What to See In Rioja, Spain: Culture & Wine

Updated on 10 December 2017
While Rioja wine is world famous, you might not realize that there are many tourist attractions in the area, making it a really interesting place to visit. We’re sharing some of the many reasons why you should visit La Rioja, Spain – there’s much more to the area than just the Rioja wineries… In case you were wondering, the correct Rioja pronunciation is “ree-oh-hah” although if you want to sound more authentic, try saying the “oh” from the back of your throat.

Ancient Castles in La Rioja, Spain

There are some stunning medieval castles dotted around the Rioja region, including 15th century Castillo de Sajazarra, for which you can only visit the exterior. Castillo de Aguas Mansas is located in the town of Agoncillo and can be visited on weekdays.

Sajazarra castle, La Rioja, Spain
Battle of The Wine!

If you’re visiting the area of La Rioja in late June, you simply can’t miss the Battalo del Vino, aka Wine Battle. Held each year on 29 June in Haro, it’s a good natured festival where dousing each other with Rioja red wine is actively encouraged! Participants dress in a white t-shirt and red neck scarf, making them easy to identify. Equip yourself with a super soaker, bug spray or even a bucket and get stuck in with the best of them. It’s less touristy than the famous tomato festival and highly recommended.

Battala del Vino, Haro - the Wine Battle in Spain

Rioja Wine Harvest Festival

Every year in mid September, the town of Logroño celebrates the Rioja Wine Harvest Festival or Fiestas de San Mateo. Rioja grapes are the star of the show, with grape foot-crushing, festival floats and food stalls. On San Mateo Day, there’s a procession where children carry the grapes from Rioja vineyards. These are poured into a large wooden barrel and two men dressed in traditional costumes then crush the grapes barefoot.

Treading the grapes in Rioja, SpainHaro itself is a charming town known for its red wine, with some picturesque old buildings and churches. The actual capital of La Rioja, Spain is a town called Logrono, however Haro is considered to be the wine capital of the area.

Haro, wine capital of Rioja
Natural Splendours

The Parque Natural Sierra Cebollera is definitely worth a visit, but the whole area is stunning. The mountain ranges are popular for climbing, hiking, skiing, and even bungee jumping or paragliding if you’re feeling adventurous.

La Rioja mountain range
Parts of the Camino de Santiago pass through the area and the scenery is spectacular.

Rioja, Spain landscape
UNESCO World Heritage Sites

The Monasteries of San Millán Yuso and Suso are both registered as UNESCO World Heritage Sites due to their historical importance. The monastery in San Millán Suso dates from the mid-6th century whereas the monastery of Yuso dates from the 11th century and is still a thriving place of worship today. Not only is their architecture striking, but they are also the birthplace of the modern Spanish language. They’re both located in  San Millán de la Cogolla, with Suso meaning upper and Yuso meaning lower.

Monastery San-millan De Cogolla in the Rioja area of Spain
Vivanco Wine Museum

Rioja is one of the most famous Spanish wine regions. Internationally renowned for the consistent quality of its wines, it’s also a truly photogenic region. Nestled in the quaint village of Briones, you’ll find the unmissable Vivanco Winery-Foundation-Experience. The World Tourism Organization (OMT-ONU) considers it to be the best wine museum in the world and it’s not hard to see why. It’s also recomended by the Travel Channel as one of the best Food and Wine Museums.

Vivanco wine museum in Rioja, Spain
Spread over 9,000 square metres, it’s the perfect place to learn more about wine and man’s 8,000 year old relationship with it. The museum includes many artworks and films depicting wine, together with a corkscrew collection of over 3,000 models and much more.

Rioja winery - Vivanco Wine Museum, Rioja, Spain
The Vivanco family are passionate about “giving back to wine what wine has given to us” and it shows. Santiago and Rafael Vivanco are continuing the legacy of their great-grandfather who established a Rioja winery many years ago.

Vivanco family, Spain at their Rioja wineries
Yet there’s much more to Vivanco than just the winery and foundation. Designed to give the visitor a truly immersive experience, there are a range of fun activities on offer, such as workshops, wine tastings and workshops for children.

Vivanco Wine Museum visit
It’s the food though that’s got us salivating, if these dishes are anything to go by… At Vivanco, they call it winecooking and they incorporate wine into many of the dishes that they serve in the restaurant, gastrobar and private dining rooms.

Vivanco restaurant, Rioja
Visitors to the Rioja wine region should not miss this unique experience, and you can book your tickets here.

And it goes without saying that Rioja wines are unparalleled, thanks to their quality categorization, Denominación de Origen Calificada (D.O.Ca., or Qualified Designation of Origin. There are over 57,000 wine-producing hectares in La Rioja, with 85% of production being Rioja red wine. Having said that, white Rioja is excellent and I have a soft spot for it!

Rioja grape, Spain
Whatever your age, we’re sure you’ll love exploring this Spanish hidden gem. Have you visited Rioja?

Vivanco winery in Rioja, Spain
In association with Vivanco

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What to see and do in Rioja, Spain

  • Isn’t it a fabulous region!! It’s great to see where some of the world renowned wine is produced! Next time you visit, I really recommend a trip or stay at Marqués de Riscal.

