Sometimes when you don’t have enough time or money to hop on a plane, the best way to experience a new country is through books! Whether you’re planning a trip to Spain or just love the country, here are the 40 best books on Spain. Plus, I’m dividing them into different categories so that you can easily find a book set in Spain in your favorite genre!
We’ll cover novels, books about living in Spain, historical fiction, books about Spanish history, and some of the best Spain travel guides. Some of these options will be older classics, while other books will be from more recent years. Hopefully, this list will help inspire you to travel to Spain or maybe to learn more about the country before your trip! Regardless, I think you’ll be able to find a book for just about any type of reader on this list.
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Table of Contents
Novels set in Spain
For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
“There’s no one thing that’s true. It’s all true.”
For Whom the Bell Tolls was published in 1940 and is one of Ernest Hemingway‘s most recognized novels. The story follows a young man named Robert Jordan as he volunteers as a dynamiter in the Spanish Civil War. He fights on the side of the Spanish Republic against the Fascist forces of Francisco Franco. As Hemingway worked as a journalist during the war, he used this experience to make the novel as realistic as possible. Following Robert Jordan over the course of a mission to destroy a bridge, Hemingway sends the reader an important message: war is brutal and affects everyone. If you don’t know much about the Spanish Civil War, this book may be a good place to start.
Don Quixote by Cervantes
“For me alone Don Quixote was born and I for him. His was the power of action, mine of writing.”
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Don Quixote, but have you ever thought about giving it a read? As the most notable piece of literature and “the first modern novel”, you may want to consider it! Don Quixote is a middle-aged noble from La Mancha who is inspired by books on knights performing brave deeds. Thus, he decides to embark on his own adventure with his faithful squire, Sancho, by his side. In an often comedic way, Don Quixote uses his imagination to involve himself in matters that he shouldn’t on his quest for honor. Sancho attempts to act as a guiding force, setting his master on the correct path.
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“You can’t get away from yourself by moving from one place to another.”
The Sun Also Rises is another of Hemingway‘s iconic novels about Spain and also happens to be his first novel ever to be published. Inspired by a trip to Spain in 1925 (before his experiences in the Spanish Civil War), Hemingway shares a story of the post-WWI generation, along with their difficulties and adventures as expatriates in Europe. The main characters are a group of Americans and Brits living in Paris who decide to travel to Pamplona to attend the running of the bulls. Interestingly enough, the characters are based on actual people in Hemingway’s “Lost Generation” group.
Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving
“Perhaps there never was a monument more characteristic of an age and people than the Alhambra; a rugged fortress without, a voluptuous palace within; war frowning from its battlements; poetry breathing throughout the fairy architecture of its halls.”
In this collection of stories, Washington Irving mixes history and legend to tell the Tales of the Alhambra. After immediately feeling drawn to the charming city of Granada, Irving asked for permission to have access to the Alhambra Palace. As he was a celebrity during this time, the author was allowed to live in the then-abandoned Alhambra in 1829. The success of this book sparked an interest in visiting the Alhambra among Western audiences. Thus, Irving is partly responsible for the romantic image we have in the present of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain).
All This I Will Give to You by Dolores Redondo
If you’re a fan of the mystery genre, you’ll definitely want to pick up the international bestseller All This I Will Give to You. After Manuel Ortigosa’s husband dies in a car crash, he heads to Galicia to find answers about the man he loved. It turns out that Manuel may not have known Álvaro as well as he thought–and he’ll have to cross paths with one of Spain’s most powerful families to find out the truth.
Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner
“I told the waiter I was looking for a hotel whose name I didn’t know on a street whose name I didn’t know and could he help me; we both laughed and he said: Aren’t we all.”
Leaving the Atocha Station follows a young American poet, Adam Gordon, as he embarks on a fellowship in Madrid. Although he states that the purpose of this fellowship is to write a poem on the Spanish Civil War, he instead spends his time chronically lying to others. He also struggles to feel confident in his poetry and often expresses a fear of fraudulence. At 181 pages, this novel can be a quick read! It will also give some insight into the sensation of developing fluency in Spanish in Madrid.
