Spain Travel Tips – Important Things to know before traveling to Spain

Spain – This land offers simply everything a great holiday destination needs: sun, beach, sea, but also mountains, snow, hiking, and great architecture. In addition, delicious food, excellent wine, and unique nightlife. Not for nothing Spain is in third place of the most visited countries worldwide.

Although Spain is part of Europe, the cultural differences between Spain and other European countries can be quite big. And after more than 2 1/2 years of living in sunny Spain, I still notice the differences. That’s why I’ve collected the most important Spain travel tips and things I wish I knew before traveling to Spain to make your next Spain vacation or trip a little easier.

Spain Facts

  • Parliamentary hereditary monarchy
  • Called Reino de España
  • Consists of 17 Autonomous Regions & 2 Exclaves in Africa
  • Capital is Madrid
  • Has 7 official languages
  • Belongs to the 20 largest export and import nations
  • There are 6 mountain ranges in Spain
  • Has the highest life expectancy of the EU

Where is Spain?

Spain Map, Spain on a Map
Source: Google Maps

At first glance, the answer to the question “Where is Spain actually?” seems quite easy. However, Spain is larger than many suspect when looking at the map of Europe. Spain not only occupies 6/7 of the Iberian Peninsula but also includes the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands and also has two exclaves in Africa (Ceuta and Melilla) and one in France (Llívia).

The Ultimate Spain Travel Tips

Sevilla, Seville, Plaza de Espana, top cities to visit in Spain
Beautiful Seville

Best time to visit Spain

As you might already know, Spain is spread over different climates zones and therefore offers great holiday conditions throughout the year. Depending on what you are looking for.

Spanish mainland and Balearic Islands

In general, it can be said that the best weather can be found between May and September. While the summers in the north, especially in the Atlantic region, are rather mild, the south can get very hot during the summer months. The winters on the north and east coasts (+ Balearic Islands) are usually rather mild, while inland, especially in the mountains, it gets cold and it can even snow. Winter is the perfect time for a skiing holiday in Spain.

Canary Islands

Here you can find all year Subtropical climate. A winter as we know it hardly exists there. Therefore, the Canary Islands are also in winter a perfect destination for a beach holiday.

Bank holidays in Spain

Holidays can vary greatly from region to region. Below are the public holidays that most regions celebrate.

01.01: New Year (Año Nuevo)
1.6. Three Kings Day (Día de Reyes)
Spring: Good Friday (Viernes Santo) & Easter Sunday (some regions also celebrate Easter Monday)
01.05. Labor Day (Día del Trabajo)
15.8. The assumption of the Virgin Mary (Asunción de la Virgen)
10.12. Spanish National Day (Día de la Hispanidad)
11.1. All Saints Day (Todos Los Santos)
12.6. Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución)
25.12. Christmas (Navidad)

The list of regional and local holidays can be found here.

Languages in Spain

The Alhambra in Granada, most pictureque places in Spain
View on the Alhambra in Granada

As already mentioned, there are 7 official languages in Spain. While Spanish (Castilian) is spoken throughout the country, there is also another language in some regions. Examples are Catalan in Catalonia or Euskara (Basque) in the Basque Country.

English Language in Spain

The English Language is not widely spoken in Spain. While in tourist areas more and more foreigners that speak English get employed, it can be quite difficult to find someone that speaks English outside of tourist areas.

It’s recommendable to bring either a little travel dictionary or learn some basic Spanish phrases before you go.

Important words in Spanish

Thank you – Gracias
Thank you very much – Muchas Gracias
Please – Por Favor
You are welcome – De nada
Hello – Hola
Bye – Adios
Delicious – Delicioso
How much is it? – ¿Cuánto cuesta esto?
Yes – sí
No – No
Chicken – Pollo

Sockets in Spain

In Spain, sockets type C, F & L are used. They are the same as in the rest of Europe.

If you are traveling from outside of Europe we recommend a world adapter.

How to get around Spain

By Train

One fast way to get around Spain is to go by train. The trains in Spain are ususually operated by Renfe. If you take further distances, you should definitely choose an AVE train which are the Spanish fast-speed trains. If you are traveling by train for several trips in Europe make sure to check Eurail.

By Bus

Often traveling by bus is cheaper than going by train. In Spain there are many affordable bus companies operating. e.g. ALSA.

By Airplane

Keep in mind that Spain is a big country. If you want to travel from the North to South or even to the Canary Islands, you might want to consider going by plane. In Spain, there are many airlines operating. The cheapest flights can usually be found with Vueling Airlines (You can check prices with Vueling here or compare prices of all airlines here).

