Wednesday, November 16, 2022
Spain travel guide - Travel S helper

Spain

travel guide

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain (Spanish: Reino de Espaa), is a sovereign state primarily located on the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. It is comprised of two large archipelagos, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the North African Atlantic coast, as well as two cities on the North African mainland, Ceuta and Melilla, and several small islands in the Alboran Sea near t Except for a short land border with Gibraltar, its landmass is bounded on the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea; on the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and on the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. It is the only European nation with an African border (Morocco), and its African territory accounts for almost 5% of its population, mainly in the Canary Islands but also in Ceuta and Melilla. It is one of only three nations, along with France and Morocco, that boast both Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

Spain is the biggest nation in Southern Europe, the second largest in Western Europe and the European Union, and the fourth largest country on the European continent, with an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq mi). Spain is the sixth biggest country in Europe and the fifth largest in the European Union, after Italy. Madrid is Spain’s capital and biggest city; other significant cities include Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, and Málaga.

Around 35,000 years ago, modern humans landed on the Iberian Peninsula. The peninsula evolved Iberian civilizations alongside ancient Phoenician, Greek, and Carthaginian towns until it fell under Roman control about 200 BCE, when the area was renamed Hispania, based on the older Phoenician name Span or Spania. The region was captured throughout the Middle Ages by Germanic tribes and subsequently by the Moors. Spain became a united nation in the 15th century, after the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs and the conclusion of the peninsula’s centuries-long reconquest, or Reconquista, in 1492. Spain established one of history’s first worldwide colonial empires in the early modern era, leaving a huge cultural and linguistic heritage of over 500 million Spanish speakers, making Spanish the world’s second most spoken first language, after Chinese and ahead of English.

Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary administration. It is a middle power and developed nation with the fourteenth biggest nominal GDP and the sixteenth largest purchasing power parity economy in the world. It is a member of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Trade Organization (WTO), among numerous other international organizations.

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Spain - Info Card

Population

47,450,795

Currency

Euro (€) (EUR)

Time zone

UTC⁠±0 to +1 (WET and CET)

Area

505,990 km2 (195,360 sq mi)

Calling code

+34

Official language

Spanish

Spain | Introduction

Weather & Climate in Spain

Spain is a sunny country with about 3,000 hours of sunshine per year. Temperatures are mild, but there are always differences depending on the season and the region of the country. The mildest temperatures are in spring and autumn, which means you can spend almost all day outside. The highest temperatures occur in July and August, when it is hot and dry all over the country. The coldest temperatures occur in December, January and February, which are the wettest months, especially in northern Spain.

Spring – March to June

Many people agree that this is the best time of year to visit Spain. The sun shines almost always and every day there are more hours of sunshine to enjoy the outdoors with walks, evenings on the terrace, excursions to the countryside…. Take short or long-sleeved tops made of fine materials, jeans and colourful dresses. Accessories such as sunglasses, a sun hat, a pashmina and a pair of sandals can be good travelling companions to enjoy sunny mornings and afternoons. A popular saying (“En abril, aguas mil” (April showers)) reminds us to also take a small travel umbrella for the occasional short but intense showers.

Summer – June to September

June, July, August and September are the hottest and driest months. Daytime temperatures are generally above 30 degrees Celsius. In the interior and in the south, temperatures can exceed 20 degrees at night. In the north the climate is milder, with cooler weather with some rainfall in areas like Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria. The most important thing to take along for the summer in Spain is a swimming costume for the beach. We recommend wearing light-coloured clothes. White clothing is also an important part of fashion in Ibiza. These clothes are flattering and comfortable in fine, flowing fabrics such as linen and cotton. Shoes are usually sandals or flip-flops.

Autumn – September to December

Temperatures are beginning to drop and it is getting colder, especially in the morning and late afternoon. Warm clothing, a light scarf and jackets or blazers are now necessary. At this time of year there are still plenty of sunny days, especially from Madrid to the south. Many people recommend bringing several layers of light clothing rather than heavy or very warm coats. In this way, it is easy to adapt to any time of the day. For example, in the evening it can get colder in the mountains or coastal areas due to the humidity. In autumn, there are sometimes storms and cold snaps.

Winter – December to March

These are the coldest months. Although Spain is not a rainy country, we recommend that you bring an umbrella. During these months in the north, rainfall is common. In the rest of the country, there can be several rainy days. We recommend that you bring warm clothing and accessories such as a scarf and gloves. In most parts of the country, waterproof footwear is not essential, comfortable shoes are more recommended, perhaps thicker boots and socks. Clothing made of warm fabrics such as wool, flannel and fleece, thermal underwear, tights and winter coats are necessary, especially in rural areas. If you are going to the Canary Islands, winter is very different and you will only need a light jacket.

Geography Of Spain

With an area of 505,992 km2, Spain is the fifty-second largest country in the world and the fourth largest in Europe. Mount Teide (Tenerife) is the highest mountain in Spain and, from its base, the third largest volcano in the world.

To the west, Spain has borders with Portugal; to the south, with Gibraltar (a British overseas territory) and Morocco, with its exclaves in North Africa (Ceuta and Melilla and the Vélez de la Gomera peninsula). To the north-east, along the Pyrenees, it borders France and the Principality of Andorra. A small enclave town called Llívia situated along the Pyrenees in Girona is surrounded by France.

The 1,214 km long border between Portugal and Spain is the longest uninterrupted border in the European Union.

Islands

Island Population
Tenerife 899,833
Majorca (Mallorca) 862,397
Gran Canaria 838,397
Lanzarote 141,938
Ibiza 125,053
Fuerteventura 103,107
Minorca (Menorca) 92,434
La Palma 85,933

Mountains and rivers

Continental Spain is a mountainous land that is dominated by plateaus as well as mountain ranges. After the Pyrenees, the most important mountain ranges are the Cantabrian Cordillera, the Iberian System, the Central System, the Toledo Mountains, the Sierra Morena and the Betic System, whose highest peak, the 3,478-metre Mulhacén in the Sierra Nevada, is the highest on the Iberian Peninsula. The highest point in Spain is the Teide, an active volcano of 3,718 metres located in the Canary Islands. The Central Meseta (often translated as “Interior Plateau”) is a vast plateau in the heart of the Spanish peninsula.

In Spain there are several large rivers, including the Ebro, the Guadiana, the Douro , the Tagus, the Guadalquivir, the Segura, the Turia, the Júcar, and the Minho (Miño). Along the coast there are alluvial plains, the largest of which is that of the Guadalquivir in Andalusia.

Fauna and flora

The fauna presents a great diversity, largely due to the geographical location of the Iberian Peninsula between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and between Africa and Eurasia, as well as the wide variety both of habitats and biotopes, which are the result from a significant diversity of climates and well differentiated geographical areas.

Spain’s vegetation is very varied due to various factors such as the diversity of relief, climate and latitude. Spain comprises different phytogeographic regions, each with its own floristic characteristics, largely resulting from the interaction of climate, topography, soil type and fire, as well as biotic factors.

Demographics Of Spain

In 2008, the Spanish population officially reached 46 million people, as indicated in the Padrón municipal (the Spanish municipal register). The population density of Spain is lower than that of most Western European countries (91 km²) and its distribution over the territory is very unequal. With the exception of the region around the capital Madrid, the most densely populated areas are on the coast. The population of Spain has been more than doubled since 1900, when it amounted to 18.6 million people, mainly thanks to the massive population increase of the 60s and early 70s.

Ethnic Spaniards account for 88% of Spain’s total population. After the fall in the birth rate in the 1980s and the decline in population growth, the Spanish population has increased again, first with the return of many Spaniards from other European countries in the 70s, followed by a large number of immigrants, recently representing 12% of the population. Immigrants are mainly from Latin America (39%), North Africa (16%), Eastern Europe (15%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (4%). In 2005, Spain introduced a three-month amnesty programme that allowed some previously undocumented foreigners to be granted legal residence.

In 2008, Spain granted citizenship to 84,170 people, mainly from Ecuador, Colombia and Morocco. A significant proportion of foreign residents in Spain also come from other Western and Central European countries. These are mainly British, French, German, Dutch and Norwegian. They live mainly on the Mediterranean coast and in the Balearic Islands, where many spend their retirement or work as teleworkers.

Large populations of descendants of Spanish settlers and immigrants also exist in other parts of the world, particularly in Latin America. From the end of the 15th century onwards, many Iberian settlers settled in what later became Latin America. Currently, most white Latin Americans (who make up about a third of the population of Latin America) are of Spanish or Portuguese origin. Approximately 240,000 Spaniards emigrated in the 16th century, mainly to Peru and Mexico. There were still 450,000 left in the 17th century. Between 1846 and 1932, it is estimated that almost 5 million Spaniards emigrated to the Americas, mainly to Argentina and Brazil. Between 1960 and 1975, around 2 million Spaniards moved to other West-European countries. During the same period, about 300,000 people went to Latin America.

Religion In Spain

Roman Catholicism has long been the main religion in Spain, and although it no longer has official status by law, students in all Spanish public schools must choose a religion or ethics course, and Catholicism is the only religion officially taught. According to a study carried out in June 2016 by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, about 68% of Spaniards identify themselves as Catholics, 2% have another faith and about 27% do not identify with any religion. The majority of people in Spain do not attend religious services on a regular basis. The same survey shows that among Spaniards who declare themselves to be religious, 59% almost never or never go to church, 16% go several times a year, 9% go several times a month and 15% go every Sunday or several times a week. Recent polls and surveys have shown that atheists and agnostics make up between 20% and 27% of the Spanish population.

Overall, approximately 9% of the total Spanish population attends religious services at least once a month. Although Spanish society has become considerably more secular in recent decades, the influx of Latin American immigrants, who tend to be strongly Catholic, has helped the Catholic Church to recover.

There have been four Spanish popes. Damascus I, Calixtus III, Alexander VI and Benedict XIII. Spanish mysticism was a major intellectual battle against Protestantism, with the reformist nun Teresa of Avila at the head of the list. In the 1960s, the Jesuits Pedro Arrupe and Ignacio Ellacuríaw were part of the Liberation Theology movement.

The Protestant churches have around 1,200,000 members. There are about 105,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses.

According to a study by the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain, there were approximately 1,700,000 residents of Muslim origin living in Spain in 2012, which represents 3-4% of the total population of Spain. The vast majority were immigrants and descendants from Morocco and other African countries.

With recent waves of immigration, the number of Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs and Muslims has also increased. After the Reconquista in 1492, no Muslims lived in Spain for centuries. Colonial expansion at the end of the 19th century in north-west Africa provided full citizenship for a number of residents of Spanish Morocco and the Western Sahara. Their numbers have increased steadily since then with recent immigration, mainly from Morocco and Algeria.

Judaism was virtually non-existent in Spain from the expulsion of 1492 until the 19th century, when Jews were again allowed to enter the country. At present there are approximately 62,000 Jews in Spain, representing 0.14% of the total population. Most of them are newcomers from the last century, while some are descendants of earlier Spanish Jews. It is estimated that about 80,000 Jews lived in Spain before their expulsion.

Language In Spain

The official and universal language in Spain is Spanish (español), which belongs to the Romance language family (the other languages are Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, French and Romanian). Many people, especially outside Castile, prefer to call it Castilian (castellano).

However, there are a number of languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, etc.) spoken in different regions of Spain. Some of these languages are predominant in their respective regions and, following their legalisation in the 1978 Constitution, they are official alongside Castilian in the respective territories. Among them, Catalan, Basque and Galician are recognised as official languages under the Spanish Constitution. Apart from Basque (whose origins are still disputed), the languages of the Iberian Peninsula belong to the Romance language family and are relatively easy to learn if you have a good command of Castilian. People in these regions can also speak Spanish, but learning a few words in the languages of the locals where you are travelling will help you win them over.

  • Catalan (Catalan: català, Castilian: catalán), a distinct language similar to Castilian but more closely related to the Oc branch of Romance languages and considered by many to be part of a dialectal continuum that spans Spain, France and Italy and includes other Oc languages such as Provençal, Beàrnais, Limousin, Auvernhat and Niçard. Various dialects are spoken in the north-eastern region of Catalonia, in the Balearic Islands and Valencia (where Valencià is often spoken), in eastern Aragon, and in Andorra and southern France. To the casual listener, Catalan appears superficially as a cross between Castilian and French, and although it shares features of both, it is a language in its own right.
  • Galician (galego in Galician, gallego in Castilian), which is very close to Portuguese, is spoken in Galicia and the western part of Asturias and León. Galician precedes Portuguese and is considered one of the four main dialects of the Galician-Portuguese language group, which also includes Brazilian Portuguese, Southern Portuguese, Central Portuguese and Galician. While the Portuguese consider it a dialect of Portuguese, the Galicians themselves see their language as distinct.
  • Basque (Euskara in Basque, Vasco in Castilian), a language unrelated to Castilian (or any other language known in the world), is spoken in the three provinces of the Basque Country, in the two bordering provinces on the French side of the Franco-Spanish border and in Navarre. Basque is not related to any Romance language, nor to any branch of the Indo-European or Indo-Iranian language family. It is currently unclassified and considered a linguistic isolate, apparently unrelated to any branch of the linguistic family tree. How it got to where it is now, and whether it can be related to a living or dead language (even if it is distant), is one of the most debated topics in linguistics, and streams of ink have been and will probably be spilled on the subject for the foreseeable future.
  • Asturiano (Asturiano: asturianu, Castilian: asturiano, also known as bable), spoken in the province of Asturias, where it enjoys semi-official protection. It was also spoken in the rural areas of León, Zamora, Salamanca, in some villages in Portugal (where it is called Mirandes) and in villages in the far north of Extremadura. While the Spanish constitution explicitly protects Basque, Balearic, Catalan and Valencian under the terms Catalan, Galician and Castilian, it does not explicitly protect Asturian. Nevertheless, the province of Asturias explicitly protects it and Spain implicitly protects it by not opposing it in the Supreme Court.
  • Aragonese (Aragonese: aragonésCastilian: aragonés, colloquially also fabla), is spoken in northern Aragon and is not officially recognised. This language is close to Catalan (especially in Benasque) and Castilian, with some Basque and Occitan influences (southern France). Today, this language is only used emphatically in some villages near the Pyrenees, while most people mix it with Castilian in their everyday speech.
  • Aranese (Castilian: Aranés, Catalan/Occitan: Aranès), is spoken in the Aran Valley and is recognised as an official language in Catalonia (not in Spain) alongside Catalan and Castilian. This language is a variety of Occitan Gascon and as such is very close to Provençal, Limousin, Languedoc and Catalan.

