Spain

Things you Need to Know Before you Go…to Spain!

When you think of Spain what images immediately conjure up in your mind…flamenco dancers, matadors, white hillside villages, endless beaches and sunshine, towering gothic cathedrals perhaps? Travel to Spain and you will experience that and so much more – from the art museums, to modern architecture, to the exciting nightlife and of course the delicious food for which Spain is famous for.

As a holidaymaker, Spain offers many options from the mountains to the coast to large vibrant cities to quaint traditional villages, or maybe you are in search of spirituality, along the long-distance Camino de Santiago de Compostela path. Spain is the largest country in southern Europe, the 2nd largest in western Europe and the EU, and the 4th largest in the European continent.

Where to go

Breaking down the 17 Regions:

  1. Andalucía – is a popular tourist area with some of its most famous cities (Seville, Granada, Malaga and Cordoba), its warm climate, the golden sandy beaches and whitewash villages. This region has both Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines and is divided into 4 Costa (coastlines) – some of the most famous are Cadiz, Tarifa, Marbella, Fuengirola, Nerja, Mojacar.
  2. Aragon – borders France and encompasses the highest part of the Pyrenees and Spain’s largest river, the Ebro.
  3. Asturias – is a non-touristy rural and mountainous region that has vast stretches of green fields and unspoiled beaches along the coastline.
  4. Basque country – was given its own nationality and local language (known as Euskera), and hosts two big cities, Bilbao and San Sebastian. Bilbao is home to the Guggenheim museum and where you will find architect Frank Gehry’s designs.
  5. Cantabria – is a non-touristy mountainous region famous for its cave paintings and national parks.
  6. Castilla la Mancha – offers the city of Toledo, a popular tourist destination that’s within easy reach of the city of Madrid.
  7. Castilla y León – is the Camino de Santiago path runs through this region, so it does get quite busy with travelers passing through on their pilgrimage and it holds much of Spain’s heritage and historical sites.
  8. Catalunya – is known for its amazing beaches, warm Mediterranean climate and its capital city of Barcelona. (Direct link to blog post on Barcelona) 
  9. Extremadura – is the western region bordering Portugal where you will find some of the roman buildings beautifully restored making this a great destination for photographers.
  10. Galicia – is home to the famous Cathedral in its main city Santiago de Compostela, as it holds the shrine of Saint James, the final destination for all those who are walking the path of the Camino de Santiago. 
  11. Islas Baleares – are the collection of islands off the east coast of Spain with the most famous being Ibiza, Menora, Mallorca and Formentera which are very popular holiday destinations due to the warmer weather and gorgeous beaches.
  12. Islas Canarias – collection of islands further south of the mainland Spain that are located in the Atlantic Ocean just west of Africa.
  13. La Rioja – is wine country where most of Spain’s red wine comes from.
  14. Madrid – the capital and metropolitan city, located right in the center of Spain, offers the main hub of transportation, industry and government.
  15. Murcia – is most known for its amazing white sand beaches and warm climate.
  16. Navarra – is dominated by the Pyrenees mountains and famous for being home to the Pamplona Bull race.
  17. Valenciana – is the southeast coast of Spain making this a perfect beach holiday and is one of the largest ports in Europe for exports.
Even if you don’t know anything about architecture or Gaudí, when you walk the streets of Barcelona you will immediately be able to identify a Gaudí building –they are unmistakable. If in Barcelona, be sure to check out: Casa Vicens, Casa Milá (La Pedrera), Park Güell, Casa Batlló; and La Sagrada Familia.

Despite all that rich diversity, there are a few rules that hold true in Spain. Here are some tips to know before you go.

When they like to eat

Spanish mealtimes differ than most other countries because of how late they are. In general, Spaniards eat a very simple breakfast between 9-11am, lunch between 2-4pm, Merienda (or snack) between 4-8pm; and dinner between 9-11:30pm.

A popular choice for Merienda (or snack) is to visit a Tapas bar. Tapas bars are just that, you sit at the bar and select the tapas you would like. It is a cheap, quick and lively way to enjoy a afternoon snack to tied you over to your late night dining.

What they like to eat

Being a vegetarian proves to be a little more difficult than other European countries. Pretty much traditional Spanish food, no matter what the region, revolves around an animal product, especially jamon. They also think vegetarian means you can eat fish, so be careful when ordering.

Sangria is mainly considered a tourist drink in Spain. Although it is really good, if you want to blend in, locals enjoy a tinto de verano, or summer wine, which consists of red wine and lemonade.

As with most European countries, going to the market is very popular to get your fresh produce, fish and meat.  La Boquería is the best-known market in Barcelona and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction thanks to its location on the bustling La Rambla. Be sure to visit the markets while in Spain as they are very much part of their culture. 

 

How they like to eat

Food is not rushed in Spain, it is their opportunity to socialize with family and friends. When dining out, that usually means that service may not be as attentive as what you might expect in other countries. Servers allow you to eat, drink and be social for as long as you want. You signal when you are ready to leave and the cheque will be brought to you. 

Barcelona

What to tip

The tipping culture in Spain is virtually non-existent as most locals will leave nothing or a couple of euros. For fine dining, there would be a greater expectation of leaving a tip, but 10% would be considered generous.

What happens on Sundays

Most of Spain is Catholic and a very religious country. That means Sundays are a day of rest, as most families gather and spend the day together over food and drink. You will find most shops closed, even in the big cities, so be sure to plan around it. When you visit places of religious significance, the expectation will be to dress accordingly. 

