Spain Explained

The autonomous regions of Spain

Last updated on September 13th, 2019 at 09:11 am.

It can be difficult for the newly arrived in Spain to get to grips with the number of different laws and what can seem to be a never-ending battle with bureaucracy here. The arrangements for many aspects of life are perhaps complicated by the fact that it’s not only Spain that makes decisions about what you should and shouldn’t do, the part of it where you live does as well. Perhaps a little like by-laws in England but with more power to the elbow.

Spain has a high degree of regional autonomy. To begin with, there are 17 autonomous communities in Spain and 2 autonomous cities. The autonomous communities are led by regional governments who are responsible for education, health, social services, culture, urban and rural development and in some cases, policing. Andalucia has the largest population but Castilla y León has the largest area of land. Asturias is famous for its seafood whilst Catalonia is home to Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city.

So what does this mean for you? Spain is, in fact, a very de-centralised country. This can be confusing and means that you cannot generalise across regions. What might be acceptable in one region might not be in another. It can feel as though you are living within a multitude of layers that includes municipalities, provinces and regions and finding your place within the structure is not always easy.

However, it also means that there is a high degree of local control. Laws are made and influenced locally and highlight the very unique character that many of these regions have. Finding out more about the different communities can help you get to grips with Spain’s unusual patchwork whilst also embracing the country as a whole.

A tale of communities and provinces

The autonomous communities are usually made up of two or more provinces which are then further divided into municipalities. For example:

Autonomous community = Valencia

Province = Alicante

Municipality = Torrevieja

Language = Valenciano as well as Castellano

Each community has its own flag and coat of arms.


Autonomous CommunityProvincesMain cities and languaje(in addition to Castellano
AndalucíaIs the second largest of the communities in terms of area of land. It is divided into eight provinces which include  Almería, Córdoba, Cádiz, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Sevilla.Sevilla is the capital
AragónHas three provinces – Huesca, Teruel and Zaragoza

Zaragoza is the capital

AsturiasHas just one province

Oviedo is the regional capital

There is an Asturian language but it has no co-official status

BalearesConsists of Menorca, Mallorca, Ibiza, Formentera and Cabrera

The capital is Palma

Catalan is also an official language here

Basque country (also known as Euskadi and País Vasco)Has three provinces – Álava, Viscaya, Gipuzkoa

Basque language

The capital is Vitoria-Gasteiz

CantabriaMainly a mountainous region with just one provinceSantander is the capital
CataluñaHas four provinces of which Barcelona is the biggest in terms of population. The others include Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.

Barcelona City is the capital

Catalan and Aranese are also recognised as official languages

Castilla – La ManchaThis is the third largest community and has five provinces Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo  This is the third largest community and has five provinces Albacete, Ciudad Real, Cuenca, Guadalajara and Toledo.Toledo is the capital
Castilla y LeónThis is the largest of the 17 autonomous communities and includes 9 provincesValladolid is the capital
MelillaThis is an autonomous city rather than community and is actually a tiny peninsula in the far northwest of the African continent 
ExtremaduraHas two provinces – Cáceres and BadajozThe regional capital is Mérida
GaliciaHas four provinces La Coruña, Pontevedra, Ourense and Lugo.The capital is Santiago de Compostela. Galician is also an official language here.
La RiojaOne of the smallest communities, it only has one provinceLogroño City is the capital
Las Islas CanariasThere are two provinces – Las Palmas and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The islands include Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El HierroCapital status is shared between Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria
MadridIt is made up of one province, which is, of course, MadridMadrid is the capital of the autonomous community, the country and the province
CeutaThis is an autonomous city rather than community and is also in the North of AfricaSituated on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar
MurciaHas only one provinceMurcia is the capital
NavarraNavarra was an independent kingdom originally and consists of only one province

Pamplona is the capital 

Basque language


There are three provinces:




The capital is Valencia city

The Valencian language has co-official status.

See all

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