Books about living in Spain
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee
In this book, Laurie Lee recounts the coming-of-age experience that he had in Spain from 1934-1936. At nineteen-years-old, he decided to hop on a boat to northern Spain and explore the Western side of the country on foot. On his journey, Lee encountered many small villages that seemed to be untouched by modern times. The people in these villages tended to be quite poor but were often kind to Lee as he passed through. Due to the timing of Lee’s travels through Spain, he also saw the country on the brink of the Spanish Civil War. While finding himself, he also develops new leftist political views. After making Republican friends who were seeking a better life, Lee feels inspired to get involved in the conflict.
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
You’ll find Homage to Catalonia frequently listed as one of the best books about the Spanish Civil War. Orwell was initially sent to Spain as a journalist to report on the war; however, he was so inspired from what he saw that he ended up joining the fight against the Fascists. In this book, he recounts his wartime experiences in the trenches along the Aragon front. Besides just functioning as a memoir, Orwell also attempts to give the reader a basic history of the parties involved in the war: the Anarchists, the Communists, and the Fascists.
In a witty combination of travel, food, and cultural knowledge, Goulding takes readers on a journey through the culinary landscape of Spain. This book is a wonderful place to start if you already have a trip to Spain planned. Even if you don’t, Grape, Olive, Pig will have you looking into flights to Barcelona ASAP! Goulding is a passionate lover of cuisine, making this book an enjoyable read for anyone–even if you don’t normally read within the food genre.
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past by Giles Tremlett
Giles Tremlett is a British journalist who has lived in Madrid for various decades. Thus, when people began to uncover mass graves years after the Spanish Civil War, Tremlett decided to go on a journey to decode Spain and its “silent past”. As the period of Franco’s fascism in Spain is so controversial, people often avoid talking about it. To truly understand the country, Tremlett takes readers on a journey throughout modern Spain, including Madrid, Bilbao, Barcelona, and Galicia. I’d highly recommend this book as an introduction to the Spanish regions and their history. Tremlett poses a unique point of view as a journalist with a knack for explaining Spanish culture to foreigners.
South from Granada: A Sojourn in Southern Spain by Gerald Brenan
Brenan spent a large part of his life living in Spain, and this shines through in the images that he paints for his readers. In South from Granada: A Sojourn in Southern Spain, Brenan reflects on his time spent living in a remote Spanish village between 1920 and 1934. He planned to immerse himself in local life and to live frugally while working on writing in his new isolated home. He also tells tales of his travels to Granada and to other areas of Spain, with a real passion for the country.
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain by Chris Stewart
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain is the perfect light read. In this book, you’ll follow Chris Stewart, who decides to purchase a sheep farm in southern Spain. As Chris and his wife adjust to life on a farm in a foreign country, they also attempt to renovate their new home. Like any new expat, they come across various challenges. However, the couple makes new friends along the way and end up forging a unique and pleasant life in Spain. Plus, the narrator can integrate himself into his Andalusian community, reminding the reader of how nice it feels to get along with one’s neighbors.
Granada: The Light of Andalucia by Steven Nightingale
Granada is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating cities in Spain, with a history influenced by Christians, Muslims, and Jews alike. In this book, Steven Nightingale moves to Granada with his family and settles in the famous Albayzin neighborhood. There, he discovers a passion for both the history and culture of Granada as he seeks to understand his new home.
Expats Spain: No Bull Truth about Living in Spain by Mark Shearman
This book is a must-read for anyone considering relocating to Spain. In Expats Spain, Shearman provides a humorous take on precisely what living in Spain is like for a foreigner. Having moved in 2002 to Spain with his own family, he hopes to shed light on the actual experience of paving a new life in a new country.
