Let’s talk Spanish cities, regions for ideas on what to do on bank holidays

Map of Spain
Rough map of Spain

This topic may seem obvious, duh?

Everybody knows the most important Spanish cities, right?

 

There is Madrid, and Barcelona, of course.

 

Then there is…

(a moment of thinking)

Oh yeah, Sevilla.

And that other one.

The one with the big teddy bear of flowers at the front of this very famous museum.

What was the name of that city again? (Bilbao)

Or the one where everybody walks to and rains a lot? (Santiago)

 

No, this is not a made-up conversation with myself.

This happens to expats.

And it gains relevance as the time of yet another long weekend approaches and you don’t know what else to do with your kids, because you’ve been to all the parks in Madrid, all the kid-friendly activities the city has to offer, and you’ve been to all the near-by towns… a few times each.

(Yes, Toledo, Avila, Segovia and Cuenca if you’re more adventurous).

(Yes, also Chinchón, El Escorial, Alcalá de Henares and all the towns in la Sierra).

 

If you are anything like my good Brasilian friend Luciana, the first I met when we first arrived and with whom I’m still friends with (I miss you, Lu!), you will want to see as much as you can of the country and make the most out of your stay during the years you live here.

Believe me, it’s worth it.

But you know how it is:

We always go to the most popular places because those are the only ones we know or because we’re lazy to look for new places. (Honesty above all!)

Or because the information is mainly in Spanish and well… you don’t speak it (yet).

(That’s one good reason to learn Spanish: to discover more of Spain than only the usual places).

Anyway.

Let’s start with a bit of Spanish geography so that you know where you’re heading to, how long it’s going to take you to get there and what kind of weather to expect.

Comunidades Autónomas or CCAA (abbr.)

Spain is divided in 17 Autonomous Communities (Comunidades Autónomas, abbreviated: CCAA) and two cities overseas: Ceuta and Melilla, which are in mainland Morocco, but are part of Spain.

These are the Spanish equivalent to the German Länder, or the American States (like Caifornia).

This means that each has a government, and a Congress, which are elected every so many years.

Also, each Comunidad manages its own Health System and Education and has it’s own taxing system.

(yes, on top of the central government’s one).

These Comunidades are:

map of autonomous communities in Spain

As you can see, there are four in the North bordering the Cantabrian Sea, three on the East on the Mediterranan Coast, one big one in the South, one in the West bordering Portugal and a few landlocked ones.

Each Comunidad has a capital city.

And you guessed right:

Madrid is both a Comunidad Autónoma and a city, called Madrid Capital.

Why is it called like this?

Because as a Comunidad, Madrid has many smaller cities around its capital: “Madrid Capital”, which is also the capital of the country.

Some of these smaller towns are Alcobendas, Pozuelo de Alarcón, Majadahonda, Las Rozas, San Sebastián de los Reyes, Algete, San Agustín de Guadalix, Getafe, Alcorcón, Rivas Vaciamadrid, Parla, Aranjuez, Barajas…

I will stop there because there are too many to mention here.

This is only to give you an idea of how a Comunidad works.

So, which are all the Comunidades Autónomas?

Comunidades and their capitals

  • Andalucía – Sevilla
  • Cataluña – Barcelona
  • Madrid- Madrid
  • Comunidad Valenciana – Valencia
  • Galicia – Santiago de Compostela
  • Castilla y León – Valladolid
  • País Vasco – Vitoria
  • Canarias – Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife
  • Castilla – La Mancha – Toledo
  • Murcia – Murcia
  • Aragón – zaragoza
  • Islas Baleares – Palma
  • Extremadura – Mérida
  • Principado de Asturias – Oviedo
  • Navarra – Pamplona
  • Cantabria – Santander
  • La Rioja – Logroño
  • Melilla – Melilla (in mainland Morocco)
  • Ceuta – Ceuta (in mainland Morocco)

Provincias

Each Comunidad Autónoma is further divided in Provincias (provinces), which are smaller administrative entities, that’s all.