By Car

Another Option is to drive around Spain by yourself on an amazing Spain Road trip. You can either use your own car or rent a car on-site.

Money

Money in Spain, Spain travel tips

Spain currency

The currency in Spain is the Euro. One Euro equals $ 1.14 USD. (November 2018)

Withdrawing money in Spain

Depending on the tariff or card you are using, it is usually no problem at all to withdraw money with the credit or debit card in Spain. Especially in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, you will find ATMs on every corner.

Prices in Spain

Spain is generally far cheaper than Central and Northern Europe. But who is traveling in tourist areas, pays quite similar prices as in Central Europe anyway. It’s best to ask locals for recommendations to places they usually go to in order to pay the “local price.”

The prices also differ greatly depending on the region, so you usually pay, for example much more in Madrid than in Granada. The south is generally considered the cheapest region, while the tourist metropolises (Madrid & Barcelona) are considered the most expensive places.

Tipping in Spain

In general, Spaniards only leave a tip, if the service they experienced was extraordinary. Accordingly, tips in bars and restaurants are not expected but are still welcome. For touristic services such as tours, you should definitely leave a tip.

Food Prices in Spain

The prices for food vary not only from place to place, but also from restaurant to restaurant. While, for example, in Barcelona for a simple tapa you might pay about 3.5 – 5 €, you get the same in Granada for just 1.5 €.

Visa Spain

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, basilica, catalonia
The Sagrada Família in Barcelona

As Spain is part of the EU, you can enter as an EU citizen without a visa or passport (ID is enough).

If you are traveling from other countries that are required a visa (e.g. US-Citizens), you need to apply for a Schengen Visa.

Security in Spain

After the terrorist attacks in 2017 in Barcelona, many asked me if a trip there was still safe. In general, a trip to the tourist regions of Spain is just as safe as any other metropolis in Europe.

Pickpockets & Scams

As in any other travel destination, you should never leave your belongings unattended. Especially Barcelona is notorious for its pickpockets. In general, you should be vigilant and if any police officers want to search your bag, insist that this happens in the nearest police station (It could be one of the newest scams in which alleged Police officers steal your belongings while “checking your bag”)

Taxis

The official taxis can be used without hesitation. Insist, however, that the taximeter runs along.

In many parts of Spain, the taxi app Uber can already be used, which can usually save you a bit of money.

Food in Spain

tapas restaurant Barcelona I Traditional Spanish food I Catalan food I Spain
Can’t get enough of Tapas

The food is very important in Spain. Not for nothing, there is even a word in Spanish for the time spent after dinner together at the table (Sobremesa).

While in most Western countries we tend to meet for dinner, in Spain usually lunch is the biggest meal of the day. So if somebody asks you if you want to meet Para Comer (for eating), they mean lunch if not specified otherwise.

Although the Spaniards eat a lot and often, the Spanish cuisine (and generally the Mediterranean food) is considered one of the healthiest in the world. That’s one of the reasons why the life expectancy of the Spaniards continues to increase. A nice cup of red wine from time to time helps of course, too – It’s good for the heart 😉

Tapas

What would a visit to Spain be without tapas? The small portions are popular across the country – whether as a snack or a whole meal. The bigger the group, the more different tapas you can try. In addition to the all-time classics such as Patatas Bravas (roasted potatoes with so-called Brava sauce), calamari, chocos (octopus) and fried mushrooms with garlic you can always find new and unusual variations.

The tapas can also vary from region to region. While in Andalusia you usually get a free tapa with every drink, in the Basque Country you rather eat so-called pintxos. Those are small snacks for one person each.

Other things that you should absolutely try in Spain

Spain Jamon Serrano, hanging

What famous dish comes to your mind when you think of Spanish Cuisine? – Of course, Paella. This popular dish belongs to Spain as the pizza belongs to Italy. For the vegetarians, of course, there is also a paella without fish and meat. By the way, you can find the original paella in Valencia. If you are heading south to Andalusia, you should definitely enjoy a delicious gazpacho. This is a cold vegetable soup (with ingredients such as  tomatoes and garlic) that is refreshing, especially in summer. Of course, here in Catalonia, you have to try aioli (Catalan for oil and garlic), which is often served with potatoes or meat.

And don’t let me get started with Tortilla de Patata, a potato omelet. I could go on recommending you delicious Spanish food for hours. (I am getting super hungry by just typing this…)

Those dishes get even better combined with a cool beer like Estrella or one of many Spanish Craft beers. Of course, a fruity Spanish red wine should not be missed either. The most famous is arguably Rioja. If you like it sweeter, drink the red wine in the form of Sangria or Tinto de Verano (this is red wine mixed with lemonade. Extra tip: Try to find a place that is mixing it themselves because the bottled one usually is too sweet.)