Historical fiction books set in Madrid
The Time in Between by María Dueñas
In pre-WWII Madrid, we find Sira Quiroga, a young woman who falls in love with a less-than-ideal man. After following him to Morocco, Sira learns the hard way that it’s impossible to trust a con man. Unfortunately, this means she’s been left pregnant and in massive debt. At this point, she’s unable to return to Spain until the debt is paid off. So, she takes her skills as a dressmaker and attempts to turn her situation around. Eventually, she’s approached by British Intelligence to work as a spy, gaining information on the Germans. A story of wartime, love, and beating the odds, The Time in Between will capture your attention until the very end. If you’d like, you can also find the Spanish TV adaptation of the same name. It’s terrific!
The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys
In 1957, post-war Spain begins welcoming tourists into the country as a way to gain capital. Daniel Matheson is one of these foreigners, hoping to dive beneath the sunny surface of his mother’s birth nation and the city of Madrid. After meeting Ana, a beautiful hotel maid, he finds that all is not what it seems. In fact, Franco’s Spain has a hidden tragic past and a dark side. This novel is extremely informative about the Spanish Civil War and even includes vintage media reports interspersed throughout the book.
Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom
Especially if you plan to visit Madrid during your trip to Spain, you’ll want to check out this outstanding historical novel. In post-Civil War Madrid, we follow the lives of Harry Brett, Sandy Forsyth, and Bernie Piper as their lives intertwine after falling in love with the same woman. These young men, due to their professions as a British soldier, an entrepreneur, and a fighting Communist, help us to understand the atmosphere of Spain in the 1940s.
Historical fiction books set in Barcelona
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
This novel is book #1 in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (books #2, #3, and #4 are next on this list). In the period just after the Spanish Civil War, readers follows a young boy living in Barcelona, Daniel Sempere. One day, his father takes him to a library of old and forgotten books. There, Daniel is instructed to choose a book to protect for life. As Daniel becomes enthralled with the novel he selected, he tries to find other works by the same author: Julián Carax. His search leads him on a quest to discover the tragic story of Julián’s life, all with the romantic backdrop of the city of Barcelona.
The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
The Angel’s Game is the second book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series but isn’t technically a prequel or sequel. Each of the books in the series is meant to be able to stand alone. So, feel free to pick them up in any order! This story follows David Martin, a writer in Barcelona who seems to be generally struggling to make ends meet. Then, he receives an incredible offer from a French editor. As he begins to write a new book in his old home, he becomes increasingly interested in the past owner’s mysterious death. Thus, his own story becomes entangled with the dark history of his spooky tower house.
The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In the third story in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, readers once again follow the life of Daniel Sempere. Thus, although it’s the third book, it’s a direct sequel to the first book in the series: The Shadow of the Wind. This time, Daniel is running the family bookshop, even though business has slowed down in recent years. After a stranger leaves a cryptic note for Fermin, we learn more about his past, including a prison stint. While Fermin tells the tale of his time spent at Montjuic Castle, other characters from Zafón’s prior works make appearances. If you loved Fermin in the first book, you’ll definitely enjoy this novel.
The Labyrinth of the Spirits by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
In Zafón’s series finale, we’re introduced to a new heroine: Alicia Gris, an investigator for the secret police in Madrid. After taking on a case involving the disappearance of Spain’s Minister of Culture, Alicia crosses paths with the Sempere family in Barcelona. Together, they uncover a dangerous conspiracy tied to the Franco regime–however, her search for the truth may ultimately cost her her life. If you don’t have time to read all four books in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series, readers generally agree that The Shadow of the Wind and The Labyrinth of the Spirits are the favorites.
Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
Cathedral of the Sea is another historical fiction novel that takes place in Barcelona, although this time in the 14th century. Here, we find the city during a time of massive growth and prosperity. This book may remind readers of Ken Follett’s work, The Pillars of the Earth. For anyone traveling to Barcelona, this storyline follows the building of the Santa Maria del Mar cathedral. The main character, Arnau Estanyol, becomes a stoneworker that aids in the construction of the church. Meanwhile, his best friend, Joanet, is studying to enter the priesthood. You’ll read about important moments in Barcelona’s history, including the Inquisition, the bubonic plague, and the treatment of women, Jews, and Moors during the 14th century. This novel was so successful that it was even turned into a 2018 TV series by the same name.