In addition to the mother tongues, English and French are often learned at school. English is generally the most widely spoken of the two languages, although knowledge of this language is generally low among the general population.

That being said, most staff in Spain’s major tourism industry tend to have a good level of English, and especially in popular resorts like the Costa del Sol, you will find people fluent in several languages. English is also generally more widely spoken in Barcelona than in the rest of the country. As Portuguese and Italian are closely related to Spanish, it can be difficult for locals to understand you if you speak one of these languages. In some areas frequented by German tourists, such as Mallorca, you will probably be able to communicate in German. In addition, there has been migration from Spain to Germany since the arrival of the first guest workers in the 1950s, and today many young people leave Spain to study or work in Germany. Today, many young people leave Spain to study or work in Germany. Many of these migrants have since returned to Spain, and there are also a number of German retirees.

Castilian Spanish differs from the Latin American varieties in pronunciation and other details. However, all Latin American varieties are easily understood by Spaniards and are recognised as different versions of Spanish by the Royal Academy of Madrid, the barometer of the Spanish language. While some Spaniards believe that their version is the “purest” version of Spanish, most Spaniards acknowledge that there is no such thing as “pure” Spanish, even in their own country. While differences in spelling are virtually non-existent, differences in words and pronunciation (as well as some aspects of grammar) between “Spanish-Spanish” and “Latin-Spanish” are probably greater than those between “American” and “British” English.

French is the most widely understood foreign language in north-eastern Spain, as it is in Alquezar and Cap de Creus, as most travellers come here from France.

The locals will appreciate any attempt you make to speak their language. For example, you should at least know the Castilian words “bonjour” (buenos días) and “merci” (thank you). (gracias).

Internet & Communications in Spain

Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi points in bars and cafeterias are available to guests, and most hotels offer Wi-Fi connection to their guests in the common areas.

Be safety conscious when using a laptop outdoors.

Mobile phones and SIM cards

Cheap mobile phones (under 50 euros) with some prepaid minutes are sold at FNAC (Plaza Callao if you live in Madrid, or El Triangle if you live in Barcelona) or in the shops of any phone provider, and can be bought without much formality (ID is usually required). Top-up is then done by buying scratch cards in small “frutos secos” shops, supermarkets, outlets (often tobacco shops) or kiosks — top-up via the internet or an ATM does not work with foreign credit cards.

The three mobile networks in Spain are Vodafone, Movistar and Orange.

You can rent a Mi-Fi (tripNETer‘s portable 3G Wi-Fi hotspot) that allows internet connection from any Wi-Fi device: smartphones, tablets, PCs…

Calls at a reduced rate

Locutorios” (call shops) are common in big cities and tourist places. It is very easy to find one in Madrid or Toledo. Calls made from “locutorios” are usually much cheaper, especially international calls (mostly via VoIP). They are usually a good choice for calling home. Prepaid phone cards for cheap international calls are available at many kiosks or grocery shops in town. Ask for a “tarjeta telefonica”.

Economy Of Spain

Spain’s mixed capitalist economy is the 16th largest in the world and the 5th in the European Union, as well as the 4th in the eurozone.

The centre-right government of former Prime Minister José María Aznar worked successfully to join the group of countries that adopted the euro in 1999. In October 2006, their unemployment rate was 7.6%, which compares well with many other European countries. Persistent weaknesses in the Spanish economy include high inflation, a large underground economy and an education system that, according to OECD reports, is one of the worst in the developed world, along with the United States and the United Kingdom.

By the mid-1990s, the economy had resumed growth that had been interrupted by the global recession of the early 1990s. Strong economic growth helped the government to reduce public debt as a percentage of GDP, and Spain’s high unemployment rate began to fall steadily. With a balanced public budget and controlled inflation, Spain was admitted to the euro area in 1999.

Since the 1990s, some Spanish companies have acquired the status of multinationals, often extending their activities to culturally close Latin America. Spain is the second largest foreign investor in Latin America after the United States. Spanish companies have also expanded into Asia, particularly China and India. Such an early worldwide expansion is a major competitive benefit compared to its rivals and its European neighbours. The reason for this early expansion is the growing interest in the Spanish language and culture in Asia and Africa and a corporate culture that has learned to take risks in unstable markets.

Companies in Spain have been investing in fields including the commercialisation of renewable sources of energy, technology companies such as Telefónica, Abengoa, Mondragon Corporation, Movistar, Hisdesat, Indra, train manufacturers such as CAF, Talgo, global companies such as the textile company Inditex, oil companies such as Repsol and infrastructures, with six of the top ten international construction companies specialising in transport being Spanish.

In 2005, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s quality of life survey placed Spain among the top ten countries in the world.

In 2010, the Basque city of Bilbao received the Lee Kuan Yew World Cities Award, and its then mayor, Iñaki Azkuna, received the World Mayor’s Award in 2012. The Basque capital Vitoria-Gasteiz received the European Green Capital of 2012 award.

Entry Requirements For Spain

Visa & Passport for Spain

Spain is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

  • There are normally no border controls between the countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. This includes most countries of the European Union and a few other countries.
  • Before boarding an international flight or ship, there is usually an identity check. Sometimes there are temporary checks at land borders.
  • Similarly, a visa issued for a member of the Schengen area is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals entering Spain with an identity card, under the age of 18 and travelling without their parents, must obtain written permission from their parents. For more information, see this website of the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

Nationals of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Mauritius, St Kitts and Nevis and the Seychelles are allowed to work in Spain without requiring a visa or other authorisation for the duration of their 90-day stay. However, this possibility to work without a visa does not necessarily extend to the other countries of the Schengen area.

If you arrive by plane from a non-Schengen country, you have to fill in a short form with an address in Spain, for example a hotel or hostel. This address does not seem to be strictly checked, but you will not be admitted if you have not provided an address.

A stay of more than 90 days for non-EEA or Swiss citizens almost always requires a prior visa. If the stay is longer than 6 months, a residence permit (Titulo de Residencia) must be applied for within the first 30 days of entering Spain.

There are several ways to enter Spain. From neighbouring European countries, one can arrive by car or train; from a number of Mediterranean countries, there are more or less regular ferry connections; visitors from more distant countries will probably use the plane.

Minimum validity of travel documents

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens only need to present a passport or identity card valid on the day of entry.
  • Other nationals must present a passport valid for the duration of their stay in Spain.
  • For more information on the minimum validity of travel documents, see the Spanish government website.

How To Travel To Spain

Get In - By plane

The national airline of Spain is Iberia, although there are many airlines flying to most European countries, Africa, America and Asia. Virtually all European low-cost carriers offer frequent connections to Spain, including: Monarch, Thomson, Vueling, EasyJet, Ryanair and Jet2.com.

The busiest airports are Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Malaga, followed by Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante and Santiago de Compostela.

If your final destination is mainland Spain, Madrid Barajas (IATA: MAD), Barcelona (IATA: BCN) and Malaga (IATA: AGP) are the most likely entry points as they have by far the most international flights. If your final destination is on one of these islands, you will most likely arrive directly at one of the island’s airports without going via another Spanish airport.

Get In - By train

The railway system in Spain is modern and reliable, most trains are new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe. The only problem is that not all populated areas have a train station; sometimes small towns don’t have one, in which case you have to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish railway network is that the lines are arranged radially, so almost all lines go to Madrid. Therefore, it happens that travelling from one city to another geographically close city by train takes more time than by bus if they are not on the same line.

Always check whether bus or train is more convenient. Nevertheless, the Spanish high-speed system is more reliable than the German one, for example, because the track gauge of conventional and high-speed trains is different and the high-speed lines are only used by high-speed passenger trains, which means fewer delays due to crowded lines or technical issues. All cross-border lines in France are either gauge (requiring a change or a long gauge change) or high-speed, making high-speed trains the clearly preferred option for crossing the border. Trains between Barcelona and France are operated by SNCF and RENFE, both of which sell tickets for all international trains on this route.

Get In - By bus

Bus tours in Spain are becoming increasingly attractive for people travelling on a tight budget.

There are many private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities.

Bus travel in Spain is generally reliable (except on peak days when the roads are very busy and you can expect long delays on the busiest routes), the buses are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay around 8 euros per 100 km.

Get In - By boat

From the UK, Brittany Ferries offers connections from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao. The journey time from Portsmouth to Santander is about 12 hours.

In addition to the UK, Spain is also well connected by ferry to North Africa (especially Tunisia and Morocco) and the Canary Islands, which are part of Spain. Of course, there are also routes to the Spanish Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera.

Another popular route is from Barcelona to Genoa.

How To Travel Around Spain

Get Around - By train

  • Renfe is the national railway company of Spain. Long-distance trains always run on time, but be aware that short-distance trains (called cercanías) can have significant delays of ten to twenty minutes, especially in the Barcelona area, where delays of up to thirty minutes are not uncommon. To be safe, always take the train before the one you need. Since 2013, it has also managed the FEVE narrow-gauge trains, which mainly run near the North Atlantic coast (from Ferrol to Bilbao). Buying tickets online with a foreign credit card can be difficult, but for those with a PayPal account, paying through the website may be easier.
  • FGC operates several local routes near Barcelona. In the places where Renfe and FGC operate, FGC generally offers more trains per hour, has better punctuality results and the stations are closer to the city centre; on the other hand, the trains are slower and the one-way fares are more expensive.
  • FGV offers local transport services in the Valencia region, discovered by Renfe, as well as a tram service in Alicante.
  • Euskotren operates cheap services from Bilbao to Gernika, Bermeo and San Sebastian, as well as a line from San Sebastian to Irun and Hendaye (France). Note that the journey from Bilbao to San Sebastian takes about 2 hours and 40 minutes and that buses connect the two cities in just one hour, although bus tickets cost about twice as much as train tickets. All lines, except the Bilbao – San Sebastian line, run twice an hour, with additional trains during peak hours.

Get Around - By bus

The cheapest way to get around most of Spain is by bus. Most of the main routes are point-to-point journeys with a very high frequency. Many companies serve several routes in some autonomous municipalities or provinces of the country, or a single route from a large city to several surrounding villages and towns. The following operators serve more than one region:

  • ALSA (formerly Continental Auto), +34 902 422242. The largest bus company with point-to-point routes throughout the country and alliances with various other regional companies and/or subsidiary brands.
  • Grupo Avanza, +34 902 020999. Operates buses between Madrid and the surrounding autonomous communities of Extremadura, Castilla y León and Valencia (via Castilla y León). In some regions they operate through their subsidiaries Alosa, Tusza, Vitrasa, Suroeste and Auto Res.
  • SocibusySecorbus+34 902 229292. These two companies jointly operate buses between Madrid and western Andalusia, including Cadiz, Cordoba, Huelva and Seville.

At the bus station, each operator has its own ticket counter and usually only one operator for a particular destination. The easiest way is therefore to ask the staff, who will be happy to tell you who operates which route and point you to a specific counter or window. You can also see everything available on Movelia.es, or see “By bus” under “Getting on” or “Getting around” in the article for a particular region, province or locality of the Autonomous Community. It is usually not necessary or more advantageous to book tickets in advance, as you can just turn up and take the next available bus.

Get Around - By boat

Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy the beautiful scenery and escape the inevitable tourist crowds that flock to these destinations. The month of May is a particularly pleasant time for chartering on the Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and Balearic Islands, as the weather is fine and the crowds have not yet left. July and August are the hottest months and the winds are generally weaker. There is no low season in the Canary Islands as the weather is similar to spring all year round.

If you wish to sail unmanned throughout Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard licence is the only acceptable certification Americans need to sail unmanned. For all others, an RYA Yacht Captain’s Certificate or an International Certificate of Competency will normally suffice. Although a Captain may be required, a Steward/Chief may or may not be required. Meals in restaurants are an integral part of Spanish customs. If you plan to dock in a port and explore fabulous bars and restaurants, a hostess/chef may be helpful to serve drinks and make beds. Extra crew can take up valuable space on a narrow ship.

Get Around - By car

In big cities like Madrid or Barcelona and in medium-sized cities like San Sebastian, getting around by car is both expensive and stressful. Fines for parking incorrectly are uncompromising (85 euros and more).

It is essential to have a road map: Many streets are one-way; left turns are rarer than right turns (and unpredictable).

Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to drive from town to town every other day, ideally if you don’t plan to park in big cities at night. It also doesn’t hurt to have beautiful scenery that makes a drive worthwhile. However, you should be aware that the price of gas has increased significantly in the last two years and that taxes on gas are much higher than in the United States, for example. With a good public transport system connecting (almost) all points of interest for travellers, you may wonder if it is really worth driving, as it is often much faster to travel by train than by car.

There are two types of motorways in Spain: autopistas, or motorways, and autovías, which are more like motorways. Most autopistas are toll roads, while autovías are generally free. Speed limits range from 50 km/h in cities to 90 km/h on rural roads, 100 km/h on motorways and 120 km/h on autopistas and autovías.

Intersections of two motorways usually have a roundabout below the top motorway – so you can choose any turn and drive in the opposite direction.

