Capital Madrid
Currency Euro (€)
Population 47,100,000 (January 2013 est)
Electricity 230V/50Hz (European plug)
Country code +34
Time zone UTC + 1 (CET)

Spain (Spanish: España) is a diverse country that shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. It has the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites after Italy and the largest number of World Heritage Cities.

Spain is famous for its friendly inhabitants, relaxed lifestyle, its cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivities. Among many places worth visiting are Spain's thriving capital Madrid, the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona, the lively third Spanish city Valencia, the famous "Running of the Bulls" at Pamplona, major Andalusian cities with Islamic architecture, like Seville, Granada and Córdoba, the Way of St. James to Galicia and the idyllic Balearic and Canary Islands.


Spain is a diverse country with contrasting regions that have different languages and unique historical, political and cultural traditions. Because of this, Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities (comunidades autónomas), plus two autonomous cities. Some of the autonomous communities — notably the ones which have other official languages alongside Spanish — have been recognised as "historical nationalities" that have a unique historical identity. These include the Basque Country, Catalonia, Galicia, the Valencian region, Andalusia and the Balearic Islands, but more recently also include Aragon and the Canary Islands.

Spain's many regions can be grouped as follows:


Spain has hundreds of interesting cities. Here are nine of the most popular:

Four Towers Business Area Madrid
Agbar Tower in Barcelona

Other destinations


With great beaches, mountains, campsites, ski resorts, superb weather, varied and fun nightlife, many cultural regions and historic cities, it is no wonder that Spain is the most popular tourist destination in Europe for any kind of trip. A country of large geographic and cultural diversity, Spain may come as a surprise to those who only know of its reputation for great beach holidays and almost endless sunshine. There is everything from lush meadows and snowy mountains to huge marshes and deserts in the south east. While summer is the peak season, those who wish to avoid the crowds should consider visiting in the winter as not only is it normally mild and sunny, attractions such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada and La Gran Mezquita in Cordoba will not be overcrowded. However the ski resorts of Sierra Nevada do get very crowded. The Mediterranean climate that predominates in Southern and Central Spain is noted for its dry summers and (somewhat) wet(ter) winters, so visiting in the winter or spring brings the added benefit of the vegetation looking much more healthy. Northern Spain (e.g. Asturia) on the other hand gets quite a bit of rain year round and is ripe with lush green vegetation even in August.


Interestingly enough some of the earliest known remains of Homo of any kind in Europe have been found in Spain. Spain is also thought to have been the last refuge of the Neanderthals as well as one of the few places that were inhabitable and inhabited throughout the ice ages.

Early Spain and Roman Era

The earliest inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula we have any profound knowledge of were Iberians, Celts (related to the Gaulish, Britannic and Central European Celts in language and culture) and Basques. As most of these groups had little to no written records we only know of them due to the descriptions of the Greek, Punic and later Roman settlers and conquerors, who colonized Spain from the South starting in the 3rd century BC. Roman culture lasted on the peninsula for roughly half a millennium, when in the age of migrations the Visigoths conquered the Roman province of Hispania.

Visigoth Spain

Interestingly enough most inhabitants of the area kept speaking Latin or rather Latin-derived languages/dialects and only a handful of Germanic words entered the Spanish language ("ganso" being the most commonplace). Soon after their conquest, the Visigoths formed a number of rival "kingdoms" and petty noble states in almost constant in ever-shifting shaky alliances with or against one another, giving rise to constant wars.

Muslim conquest and "al-Andalus"

Alhambra and the city of Granada

In 711 one Visigoth ruler apparently called for the Umayyad Muslims to "help" in his fight against some rival or other. (The historical records for this era in Spain are rather bad and there are for example no contemporary Muslim sources whatsoever.) This proved more successful than he could have imagined, and by the end of the 8th century most of the peninsula was in Muslim hands. While the almost eight hundred years of both Christian and Muslim rulers on the Iberian peninsula was by no means peaceful, the modern narrative of a somehow concerted effort to "regain" the "lost lands" for Christendom was never the first, second or any priority for the majority of the Christian rulers. As a matter of fact, many times Christian rulers entered into alliances with Muslim rulers against other Christian rulers and vice versa. While the situation for Muslims in Christian lands and vice versa and Jews in either depended very much on the mood of the ruler and could lie anywhere on a range from benevolent ignorance to murder and expulsion, religious minorities had it a lot better in Spain than in most of the rest of Europe at that time. In fact the Sephardi Jews (named after the Hebrew word for Spain) were at that time not only one of the most important groups inside Spain in terms of science and education, but also dominant among the Jewish people, worldwide. During that time an estimated 90% of Jews were Sephardi. In the 19th century, on the other hand roughly 90% of Jews were Ashkenazim (German and Eastern European, Yiddish speaking). However, this period ended when through conquest and marriage the kingdoms of Castille and Aragon as well as a couple of other, minor, Christian lands were united and their rulers started a war of conquest against the Muslim rulers.

