So popular is tourism to Spain that foreign holidaymakers outnumbered the Spanish population by three to two last year.
But while good infrastructure and the promise of sun, sea and sangria still draw many to coastal resorts, today’s travellers are just as attracted to Spain’s cities, countryside and culture.
Spain has more UNESCO World Heritage Site cities – Segovia, Salamanca, Toledo, Avila, Cordoba, Santiago de Compostela, Caceres and Cuenca – than any other in the world.
In addition, operators are branching into tours of rural Spain that explore culture and gastronomy, as well as vineyards, mountains and ski slopes.
Spain’s 24-hour capital is renowned by day for world-class museums and galleries and a lively bar and restaurant scene by night.
The Prado Museum contains a priceless collection of works by great Spanish artists. Salamanca is the smartest shopping area but bargain-hunters wait for Sunday mornings and head to El Rastro, Europe’s largest market.
Majorca and Minorca traditionally attract families. Majorca’s capital Palma has a Gothic cathedral surrounded by streets lined with cafes, and agro-tourism is becoming popular in the island’s rural interior.
Party animals head to Ibiza and, for chilling out, Formentera is a 25-minute ferry ride away.
Tenerife, Lanzarote, Gran Canaria, Fuertaventura and lesser-known La Gomera, La Palma and El Hierro lie off the coast of West Africa.
Tenerife is the largest and has family and upmarket resorts in the south, a lush green north and Spain’s highest mountain, El Teide.
Gran Canaria is known for its colourful capital Las Palmas, southern beach resorts, and its peaceful volcanic interior. Lanzarote has a remarkable lunar landscape and the other islands are ideal for hikers and nature lovers.
Barcelona is one of Europe’s most important cultural and industrial hubs.
It’s the capital of varied Catalonia, which has a strong language, cuisine and customs. Sun-seekers head to Costa Brava, one of Spain’s three great holiday coasts, while inland Girona has a Gothic cathedral and Romanesque architecture.
Many attractions in Figueres are dedicated to artist Salvador Dalí. The Pyrenees dominate the north and offer great walking and skiing.
The southeast coast is best known for Benidorm, Spain’s largest resort, and for Valencia, Spain’s fastest-growing tourist destination that underwent a huge regeneration for June’s America’s Cup.
The capital Alicante has a historic castle, or walk through picturesque Altea with its striking church, Nuestra Senora del Consuelo.
Costa del Sol
Sun and sand attract more than eight million tourists annually to resorts such as Malaga, Torremolinos and Marbella.
With almost 50 courses, it’s also the place to hit a golf ball, while golf widows can head for the shops or be pampered at the inland spa centres at Carratraca and Tolox. Tarifa, on the southern tip, is Spain’s windsurfing capital.
The fertile strip from Galicia to the Basque country on the north coast is known as Green Spain.
The region is different from the south, with fertile valleys, rivers and mountains great for bird-watching and hiking, especially the Picos mountains, which are part of Spain’s second-largest national park.
The old town of Oviedo is an easy weekend break from the UK.
Flying time: London to mainland Spain and the Balearic Islands averages two hours, 30 minutes, and three hours, 30 minutes to the Canary Islands.
Airlines: British Airways, Iberia, Monarch, BMI, Flybe, Palmair, Globespan, easyJet, Ryanair and Jet2.com – among others.