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Spain Travel Guide

Spain

“Oh, lovely Spain! Renowned, romantic land!”

Rochdale

Top Five Destinations In Spain

  1. Sevilla Is the vibrant, colorful capital city of the autonomous Andalusia region. It sits on the Guadalquiver River. The birthplace of tapas is one of the most beloved cities of Spain. Discover rich architectural sites, historical landmarks, dive into Spanish culture, food, sangria, and flamenco.
  2. White Towns of Andalucia Are a wonder all of their own. All of the villages are filled with whitewashed homes with red or brown tiled roofs. Wandering these charming towns, you will find narrow alleyways, lovely churches, lookouts, picturesque town squares, and kind people who live a much simpler modest life. Some of our favorite white towns were Ronda, Setenil de las Bodegas, Torre Alháquime, Olvera, Algodonales, and Zahara de la Sierra,
  3. Barcelona This fascinating artistic city is one of incredible diversity. It is welcoming but at the same time has some grittiness due to over-tourism. It is a dense economic business center with people from all over the world making it their home. There is exciting nightlife as the city is full of young professionals. The beaches are gorgeous though they can be crowded. World-famous restaurants, historic sites, Gaudi’s incredible work everywhere, a beautiful waterfront, world-class museums, Sagrada Familia, etc. This is a spectacular city that has something for all.
  4. Madrid Is a bustling city known for being a city accepting people from anywhere in the world. It is a melting pot. You can visit many famous museums; The Gran Via is one of Spain’s best shopping districts. Wander Old Town, visit the monuments, enjoy restaurants with top cuisine, or partake in the vibrant nightlife. Madrid is filled with charming, tranquil historic spots, beautiful parks, and cultural centers. Madrid has an authenticity that is hard to match.
  5. Cordoba A town with a strong presence of its Moorish roots. As a result, it has a vibrant history to explore. Stroll through Old Town that is the second largest one in Europe, to be declared a Patrimony of Humanity, and where you can visit the important historical buildings of the city. Cordoba charms the visitor with cultural wonders such as the Mezquita-Catedral, or better known as The Great Mosque of Córdoba, is one of the oldest structures still standing from when Muslims ruled Al-Andalus from the late 8th century. This is an absolute must-do!

Did you know?

Spain stats

  • Population: 50.0 million
  • Capital City: Madrid
  • Currency: Euro (EUR)
  • Government type: Unitary Parliamentary Constitutional Monarchy
  • Monarch Felipe VI
  • Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
  • Ethnic groups: Spanish 86.4%, other 13.6%
  • Languages: Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan (official) 17%, Galician (official) 7%, Basque (official) 2%
  • Religions: Roman Catholic 68.9%, atheist 11.3%, agnostic 7.6%, other 2.8%, non-believer 8.2%, unspecified 1.1%
  • US State Department Risk Level: 3 due to Covid, Civil Unrest and Terrorism
  • Terrorist groups: Basque Fatherland and Liberty (disbanded); Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham; al-Qa’ida (2019)
  • Around 406 million people speak Spanish, which makes it the second most common language in the world.
  • GDP $1.2 trillion Ranked 13th in the world.
  • The national anthem, Marcha Real, of Spain has no words.
  • The official name of Spain is “Kingdom of Spain.”
  • The Bull is the national animal of Spain.
  • Spain is one of the most decentralized democracies in Europe. It has 17 regions that manage their own school, hospitals, and other public services.
  • Spain is the EU’s second-largest country and the fifth largest in population.
  • Spain has the second-highest unemployment rate in the EU as of 2020 at 16.2%.
  • Became the first country to have wind as the greatest source of its electricity.
  • Spain is still a developing country as  25.3% are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
  • Inventions originating in Spain include a stapler, mop and bucket, cigarettes, first astronaut spacesuit, quill pen, berets, lollipop, foosball, submarine, Flamenco, sherry, and acoustic guitar.
  • Major industries in Spain are tourism, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, textiles, footwear, automobiles, agriculture, energy and electricity, wine, olive oil, metals, and chemicals.
  • UNESCO’s third-largest heritage country. There are 48 Unesco World Heritage Sites in Spain.
  • Spain has over about 5,000 miles of beaches.
  • Spain is that the highest mountain in the country is Mount Teide at 12198 feet.
  • More than 2.5 million acres are dedicated to wine.
  • Life Expectancy 83.4 years old, which is the second-longest life expectancy after Japan.
  • Literacy rate 98%.

