Crowds got you down? This post is part of a series of 10 European Discoveries for 2019 — off-the-beaten-path gems where you can escape the tourist rut and find a corner of Europe all your own.
OK, call this one a sentimental favorite. I spent a semester abroad in this Spanish university city, twenty-some years ago. In 2018, I went back to Salamanca for the very first time — now seeing it through the lens of many years of research for the Rick Steves Spain guidebook. And I think I finally figured out why Salmantinos are considered a bit snobby: Because they live in one of Spain’s nicest towns.
Salamanca’s Plaza Mayor is the undisputed best square in Spain — slathered with reliefs of kings, queens, professors, and poets, ringed by cafés, and infused with an ambience that delicately mingles both European elegance and local character.
From the square, Salamanca’s pedestrian zone cuts through the heart of town to the university district, where lemony sandstone buildings are carved with imagination-stoking details — the precocious astronaut on the cathedral portal, the frog perched on a skull on the university facade, and so on.
And Salamanca features an unusually thriving and fun-to-sample tapas scene. (Venture out to Calle Van Dyck, a locals-only lineup of blue-collar tapas bars a 15-minute walk north of the old town.) Even its Automobile and Art Nouveau museums are unaccountably delightful.
Perhaps best of all, Salamanca sits just beyond easy day-tripping reach of Madrid. That means that, unlike slammed Segovia and touristy Toledo, Salamanca feels like you’re in on a Spanish secret.
Heading to central Spain? Here’s how to get ready:
1) Pick up a copy of our Rick Steves Spain guidebook — with my newly revised-and-expanded chapter on Salamanca.
2) Check out the blog post I wrote as I was updating the chapters on this area of Spain.
3) Watch Rick’s TV episode about the region, Highlights of Castile: Toledo and Salamanca.
And for nine more suggestions on where to get away from the crowds, check out my 10 European Discoveries for 2019.