Some of the most glorious historical attractions in Spain date from the period of Muslim rule, including the The Mezquita, built as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Medina Azahara, also in Córdoba and now in ruins but still visitable as such and built as the Madinat al-Zahra, the Palace of al-Andalus; and the Alhambra in Granada, a splendid, intact palace. There are also two synagogues still standing that were built during the era of Muslim Spain: Santa María la Blanca in Toledo and the Synagogue of Córdoba, in the Old City.

Reconquista and Imperial era

This so called "reconquista" was completed in 1492 with the fall of Granada, and all Jews were forced to leave Spain or convert that year; by 1526, all Spanish Muslims had suffered the same fate. 1492 also marks the point when Spain started to become the world's strongest Empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa, and the Philippines (named after Spanish king Felipe). The "new Christians" as they were called were often not sincere in their (forced) conversions (go figure) and to ensure religious "purity", the famous/notorious Spanish inquisition was set up. Genetic studies made in modern times suggest that a large percentage of modern Spaniards have at least partial Jewish and/or Muslim ancestry, which might surprise some, as the concept of being a "true Christian" (rather than a "converso") soon began to get hereditary overtones, with the expulsion of all the descendants of forced converts from Islam in 1609.

Under the House of Habsburg, Spain became a personal union with the Austrian Empire, and reached its height of power in Europe during the 16th and early 17th centuries, controlling much of Benelux and Italy. Spain was weakened as the House of Habsburg lost the Thirty Years' War in 1648.

The colonization of Central and South America as well as Mexico was particularly profound, with the deaths of millions of native people through disease, war and outright murder as the Spanish sought riches in these 'undiscovered' lands. Today many of the countries in this area are defined by Hispanic language and culture (Spanish is today the world's second most spoken native language after Mandarin and before English). The 19th century saw independence movements fight back against the kingdom of Spain, with leaders such as Simón Bolívar or Augustín de Iturbide successfully creating new independent nations throughout Latin America. By 1898 Spain lost the majority of its remaining territories during the Spanish-American War: it lost Cuba and then sold Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam to the United States. The war of 1898 was a huge shock to Spanish culture and shattered Spain's self-image of a first-rate power, and it thus inspired a whole literary movement known as the generation of '98.

The 20th century

Spain experienced a devastating civil war between 1936 and 1939 that killed half a million Spaniards and ushered in more than 30 years of dictatorship under General Franco. The civil war originated from a mostly failed coup in Spanish North Africa (today part of Morocco) against Spain's left wing popular front regime (a popular front was in those days a regime including communist/socialist parties as well as liberal, Christian Democrat or even conservative parties and originated in France as a response to fascism). Initially, The fascist side was not led by Franco, but a number of other generals; however, the other leaders soon died in plane crashes or were otherwise pushed to the side. Although the League of Nations (a precursor of today's United Nations) attempted to make intervention impossible, Mussolini's Italy and Nazi Germany gleefully ignored this by aiding the nationalist (Franco) side and the Soviet Union and to some extent Mexico provided aid to the Republican (popular front) side. Another thing the Republican side tried to do to help win the war was to call for volunteers in the so-called "international brigades", and around 20,000 Brits, Americans, Frenchmen and even Germans did in fact join the fight on their side. However, the Republican side was plagued by lack of weapons and ammunition (some of their rifles were produced in the 19th century) as well as infighting between communists and anarchists and Stalinist purges ordered by the super-paranoid "supporters" of Republican Spain in Moscow. As many people of that generation fought in the Spanish Civil War (including George Orwell, Earnest Hemingway and later German chancellor Willy Brandt) there is a lot of well written literature (and some films) that while not always historically accurate manages to perfectly capture the spirit of vain idealism that made many of the interbrigadistas go to Spain in the first place. After the war was won for Franco through superior fire-power as well as military aid by the Nazis (such as the war-crime of bombing Guernica), Franco managed to unify the not at all homogeneous nationalist forces behind his less-than-charismatic leadership and hold onto power through the Second World War (in which he stayed neutral) until his death, upon which he was to be succeeded by King Juan Carlos. The Spanish Civil War is still in some sense an open wound as it was hardly ever talked about during the days of Franco's regime and to this day Conservatives and Catholics (the Republicans were pretty anti-clerical) are sometimes apologetic toward Franco and the "necessity" of the war. Franco's legacy was that the historically important regional identities and languages (such as Catalan and Basque) were brutally suppressed and a policy of strong national identity under the Spanish/Castillian language was promoted. While violent groups such as ETA (see below) were active even during Franco's time, there was hardly any organized opposition, either violent or peaceful, for most of Franco's reign. Additionally, Franco oversaw Spain's rapid economic expansion with its industrialization in the 1960's. Spain also entered NATO (though not the EU or any of its predecessors) while still governed by Franco. Spain's messy divorce (to say the least) from its African colonies that happened in the latter days of Franco's life is also one of the reasons for the conflict in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.

