How to Make Any Vacation Educational: Spain

Headed on a family vacation this summer but worried that you should be doing something résumé-worthy instead? Traveling is an interesting way to develop your perspective on life and the world around you, and it can be extremely beneficial to your college application. In this ongoing blog series, we’ll take a look at how you can make the most of your family vacation by learning about the culture of your destination while still indulging in your interests. We’ll see how vacations have helped our Cram Crew family and how you can scope out some interesting sites and things to do! Our first destination? Spain according to Saiqa H!

OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ, OLÉ: the chant heard ‘round España. In this fútbol-obsessed nation, it’s something that you’ll hear everywhere, whether you’re in Catalan-speaking Barcelona or down by the beach in Costa del Sol. But other than world class soccer, what can Spain offer? Spain is a marvelous country to visit and you can truly find something to please everyone. From mystifying museums to soccer stadiums, it’s just a matter of finding what best fits you!

The Capital
As the capital of Spain, Madrid boasts a colorful mix of unique culture and history. For art lovers, Madrid is paradise. The Museo del Prado is home to a huge variety of art, from Degas’ delicate dancers to Picasso’s peculiar portraits. The Museo Sophia Reina houses Picasso’s Guernica, one of the most powerful pieces in modern art of this day and age.

For history buffs, a trip to the Valley of the Fallen is in order. Built to honor the souls that were lost during the Spanish Civil War, the Valley of the Fallen is the world’s only cathedral built entirely into the face of a mountain and is home to the world’s largest cross. Madrid has something for everyone, however you should be prepared for some culture shock: the Spanish tend to take things very slowly and the city slows down from around 4-7 pm. Don’t expect to catch an early bird special as most Madrileños don’t eat dinner until about 10 pm!

The Coast
One of the best things about vacations is kicking back and relaxing, so make like the Dursleys and pop over to Mallorca or one of the many splendid beach towns that populate the southern coast of Spain. On the way though, you might come across the famous windmills that inspired Don Quixote’s tussle with the giants in Cervantes’ Don Quixote de La Mancha. From Basque country to the Strait of Gibraltar (where you’ll find the only primates in Europe: Barbary apes!), Spain is home to a wealth of geological features. You can find sandy white beaches or cliffs with sheer drops into the ocean below. For the budding anthropologist, the Iberian Peninsula is great for paleontology with several different dinosaur fossil locations. Soak in the sun and be a beach bum for a little while! Munch on some tapas and listen to some Spanish guitar. It’s not time for the SAT or ACT…yet.

The Classic
If you want the quintessential Spanish experience, Seville and the surrounding area is the place to go. From Romani gypsy performances to gorgeous Moorish architecture, Seville is Spain’s poster child. Numerous films have been filmed here to take advantage the idyllic scenery, such as Lawrence of Arabia, Kingdom of Heaven (hello Orlando Bloom!), and even Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Remnants from the days of North African Berber occupation remain and are evident in the Islamic architecture and calligraphy that makes up the impressive structure of the Alhambra, a fort that sits atop a hill overlooking Seville, and the Alcazar, another Moorish fort that has been turned into a royal palace. On your way down from Alhambra, stop by one of the Romani gypsy caves that dot the landscape and see if you can catch a flamenco showcase. They’re the originators of flamenco and they sure know how to sing and dance! Romani history is fascinating as they are a nomadic people who originated in India and settled in the south of Spain.

The Castaway
Barcelona is a unique city for a few different reasons. Its inhabitants primarily speak Catalan and as a stronghold against Franco’s regime in the 1930s, they have maintained a bit of an autonomous attitude from the rest of Spain. The city is filled with architectural wonders such as the Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Batlló, all constructed by the Spanish modern architect Antoni Gaudí. History buffs and admirers of architecture will love the Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, of the old city of Barcelona. Another great way to spend your time in Barcelona is to stroll down Las Ramblas, a tree lined street in the heart of the city that’s home to shops, theaters, and museums. Although arguably one of the best things about the city, be cautious of your surroundings as tourists make prime targets for pickpockets and thieves. And as with Madrid, the city slows down in the afternoon and evening, so you can spend some time on one of Barcelona’s famous beaches.

Spain is a marvelous country to visit and I would highly recommend it to any type of traveler, as you can truly find something to please everyone. From mystifying museums to soccer stadiums, it’s just a matter of finding what fits best for you!

Places of Interest: Museo del Prado, Museo Sophia Reina, El Escorial, Bernebeu Stadium, Camp Nou, Valley of the Fallen, Avenue de Las Ramblas, Alhambra, Alcázar de Seville, Plaza Mayor, Plaza de España
Foods to Try: paella, Spanish tortilla, pan con tomate, fideos, patatas brava, jamón ibérico, churros con chocolate, buñuelos,
Climate: warm and dry during the summer with Mediterranean-like climate near the coasts, mild winters
Currency: Euro
Best Way to Get Around: Public transportation is quite reliable throughout the country

  • Saiqa

    This was definitely written before the World Cup started 😛

    • Mai McCarthy

      Well the Spaniards aren’t any less fanatic than before! 🙂

  • Natalie

    I want to go to there. 🙂