Peace and quiet in Spain? It’s true, Spain is a very lively country with many vibrant cities and people who like to stay up late. And over 80% of Spain’s 46 million population live in towns and cities. When you factor in some of the 80+ million tourists that visit Spain every year, you can quite easily encounter noise and over-crowding in Spain’s most popular tourist destinations. So here are Totally Spain‘s 20 handy tips to finding some peace and quiet in Spain…
Finding Peace and Quiet in Spain
1. Head for the park
Take the excellent parks such as Retiro in Madrid and Montjuic in Barcelona. Not only do these spaces act as the lungs for their respective cities but they are also huge and offer plenty of potential for a quiet read, a leisurely picnic or rest. Certain sections do get busy at weekends but there’s always a quiet area to be found. If you exhaust the possibilities of the park, city botanical gardens are always quiet also. You will have to pay to access them but that means you spend even longer appreciating the solitude. And one of our favourite (albeit unusual) green areas is the tropical garden inside Renfe’s Atocha Rail Station in Madrid. For more on gardens and palace grounds, read our Totally Spain guide to Spain’s best gardens in Madrid, Catalonia and further afield.
2. Visit museums during siesta time
We always advise our clients to pre-book tickets to the top attractions to avoid the queues but if you’ve overlooked this, our next best tip is to visit during the Spanish siesta time. You’ll find international visitors in line at attractions such as the Prado, Thyssen and Picasso Museums during lunchtime but because most Spanish people dine from 2-4pm, they don’t tend to visit museums during these hours. The only exception here is the Alhambra Palace Granada – which is busy from dawn til dusk all year round. Please read our detailed guide to visiting this attraction if you are planning a trip soon.
3. Hop inside a church
Spanish churches tend to be very quiet places and perfect noise-free zones. Your hotel can make recommendations and advise on opening hours for nearby charming chapels and churches. For example in Madrid, you have the enormous Almudena cathedral beside the Royal Palace but for tranquility, the smaller churches such as the Colegiata de San Isidoro on Calle Toledo 37 are perfect. In Barcelona, both the cathedral and Sagrada Familia get so busy it’s hard to find a serene corner – but if you are strolling in the already calming Parc de la Ciutadella, check out the Parroquia Castrense de la Ciutadella. Whenever you walk by a church, keep an eye out for signs or flyers about recitals and church choirs which are often free of charge and perfect for restoring a sense of zen (and resting the feet after a hard day’s touring around). And read our guide to the best cathedrals in Spain to get a sense of these majestic spaces.
4. Find a great bookstore
All Spanish bookstores carry a few books in English. Our favourite chain here is FNAC and you’ll find one in the larger cities – where you can relax, have a coffee and peruse some titles – with decent air-con in the Summer also. If you want to find an international bookstore, in Madrid check out Desperate Literature on Calle de Campomanes 13 (near Plaza de Santo Domingo). In Barcelona you have lots to choose from including Hibernian second-hand books on Carrer de Montseny 17.
5. Visit a city library
Not always suitable for a group, but if you are on your own and need to chill, the library is perfect. Inside Madrid’s Retiro park you’ll find the wonderful Eugenio Trias public library on Paseo Fernan Nunez 24 – which is a brand-new space, perfect for reading some papers and magazines or researching some of the city’s history. In Barcelona you’ve also lots of choice – we quite like the modern new Biblioteca Sant Antoni – Joan Oliver on Carrer del Comte Borrell, 44 (closeby the Sant Antoni foodmarket).
6. Get on a boat
You can row around the lake in Madrid’s Retiro but bear in mind it can get quite busy at weekends. In Barcelona, you can also hire a boat in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The beaches can get very busy at Barcelona from May-October, so if you want to admire the coastline – and treat yourself to complete seclusion – ask Totally Spain about hiring a yacht or catamaran for the day.
7. Think niche rather than mainstream
Of course you want to visit Spain’s top attractions but allocate time to niche museums or alternative aspects of Spain. Take for example the amazing Lazaro Galdiano house, gardens and art museum or the artist’s Sorolla house and gardens in Madrid which offer calm and solace and space. For Barcelona, in addition to the top 5 sights in Gaudi’s Barcelona, we also recommend the quieter location away from the city centre such as Casa Vicens and Colonia Guell. And what about exploring Jewish sights in Spain here? Or focusing on architecture or agriculture or castles or movie locations or vintage cars or open-air theatres or cave art? Or seeing a location through somebody else’s eyes such as Salvador Dali’s Catalonia?
8. Visit Spain’s secondary cities
From Madrid you can take a high-speed train (travelling in the quiet carriage, of course!) to the calmer nearby cities such as Segovia and Avila. From Barcelona, you can also hop on a train to the excellent and calmer Figueres or Girona – and go on to explore some of the Costa Brava. Read our guide to Spain’s boutique cities, 10 daytrips from Madrid, the Costa Brava and Travelling by High Speed Train in Spain for more suggestions.
9. Make a daytrip to a vineyard
Take a break from urban Spain by strolling around a nearby vineyard and learning about the wine-growing traditions of the area. There are lots of exclusive wineries and vineyards in Catalonia and we love planning daytrips to some of the historic cava wineries for our clients in Barcelona. Madrid is turning into quite an elite wine-growing region with many vineyards to visit locally and you can also get a flavour of the Ribera del Duero with the right driver & guide. If you’re visiting Bilbao and need some countryside, you can easily visit the Rioja wineries. Read about the best wineries to visit in Spain to get a sense of just how calming and inspiring these spaces are. Pro-Tip: You’ll need to pre-book tickets for most Spanish wineries, especially if you want a tour and tasting in English.
