What Is Spain Known For?

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Rich in cultural heritage, Spain’s traditions run deep with wild fiestas, flamenco shows, tapas and stunning architecture a great legacy of the past. From the snowy mountains of Andalucia and the Pyrenees to the crystal-clear waters and beaches of Ibiza and Mallorca, Spain’s diverse terrain shaped the culture and language of each region, and created wine and olive oil, known throughout the world. Spanish ingenuity in architecture led to the construction of incredible medieval castles like the Alhambra, and stunning cathedrals like the La Sagrada Familia, while Spanish artist Picasso pioneered the modern art movement.

In the fields of Spain, the mouth-watering paella was born, made from the freshest vegetables, rice and seafood. Spanish cuisine is diverse, with tasty dishes available in each region, presented in the form of tapas, typically including a slice of delicious cured ham. Just like when you reach the bottom of the paella pan, let’s dig a little deeper to find out more about what Spain is known for.

What Is Spain Known For?

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1- Paella

Traditional Spanish Seafood Paella
Paella is a popular food Spain is known for.

As the emblematic dish of Spanish culture, Paella captures all the best flavours of the country, combining the best vegetables, rice, and seafood in Europe.

Over many generations families have come together to enjoy this flavourful dish, tweaking it ever so slightly to align with their tastes.

Paella’s humble roots began in Valencia when farmers cooked the rice from the fields along with anything else found in the countryside such as tomatoes and onions over a fire.

Beans and chicken were added to enhance the flavour and texture of the dish, and on special occasions, a pinch of saffron to add extra colour and flavour.

Paella’s popularity spread throughout the country, and new variations arose, since Valencia and other large cities are near the sea, a seafood version of paella was created.

Although paella is Spain’s national dish, it goes beyond the country’s borders. In many Latin American, European, and North American countries, you can find paella on the menu.

Recommended tour: Barcelona: Paella Cooking Class with Sangria & Market Visit

2- Beautiful Beaches

Cala Saona That Is One Of The Most Beautiful Beaches Of Ibiza
Beautiful beaches are what Spain is best known for.

With long coastlines on the north and south, and islands in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, Spain’s pristine beaches are some of the best in the world, and in the warmer months, millions of people head to the country to soak up the sun, swim and surf.

Many travellers head the Mediterranean, or in the Balearic Islands during the summer for the golden sand and clear turquoise waters.

In the colder months, sun chasers tend to head south in Andalucia, or the Canary Islands, where the sand and sea are a bit darker, and the winter temperatures are mild.

The northern coastline of Spain on the Atlantic offers more natural scenery, with forested hills and winding grassy trails leading down the beach.

On the coastline of Girona, and in the Balearics, you can swim in ‘calas’ or small coves beaches flanked by rocky cliffs.

3- Languages

Spanish, Spanish Word Written With Calligraphy
Languages are what is Spain known for.

Spanish is the official language of Spain and is spoken by all citizens, but several autonomous communities in the country have their own official languages as well.

Catalan is widely spoken throughout Catalonia, however, there are different variants of Catalan spoken in other areas outside the province.

Valencian, Balearic, north-western, central, northern or Roussillon, are all spoken in their respective areas, and Alghero Catalan is spoken in Sardinia, Italy.

In Galicia, Galician is spoken, and in Basque Country and part of Navarre, Basque (Euskara) is the most unique language in the country.

In addition to the official secondary languages used in Spain, Spanish itself has dialects.

Castillian Spanish or Peninsular Spanish refers to a dialect spoken in northern and central Spain, and it’s the most proper form of Spanish, compared to Andalusican Spanish found in the south.

The term Castilian Spanish is also used to identify Spanish spoken in Spain, which is slightly different from the Spanish spoken in Latin American countries.

4- Bullfighting

Traditional Corrida Bullfighting In Spain
Bullfighting is what Spain was once known for in history.

Steeped in pageantry and ritual, bullfighting celebrates the cultural heritage of Spain, with symbols of bravery, skill and artistry.

Its earliest roots go back to Mesopotamia when bulls were worshipped and sacrificed.

During Roman times, bulls were pitted against men, in a dance to the death. As Roman rule spread across the Iberian peninsula, so did the ritual.

The first official bullfight in Spain was held in 711 A.D., in honour of the coronation of King Alfonso VIII.

During these times, the bulls were defeated by matadors on horseback.

The modern version of bullfighting arose in the country in 1726, when a famous matador from Ronda, Francisco Romero, used a sword and red cape to defeat the bull.

Centuries later, widespread controversy about the mistreatment of animals arose, leading to the Catalan government banning bullfights in the region in 2012.

Four years later, the ban was overturned by the Spanish government, but no events in the region have occurred since.

Bullfighting events still take place in many other areas of the country to this day.

Recommended tours:

5- Flamenco

Flamenco. Performance On Stage
Flamenco is what Spain is known for.

Full of fiery passion and intense rhythmic clapping and dancing, flamenco shows feature music bursting at the seams with emotion, while telling dramatic stories about life as an outcast in the old days of white Christian Spain.

