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In 1993, an organization was founded that brought together representatives from the world’s most historically significant destinations. Called the Organization of World Heritage Cities, or OWHC, its member cities were an exclusive list of places that had made it onto the UNESCO World Heritage List. In total, there are 233 World Heritage Cities, and a staggering number can be found within the borders of Spain. Get to know what each is famous for and why it might be a worthwhile spot for an upcoming vacation.
Alcalá de Henares
This renaissance-style city is located just 20 miles northwest of Madrid. This is where Miguel de Cervantes was born, the author of the famous novel Don Quixote. Here you will also find one of the oldest universities in the world, Universidad Complutense, founded in 1293, and it is well worth a visit.
Known as the Town of Stones and Saints, Ávila has a staggering number of medieval cathedrals as well as fascinating walls that still stand and surround the city. Here you’ll find many traditional hotels located in the historical center of the city and the place is filled with festivities and old traditions.
Located in Andalusia and surrounded by a sea of olive trees, the town of Baeza is included on the OWHC list thanks to its well-preserved Italian Renaissance architecture. If you visit during the Corpus Christi festival you will find the entire city beautifully decorated.
This majestic walled city offers travelers a unique glimpse into medieval life as well as impressive stone architecture from the Roman, Arab, Jewish, and Christian cultures. Places of leisure and recreation are integrated with the surrounding green areas, and there are musical, exhibitional and theatrical programs to be enjoyed throughout the year.
Yet another walled Roman city, Cuenca stands out because of its mix of old and new structures. Avant-garde architecture like the Hanging Houses, built on the side of a cliff, are a must-see. Besides culture and art, you can add scenic leisure, adventure and sport activities to your visit in Cuenca.
In the past, the city of Córdoba has been Roman, Iberian and even Moorish, which means that the culture and religious buildings are a unique mix. Explore mosques, cathedrals and more in this historic destination. Cross the Roman bridge and visit the iconic cathedral-mosque of Cordoba.
Although not technically a part of the Spanish mainland, this Mediterranean island is Spanish and boasts a historic town as well as incredible white sand beaches. The old center of Ibiza is an old stone fortress shaped by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and Christians over time. The warm climate allows year-round sailing and water activities.
With a history spanning over 2,000 years, the city is home to more Roman monuments than almost anywhere else in Europe. If you visit during the Festival de Teatro de Merida, you can enjoy theater and festivities in an old Roman theater constructed around 15 BC.
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Home to one of the largest and most influential universities in Spain, Salamanca is also a place full of medieval churches and towers. Admire a variety of architectural style: Romanic, Gothic, Plateresque and Baroque in the renowned Plaza Mayor.
San Cristóbal de La Laguna
Located on the island of Tenerife, which is one of the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, this city was built following the principle of geometry, which makes it ideal for math lovers as well as sun bathers.
Santiago de Compostela
This city is the final destination of Christianity’s most important pilgrimage, a journey that has continued annually since the 9th century. This is a happening cultural place to visit, filled with both traditional theater and the latest trends in alternative venues.
Almost directly in the center of Spain, Segovia boasts the trifecta of attractions: the Alcázar, the Gothic cathedral and the Roman aqueduct. Enjoy Castilian cuisine in this city rich with local gastronomy.
Just an hour south of Madrid and situated by the banks of the river Tagus, Toledo boasts an impressive historic coexistence of Christians, Muslims and Jews, and it is nicknamed the Imperial City. The city is also known for its ceramics, engraved weapons and damascene.
Sail, go kayaking, water ski or scuba dive year-round in the mild climate of Tarragona. Here you will find Roman, medieval and contemporary Tarragona architecture coexisting in the same place.
With Renaissance palaces, churches and castles, this Spanish city is perfect for anyone looking to get picture-perfect photographs. Check the calendar to enjoy one of the city’s many festivals and leisure activities hosted throughout the year.
With so many World Heritage Cities to choose from, there is no question that Spain is the ideal destination for lovers of history, architecture and culture.