The green light for cars wanting to turn is often on at the same time as the green light for pedestrians: check every time you turn to see if the pedestrians you are passing also have a green light for them.

The filling process at petrol stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill up yourself and then pay at the branch. Petrol is relatively cheap compared to other EU countries and Japan, but still more expensive than in the United States.

Get Around - By thumb

Spain is not a good country for hitchhiking. Sometimes you can wait several hours. Try to talk to people at petrol stations, car parks, etc. They are fearful and suspicious, but if you make them feel they have nothing to fear, they readily accept you and are usually generous too. In the south of Spain, in and around the Alpujarras, hitchhiking is very common and it is also very easy to get a ride. As long as you speak a little Spanish and don’t look too dirty or scary, you should be able to get a ride quite easily.

Get Around - Rent a car

If you plan to travel to the big cities or explore further afield, you will find many companies offering cheap car hire. Due to the strong competition between car rental companies, consider renting a car with GPS navigation – it will be even easier to drive than with a car map.

Spanish drivers can be unpredictable and some of the roads in the southern region of Malaga and the Costa Del Sol are notoriously dangerous. Other drivers are not always careful when parking near other cars, especially if parking space on a road is limited. For this reason, you should consider taking out comprehensive insurance, which includes collision damage waiver (CDW) and car theft insurance in addition to third party insurance. Many car rental companies offer an insurance option that allows you to reduce your vehicle’s excess. This means that in the event of an accident, you will not have to pay for the entire excess. Check your travel and other insurance policies to make sure you are not paying twice for the same cover.

Child seats are also available in all vehicles so that the children in your group can travel safely and comfortably.

Air conditioning is a must during the hot Spanish summer months. However, you must make sure that you always carry water with you.

If you break down during your holiday, you need a car rental company that offers free roadside assistance from qualified mechanics. In Spain, cars often overheat and tyres are vulnerable on hot roads.

Car rental companies may accept payments in foreign currencies if you pay by credit card. Be aware of the normal costs associated with dynamic currency conversion

Get Around - By bike

Spain is a good country for cycling and in some cities you can see many cyclists. Cycle lanes are present in most medium and large cities, although they are not comparable in number to those in other Central European countries, for example. It should be taken into account that, depending on where you are in Spain, you might be confronted with a very mountainous area. Central Spain is characterised by a very flat relief, but towards the coast the landscape is often very hilly, especially in the north. There are several options for sightseeing in Spain by bike: guided or escorted tours, renting bikes in Spain or bringing your own bike, or any combination.

Guided tours are ubiquitous on the web. For non-subsidised tours, a little Spanish is very useful. Quiet seasons avoid extremes of temperature and guarantee availability of hotels in non-tourist areas. Good hotels cost 35 to 45 euros in the interior, breakfast is usually included. Menus del dia cost 8 to 10 euros and are served where the locals eat. Secondary roads are generally well paved, with good hard shoulders, and Spanish drivers are generally careful and courteous towards touring cyclists. Road signs are generally very good and easy to follow.

Currently, most Spanish municipalities, cities and towns are modernising their roads to introduce dedicated bike lanes. Self-service bicycle systems at mostly quite affordable prices are also being introduced in cities across the country.

Get Around - By taxi

All major cities in Spain are served by taxis, which are a convenient, if somewhat expensive, means of getting around. Apart from that, taxis in Spain are cheaper than in the UK or Japan, for example. Most taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign language. It would therefore be necessary to have the names and/or addresses of your destinations in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Also get a business card of your hotel to show the taxi driver in case you get lost.

Destinations in Spain

Regions in Spain

Spain is a diverse country, with contrasting regions that have different languages and unique historical, political and cultural traditions. Therefore, Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas) and two autonomous cities. Some of these autonomous communities – especially those with other official languages besides Spanish – have been recognised as “historical nationalities” with a unique historical identity. These include the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Valencia region, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands, but also, more recently, Aragon and the Canary Islands.

The many regions of Spain can be grouped as follows:

  • Green Spain (Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria)
  • Northern Spain (Aragon, Basque Country, Navarre, La Rioja)
  • Eastern Spain (Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia)
  • Central Spain (Community of Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha, Castilla-León, Extremadura)
  • Andalusia
  • Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera)
  • Canary Islands (Teneriffa, Gran Canaria, Fuerteventura, La Gomera, Lanzarote, La Palma, El Hierro)
  • Spanish North Africa (Ceuta, Melilla, Rock of Vélez de la Gomera, Rock of Alhucemas, Chafarinas Islands, Alboran Island)

Cities in Spain

Spain has hundreds of interesting cities. Here are nine of the most popular:

  • Madrid – the vibrant capital, with its fantastic museums, interesting architecture, gastronomy and nightlife.
  • Barcelona – Spain’s second largest city, with its modernist buildings and vibrant cultural life, nightclubs and beaches.
  • Bilbao – former industrial city, home of the Guggenheim Museum and other cultural institutions; most important Basque city
  • Malaga – the heart of flamenco with the beaches of the Costa del Sol
  • Cordoba – The Great Mosque (“Mezquita”) of Cordoba is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.
  • Granada – a beautiful city in the south, surrounded by the snow-capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, where the Alhambra is located.
  • Seville – a beautiful and green city, home to the third largest cathedral in the world
  • Valencia – paella was invented here, it has a very nice beach
  • Zaragoza – fifth city in Spain to host the 2008 World Expo

Other destinations in Spain

  • Costa Blanca – 200 km of white coast with many beaches and small villages
  • Costa Brava – the rugged coastline with many seaside resorts
  • Costa del Sol – the sunny coast in the south of the country
  • Galicia – historic villages and small towns, world-famous seafood and more blue flag beaches than any other autonomous community.
  • Gran Canaria – known as “a continent in miniature” because of its many different climates and landscapes
  • Ibiza – an island in the Balearic Islands; one of the best places in the world for clubs, raves and DJs.
  • La Rioja – Rioja wine and fossilised dinosaur tracks
  • Mallorca – the largest island of the Balearic Islands, full of incredible beaches and great nightlife
  • Sierra Nevada – the highest mountain range on the Iberian Peninsula, ideal for hiking and skiing
  • Tenerife – offers lush forests, exotic flora and fauna, deserts, mountains, volcanoes, beautiful coastlines and spectacular beaches.

Accommodation & Hotels in Spain

There are many types of tourist accommodation, from hotels, guesthouses and rented villas to camping and even monasteries.

“7% VAT not included” is a common indication for guesthouses and mid-range hotels: always check the small print when choosing where to stay. VAT is called IVA in Spanish.

Small villages

Apart from the coasts, Spain is rich in small inland tourist villages, such as Alquezar: with narrow medieval streets, charming silence and seclusion, always a good choice of restaurants and affordable accommodation.

Casa rural, bed and breakfast in Spain

For warmer accommodation, consider the country house. A country house is the rough equivalent of a bed and breakfast or a gîte. As the name suggests, not all houses are in the countryside. Some are in small towns and in almost every province.

Rural casas vary in quality and price throughout Spain. In some regions, such as Galicia, they are strictly controlled and inspected. Other regions do not apply their regulations so rigorously.

Hotels

Many foreign visitors stay in hotels organised by tour operators offering package holidays in the most popular seaside resorts on the coast and islands. For the independent traveller, however, there are hotels all over the country, in all categories and for every budget. In fact, thanks to the well-developed domestic and foreign tourism market, Spain is arguably one of the best-served European countries in terms of the number and quality of hotels.

Paradores

parador is a public hotel in Spain (3 to 5 stars). This chain of hostels was founded in 1928 by the Spanish King Alfonso XIII. The unique aspects of a parador are its location and its history. They are mainly found in historic buildings such as monasteries, Moorish castles (like La Alhambra) or haciendas. Paradors are the opposite of the uncontrolled development found in coastal areas like the Costa del Sol. Hospitality has been harmoniously integrated into the restoration of castles, palaces and monasteries to save representative monuments of Spain’s historical and cultural heritage from decay and neglect.

The Parador of Santiago de Compostela, for example, is located next to the cathedral in a former royal hospital dating back to 1499. The rooms are decorated in an old-fashioned style, but still have modern facilities. Other notable paradors are located in Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, Santillana del Mar (Altamira Cave) and more than a hundred other places throughout Spain.

The paradores serve breakfast (approx. 10 euros) and often offer very good, typical local cuisine (approx. 25 euros).

Accommodation prices are reasonable, considering that the hotels are often located in the heart of the picturesque regions. They range from €85 for a double room to €245 for a twin room (as in Granada). Two of the most beautiful paradises are in Leon and Santiago de Compostela.

Some special offers are available:

  • People who are over 60 years old receive a discount.
  • Young people under 30 can visit the Paradore at a fixed price of 35 euros per person.
  • If you stay two nights with half board, you will receive a 20% discount.
  • A dream week with six nights is cheaper.
  • 5 nights at € 42 per person.

Special offers do not always apply, especially in August; they are not valid and may require advance booking.

Hostels

There are many youth hostels. Prices vary from 15 to 25 euros per night. Note, however, that Spanish “hostales” are not really hostels, but rather small, unclassified hotels (usually with no more than a dozen rooms). Their quality can vary from very rudimentary to reasonably intelligent.

  • Independent-hotels.info Spain. offers a large number of independent hotels with good value for money. change
  • Xanascat. Is the regional network of hostels in Catalonia when you visit Barcelona, Girona, Tarragona or other places in the region.

Apartment rental

Renting a self-contained flat for a short period of time is an option for travellers who want to stay in the same place for a week or more. Accommodation ranges from a small flat to a villa.

The amount of holiday accommodation available depends on the region in Spain you want to visit. Although they are widely available in coastal regions, large capitals and other popular tourist destinations, if you want to visit small inland towns, you will find more rural casas.

What is the difference?

There are three designations for hotel-type accommodation in Spain’s larger cities: hotelhostal and pension. It is important not to confuse a hostel with a hostal; a hostel offers backpacker-style accommodation with shared rooms, while a hostal is very similar to a guesthouse and is usually cheaper than a hotel.

Things To See in Spain

The most popular beaches are on the Mediterranean coast and on the Canary Islands. For hiking, the Sierra Nevada mountains in the south, the Central Cordillera and the northern Pyrenees are best.

Historic Cities

Historically, Spain has been an important crossroads: between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, between North Africa and Europe, and between Europe and the Americas at a time when Europe was beginning to colonise the New World. As such, the country is fortunate to have a fantastic collection of historical monuments – indeed, it has the second largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the largest number of World Heritage Cities of any nation in the world.

Located in the south of Spain, Andalusia holds many memories of ancient Spain. Cadiz is considered one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe, with remains of the Roman colony that once stood there. Nearby is Ronda, a beautiful city perched on steep cliffs and known for its bridge over the gorge and the oldest bullring in Spain. Cordoba and Granada are home to some of the most spectacular remains of the country’s Muslim past, with the red and white striped arches of the Mezquita de Cordoba and the amazing Alhambra Palace perched on a hill overlooking Granada. Seville, the cultural centre of Andalusia, has a dazzling collection of monuments built in the days when the city was the main port for goods from the Americas; the largest is the city’s cathedral, the largest in the country.

Heading north across the plains of La Mancha towards the centre of Spain, picturesque Toledo is perhaps the historic centre of the nation, a beautiful hilltop medieval city that served as the capital of Spain before Madrid was built. North of Madrid and a day’s drive from the capital are El Escorial, which was the centre of the Spanish Empire at the time of the Inquisition, and Segovia, famous for its spectacular Roman aqueduct that spans one of the city’s squares.

Further north, in Castile and Leon, lies Salamanca, known for its famous university and the richness of its historic architecture. Galicia, in north-west Spain, is home to Santiago de Compostela, the arrival point of the ancient Way of St James and the reputed burial place of Santiago, with perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in all of Spain at the heart of its charming old town. Northeastern Spain has some remarkable historical centres: Zaragoza, with its Roman, Moorish, medieval and Renaissance buildings dating back up to two thousand years, and Barcelona, with its pseudo-medieval Barri Gòtic district.

Art museums

Spain has played a key role in Western art, heavily influenced by French and Italian artists, but very much on its own, due to the nation’s history of Muslim influence, the climate of the Counter-Reformation and later the difficulties associated with the decline of the Spanish Empire, which produced such famous artists as El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. In the last century, Spain’s unique position in Europe produced some of the most important artists of the modernist and surrealist movements, including the famous Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

Today, Spain’s two largest cities account for the lion’s share of its most famous works of art. In Madrid’s museum triangle is the Museo del Prado, Spain’s largest art museum, which displays many of the most famous works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya, as well as some notable works by Italian, Flemish, Dutch and German masters. Nearby is the Reina Sofía, where Picasso’s Guernica can be seen alongside other works by Dalí and other modernist, surrealist and abstract painters.

Barcelona is famous for its amazing collection of modern and contemporary art and architecture. Here you will find the Picasso Museum, which covers the beginnings of the artist’s career very well, and Antoni Gaudi‘s architectural marvels, which are a delight with their twisted organic shapes.

Apart from Madrid and Barcelona, art museums are rapidly diminishing in size and importance, although there are some notable mentions that should not be overlooked. Many of El Greco’s most famous works can be found in Toledo, a day’s journey from Madrid. The Naked Christ, perhaps El Greco’s most famous work, is in the cathedral, but you can also find works by El Greco in one of the city’s small art museums. Bilbao, located in the Basque Country in northern Spain, is home to the spectacular Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, which has helped make the city famous. A day’s drive from Barcelona is the city of Figueres, famous for its Salvador Dali Museum, designed by the surrealist himself.