Flamenco’s roots originated in the Sacromonte caves of Granada when the Romani (Gypsy), Moorish, Andalusian and Jewish cultures intermingled after the reconquest of the Iberian peninsula by the Spanish.

In the evening, their primitive dwellings were transformed into improvised stages for live performances, with spectators shouting Olé! in appreciation.

As the dancers stomp and spin wearing traditional red ruffled dresses, their strong facial expressions evoke heavy emotion throughout the audience.

Over 50 styles of Flamenco exist, each with its own unique set of rhythmic beats.

Shows are held all across the country, with grand performances taking place in Seville, Madrid, and Cordoba.

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6- Tapas

Tapas - Barcelona, Spain
Tapas is what Spain is known for in the food area.

Every region of Spain boasts about their delicious local cuisine, but they can all agree on one thing, that the deep-rooted tradition of tapas is the best way to showcase all those extraordinary flavours from around the country.

Some believe the tapas originated in the 13th century when King Alfonso X drank wine and ate small dishes between meals to recover from an illness.

Soon after, he ordered that all inns serving wine must provide a small portion of food or ‘tapa’ along with drinks.

Nowadays, nearly every restaurant and cafe in Spain still offers this hallmark snack when you sit down to grab a drink.

The tradition goes beyond just tasting some delicious olives, fried squid, chorizo, meatballs or potatoes.

It’s a great way for families and friends to socialise between meals.

7- San Fermin (Running of the Bulls)

Running Of The Bulls At Street Fest In Spain
An event called the running of the bulls is what Spain is famous for.

Every year in July, Pamplona celebrates San Fermin, a fiesta in honour of the city’s first bishop and a patron saint who was beheaded in 303 A.D.

Over eight days, runners typically dressed in white with red handkerchiefs, test their bravery and courage by running in front of six angry bulls as they make their way hurriedly through the narrow streets of the city.

Dating back to the 13th century, bull running began when cattle herders decided the easiest way to transport the animals from the corrals to Plaza de Toro was through the city streets.

The locals would gather at the intersections and drive the animals onward by shouting and striking them with sticks.

Over one million people from around the world come to Pamplona each year to witness the wild events immortalised in Hemmingway’s book ‘The Sun Also Rises’.

The party rages day and night during the fiesta, and during the bull runs, onlookers gasp while dozens of people are gored or trampled, sometimes to death.

8- La Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia is what Barcelona, Spain, is known for.

In almost every corner of Barcelona, you can find one of Antonio Gaudi’s spectacular architectural designs, and his legacy lives on as they continue to build his grand masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia.

Construction of the cathedral began in 1882, and it’s scheduled to be completed in 2026, exactly 100 years after Gaudi’s death.

La Sagrada Familia or ‘the holy family’ church was designed to honor Jesus and his family.

The extremely tall towers extend high above the city skyline, and represent him, his mother, the four evangelists, and the twelve apostles.

The elaborate facades are meant to integrate religion and nature harmoniously, with the nativity scene over the temple being the most remarkable exterior feature.

The interior designs are equally impressive, with massive columns allowing light to flood through the tall stained glass windows, creating vibrant colours throughout the nave.

They connect delicately to the ceiling, like tree branches extending outward, forming complex geometric shapes. Skip the lines and book your tickets here.

9- Alhambra

Famous Alhambra In Granada
The Alhambra is what Granada, Spain, is known for.

As the prized gem of Andulcia, the Alhambra not only houses the best preserved royal palace in Spain under Moorish rule, but it also tells the story of the region’s turbulent past and the reconquest in 1492.

Built upon ancient Roman battlements, the walls of the Alhambra began to take shape after the first Muslim army invaded Spain.

Over several hundred years, successive Muslim dynasties battled for control of the region, and in the early 13th century, the Nasrid rulers began the construction of the Alhambra we see today.

As a symbol of power over Grenada, the Nasrids constructed a fortress with enormous imposing walls to house military defences, mosques, royal courts and gardens.

Inside the palace, you can still see the intricate Islamic designs crafted from plaster and wood, one of the finest examples of these techniques.

Reconquest by the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella brought an end to the Islamic rule in Spain, and the construction of the Charles V. Palace, adding Renaissance style to the Alhambra. Skip the lines and book your tickets here.

10- Wine and Sangria

Two Pitchers
Wine and Sangria are what Spain is known for producing.

As the number one exporter of wines in the world and with more vineyards than any other country in the world, Spain’s reputation for producing great wines at affordable prices goes well beyond the European borders.

The diverse terrain and range of climate types in Spain allow winegrowers to produce several distinct types, each rich with flavour.

At higher altitudes, the temperature drops, allowing for a longer ripening season and creating more balanced wines with a fresher taste.

Named for the region where it is grown, Rioja tops the list as the most popular red wine, followed closely by Priorat, Tempranillo, and Ribera del Duero.

But let’s not forget about the white wines from northern Spain, like cava and sherry which are popular worldwide too.

