Did you know that people in Spain play and enjoy sports besides just football? While football is clearly one of the most popular sports in Spain and Europe in general, several other sports are loved and enjoyed by its fans.
Sports are just a pastime to some, but to others, sports are a way of life. I was hooked after watching a Real Madrid and FC Barcelona game live in their stadiums and feeling the excitement in the air! Watching sports in Spain isn’t just a pastime; it’s a national treasure for families in all Spanish communities. While we’ll talk more about football, let’s explore some lesser-known sports that keep Spaniards entertained.
Hi, I’m Timon!
I’ve experienced the heartbeat of Spain firsthand. Over the last five years, I’ve immersed myself in the dynamic cities of Spain, truly living the Spanish way. My insights into this beautiful country are rooted in genuine experience.
TOP 10 Most Popular Sports in Spain
|Most Popular Sports in Spain|
Nothing beats viewing a live sports match, especially football in Spain. Have you ever experienced a live football match in Spain? It should be on the top of your family’s travel to-do list for sure. While sports are popular in Spain, football takes the cake. Football, and yes, not American football, was introduced back in the 19th century by the British to Spain, and Spaniards have been hooked on it ever since. By the mid-1900s, football became Spain’s most popular sport, and it still is today.
FIFA, the governing body of association football, helps to oversee relations between the major European competitors in football, with Spain being one of them. Some of the most well-known football clubs located in Spain are Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, yet there are over twenty First Division and twenty-two Second Division teams. While it is hardly an easy feat, Spain is one of only two nations where both the men’s and women’s football teams have won the FIFA World Cup and the FIFA Women’s World Cup.
La Liga, meaning the league in Spanish, offers one of the most popular professional sports leagues globally. Over twenty thousand Spaniards spend their days cheering for their favorite team in the league! Football is more than a local sport in Spain; it’s a lifestyle. Be sure not to miss the start of the exciting football season annually. If experiencing a game is important to you and your family, you may want to plan a visit around the league’s schedule. Be sure to consider a visit to Spain during football season, keeping in mind the best times to visit Madrid.
Football isn’t the only popular sport in Spain that deserves recognition. The second most popular sport in Spain is, without doubt, basketball. Favored second to football in the country, basketball is a big sport in all of Europe and not just Spain. Basketball in Spain has captivated loyal fans for years, and there is no end in sight for its popularity. Similar to Spain being champions in football, the country solidified first place at the FIBA Basketball World Cup. Spain has been dominating in sports, and that doesn’t just include football!
The most well-known basketball league in Spain is Liga ACB, which had its first season in the 1980s and has been thriving ever since. Although several basketball players competed well in Spain over the years, Pau Gasol Sáez is likely the most familiar local name in the sport. Born in Barcelona, Sáez is a role model to many young Spaniards.
With a current total of eighteen teams across Spain, locals have plenty of opportunities to catch a game. Similar to football, basketball teams in Spain are well-spread throughout the country, making game viewing an option for Spaniards and tourists alike.
While walking around big cities in Spain like Madrid, tourists will find numerous football fields and several basketball courts. The excitement at live basketball games is similar to that of football, electrifying fans to cheer for their favorite players and teams. Not only adults in Spain are falling hard for the sport of basketball, but children are interested in basketball now more than ever. While many think of Spain’s youth sports as football clubs, the country also has its fair share of basketball camps and academies to help children develop skills for the game. An interest in basketball in Spain at all ages is on the rise.
Another sport that is popular in Spain? Tennis. On a recent trip to the Balearic Islands, I saw regular tennis matches occurring in Mallorca. Tennis is one of the most commonly played recreational sports in Spain, so several nationals who are not professionals enjoy the sport as a hobby. Seen all over Spain but especially in areas with warmer climates, holidays for Spaniards may include some time on the tennis court with friends.
Similar to football and basketball, Spain has produced some international tennis stars such as Rafael Nadal. Referred to as “the King of Clay,” Nadal has won twenty Grand Slam singles titles and holds the record of winning the most French Open Championship wins. Tennis is a sport that isn’t just a tradition in Spain but one that brings pride to the country. Due to sunny days, warm temperatures, and a moderate climate, the weather is typically always right for a round of tennis.
One ideal location in Spain for a tennis holiday is definitely the island of Mallorca, located in the Mediterranean Sea. The best time for a tennis holiday in Mallorca is any month other than July and August due to the potential of extreme heat. If you plan a trip there, consider the best times to visit Mallorca and even consider a stay at the esteemed Rafa Nadal Academy.
It’s hard to imagine visiting a European country without seeing cyclists donning the roads alongside you. The same goes for the country of Spain, as cycling is a popular pastime for Spaniards. Since the 1940s, cycling has been a desired sport amongst many, and eventually, the country organized the Vuelta a España, or the Tour of Spain. Over time this cycling event became one of the most important in the world, alongside the famous Tour de France and Tour of Italy racing tournaments.
Mallorca is a great destination in Spain for cycling, and this guide to cycling in Mallorca will help enthusiasts plan their adventurous trip. A great time to visit Spain would be late July into early August as the country prepares to host the annual Vuelta a España. Although this race is primarily held in the country of Spain, participants bike into other surrounding countries such as Andorra and France. Cyclist enthusiasts stand alongside the road in all three countries and cheer on the racers, showing Spanish pride and joy in the sport of cycling.
