Spain is one of the most diverse European countries. It is known both for the spectacular beaches along the coast and the hilly landscapes of the Pyrenees, as well as its rich heritage and its vibrant nightlife. However, with so many things going on, it’s easy to get a bit confused. So here are some Spain travel tips to help you make the of your trip:
1. Try learning some basic Spanish before you go
Learning a bit of the local language is sure to go a long way with the locals, as some may not speak a lot of English. That said, keep in mind that Spanish isn’t the only language spoken in the country (it has 5 official languages), especially in places like Catalonia, Galicia or the Basque Country. However, locals here are also likely to know varying degrees of Spanish.
- Hello – Hola
- Goodbye – Adios
- Good morning – Buenos dias
- Good afternoon – Buenos tardes
- Good night – Buenos noches
- Please – Por favor
- Thank you – Gracias
- You’re welcome – De nada
- I’m sorry – Lo siento
- Excuse me – Disculpe
- I don’t understand – No entiendo
- Do you speak English? – Habla Ingles?
- I don’t speak Spanish – No hablo Espanol
- How much? – Cuanto cuentas?
- Where is…? – Dondo esta…?
- Check – La cuenta
- Bathroom – Bano
- What’s your name – Cono te llamas?
- Can I have…? – Puendo tener…?
- How are you? – Como estas?
2. Local regions may have vast differences
Much like the language, food, and even architecture change quite drastically across the various Spanish provinces. Spain is made up of 17 semi-autonomous regions, each with its own unique identity. And, while Spain is one unified country, there are major cultural differences between these regions. From Andalusia in the south, Catalonia in the east, the Basque Country in the north and everything in-between, each region can sometimes feel like a separate country.
3. Flights can actually be cheaper than trains
Spain is a big country, and often travelling long distances (such as from Malaga to Bilbao) can cost much less by air than they do by train. Spain’s Renfe rail network can be expensive, especially if you’re looking for a return journey.
4. Always book tickets for popular attractions online
Major attractions such as the Alhambra, the Alcazar of Seville, or the Sagrada Familia can get extremely crowded and have long queues for tickets. So to make your visit goes smoothly, you can book tickets online and in advance. This you give you an allocated time to see these places, allowing you to more efficiently plan your days.
5. Siestas are a pretty big deal in Spain
In Spain, its quite common to see many shops, offices and restaurants shut their doors for a little afternoon break. Though large stores and restaurants in big cities that mostly cater to tourists tend to stay open, everything closes and everyone goes home between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm.
6. Be careful of the extreme summer heat
During the summer, temperatures in some parts of Spain can get quite high. In July and August, hot summer afternoons in Seville and Cordoba regularly go over 40°C (or 104°F), some of the highest temperatures in Europe. This can get quite uncomfortable for travellers. So, it’s best to get out of the sun at peak times to avoid sunstrokes and sunburns, making it easy to understand why siestas are so popular.
7. Best time to visit
With the summer months running so hot, it’s best to visit Spain in the autumn or the spring (unless you’re hitting the beach to get a tan or looking for the parties at Ibiza). Between September – November (autumn), and February – April (spring) temperatures are much cooler. Additionally, there are fewer crowds. Those who are interested in skiing can also visit in the winter and head to the Pyrenees or the Sierra Nevada.
8. Only tourists eat before 9 pm
Spaniards eat late, and they like to socialise. They have their biggest meal of the day at lunch, meaning that dinner starts around 9 pm or later and goes on until midnight. Consequently, most restaurants don’t open before 8 pm. However, if you want to eat earlier, you may be able to find restaurants catering to tourists that open around 7 pm.
9. Be sure to try the regional food
Spain is famous for its many delicious foods, though these tend to vary quite widely from region to region. So be sure to try some of the best local food on your visit, such as tapas in Granada; paella in Valencia; seafood in Galicia; churros con chocolate in Madrid; tortilla de patata (Spanish omelette with potatoes) in Córdoba; pintxos in the Basque country, and jamón, a cured leg of ham that is popular across the country.
10. Tipping isn’t always essential
Waiters in Spain are paid a living wage, and so tipping is not essential (but is always appreciated). If you’ve experienced exceptional service, feel free to leave a tip of around 10%. However, some restaurants automatically add a service charge to your bill, so be sure to check before you doublet tip.
11. Some prices may be shown without VAT
While most restaurants and bars show their prices with VAT (value added tax) on the menu, some may not. So, be sure to keep an eye out – and budget for – these extra costs.
12. Check if those tapas are free
Depending on where you are in Spain, tapas can either be a free snack that accompanies your drinks, or a paid appetizer. While they are usually free in Andalusia (though you rarely get to choose what they serve) this isn’t the case in other parts of the country.
13. Bank holidays aren’t always the same as the rest of Europe
Spain’s bank holidays aren’t always the same as the rest of Europe. Moreover, they also aren’t the same between the country’s many regions and are also often changed each year. Just make sure to do your research beforehand and check these dates in advance.
14. Keep a close eye on your belongings
Like any popular tourist country, Spain sees a lot of petty theft. Madrid and Barcelona especially have a lot of pickpockets. While they are usually not violent, be sure to have the usual amount of caution (wallet in front pockets, zipped purses, etc) when out and about.
15. Don’t just visit the cities
Spain is full of beautiful and fascinating cities, such as Seville, Valencia, Madrid, Barcelona and Granada. But that’s not all there is to see in this incredibly diverse country. You can visit the breathtaking towns along the Mediterranean coast, the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada, the Balearic and Canary Islands, and the vineyards of Rioja, just to name a few.
Also Read: 18 Unique Places To Visit In Spain This Year
16. There are also lots of festivals in Spain
Most people have heard of San Fermin and La Tomatina (the Running of the Bulls and the big tomato fight) but there are lots of other Spanish festivals you can check out. There’s Las Fallas, a massive street parade in Valencia, and Moros y Cristianos a recreation of a historic battle. The Batalla del Vino (Wine Battle) takes place in Rioja and the Fiesta de San Isidro in Madrid. You can also visit during Semana Santa, or “Holy Week”, during which there are huge street processions in every city.
17. In case of emergencies, dial 112
112 is the emergency number for most European countries, and in an emergency, the operator will redirect your call to the relevant centre, whether it’s the ambulance, the police, or the fire brigade. It works from landlines and mobiles, as well as from foreign numbers.
Are there any Spain travel tips that we’ve missed? If so, be sure to share them in the comments below.