When the summer heat arrives, the people of Spain mix red wines such as Garnacha along with fruit, orange juice and brandy to create a more refreshing drink, Sangria.

11- Ibiza

Sailing Yacht Stay In Dream Bay With Turquoise Transparent Water
Ibiza is a destination that is famous in Spain among partygoers.

During the summertime, Spain’s Balearic Islands become a hotspot for Europeans looking to soak up the sun and swim in the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean.

But for those seeking vibrant nightlife, Ibiza is the first choice.

With raging nightclubs that stay open until the early hours of the morning blasting live music, the island is a party-goers’ paradise, even for international celebrities.

But Ibiza is more than just an escape for late-night fun.

The island contains some of the best beaches in the country, coastal hikes, and a charming old town with fantastic views of the sea.

In the west of the island, you can watch the sunset in Sant Antoni de Portmany, or explore the hippy markets in the east of the island, near Santa Eulalia.

Whether you’re ready to party, or just relax with family and friends, Ibiza caters to all types of holidaymakers.

Recommended tours:

12- Picasso

El Quijote , Painting By Picasso
Picasso is a famous artist born in Spain known for his experimental style.

Arguably the most influential figure in modern art, and one of Spain’s greatest artists, Pablo Picasso is considered a genius by many, for constantly reinventing his style during his lifelong career.

Born in Malaga, Spain in 1881, Picasso was led into the world of art by his father, a professor of drawing.

At age thirteen, a piece in his first exhibit won national acclaim, but shortly later he decided to drop out of art school to experiment full-time with modern art.

Arriving in Paris in 1900, he was given an exhibition a year later at one of the most prestigious art galleries.

In 1909, along with his co-founder Georges Barque, he pioneered Cubism, invented constructed sculpture, and several other new artistic techniques including collage.

Picasso created more than 50,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, and engravings during his 80-year career.

His most famous painting ‘Guernica’, represented the suffering caused by German plane bombings during the Spanish Civil War.

Museo Picasso Málaga is an excellent museum dedicated to the artist.

13- La Tomatina

Many of Spain’s fiestas are known for being wild and bizarre, but La Tomatina takes the cake, or in this case the tomato!

Every year at the end of August, over 40,000 people flood the streets of the small Valencian town of Buñol, ready to paint the town red during the world’s largest food fight.

Dating back to 1945, the fiesta begins with a Spanish ham hanging from a greased pole in the town’s square in the morning.

Eager participants attempt to climb the pole, hoping to claim the delicious prize and the admiration of the crowd.

At 11 am, a firework explodes triggering the world’s biggest food fight.

For one hour, chaos ensues, as 150,000 kg of tomatoes are hurled in every direction throughout the crowd, covering the participants from head to toe in a messy red slush.

14- Jamón (Spanish Cured Ham)

Jamon
Jamón (Cured Ham) is what Spain is known for in the food area.

Spain’s olive oil and wine are world famous, but there is nothing more exquisite than Spanish cured ham known as Jamón.

The tradition of making cured ham dates back to over 2,000 years ago when the Romans ruled the Iberian Peninsula.

For centuries, cured ham legs were reserved for only royalty and clergy.

Later in the 13th century, it became commonplace in Spanish households and nowadays it’s an integral part of many Spanish tapas.

Spanish cured ham comes in two varieties, Jamón Serrano which comes from white pigs, and Jamón Ibérico which comes from the meat of true Iberian pigs with black hooves.

Jamón Ibérico de Bellota is the most expensive cured ham because of its distinct flavour and quality, with the most expensive legs being sold for an impressive 4,100 euros!

These free-range pigs wander the forests in western Spain, eating sweet acorns on the ground as they go, giving the Jamón its unique taste.

Recommended tour: La Rioja: Jamon Iberico Farm Tour and Tasting with Wine

15- Siestas

After a large lunch, the Spanish settle down in their favourite cosy spots for a short nap between 2 and 5 pm.

Even some stores and businesses close so the workers can go home to relax during a siesta.

The word siesta comes from the word hora sexta, or ‘sixth hour’ in Spanish, meaning the 6th hour of the day after sunrise.

This old-world tradition comes from agricultural times when farmers would take time to escape the scorching heat of the midday sun, eat and nap for a little while.

Afterwards, they would return to the fields to work until sunset but in modern times, not everyone in Spain takes a siesta.

With the advent of air conditioning and people having to travel greater distances to get to work, it became less common.

Nowadays, it’s mostly retired people and younger children who get to catch some z’s in the middle of the day.

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Grant Doremus is a freelance writer from the United States, eager to share his travel experiences and knowledge about some of the best destinations in the world. He grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and after a successful career in finance, he decided to chase his dreams of becoming a digital nomad. As an avid hiker and outdoor enthusiast he went on a road trip across the U.S. visiting 26 states, exploring most of the country's national parks, and climbing some of the highest peaks in the country. After a year on the road, he headed to Europe where he backpacked through 10 countries before finally settling in Spain. Grant loves to write about Spanish culture, its rich history, and traditions. His favourite destination so far is Mallorca, but he hasn’t finished his travels just yet!