Spain is one of my favourite countries and one which I keep returning to. Why visit Spain? Is a list which includes sunshine, glorious beaches, diverse landscape, exquisite architecture, vibrant culture, great roads and great food a good enough reason? Let this Spain travel tips post help you discover the magic which has been drawing me back again and again.
Visa: Spain is a member of the EU and is part of the Schengen Agreement bloc which allows for free movement for a period of no more than 90 days in a 180 day period between Schengen member countries with a Schengen visa. Not all EU countries are members of Schengen. Citizens of a number of countries including the USA, Canada and Brazil can visit Spain for up to 90 days without a visa.
For further information on the Schengen visa process have a look at the European Commission’s website.
Language: A rich diversity of languages exist in Spain. Castilian Spanish is spoken widely as either a first or second language. A number of regional languages include Catalan, Valencian, Basque and Galician. These regions can have two names for the same place. For example, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera are the Balearic Islands written in Castilian Spanish. Majorca, Minorca, Evissa and Furmentera are the local dialect versions of these places.
English is not widely spoken outside of the main beach resorts although the level of fluency amongst hospitality workers in Madrid is good. Here’s a list of basic Castilian Spanish vocabulary:
Currency: Euro. Spain’s Canary Islands are treated as non-EU with regard to taxes and customs duties.
Spain’s regions: Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, amongst them Andalusia, Basque Country and Catalonia. Spain has two island groups – the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the west coast of Africa.
Melilla and Ceuta are Spanish autonomous cities sharing a land border with Morocco in North Africa. Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located on the south coast of Spain.
Spain’s interior is mountainous and is divided from France by the Pyrenees. Its southern border with Portugal is relatively flat.
Best time to visit Spain: Anytime! The winter months in Spain are populated with climate refugees, usually the retired or wealthy who leave northern Europe for the sunnier climes of southern Spain and the Canary Islands. Spain has one of the healthiest climates I’ve experienced although the inland cities hit melting point during July and August.
Northern parts (e.g. Barcelona) can be surprisingly cold in the winter as can inland cities such as Madrid at night. Beaches and their surrounding areas are busy during school holidays, namely Easter, July and August.
Electrical plugs in Spain: The standard continental European type which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V.
Food in Spain: Italy and France get all the praise but Spain’s cuisine is one of the world’s most underrated. Spain’s dishes are influenced by the fresh produce of the regions combined with its Muslim and colonial past. Fish inevitably takes centre stage on the coasts while meat is popular inland.
Spain is one of the world’s most prolific fruit and vegetable producers so fresh produce is guaranteed. In fact, you can smell the individual fruit and vegetables before you see them!
Breakfast (El desayuno) is light and always consists of coffee, preferably café con leche (coffee with milk) with either bread or a pastry. Sometimes eggs, cheese, fruit juice and yogurt are available.
Lunch (La comida) tends to be the main meal of the day outside of the tourist areas. The menu will depend on the region but will always consist of salad or vegetables and bread. Actually, you can take it as guaranteed that bread of some description will be served at all meals. The savoury part of the meal will be followed by dessert and coffee.
In the tourist areas lunch will be a much lighter meal than dinner reflecting northern European preferences. Bocadillos (sandwiches) will be available during this time.
Dinner (La cena) is usually served late (8pm onwards) and will be a lighter affair than lunch. Tapas or pintxos in the Basque region (snacks served in bars) and churros con chocolate (an addictive doughnut-like pastry dipped in chocolate) bridge the gap between lunch and dinner.
Spain has an abundance of home-grown wines such as Rioja (the best known), cava sparkling wine from Catalonia and a selection of liqueurs such as Mesclat, Hierbas and Crema d’Ametla.
Getting around Spain: Incredibly, the only public transport I’ve used in Spain are airport buses and the metro systems of Madrid and Barcelona! All were safe and efficient.
I’m a better judge of Spain’s roads having rented a car every time I’ve visited – the best beaches are not served by public transport. The motorway and main road infrastructure is excellent. The challenge on secondary roads is the country’s mountainous terrain best illustrated in my Majorca post.
RENFE is Spain’s national railway company and comes recommended by friends and acquaintances.
Bus services in Spain are operated by numerous companies and the GoEuro website is a good guide to these services.
Here is a list of useful Spanish transportation vocabulary:
As for arriving in Spain, the country is well-connected to other European countries given the number of repeat visitors to the coastal areas. Madrid-Barajas is the busiest airport and tends to be the gateway to Europe for visitors from Central and South America. The next busiest airports serve the traditional Mediterranean destinations of Barcelona, Palma, Malaga and Alicante.
The Arts in Spain: Spain has a rich artistic heritage. Velázquez, Goya, Picasso, Miro and Dali are its well-known artists. Madrid has three of the best art galleries in the world: Museo del Prado, Museo Reina Sofia (which houses Guernica) and the extraordinary private collection of Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza. Architect Antoni Gaudí left his unmistakeable mark in Barcelona evidenced in Casa Batlló, Güell Park and in the unfinished Sagrada Família cathedral.
As for literature, Miguel Cervantes is credited as the father of the modern novel and his work Don Quixote is a classic. Javier Cercas, Carlos Ruiz Zafrón and Enrique Vila-Matas are just some of the contemporary Spanish authors whose works are read world-wide.
Your ears are in for a treat in Spain. Each region has its own take on traditional Spanish music. Plácido Domingo, Jóse Carreras, Montserrat Caballé are world famous opera performers. Father and son Julio and Enrique Iglesias have successfully crossed over into the contemporary English language pop scene.
The Spanish film scene is in rude health thanks to directors Pedro Almodóvar and Alejandro Amenábar, and actors Penélope Cruz, Javier Bardem and Antonio Banderas, to name but a few.
Is Spain safe to visit: I’ve never had any problems travelling as a solo female in Spain although I’ve noticed that beaches after 6pm become pick-up joints so depart before that time if expressions of interest are not in your plans. Expect alcohol-fulled rowdiness at resorts popular with Irish and British tourists (Benidorm, Torremolinos, Santa Ponsa, Magaluf, Tossa de Mar).
An internet search for the FC Barcelona museum ended as a Copa del Rey match ticket. Step inside Camp Nou, Europe’s largest stadium, for A Night with FC Barcelona.
The Costa de la Luz (Coast of Light) is the name given to Andalucia’s Atlantic coast. As Spain’s hidden gem it contains some of the best beaches of the Iberian peninsula.
Majorca’s Cap de Formentor Drive is one of the most scenic drives in Europe. Sometimes beautiful things are a little crazy…and the Cap de Formentor Drive is no exception!
SPAIN TRAVEL TIPS: BOOKS & RESOURCES
Lonely Planet’s Spain guide and the DK Eyewitness guide to Spain are excellent for giving a general overview. But given Spain’s size it’s best to invest in regional guides for more specific advice.