Architecture in Spain for the Casual Traveler

Must-See Architecture for Travelers to Spain

Two-story, stone aqueduct running through a Spanish city
The Roman aqueducts in Segovia, Spain. Photo by Brian Hammonds / Moment / Getty Images

When I think of architecture in Spain, I immediately think of Antoni Gaudí, perhaps the most famous Spanish architect dead or alive. But then I remember Santiago Calatrava, designer of the Transportation Hub in Lower Manhattan and the Alamillo Bridge in Seville. And what about the Pritzker Laureate, José Rafael Moneo? Oh, and then there was the Roman Empire in Spain....

Architecture in Spain is an exotic mix of early Moorish influences, European trends, and surreal modernism.

These selected sites link to resources that will help you plan your architecture tour through Spain.

Visiting Barcelona:

This northeast coastal city, capital of the Catalonia region, has become synonymous with Antoni Gaudí. You can't miss his architecture, or the "new" modern buildings going up every year.

  • La Sagrada Familia, the great unfinished cathedral begun by Gaudi in 1882, and La Sagrada Familia school, for the children of the construction workers
  • Casa Vicens, Gaudi's Gothic/Moorish house designed for a Spanish businessman
  • Guell Palace and Guell Park, Gaudi commissions from patron Eusebi Güell
  • Colegio Teresiano, one of Antoni Gaudí's first commissions
  • Casa Calvet, a rather traditional design for Gaudi
  • Gaudi-designed wall around Finca Miralles, as wavy and abstract as Frank Gehry's work
  • Casa Batlló, a very colorful remodeling job by Gaudi, is located in Illa de la Discordia or the Block of Discord. This street displays the architecture of Catalan architects Josep Puig (1867-1956), Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1850-1923), and Gaudi (1852-1926).
  • The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and Palau de la Música Catalana, both UNESCO world heritage sites, are designs of the art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner
  • Hotel Porta Fira, a 2010 hotel designed by Pritzker Laureate Toyo Ito
  • The Forum Building (Edificio Fórum) designed by Herzog and de Meuron

Visiting the Bilbao Area:

If you're visiting Bilbao, take a side trip to Comillas, 90 miles west. Everything you've ever heard about Gaudi architecture may be found in the surreal summer home El Capricho.

Visiting the León Area:

The city of León is roughly between Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela, in the vast Castilla y León region of northern Spain.

  • Casa Botines, one of only three projects Antoni Gaudí built outside Catalonia, is a large, neo-Gothic apartment building.
  • San Miguel de Escalada, a magical medieval monastary from the 9th century, a short drive from León near the famous pilgrimage route, Way of St. James.

If you're traveling from León southeast to Madrid, stop by the Church of San Juan Bautista, Baños de Cerrato near the city of Palencia.

Well-reserved from 661 AD, the church is a fine example of what is called Visigothic architecture—an era when nomadic tribes dominated the Iberian peninsula. Closer to Madrid is Salamanca. The Old City of Salamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Rich in historic architecture, UNESCO sites its importance in "Romanesque, Gothic, Moorish, Renaissance, and Baroque monuments."

If you're headed north from León, the ancient capital city of Oviedo is home to many early Christian churches. These Pre-Romanesque Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of the Asturias from the 9th century are UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with La Foncalada, a public water supply, an early example of civil engineering.

Visiting Santiago de Compostela:

  • City of Culture of Galicia, an ongoing project headed by Peter Eisenman
  • Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a pilgrim's destination at the end of the Way of St. James

Visiting Valencia:

Visiting the Madrid Area:

  • The Monastery at El Escorial, in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, about 35 miles northwest of Madrid, is a UNESCO world heritage site for its historic association with royalty
  • CaixaForum, a Madrid museum by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron
  • Roman aqueduct, 50 AD, in Segovia, northwest of Madrid

Visiting the Seville Area:

Córdoba, about 90 miles northeast of Seville, is site to the Great Mosque of Cordoba in the Historic Centre of Cordoba, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Mosque/Cathedral "is an architectural hybrid," claims UNESCO, "that joins together many of the artistic values of East and West and includes elements hitherto unheard-of in Islamic religious architecture, including the use of double arches to support the roof."

Visiting Granada:

Travel east of Seville a mere 150 miles to experience the Alhambra Palace, a tourist's destination not to be missed. Our Cruise expert has been to Alhambra Palace and our Spain Travel expert has been to The Alhambra in Granada. In Spanish language, visit La Alhambra, Granada. It seems that everyone has been there!

Visiting Zaragoza:

About 200 miles west of Barcelona, you'll find a pedestrian bridge over the Ebro River designed in 2008 by Pritzker Laureate Zaha Hadid. This modern bridge stands in stark contrast with the historic architecture of this ancient city.

Photo Galleries of Spain:

Learn More:

  • The Royal Palaces of Spain by Juan A. Hernandez Ferrero with photos by Humberto Rivas, 1998
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  • The Modern in Spain by Gabriel Ruiz Cabrero, MIT Press, 2001
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