Posted by Julie Day on June 11, 2015
Guide to the Most Practised Sports in Spain

If you were asked which the most popular sport in Spain is, there’s no doubt that every single person questioned would give football as their answer. More often than not Spaniards have been accused of knowing more about their beloved national sport than they do about politics, the economy or current affairs – that is how much many of them love the sport and have taken it to their hearts. And it is not that surprising, really, considering that Spain has some of the world’s best players and teams. Their fans are also known to be the most fervent and dedicated in the world too, perhaps only rivalled by the Italians and Brazilians.

But while Spaniards in their millions spend many an evening glued to their television set to watch an ‘important’ match, or even spend the money and make the effort to leave the house to go and watch their favourite team play live, football is not the sport that the majority take up themselves in their free time – although it is ranked very high up on this list.

In a country that boasts an ideal climate for most of the year, many people take to the outdoors to practise their favourite active pastime. Obviously in the regions located further south, activities may differ during the winter and summer months due to the extreme variations in temperature and weather conditions.

In recent years, Spain has seen an increase in the number of people taking up sports such as cycling, golf, skiing, football, horse riding, hiking and mountaineering, but indoor activities such as taekwondo, swimming and chess (is that really a sport?) have also registered a rise in the number of participants as well.

A study carried out by the Marcet Foundation has revealed that the number of people who practise one form of sporting activity or another in this country is continually rising.

And the reasons for doing so mainly coincide with people’s greater awareness of the health benefits of sport and keeping active, coupled with eating a healthier diet and giving up unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking, consuming an excess of processed and fatty foods and not getting enough sleep.

According to their results, approximately 16 million Spaniards over the age of 14 play at least one sport – that’s 43% of the population between the ages of 15 and 75.

So, which is the most popular sport in Spain, practised by a greater number of Spaniards than any other? Well, it’s actually one that is considered quite boring by many and not even one that people go and watch! – keeping fit at the gym.

Apparently, this is the preferred activity by the Spanish, who either go to the gym to work out and keep in shape or do so at home with their own equipment, which mainly consists of a mat, hand weights or bar weights. In fact, 58% of Spanish homes are equipped with an exercise bike or outdoors bicycle, as opposed to 57% with a football.

You must also take into consideration that Spain’s facilities for sports have improved dramatically over the years, particularly since the Olympic Games held in Barcelona in 1992, where Spain’s athletes won more medals than the total accumulated in all previous games.

This led to a rise in the number of sports complexes, gymnasiums, athletics tracks and all-weather sports centres being built all over the country, which also resulted in more and more people taking up a sport.

Tourism has also been a driving force behind this phenomena, with many of the top tourist destinations offering a wide range of sports to their guests including tennis, swimming, gym, golf, skiing and water sports.

The majority of cities, towns and even villages are equipped with a football pitch, basketball court, swimming pool and athletics track.

Obviously, water sports are popular in coastal resorts, and skiing, mountaineering and hiking are practised in mountainous areas.

Ranking of the most practised sports in Spain

  1. Exercising at the gym
  2. Football
  3. Swimming
  4. Cycling
  5. Running
  6. Mountain walking/hiking
  7. Basketball
  8. Tennis
  9. Athletics
  10. Padel (like squash but on an outdoor court)

Ranking by regions (% of residents that practise sport)

  1. Andalusia
  2. Castille and Leon
  3. Galicia
  4. Aragon
  5. Catalonia
  6. Basque Country
  7. Madrid
  8. Murcia
  9. Canary Islands


Swimming - Mireia Belmonte

It is not surprising that swimming is one of the most popular sports in Spain. The weather is perfect for swimming outdoors for almost half the year (and too hot to practise any other form of sport in many areas), whether in an outdoor pool or in the sea at one of the beaches covering 2,000 km of Spanish coastline. The majority of municipalities in Spain are equipped with a municipal sports centre that includes an indoor heated pool, often Olympic size, plus an outdoor one too. Entrance to these municipal pools is usually very inexpensive, and in the region of 2 or 3 euro a time, although there are always cheaper reduced group prices or multiple-swim options available as well. Most pools offer classes to all ages, have a lifeguard on duty at all times, and provide shower, locker and changing-room facilities.


Cycling - Alberto Contador

Cycling is a popular sport in Spain, both professionally and for leisure purposes. The weather is also ideal for this type of sport, which is practised in coastal areas by the less energetic and fit and in the mountains for the extremely competitive and hardcore cycling enthusiasts. Bicycles and cycling equipment is relatively cheap in this country. A standard men’s bike can be picked up for about 150 euro from a hypermarket, although it obviously won’t be top-of-the-range for this price. As cycling has grown in popularity, particularly over the last couple of years, bike hire businesses have mushroomed, some town halls have facilities so that visitors can rent bikes from designated pick-up points by the hour, depositing them in other designated spots across the city, and a greater number of cycle lanes have also been provided. On a professional level, Spain holds at least 500 annual races and events all over the country, including the famous Vuelta de España (Tour of Spain), the world’s third most important cycling event after the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia.


Hiking - Mountain Trekking

Spain has some of the best hiking trails and routes across Europe. Just think of the Camino de Santiago, which, although many carry out to ‘find themselves’, is covered by millions each year. It’s hardly surprising that the combination of good weather, fantastic scenery and such diverse landscape, flora and fauna that Spain is blessed with attracts so many hikers from all over the world. Popular areas include the Basque Country, Cantabria and Asturias in the north of the country, and Andalusia’s Sierra Nevada, Serranía de Ronda and Alpujarras in the south. The Pyrenees and Ebro region in the northeast of Spain are not only popular for hiking, but their winter resorts also attract thousands of skiers as well. Actually, there are too many places to mention that are great for hiking, but generally where there’s a mountain, you’ll find a fantastic hiking or walking trail.


Basketball - Pau and Marc Gasol

You will find an outdoor basketball court in every town in Spain, and probably an indoor one too, for that matter. This sport is the most popular, behind that of football, of course, and is watched by millions on the television. Most towns will have a basketball team, and the best clubs in Spain - Barcelona and Real Madrid - rival the best in Europe and other parts of the world.


Tennis - Feliciano López

Rafael Nadal, David Ferrer, Fernando Velasco, Feliciano López, Conchita Martínez, Tommy Robredo and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario are just a few of the top tennis players to come from Spain. One can deduce from this that tennis, out of all the racquet sports played here, is hugely popular. It has grown in popularity over the years and now there are literally thousands of tennis courts in cities, towns, sports centres, health complexes, hotels, tourist resorts and country clubs across the country. As in the UK, however, membership to clubs, coaching and lessons are expensive, astronomical in some cases, and generally reserved for those that can afford it.



leftOn The Pulse is a leading website dedicated to researching and reporting up-to-date information about Spanish property, legislation and the economy