When one seeks to dive into Spain´s rich history and ancient traditions there´s always a special place in every guidebook dedicated to medieval towns in Spain. These unique open-air museums allow us to travel back to the Middle Ages and visualize life as it used to be before gadgets and the internet took over. Check this ultimate list of medieval towns in Spain!
Travel in Spain
The unlimited scope of Spanish national landmarks gives every visitor a unique opportunity to experience different epochs, real and surreal, through one single trip. You can channel your inner cowboy while strolling down the streets of Wild West theme parks in Almeria, bring up your inner royalty while exploring the dreamy Spanish castles, teleport yourself to unimaginable magical forests and fairies. Instead of reading a new wanderlust book, how about heading directly to one of the storybook places in Spain? If you´re a fan of TV shows, Spain has also lots to offer here – begin your travels with Game of Thrones filming locations.
However, in my opinion, it´s always the history geeks getting more than anyone from exploring Spain (and Europe in general).
Nevertheless, despite such a large number of travel activities, visiting new medieval towns in Spain is a lifetime love story for me.
It’s often the medieval towns in Spain that offer the most complete fairytale experience in real life. First of all the magic comes to life due to the frequent local medieval fairs, ancient love stories, and mystical Spanish legends. The charm of medieval architecture, beautiful cathedrals, ancient walls, and unique decorations all together give the Spanish medieval towns an unmatched charm.
In this post, I’ve put together a few of my personal favorites after 10 years of expat life in Spain. Let´s get into details!
Must-see medieval towns in Spain
1. Albarracin / Teruel
Albarracin is officially the king of the beautiful villages in Spain. Many years in a row, and according to several international travel editions, it´s been named the prettiest village in Spain. I´m fully convinced that if you occasionally stumble upon any photo of this Spanish town in the autonomous community of Aragon – you´ll be tempted to visit it yourself! Albarracin is a love-at-first-sight kind of place.
With an official population of only 1016 people (in 2018), the medieval town of Albarracín is a must-stop in the province of Teruel. It was declared a Spanish National Monument in 1961.
The city´s unique architecture, its labyrinth-like cobblestone streets, tumbling into each other pinkish buildings, wooden balconies, pretty churches, and ancient castle walls Murallas de Albarracin, – all this will blow you away!
2. Besalu / Catalonia
Besalu is officially known as one of the most amazing places to visit in the Catalonia region. It is one of the most popular medieval towns in Spain, full of cobblestone streets and historic buildings. The most impressive landmark in Besalu is its 150m-high Viejo bridge, built in the 11th century in order to cross the local Fluvia river. In terms of its unique architecture and storybook appeal it can only compete with the New Bridge of Ronda, one of Andalusia´s top sights.
Besalu is definitely one of the best-preserved medieval small towns in the whole of Europe. You shouldn´t miss the ancient Jewish Quater (Barrio Judio), La Mikve (the XIIth century Jewish Baths), San Pere Monastery, and Circusland (the first in Europe museum of circus history).
3. Alquesar / Huesca
Alquezar constantly stands out on all the rankings of the most beautiful small towns in Spain. But at the same time, I believe that the province of Huesca, where Alquezar is located, deserves even more international fame due to its unique national parks and otherworldly beautiful landscapes.
The name of the village Alquézar comes from the Arabic Al-Qsar, which means fortress. Once you stroll down the local cobblestone streets don´t miss Portal Gótico, Plaza Rafael Ayerbe, Calle de los Dragones, and The Castle of Colegiata Santa María la Mayor.
Nature lovers can´t miss Pasarelas de Alquézar Route. Although it’s not as high as one of Andalusia´s iconic landmarks, El Caminito del Rey, the hike is still quite impressive.
4. Valldemosa / Mallorca
The charming small town of Valldemosa is an absolute must-stop in Mallorca, one of the top Spanish islands. Numerous visitors have called it the most elegant town in the Balearic archipelago. Located only 17km from the island´s famous capital, La Palma, Valldemossa is hidden in between the gorgeous landscapes and magical cliffs of Sierra de Tramuntana, one of the top Spanish national landmarks.
Valldemosa is also quite a romantic destination in Spain. Back in 1828 the composer Frederic Chopin and the French writer George Sand spent a winter enjoying the quietness of this small town. According to Chopin, Valldemossa was ”the most beautiful place in the world”.
Valldemossa is also the birthplace of Mallorca´s Saint – Santa Catalina Thomas. Not to mention numerous Hollywood celebrities, like Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, who visited or stayed in this charming small town during the last decades.
5. Peñiscona / Castellon
The stunning small town of Peñiscola is one of the top places to visit in the Province Castellon, a GOT filming location, and a popular day trip from Valencia. It´s a popular stop on most Spanish road trips across the provinces of Tarragona and Valencia.