Archaeological sites

  • Ampurias, excavations of a Greek and Roman city, Roman basilica, temple of Asclepius and Serapis, (between Girona and Figueras, Catalonia).
  • The dolmens of Antequetera, La Menga and Viera,
  • Calatrava la Nueva, a well-preserved medieval castle,
  • Calatrava la Vieja, remains of the Arab town, castle of the Order of Calatrava,
  • Clunia, Roman town with forum, shops, temple, public baths and Roman villa,
  • Fraga, Roman villa, Bronze Age settlements,
  • Gormaz, Arab castle,
  • Italica, Roman city with amphitheatre, walls, House of Exedra, Peacock House, Baths of the Moorish Queen, House of Hylas, temple complex (near Seville),
  • Merida, Roman city, Roman bridge, amphitheatre, hippodrome, amphitheatre house, Mithraeum house with mosaics, aqueducts, museum
  • San Juan de los Banos, Visigothic church (between Burgos and Valladolid),
  • San Pedro de la Nave, Visigothic church (near Zamora),
  • Santa Maria de Melque, Visigothic church,
  • Segobriga (Cabeza del Griego), Roman town, Visigothic church, museum (between Madrid and Albacete).
  • Tarragona, Roman city with “Cyclopean Wall”, amphitheatre, hippodrome, form and triumphal arch,

Things To Do in Spain

Festivals

Spain has many local festivals that are worth a visit.

  • Benicàssim MABEThe MABE Benicassim art exhibition takes place in the month of October.
  • Holy Week (Easter) in Málaga – a must. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, there are numerous processions.
  • Córdoba en Mayo (Cordoba in May) – an ideal month to visit the city of the south
  • Las Cruces (1st week of May) – large crosses decorated with flowers adorn the public squares of the city centre, where there is also music and alcohol in the evenings and lots of people having fun!
  • Patio Festival – one of the most interesting cultural exhibitions, 2 weeks where some people open the doors of their houses to show their old patios full of flowers.
  • Cata del Vino Montilla-Moriles – big wine tasting in a big tent in the city centre for a week in May.
  • Dia de Sant Jordi – the Catalan must. On 23 April, Barcelona is decorated with roses everywhere and there are book stalls on the Rambla. There are also book signings, concerts and various events.
  • Fallas – Valencia’s festival in March – burning “fallas” is a must
  • Malaga August Fair – dancing flamenco, drinking sherry, bullfights
  • San Fermines – July in Pamplona, Navarre.
  • Fiesta de San Isidro – 15 May in Madrid – a festival in honour of the patron saint of Madrid.
  • Holy Week (Easter Week) – the best in Seville and the rest of Andalusia; also interesting in Valladolid (silent processions) and Zaragoza (where hundreds of drums are played during the processions).
  • Carnival – the best in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Cadiz
  • Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Parade of the Magi) – On the eve of Epiphany, 5 January, the night before Spanish children are given presents at Christmas, it rains sweets and toys in all the towns.
  • San Sebastian International Film Festival – takes place every year towards the end of September in San Sebastian, a beautiful city in the Basque Country.
  • La Tomatina – a giant tomato fight in Buñol
  • Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians, especially present in the south-east of Spain in spring) – parades and “battles” reminiscent of the battles in the Middle Ages
  • 85 festivals in Galicia throughout the year, from wine to wild horses.

Holidays

  • New Year’s Eve: “Nochevieja” in Spanish. In Spain, it is traditional to eat grapes during the countdown to New Year’s Eve, one grape for each of the last twelve seconds before midnight. For this, supermarkets even sell small packets of grapes (exactly 12 grapes per packet) before New Year’s Eve.

The Puerta del Sol, is the place to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Spain. At 23:59, “los cuartos” (in Spanish), the bells that announce the ringing of the twelve chimes (campanadas in Spanish), begin. During the ringing “los cuartos”, sounds from the upper chime of the clock, with the same purpose as the sound “los cuartos”, indicating that “las campanadas”. It rings at midnight and indicates the beginning of a new year. At each chime, according to tradition, a grape must be eaten. There is a time interval of three seconds between each chime. “Las Campanadas”, are broadcast live on the main national television channels, because in the rest of Spain people still eat the grapes at home or on huge screens installed in the big cities following the chimes on the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

After ringing “las campanadas”, he starts fireworks. It is a famous festival in Spain and it is a great moment to enjoy because the show takes place in the centre of the capital of Spain.

Outdoor activities

  • Canyoning
  • Climbing: Los Mallos (Aragon) and Siurana (near Barcelona)
  • Football: The most popular sport in Spain. The Spanish league and national team are among the strongest in the world.
  • White water sports in : Campo, Murillo de Gallego (Aragon)
  • Hiking in Galicia
  • Downhill skiing There are many downhill ski resorts in Spain.

Scuba diving

If you want to treat yourself, visit the world-famous Costa Brava and the Canary Islands.

Food & Drinks in Spain

Food in Spain

The Spanish are very passionate about their food and wine and Spanish cuisine. Spanish cuisine can be described as quite light, with lots of vegetables and a wide variety of meat and fish. Spanish cuisine does not use many spices; it relies solely on the use of high quality ingredients to achieve good taste. Spanish cuisine is therefore sometimes bland, but most cities have a variety of restaurants (Italian, Chinese, American fast food) if you want to discover a variety of flavours.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times

The Spanish have a different meal plan than many people are used to.

The most important thing to remember as a traveller is:

  • For most Spaniards, breakfast (el desayuno) is light and consists only of coffee and maybe a galleta (like a graham cracker) or a magdalena (sweet bread similar to a muffin). Later, some people will go to a café for a mid-morning cake, but not too close to lunchtime.
  • “el aperitivo” is a light snack eaten around 12 o’clock. But it can also be a few glasses of beer and a large filled baguette or a “pincho de tortilla”.
  • Lunch (la comida) starts at 13:30-2:30 (but often not before 15:00) and used to be followed by a short nap, especially in summer when temperatures can be quite hot in the afternoon. It is the main meal of the day with two courses (el primer plato and el segundo plato) followed by dessert. The comida and siesta usually end by 4pm at the latest. However, as life has become more active, there is no opportunity to take a nap.
  • Dinner (la cena) starts at 20:30 or 21:00, with most guests arriving after 21:00. It is a lighter meal than lunch. Restaurants in Madrid rarely open before 9pm and most customers do not arrive before 11pm.
  • There is also a snack that some people have between the comida and the cena, the merienda. This is a snack similar to tea time in England, taken around 6pm.
  • Between lunch and dinner time, most restaurants and cafés are closed and you have to make an extra effort to find a place to eat if you miss your lunch break. Still, you can always find bar and ask for a bocadillo, a baguette sandwich. There are bocadillos fríos, cold sandwiches that can be filled with ham, cheese or another embutido, and bocadillos calientes, warm sandwiches filled with pork loin, tortilla, bacon, sausage and other similar options with cheese. This option can be really cheap and tasty if you find a good place.

Normally, restaurants in big cities do not close before midnight on weekdays and between 2am and 3am on weekends.

Breakfast

Most Spaniards eat breakfast. The traditional Spanish breakfast includes coffee or orange juice and pastries or a small sandwich. In Madrid it is also common to have hot chocolate with “churros” or “porras”. In the cafés you can expect different versions of tortilla de patatas, sometimes tapas (either the breakfast version or the same type served with alcohol in the evening).

Tapas

The introduction to Spanish cuisine can be found in bars in the form of tapas, which are a bit like “starters” or “appetisers” but are more of an accompaniment to your drink. Some bars offer a wide range of different tapas, others specialise in a particular type (e.g. seafood tapas). A Spanish custom is to have a tapa and a small drink in one bar and then go to the next bar and do the same. A group of two or more people can order two or more tapas or order raciones instead, which are slightly larger to share.

Fast food

Fast food has not yet caught on with the Spanish and you will only find McDonalds and Burger King in the usual places in the big cities. The menu can be a surprise as it is tailored to the needs of the locals and beer, salads, yoghurt (mainly Danone) and wine play an important role. Pizza is becoming more popular and you will find some outlets in the big cities, but these may be franchises of their own, such as TelePizza. Despite the presence of beer and wine on the menu, fast food is often seen as ‘kids’ food’. American franchises tend to charge higher prices than in the United States, and fast food is not necessarily the cheapest way to eat out.

Restaurants

Seafood: On the coast, fresh seafood is widely available and quite affordable. Inland, frozen (and lower quality) seafood is often found outside a few very reputable (and expensive) restaurants. In coastal areas, seafood deserves some attention, especially on the North Atlantic coast.

In Spain, high-quality seafood comes from the region of Galicia in the northwest of the country. Thus, restaurants with the name “Gallego” (Galician) usually specialise in seafood. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try the Galician speciality Pulpo a la Gallega, which consists of boiled octopus served with paprika, rock salt and olive oil. Another adventurous option is cuttlefish, a relative of squid, or the various forms of calamari (octopus) that you can find in most seafood restaurants. If that’s not your style, you can always order Gambas Ajillo (garlic prawns), Pescado Frito (fried fish), Buñuelos de Bacalao (breaded and fried cod) or the unmissable Paella.

Meat products are generally of very good quality, as Spain has maintained a fairly high proportion of animals in the wild.

It is highly recommended to order beef steaks, as most come from free-range cows in the mountains north of the city.

The equally sought-after cuts of pork are the so-called Presa Iberica and Secreto Iberico, an absolute must when you find them on a restaurant menu.

Soups: The choice of soups other than gazpacho is very limited in Spanish restaurants.

Water is often served without explicit request and is usually chargeable unless it is included in your del dia menu. If you want free tap water instead of bottled water, ask for “agua del grifo” (tap water). However, not all restaurants offer this and you may have to order bottled water.

Starters such as bread, cheese and other items can be brought to your table even if you have not ordered them. You will be charged for them. If you do not want these starters, politely tell the waiter that you do not want them.

World-class restaurants: There are several restaurants in Spain that are a destination in themselves and become a unique reason to visit a particular city. One of them is El Bulli in Roses.

Service charges and VAT

No extra charges are included in the bill. A small additional tip is customary and you are free to increase it if you are very satisfied. Of course, you don’t have to tip a bad waiter. Normally you leave the change after paying with a bill.

Menú del día

Many restaurants offer a complete meal for a fixed price – “menú del día” – and this is often a good deal. Water or wine is usually included in the price.

Tourist places

Typical Spanish dishes can be found all over the country, but top tourist destinations like the Costa Brava and Costa del Sol have shaken up all the existing traditions. This means that drinks are generally more expensive – about twice as expensive as elsewhere – and vary in quality. Restaurants in tourist spots certainly serve Spanish dishes (after all, that’s what many visitors are looking for), but these may have been adapted to suit tourists’ tastes. However, if you are prepared to look a little further, you will find some excellent traditional Spanish restaurants even in the most touristy towns. If you’re on the coast, think fish and seafood and you won’t be disappointed.

Non-Spanish cuisine

Tourist places often offer schnitzel, full English breakfast, pizzas, lunch and frozen fish. Most cities also offer international cuisines, such as Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Argentinian, etc. The bigger the city, the more variety you will find.

Over the last decade, the number of Irish pubs and Japanese restaurants has increased in most cities.

Specialties to buy

  • Cheese: Spain offers a wide variety of regional cheeses.
  • Queso Manchego is the best known.
  • CabralesTetillaMahon are also popular.
  • Chorizo: The most popular sausage in Spain is a spicy cured product made from pork, ham, salt, garlic and pepper. It is made in a variety of varieties, in different sizes and shapes, short and long, spicy, in all shades of red, soft, air-dried and hard or smoked. It often contains emulsifiers and preservatives, so check the ingredients if you are sensitive.
  • Jamón (air-dried ham): Jamón Serrano (Serrano ham): It is obtained from the salted meat of the hind legs of the pig and air-dried. The same product is called trotter or paletilla when it is obtained from the forelegs. It is also known as Iberian ham and Bellota ham (acorn-fed ham). The hams produced in Huelva (Spain), Guijuelo (Salamanca province), Pedroches (Córdoba province) and Trevélez (Granada province) are particularly famous. Iberian ham is made from free-range pigs.

Judging by Barcelona’s boqueria, Jamon Iberico starts at €80/kg and Jamon Serrano at around €25/kg. A well-known chain in Spain is Mesón Cinco Jotas [www], known by locals for its expensive but good quality ham.

Visiting Spain without trying Jamon Iberico would be considered a crime by most Spaniards. The Spanish take their ham very seriously and the types and qualities of ham vary like wine. Quality ham is usually expensive, but has little to do with the many cheaper versions. The pig’s diet is the most important factor determining the quality of the ham. The cheapest ham comes from pigs fed normal grain, while medium quality pigs are raised on a combination of acorns and grain. High quality pigs are fed only acorns and their hams are not considered the best quality without the “acorn-fed” stamp. These high quality hams have a rich flavour and an oily texture, but for the uninitiated, the sheen and presence of criss-crossing white lines of fat on a slice of ham are usually a good indicator of its quality.

  • Morcilla: Black sausage made from pork blood, usually with rice or onions. Sometimes flavoured with aniseed, it comes in a fresh, smoked or air-dried variety.

