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The eight least touristy cities in Spain (and why you should visit them)

They may not be as popular as Barcelona, Seville or Valencia but it’s worth getting off the beaten track to discover some of the least touristy cities in Spain, and the wonderful things they have to offer.

The eight least touristy cities in Spain (and why you should visit them)
Cuenca is one of the under rated cities of Spain. Photo: acieroDepositphotos

While the regions of Madrid, Catalonia, Andalucia, together with the Canary Islands and the Balearics, attract some 90 percent of all the foreign tourists to Spain tempting them with their world class museums. Unesco heritage sites and of course, the beach, Spain has so much more worth seeing, if you just bother to explore a little.

Data collected by Spain’s Statistics Agency (INE) reveals the provincial capitals in Spain which have the least overnight visitors. But does that mean they have nothing to offer? On the contrary. Stopping off at these places will not only provide a glimpse of the real Spain, without having to battle through crowds of tourists, you will also find prices are cheaper and people are more friendly.

Cuenca

Photo: acciero/Depositphotos

Despite being just one-hour from Madrid and Valencia by high speed train, Cuenca is among the ten cities in Spain which attract the least overnight visitors. But it’s hard to understand why.

The impressive hanging houses cling to the rugged outcrop where the walled city is built overlooking the vast plains of Castilla-La Mancha. There is also a maginificent cathedral in the heart of an old city that remains little changed since Medieval times. The enormous arches of the Plaza Mayor are a sight to behold, plus Cuenca has carved out a reputation as the capital of Spanish abstract art, containing several galleries and museums dedicated to the genre.

Zamora


Photo: phbcz/Depositphotos
 
Perhaps the joke associated with the name of this provincial city in Castile-Leon is to blame for the lack of interest from tourists. But in fact “Zamora se visita en una hora” – Zamora can be seen in an hour – does the city a great disservice.

 
Full of churches and chapels that will excite fans of the Romanesque-style, the old city is dominated by an enormous castle and a cathedral famed for its huge dome.
 
With its picturesque terrazas and river views, you’ll want to spend some time bar-hopping sipping vermut and enjoying the free tapas.
 
Ourense

 
Photo: avarand/Depositphotos

Overshadowed by Santiago de Compostela, the biggest tourist draw in Spain’s northwestern region of Galicia, the city of Ourense is a jewel just waiting to be discovered.

A small old city filled with winding cobbled streets, ancient plazas with old fountains and pretty churches, the gateway to the cathedral is worth the visit alone.

Plus there is a Roman bridge, a spa dating to medieval times, with hot springs famed across the region for its health benefits.

And of course, this being Galicia, you can dine on amazing seafood washed down with the local Albariño for less than anywhere else in Spain.

Teruel

Photo: Depositphoto

Despite having Mudejar style architecture that won the city Unesco World Heritage status in 1986, Teruel remains one of the least visited cities in Spain.

Out of the way in the abandoned interior of Spain somewhere inland between Valencia and Barcelona, this Aragonese city is famed as the city of lovers and each February holds a romantic festival to commemorate the legendary lovers of Teruel, the Romeo and Juliet of Spain.

But it also has an impressive aquaduct, quaint old squares and is somewhat of a gourmands dream destination. Expect to dine on truffles and Teruel’s famed jamón.

Soria

Photo: karsol/Depositphotos

The province, which alongside Teruel most struggles with the depopulation of the countryside, is home to this city full of architectural beauties dating as far back as the Roman era. Look out for the doorway at the Santo Domingo church and the arches of San Juan de Duero (above)-
Spend an evening grazing in the little bars and restaurants of Calle del Collado and make sure you don’t leave without trying a dish containing wild mushrooms grown nearby.
 
Melilla

Photo: pabkovDepositphotos

More often in the news for the latest attempt by migrants to reach Spain over the fence from Morocco, the largest of Spain’s North African enclaves sees few tourists.

A ginormous and impenetrable wall protects the old city from seaborne invaders, behind which is a collection of neighbourhoods that represent the geographical position and multicultural nature of the place.

