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Top ten things to do while studying abroad in... Spain

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calendar_month 01 Mar 2011, 00:00
If you're thinking of studying abroad as an undergraduate student in Spain, get ready to immerse yourself in one of the most colourful, vibrant, passionate and extrovert nations in the world. With a sun-scorched climate, glittering beaches and historic cities, Spain mixes the affluence and cosmopolitan bustle of mainland Europe with an intensity and extravagance that is very much its own.

Though the hot-blooded character of the Spanish is a stereotype, it is one based on fact: from wild fiestas and 24-hour partying in Madrid, feisty flamenco dancing, flourishing matadors and partisan football supporters, to surrealist art and lavish architecture, Spain is a nation defined by expressiveness. In fact, with natural and architectural beauty everywhere you turn and a buzzing social atmosphere throughout the country, your main problem while studying abroad in Spain will be finding time to get some work done! Top Universities has come up with the top ten things any undergraduate student should do to get the most out of your time studying abroad in Spain.

1. Go on a Gaudi tour in BarcelonaNearest universities: BARCELONA Graduate School of Economics; Universitat Autnoma de BARCELONA; University of BARCELONA; BES LA SALLE - Campus Barcelona; Universitat Politcnica de CATALUNYA; Escuela de Administracin de Empresas (EAE) ; FUNDACI Universitat Oberta de Catalunya ; Universitat POMPEU FABRA ; Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC)

Stylish, energetic and highly individual, Barcelona is a thoroughly modern city - and nowhere is this more apparent than in its architecture. Forget the slick, functional office buildings of London or New York Barcelona's cityscape features a colourful succession of improbably-shaped art nouveau innovations. Much of this character is down to visionary architect Antoni Gaudi, whose most famous creation is Barcelona's unfinished, futuristic cathedral, La Sagrada Familia. Gaudi's other masterworks are dotted around the city, with famous buildings including the Park Guell and the Casa Mila.

Architecture aside, Barcelona is a sun-drenched treasure-trove of a city. Pulsating with energy, packed with authentic local culture and history, cosmopolitan and idyllically placed on the Mediterranean coast, you could scarcely pick a better place to spend your time as an undergraduate student studying abroad. Other highlights for visitors to the city include: La Boqueria, a huge and fantastically colourful indoor food market; the Picasso Museum, featuring great works and biographical relics from Spain's most revered artist, Pablo Picasso; and the unmissable Fiesta De San Juan, a city-wide celebration of the summer solstice culminating in an all-night beach party.

2. Explore the exotic Alhambra so Moorish you'll be sure to return

Location: Granada, Andalusia Nearest universities: University of GRANADA; UNIVERSIDAD DE HUELVA; Les Roches MARBELLA; Universidad de SEVILLA

The Alhambra may be one of Europe's major tourist attractions, but visiting it feels like being transported in time and space to ancient Persia and the Arabian Nights. Originally an Islamic citadel, the Alhambra's chequered history has resulted in a hotchpotch of 9th, 14th and 16th Century architecture. The main highlights for visitors are the exotic Palacio Nazares, the Alcazaba (a 9th Century citadel offering spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada Mountains), and the 16th Century Palace of Charles V, whose Baroque style provides a contrast to its Moorish surroundings. Also, don't miss exploring the serene and colourful palace gardens.



Did you know? There is a strong historic Muslim influence throughout Andalusia (and especially in Granada), stemming from a centuries-long period during the Middle Ages when the area was ruled by the Ottoman Empire. This period stretched from the invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711, through to the Muslim surrender of Granada to Christian forces in 1491.

3. Party the night away in Madrid

Nearest universities:Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros (Cunef); Escuela de Administracin de Empresas (EAE); Universidad Nacional de Educacin a Distancia; Universidad FRANCISCO DE VITORIA; Universidad Autnoma de MADRID ; University Complutense MADRID;

The Spanish capital and a major economic powerhouse, Madrid is the third biggest city in the EU and was recently ranked the 10th most powerful city in the world. However, for those who are still too young to worry about the rat race, Madrid is famous for one thing above all others: its legendary nightlife. If you're partying in Madrid, be warned when it comes to going out, the city exists in its own time-zone. For 'Madrilenos', a night out doesn't start until you would normally be going to bed, and doesn't end until you would normally be getting up for breakfast. So either get on your dancing shoes and join in, or hang out in the Puerta del Sol and take it all in over some late-night tapas and sangria.

