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A Trip to Spain: About the Country

Spain is famous the world over for its flamenco dancers, delicious cuisine and wine, rich art, and bullfights. Its architecture reflects a host of influences, including distinctive Roman, Moorish, native Spanish, and other European elements from its ancient past. Cave paintings, Renaissance cathedrals, and ornate palaces highlight the diversity of experiences  that you can encounter on a visit to this amazing country.

When is the Best Time to Take a Trip to Spain?

Blessed with one of the best climates on the European continent, spring, fall and early summer are the most pleasant times to visit Spain.  In contrast, summers (June, July, and August) can be quite hot, especially in the southern part of the country;  the northern and coastal areas tend to be milder.

scene overlooking La Alhambra palace and fortress with mountains in the background

La Alhambra, Granada, Spain

Culture

Language

Spanish (Castillian) is the predominant language of Spain, spoken by 99% of Spaniards as either a first or second language. There are a number of other regional languages, of which Catalan is the most common, spoken by about 19% of Spaniards.  English is fairly widely spoken as a second language, most of all in the major tourist cities such as Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, and Seville and by younger people. However, it is highly recommended to learn at least a few common Spanish phrases for greetings, courtesies, numbers, and requests for directions.  This excellent phrase book can help you to cover the basics.

Religion

The majority of the Spanish population is Roman Catholic, although the influence of secularism after the death of Franco has increasingly risen.  The Catholic church continues to have some economic and political ties with the government, although the social views of many Spaniards have adapted to postmodern times. But significant cultural events often still revolve around the church, such as holidays, patron saint days, and weddings and baptisms.

Greetings

Typical greetings between men will involve a handshake, whereas a double cheek kiss (air kisses) is a frequent casual greeting between women and from women to men.  There is a tendency to stand closer during conversations in Spain than in many other countries.

What to Wear on a Trip to Spain

People wear casual clothing most of the time, and street fashion in Spain can be quite stylish. Baggy clothes like oversized sweatshirts or yoga pants are best avoided in order not to give a sloppy, unkempt impression. Men are expected to wear jackets at some classy restaurants. Swimsuits should be confined to the pools and beaches.

There are regional weather differences that one should take into account when choosing clothing for a trip to Spain— keep in mind that Southern Spain can get quite hot in the summer, which calls for lightweight fabrics such as cotton blends and linen.  Sundresses can be handy for women in the summer.  Spain tends to have relatively mild weather in the wintertime compared to many European countries, but it can get cold, especially in the central and northern areas, calling for layered clothing, including jeans, sweaters, and a warm jacket. Check out the weather forecast before you go on Triptora’s page of best travel tools.

beautiful courtyard decorated with colorful flowers in pots in the Calleja de las Flores street in Córdoba, Spain

Calleja de las Flores, Córdoba

Sightseeing on a Trip to Spain

Madrid – Art museums: Museo del Prado (classical Spanish paintings and sculpture), the Reina Sofia Museum (modern art, including Picasso’s Guernica), and the Thyssen-Bornemisza (private art collection).

Barcelona – La Sagrada Família Basilica, Park Güell with Gaudí architecture, Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) and the Catedral de Barcelona, Las Ramblas (pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare with street performers, tapas, shopping), Casa Batlló (Gaudí designed apartments), Museu Picasso, La Barceloneta Beach

ornate stone La Sagrada Família Basilica with many spires

La Sagrada Família Basilica, Barcelona

Figueres – Dali Museum.  Can reach the city by high-speed AVE train from Barcelona or by car

Seville – Catedral de Sevilla and La Giralda Minaret, Real Alcázar Palace and Gardens, Barrio Santa Cruz (restaurants, shops, Plaza Doña Elvira, Museo del Baile Flamenco), Parque de María Luisa, Plaza de España, Guadalquivir River cruise, Jewish quarter, Metropol Parasol (Las Setas)

Córdoba – Mezquita-Catedral, Jewish quarter/Calleja de las Flores with incredibly beautiful patios, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos palace and gardens, the Roman bridge, Calahorra Tower, Palacio de Viana

Granada – The Alhambra palace-fortress-gardens (UNESCO world heritage site)—reserve in advance due to popularity!;  Albaicín neighborhood; tapas in Calle Elvira

Cádiz – Catedral de Cádiz, Museo de Cádiz

Costa del Sol Region: beautiful beaches, watersports, golf, outdoor activities. Malaga (the Cathedral, Gibralfaro Castle, the Alcazaba Moorish fortress-palace, Roman Theater, Picasso Museum). Torremolinos (La Carihuela fishing village/seafront promenade, Parque de la Batería, Calle San Miguel, Molino de Inca Garden). Marbella (Old Town or casco antiguo, Paseo Marítimo beachside promenade, La Alameda Park). Mijas Pueblo (charming classic Andalucian “white village”), beautiful mountaintop city of Ronda with Puente Nuevo bridge over El Tajo gorge, Benalmádena (Teleferico Benalmádena cable car, Puerto Marina and the Sea Life Centre, Benalmádena Pueblo Old Village, El Parque de la Paloma).

