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Spain’s cultural peaks: Where to go and what to do

Mattie Lacey-Davidson

Contributor

Las Españas, or the United Empire of the Spains, as the country is also referred to, is indicative of the distinct cultures and long history existing across the country. With each city having its own quintessential character it can be hard to pin the country down to one way of life – let alone decide where to visit. For art lovers, Malaga boasts an incredible 37 museums and numerous galleries packed into a small city, while Palma in Mallorca calls out to those interested in history and architecture as this city displays a past of diverse people. Madrid, the country’s capital, offers a wide-ranging taste of arts, culture and architecture. For those more interested in the innovative gastronomy scene, the choice is yours…

Sights to see in Madrid

At the forefront of the arts in this city is a sculpture by artist Antonio Navarro Santafé (1906 – 1983) The bear and the strawberry tree. Built between 1766 and 1768, it can be found in La Puerta del Sol, the city’s most famous square, and has become the symbol of Madrid. Visit the statue as part of your own walking tour of the city, on which you should include the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Almudena Cathedral and the city’s largest park, home to over 15,000 trees with several beautiful gardens and a gorgeous lake.

If visiting over a weekend, dedicate your Sunday to the famous and almost intimidatingly large El Rastro de Madrid. This lively open-air market is over 400 years old and the name translates as ‘the trail’ because it takes you past an endless number of stands selling extremely varied objects until 3 pm. 

Where to eat in Madrid

Start with an entrée at La Casa Del Abuelo - an adorable restaurant dating back to 1906, with pillars and countertops throughout where you position yourself (standing) before being presented with bread and prawns sizzling in garlic butter. For your main, move onto 100 Montaditos where you will find a vast selection of traditional little Spanish sandwiches called bocadillo or bocata, as well as sides. Finally, for a sweet finish to your food (or your night out), treat yourself to the most famous churros in Madrid. Chocolatería San Ginés, open 24 hours a day, promises a hearty number of churros with a mug-full of chocolate. Be warned that during the winter months and high season you might find yourself queuing for an hour if you want to sit down.

Madrid, Spain

Credit: Florian Wehde

The Malaga arts (and museum) scene

Whilst the Mediterranean Sea bathes the Málaga coastline, mountains close ranks behind the city to form a barrier of peaks that protects it from the cold. Malaga is one of the oldest cities on the planet and it gave the world painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso, Hebrew poet and Jewish philosopher Solomon Ibn Gabirol, and the actor Antonio Banderas. It should come as little surprise, then, that the small city is drenched in culture. The history is ever-present as you walk around, passing the Fortress la Alcazaba (built by the Hammudid dynasty in the early 11th century), the Roman Theatre and the Cathedral de la Encarnacion.

There are 37 museums in Malaga and many galleries - including The Centre Pompidou Malaga, the first gallery by the Parisian art institute to open outside France. A standout collection is that of the Automovilístico de Málaga, an automobile and fashion museum, containing an awe-inspiring private collection of automobile and fashion designs from history through to modern-day. 

Where to eat in Malaga

Without a doubt, El Pimpi should be at the top of your culinary bucket list. It opened in 1971 and is situated inside an old 18th-century mansion house, making it one of the longest-standing bodega bars in Málaga. Its name harks back to the ‘Pimpi’, a local Málaga character who used to help the crews and passengers from ships that arrived at the city’s docks. These days it’s a place to get together for celebrities, Malagueños and visitors alike so it is always busy. It is a maze inside and as you make your way to your table or the bar, waiters walk past with huge trays held high above your head as they weave up and down through the crowds of hungry patrons into the different areas. 

Malaga, Spain

The historic architecture of Palma

It is said that the history of Mallorca is as long as its coastline (555km). It has attracted a multitude of conquerors, invaders, settlers and tourists, leading to a cultural culmination that is evident today in an assortment of prehistoric settlements, fortresses and medieval churches. The gothic cathedral on the seafront in Palma is undoubtedly the standout architectural feature of the island and nearby you will also find Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art, housed in an old fortress. The Spanish artist Joan Miró spent the best part of 30 years living in Mallorca and there is a foundation devoted to his works just to the west of Palma. Across the island, there is a rich history of arts and crafts, best seen through markets held by local artisans, such as Arta, Pollença and Inca.

If sightseeing in Palma is on your agenda, it is worth buying a ‘Palma Pass’, which provides access to museums and tourist attractions, permits free public transport and even gives you a discount on selected activities, restaurants and shops. You can buy cards for various durations and special family passes are also available.

Where to eat in Palma

Spend your afternoon at the small family vineyard Son Puig and combine a tasting with a feast of local delicacies. They sell four reds and three whites which you can count yourself lucky to enjoy because as little as 40,000 bottles are produced a year (a small number in the world of wines). In the evening head to Flanagan restaurant to dine like royalty - it may sound Irish, but it is a Mediterranean restaurant popular with the King of Spain himself. 

Es Baluard Museum of Contemporary Art

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