    • Suze

      The region certainly has some fantastic wine, and so many other interesting attractions

  • Teresa Gomez

    What a great article! Apart from the Camino de Santiago section that I walked a few years ago, I have to (shamefully) admit that I’ve neglected La Rioja region in my explorations through Spain. Thanks for reminding me that I need to add it to my list! 😊

    • Suze

      How amazing to walk the Camino de Santiago – must have been so inspirational. Definitely on my bucket list

  • Kathi Kamleitner

    I love Rioja wines and this seems like the perfect trip to learn more about it – definitely putting this on my list of places to visit in Spain!

    • Suze

      Spain is such a great country and the Rioja region is one of the most charming areas – I hope you enjoy it if you visit!

  • happywiseowl

    Wow – looks lovely!! Will be adding it to my travel wish list!
    Em x

    • Suze

      I’m glad that you liked reading it, Em! Have a great week ahead

  • Battalo del Vino looks so fun! It’s such a beautiful area too. Loved this post.

    Gemma x

    • Suze

      I think Battalo del Vino is a real bucket list experience! Glad you enjoyed the post, Gemma

  • Danni Lawson

    Count me in for the Wine Battle, what’s not to like? The Vivanco is stunning too, they clearly put great effort into creating quality. I can see why Travel Channel recommended it. Fascinating to learn about such a famous wine region.

    • Suze

      The Wine Battle really is fun isn’t it! Makes a change from a tomato fight. I love what they’ve done at Vivanco, wine is definitely a vast subject

  • Chantell Collins

    Great timing! I am currently based in the north of Spain and a visit to the region of Rioja is at the top of my list. I actually had no idea what there was to do there besides wineries so this is super helpful. Did you stay in the region of Rioja or were you staying nearby in San Sebastian or Bilbao to travel in?

    • Suze

      Hi Chantell, you could certainly travel in from San Sebastian or Bilbao but it’s great to be in the Rioja region itself and there are some lovely hotels and lodgings to choose from

  • Julie

    I have never visited Rioja, but I love the Rioja wine. The wine battle looks thrilling and super fun. If happen to visit there around the end of June, I will make sure not to miss it.

    • Suze

      I’m a big fan of Rioja wine too, especially the white version. Hope you get to see the wine battle

  • The Rioja region looks like a great place to relax and drink wine – the Battle of the Wine looks fun!

    • Suze

      I know, what a fun event! Just make sure to wear old clothes for that if you go 😉

  • You say red wine and I’m sold, girl.
    Rioja is like paradise with its rich culture, food, and history.

    • Suze

      And this is particularly good red wine! As you say, it’s a great region for all those reasons

  • Live Learn Venture

    This all sounds amazing!! I loved my time in spain. I think the natural beauty and the wine are the best parts about visiting! 🙂

    • Suze

      I agree, and I’d add the Spanish people – they are so friendly and patient with me when I try to speak bad Spanish!

  • I LOVE the idea of the winecooking restaurant! Looks like a place I need to visit!

    • Suze

      I always find food cooked with wine to be so tasty, it’s a great idea isn’t it

  • I am not sure if I have heard of this place. Looks so beautiful. It is nice to get out of the toruistic places like Barcelona and Madrid. I would love to attend the wine battle, looks so fun 😀 As a lover of red wine I know I would love this place. Pinning for later 😀

    • Suze

      I’m very glad that you find it useful, Vibeke and hope that you get to visit

  • Monika Mizinska

    No way, I ahve heard about tmato battles.. egg battles.. pillow battles.. but wine? That sounds hilarious!

    • Suze

      I think the egg would be the worst, for the smell! A wine one is more fun!

  • I’ve drank plenty of it but knew absolutely nothing about the actual region. It’s just beautiful! I’m a big fan of Spain so I’ll add this to my dream road trip itinerary.

    • Suze

      Ha ha, you and me both! Spain is a great country for a road trip, each time we’ve done one the roads have been fairly quiet and the scenery is gorgeous

  • I love the sound of the wine battles! I’ve not been to Rioja before though been to Spain many times before and going to Seville for the time in a few weeks. I think I would plan my visit especially for the battle! That winecooking restaurant also sounds fab.

    • Suze

      You’ll have a brilliant time in Seville and I definitely think you should visit Rioja when the battle is on. The winecooking restaurant is a great initiative isn’t it!

  • Sandy & Vyjay

    Rioja is indeed a revelation. The castles are what appeal to me the most. They look so mysterious and full of stories from history. The natural landscapes too look beautiful and inviting.

    • Suze

      I agree that the castles are spectacular, and that part of Spain has certainly seen its fair share of history

  • I must say Suze, I’d never really considered visiting Rioja before as I’m more partial to Ribero del Duero but your post is making me re-consider! The landscape looks beautiful – definitely bookmarking this for future reference!

  • Lucy

    A wine battle sounds like brilliant fun. I wouldn’t have imagined that there was so much to do Lucy x