Padel, a racquet sport of Spain that often goes by the term padel tennis, is an active and fun sport for youth and the youth at heart. While you may think padel is the same sport as tennis, it actually has different rules, strokes and techniques. While padel is increasing in popularity in all of Spain, Marbella is the city that started the sports’ traction in the country. Despite having Mexican origin, the sport of padel has now grown to have thousands of clubs across the country of Spain since the early 2000’s with no end in sight for its popularity.
Padel is a great sport for children’s hand-eye coordination and a great beginner sport to learn in their youth. Many adults have taken up padel as a social pastime, with two doubles taking the court and providing camaraderie in Spain. One bonus of playing padel over other sports in Spain is the inexpensive equipment that is required to play. You can hit the court in any Spanish town with a padel racquet and a ball! While padel is a competitive sport and one that also provides a great workout of endurance, it is also known to hold friendly matches that should be taken more lightly and be just for fun.
Have you ever heard of a sport called handball? It was surprising to learn that handball is an increasingly popular sport worldwide, specifically in Spain. This sport isn’t just for hobby players as there is a designated national league called Liga ASOBAL which is a leader in the sport. Some known national teams, such as BM Ciudad Real and FC Barcelona Handbol, have won or placed in the Handball Champions League. Furthermore, Spain has competed in the Olympics in the sport of handball and they have won gold!
This fast-paced sport that originated from Northern Europe spread interest like wildfire, and shortly after, Spain established the Spanish Handball Federation in the mid-1900s. While many sports enthusiasts may think of a country like Greece with their Roman games to enjoy handball, Spaniards immediately liked the sport.
Starting at a young age, handball is introduced to children in many Spanish homes, and the family’s love for the sport continues to grow through the years. In cities around Spain, handball is played at schools, in athletic clubs, or even on the streets. Handball has been integrated as an event in many Spanish cities’ annual festivals and parties.
When I first arrived in Tenerife, I was overwhelmed by the number of kart racing businesses. It was so much fun to experience the thrills associated with karting, and it’s a hard sport not to get excited over. I had no idea that karting and all motorsports were a big deal in the country of Spain. Not only are there motorsports fans throughout Spain, but Spain is also known to host some of the biggest named events in the sport. While there are multiple sporting events in the motoring world, Spain hosts Formula One, MotoGP, and X-Trial.
If auto racing interests you and you’re hoping to watch a live Formula One race in Spain, be sure to purchase your tickets well before the event. Tickets tend to sell out weeks before the racing season begins, which is at the beginning of the summer in June. On race days in Spain, the circuits are packed with cheering crowds, and electrifying noises fill the air. While auto car racing is most popular in Spain, you’d be remiss to forget the other popular motorsports in the country: motorcycle racing, kart racing, quad biking, and bike racing.
It’s hard not to think of Spain and the sport of bullfighting. The bull is known lovingly as Spain’s national animal. This age-old tradition goes back to the early 1100s, with the first recorded Spanish bullfighting event occurring during a royal wedding. Known as a deep-rooted Spanish tradition, the term bullfighting in Spanish is corrida de toros, or running of bulls.
A bullfight is always held in a round-shaped venue called a plaza de toros, where spectators are enamored by the bull, the matadors leading them, and the history behind it all. While many cities throughout Spain offer bullfighting events, one known arena is Plaza de Toros de Toledo in Toledo.
When one thinks of the sport of golf in Spain, you may picture resort destinations such as Mallorca or Málaga. Beach-front locations or popular holiday spots are full of opportunities to play golf on some beautifully designed courses. Tenerife, for example, offers nine golf clubs available to Spaniards and tourists. On an island only just over one thousand square miles in size, the golf presence there outweighs football fields and tennis courts combined.
There are many well-known names in the golf community in Spain. One very notable name in golf from the past is Steve Ballesteros. Ballesteros was a professional golfer from 1974 to 2007 who grew a large fan base amongst Spaniards. After many of Ballesteros’ major winnings, he is considered the main reason golf has rising popularity throughout Europe and, specifically, Spain. In the present day, It’s hard not to think of Sergio García when thinking of notable Spanish golfers who made their mark internationally. The pride that García and many other Spanish golfers have helped make this sport more popular in Spain.
With mild temperatures and plenty of sunshine, Spain seems to be an obvious destination for the sport of swimming. While recreational swimming is extremely popular among youth and adults in the country of Spain, professional swimming has also made its mark in the country.
The Royal Spanish Swimming Federation, founded in the early 1900s, is the aquatics national federation for Spain. This federation supports Spain’s quest to compete successfully in swimming, diving, open-water swimming, synchronized swimming, and water polo. Since forming, numerous swimming clubs have popped up in local communities around Spain, allowing youth to learn the sport.
A name in swimming in Spain that I would be remiss not to mention is Mireia Belmonte. Belmonte achieved a historic victory for her country by winning the gold medal in the 2016 Summer Olympics. This title made Belmonte the first Spanish female swimmer to become an Olympic champion, encouraging young Spanish girls to try swimming.
Why Sports are Integral to Spanish Culture
It is clear that there is a deep-rooted love for sports in Spain, a pastime that Spaniards are proud to enjoy. While these sporting events begin as activities to experience, they end up becoming traditional community events. Many Spaniards would become emotional talking about their love of one of these sports and the impact that watching the events in their community has had on their families.
Youths aspire to learn a sport like their favorite Spanish player did, putting in countless hours on the field, court, or in the arena. Communities across Spain come together to cheer on the wins of national teams and mourn the losses, taking sports seriously and to heart. Bringing families together, fostering unity, and promoting national pride truly best describes Spain and its love for these popular sports in Spain.
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