Updated: Aug 31
Spain is a rather big country - covering almost 200,000 square miles and hosting nearly 47 million people. It is therefore no surprise that the nation is divided into 17 different autonomous communities, each with their own traditions and identities. 17 is quite a lot so in this blog we’ll be taking a quick virtual tour through each one and getting to know a little bit about them!
We’ll begin along the Southern Coast of Spain in the beautiful region of Andalusia, spelt Andalucia in Spanish. This autonomous community embodies the famous traditions of Spain and is made up of well-known cities such as Granada, Cordoba, and the capital Seville. The infamous musical style and dance of Flamenco originated in this region and has roots in both arabic and gypsy culture.
Fun fact: Up until the 15th century Andalucia was under Moorish rule and you can see this in the architecture - such as Granada’s Alhambra!
Up in the North East of Spain we have Aragón, a landlocked region centred by its capital of Zaragoza. While it doesn’t have any beaches, it is the home of many ski resorts due to its proximity to the Pyrenees mountains.
Fun fact: Aragón is the birthplace of renowned painter Francisco de Goya
Moving to the northwest of Spain we’ll find Asturias and its capital Oviedo. It is known for its luscious green valleys and the Costa Verde which spreads across a whopping 345km.
Fun fact: This region is also known for Asturian Cider Pouring - or el escanciado - a method of ‘throwing’ the cider from above the head and into the glass. This is done to create a foamy layer as well as to release the aromas in the cider.
4. Balearic Islands
The Balearic Islands, if you couldn’t guess, are a group of islands situated off the east coast of Spain. Made up of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera and several smaller islands, this archipelago is a buzzing hotspot for tourists - and for good reason. Its enchanting coves, gorgeous landscapes and lush natural landscapes create the perfect environment for everything from relaxing to partying.
Fun fact: Mayonnaise is believed to have originated in Menorca, with its name descending from the island’s capital of Mehón.
5. Basque Country
Heading back up to the North of Spain, we have the Basque Country, or el País Vasco, in Spanish. This region has a very distinctive identity - from its culinary traditions (pintxos instead of tapas), to its unique geographic landscape, to its unusual language el vasco or Euskara (which is the oldest language in Europe and has mysterious origins).
Fun fact: Pablo Picasso’s 1937 painting Guernica is based on the bombing of the Basque Country town Gernika.
6. Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are located off the Northwest coast of Africa, made up of Lanzarote, La Palma, Tenerife, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, El Hierro, and Gran Canaria. It is popular due to its year-round sunshine and natural parks. The landscape offers everything from the volcanoes of Lanzarote, to the beaches of Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria, to the green forests of La Palma.
Fun fact: The Santa Cruz de Tenerife Carnival is a Brazilian-style festival that takes place in the Canary’s largest island for 15 days in February.
Wedged between Asturias and the Basque Country we’ll find the small region of Cantabria. But don’t be deceived by its size - this area offers a bit of everything. From its colourful coastline with over 60 beaches, to its inland mountains and green landscapes, there is a lot to see and enjoy.
Fun fact: The Magdalena Palace in Santander is used as the yearly summer destination for the Spanish Royal Family.
8. Castilla La Mancha
We’ll now head further south to Castilla-La Mancha, a region which nestles around Madrid. While it is an autonomous community with a lot of beautiful heritage sites and natural landscapes, the highlight has to be its capital of Toledo. This ancient city is known as ‘the city of three cultures’ due to its mix of Jewish, Muslim and Christian heritage. It was in this unique place that these 3 different religious groups supposedly peacefully coexisted during the Middle Ages.
Fun fact: Castilla-La Mancha is the home of Manchego, the famous cheese made of sheep’s milk that is aged for at least 60 days and up to 2 years!
9. Castilla y León
The North West of Spain is dominated by Castilla y León, the largest autonomous community in Spain that covers 94,222km2. One of its most famous cities is Salamanca - the home of the 3rd oldest university in the world that was founded in 1134.
Fun fact: The Alcázar of Segovia, located in the south east of the province, is the medieval castle which inspired Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle.
If you haven’t heard of Catalonia, where have you been? This northwestern region is one of the most famous in Spain, largely thanks to its capital of Barcelona. Like the Basque Country, this autonomous community is fiercely independent with its own language - Catalán - and unique local customs. The region is made up of Girona, Tarragona, Lleida and - of course - Barcelona. This enchanting seaside city is the capital of culture - from Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell, to Salvador Dali’s eccentric paintings, to the Picasso Museum which exhibits the artist’s time living in Catalonia.
Fun fact: The colourful Fiesta de Gracia takes place in Barcelona from the 15th-21st August every year.
Down in the South West of Spain we’ll find Extremadura, a region that could be described as the heart of Old Spain. As well as its beautiful natural landscapes, this area is a historical gem marked by its medieval cities and Roman remains.
Fun fact: The Roman Theatre in Extremadura’s capital of Mérida was built between 16-15BC, when the city was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania.
Now we’ll head up to the very North West of Spain to the beautiful region of Galicia. Like Basque Country and Catalonia, this is another distinct autonomous community with its own language - Gallego - and cultural identity. It is often nicknamed Green Galicia due to its climate and lush green landscape.
Fun fact: A typical dish from Galicia is Pulpo a Feira - aka octopus on potatoes.
13. La Rioja
Wedged between northern regions is La Rioja - aka the wine hotspot of Spain. There are over 500 wineries in this autonomous community which help to create the region’s reputation for producing the best quality of wine. This area has such a love for the drink that every June in Haro there is a wine festival, where a Batallo de vino commences.
Fun fact: The municipality of Santo Domingo de la Calzada is supposedly the birthplace of the first written words in the Spanish language.
If you haven’t heard of Madrid before, then I’m seriously concerned for your wellbeing. This autonomous community is centred by the capital City of Madrid - the heart of politics, trade and industry in Spain. Its mix of cultural museums, buzzing nightlife, and delicious gastronomy makes it unsurprising that it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.
Fun fact: The city of Madrid wasn’t founded until 860AC when an Arab ruler first built a castle there.
Next we’re heading to Murcia, a small province in the South East of Spain. It is known for its plentiful sunshine and beautiful beaches. The salty lagoon of Mar Menor is a particularly popular destination as it remains a warm temperature all year round. This community is also popular with students and the Universidad de Murcia is the third oldest uni in Spain.
Fun fact: Murcia gets over 3000 hours of sunshine a year!
Nestled between the Basque Country and Aragon in the North East of Spain we’ll find Navarre. This region and its capital of Pamplona is probably best known for the San Fermin festival that takes place between the 6th and14th July. The first day is marked by the famous ‘Running of the Bulls’ where, if you couldn’t guess, bulls run through the narrow streets of Pamplona.
Fun fact: The writer Ernest Hemingway wrote his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises in Pamplona.
Last but not least we are arriving in the South Eastern region of Valencia - a sunny, meditterranean paradise marked by the famous cities of Alicante, Javea and, of course, Valencia. This is another distinctive autonomous community with its own language (Valencian), traditions (Las Fallas, La Tomatina) and culinary dishes (the home of paella).
Fun fact: Valencia is the home of the famous cocktail (unsurprisingly) named Agua de Valencia. It was invented when a group of Basque travellers challenged their barman to make a unique drink.