With the peaceful transition to democracy in 1978 the restrictions on regional identity were lifted, with autonomy granted to many regions. The nature of the transition meant that there was little justice for those who had suffered under the Franco dictatorship and divisions still remain. Shortly after King Juan Carlos - to the surprise of many - insisted on the country becoming a parliamentary democracy with a figurehead king as nominal head of state, a number of right wing generals in what is now known as 23F tried to overthrow the democratic transition on 23 February 1981. The coup failed mostly due to lack of popular support and because the king - in his capacity of commander in chief - appeared on television in full uniform to order the soldiers back into their barracks, thus throwing his lot in with democracy.

The Basque country in Spain's north that had begun violent resistance in 1959 against Franco continued its campaign of bombings and assassinations into the democratic era with the terrorist ETA (Euskadi ta Askatasuna; Basque for Basque country and freedom) group, despite the region having been provided with a high degree of autonomy. The group declared a ceasefire in 2011 and the armed struggle appears over for the time being. Even in the "democratic" 1980s, (under longtime Prime minister Felipe Gonzálaez [PSOE 1982-1996]) the Spanish government responded with methods that are now known to have included "death squadrons" to combat terrorism.

Uncertain times in the third millennium

The 2000's saw more economic expansion as well as a housing price boom that subsequently collapsed, leaving Spain with high unemployment and economic difficulties. As a member of U.S. President G.W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" in the "war on terror", Spain was hit by a terrorist attack on a couple of suburban trains in Madrid on 11 March 2004 (now known in Spain as 11M) just a few days before a general election. Prime minister Aznar's (Popular Party, conservative) insistence, that the perpetrators were Basque terrorists whom the social democratic oppositional PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español) wanted to negotiate with led to an upset win for Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of the center-left PSOE. His government, however broke down in late 2011 as an early result of the economic crisis that hit Spain particularly hard. Currently Spain is led by a rather unpopular conservative government under Mariano Rajoy, who is almost guaranteed to lose the next elections some time 2015, as not only has the PSOE gotten back up from its worst poll numbers, but there has also emerged a new (center-)left party of the name "Podemos" (we can) that appears to be threatening the classical Spanish two-party system on the national level and has in some polls even pulled ahead of both PP and PSOE. The economically important Catalan region is also increasing in its demands for independence from Spain.


Spain holds a historical attachment to its neighbors within the Iberian Peninsula, Andorra and Portugal, to its former colonies, to former citizens and their descendants, and to a special category of former citizens, namely Sephardic Jews.

The population of Spain is growing in large part due to migration by people from relatively poor or politically unstable areas of Latin America, such as Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador or Peru; other parts of Europe, especially Eastern Europe; and Africa and Asia, particularly areas that have a historical or linguistic attachment to Spain. There is also an important segment of immigration that consists mainly of retired people, and people running businesses for them and foreign tourists, coming from wealthier European Union countries such as the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Benelux and the Nordic countries, established all along the Mediterranean shore, especially in the Costa Blanca (Alicante), Costa del Sol (Málaga) and the Balearic Islands.

Internally there have always been migrations from poorer rural areas (such as Andalusia) to the cities and to jobs in construction and tourism. Due to the economic crisis of the 2000s and 2010s, youth unemployment has risen to unbearable levels in the 50% range and quite a number of young people have semi-permanently fled the country to other European Union countries such as Germany to study, work or do internships either until things get better in Spain or forever.