Spanish mealtimes

The clocks in Spain seem to run differently than in the rest of Europe. While the Central Europeans are already on their way to work, the Spaniard is usually still sleeping. The working day rarely starts here before 9 am. Accordingly, the lunch time is usually around 2 pm. Make sure to eat enough, because the dinner often takes place in Spain between 9 and 10 pm. In tourist areas, many restaurants also open at “tourist times”, in low season and in less touristy areas, many restaurants open their doors at around 8 pm at the earliest.

Vegetarian and Vegan Food in Spain

The first time I traveled to Spain, I was traveling with a friend who was vegetarian. All too well, I remember the agony of finding something suitable to eat that doesn’t include meat or fish. Although Spain is full of fresh fruits and vegetables and these are often eaten as side dishes, most dishes are still made with either fish or meat. Finding vegetarian or even vegan options can cost a lot of time and nerves. While there are more and more vegetarian restaurants in the big cities, it can be more difficult to find something suitable in an average or traditional restaurant.

Save money at lunch – eat like the locals

As already mentioned, the Spaniards like to eat a big lunch. That is why the menus in restaurants usually consist of several courses. Since most workers have around one to two hours of lunch break each day, it is worthwhile for them to eat at a restaurant during their lunch break. To make it more affordable to eat out every day, most restaurants and bars offer the so-called Menú del Día (Menu of the day) option. Often these include two courses, dessert, and drink for a special price. Those menus usually cost depending on the place and offer between 6 and 12 Euros. Of course, you can take advantage of that kind of offers if you are looking for an affordable meal.

Coffee in Spain

Coffee in Spain, Cafe, Spanish Coffee words

Something for all coffee drinkers. If you order a normal café in Spain, you will most likely get what other countries would call an Espresso. A coffee, as it’s known in many other Western Countries including the US, is called Café Americano.

Other helpful words for coffee drinkers

with – con
without – sin
Milk – Leche
Sugar – Azúcar

Tea (includes only teas made from tea leaves) -Té
Herbal and Fruit Teas – infusión

Siesta Time

Siesta Time in Spain, Afternoon, nap

The Spaniards are known worldwide for their siesta. In Andalusia, it often gets pretty hot in the summer, in the afternoon over 40°C (105 °F), so it is understandable that many prefer to be at home at that time rather than to walk around on the street or be at work. But even in the cooler north, the siesta has become part of the culture. Many, especially small shops and supermarkets, close accordingly during the afternoon (about 2 – 5 pm). If you have planned a shopping trip, better schedule it for the mornings or early evenings.

Traffic lights are just decoration

While the German in me still goes into alarm-mode as soon as I see a red traffic light, here in Spain every kid is used to jaywalking. Sure, on big roads and intersections you should, of course, keep to the traffic lights, the traffic here is definitely more chaotic than in many other Western Countries. But on smaller roads, nobody usually waits until the traffic light changes to green. Once the road is clear, people start walking.

Again and again, unfortunately, cars are slowed down and cyclists overlooked. So, please only cross the street if you are sure that it is free.

Book your entry tickets online

Park Güell, Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi, buildings
Park Güell in Barcelona

If you want to see the most famous sights in Spain like the Sagrada Família or the Alhambra, you should book your tickets in advance. So you can not only save a few Euros but also a lot of time. Some of our guests could not see the interior of the Sagrada Família because they had not reserved any tickets in advance and the tickets were already sold out when they arrived on-site.

For tickets online, check here or take a look at our Ultimate Spain tourist attraction Guide with all the main sights and cities in Spain.

Spain for your pocket

Where to next?

Make sure to check out our Spain City Bucket List, our Catalonia Destinations Guide and our Ultimate Barcelona Itinerary Guide.

About me

Vicki

Hi, my name is Vicki. Here you can accompany my boyfriend Eduardo and me on our way through different countries of this world. Let's travel together!

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Interested in Spain?

Spain Travel Tips – Important Things to know before traveling to Spain
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6 thoughts on Spain Travel Tips – Important Things to know before traveling to Spain

  1. This is an awesome post! Super detailed info about Spain. I went for the first time this summer to Girona and Costa Brava. I loved it and would like to go back and experience different areas!

    • Hi Katie,

      thank you so much for your comment! The Costa Brava is absolutely beautiful, isn’t it? 🙂 Maybe next time you can visit the South. It has a totally different vibe than Catalonia and is also a great destination 🙂

  2. Spain is definitely on our list to go back to with our baby as it’s such a family friendly destination! My favorite city there was Barcelona and all the tapas I ate. Fantastic guide to Spain with tons of useful info!

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