important and corresponding mark.
In Segovia it is essential to visit its famous Roman Aqueduct that crosses the old medieval streets still preserved. Also its fortress, its Romanesque churches, its palaces and the surrounding area. Segovia is also a city full of festivals where art and music are promoted. The cuisine is another highlight. You can enjoy in its best restaurants its gastronomy famous for its traditional roasts of piglet and lamb. One of the World Heritage cities that catches you from the first moment with the hope that you will visit it again as many times as you can.
Like Salamanca, Úbeda is an especially Renaissance city, stuck in time to let us see the wonders that were and still are preserved. Wonders in the form of palaces and towers from the bourgeoisie, churches, shrines and the very streets that merge all the cultures that inhabited them. However, a walk through Úbeda is a journey from prehistory to the contemporary age, with a close look at its variety of Arab, Gothic and Baroque styles. In Úbeda it is essential to visit the Plaza Vázquez de Molina, to the south of the city, considered one of the most beautiful squares in Spain.
This city, in the province of Jaén, in the autonomous community of Andalusia, is undoubtedly the key to ending this list of wonderful World Heritage Cities. They should be visited at least once in a lifetime. Cities that force the traveller to immerse himself in the ashes of the past and to discover in such a way that he can still inhabit the present. Cities that make us daydream about moments that have marked the history of our country.