Fun facts

  • There are more bars and restaurants in Spain than in any other country in the world.
  • Spain is one of the top-visited countries in the world.
  • Bullfighting remains both in Andalucia and Madrid.
  • Home to the worlds oldest restaurant; Restaurante Botin in Madrid
  • Over 150,000 tomatoes are thrown in the La Tomatina festival each year.
  • Spain is the largest producer of Olive Oil in the world.
  • Nudity is legal in Spain: Spain is known for its nude beaches along the Mediterranean.
  • Despite its prominence and power in Europe, Spain did not participate in either the first or second world war.
  • Spaniards are known to spend approximately 16 out of every 24 hours relaxing, eating, drinking, and sleeping. There is nothing better than taking a Siesta!
  • Spain is renowned for its lively festivals, such as San Fermín (“running of the bulls”) in Pamplona.
  • Spain is the birthplace of many great artists such as Pablo Picasso, Goya, Dali, Miro, Gaudi, El Greco, and Miguel Cervantes.
  • In Spain, daycare options are minimal, and as a result, about 25% of all grandparents take care of their grandchildren every day.
  • The Sun plaza gate (Puerta del Sol) in Madrid is the physical center of the country.
  • There are fewer marriages in Spain than in any other EU country, except Sweden.
  • A Spaniard wrote the first ‘novel’: Spanish author Cervantes’ is known for his Don Quixote novel written in 1605. Don Quixote is considered to be one of the first modern and greatest novels of all time.
  • Owning a home is very important to Spanish people, and around 80% of Spanish households own a home.
  • Flamenco is not actually a dance; it’s a musical style, which at times has dancing in it.
  • The Spanish football team, the Real Madrid, is the most valuable sports team in the world.
  • Traditionally, you have two surnames in Spain: your father’s first surname and your mother’s second.
  • There is no tooth fairy in Spain but rather a tooth mouse called Ratoncito Perez.
  • The Region of Catalonia is the most prosperous region of Spain. It has been aggressively seeking independence from Spain. It maintains an autonomous government. Protests seeking independence occur often.
  • The Madrid subway is the second largest underground system in Europe and the sixth-largest system in the world.
  • Spain is the only country in Europe that produces bananas.