Get in

Entry requirements

Minimum validity of travel documents

  • EU, EEA and Swiss citizens need only produce a passport or national identity card that is valid on the date of entry.
  • Other nationals must produce a passport that is valid for the entirety of their stay in Spain.
  • More information about the minimum validity of travel documents is on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain.

Spain is a member of the Schengen Agreement.

There are no border controls between countries that have signed and implemented the treaty – the European Union (except Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom), Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Likewise, a visa granted for any Schengen member is valid in all other countries that have signed and implemented the treaty. Please see article Travelling around the Schengen Area for more information on how the scheme works and what the requirements are for your nationality.

In autumn 2015 an exceptional number of refugees entering the European Union has prompted some countries to reinstitute border controls within the Schengen area and traffic by some border crossings is much less smooth than normally. Delays may occur in particular in the south-east of the European Union.

EU, EEA and Swiss nationals who enter Spain on a national identity card, who are under 18 years old and travelling without their parents are required to have written parental consent. For more information, visit this webpage of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation of Spain.

Citizens of Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Mauritius, Saint Kitts and Nevis and Seychelles are permitted to work in Spain without the need to obtain a visa or any further authorization for the period of their 90 day visa-free stay. However, this ability to work visa-free does not necessarily extend to other Schengen countries.

When entering by air from a non-Schengen country, you will be expected to fill out a brief form which includes an address in Spain, such as a hotel or hostel. This does not appear to be stringently checked, but you will not be allowed in unless an address has been entered.

A stay of longer than 90 days for non-EEA or Swiss citizens almost invariably requires an advance visa. If one stays for longer than 6 months, a residence permit (Titulo de Residencia) must be obtained within the first 30 days of entering Spain.

There are a number of ways to get into Spain. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride is feasible; from a number of Mediterranean countries more or less regular ferry connections are available; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.

By plane

Control tower of Madrid-Barajas

Spain's national carrier is Iberia, although there are many airlines connecting from most European countries, Africa, the Americas and Asia. Virtually all European low cost carriers provide frequent services to Spain including: Monarch, Thomson, Vueling, EasyJet, Ryanair, and

The busiest airports are Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca and Malaga, followed by Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante, Santiago de Compostela, Vigo, Gran Canaria and the 2 airports in Tenerife. All are listed on the official airport governing body website

Madrid, Barcelona and Bilbao have the most beautiful airports, designed by famous architects.

Warning: If you buy an e-ticket from Iberia over the internet with a credit card, you may have to show the original credit card upon check-in. If you fail to do so, you will have to purchase another ticket for the same fare, and the original ticket will be refunded many weeks or even months later.

By train

see also rail travel in Europe

AVE in Spain (Spanish High Speed)

The train system in Spain is modern and reliable, most of the trains are brand new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe, the only problem is that not all the populated areas have a train station; sometimes small towns don't have one, in those cases you need to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish Rail network is that the lines are disposed in a radial way so almost all the lines head to Madrid. That's why sometimes traveling from one city to another geographically close to it might take longer by train than by bus if they are not in the same line. Always check whether the bus or the train is more convenient. That being said the Spanish high speed rail system is more reliable than that of - say - Germany, because the gauge of traditional and high speed trains is different and thus high speed lines are only used by high speed passenger trains meaning fewer delays due to congested lines or technical problems. All lines that cross the border into France have either a break of gauge (thus making changing train or a lengthy gauge change necessary) or are high speed, thus making the high speed trains the vastly preferable option to cross the border.

By bus

Bus travel in Spain is increasingly an attractive option for people traveling on a tight budget.

There are lots of private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities. If you want to travel around Spain by bus, the best idea is to go to your local bus station (apart from Madrid and Barcelona, most towns and cities have just one) and see what is available.

Traveling by bus in Spain is usually reliable (except on peak days when roads can be very crowded and you should expect long delays on popular routes), coaches are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay about €8 per 100km.

By boat

From the UK, Brittany Ferries offers services from Portsmouth and Plymouth to Santander and from Portsmouth to Bilbao. The journey time from Portsmouth to Santander is approximately 12 hours.

Ferry services were once run by P&O from Portsmouth to Bilbao and from Plymouth and Southampton to Santander. However, P&O no longer operates these routes.

As well as the UK, Spain is also well connected by Ferry to Northern Africa (particularly Tunisia and Morocco) and the Canary Islands which are owned by Spain. Routes are also naturally available to the Spanish Balearic islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera.