The 18th century Cathedral of Sant Pere in Vic (halfway from Barcelona and Pyrenees)
20 Fascinating Facts about Barcelona | DreamPlanExperience.com
Barcelona: the city streets are still fast asleep (this is around 9am) much later than any other European city.

What to wear

Spaniards care about their appearance and are always nicely put together. Even on the hottest day, you will never see a Spaniard wearing shorts or flip flops. They don’t believe in dressing casually. Therefore, this makes it easy to spot tourists, so if you want to blend in, dress nicely and not so casual.

Unless you are at the beach, then you will find the tiniest of bathing suits (if any at all) for both men and women.  

Watch out for pick pockets

Some areas of Spain, especially the big cities like Barcelona and Madrid, are well-known for their pick pockets. I for one, do not feel it is necessary that you wear a money belt (like most travel sites might recommend), rather just be vigilant in crowded areas, or better yet, try not to make it too obvious that you are a tourist. One area of caution, be extra careful at crowded beaches. There are many warnings not to leave valuables on your towel (or even hidden) and go into the water, otherwise your belongings may not be there when you return. 

Learn the basics

While many Spaniards do speak some English, it isn’t as widespread as in some other European countries. Learning a few key phrases in Spanish is a good idea, especially to exchange simple greetings (hola, buenos días, ciao) and pleasantries (por favor, gracias) are always appreciated by locals. Before I travel, I always use Duolingo to practice and be familiar with the language.

Lastly, it is a European custom and something I always like to know…it is polite to kiss on the cheek when greeting acquaintances and friends. Kiss the person’s right cheek first and then the left.

Ciao!

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22 Comments

  • Aga

    Spain is my favorite country!! I’ve been to Andalusia, Barcelona and Toledo so far and am on a mission to see more of the country. This is a very informative post, I like how you broke down the regions of Spain.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Wow, I am envious. You have seen more of Spain than I have. But like you vow to see more. Spain commonly refers to have 17 regions, and so through a bit of research I uncovered those many areas and what they are known for. I find it helpful to travel and think of the region I am visiting and not just the city. We have Barcelona and the Pryrenees. I would like to visit the Andalucia region during Canada’s winter season for the warm sunshine. Thanks so much for your comment.

  • Jerry and Fiona

    We’ve experienced the food culture in Italy (patient service, odd hours) and it was a pleasant shock to us. The taste and quality of the food should be enough to let even the most demanding tourist who may not be familiar with these customs some room for forgiveness!

    Great tips here, and thanks for making us think back to the wonderful dining experiences we had all over Italy.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Glad to hear this post reminded you of Italy. I will soon be doing the same for this country that I did for Spain.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Hope you are able to visit there one day soon. Spain offers so much diversity in landscape it makes a great holiday destination.

  • Nic

    I’ve been to Spain more times than I can even recall, mostly as a child and a teenager and to be honest I hated it when I was younger as I thought it was so boring!! However I really do think I need to give is a chance as I think what I did see when I was younger didn’t really represent the country properly!! Though my Gran did live in Barcelona for a while so we did see some more authentic sides too.

  • Paula Morgan

    Really helpful thank you, my husband is in Spain now on the Camino and we knew it was a very Catholic country from previous visits but we did not realise how much Easter would bring the country to a standstill – He was unable to buy a sim card for 10 days because the shops were closed or out of stock with no deliveries over the holiday period. It really does pay to know these things before you head off lol.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, we learned the hard way too, that is why I thought I would write about some of their customs. Hope your husband otherwise enjoyed his trip! Thanks for commenting.

  • Sandy N Vyjay

    Spain is a fascinating country. It is such a unique blend of ancient heritage and contemporary lifestyles. It can be a bit overwhelming to understand for the first time visitor. Your post provides valuable insights that are sure to stand in good stead. Information about places to visit, where to eat and especially local tips about being aware of Sunday being a day of rest when shops are closed, are very helpful

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Sandy, thank you so much for taking the time to read the post. Happy to hear that this was helpful. When you learn the hard way (Sunday), you want to share and hopefully warn others.

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Yes, me too. When I first started going to Europe, it was unexpected and bothered by it, as it took time away from sightseeing. But now, I embrace it, and it is something I look forward to as part of the travel experience. And, yes, who doesn’t love Tapas! Thanks for stopping by!

  • Jim

    I love tapas restaurants here in the US, and it’s always been a dream of mine to eat it in Spain! Your pictures make me hungry for some tapas. 🙂 I love the fact that meals aren’t rushed in Spain – it should be an experience to be savored and enjoyed. Glad to see they do that!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      I hope you get to experience Spain one day soon! The Tapas restaurants are everywhere. Thanks for commenting!

  • melody pittman

    Oh how I love Spain! Thanks for the guide. Great tips. My preferences are anything related to Gaudi, paella, and getting out on the water. OH, and the superb markets. 😉

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Completely agree with you, there are so many traditions to Spain that make it a fantastic country to travel to. Thanks for commenting!

  • Lora

    I’ll be touring Spain soon. I’m looking forward to swimming with the fish in a thermal spring in Valencia, then head to Barcelona. Thanks for the heads up on pick-pockets, and meat featuring in most of their meals.

  • Carmen Edelson

    You’re so right about Spaniards always being nicely put together, especially on Sundays! I love people watching in Retiro Park on a Sunday in Madrid to see all of the fashion. I adore Spain, thank you for breaking down all 17 regions!

    • The.Holidaymaker

      Agree, people watching on Sundays is the best! I haven’t been to Madrid, but hope to one day. Thanks for commenting.

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