Updated: February 21, 2023Published: October 3, 2022
What do you know about the Iberian peninsula? Does Spain only occupy it? Do people there only speak Spanish? Yes and no. There is a lot more to know than that.
The Iberian peninsula has a rich past that explains a bit of our unique, diverse present. At least in my home, Spain, has 17 different cultures, and knowing the history of the peninsula helped me know why.
After reading this, you’ll be left with nothing but new history trivia and want to travel as soon as tomorrow.
Don’t forget to read all the way down to know the best beaches, cities, and mountains on the Iberian peninsula!
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What and Where is the Iberian peninsula?
The Iberian Peninsula is located in southwest Europe, and the Pyrenees mountain range is the geographical feature that separates it from the rest of the continent. It is the second largest peninsula in Europe after the Scandinavian peninsula, comprised of Sweden, Norway, and Denmark.
It is said that the peninsula receives its name after the river Ebro or Iberus, as the Greeks called it. Before the Roman Empire took over the peninsula, the territory was inhabited by Celts, Iberians, Phoenician and Greek colonies. The latter group gave the natives from the peninsula the name “Iberos,” based on the river on the East side of the territory.
This peninsula is important because of its two most significant countries, Spain and Portugal. These two nations are substantial contributors to culture and attract vast waves of tourists to the European Union each year.
What Countries are part of the Iberian Peninsula?
Although most people think only two countries are occupying the Iberian Peninsula, it’s more complicated than that. There are four countries and one controversial colony occupying the territory.
The Iberian peninsula is occupied by Spain, Portugal, Andorra, Gibraltar, and France.
I know Spain and Portugal are the two most prominent, and most of the time, people only count them as the occupiers of the peninsula. My country occupies 84.3% and Portugal a 15.24%. Just imagine! If those two make up 99% of the peninsula, how much do the other countries occupy? We’ll see that in a bit.
Let’s begin with Andorra. This nation is located in the heart of the Pyrenees, only 468 square kilometers. This means that Andorra could fit 1,080 times in Spain! How is this country part of the Iberian Peninsula? Well, because of it of its location.
By being in the middle of the Pyrenees, the country is right on the border of the Iberian peninsula. Andorra represents 0.08% of Iberia.
Sensational fact #1: Andorra works with a political system called diarchy, in which two people rule together. Its geographical location and history designated each president of France and the Catholic Bishop of Urgell (Catalonia) as the co-rulers or co-Princes in the country. In addition to that, the nation’s official language is Catalan.
The fourth country would be France. I know what you are thinking. “Iñigo, but you just said that the Pyrenees separate the Iberian peninsula from the rest of the European continent!”. Yes. I did, and that is why France is relatively part of Iberia.
As you may remember, the Pyrenees mountain range is shared by Spain and France. So, technically that part of the country is still part of Iberia. Do you follow? The only part of France considered part of the peninsula is the Oriental Pyrenees, right next to Catalonia.
Moving on to my favorite Iberian Peninsula country: Gibraltar!!! Okay, I think any other Spaniard would think it crazy to say this. Still, it’s my favorite because of the history it carries.
So, Gibraltar is a headland in southern Spain. A headland is a point of land that extends into a body of water, which means that it is a tiny piece of land that had to be granted to the UK. So small that it only represents 0.0012% of the Iberian peninsula. I still haven’t told you how that happened. Let’s say that, as with everything in the 18th century, it was due to a conflict of interests that ended in war. Specifically the Spanish Succession War. The complete story on these countries is right here.
Iberian Peninsula Countries
Modern Languages of the Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian peninsula has a rich and diverse history. This territory has had a purpose of crossroads and a home to different civilizations. Here I have a complete timeline of the societies, empires, and kingdoms that occupied the peninsula from centuries before Christ until now.
I am telling you this because our modern languages are here thanks to all those societies that came before us. Isn’t it amazing? For example, if the Visigoths had imposed their germanic dialects on the people from roman Hispania, we would be speaking very differently or even a completely different language!
Here I explain all the languages and dialects people from the Iberian peninsula spoke until Castilian Spanish was developed. But, right now, I will tell you the currently spoken ones.
But let’s go back to our primary purpose. The official languages of the Iberian peninsula are known as Romance Languages, which evolved from vulgar Latin. These are: Castilian- Spanish, Portuguese, Catalan, Valencian, Galician and Aranese. A non-romance language spoken on the Iberian peninsula and specifically in Spain is “Euskera” or Basque.
Sensational fact #2: The Basque language has existed for thousands and thousands of years. The “Vascones” civilizations lived in isolation way before the Roman Empire got to the peninsula and conquered all. It is a culture that has been kept alive through centuries, even after the Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and the Christian Kingdoms.
Iconic Cities to visit in the Iberian Peninsula
The Iberian peninsula is known for Spain and Portugal. And I am here to remind you that it has everything. Yes!!! Absolutely everything someone might want to see, from astonishing beaches to fast-paced cities to breathtaking views from our mountain ranges. I will make a small list of the three places to visit in each category I just mentioned.
Praia As Catedrais is located in Lugo, Galicia. The name translates to “The Cathedrals,” which refers to the rock formations resembling Gothic cathedrals’ buttresses. Although the waters might be freezing, the views you’ll get here are unmissable.
Praia Sao Pedro is a Portuguese beach in the municipality of Muel- Marinha. This beach is located in the center of Portugal. Sao Pedro is known for its turquoise waters and golden sand and is 1 hour away from Lisbon by train.
Praia Dos Caneiros is located in the municipality of Algarve. This beach is on Portugal’s bottom tip, right next to Andalusia. This beach is more of an inlet with blue waters and clear sand
Suppose you ever want a coast tour of the Iberian peninsula. In that case, you could go from Galicia (Spain) to Algarve (Portugal) in 8 hours. So, you can go from Lugo to Muel-Marinha by car in 5 hours. There will be plenty of other beaches on the journey. Then, to go from Muel-Marinha to Algarve is 3:38 hours. You could even end up in Lisboa!
Besides Madrid, Barcelona, and Lisboa, more beautiful cities and coastal locations captivate anyone. If you come to the Iberian peninsula and want to see something different, I would say to visit:
Although Gibraltar is not part of the Schengen area, European or citizens from the United States have no issue getting in without a visa.
Mountains: hiking and skiing
I am telling you you can do everything you want when you visit. There is an activity for everyone in the family, even the sporty ones.
Baqueira Beret is a ski station in Lleida, one of the biggest municipalities in Catalonia.
Grandualira is the biggest and most modern ski station in Andorra. It is as good as those in the Alpes.
Picos de Europa is a national park in Spain that is just breathtaking. This mountain range goes through three different autonomous regions Asturias, Cantabria, and Castilla -Leon. More than skiing, this park is meant for hiking.
And that’s a wrap on the Iberian peninsula! In this post, I have mentioned the other articles with more detailed information on the first three blocks. I will link them below again.
Now you know what countries you can visit by visiting the Iberian peninsula and the languages you’ll encounter. I hope this was helpful, and feel free to leave us a comment! We want to know if you have any questions or suggestions. I’ll see you next time!
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!