The Best Books To Read Before You Visit Spain

Spanish books

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I always find I get more out of my travels if I read about a place before I visit and, when it comes to Spain, there is no shortage of great books to choose from. Here is my personal selection of the best books to read before you visit Spain. And, if you’re travelling with the family, read on for my choice of children’s books.

Travel Guides, History And Memoirs

  • If you’re looking for a guidebook I can recommend Lonely Planet Spain. I particularly like Lonely Planet guides because you can download individual chapters in pdf format, ideal for reading on mobile devices.
  • For a more immersive (and occasionally quirky) exploration of Spanish culture try Lonely Planet’s Experience Spain.
  • For a general, easily accessible, account of Spanish history I would normally suggest the Traveller’s History series. However their book on Spain gets poor reviews, so a good alternative might be Spain: A History by Raymond Carr.
  • Ghosts of Spain by Giles Tremlett (2008) is a journalist’s view of the darker side of contemporary Spanish history and culture.
  • Laurie Lee’s As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning (1969) recounts his personal experience of Spain in the 1930s, just before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
  • Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell (1938) is a first person account of the author’s experiences during the Civil War.

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Fiction Set In Spain

  • A good introduction to any country’s literature is the Traveler’s Literary Companion Series. These books are compilations of short stories and novel extracts from the country in question, allowing you to absorb the culture through the eyes of local writers. Spain: A Traveler’s Literary Companion includes thirty stories covering the country’s vastly different regions.
  • Cervantes’ classic novel Don Quixote was written in the 17th century and is regarded as the first novel ever written (as well as one of the greatest of all time…)
  • For a bit of historical fiction try Alice Hoffman’s Incantation (2007), based on a Jewish community during the time of the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Ernest Hemingway is perhaps the writer most closely associated with the Spanish Civil War, which forms the backdrop for his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls (1940).
  • Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises (1926) is a classic story of bullfighting and 1920s Spain.
  • Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafron (2001) is an atmospheric thriller set in post WWII Barcelona.
  • Victoria Hislop’s The Return (2008) explores the 20th century history of Granada (it also has quite a bit about flamenco dancing).
  • Winter in Madrid (2006) is a spy novel by C J Samson set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War.
  • If you are interested in art or historical fiction, Painter to the King (2018) by Amy Sackville is a beautifully written portrait of the painter Velázquez and his time at the court of Philip IV in the 17th century.
  • Or, if detective novels are your thing, you might like the Max Camara novels of Jason Webster, such as A Death in Valencia (2012), a fast paced thriller with authentic descriptions of the city of Valencia
  • Although Gibraltar isn’t actually part of Spain, it is a popular day trip destination for tourists. I found the thrillers by Thomas Mogford – particularly Hollow Mountain (2015) – to be an excellent introduction to the unique culture of The Rock.

Children’s Books About Spain

Children love to learn about the places they are visiting, so why not buy them their own guidebook. The Kids’ Travel Guide – Spain by Wendy Crawford looks particularly good, and doubles up as a journal so that they can record their holiday experiences. You can also get them in the holiday mood with a bit of language learning: try First Words Spanish from Lonely Planet Kids.

Children between the ages of 5 and 8 might enjoy Lola’s Fandango by Anna Witte (a story about flamenco dancing). Or James Mayhew’s Katie and the Spanish Princess (featuring some classic Spanish paintings). If you’re going to Barcelona you might like Building on Nature: the Life of Antoni Gaudi by Rachel Victoria Rodriguez (only available in hardback but it looks as if it is beautifully illustrated and inspiring).

For older children try Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (a story about bullfighting – the author was a friend of Hemingway). And a good historical novel is Theresa Breslin’s Prisoner of the Inquisition.

This is a very short introduction to the many books that have been written about Spain. If you have a favourite that I haven’t included, please let me know in the comments below.

All of the books on this list are available via my Amazon Storefront.


2 thoughts on “The Best Books To Read Before You Visit Spain”

  1. I’ve read a number of those books you’ve featured in this post and agree that there is nothing better for getting the feel of a country than by reading books – novels are my favorite. Sometimes a novel even sparks the idea for taking a trip to a particular place!

  2. Even in today’s digital age, I always like to have actual physical books with me when I travel, including guide books. And I love it when I’m reading a book about a place while I’m there. I did it a couple of times in Italy, but I think for Spain I would want to read something about Gaudi along with these other suggestions.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren.

I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 70 countries at the last count), and I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way. Read more…


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