Spanish dishes

Typical dishes of Spain include:

  • Aceitunas, Olivas: Olives that are often served as a snack.
  • Bocadillo de Calamares: Breaded and fried calamari served in a ciabatta sandwich with lemon juice.
  • Boquerones in vinegar: Anchovies marinated in vinegar with garlic and parsley.
  • Les caracoles : Snails in spicy sauce.
  • Calamares en su tintaSquid in its ink.
  • Chipirones a la plancha: Small grilled octopus.
  • Churros: A horn-shaped, deep-fried snack sometimes called a Spanish donut. Typical for a Spanish breakfast or tea time. Served with a hot chocolate drink.
  • Empanadas Gallegas: Meat or tuna pies are also very popular in Madrid. Originally from the region of Galicia.
  • Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian salad): This potato salad dish of Russian origin, widespread in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, is curiously popular in Spain too.
  • Fabada asturiana: bean stew from Asturias.
  • Gambas al ajillo: Prawns with garlic and chilli. A fantastic warm dish.
  • Gazpacho Andalou: Cold vegetable soup. Best in the hot season. It’s like drinking a salad.
  • Lentejas: Lentil dish with chorizo and/or serrano ham.
  • Mariscos: Molluscs and crustaceans from the province of Pontevedra.
  • Merluza a la Vizcaina: Spaniards are no friends of sauces. Merluza a la Vasca is one of the few exceptions. This dish contains hake (fish from the cod family) prepared with white asparagus and green peas.
  • Potajes or pucheros: The best of chickpea stew
  • Paella or Paella Valenciana: This is a rice dish from Valencia. The rice is grown locally in what looks like wheat fields, and is the variety used for paella. The original paella used chicken and rabbit, and saffron (el azafran). Today, you can find paella variations all over Spain, many of which include seafood. Locals claim that real paella can be found at large celebrations, such as a wedding in a village, but few restaurants can compete with it.
  • Patatas Bravas: Pre-cooked fried potatoes served with a patented spicy sauce. These are potatoes cut into cubes or prisms about one to two centimetres in size and fried in oil, accompanied by a spicy sauce spread over the potatoes with hot spices. The name of this dish comes from its spicy taste, which suggests that it has fire or temper, reminiscent of the first spiked operation, where a spike is nailed into it to make it brave in a bullfight.
  • Pescaíto frito: Delicious fried fish found mainly in southern Spain.
  • Pimientos rellenos: Peppers stuffed with minced meat or seafood. Peppers from Spain have a different taste than all other peppers from Europe.
  • Potaje de espinacas y garbanzos: Chickpea and spinach stew. Typical of Seville.
  • Revuelto de ajetes con setas: Scrambled eggs with fresh garlic sprouts and wild mushrooms. Also often contains prawns.
  • Setas al ajillo/Gambas al ajillo: Shrimps or wild mushrooms fried in garlic.
  • Sepia con alioli: Fried squid with garlic mayonnaise. Very popular with tourists.
  • Tortilla de patatas: Spanish egg omelette with fried potatoes. Probably the most popular dish in Spain. You can easily judge the quality of a restaurant by trying a small piece of its potato tortillas. It is common for them to be prepared with onions as well, depending on the area or the relish. The potatoes should be fried in oil (preferably olive oil) and allowed to swell with the scrambled eggs for more than 10 minutes, but preferably for an hour to get the right consistency.

Drinks in Spain

Tea and coffee

Spaniards are very passionate about the quality, intensity and taste of their coffee, and good, freshly brewed coffee is available almost everywhere.

The usual choices are the Solo, the espresso version without milk; the Cortado, Solo with a dash of milk; the Con Leche, Solo with extra milk; and the Manchado, coffee with lots of milk (a bit like the French café au lait). If you ask for a latte, you will probably get less milk than you are used to – you can always ask for milk to be added.

There are regional variations, such as the Bombón in eastern Spain, solo with condensed milk.

Starbucks is the only national chain operating in Spain. Locals say it cannot compete with small local cafés in terms of coffee quality and is only frequented by tourists. It is not present in small towns.

If you eat for 20 euros a meal, you will never be served a good tea; expect Pompadour or Lipton. If you spend most of the day in tourist places, you have to make an effort to find a good tea.

Alcohol

In Spain, the age for drinking alcohol is 18 years. It is illegal for people under this age to drink and buy alcoholic beverages, although controls are lax in tourist areas and clubs. The consumption of alcohol in the street has recently been banned (although it is still common in most nightlife venues).

Try an absinthe cocktail (this legendary drink has never been banned here, but is not very popular in Spain).

Bars

Bars are probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain. Everyone goes there and they are always full and sometimes crowded with people. There are no age restrictions to enter these places. But often alcoholic drinks are not served to children and teenagers. Age restrictions for alcohol consumption are clearly posted in the bars, but are only sporadically enforced. It is common to see a whole family in a bar.

It is important to know the difference between a pub (which closes at 3-3:30) and a club (which is open until 6-8am but is usually deserted in the early evening).

On weekends, the going out time for copas (drinks) usually starts around 11pm-1am, which is a bit later than in Northern and Central Europe. Before that, people usually do a number of things, have some tapas (racionesalgo para picar), eat a “proper” dinner in a restaurant, stay at home with their family or go to cultural events. If you want to go dancing, you’ll find that most clubs in Madrid are relatively empty before midnight (some don’t even open until 1am) and most won’t be crowded until 3am. People usually go to the pubs and then to the clubs until 6-8am.

For a true Spanish experience, it’s customary to have chocolate con churros for breakfast after a night of dancing and drinking with friends before heading home (CcC is a small cup of thick, melted chocolate served with freshly fried sweet doughnuts used for dipping in the chocolate, which you should definitely try, if only for the good taste).

Bars are mainly for socialising over a drink and a tapa and relaxing after work or school. In general, Spaniards can control their alcohol consumption better than their northern European neighbours and you rarely see drunk people in bars or on the street. A drink, if ordered without a tapa, is often served with a “small” or cheap tapa out of politeness.

The size and price of tapas vary greatly throughout Spain. For example, it is almost impossible to get free tapas in big cities like Valencia or Barcelona, except in Madrid, where there are several tapas bars, although some of them are a bit expensive. In cities like Granada, Badajoz or Salamanca you can eat for free (you only pay for the drinks), with huge tapas and cheap prices.

Tapa and the associated pincho originated in Spain, both as a lid (“tapa”) on a wine cup to keep flies away and as a legal requirement when serving wine in a pub in the Middle Ages.

Beer

Spanish beer is well worth trying. The most popular local brands are San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ámbar, Estrella Galicia, Keller and many others, including local brands in most cities; imported beers are also available. A good beer is the “Mezquita” (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! The “Legado de Yuste” is also one of the best beers produced in Spain. It is quite long, but more expensive than a normal “caña”. In Spain, beer is often served in 25-cl (“caña”) or 33-cl glasses (“tubo”) from the tap. Larger portions are rare, but you can also ask for a “corto”, a “zurito” (in the Basque Country) or simply “una cerveza” or “tanque” (in southern Spain) to get a medium-sized beer, perfect to drink in one go and quickly get to the next bar while enjoying the tapas.

If you are in Zaragoza (or Aragon in general), you can get the Pilsner type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.). Ambar 1900: Its production started in 1996, using the room temperature fermentation system. Marlen is a traditionally brewed beer made from malted barley and hops.

Spaniards often add lemon juice (Fanta limón, or Fanta with lemon) to their beer. Especially on summer days, people drink a refreshing “Clara”, a light beer mixed with lemon and lemonade.

Cava

Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine and the name was changed from Spanish Champagne to Cava after a long dispute with the French. The Spanish have long called it Champan, but the French argue that Champagne can only be made from grapes grown in Champagne in France. Nevertheless, Cava is quite a successful sparkling wine and 99% of its production comes from the Barcelona region.

Cider (Sidra)

They are found in Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Pais Vasco.

Horchata

A non-alcoholic milk drink made from tiger nuts and sugar. Alboraia, a small town near Valencia, is considered the best place to make horchata.

Sangria

Sangria is a wine and fruit drink and is usually made from simple wines. You will find sangria in areas frequented by tourists. Spaniards make sangria for parties and hot summers, not every day as we see in tourist areas like Mallorca.

It’s best to avoid sangria in restaurants for foreigners, but it’s a very good drink to try when a Spaniard makes it for a party!

Sherry (Fino)

The light sherry wine from the Jerez area, called “Fino”, is fortified with 15% alcohol. If you want to drink one in a bar, you have to order a Fino. Manzanilla is a little salty, good as a starter. Amontillado and Oloroso are different types of sherry where the oxidative ageing process has been adopted.

Wine

Spain is a country with a great wine-growing and drinking tradition: Spain accounts for 22% of Europe’s wine-growing area, but its production is half that of France.

Regions: Most of the famous wines come from the Rioja region, the lesser known but also most important are those from Ribera del DueroPrioratoToro and Jumilla . The latter are becoming more popular and are somewhat cheaper than Rioja wines. White wines, rosé wines and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important.

Grapes: The main red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Mencia. The main white grape used is Albarino, and the grapes used in Jerez are: Pedro Ximenez and Palomino.

Specific namesValdepenas is good value for money. White winesBelondrade Y Lurton is considered the greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is a good bulk product, with a fruity taste.

The notes: Spanish quality wines are made according to an ageing process and have spent at least one year in oak barrels before being labelled “Crianza”, and then another two years in the bottle before being sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas for ten years.

Prices: In Spain, wine prices have risen considerably over the last decade and Spanish wines are no longer as cheap as they used to be. However, you can still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices, especially compared to wines of similar quality from Australia, Chile, France and the USA.

Wine bars: They are becoming more and more popular. In short, a wine bar is a sophisticated tapas bar where you can order wine by the glass. You will immediately see a blackboard with the wines available and the price per glass.

In a bar: for red wine in a bar ask for “un tinto por favour”, for white wine “un blanco por favour”, for rosé wine “un rosado por favour”.

Wine-based drinks: In Spain, young people have developed their own way of drinking wine. At botellones (big open-air parties with drinks and lots of people), most mix red wine with cola and drink it straight from the cola bottle. The name of this drink is calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) and is really popular . But don’t ask for it in an upmarket bar or among adults, because they will certainly not approve of the idea! As a rule, any wine that arrives in a glass bottle is considered “too good” for kalimotxo.

Money & Shopping in Spain

Money in Spain

Spain uses the euro. It is one of the many European countries that use this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender in all countries.

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol of the euro is € and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

  • Banknotes: The euro banknotes have the same design in all countries.
  • Standard coins: All euro area countries issue coins that have a distinctive national design on one side and a common standard design on the other. The coins can be used in any euro area country, regardless of the design used (e.g. a one-euro coin from Finland can be used in Portugal).
  • Commemorative €2 coins: These differ from normal €2 coins only in their “national” side and circulate freely as legal tender. Each country can produce a certain amount of these coins as part of its normal coin production, and sometimes “European” 2-euro coins are produced to commemorate special events (e.g. anniversaries of important treaties).
  • Other commemorative coins: Commemorative coins with other amounts (e.g. ten euros or more) are much rarer, have very special designs and often contain significant amounts of gold, silver or platinum. Although they are technically legal tender at face value, their material or collector’s value is usually much higher and therefore you are unlikely to find them in circulation.

The euro replaced the Spanish peseta in 2002. Some people may still use the old national currency (166 386 pts = €1, 1 000 pts = €6) and convert to euros later. This is mainly due to the massive presence of the peseta and “its” many nicknames in Spanish slang.

Euro cash: 500 euro banknotes are not accepted in many shops – replacement notes are always available.

Other currencies: Do not expect anyone to accept other types of currencies or be willing to exchange currencies. The exception to this rule are airport shops and restaurants. They usually accept at least US dollars at a slightly lower exchange rate.

If you want to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some require you to have an account there before you exchange your money), where you can also cash your travellers’ cheques. Exchange offices, once commonplace, have virtually disappeared since the introduction of the euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule; the tourist areas of major cities (Barcelona, Madrid) are another exception.

Credit cards: Credit cards are well accepted: even at a stall in La Boqueria market in Barcelona, at an average motorway service station in the middle of the countryside or in small towns like Alquezar. It is more difficult to find a place where credit cards are not accepted in Spain.

You can withdraw money from most ATMs with your credit card, but you need to know your card’s PIN code to do so. Most Spanish shops will ask you for identification before accepting your credit card. Some shops do not accept foreign driving licences or identity cards and you will need to show your passport. This is to avoid credit card fraud.

Tipping in Spain

Tipping, or “propina” in Spanish, is not obligatory or considered customary in Spain unless the service is absolutely exceptional. Therefore, you may find that waiters are not as attentive or courteous as you are used to, as they do not work for tips. If you decide to tip, the amount you tip in restaurants will depend on your economic status, the location and the type of establishment. If you feel you have been served well, leave some change on the table – maybe 1 or 2 euros. If you don’t, it doesn’t matter.

The bars are just waiting for tourists, especially American tourists, to leave a tip. They know that in the United States it is customary to tip for every drink or meal. It is rare for people other than Americans to tip in Spain. Note that it may be customary to tip at large resorts; look around at other restaurants to see if tipping is appropriate.

Outside of restaurants, some service providers, such as taxi drivers, hairdressers and hotel staff, may expect to be tipped in an upscale environment.

Business hours

Most shops (including most shops, but not restaurants) close in the afternoon around 13.30-14.00 and reopen in the evening around 16.30-17.00. The exceptions are large shopping centres or big chain stores.

For most Spaniards, lunch is the main meal of the day and you will find bars and restaurants open during this time. On Saturdays, shops often don’t open in the evening and on Sundays they are closed almost everywhere. The exception is the month of December, when most shops in Madrid and Barcelona are also open on Sundays to catch the Christmas and New Year revenues. In addition, many offices and banks no longer open on weekday evenings either. If you have important business to do, don’t forget to check the opening hours.

If you plan to shop in small shops all day, the following rule can work: A closed shop should remind you that it is also your own lunch break. And when you have finished your lunch, some shops will probably be open again.

Clothes and shoes

Designer brands

In addition to the world-famous mass brands (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper, Desigual), there are many designer brands in Spain that are harder to find outside of Spain – and it can be worth looking for them if you want to buy designer clothes while travelling. Here are some of these brands:

  • CustoBarcelona. The company is based in Barcelona and has branches in Bilbao, Ibiza, A Coruña, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, León, Madrid, Marbella, Palma de Mallorca, Salamanca and Tenerife.
  • Kowalski, head office: Ctra. del Leon, km, 2; 03293 Elche, +34 966 630 612. Branded shoes and trainers (Herman Monster and others) for women, men and unisex.