During the daylight hours, Madrid is packed full of things to see and do. Check out the Prado Museum, one of the world's greatest art galleries; head to the Gran Via for a bit of retail therapy; cheer on the mighty 'galacticos' of Real Madrid at the Estadio Santa Bernabeu stadium; catch some of Spain's best flamenco action at the Casa Patas; and, for those who aren't squeamish, make up your own mind about that most traditional and controversial of Spanish rituals: bullfighting

4. Experience the fiery culture of Seville

Nearest universities: University of GRANADA; UNIVERSIDAD DE HUELVA; Les Roches MARBELLA; Universidad de SEVILLA

The home of flamenco and the capital of Andalusia, Seville is the most quintessentially Spanish of cities. Positioned on the banks of the River Guadalquivir, the southern city of Spain is is famous for its extreme heat summer temperatures regularly soar over 40C (104F), making it one of the hottest spots in Europe. This climate is reflected in the hot-blooded and passionate culture of the city's inhabitants: with fiery flamenco performances, dramatic fiestas, exuberant nightlife and lavish Catholic iconography, Seville is a city that seriously knows how to express itself. Seville also has a strong student culture, which means if you choose to study abroad in this extrovert city you are sure to be welcomed with open arms.

5. Gorge yourself in Valencia, the home of Paella

Nearest universities:Universidad Politecnica de VALENCIA ; Universitat de VALENCIA

Situated along a coastline containing some of Spain's best beaches and attracting millions of sun-seekers every summer, Valencia has a reputation as a destination for holiday hedonism. But away from the crowded beaches, the city itself is an intriguing mix of ancient Ottoman and quintessentially Catalonian cultures. The city centre's highlights include the whitewashed Roman buildings of the Barrio del Carmen, a lavish baroque cathedral, the Moorish relics of the city's Ottoman past, and the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias complex.

However, for many people one reason to visit Valencia towers above all others: paella. Traditionally served in a huge pan and teeming with fresh seafood, this rich, spicy and brightly coloured rice-based meal is Valencia's trademark dish. There are numerous restaurants throughout the city serving up the real deal head down towards the beach in the evening and you'll be spoilt for choice.

6. Get into the festive spirit go to a traditional fiesta

No one knows how to party better than the Spanish, and the tradition of the fiesta is a proud national institution. Throughout the year, and all around the country, if you're studying abroad in Spain you will have endless opportunities to get involved in the fun from huge, internationally famous extravaganzas to those held in tiny villages well off the tourist trail. All are steeped in centuries-old culture and mythology.

Perhaps Spain's biggest and best-known fiestas are Valencia's Las Fallas, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona and Holy Week in Seville. Las Fallas is perhaps the wildest and most spectacular of Spain's fiestas and attracts hundreds of thousands of revellers each year. But be warned, if you're heading to Valencia to join in the fun you'll need some serious stamina. Lasting four days in May each year, with riotous all-night partying followed by a daily wake-up parade at 8:00am, sleep comes pretty low on the agenda!

7. Learn to share food with your friends

The Spanish are famed for their outgoing character and love of socialising and there is no more sociable way to dine than sharing tapas with friends. For those that aren't familiar with tapas, they are small dishes that are shared around a group of people, meaning you end up sampling a variety of different dishes and flavours ideal for getting to know the different styles of Spanish cuisine, as well as getting to know your new course-mates.

Tapas dishes cater for all preferences and persuasions: carnivorous eyes will light up at the many varieties of 'jamon' (ham - ubiquitous throughout the country), Spanish meatballs and chorizo; vegetarians can enjoy a variety of roasted vegetables, grilled aubergines and the famous patas bravas (fried potato chips served with paprika and mayonnaise); and fans of coastal cuisine will be spoilt by a huge variety of prawn, sea bass, calamari, octopus and lobster-based delicacies.

8. Marvel at Iberia's 'Imperial City', Toledo

Nearest universities: Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros (Cunef); Escuela de Administracin de Empresas (EAE); Universidad Nacional de Educacin a Distancia; Universidad FRANCISCO DE VITORIA; Universidad Autnoma de MADRID ; University Complutense MADRID;

Located on a mountain top with a breathtaking panoramic view, and almost completely surrounded by a bend in the River Tagus, Toledo is one of the oldest and most picturesque cities in Spain. It is also one of Spain's major tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated just an hour from Madrid, Toledo is a popular day-trip for those based in the capital.

