Spain is, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. It is filled with interesting history, gorgeous architecture, great food and no limit to awe-inspiring sights. While traveling to Spain is relatively straightforward, here you will find some general information and insight into planning a trip to Spain and navigating this beautiful country.
Spain is divided into 17 regions which can be further broken down to 50 provinces. Each main region of Spain is often quite different than the next in terms of culture, terrain, food and even language. Here is a brief rundown of some of our favorites. Andalusia, in the south of Spain, is home to the beautiful cities of Granada and Seville. Rich with Moorish culture and architecture, Andalucia is home to La Alhambra in Granada and El Alcazar in Seville, both masterpieces of Islamic design. You’ll also find flamenco music and dancing, stunning beaches and hot, sunny weather most of the year. Head north into Castilla y Leon and take in the history of Salamanca, the Roman aqueducts of Segovia and and the great walled city of Avila. Finally, for break from the heat, head to the north coast and the region of Asturias. Aside from milder weather, here you’ll find great seafood, beautiful mountains and lakes and more peace and serenity than the main towns of Spain.
Where to go when
Spain is beautiful anytime of the year but our preferred time to visit is late spring or early fall. The busy season of June thru September will brings both thousands of visitors as well as blistering heat. If you’re planning to visit during these times, consider spending some time on the north coast to get a break from the sweltering, humid weather present in most of Spain during the summer months. Alternatively, if you’re visiting in the winter, Seville is often warm and you may even see the orange trees full of fruit in mid January.
How to get around
Aside from the major airport hubs of Madrid and Barcelona, most major cities will have airports with daily trips from popular hubs. The main airlines for hopper flights are Iberia Air and Ryanair. One of the best ways to get from city to city is with the Renfe train system. Traveling all over the country with many non-stop, high speed trains, the Renfe train system is an economical, both for time and money, way to see the country. Their website can be found here and while you’re there, look into whether their Spain Pass would be a good option for your travels.
Several cities have either underground metro systems or above ground light rail systems. Aside from Madrid and Barcelona, you’ll find them in Alicante, Seville, Granada, Bilbao, Zaragoza and more. To use the metro, each line is differentiated by color and name. Metro line directions are listed by the name of the last stop for each line in each direction. Once you know what line and stop you need, look for the final stop in that direction and grab that train. Ticket prices are often the same as bases passes. Which leads us to bus transportation. With trains leaving in frequent intervals, bus travel in Spain is easy and affordable.
Food, Meal Times & Tipping
In Spain, food and eating out is more than something to do, it’s a way of life. Just as each town and region will have its own architecture culture, the variety of food choices from location to location is just as varied. In fact, it would be quite difficult to ever run out of new things to try. You’ll have your choice of everything from simple, quaint tapas bars to 3 star Michelin restaurants. Here’s a brief primer on what you need to know about Spanish dining. First, tapas. Glorious tapas. Tapas are not as much type of food but rather a style of cooking. Small, flavorful bites of food, often served with a glass of wine or cool beer, tapas let you sample several dishes and flavors. Intended to be enjoyed with others, tapas are a great way to socialize with others and fit in with the locals. Popular tapas including Spanish tortilla, which is potato and egg heaven, deep fried potatoes called patatas bravas, manchego cheese plates and small open-faced sandwiches. But a discussion on Spanish food would not be complete without mentioning jamon. Jamon is cured ham and synonymous with Spanish eating. With difference varieties for every region of Spain, jamon is a staple in Spain. They even have a Museum de Jamon where you can sample jamon from every region of the country. And be sure to top off your evening with churros con chocolate which are long, slender fried dough with chocolate dipping sauce. The meal times are much later in Spain than you are probably accustomed to eating. Be prepared to eat is often around 2-3pm and dinner after 9pm. Tipping is often considered optional and usually just a few coins. For a nice dinner, 5-10 percent is satisfactory.
Spain uses the Euro. Many restaurants and stores accept credit cards as well. Make sure to check with your credit card to let the know you’ll be traveling abroad. We recommend avoid the money transfer shops at the airport and withdraw cash at the numerous ATMs around town. Exchange rates are generally better in our experience.
Pinning down an exact list of Spanish holidays that could affect your travel is quite difficult. There are over 10 national holidays honored across the country, however each region will also have additional local holidays as well. Major holidays include: New Year's Day, Epiphany (January 6), the week leading up to Easter, Workers Day (May 1), Assumption of the Virgin (August 15), National Day (October 12), All Saints Day (November 1), Constitution Day (December 6), Immaculate Conception (December 8) and Christmas Eve/Day. Expect major closures during these days. Many museums, cathedrals and attractions may be on altered times or closed. Family owned shops and restaurants may be closed as well. Be sure to look for any holidays (often to celebrate the patron saint) for any cities you will be visiting.
What to pack
Passports are required to enter Spain but you will not need a Visa if traveling from the US. Spain’s electrical outlets call for 220V, 50 Hz — and type F prongs (with the rounded tip). Be sure to bring a few adapters for your trip. Spaniards do a lot of walking and you’ll do the same while you’re there. Be sure to pack good walking shoes to keep you moving. We’d also advise on bringing sunscreen as Spain is one of the sunniest countries in Europe. Temperatures can exceed 100 F during the peak months of summer across Spain. And with those temperatures, its important to stay hydrated. We usually bring a trusty water bottle but there are plenty of shops to buy some there if needed. And of course, with all that beauty around you, be sure to have your favorite camera with a few extra batteries. Most cathedrals and museums do not allow tripods inside.
Most of Spain speaks Spanish however Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, has two official languages Spanish and Catalan. Catalan has some similar roots to Spanish but is a different language all together. Locals speak Catalan in their daily lives and children learn the language at school however most everyone speaks Spanish as well. Many Europeans also speak some English too but here are a few words in Spanish to get you by:
Good morning - Buenos días
Good afternoon - Buenas tardes
Good evening - Buenas noches
Hi - Hola
Please - Por Favor
Thank you - Gracias
How are you? - ¿Cómo está?
My name is ___ - Me llamo ____
Do you speak English? - ¿Habla inglés?
I want ____ - Yo quiero ____
Where is - ¿Dónde está?
How much does it cost - ¿Cuánto cuesta?
What time is it? - ¿Qué hora es?
Where is the bathroom? - ¿Dónde está el baño?
Where is a restaurant? - ¿Dónde hay un restaurante?
Water - Agua
Food - Comida
Beer - Cerveza
Coffee - Un café