Department stores

  • El Corte Ingles. Large national chain found in almost every city. Enjoys a central location in most cities, but resides in purpose-built and uninspired buildings. Has a department for everything, but is not good enough for most purposes, except perhaps for buying gastronomic products and local food specialities. Unlike most other shops in Spain, tax refunds for purchases at El Corte Ingles can only be made with a debit/credit card, even if you originally paid cash.

Other

  • Casas. A chain of shoe shops that selects the most popular models (?) from a dozen mid-range brands.
  • Campers. Camping shoes can be seen in most cities across the country. Although they seem to be sold everywhere, it can be difficult to find the right model and size. When you find what you need, don’t delay buying. Camping shoes are sold both in independent brand shops and in local shoe shops, where they are mixed with other brands. Independent shops usually offer a wider range of styles and sizes; local shops can help you if you need to look for a specific model and size.
  • For. Private national fashion chain with many high-end brands. The main location is in Bilbao; some shops in San Sebastian and Zaragoza.

Festivals & Holidays in Spain

The public holidays celebrated in Spain are a mixture of religious (Roman Catholic), national and regional holidays. Each municipality is allowed to declare a maximum of 14 public holidays per year, of which a maximum of nine are set by the national government and a minimum of two at local level. Spain’s bank holidays (Fiesta Nacional de España) is 12 October, the anniversary of the discovery of America, and commemorates the feast of Our Lady of the Pillar, the patron saint of Aragon and all Spain.

There are many festivals and celebrations in Spain. Some of them are known all over the world, and every year millions of people from all over the world come to Spain to attend one of them. One of the most famous is that of San Fermín, in Pamplona. The most famous event is the Encierro, the running of the bulls, which takes place from 7 to 14 July at 8am, but this week-long fiesta also includes many other traditional and folkloric events. The events are central to the plot of Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, which has attracted the general attention of the English-speaking reading public. As a result, it has become one of Spain’s best-known fiestas internationally, with more than a million people attending each year.

Other festivals include Carnival in the Canary Islands, the Falles de Valencia or Holy Week in Andalusia and Castilla y León.

Traditions & Customs in Spain

Culture and identity

  • Spaniards are generally very patriotic, both towards their country and the region in which they live. Avoid arguments about whether people from Catalonia or the Basque Country are Spanish or not. Security is usually not an issue in the event of an argument, but you will be dragged into a long and pointless discussion. If, on the other hand, you find yourself in deep Basque country, you may encounter serious problems.
  • Spaniards, especially young people, generally feel a linguistic and cultural connection with Latin America. However, most will be quick to point out that Spain is a European nation, not a Latin American one, and that all Spanish-speaking countries are different and have their own particularities.
  • Spaniards are not as religious as they are sometimes portrayed in the media, but they are and always have been a predominantly Catholic country (73% officially, although only 10% admit to practising and only 20% admit to being believers); respect this and avoid comments that could be offensive. In particular, religious holidays, Holy Week (Easter) and Christmas are very important to Spaniards. Tolerance of all religions should be respected, especially in large urban areas such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville or Malaga (where people and temples of all faiths can be found) or in various regions of southern Spain, which may have a large Muslim population (representing almost 4% of the country’s population).
  • Although Spain is a predominantly Catholic country, homosexuality is fairly tolerated and public displays of same-sex affection are unlikely to provoke hostility. A Pew survey conducted in 2013 in various countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East found that Spain has the highest percentage of people who believe homosexuality should be accepted by society, at 88 per cent. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2005 and the government grants legal benefits to same-sex couples. However, this did not necessarily mean that all Spaniards were positive towards homosexuals; homophobic attacks were rare but did occur. Cities are more tolerant of homosexuality than rural areas, Madrid, Catalonia and the Basque Country are much more tolerant, but on the whole Spain is gay-friendly. As everywhere, older people generally have much more conservative views. The Madrid Pride Parade is one of the largest in the world. Overall, Spain is one of the safest countries for LGBT tourists.
  • Avoid talking about the old colonial past and especially about the “Black Legend”. Whatever you may have heard, Spain had several mixed-race ministers and military leaders who served in the army during the colonial period and even a prime minister who was born in the Philippines (Marcelo Azcarraga Palmero). Many Spaniards are proud of their history and former imperial glory. People from Spain’s former colonies (Latin America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines, Western Sahara and Northern Morocco) make up the majority of foreign immigrants in Spain (58%), along with Chinese, Africans and Eastern Europeans. Likewise, Spain is one of the most important investors and donors of economic and humanitarian aid in Latin America and Africa.
  • Bullfighting is considered an icon of cultural heritage by many Spaniards, but discontent with bullfighting is growing in all major cities and apparently also among animal rights activists in the country. Many urban Spaniards would see bullfighting as a spectacle for foreign tourists and older people in the countryside, and some young Spaniards would be offended if their country was associated with it. To illustrate how divided the country is, many Spaniards point to the royal family: King Juan Carlos and his daughter are avid bullfighters, while his wife and the Crown Prince have no interest in the sport. Bullfighting and related events, such as the annual bull run from San Fermin to Pamplona, are a multi-million euro industry and attract many tourists, both foreign and Spanish. In addition, bullfighting has recently been banned in the north-eastern region of Catalonia and has also been banned in several cities and districts in the country.
  • Be careful when referring to the fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain from 1939 to 1975, and the civil war of 1936-1939. It was a painful past, as Franco ruled Spain with an iron fist and executed many Spaniards who violated the regime’s undemocratic laws. It was also a period of remarkable economic growth in the last years of Franco’s regime, and some older Spaniards may have a positive opinion of him.

Socialisation

  • It is customary to kiss friends, family and acquaintances on both cheeks when we see each other and say goodbye. Man-to-man kissing is limited to family members or very close friends, otherwise a firm handshake is expected instead (as in France or Italy).
  • Spaniards are careful to maintain physical contact when speaking, for example by placing a hand on the shoulder, patting the back, etc. These gestures should be seen as a sign of friendship between relatives, close friends and colleagues.
  • Spaniards are likely to feel comfortable around you more quickly than other Europeans, and you may even receive a lewd comment or even an insult (cabrón) as a greeting shortly after meeting in an informal setting, especially if it is a young person or a man. You should not be offended by this situation, as it will be interpreted as proof that you have such a close relationship that you can mix up without consequences. You should respond with a similar comment (never something serious or something that could really hurt the person) or simply greet the person. But don’t insult people, because you will also find people who don’t like it. It is recommended never to do this as a stranger and wait to be received. Generally, your instinct will be to know the difference between a joke and a real aggression.
  • In cars, older people and pregnant women always take the passenger seat unless they ask not to.
  • Spaniards are not as punctual as northern Europeans, but you are generally not expected to be more than ten minutes late and being on time is always appreciated. It is especially important to be punctual at the first meeting. As a general rule, you should expect people to be more punctual when travelling north and less punctual when travelling south.
  • If you are staying with a Spaniard, bring indoor shoes, e.g. slippers. It is considered unhygienic to walk around barefoot in the house. Walking in socks may be acceptable in a close friend’s house, but you should always ask first.
  • It is acceptable for women to sunbathe topless on beaches. Full nudity is practised on “clothed” or naturist beaches.

Food and drink

  • During lunch or dinner, Spaniards only start eating when everyone is seated and ready to eat. Likewise, they do not leave the table until everyone has finished eating. Table manners are also standard and informal, although this also depends on where you are eating. When the bill comes, it is customary to pay right away, regardless of the amount or price everyone has eaten (pagar a escote).
  • When Spaniards receive a gift or are offered a drink or a meal, they usually refuse for a while so as not to appear greedy. This sometimes leads to arguments between particularly unwilling people, but is considered polite. Remember to make the offer more than once (by the third attempt it should be clear whether they accept or not). On the other hand, if you are interested in the offer, smile politely and decline it, saying you don’t want to bother, etc., but give in and accept if they insist.
  • Spaniards rarely drink and eat on the street. Bars rarely offer take-away food, but “tapas” are easy to find. The “doggy bag” was particularly unknown until recently. In recent years, bringing leftover food from a restaurant, while not yet common, is somewhat less stigmatising than in the past. It is called “un taper” (derived from “Tupperware”) or “una caja”. Older Spaniards probably still reject this practice.
  • It is generally frowned upon to appear drunk in public.

Culture Of Spain

Culturally, Spain is a western country. Almost every aspect of Spanish life is steeped in its Roman heritage, making Spain one of the first Latin countries in Europe. Spanish culture is historically strongly linked to Catholicism, which played a key role in the country’s emergence and later identity. Spanish art, architecture, cuisine and music were shaped by successive waves of foreign invaders as well as the country’s Mediterranean climate and geography. Centuries of colonialism globalised Spanish language and culture, with Spain also absorbing the cultural and commercial products of its diverse empire.

World Heritage Monuments and Sites

It should be noted that Spain is the third country in the world with the most World Heritage Sites, after Italy (49) and China (45). There are currently 44 recognised sites, including the landscape of Monte Perdido in the Pyrenees, shared with France, the prehistoric rock art sites of the Côa Valley and Siega Verde, shared with Portugal (the Portuguese part is located in the Côa Valley, Guarda), and the heritage of Mercury, shared with Slovenia. In addition, Spain has 14 intangible cultural heritage sites or “treasures of humanity”. On the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage, Spain is ranked first in Europe, equal with Croatia.

  • 1984 – Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín(Granada, Andalusia).
  • 1984 – Burgos Cathedral (Burgos, Castile-León).
  • 1984 – Historical Centre of Cordoba (Cordoba, Andalusia).
  • 1984 – Monastery and Royal Site of El Escorial (Madrid).
  • 1984 – Works by Antoni Gaudí (Barcelona, Catalonia).
  • 1985 – Altamira Cave and Palaeolithic Cave Art in Northern Spain (Asturias, Basque Country and Cantabria regions).
  • 1985 – Monuments of Oviedo and the Kingdom of Asturias (Asturias).
  • 1985 – Old town of Avila with the churches of Extra Muros (Avila, Castile and Leon).
  • 1985 – The old town of Segovia and its aqueduct (Segovia, Castile and Leon).
  • 1985 – Santiago de Compostela (Old Town) (A Coruña, Galicia).
  • 1986 – Garajonay National Park (La Gomera, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
  • 1986 – Historic City of Toledo (Toledo, Castilla-La Mancha).
  • 1986 – Mudéjar architecture of Aragon (provinces of Teruel and Zaragoza in Aragon).
  • 1986 – Old town of Cáceres (Cáceres, Extremadura).
  • 1987 – Cathedral, Alcázar and Archivo de Indias in Seville (Seville, Andalusia).
  • 1988 – Old Town of Salamanca (Salamanca, Castile and Leon).
  • 1991 – Poblet Monastery (Tarragona, Catalonia).
  • 1993 – Merida Archaeological Complex (Badajoz, Extremadura).
  • 1993 – Way of Saint James (provinces of Burgos, León and Palencia in Castile and León, provinces of A Coruña and Lugo in Galicia, La Rioja, Navarre and province of Huesca in Aragon).
  • 1993 – Royal Monastery of Santa María de Guadalupe (Cáceres, Extremadura).
  • 1994 – Doñana National Park (provinces of Cadiz, Huelva and Seville in Andalusia).
  • 1996 – Historic walled city of Cuenca (Cuenca, Castilla-La Mancha).
  • 1996 – Valencian Silk Exchange (Valencia).
  • 1997 – Las Médulas (León, Castile and León).
  • 1997 – Palau de la Música Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau in Barcelona (Barcelona, Catalonia).
  • 1997 – Pirineos – Monte Perdido (Huesca, Aragon – Spanish part / Midi-Pyrenees and Aquitaine – French part). (Shared with France).
  • 1997 – Monasteries of San Millán Yuso and Suso (La Rioja).
  • 1998 (2010) – Prehistoric petroglyphs in the Côa Valley (Guarda, northern region – Portuguese part) and in Siega Verde (Salamanca, Castilla y León – Spanish part). (Shared with Portugal).
  • 1998 – Rock Art in the Iberian Mediterranean on the Iberian Peninsula (Andalusia, Aragon, Castile-La Mancha, Catalonia, Murcia and Valencia).
  • 1998 – University and historic quarter of Alcalá de Henares (Madrid).
  • 1999 – Ibiza, Biodiversity and Culture (Ibiza, Balearic Islands).
  • 1999 – San Cristóbal de La Laguna (Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
  • 2000 – Archaeological ensemble of Tarraco(Tarragona, Catalonia).
  • 2000 – Archaeological site of Atapuerca (Burgos, Castile and Leon).
  • 2000 – Catalan Romanesque churches of the Vall de Boí (Lleida, Catalonia).
  • 2000 – Palmeral d’Elche (Alicante, Valencia).
  • 2000 – Roman walls of Lugo (Lugo, Galicia).
  • 2001 – Cultural Landscape of Aranjuez (Madrid).
  • 2003 – Renaissance monumental ensembles of Úbeda and Baeza (Jaén, Andalusia).
  • 2006 – Bizkaia Bridge (Bizkaia, Basque Country).
  • 2007 – Teide National Park (Tenerife, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Canary Islands).
  • 2009 – Tour of Hercules (A Coruña, Galicia).
  • 2011 – Cultural Landscape of the Serra de Tramuntana (Mallorca, Balearic Islands).
  • 2012 – The Legacy of Mercury. Almadén (Ciudad Real, Castilla-La Mancha – Spanish part) and Idrija (Slovenian coast – Slovenian part). (Shared with Slovenia).

Literature

The first recorded examples of vernacular Romance literature come from the same time and place, from the rich mixture of Muslim, Jewish and Christian culture of Muslim Spain, where Maimonides, Averroes and others, the Kharjas (Jarchas), worked.