There are 50 provincias in Spain and some Comunidades have one single provincia, like Madrid, Murcia, La Rioja, Asturias, Cantabria and Navarra.

All other Comunidades have more than 2, being Andalucía and Castilla y León the ones that have the most.

These provincias have their own government and their own capital city, which normally has the same name as the provincia.

For instance, the capital of the provincial de Toledo, is Toledo.

Salamanca – Salamanca

Ávila – Ávila

And so on.

I´m not going to mention all 50 provincias, but here you have a map to see which they are and where they are located.

So, after this geography class, Jimena, where to go on holidays??

So, where to go on short holidays or long weekends?

But fear not, this is not a geography class, only an informative text for you to know where you’re standing.

Furthermore, keep in mind that Madrid is in the middle of the country.

If you visit Puerta del Sol, the exact centre of the city,

You will see a well-signalled plaque on the pavement right outside the building of the government of the Comunidad de Madrid that says “Kilómetro 0”. That is -allegedly- the centre of the country.

Which means that from that point any edge of the country is at the same distance.

Let me explain myself.

From there, it’s the same distance to La Coruña, Cádiz, Barcelona and San Sebastián.

And all of those cities are on the extremes of the peninsula.

Ok.

So.

What to do on a long weekend if you and your spouse can take the time off the explore Spain?

What do Spaniards do?

Beach or Playa

Well, they tend to go to the pueblo (town) to visit family, grandparents or just to disconnect.

Another good option for almost any long weekend is go to the beach.

The closest ones to Madrid are in Valencia, with smaller cities to stay in, like Javea, Altea, Denia or Gandía.

Cataluña has nice beaches, but because is further north, the weather tends to be chillier.

Of course, Andalucía, in the South, is always a good option, yet a bit farther away than Valencia.

Málaga, for instance, is about 5.5 hours away.

Cádiz, even farther.

The North has amazing beaches, but people tend to go there in the Summer because the temperatures are cooler.

As a rule of thumb:

If it’s cold, go to Valencia or Andalucía or Murcia.

If it’s hot, head North to Asturias, Galicia, Cantabria or País Vasco.

(Now that I think of it, I will talk about each Comunidad in detail on a separate post.)

Small cities or ciudades pequeñas or pueblos

You can also pick a destination a few hours away from Madrid and spend the weekend away from the beach.

Each Comunidad has lovely towns to explore with great food and are full of history.

At the start of the article, I mentioned a few, but there are more than those.

Burgos, for instance, only 2 hours away from Madrid, is a beautiful city in the North and is one the cities where the Catholic King and Queen Isabel and Fernando, had their sit.

Valladolid, also 2 hours away (a bit more) is right in the middle of the Ribera del Duero region (wine!) and well worth a visit.

Which brings me back to Peñafiel, a smaller town before Valladolid, which is perfect for a wine tasting weekend.

Salamanca is a university town, which in the words of my son, is “amazing”, is also a bit more than 2 hours away from here.

So, I just gave you a few options on what to do during those many long weekends there are in Spain.

There are obviously many more destinations.

My aim was to help you be aware that there are a lot of options other than the well-known places you will probably hear.

Also, you will start hearing people talking about all these places and things and they are new words that are important.

Comunidad Autónoma?

Now you know what it is.

Provincia?

Now you know what that means!

Comunidad de Madrid and Madrid Capital?

You now know what the difference is.


Hope it was useful.

Let me know and see you next time.

I share more content like this in the emails I send to my community.

So, if you found this post interesting or helpful in any way, and want to find out when the next article comes out, just give me your best email address here, and also get my best tips to practice Spanish every day when you live in Spain. 

Scroll to Top
Perfil-2

Be the first to know

Join my community, know when the next article gets posted, get my best tips to practice Spanish every day & 3-4 words and phrases in Spanish in your inbox per week.