Historical fiction about Spain
The Assassin’s Mark: A Novel of the Spanish Civil War by David Ebsworth
Historical fiction about the Spanish Civil War? Yes, please! For those looking to gain a better understanding of this period in Spanish history, you’ll want to read The Assassin’s Mark. Beginning in 1938, this novel introduces the reader to Jack Telford, an English journalist who is sympathetic to the left-wing Republican cause. Starting with Jack taking a tour of war landmarks, the plot eventually twists into a gripping murder mystery.
Until the Curtain Falls by David Ebsworth
This novel is a sequel to The Assassin’s Mark, following Jack Telford after he gets himself into a bit of a sticky situation. After killing a “colleague”, Jack is on the run in northern Spain. As the Russians, the Fascists, and the British pursue him, Jack attempts to make his best effort to survive. If you’re looking to be taken on a thrilling rollercoaster ride, you’ll love this book.
The Last Jew: A Novel of the Spanish Inquisition by Noah Gordon
The Last Jew provides a gripping account of the experience of living as a Jew in Spain during the Inquisition. After seeing his father and brother die, Yonah Toledano decides to maintain his religion in their honor. Thus, he sets off on a journey throughout the country, always attempting to stay one step ahead of the Inquisition. He takes on whatever work he can find, never staying too long in one place. As Yonah traverses Spain, the reader is introduced to a variety of individuals, all demonstrating what life was like during this epoch.
The Last Queen by C.W. Gortner
In The Last Queen, Gortner tells the story of a rather enigmatic figure in Spanish history: Juana of Castile. Although she is relatively unknown outside of Spain, sadly, in her own country’s history, Juana is remembered for her “madness”. Gortner chooses to dispute these claims of her mental illness. Instead, he paints her as an intelligent and brave woman who was used as a pawn for political purposes. In the end, her strengths caused her to become an easy target for powerful men who wanted to take her throne.
The Queen’s Vow: A Novel of Isabella of Castile by C.W. Gortner
If you know anything about Spanish history, you should recognize the name “Isabella of Castile“. Between leading the Reconquista and financing Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the “New World”, she might be the most well-known Spanish monarch of all time. In The Queen’s Vow, we meet Isabella as a teenager and follow her throughout her reign. We see her marry Fernando, Prince of Aragon, and watch as they begin to forge the country of Spain. It’s hard to understand Isabella’s point of view in modern times, and Gortner does a fantastic job of humanizing this historical figure.
Guernica by Dave Boling
Especially if you’re planning a trip to Northern Spain, you’ll want to give this immersive tale about Guernica a read. This city in Basque country is a key figure in Spanish Civil War history as it was the site of a devastating bombing in 1937. Boling weaves this part of history together with fiction in a generational tale beginning with Miguel Navarro. Readers are able to explore Guernica before, during, and after the war in a beautiful story of resilience, family, and love.
The Snow Gypsy by Lindsay Ashford
Set in 1946, this novel follows two main characters: Rose, an English veterinarian, and Lola, a flamenco dancer. The former is on a search for her brother, who went missing in Spain in 1938. Meanwhile, the latter lost her family in the war and adopted a child who she rescued from the massacre of civilians happening during this period. After meeting one another at a Romany festival, they team up in the search for Rose’s brother. Through this new friendship, their lives will be changed forever.
The Return by Victoria Hislop
This inspiring novel focuses on two different timelines and how they interact with one another. We begin with Sonia, an unhappy middle-aged woman in present-day England. When she comes across old pictures from a trip her mother took to Spain, she becomes fascinated with the Ramirez family, who owned a café in Granada during the 1930s. In the second timeline, we follow this family as they confront the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War.