During the Reconquista, the epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid was written about a real man – his battles, conquests and daily life.

Other important plays from the Middle Ages are Mester de JuglaríaMester de ClerecíaCoplas por la muerte de su padreor El Libro de buen amor (The Book of Good Love).

During the Renaissance, the most important plays are La Celestina and El Lazarillo de Tormes, while many religious literatures are created with poets such as Luis de León, San Juan de la Cruz, Santa Teresa de Jesús, etc.

The Baroque is the most important period for Spanish culture. We are in the era of the Spanish Empire. The famous Don Quixote de La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes was written during this period. Other writers of this period are also: Francisco de Quevedo, Lope de Vega, Calderón de la Barca or Tirso de Molina.

In the Age of Enlightenment, names such as Leandro Fernández de Moratín, Benito Jerónimo Feijóo, Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos or Leandro Fernández de Moratín can be found.

During the Romantic period, José Zorrilla created one of the most emblematic figures in European literature in Don Juan Tenorio. Other writers from this period include Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, José de Espronceda, Rosalía de Castro and Mariano José de Larra.

In realism we find names like Benito Pérez Galdós, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Leopoldo Alas(Clarín), Concepción Arenal, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez and Menéndez Pelayo. Realism offers representations of contemporary life and society “as they were”. In the spirit of general “realism”, realist writers chose to depict everyday and mundane activities and experiences rather than romanticised or stylised representations.

The group known as the “1898 Generation” was shaped by the destruction of the Spanish fleet in Cuba by American gunboats in 1898, which triggered a cultural crisis in Spain. The “catastrophe” of 1898 prompted established writers to seek practical political, economic and social solutions in essays grouped under the literary rubric of regeneracionismo. For a group of younger writers, including Miguel de Unamuno, Pío Baroja and José Martínez Ruiz (Azorín), the catastrophe and its cultural repercussions inspired a deeper and more radical literary change that affected both form and content. These writers, along with Ramón del Valle-Inclán, Antonio Machado, Ramiro de Maeztu and Ángel Ganivet, are known as “Generation 98”.

The generation of 1914 or Novecentismo. The next “generation” of Spanish writers, after that of 1998, is already questioning the value of this terminology. In 1914, the year of the outbreak of the First World War and the publication of the first major work by the main voice of the generation, José Ortega y Gasset, some slightly younger writers had already left their mark on Spanish culture.

Among the most important voices are the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez, the scholars and essayists Ramón Menéndez Pidal, Gregorio Marañón, Manuel Azaña, Maria Zambrano, Eugeni d’Ors, Clara Campoamor and Ortega y Gasset, as well as the novelists Gabriel Miró, Ramón Pérez de Ayala and Ramón Gómez de la Serna. Although still motivated by the national and existential questions that preoccupied writers in 1998, they approached these issues with a greater sense of distance and objectivity. Salvador de Madariaga, another renowned intellectual and writer, was one of the founders of the College of Europe and the author of the founding manifesto of the Liberal International.

The generation of 1927, when the poets Pedro Salinas, Jorge Guillén, Federico García Lorca, Vicente Aleixandre, Dámaso Alonso. They were all scholars of their national literary heritage, renewed proof of the impact of the calls of the regeneracionistas and the generation of 1898 for the Spanish intelligentsia to turn at least partly inwards.

The winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature at the beginning of the twentieth century were Camilo José Cela and Miguel Delibes of Generation 36. Spain is one of the countries with the most Nobel Prize winners in literature and, together with the Latin American laureates, they have made Spanish-language literature one of the most awarded of all time. The Spanish authors are : José Echegaray, Jacinto Benavente, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Vicente Aleixandre and Camilo José Cela. The Portuguese writer José Saramago, who also received the prize, lived in Spain for many years and spoke both Portuguese and Spanish. He was also known for his Iberian ideas.

The generation of the 1950s is also called the children of the civil war. Rosa Chacel, Gloria Fuertes, Jaime Gil de Biedma, Juan Goytisolo, Carmen Martín Gaite, Ana María Matute, Juan Marsé, Blas de Otero, Gabriel Celaya, Antonio Gamoneda, Rafael Sánchez Ferlosio or Ignacio Aldecoa.

Art

Spanish artists have had a major influence on the development of various European art movements. Due to its historical, geographical and generational diversity, Spanish art is marked by a multitude of influences. The Moorish heritage in Spain, especially in Andalusia, can still be felt today. European influences come from Italy, Germany and France, especially from the Baroque and Neoclassical periods.

During the Golden Age, there were painters such as El Greco, José de Ribera, Bartolomé Esteban Murillo and Francisco Zurbarán. Also during the Baroque period, Diego Velázquez painted some of the most famous Spanish portraits, such as Las Meninas or Las Hilanderas.

Francisco Goya painted in a historical period that encompassed the Spanish War of Independence, the struggles between liberals and absolutists, and the rise of the nation states.

Joaquín Sorolla is a well-known Impressionist painter and there are many important Spanish painters who belong to the artistic movement of Modernism, including Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Juan Gris and Joan Miró.

Sculpture

The Plateresque style extended from the beginning of the 16th century to the last third of the century and its stylistic influence permeated the works of all the great Spanish artists of the time. Alonso Berruguete (Valladolid School) is called the “prince of Spanish sculpture”. His main works are the upper choir stalls of Toledo Cathedral, the tomb of Cardinal Tavera in the same cathedral and the altarpiece of the Visitation in the church of Santa Úrsula in the same city. Other notable sculptors are Bartolomé Ordóñez, Diego de Siloé, Juan de Juni and Damián Forment.

There were two schools of special talent and flair: the School of Seville, which included Juan Martínez Montañés, whose most famous works are the Seville Cathedral crucifix, another by Vergara and a figure of St John; and the School of Granada, which included Alonso Canobelonged, who is credited with an Immaculate Conception and a Madonna of the Rosary.

Other notable Andalusian Baroque sculptors are Pedro de Mena, Pedro Roldán and his daughter Luisa Roldán, Juan de Mesa and Pedro Duque Cornejo. In the 20th century, the most important Spanish sculptors were Julio González, Pablo Gargallo, Eduardo Chillida and Pablo Serrano.

Cinema

Spanish cinema has enjoyed great international success, including Oscars for recent films such as Pan’s Labyrinth and Volver. In the long history of Spanish cinema, the great filmmaker Luis Buñuel was the first to achieve worldwide recognition, followed by Pedro Almodóvar in the 1980s (La Movida Madrileña). Mario Camus and Pilar Miró worked together in Curro Jiménez.

Spanish cinema has also enjoyed international success over the years with films by directors such as Segundo de Chomón, Florián Rey, Luis García Berlanga, Carlos Saura, Julio Medem, Isabel Coixet, Alejandro Amenábar, Icíar Bollaín and the brothers David Trueba and Fernando Trueba.

Actresses Sara Montiel and Penélope Cruz or actor Antonio Banderas are among those who have become Hollywood stars.

Architecture

Due to its historical and geographical diversity, Spanish architecture was influenced by various factors. As an important provincial city founded by the Romans with extensive Roman-era infrastructure, Cordoba became a cultural capital, especially in terms of Arab-style architecture during the Islamic Umayyad dynasty. Later, Arabic-style architecture continued to develop under successive Islamic dynasties, up to the Nasrids, who built their famous palace complex in Granada.

At the same time, Christian kingdoms gradually emerged and developed their own style. They developed a pre-Romanesque style when they were isolated for a time from the dominant European architectural influences of the early Middle Ages, and then integrated the Romanesque and Gothic currents. The Gothic style then experienced an extraordinary flowering, producing many buildings throughout the region. The Mudejar style, from the 12th to the 17th century, developed through the introduction of Arabic motifs, patterns and elements into European architecture.

The arrival of Modernism in academia produced much of the architecture of the twentieth century. An influential style based in Barcelona and known as Modernism produced a number of important architects, including Gaudí. The international style was led by groups such as GATEPAC. Spain is currently experiencing a revolution in contemporary architecture and Spanish architects such as Rafael Moneo, Santiago Calatrava, Ricardo Bofill and many others have achieved worldwide fame.

Music and dance

Spanish music is often seen abroad as synonymous with flamenco, a style of music from western Andalusia that, contrary to popular belief, is not widespread outside this region. In Aragon, Catalonia, Valencia, Castile, the Basque Country, Galicia and Asturias, there are different regional styles of folk music. Pop, rock, hip-hop and heavy metal are also popular.

In the field of classical music, Spain has produced a number of famous composers such as Isaac Albéniz, Manuel de Falla and Enrique Granados, as well as singers and performers such as Plácido Domingo, José Carreras, Montserrat Caballé, Alicia de Larrocha, Alfredo Kraus, Pablo Casals, Ricardo Viñes, José Iturbi, Pablo de Sarasate, Jordi Savall and Teresa Berganza. Spain has more than forty professional orchestras, including the Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, the Orquesta Nacional de España and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid. The main opera houses are the Teatro Real, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Teatro Arriaga and the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.

Thousands of music lovers also come to Spain every year for the internationally renowned summer festivals Sónar, which often presents the best pop and techno bands, and Benicàssim, which usually features alternative rock and dance groups. These two festivals mark Spain’s international musical presence and reflect the tastes of the country’s young people.

The most popular traditional musical instrument, the guitar, comes from Spain. Traditional bagpipers or gaiteros are typical of the north, especially in Asturias and Galicia.

Cuisine

Spanish cuisine consists of a variety of dishes resulting from geographical, cultural and climatic differences. It is heavily influenced by the seafood available in the waters around the country and reflects the country’s deep Mediterranean roots. Spain’s long history of many cultural influences has produced a unique cuisine. Three main areas in particular are easily identifiable:

Mediterranean Spain – all these coastal regions, from Catalonia to Andalusia – makes heavy use of seafood, such as pescaíto frito (fried fish), various cold soups like gazpacho and many rice dishes like paella from Valencia and arròs negre (black rice) from Catalonia.

Inner Spain – Castile – hot, thick soups like Castilian soup, made with bread and garlic, and hearty stews like cocido madrileño. Food is traditionally preserved by salting, such as Spanish ham, or marinated in olive oil, such as Manchego cheese.

Atlantic Spain – the entire north coast, including Asturian, Basque, Cantabrian and Galician cuisine – stews based on vegetables and fish such as caldo gallego and marmitako. And also the lightly cured lacón ham. The most famous cuisine of the northern countries is often based on seafood, such as cod, albacore tuna or Basque anchovies, or polbo á feira and shellfish dishes based on Galician squid.

Sport

While variants of football were played in Spain as far back as Roman times, the sport has been dominated by English association football in Spain since the beginning of the 20th century. Real Madrid C.F. and FC Barcelona are two of the most successful football clubs in the world. The country’s national football team won the UEFA European Football Championship in 1964, 2008 and 2012 and the FIFA World Cup in 2010. It is the first team to win three major international tournaments in a row.

Basketball, tennis, cycling, handball, futsal, motorcycling and, more recently, Formula 1 are also important, as there are Spanish champions in all these disciplines. Today, Spain is a world sporting power, especially since the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, which created a great interest in sport in the country. The tourism industry has led to an improvement in sports infrastructure, especially for water sports, golf and skiing.

Rafael Nadal is Spain’s top tennis player and has won several Grand Slam titles, including the men’s title at Wimbledon 2010. In northern Spain, the Basque game of pelota is very popular. Alberto Contador is Spain’s top cyclist and has won several Grand Tour titles, including two Tour de France titles.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Spain

Stay safe in Spain

In Spain, pickpockets are not imprisoned if they steal less than 400 euros. After their arrest, they are automatically released on bail to continue pickpocketing, so they can easily pay their 200 euro fine when they go to court. Many of them have been through the Spanish justice system hundreds of times. Spanish pickpockets are very skilled, but they compete with many others from South America.

Police

  • Policía Municipal” or “Local” (Metropolitan Police), in Barcelona: Guardia Urbana. The uniforms change from city to city, but usually they wear black or blue clothes with a light blue shirt and a blue cap (or a white helmet) with a white and blue checked band. This type of police keeps order and regulates traffic within the cities. They are the best thing to have in case you get lost and need directions. Although you cannot officially report theft to them, they will accompany you to the “Policia Nacional” headquarters if necessary, and they will also accompany suspects to arrest them if necessary.
  • The “Policía Nacional” wears dark blue clothes and a blue cap (sometimes replaced by a baseball cap). Unlike the Policía Municipal, they do not have a chequered flag around their cap/headgear. Within the cities, all misdemeanours and crimes must be reported to them, but other police forces will help anyone who needs to report a crime.
  • The “Guardia Civil” keeps order outside the cities and inside the country and regulates traffic on the roads between the cities. You will probably see them watching official buildings or patrolling the streets. They wear plain green military clothes; some of them wear a strange black helmet (“tricornio”) that looks like a bullfighter’s cap, but most of them use green caps or white motorbike helmets.
  • As Spain has granted a high degree of political autonomy to its regional governments, four of them have created regional forces of order: the Policía Foral in Navarre, the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country or the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia. These forces have practically the same powers as the Policía Nacional in their respective territories.

All types of police also wear high-visibility clothing (“reflective” waistcoats) when directing traffic or on the road.

Some thieves impersonate police officers and ask to see your wallet for identification. If someone pretending to be a police officer approaches you, we recommend that you only show your ID and not your wallet or other valuables.

If you have been the victim of a crime, call 112. You can ask for a copy of the “denuncia” (police report) if you need it for insurance purposes or to request replacement documents. Make sure that it is a “una denuncia” and not an affidavit (una declaración judicial), as this cannot be accepted as proof of the crime for insurance purposes or to apply for your new passport.