Among Toledo's many unmissable attractions are the majestic San Servando castle, the 16th Century Alcazar fortress and the oldest synagogue in Europe. But with over 100 monuments crammed into its labyrinthine historic centre, the best way to explore Toledo may be to ditch the guidebook and follow your nose you couldn't choose a more scenic place to get lost on a sunny day!

Did you know? Once upon a time, Toledo was the capital of Spain. It enjoyed this status during Spain's Visigoth period - from the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th Century until the Moors conquered Iberia in the 8th Century.

9. Experience the passion and skill of Spain's national obsession football

Spain's La Liga is arguably the most prestigious and glamorous football league in the world, and the Spanish fans are among the most passionate and obsessive. As a footballing nation, however, Spain is divided by one central, enduring rivalry between the 'galacticos' of Real Madrid and every football purist's favourite team, F.C Barcelona. Featuring in recent years such international superstars as Lionel Messi, Ronaldinho, Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and David Beckham, Barca and Real are among the most successful clubs in the history of European football. The teams' twice-yearly showdown in the league known as 'El Clsico' (the classic) is one of the most keenly anticipated events in the sporting calendar.

Unlike the Premier League in England, tickets to see La Liga games at top Spanish clubs are still relatively affordable and widely available. While tickets to watch 'El Clsico' may be somewhat more expensive and scarce, a trip to the Estadio Santa Bernabeu (home of Real Madrid) or the massive Camp Nou (Barcelona) will give you a glimpse of an aspect of Spanish culture at its most passionate, as well as an exhibition of footballing skill from some of the best players on the planet.

10. Hop on a ferry and have a North African adventure in Morocco

Nearest universities: University of GRANADA; UNIVERSIDAD DE HUELVA; Les Roches MARBELLA; Universidad de SEVILLA

As a cosmopolitan and quintessentially European country, it is easy to forget that Spain is just an hour's ferry ride from Morocco, the northernmost tip of Africa. If you have a spare week or two during university holidays, a trip across the Straight of Gibraltar to Morocco could make an unforgettable addition to your time studying abroad in Spain.

With its bustling medinas, scorching heat, exotic wildlife and famous markets, Morocco retains a distinctly African flavour despite its proximity to Europe. In the north of the country, check out the manic energy of Tangiers, and the contrasting serenity of Chefchaouen, a picturesque whitewashed town set against the epic backdrop of the Riff Mountains. Heading further inland, don't miss the authentic markets and ancient tradition of Fes, featuring the country's largest and best-preserved medina. And, if you have the time, travel further south to the exotic desert paradise of Marrakech the last outpost at the gateway of the Sahara Desert.

Once you've finished those:

- Hike the beautiful El Camino de Santiago pilgrim trail

- Expand your artistic horizons the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Prado in Madrid, the Picasso museum in Barcelona, and the home of Salvador Dali, the father of surrealism

- Cool off in the rugged snowy mountains of Sierra Nevada

- Discover the beautiful islands of Majorca and Mallorca and if you really want to party, head to Ibiza

- Bask in Basque culture visit historic Bilbao

Spain's top universities by region

1. Galicia Universidade de SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

2.Asturias

3. Cantabria

4. Basque Country

5. Navarra Universidad Pblica de NAVARRA ; University of NAVARRA

6. Castille & Leon IE University; University of SALAMANCA

7. La Rioja

8. Aragon Universidad de ZARAGOZA

9. Catalonia BARCELONA Graduate School of Economics; Universitat Autnoma de BARCELONA; University of BARCELONA; BES LA SALLE - Campus Barcelona; Universitat Politcnica de CATALUNYA; Escuela de Administracin de Empresas (EAE) ; FUNDACI Universitat Oberta de Catalunya ; Universitat POMPEU FABRA ; Universitat Internacional de Catalunya (UIC)

10. Madrid Colegio Universitario de Estudios Financieros (Cunef); Escuela de Administracin de Empresas (EAE); Universidad Nacional de Educacin a Distancia; Universidad FRANCISCO DE VITORIA; Universidad Autnoma de MADRID ; University Complutense MADRID;

11. Extremadura

12. Castilla de la Mancha

13. Valencia Universidad Politecnica de VALENCIA ; Universitat de VALENCIA

14. Andalucia University of GRANADA; UNIVERSIDAD DE HUELVA; Les Roches MARBELLA; Universidad de SEVILLA

15. Murcia University of MURCIA