What’s Left to Do in Southwestern Europe? Plenty!
Think you’ve seen and done everything in Southwestern Europe? Think again. Tourists flock to Spain, Portugal and France year after year, and seem to never run out of things to marvel at.
If you’re more adventurous than most, there’s still plenty to see and do in Southwest Europe, especially if you’re ready to go off the beaten tourist path. Whether you’re looking for volcanoes to climb, all-night parties, or the world’s best thrifting, here are five adventures in Southwestern Europe to add to your bucket list.
Stay Up All Night for Holy Week—Seville, Spain
Holy Week in Seville is one of the world’s most famous spectacles, and it lives up to every bit of the hype. Sevillanos are immensely proud of their traditions, and truly, no one celebrates la Semana Santa like they do. Day and night, proud penitents carry eye-poppingly opulent floats down the streets. The floats, which can weigh several tons, depict scenes of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, and are preceded and followed by countless penitents and gigantic marching bands.
In true Southern European fashion, the scenes on the float may be gory, but Semana Santa is hardly a solemn affair. Locals and visitors come to honor not just their religion, but their Spanish culture as well, so there’s plenty of eating, drinking, and celebrating until sunrise. If you don’t want the party to end, stay for Seville’s second biggest festival just two weeks later: La Feria de Abril. Get ready to stay up late, and dress to impress. Locals usually don their nicest clothes for the entire week, and Sevillanos are a notoriously stylish bunch.
Ski and Hike the Pyrenees—Pyrenees, France
Just across the border with Spain is a corner of France with a much homier, and more Mediterranean vibe than the Alps: The Pyrenees Mountains. The Pyrenees offers the beauty and hospitality of southern Europe, but with a decidedly French flair. Locals are famously nice, and eager to share their world-class cuisine. After a day on the slopes, dig into a meal of braised lamb or even wild boar, washed down with plenty of local red wine.
The Pyrenees might not always have as much snowfall as the Alps, but the resorts are more affordable and less crowded, and the mountains are spectacular all year round. Head there in the summer for hiking and climbing. Don’t miss the Cirque de Gavarnie, a massive ring of granite cliffs, and one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Europe. Among the Cirque’s many waterfalls is the Grande Cascade, Europe’s highest waterfall with a drop of almost 1,400 feet.
Find the Coolest Souvenirs at Feira da Ladra, the Lisbon Flea Market—Lisbon, Portugal
Even if you aren’t usually into bargain hunting, the Feira da Ladra—or “Market of Thieves”—in the Alfama district of Lisbon is a must-see. This massive street sale, which is held every Tuesday and Saturday, truly has something for everyone. Artists and crafters sell their unique souvenirs, and shrewd antique dealers of every specialty are happy to haggle. Where else can you buy a fur coat, counterfeit CD’s, and stamps from socialist Mongolia all in one place? As Europe’s sunniest capital city, Lisbon is the perfect place for a day of outdoor browsing.
When you get hungry, sample the nearby cafes and street food vendors. And even if you don’t buy anything, you’ll love the people-watching, the stunning view of the water, and the Alfama neighborhood’s picturesque cobblestone streets.
Get Sauced at La Tomatina—Buñol, Spain
For an unforgettable party, and if you don’t mind getting a little messy, head to Europe’s biggest food fight: The Tomatina in Buñol, Spain. On the last Wednesday in August, this small town near Valencia hosts a massive free-for-all, in which participants pelt each other with tomatoes for exactly an hour.
La Tomatina has a storied and mysterious history. The tradition started around 1945, and was banned at one point during Franco’s regime. In response, the determined residents of Buñol held a “tomato funeral” in place of their beloved tomato fight. Now, the festival attracts around 20,000 visitors a year. Locals are still as fond as ever of their wacky tradition, and have preserved the spirit of fun and humor that the Tomatina is all about.
Backpack Through Europe’s Secret Paradise—The Azores, Portugal
To escape the festival crowds and busy streets, hop a flight to Europe’s most unique paradise: the Azores Islands. In this secluded volcanic archipelago off of mainland Portugal’s coast, you can swim at the bottom of a 300-foot waterfall, climb Portugal’s tallest mountain, and sail into sea caves that were once popular hideouts for pirates.
The Azores are a prime destination for surfers, and for experienced mountain climbers, summiting Mt. Pico is a seriously rewarding challenge. But the islands can easily be explored by hikers of every level. And, if you love preserving nature as much as you love experiencing it, the Azores offer another draw: the islands consistently rank on Green Destinations’ list of Top 100 Sustainable Destinations.
Are you planning a trip to Portugal, Spain, or France? Share your tips and questions in the comments!