Spain Map

Good to know before you go

  • It is not customary to tip in Spain. It is entirely optional. You may see people leaving small change at cafés and bars and some tipping at a nice expensive restaurant. But most of the time, you won’t see anyone other than tourists leaving a tip. Leave a tip in cash; otherwise, it goes to the owner. Taxi and car services tipping is practically nonexistent. For hotels, it is not expected, but for excellent service, you can give some euros.
  • Credit cards, for the most part, are used everywhere. But in smaller towns and more rural areas, that are not always the case. We used to cash a lot more in Spain.
  • Overall, clothing is stylish and well kept. The Spanish fabrics consist of mostly cotton, wool, and fine leather. Tailors in Spain are known for paying attention to detail and craftsmanship. Footwear is high-quality leather. Women commonly wear a variety of shoes, from heels to sandals. Clothing tends to have colorful. Western brands such a Gucci, Prada, etc., are popular in Spain. The streets are old, and you will be doing a lot of walking as a tourist. Best to plan for comfortable, strong shoes and dress.
  • Driving in Spain was quite a pleasure; we had this vision of rough roads and poor signage, and that was not the case. We found both the highways and country roads fun to drive, reliable, and easy to navigate. Toll roads are common in Spain. Verify with the rental car company you have a Vignette sticker affixed to a vehicle’s front window. These are used in several countries to collect tolls. Spain is a country you want your International Drivers license in. They will ask for it if you are stopped.
  • The Spanish are not the most considerate of drivers. Many drivers show complete disregard for speed limits, and you may find some aggressive road users. Some of the police forces are notorious for over-policing the roadways and seeking out tourists. Driving in flip-flops is illegal and comes with a hefty fine. Using car horns unnecessarily while driving is considered both rude and aggressive.
  • The family is the basis of the social structure and includes both the nuclear and the extended family, which sometimes provides both a social and a financial support network. Familial ties remain a crucial aspect of Spanish society.
  • Women do not change their names when they marry.
  • The Spanish often use gestures with or in substitute for words. Flicking the teeth with the thumbnail, wiggling fingers from the nose, and grabbing the left arm with the right while making a left-handed fist are all thought to be offensive.
  • Spanish people are proud and very protective of their standing and how others perceive them. Boasting your achievements and accomplishment is frowned upon.
  • Spanish people tend to be extrovert and friendly, as is common in Mediterranean culture, and they place modesty and personality foremost to professional status or materialism.
  • Whether with family, close friends, or virtual strangers, they greet women with a kiss on each cheek in an informal situation. Men have they will often greet or say good-bye with a hug.
  • Soccer is the core sport in Spain to the level of obsession. It’s also pretty much a religion. Catch a match if you can, and you will find you people watch more than watching the game. Real Madrid is the most popular club in the world, with over 200 million supporters.
  • You can easily spot Spaniards anywhere because they are the ones that speak in the loudest voice. It is part of the Spanish character, and it is something that contributes to creating that special atmosphere.
  • Enjoying life is a big part of Spanish culture. The expression Mañana Mañana literally means “tomorrow tomorrow” but is commonly used as “no stress” or to express that there’s no need to worry because things will work out just fine.
  • Spanish culture is central to their food, which they are very passionate about. A famous saying is Barriga llena, corazón contento, which translates to “A full belly and a happy heart”!
  • The Spanish are famous for their Paella, a recipe that has its origins in Valencia on the southeastern coast. The dish is rice-based and includes a mixture of vegetables, meat, seafood, and fish. It is seasoned with saffron and various spices. It is a must-do while in Spain.
  • What is Spain without tapas, though not all regions are as well known for it. Tapas is an assortment of appetizers that may be hot or cold. A typical Tapas can involve Chorizo, Patatas bravas (pieces of potato fried in oil and served in a tomato sauce), spicy lamb meatballs, deep-fried calamari, grilled artichoke, seafood, cured meat, and aubergine. They are beautiful to the eye in many markets. Our favorite place for Tapas was Madrid, especially at the main Mercado, by far the best selection and variety. Seville and the White towns did a nice job too.
  • Table manners are important. Always keep your hands visible when eating. Keep your wrists resting on the edge of the table. Use utensils to eat most food. Even fruit is eaten with a knife and fork.
  • Restaurants in Spain are open very late, and it not uncommon to sit to dinner at 10 pm. If you are invited to dinner, it is rare to be before 9:00 pm. The Spaniards are definitely night owls. Spaniards start their workdays at 11 pm, a bit later when you are socializing till midnight, no wonder you need siestas after lunch.
  • If invited to a Spaniard’s home, never go empty-handed; commonly brought are chocolates, pastries, cakes, wine, liqueur, brandy, or flowers.
  • Smoking is still prevalent in Spain. If you are sensitive to smoke, that may be an issue in Spain. 22% of the Spanish population smoke daily.
  • In both our travels in Spain, we found it safe overall but felt we needed to be more aware of our setting than usual.

Spain Essential Info

US Consular Emergency
The 24-hour number from a US Phone 1-888-407-4747
Outside of US 011-202-501-4444

US Embassy Madrid
Calle Serrano, 75
28006 Madrid, Spain
Telephone: (34) 91-587-2200
Emergency after-hours telephone: (34) 91-587-2200 
Fax: (34) 91-587-2303
E-mail: askacs@state.gov

US Consulate General Barcelona
Paseo Reina Elisenda de Montcada, 23
08034 Barcelona, Spain
Telephone: (34) 93-280-2227
Emergency after-hours telephone: (34) 91-587-2200 
Fax: (34) 93-280-6175
E-mail: BarcelonaACS@state.gov

Emergency Numbers
GENERAL 112
Health/Ambulance Emergencies 112

Country Code
+34

Time Zone
UTC 0 – +1

Driving
Right side

Adaptors
“Standard” Euro plug
Type C or F

Tourism Office
Spain Tourism Office

When to go to Spain

The best time to visit Spain is typically in the spring (March to May) or during the fall (September to November). You will find fewer crowds, affordable lodging, and the best weather (even for hitting the beach!). The summers are very harsh in most of Spain, especially southern. If you can avoid it, we suggest it.

Spain has Mediterranean climatic conditions. It has hot (we mean HOT!), dry summers, and wet, cold winters. However, the temperature mostly varies from the north to the south of Spain. Summers are warm and humid in Spain, and the temperature often rises above 113 degrees F.