You can make a police report in three different ways:

  1. in person. You can find a list of police stations in the different regions of Spain here. It is important to note that English-speaking interpreters are not always available at short notice: It may be advisable to be accompanied by a Spanish-speaking person.
  2. by telephone: You can make a telephone report to the police in English on 901 102 112. The service in English is available from 9:00 to 21:00 seven days a week. Once you have made your report, you must collect a signed copy of the report from the nearest police station. However, some crimes, especially more serious crimes or those involving violence, can only be reported in person.
  3. online: You can also make a police report online, but only in Spanish. Some crimes, especially more serious crimes involving physical violence, must be reported in person.

You can find more tips from the Spanish police on the following website: http://www.policia.es/consejos/consejos_in.html.

Emergency services

If you dial 112 on any phone, you will reach the emergency call centre. It can be used to call for police, fire, rescue, ambulance or other emergency assistance. Calls to this number are free of charge. The emergency call centre will ask you for your details and the nature of the emergency and then send the appropriate services to the scene. It can also be used free of charge from public telephones.

Permissions and documents

Spanish law absolutely requires foreigners staying on Spanish territory to have documents proving their identity and the fact that they are in Spain legally. You must carry them with you at all times, as the police may ask you to show them at any time.

Security

Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions that are recommended worldwide:

  • Thieves can work in teams and one person may try to distract you so that an accomplice can steal from you more easily. Thefts, including violent thefts, occur at all times of the day and night and affect people of all ages.
  • Thieves prefer stealth to direct confrontation, so you are unlikely to get hurt, but be careful anyway.
  • Motorbike thieves are known to walk past women and take their handbags. Hold on to yours even if you don’t see anyone around.
  • Try not to show the money you have in your wallet or purse.
  • Always keep an eye on your bag or wallet in tourist places, on buses, trains and at meetings. A reminder announcement is played at most bus and train stations and airports.
  • Especially big cities like Alicante, Barcelona, Madrid and Sevilla report numerous cases of pickpocketing, muggings and violent attacks, sometimes forcing the victims to see a doctor. Although the crimes take place at any time of the day or night and affect people of all ages, elderly and Asian tourists seem to be particularly at risk.
  • Do not take large sums of money with you if you do not need it. Use your credit card (Spain is the leading country in terms of the number of outlets and most shops/restaurants accept them). Use it with caution, of course.
  • Beware of pickpockets when visiting crowded places, e.g. crowded buses or Puerta del Sol (in Madrid). In metro stations, avoid boarding near the entrance/exit of the platform as pickpockets are often there.
  • In Madrid and Barcelona, criminals particularly target people from East Asia (especially China, South Korea, Japan and Taiwan) because they think they are carrying money and are easy prey.
  • In Madrid, the places known to be high-risk spots for thieves are the Puerta del Sol neighbourhood and surrounding streets, Gran Vìa, Plaza Mayor, near the Prado Museum, Atocha train station, Retiro Park and the metro. In Barcelona, they are most often found at the airport and on the airport shuttle (Aerobus), on Las Ramblas (often in internet cafés), in Plaza Real and the surrounding streets of the old town, on the metro, on Barceloneta beach, at the Sagrada Familia church and at Sants train and bus station.
  • Thefts from rental vehicles are numerous. Be vigilant at rest stops on coastal motorways. Avoid leaving luggage or valuables in the vehicle and use secure parking areas.
  • Do not hesitate to report crimes to the local police, even if this usually takes a long time.
  • In general, you should bear in mind that areas that receive many foreign visitors, such as some crowded holiday resorts on the east coast, are much more likely to attract thieves than areas that are less popular with tourists.
  • Avoid Gypsy women who offer you rosemary, always refuse it; they will read your fortune, ask you for money and your bag will probably be searched. Some gypsy women will also approach you in the street and repeat “Buena suerte” (“good luck”) to distract another gypsy woman who might try to rob you. Avoid them at all costs.
  • A big tourist attraction is Madrid’s flea market (el Rastro) at weekends. But since it’s practically standing room only, it’s also a magnet for pickpockets. They operate in groups… Be extremely careful in these confined market environments, as it is very common to be targeted… especially if you stand out as a tourist or a person with money. Try to blend in and not stand out and you will probably take fewer risks.
  • Women carrying handbags should always place the straps across the body. Always hold the handbag close to you and keep it in front of your body. Keep one hand on the bottom, otherwise pickpockets can crack the bottom without your knowledge.
  • Never put anything on the back of a chair or on the floor next to you, always keep it with you.
  • If you need to use an ATM, don’t show the money you just picked up.
  • Every year, more foreign passports are stolen in Spain than anywhere else in the world, especially in Barcelona. Make sure your passport is protected at all times.
  • Be extremely careful in the event of a road traffic incident and do not accept help from anyone other than a uniformed Spanish police officer or a plain clothes officer. Thieves have been known to fake or cause a flat tyre and if a motorist stops to help, the thieves will steal the car or property. The reverse scenario has also occurred, where a fake Good Samaritan stops to help a motorist in distress and then steals the motorist’s car or property.
  • Cases of alcohol abuse followed by theft and sexual assault were reported.
  • Watch out for the possible use of ‘rape’ and other drugs, including GHB and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep an eye on them at all times to make sure they are not doped; women need to be particularly vigilant. Alcohol and drugs can make you less alert, less in control and less aware of your surroundings. If you drink, know your limits – remember that drinks served in bars are often stronger. Avoid separating from friends and don’t go out with strangers.

Fraud

Some people might try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.

  • In Spanish cities, all taxis must have a visible fare table. Do not agree on a fixed price for a ride from an airport to a city: in most cases, the taxi driver will earn more money than without a set fare. Many taxi drivers will also ask for a tip from foreign or even domestic customers on the way to the airport. However, you can round up to the nearest euro when paying.
  • In many places in Madrid, especially near Atocha station, and also on the Ramblas in Barcelona, there are people (“trileros”) who play the “shell game”. They will “fish you out” when you play and they will most likely pick your pockets when you stop to watch other people play.
  • Before paying the bill in bars and restaurants, always check the bill and examine it carefully. Some staff will often try to extort a few extra euros from unsuspecting tourists by charging for things they have not eaten or drunk, or by simply overcharging. This applies to both tourist and non-tourist areas. If you feel overcharged, draw attention to it and/or ask to see a menu. Sometimes it also says (in English only) at the bottom of the bill that a tip is not included: remember that tipping is optional in Spain and that Spaniards usually only leave change and no more than 5-8% of the price of what they have consumed (not 15-20% the American way), so don’t be tempted to leave more than you need.
  • Many tourists have reported lottery scams where they are contacted via the internet or fax and informed that they have won a big prize in the Spanish lottery (El Gordo) when in fact they have never participated in the lottery. They are asked to deposit a sum of money in a bank account to pay taxes and other fees before they receive the prize or come to Spain to complete the transaction.
  • There are also reports of a scam where a person is informed that they are the beneficiary of a large inheritance and that the funds must be deposited into a Spanish bank account in order for the inheritance to be processed.
  • In another common scam, some tourists have received a fake email supposedly sent by someone they know well, claiming to be in trouble and in need of money.

Other things you need to know

  • Spanish cities can be noisy at night, especially at weekends, but the streets are generally safe, even for women.
  • All companies should have a formal complaint form available if you need one. It is illegal for a business to deny you this form.
  • In some cases, police in Spain may target people belonging to ethnic minorities for identity checks. People who do not “look European” can be stopped several times a day to have their papers checked under the pretext of “migration control”.
  • The Spanish government’s alert level indicates a “probable risk” of a terrorist attack. Possible targets are places frequented by expatriates and tourists, as well as public transport. A serious attack occurred in 2004 when bombs exploded on suburban trains in Madrid in March 2004, killing 192 people. This attack was attributed to the Al Qaeda terrorist network. In 2007, a Spanish court found 21 people guilty of involvement in the bombings. Although the likelihood of being involved in a terrorist attack is EXTREMELY low anywhere, it is only in Madrid or Barcelona that you should be careful.
  • Political actions and public demonstrations have steadily increased throughout Spain. Demonstrations occur and sometimes turn violent, mainly against the police. Avoid demonstrations and large gatherings, follow the advice of local authorities and watch the local media. Strikes can sometimes disrupt traffic and public transport. If a demonstration is planned or in progress, be aware of the demonstrators’ planned routes and avoid them. You should also make sure to check for travel updates or transport delays before and during your trip to Spain.
  • Driving in Spain can be dangerous due to traffic congestion in urban areas, although the driving is not particularly aggressive, except for the usual speeding offences. Be careful when driving in Spain. Driving at night can be particularly dangerous. Using a mobile phone without a hands-free device can result in a fine and a driving ban in Spain. All drivers are required to wear a reflective waistcoat in the vehicle and use a reflective warning triangle if they have to stop at the side of the road.
  • Be careful if you are approached by someone claiming to be a police officer. You will always be stopped in traffic by a uniformed police officer. Unmarked vehicles have an electronic flashing sign on the rear window with the words Policía or Guardia Civil, or Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, or Foruzaingoa/Policía Foral in Navarre. In most cases, the headlights are equipped with blue flashing lights. For non-traffic related matters, police may appear in casual dress. Police officers are not obliged to show identification directly unless you ask them to do so. If they ask for identification, they must show a photo ID. Your passport or driving licence is sufficient, or your national identity card if you are from the European Union, although a passport is always preferable. If you do not carry ID, you may get into trouble or be fined. If in doubt, drivers should speak through the car window and contact the Guardia Civil on 062 or the Spanish National Police on 112 to confirm that the vehicle’s registration number corresponds to an official police vehicle.

Drugs

In Spain, the possession and use of illegal drugs in private places is not prosecuted. The use and possession of drugs in public, for personal use, is punishable by a fine of 300 to 3000 euros, depending on the drug and the quantity you have on you. You will not be arrested unless you have large quantities for sale on the street.

Stay healthy in Spain

  • Pharmaceutical products are not sold in supermarkets, but only in “farmacias” (pharmacies/chemist’s shops) marked with a green cross or a hygeia cup. Almost all towns have at least one pharmacy open 24 hours a day; for those that close at night, the law requires a sign with the address of the nearest pharmacy, possibly in one of the surrounding streets or towns.
  • Citizens of the European Union and some other European countries can use the public health system freely if they have the corresponding European Health Insurance Card. This card does not cover treatment in private hospitals. There are agreements for the treatment of people from some American countries; see the Tourspain link below for more information.
  • However, do not hesitate to go to a health facility if you are injured or seriously ill, as it would be illegal for them not to treat you, even if you are not insured. However, you (or your country if Spain has an agreement) will have to pay for this service later.
  • Although many visitors come to Spain for the warm climate, it can be cold in winter, especially in the central and northern regions, and in some places it rains even in summer. Remember to travel with appropriate clothing.
  • Avoid direct sunlight for long periods in summer to prevent sunburn and sunstroke. Drink water, walk on the shady side of the road and have a container of sunscreen (sunscreen) ready.
  • Most cities have a good water supply, especially Madrid, but you may prefer bottled water to the alkaline taste of water in the east and south.

Smoking

Smoking is prohibited in all enclosed public places and workplaces, on public transport and in outdoor public places near hospitals and in playgrounds. Smoking is also prohibited in the outdoor areas of bars and restaurants. Smoking is also prohibited during television broadcasts.

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Girona is a city in northeastern Catalonia, Spain, near the confluence of the rivers Ter, Onyar, Galligants, and Güell, with an official population of...

Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is the second most populated island in the Canary Islands, an African archipelago that is part of Spain, with a population of...

Granada

Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada in the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia. Granada sits at the confluence of four...

Ibiza

Ibiza is a Mediterranean Sea island off the east coast of Spain. It is located 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Valencia. It is the...

La Coruna

A Coruña (La Coruña) is a city and municipality in the Spanish province of Galicia. It is the second-biggest city in the autonomous community...

Las Palmas

Las Palmas, formally Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, is the capital of Gran Canaria island in the Canary Islands, off the northwest coast of...

Lloret de Mar

Lloret de Mar is a town on the Mediterranean coast of Catalonia, Spain. It is located 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Girona and...

Madrid

Madrid is a city in southwestern Europe that serves as the capital of Spain and the main municipality in the Comunidad de Madrid. The...

Malaga

Málaga is a municipality in the Autonomous Community of Andalusia, Spain, and the headquarters of the Province of Málaga. It is the second most...

Marbella

Marbella is a city and municipality in southern Spain that is part of the province of Málaga, which is part of the autonomous community...

Palma de Mallorca

Palma is the headquarters and biggest city of Spain’s Balearic Islands autonomous community. It is located on Majorca’s south coast, in the Bay of...

Salamanca

Salamanca is a historic Celtic city in northwest Spain that serves as the seat of the Province of Salamanca in the Castile and León...

San Sebastian

San Sebastián is a city and municipality in Spain’s Basque Autonomous Community. It is located 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the French border on...

Santillana del Mar

Santillana del Mar is a lovely village in the Spanish province of Cantabria known for its medieval architecture. The region surrounding Santillana del Mar...

Seville

Seville is the capital and biggest city of Andalusia and the province of Seville in Spain. It is located in the Guadalquivir River plain....

Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada (Spanish for “snowy mountain range”) is a mountain range in Andalucia, Spain, that includes the provinces of Granada, Málaga, and Almeria....

Tarragona

Tarragona is the first large seaside town south of Barcelona. The town also offers a number of historical sites including churches from several periods...

Tenerife

Tenerife is the biggest of the Canary Islands and a fantastic spot to visit. Every year, tens of thousands of British and German visitors...

Valencia

Valencia is the capital of the autonomous community of Valencia and the third biggest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona, with an administrative...

Zaragoza

Zaragoza is the capital city of the province of Zaragoza and the autonomous community of Aragon in Spain. It is located in the midst...