Fortifications, synagogues , mosques and churches can all be found in Melilla as well as modern architecture, wide boulevards and seafront prominades and of course, that double razor wire fence that separates Spain from Africa.

Avilés

Photo: AFP

The city of Avilés, capital of one of the eight comarcas that make up the Prinipality of Asturias in northern Spain fails to have the draw of nearby Oviedo and Gijon, even with the creation of the architectural wonder that is the Centro Niemeyer arts and culture complex. While it failed to have the Guggenheim effect that saw Bilbao transform thanks to the museum, Avilés is still worth a visit in its own right.

Lush parks and gardens, ornate palaces and churches are a beautiful back drop to a stroll along the banks of the river that encircles this northern city.

Jaén

Photo: Depositphotos

Forever in the shadow of its Andalucian neighbouring cities of Granada, Málaga, Córdoba and Sevilla, Jáen sees few visitors venture within its walls.

Rising up from the endless olive groves responsible for producing some of the best olive oil in the world. Jaén is a beautiful city with a stunning cathedral, elegant squares and well preserved Arabic baths.

Dine out on Andalusian classics for half the price than you’ll find in the more touristy cities.

READ ALSO: Off the beaten track: 14 best kept travel secrets in Spain

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TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

In welcome news for tourists and travellers in Spain, holidaymakers will be eligible to take advantage of Spain's 100% discounts on train travel later in the year.

TRAVEL: Tourists in Spain will also be eligible for free train tickets

Tourists will be eligible for Spain’s free train ticket scheme that will be phased in later on this year, as confirmed to the Spanish press by sources in Spain’s Ministry of Transport this week.

“If a foreign tourist is a frequent user of the [train] network, he can make use of this subscription. If they want to complete the trips, they will not be asked for any type of card,” the source said.

Additionally, in further news of particular interest for British and American travellers, no differentiation will be made between tourists nor between EU and non-EU nationals for the discounts. Free train travel will be available to all tourists, regardless of where they’re from.

It is hoped that the free train travel will entice more visitors to Spain and continue the sector’s post-pandemic recovery, which for the first six months of the year exceeded pre-pandemic (2019) levels by 1.1 percent, according to figures from the association of Spanish tourism companies, Exceltur.

Tourism experts expect Spain to surpass the number of foreign visitors in the last four months of 2019 – over 20 million tourists – despite upwards inflationary pressures on the cost of flights and accommodation.

But like everything in life, there are terms and conditions. You won’t be able to waltz on any train in Spain for free, and it isn’t year-round.

When?

This eye-catching travel discount will be available from September 1st to December 31st 2022, during which multi-journey train tickets on the trains outlined below will be free.

Free train travel

The 100 percent discount scheme, which will cost public coffers a reported €200 million, will only be valid on certain lines and comes amid a series of measures put in place by the government to try and ease the pain of rising inflation and prices, but also to lower pressures on fuel following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and ensuing energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: How much can you save on public transport in Spain with the new state discount?

“The government will subsidise 100 percent of the public service of commuter trains operated by Renfe. We hope that the autonomous communities can complement this enormous effort made by the Spanish government,” Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez said when announcing the scheme in the Spanish Congress.

But which trains will be free, when, and how can you take advantage of them?

Which trains are free?

Unfortunately, the Spanish government has not given everyone in Spain free train travel on every route and on every type of train.

There are rules.

Simply put, local and commuter trains will be free. Cercanías, Rodalies (Catalonia), and Media Distance (local and medium-distance journeys) will be 100 percent free of charge.

The policy is aimed at encouraging the use of trains as opposed to other fossil fuel intensive forms of transport, and it’s valid for journeys up to 300km.

That in mind, trips on long-distance or high-speed trains, such as AVE and Alvia, are not included in the plan.

Neither will the routes in Avlo, the low-cost AVE option established in 2021, nor the medium and high-speed Avants.

Avlo and Avants will instead have a 50 percent discount on the original price, as outlined by the government in June.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer free train trips: when, where and how?

The Spanish government are yet to announce in detail how exactly the discounts will work, or how to apply for them.

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