Bilbao – Guggenheim Museum; Siete Calles Old Town Area

Valencia – Torres de Serranos, La Lonja de la Seda, Plaza de la Reina, Plaza Redonda, Catedral de Santa Maria de Valencia and El Miguelete tower,  the City of Arts and Sciences, Central Market, Valencia Town Hall; paella

Toledo – The Gothic Catedral, The Alcázar (fortress), Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, Museu del Greco (El Greco Museum), Puente de San Martín, Mirador del Valle, the Jewish Quarter

Segovia – The Roman aqueduct, the Alcázar

Santiago de Compostela – Catedral, one of the oldest in Spain

Spain has an extensive and gorgeous coastline.  Its sun-kissed beaches are renowned.  Some of the best include La Concha  Beach (San Sebastian), Playa del Silencio (Asturias), Playa de las Catedrales (Galicia)  the Balearic Islands of Mallorca (for example Playa de Muro, Cala Formentor), Menorca (Cala Macarelleta), Formentera (Playa de Sete Illetes), and Ibiza (Las Salinas, Playa D’en Bossa, Cala D’hort).

cala d'hort beach with blue green water

Cala d’hort Beach, Ibiza

 

Getting There

Iberia is the national airline of Spain. Many other low-cost airlines operate in the country. There are nearly thirty international airports in Spain, of which Madrid, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Alicante, and Malaga receive the most passengers.

Madrid-Barajas airport, located 13 km (about 8 miles) away from the city center, has good bus service every 15 minutes. Two metro (subway) stations are available at the airport. Other facilities that this airport offers include tourist information, duty free shops, banking, and restaurants.

Barcelona’s El Prat airport is close to the city center, situated at a distance of 12 km (7.5 miles). Metro service is available. Buses are also available every 15 minutes and trains are available every 20 minutes. Taxis are available throughout the day. Restaurants, banking facilities, car rental, and tourism information are available here.  There are plane and non-stop high-speed AVE connections available from Barcelona to Paris.

High-speed AVE train service is available to Cordoba, Seville, Barcelona, and Valencia.

There is a good network of roads connecting the various regions of Spain. Toll roads have been built in some parts of the country. Carrying a few Euros along with you will come in handy at the toll booths. If driving a private car, travel insurance, including medical coverage, would be recommended. Carrying a medical kit along on your trip might also be prudent.

 

Electricity

Voltage is 220 volts.  Frequency is 50 Hz.  Plug type is type C or F, with two round electrical contacts. Don’t forget to bring along a good universal travel adapter, like this one.

Emergency numbers

When traveling abroad, safety is of the highest importance.  In Spain, in case of emergency you can call 112 (the Pan-European emergency number), who can connect you to the appropriate agencies.  Or to directly contact a specific first responder agency: for the police call 092 (local/municipal police) or 091 (national police), for fire call 080, and for medical emergencies/ambulance call 061.

 

miguelete bell tower of valencia cathedral

El Miguelete Tower (Torre del Micalet), Valencia. Image by Andrea Castello from Pixabay

Currency

Euro (EUR; symbol €) = 100 cents. The Euro comes in denominations of €500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10 and 5. Coins come in denominations of €2 and 1, and 50, 20, 10, 5, 2 and 1 cents.

Shopping

Shops open early in the morning, often at 9 am and stay open late in the evening, often until 8 pm. In the afternoon, they close for lunch or siesta, usually from 1:30 or 2 pm until 4:30 or 5 pm. Spanish ceramic and leather goods are famous and would make good gifts for friends and family members back home.

 

Food and Drink on your Trip to Spain

Restaurants and tapas bars are typically open from about 12 pm to 4 pm, and then close for a few hours to  re-open in the evening: tapas bars re-opening around 8 pm and restaurants re-opening around 9  or 9:30 pm.

Lunch is usually taken around 2 or 3 pm and is typically a large meal that includes a starter, main dish, and a dessert. One of the most well-known traditions of Spain is the siesta or nap after lunch, although most Spaniards nowadays do not take advantage of napping during this break.  Dinner is generally late at night, oftentimes around 9:00 or 9:30 pm.  There is a smoking ban in restaurants, bars, and other enclosed public spaces that is strictly enforced.  However, smoking is still usually allowed on terraces. A note about tipping: in restaurants and bars it is typical to leave the small change for waitstaff, although if you would like to leave more you can leave about 5%.

assortment of spanish tapas with meats, cheeses, capers, and tomatoes

Spanish tapas