History of Spain books
The Great Book of Spain: Interesting Stories, Spanish History & Random Facts About Spain by Bill O’Neill
Before visiting Spain, you may wish to expand your general knowledge of the country. With this in mind, I recommend The Great Book of Spain, an instructive and fun read that covers all sorts of facts and trivia about Spain! From history, geography, pop culture, and even sports, this book contains tidbits of information that all readers will find interesting.
Isabella: The Warrior Queen by Kirstin Downey
If you’re familiar with any of Spain’s history, you’ll most likely have heard of Queen Isabella of Castile. She was the first queen of a unified Spain, completed the Reconquista, and is widely known for financing Columbus’ 1492 voyage. As you can imagine, she is considered one of the most pivotal figures in world history. Downey walks readers through Isabella’s eventful life and inspires them to continue to investigate about this intriguing period of history.
The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 by Antony Beevor
If you don’t know much about the Spanish Civil War, this book is the perfect place to start. Beevor, a military historian, covers the events that led up to this major conflict, the actors at play, and the timeline for the course of the war. He mainly focuses on the military side of events, providing a record of the armies, battles, and strategies implemented.
Spain in Our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 by Adam Hochschild
Something that many Americans may not realize is that the Spanish Civil War was one of the main precursors to World War II. The civil war was frequently covered by the press in the U.S., leading American volunteers to travel to Spain and defend its democratic government. In this book, Hochschild tells the story of these volunteers and their roles as well as the efforts to end American neutrality.
Although you may not have learned about this topic in school, Franco’s violent dictatorship in Spain led to countless deaths. More often than not, his enemies would go missing, buried in unmarked graves. Due to the upsetting nature of this book, it can be difficult to read. However, I find this dark period of Spain’s past important to understand and review.
The New Spaniards by John Hooper
The New Spaniards is an updated and revised version of Hooper’s original release, The Spaniards. If you’d like to understand Spanish culture and society at a deeper level, you need to give this book a read. As a journalist, the author has witnessed Spain go through intense transitions. In fact, he accepted a correspondent position in Madrid shortly after the death of Francisco Franco. Thus, he offers a fitting and precise account of not only Spain’s history but also its cultural norms and taboos.
Kingdoms of Faith: A New History of Islamic Spain by Brian A. Catlos
If you’re new to Spanish history, you may not be familiar with its relationship with Islam. In fact, large portions of the Iberian Peninsula were once a Muslim kingdom. Even today, Spain carries traces of al-Andalus in its culture, architecture, and even languages. This book is an overall interesting read on a fascinating civilization.
Barcelona by Robert Hughes
If you plan to spend time in Barcelona on your trip to Spain, this book is a wonderful city guide. Barcelona is a particularly unique city, with its own Catalan culture. Hughes covers everything from the city’s pre-history to its present-day state–all involving exhaustive research. You won’t find a more comprehensive book on Barcelona anywhere else!
The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky
When visiting Spain, it’s crucial to not only understand the history of the country as a whole but also of its regions. If you’re planning to visit northern Spain, you’ll find that the Basque country is a unique experience. With its own language, origin, and culture, it may be worth reading The Basque History of the World before visiting this area.
The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by María Rosa Menocal
You may associate Spain with a history of intolerance. However, Menocal shines a light on a period where Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in peace in the country. In particular, she focuses on portraying Al-Andalus or Muslim Spain, with a dose of nostalgia. Especially if you plan to travel to Andalusia, you’ll enjoy reading this book before experiencing the blended culture of this region.
Best Spain travel books
On your trip, you may want to bring some of the best travel guides about Spain along! Although I didn’t include these books on the list of the 40 best Spain books, I do think it’s worth having at least one in your suitcase. Whether you’re looking for the best activities to do, exciting places to eat, or maybe a place to stay, these guides offer pro travel tips. If you click the options I’ve listed below, it’ll take you directly to Amazon, where you can purchase these helpful guide books!
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An earlier version of this article was published in August 2019.