Spain, a southernmost, mostly Castiliano-speaking country, lures approximately 26,300 American students each year -- and for good reason. Its dynamic cities erupt with inimitable culture, gothic architecture, intoxicating flavors in foods and an array of abroad programs characterized by intensive language learning opportunities.
But given the country’s diversity, how do you choose where to spend a semester? This list should treat your justified case of decidophobia.
The capital of Andalucía and home to the ornate Alcázar castle complex, the Plaza de Espana, the 18th-century Plaza de Toros de la Maestranza bullring and the Gothic Seville Cathedral, Seville is a mecca of well-preserved Spanish culture. It also claims the roots of the national Flamenco dance.
For students, it’s a more wallet-friendly alternative to cities like Madrid and Barcelona, but it still vaunts traditional gastronomic experiences and over 4,000 bars -- the most bars per capita of any European city! The city earned the coveted top spot on Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2018 list, perhaps because of the churros alone.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Seville:
- Study in the Heart of Al-Andalus Culture with CEA Study Abroad
- Experience Spanish Immersion & Cultural Leadership with SPI (ideal for High School students!)
- Study Abroad in Seville with ISA
Second in size only to Madrid, the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona is the capital of the Catalunya region. Largely built by the legendary Antonio Gaudí, it’s a city renowned for its unrivaled art scene and peppered with pulsating nightlife districts.
Due to tourism, Barcelona is a churning melting pot of people, so students can anticipate an interesting blending of cultures. But it’s not necessarily a city for honing widely relevant Spanish skills; most locals in Barcelona speak Catalan, which is quite different from Castilian.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Barcelona:
Madrid is one of the most popular study abroad destinations not just in Spain, but in the world thanks to its globally recognized universities and overall accessibility.
Madrid offers students an easy-to-navigate metro system, food at all hours of the day and night and convenient transportation to travel elsewhere in the country -- though some students seldom want to leave the chic boulevards, well-manicured parks and rich repositories of European art.
The only downsides are that Madrid is quite expensive and, due to the influx of tourists, locals have woefully witnessed tradition wane just a bit.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Madrid:
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada’s storied history is hidden in the walls of medieval architecture dating to the Moorish occupation and in the soil of the Generalife gardens.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “If you were to visit only a city in Spain, this should be Granada.” Among the most populous student cities in the country, Granada is home to some of the top-ranked universities in the world. Bonus point: It has a law that entitles you to a free plate of tapas with every purchase of a beer.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Granada:
Valencia is recognized for its universities and renowned business schools, which may be what attract students to the port city in the first place, though they’re not necessarily what retain students.
What keeps people sucked into the beautiful vortex that is Valencia is perhaps the festivals and the beaches. Las Fallas, for example, is a massive festival that baits Europeans across the continent every March, and there are especially prominent beaches within the nearby Albufera Park, a wetlands reserve with a lake and walking trails.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Valencia:
The northwestern city of Salamanca dates back to the Celtic era and is, today, an ancient college town teeming with 18- to 35-year-olds. It also sits within close proximity to Madrid, which contributes to the Universidad de Salamanca’s international student population.
The university was founded all the way back in the 1100s, and it was a significant intellectual center in the 15th-16th centuries. But non-students still come to experience the Old City, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Salamanca:
7. San Sebastián
Imagine calling a mountainous resort town home, with expansive blonde beaches and cobblestoned streets thronged with pintxo bars pairing local wines and bite-sized regional spreads. Enter: San Sebastián on the Bay of Biscay.
Just south of France, the northeastern coastal city of San Sebastián is home to just over 180,000 people. It’s a cozy alternative to some of Spain’s more populous destinations, which means that students can truly immerse themselves in Spanish culture here. San Sebastián is part of the Basque region, so students can learn a bit of the Basque language, Euskadi, while there, too -- when their time is not consumed spent surfing at Playa de la Concha or Playa de Ondarreta.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in San Sebastián:
- Spanish Immersion & Cultural Leadership in San Sebastián with SPI (ideal for High School students!)
- Explore San Sebastián & Study Abroad in Basque Country with USAC
- Learn Spanish in San Sebastián, Spain with Live Languages Abroad
Situated on Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca featuring blonde beaches and green parks, Alicante is a port city and the capital of the Alicante province. Its old town, Barrio de la Santa Cruz, is peppered with colored houses and an even more colorful food scene (read: winding streets thronged with tapas).
Students are offered first-class educational opportunities at the University of Alicante, located in a pedestrian-friendly area that won't break the bank.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Alicante:
The ancient port city in southwestern Spain is the capital of the province: Cádiz. It boomed in the 16th century as a base for trade has been home to the Spanish Navy dotted with more than 100 watchtowers since the accession of the Spanish Bourbons in the 18th century.
Full of well-preserved archaeological remains that date back 3,100 years, vistas and 18th-century, neoclassical architecture like the Cádiz Cathedral, Cádiz is considered by many the oldest, continuously inhabited city in Western Europe. It's a fantastical city for students to relish in Spanish history and practice the language at the University of Cádiz.
Popular Study Abroad Programs in Cádiz:
No matter which city you choose in Spain, you'll soon discover why this country one of the most popular study abroad destinations in the world.