Northern Spain, known as “The Green Spain,” is best visited anytime during the spring or fall. Throughout these months, you can wander around this beautiful area and enjoy some of the magnificent local festivals with much fewer crowds, lower-priced hotels, and ideal weather conditions. The Sierra Nevada Mountains in the South is the most visited place by tourists.  

Coastal areas like San Sebastian, Costa Blanca, and Costa Brava are crowded with expensive hotel options. Late October and November are often the wettest months in the country. 

If you are in the major cities really any time of year would work. Spain celebrates a host of festivities throughout the year, and anytime in the year is good to experience their local traditions.

  • Summer 61-82 °F (16-28 °C)
  • Spring 45-77 °F (6-26 °C)
  • Fall 45-85 °F (6-29 °C)
  • Winter 40-58 °F (4-15 °C)

Our Favorite Spain Resources

This resource section contains some Amazon affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something, we may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Thank you!

Travel Books/Guides

Spain is a diverse country with regions varied and unique. Every region has its own specialties and traditions and even its own languages. It is a destination that would be hard to accomplish in just one trip. Do the East on its own, and combine the west with maybe Portugal as we did. There are wonderful resources out there for your trip planning.

Lonely Planet’s Spain (Country Guide) by Lonely Planet

A passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice, the highlights Spain has to offer, and what hidden discoveries await you. Explore the wonders of Madrid, Seville, Barcelona, the White Towns of Andalucia, or the incredible islands of Spain. Great photography and lots of details to aid in planning. Discover this travel guide here

Rick Steves Spain (Country Guide) by Rick Steves

Full disclosure, we are huge Rick Steve’s fans; it will be rare not to recommend one of his wonderful guides; Spain was no exception. We love his travel style and perspective. His off-the-beaten-path approach, together with his independent travel philosophy, matches well with how we travel. The guides never disappoint. This book made it into our suitcase and was a fantastic resource. Find this must-have guide here

DK Eyewitness Spain (Travel Guide) by DK Eyewitness

The ideal travel companion, full of insider advice on what to see and do, plus detailed itineraries and comprehensive maps for exploring this ancient country. Everything you need to know is clearly laid out within color-coded chapters. Discover the best of Spain in this beautifully illustrated guide. Find this guide here

Our favorite websites

1. Spain tourism site

2. US Department of State: Bureau of Consular Affairs Spain Country Info

We cannot encourage you enough to visit this website as you plan and prepare for your trip. This is the US Federal Government addressing the safety, security, travel risk, entry, exit, visa documents mandates, emergency US and Embassy contacts, health, local laws, special circumstances, threats, traveler vulnerabilities, government warnings, and transportation in Spain. This is your best and most reliable resource for all this important info. Check back often before you go, as things can change quickly. Being prepared is essential in all travel, but especially internationally.

Spain International Travel Information (state.gov)

3. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Travelers Health Resource

This CDC travel resource provides essential health info for your specific destination. Using their tool. you can determine which vaccines, medications, and health advice recommendations are needed for Australia.

CDC’s Travelers Health Page for Spain

Our favorite maps

Spain Portugal National Geographic Adventure Map 3307

Easy to read the map with practical road and travel information. These maps are meant for the adventure traveler. Major sites and landmarks are well marked. Mapped road network with distances and designations for major highways to the off-the-beaten-path roads. Waterproof and tear resisted it holds up well. Great for planning your route before your trip. Though we default to Google maps, this came in handy when service was poor or during construction detours. Find this essential map here

Our favorite apps

Rome2rio: Trip Planner Trip and Holiday Organizer Enter any address, landmark, or city; the app will instantly display all your travel options, booking info, along with accommodation providers and things to do. Find on your local app store.

Rick Steves Audio Europe This app includes a vast library of Rick Steve’s audio content. Get cultural and travel info. Includes self-guided tours of top attractions and historic walks. A must-have. Find on your local app store.

Duolingo-Language Lesson Audio lessons that help improve your listening and speaking skills. Find on your local app store.

iTranslate Translator Translate app with dictionary Easily translate text, websites and start a voice to voice conversations. Find at your app store.

Google Translate We used this often to practice proper pronunciations of Spanish words. As we always encourage, it is essential to learn the basics to greet and thank people in the local language. Google translate was an easy app to use. If needed, you can enter text in English, and it will speak back in Spanish to aid in communicating with locals. Furthermore, it came in very handy to translate text into images instantly.

Do you have a favorite Spain travel resource? Share your favorites in the comments section at the bottom of this page or

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