Another popular route is from Barcelona to Genoa.

Get around

By train

By bus

The easiest way to get around most parts of Spain is by bus. Most major routes are point to point, and very high frequency. There is a different operator for each route, but usually just one operator per route. At the bus station, each operator has its own ticket. The staff at any of them is usually happy to tell you who operates which route, however.

By boat

Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy gorgeous scenery and distance yourself from the inevitable crowds of tourists that flock to these destinations. May is a particularly pleasant time to charter in the regions of Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands as the weather is good and the crowds have yet to descend. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and tend to have lighter winds. There is no low season for the Canary Islands, as the weather resembles springtime all year round. If you would like to bareboat anywhere in Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard License is the only acceptable certification needed by Americans to bareboat. For everyone else, a RYA Yacht Master Certification or International Certificate of Competence will normally do. Although a skipper may be required, a hostess/chef may or may not be necessary. Dining out is strong part of Spanish custom and tradition. If you are planning on docking in a port and exploring fabulous bars and restaurants a hostess/cook may just be useful for serving drinks and making beds. Extra crew can take up valuable room on a tight ship.

By car

In major cities like Madrid or Barcelona and in mid-sized ones like San Sebastian, moving around by car is both expensive and nerve-wracking. Fines for improper parking are uncompromising (€85 and up).

Spanish network of motorways

Having a driving map is essential - many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable).

Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities. It also doesn't hurt that the scenery is beautiful and well worth a drive. However do consider that gas prices have gone up considerably in the last couple of year and taxes on gasoline are considerably higher than in - say - the USA. With a good public transport network that connects to (almost) all points of interest for travelers, you might ask yourself whether driving is really worth the cost and the hassle, as you are often much faster by train than by car.

There are two types of highway in Spain: autopistas, or motorways, and autovías, which are more akin to expressways. Most autopistas are toll roads while autovías are generally free of charge. Speed limits range from 50 km/h in towns to 90 km/h on rural roads, 100 km/h on roads and 120 km/h on autopistas and autovías.

Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one--so you can both choose any turn and to start driving in an opposite direction there.

Green light for cars about to turn is frequently on at the same time as green light for pedestrians: every time you turn, check if the pedestrians pass you cross doesn't also have green light for them.

Filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill the tank yourself, and then pay inside the shop. Gasoline is relatively inexpensive compared to other countries in the EU and Japan, but still more expensive than in the U.S.

By thumb

Spain isn't a good country for hitchhiking. Sometimes you can wait many hours. Try to speak with people at gas stations, parking lots etc. They are scared and suspicious, but when you make them feel that they don't need to be afraid, they gladly accept you and mostly also show their generosity. In the South of Spain, in and around the Alpujarras, hitchhiking is very common and it is also very easy to get a ride. As long as you can speak a bit of Spanish and don't look too dirty/frightening, you should be able to get a ride moderately easily.

Renting a car

If you plan to move around large cities or explore further afield you will find many companies that offer car hire at affordable prices because of the high competition between car rental agencies, consider renting a car with GPS navigation--it will be even easier to drive than having an automobile map.

Spanish drivers can be unpredictable and some of the roads on the Southern area of Malaga and the Costa Del Sol are notoriously dangerous. Other drivers are not always careful parking near other cars, especially when parking space on a street is limited. Therefore you should consider a fully comprehensive insurance package with includes a collision damage waiver (CDW) and a vehicle theft waiver, as well as liability cover. Many of the car hire companies offer an insurance option where you can choose to reduce your vehicle excess. This means that if you are in an accident you would not be financially liable for the whole excess fee. Check your travel insurance and other insurance to ensure you aren't paying twice for the same coverage.

Child seats are also available with all vehicles so that any children in your party can travel safely and in comfort.

Air conditioning is a must in the hot Spanish summer months. Nevertheless you should make sure to take water with you at all times.

If you break down while on holiday you will want a car hire company that gives you the free roadside assistance of trained mechanics. Cars often overheat in Spain while the tires are vulnerable on the hot roads.