The tiny vibrant streets of Peñiscola are full of old charm and yet you can find tones of places with a modern twist, bright facades, and alluring local shops. In the summer months, Peñiscola is a cool place to hit a few trendy bars, grab some cocktails with friends, enjoy nightlife and beach activities. Although fine dining with views and local seafood delicatessen, as well as sightseeing, is available all your round. Peñiscola is one of the coolest medieval towns in Spain during the winter months, due to its warm Mediterranean setting and January Medieval Fair.
The most famous local landmark in Peñiscola is the Castle of Pope Luna. Rising 67m above the Mediterranean, it was a residence of Benedict XIII (Pope Luna) from 1417 till 1423.
Pope Luna is one of the most famous historical figures of the Valencian Community that made it to the international political and religious scene (after The Borgia Family, of course). From 1378 to 1417 the Roman Catholic Church split. It would be fair to say that the division was driven more by politics rather than any theological disagreements. Three men simultaneously claimed to be the true pope. Benedict XIII/ Pope Luna of Peñiscola was one of them. Council of Constance (1414–1418) tried to end the split (Great Schism) and Benedict XIII was considered an anti-Pope. However, until the last day of his life, Pope Luna refused to surrender his Papal tiara and follow the orders of the Roman church. He moved to Peñiscola and turned it into his Papal court.
6. Montblanc / Catalonia
Montblanc is one of the lesser-known medieval towns in Spain, especially compared to its trendy Catalan neighbor – Besalu. Nevertheless, after its establishment as Ducado de Montblanc back in 1387, this small town was once the 7th most important settlement in the autonomous community of Catalonia. However, the years of splendor were soon replaced by years of decadence due to wars and bad harvests. Only in the 18th century, the small town of Montblanc resurrected thanks to vine cultivation.
One of the most unique attributes of Montblanc is its well-preserved medieval walls (1700m long and 6m high). You’ll definitely enjoy a walk through its ancient streets (like Calle Mayor and Calle dels Jueus). Once there, don’t miss Sant Miguel Church and Sant Francesc Monastery, and Pont Vell Bridge.
The small town of Montblanc also celebrates the medieval weeks in April-May (the exact dates vary) and commemorates one of the popular Spanish legends of Saint George and the dragon (or Sant Jordi i el drac in Catalan). If entering the town of Montblanc via the arch called Torre-Portal de Sant Jordi, you can spot the legend written on the wall (in Spanish).
7. Ainsa / Huesca
While I visited the small town of Ainsa on the way to Andorra, the region of Huesca (surrounding this small town) appears quite often on the radar during my Spanish road trips and ongoing travel itineraries.
Thanks to its well-preserved architecture and inspiring mountain setting, Ainsa is a charming small town in Spain absolutely worth your visit.
From local sights make sure not to miss La Plaza Mayor de Aínsa, Castillo de Aínsa and Iglesia de Santa María.
For some gorgeous views head to Mirador Balcón de Aínsa and Mirador del Cinca. By the way, only 18 km from Ainsa there’s another epic panorama at Castillo de Samitier.
8. Pedraza / Castile Leon
While the autonomous community of Castile Leon is the Spanish region holding the biggest number of UNESCO world heritage sites, its most picture-perfect medieval small town is Pedraza. It can be visited on a day trip from Madrid.
While there are traces of the Celtiberians, Romans, and Moors in the area, Pedraza´s splendor is rooted back in the 16-17th century. These lands were suitable for the Merino sheep and subsequently the wool production and trade.
While Pedraza is a tiny village with 500 inhabitants, its medieval architecture still speaks for its old glory. Most of the noble houses can be found at Calle Real street, and the City Hall is located at Plaza Mayor square. Pedraza is also known for its one of the best-preserved Medieval prisons in Europe and the 13th-century castle (with Ignacio Zuloaga paintings exposed inside).
9. Santillana del Mar / Cantabria
Santillana del Mar is a gem of Northern Spain full of medieval charm. La Colegiata de Santa Juliana is the heart of the city. You should also not miss a few local museums like El Museo del Barquillero, El Museo de la Tortura, El Museo Diocesano Regina Coeli.
The biggest touristic pride nearby Santillana del Mar is the Caves of Altamira, with its 36 000-year-old cave paintings. It´s on the list of the greatest Spanish landmarks of all time.
10. Morella / Castellon
Morella is a small medieval town in the Spanish province of Castellon, a hidden gem of the region, and an ultimate stop for all the lovers of the undiscovered and off-the-beaten-path places. There are many beautiful castles in Spain, but none of them has this epic setting that Morella does. Morella is one of those Fairy-Tale Places in Spain that are straight out of a Storybook.
Morella can be visited on a day trip from Castellon, Valencia, Teruel, or Tarragona. It´s at least a 2hr drive, no matter from which city you’re visiting Morella, but for those of you who seek to get an authentic taste of Spain and see the lesser-known regions of the country, it will be 100% worth it.
Rising 984 meters above sea level and fortified by 2 km of walls, Morella has always been of great strategical importance throughout history. Its murals have seen various civilizations – Romans, Arabs, Christians…
Gothic buildings, handicrafts, artisans, and antiques – the streets of Morella are full of alluring details. You can check more details in my Morella post.