Which of the Spanish Costas is best for a cultural holiday?

Each Spanish costa offers a rich cultural experience alongside its sun-kissed beaches.

By Saga team

Published 4 May 2024

Spain’s been a holiday favourite for decades, and it’s no wonder. Tasty tapas platters, elaborate cathedrals, moonlit mountain lakes – there are chance meetings with beauty all over this amazing country. But you’ll find many of the finest landmarks and cultural sites around the coast of the mainland – the area otherwise known as the Spanish Costas.

Along with their famous sun-kissed beaches, the Spanish Costas offer plenty in the way of ancient castles, Moorish architecture and contemporary art galleries. But which of the Costas in Spain is best if you’re looking to combine shorefront sunbathing with culture on your holiday? We look at three that have lots to offer.

Southern Spain is home to some of the most renowned beaches in the country, and the Costa de la Luz is home to lots of these. Dig a little deeper and you’ll also discover cities with stories that span centuries.

Seville is a place of diverse historical influences and keen-eyed travellers will be able to piece together the city’s story through architectural landmarks. One of the key players is Seville Cathedral; this imposing 16th-century building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest Gothic cathedral in the world. It’s also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. Walking through to admire its vaults, chambers, sculptures and stained glass is a magical experience.

Travel to nearby Jerez, home to the famous dancing horses. These purebred Spanish horses have a history in the country dating back 3,000 years. Watching these majestic animals move to the beat of traditional Spanish music is really moving, and you’ll discover exactly why they’re the beloved symbol of Andalusia.

Jerez is also the home of sherry and the perfect place to enjoy a glass or two and a cellar tour. You’ll find that local food is often cooked in sherry too.

The city of Cadiz has a long history, stretching back millennia to the Phoenicians. Both Columbus and Magellan set sail from here on their famous voyages, so its maritime heritage is strong.

Among the oldest and most historic structures in Cadiz is the partially excavated Roman Theatre, which dates back to the 1st century BC. From a later period, but no less interesting, is Cadiz Cathedral, with its striking yellow dome – a baroque spectacle full of religious treasures.

The wider region of Andalusia is thought to be the birthplace of flamenco music and dancing. Scholars trace the evolution of flamenco back to the confluence of Jewish, Gypsy and Moorish dance styles during the Spanish Inquisition.

Spain’s Costa del Sol has been welcoming British tourists to its lively resorts, beaches and towns for decades – and for good reason. But make no mistake, it isn’t just one giant beach holiday resort. There are points of interest interspersed throughout this dazzling region and they’re not hard to find.

In Malaga, travellers with knowledge of art history won’t be surprised to find a museum dedicated to Picasso. Born in Malaga in 1881, the artist always wanted to have his work exhibited in the city. The collection here charts eight decades of the great master’s art, covering a wide range of styles, techniques and materials.

Malaga is also home to the charming Museo del Vidrio y Cristal de Málaga, the Glass and Crystal Museum. This privately owned building is furnished like a stately home and contains glass from Phoenician times (as far back as 6th century BC) right up to the present day.

Be sure to visit the Moorish fortress and ruins at Alcazaba, overlooking Malaga and the Mediterranean Sea. The conspicuous military style of this fortress makes it one of the most important landmarks of its type in Spain.

The most famous Moorish palace of them all is only a day trip away from the Costa del Sol, in Granada. The UNESCO World Heritage Sites at Alhambra are among the most popular cultural attractions in Spain, and include the ornate 14th-century Moorish palace and the oldest surviving examples of Moorish gardens in the world. The city’s old town was immortalised by the poet Lorca, himself a cultural icon.

Thanks to its rugged natural beauty, Spain’s Costa Brava is often referred to as the Wild Coast. This scenic part of Spain has inspired many famous artists, and the main city in the area, Barcelona, is a thriving cultural centre.

Barcelona is a place that needs little introduction. The capital of Catalonia has fashion, architecture, history, a beach and a cosmopolitan spirit to rival any city in the world.

The buildings and sculptural works of Antoni Gaudi are a particular highlight; La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell are must-sees if you’re visiting the city. As for the city’s most famous street, La Rambla, it has everything from grand theatres to traditional street stalls.

For an insight into one of the world’s best football clubs take a visit to Camp Nou, the home of the Barcelona team. Unsurprisingly, this iconic stadium is cloaked in silverware and the museum provides some legendary stories.

It’s well worth getting off the beaten track in the Costa Brava – you'll find a host of pretty medieval towns and villages. Try Regencós, Port Lligat, Figueres and Púbol.

It’s also hard not to be fascinated by the area’s enduring relationship with surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The landscapes here of Dali’s strange images, and there are a number of attractions you can visit that are associated with the artist. The Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, is the largest surrealistic object in the world.

Time to get away? Plan your cultural exploration of the Spanish Costas. Find out more about our tours and hotel holidays in Spain.

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