We all know Spain is loco for fútbol, aka soccer, but did you know there are many other sports that the Spanish love to play and watch? Some are easy to guess, like basketball, but others are sports you may never have heard of. Here’s a list and the low-down on the top 10 most popular sports in Spain besides soccer.
Who knew when a Canadian dude nailed two peach baskets to a gym wall in 1891 that the new sport would become the second most popular in the world? But it has, and Spain has fallen in love with it. There’s a thriving basketball league here in Spain called La Liga ACB. Basketball players and fans consider it the second-best league after the NBA. It’s easily found on TV while you’re flipping through Spanish cable. I have friends who only watch the NBA when La Liga doesn’t have a game. La Liga ACB has also become a top breeding ground for NBA talent. There are 18 clubs in the league in every corner of the country. Try going to a match yourself for a very different travel experience!
I’d say tennis is Spain’s third most popular sport. It’s normal for a bar or cafe to have a tennis match on, with more than one patron glued watching. Rafael Nadal, known lovingly as Rafa here, is one of the sport’s best ever. There’s a ton of clay in Spain, and they freely use it for the courts, making Spanish players some of the best in the world on the slightly slippery red stuff. You can find a tennis court almost anywhere in this great-weather country, but unfortunately, they’re never free. Expect to pay €10-20 for an hour of play. And while we’re on paddle sports, meet padel.
Pad what? Yeah, it’s called padel, and it’s one of the most popular sports in Spain. Huge! Picture half a tennis court enclosed by squash walls and with four players. It’s wild, and it’s really, really fun to play. Padel was invented in 1969 in Mexico by a guy who didn’t have enough space for a tennis court. The rest is history. Let me tell you; it’s the future of racquet sports. If you want to try it, you can find a court anywhere — I mean anywhere! But remember, you’ll need four players, which costs at least twice as much as tennis.
Spain has about 350 golf courses, the sixth most in Europe. It’s no surprise when one considers the great weather and scenic vistas around the country. According to the Spanish Golf Federation, there are over 1.2 million registered golfers in Spain, making it one of the top leisure activities and most popular sports in Spain. Seve Ballesteros, who died tragically of brain cancer at 54, could be considered Spain’s Tiger Woods. He was the first European to win the Masters and helped introduce the sport to millions of Spaniards in his heyday.
Cycling is also quite popular here in Spain as a spectator and participatory sport. La Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain) is one of the world’s top three cycling events, along with those in France and Italy. Spain has produced several world-renowned cyclists, including Miguel Induráin, who won the Tour de France for five years straight in the 90s. About 20% of Spaniards list the bicycle as their primary means of transport. In some cities, this rises to almost 50%. Valencia is probably Spain’s top cycling city, with dedicated bike lanes throughout because the municipality is heavily encouraging biking.
Handball mixes the rules of basketball, soccer, and hockey into an exciting indoor court sport, which is fun to watch. The Spanish national handball team is one of the world’s best, with two world champion stars on their jerseys. As a result, handball does have a following here as well as a professional domestic league called La Liga ASOBAL.
Some folks claim this isn’t an actual sport, but try driving that track at 200 mph and get back to me. At any rate, it does grab people’s attention when it’s on the telly at the local bar. Spain is one of the world’s more successful Formula One countries, with Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz, Jr. being two of the sport’s most recognizable names. The Spanish Grand Prix takes place yearly in Barcelona, and Spain has also hosted the European Grand Prix on seven occasions. The 2023 Spanish Grand Prix is scheduled for June 2-4 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.
Skiing and Snowboarding
Did you know Spain has more skiers and snowboarders than any Scandinavian country, with 2.3 million hitting the slopes in an average year? It’s not the first thing that comes to mind for sunny Spain, but there are more than 20 alpine resorts here, and many are within a day trip of Madrid or Barcelona. The ski regions are the Pyrenees first and foremost, followed by the Picos de Europa northwest of Madrid, and finally, the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia. Lift tickets are generally cheaper than in the Alps as well, with prices starting just under €30. Here’s a list of the best bargain resorts in Spain.
A list of the most popular sports in Spain isn’t complete without awn bowling — called bowls in Spain, boules in France, and bocce in Italy — is a firm fixture in Spanish culture and leisure life. The object is to toss heavy balls, usually made from metal, as close as possible to a smaller ball called the jack or kitty. Much of the strategy involves knocking the opponent’s balls out of the way and using them to position your ball closer. It can be played on a flat or uneven surface and is quite an addicting pastime. In many Spanish towns, especially on the southern coast, you’ll see groups of mainly older men bowling away, sometimes with a beer in their other hand.
Whenever I go hiking here, someone, or often a group, will fly past me, putting me and my attempt to exercise to shame. Trail running is actually called mountain running here, and Spain has quite a history with it. In the 1920s, there were a series of high-altitude races called the Iron Cup. Competitions continue all over the country to this day. If you’re a fan, here’s a comprehensive list of trail-running routes for you to check out.
Thinking about moving to Spain?
Whether you’ve been to Spain before or not, there are some things you should know before you move. In this post, I cover 17 things you should know about living Spain before you move.