10. Get some perspective
Sometimes getting a few metres above ground level is a great way of finding some peace and quiet. In Barcelona, you can hop in a cab to Tibidabo and enjoy views of the city from Sagrat Cor church – you can even take a funicular inside Tibidabo. In Madrid, you can head to the Casa del Campo and take the cable car there. If you want a special meal out with a view away from the crowds, we’ve pulled together some great tips in our guide to top places to propose in Spain. You should also consider hotels with views! We’ve lots of info on great city views in our guide to the best hotels with views in Spain.
11. Limit your time at the Plaza Mayor (unless you are in a town or village!)
In Madrid you obviously need to visit the Plaza Mayor and the Puerta del Sol but we would avoid sitting down there. We much prefer spending time over a coffee, snack or meal at the Plaza del Oriente or the Plaza Dos de Mayo. In Barcelona, by all means have a walk about the Plaza de Catalunya and Plaza del Rei but for a lovely space to read and relax, visit the smaller Plaza Prim, Plaza San Felipe Neri and Plaza del Sortidor. The only Plaza Mayores we recommend you order a meal at – are the main squares in smaller cities such as Chinchon. Read more about the best squares in Spain to get a sense of these majestic places.
12. Visit a cemetery
Apart from All Saints Day on November 1, Spain’s cemeteries are always extremely quiet. In Madrid, you can visit the huge Cementerio de la Almudena, where 5 million people have been laid to rest. You can also visit the much smaller British Cemetery on Comandante Fontanes 7 which is home to just 1,000 souls. In Barcelona, check out the Poble Nou Cemetery or for its sheer size, Montjuic Cemetery where 152,000 people are said to have been laid to rest here. At the entrance you can avail of the maps and information on walking routes that encompass the art and history of the cemetery plus you can visit the Museum of Funeral Carriages on site also.
13. Find a fountain, cascade or waterfall
Nothing oozes peace and quiet like a fountain does – unless you are talking about Cibeles Fountain in Madrid. We recommend you seek out Plaza Biombo near Opera which is lovely and calm and quiet. In Barcelona, the Montjuic Fountain show is very impressive but also very popular – so when you need a quiet moment, check out the gurgling fountains at Plaza San Felipe Neri which is said to have been a favourite of Gaudi’s.
14. Hire a local expert guide who can avoid the crowds
Whenever we travel in and outside Spain we always hire guides. It’s not that we don’t know where to go – we do – but we love the personal touch a city guide on the top of their game can give. And they also know all the shortcuts and have contacts that can open doors, as well as having insight on less-well-known areas of museums and public spaces. Save time and gain so much more from your trip by hiring a private guide – especially if it’s your first time to the city. Read our advice on hiring private guides and drivers here.
15. Go early to the famous food markets
If you’re here to enjoy gastronomy but don’t like the crowds, you need to set out very early to visit Spain’s famous food markets such as the Boqueria in Barcelona. If you’re not an early riser, we recommend going to Mercat de l’Abaceria in Barcelona’s Gracia neighbourhood instead. In Madrid, the Mercado de San Miguel is quite small and always very busy so if you aren’t up and out first thing, go to one of the less well-known markets eg Mercado de la Paz or Mercado de Maravillas.
16. Enjoy sit-down ‘raciones’
Tapas are an important part of Spain’s gastronomy but tapas bars can get busy and often involve standing up or sitting on a wobbly stool at a crowded and noisy bar – so if you want to enjoy the gastronomy without the crush, reserve a table at a bar that serves ‘raciones’ which are shared platters of food rather than bite-sized snacks on bread. We recommend taking a food tour at the beginning of your trip to better understand how the Spanish eat.
17. Embrace technology
All our clients receive a detailed list of the best tapas bars, taverns and restaurants on a city by city basis but we also recommend using online Apps such as The Fork to find out about and reserve a table at great neighbourhood eateries. See why we rate it so highly here and check out the other Apps we recommend.
18. Stay away from the fiestas and processions
If you or somebody in your travelling party doesn’t like crowds – avoid travelling to places that are celebrating fiestas or large public events. That means avoiding San Fermines, Las Fallas, Castellers, Semana Grande and the Feria de Abril in Seville. If you really want to experience Semana Santa in Spain, and can’t handle large crowds, opt for the less-well-known cities internationally such as Valladolid or Malaga instead and plan your route carefully. Read our Easter guide here.
19. Think purpose-built when considering hotels
To limit the possibility of noise at night, when selecting accommodation in the big cities, it’s often safer to select modern purpose-built hotel rooms in residential neighbourhoods rather than historic hotels (which tend to have less sound-proofing) in the old quarter. This is vital at weekends when night-time revellers might keep you awake. The exception here would be the Parador chain of luxury historic hotels and any city centre hotels we recommend, which are always well-vetted for noise. Read more about the types of hotels rooms we like to book for our clients here.
20. Hire the best
Hire a professional to plan your itinerary. A decent pro can listen to your needs and recommend the best time of year, day of the week and time of the day for each city and attraction so you experience Spain at its very best without the crowds and the noise. Read Why You Should Book a Spain & Portugal Trip with Totally Spain or see our video on how we work.