Car hire companies may accept payment in foreign currency when you pay by a credit card. Beware the normal costs associated with dynamic currency conversion

By bicycle

Spain is a suitable country for cycling, and it is possible to see many cyclists in some of the cities. Cycling lanes are available in most of mid-sized and large cities, although they are not comparable in number to what you can find in other countries in central Europe, for example. It must be taken into account that depending on where you are in Spain, you could face a very mountainous area. Central Spain is characterized by being very flat, but towards the coast the landscape is often very hilly, especially in the north. There are several options for touring in Spain by bicycle: guided or supported tours, rent bicycles in Spain or bring your own bike, or any combination. Supported tours are ubiquitous on the web. For unsupported tours a little Spanish helps a lot. Shoulder seasons avoid extremes of temperature and ensure hotel availability in non-tourist areas. Good hotels are 35 to 45 euros in the interior, breakfast usually included. Menu del dia meals are 8 to 10 euros eating where the locals eat. Secondary roads are usually well paved, good shoulders and as a rule Spanish drivers are careful and courteous around touring cyclists. Road signs are usually very good and easy to follow.

Bike rental station in Valencia

Currently, most municipalities in Spain, towns and cities are modernizing their streets to introduce special lanes for bicycles. Bike share systems with usually quite reasonable prices are also being installed in cities throughout the country.

By taxi

All the major cities in Spain are served by taxis, which are a convenient, if somewhat expensive way to get around. That being said, taxis in Spain are more reasonably priced than those in say, the United Kingdom or Japan. Most taxi drivers do not speak English or any other foreign languages, so it would be necessary to have the names and/or addresses of your destinations written in Spanish to show your taxi driver. Likewise, get your hotel's business card to show your taxi driver in case you get lost.


See also: Spanish phrasebook

I'm so pregnant

Many English words have their origins in Latin, which makes it easy for English speakers to guess the meanings of many Spanish words. However, Spanish and English also have a number of false friends that one needs to be aware of to avoid embarrassing mistakes.
-embarazada - pregnant; not embarrassed
-suburbio - slum; not suburb
-preservativo - condom; not preservative
-bizarro - brave; not bizarre

The official and universal language used in Spain is Spanish (español) which is a member of the Romance family of languages (others include Portuguese, Catalan, Italian, French, and Romanian). Many people, especially outside Castille, prefer to call it Castilian (castellano).

However there are a number of languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, etc.) spoken in various parts of Spain. Some of these languages are dominant in their respective regions, and, following their legalisation in the 1978 constitution and they are co-official with Castilian in their respective areas. Of these, Catalan, Basque and Galician are recognised as official languages according to the Spanish constitution. Apart from Basque (whose origins are still debated), the languages of the Iberian Peninsula are part of the Romance family and are fairly easy to pick up if you know Castilian well. While locals in those areas can also speak Spanish, learning a few words in the local languages where you are traveling will help endear you to the locals.

In addition to the native languages, English and French are commonly studied in school. English is in general the more widely spoken of the two, though proficiency among the general population tends to be poor.

That being said, most people in Spain's important tourist industry usually have staff members who speak a good level of English, and particularly in popular beach resorts such as those in the Costa del Sol, you will find people who are fluent in several languages. English is also generally more widely spoken in Barcelona than in the rest of the country. As Portuguese and Italian are closely related to Spanish, if you speak either of these languages, locals would be able to puzzle you out with some difficulty.

Castilian Spanish differs from the Latin American varieties in pronunciation and other details. However, all Latin American varieties are easily understood by Spaniards, and are recognised as different versions of Spanish by the Royal Academy of Madrid, the barometer for all things Spanish language. While some Spaniards believe theirs is the more 'pure' version of Spanish, most Spaniards recognise the reality that there is no 'pure' Spanish, even within their own country. While the differences in spelling are virtually non-existent the differences in words and pronunciation (as well as some aspects of grammar) between "Spanish-Spanish" and "Latin-Spanish" are arguably bigger than those between "American" and "British" English.

French is the most widely understood foreign language in the northeast of Spain, like Alquezar and Cap de Creus, as most travellers there come from France.

Locals will appreciate any attempts you make to speak their language. For example, know at least the Castilian for "good morning" (buenos días) and "thank you" (gracias).


The most popular beaches are the ones in the Mediterranean coasts and the Canary Islands. Meanwhile, for hiking, the mountains of Sierra Nevada in the south, the Central Cordillera and the northern Pyrenees are the best places.

Historic cities

Mezquita in Córdoba
Segovia aqueduct

Historically, Spain has been an important crossroads: between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, between North Africa and Europe, and as Europe beginning colonizing the New World, between Europe and the Americas. As such, the country is blessed with a fantastic collection of historical landmarks - in fact, it has the 2nd largest number of UNESCO Heritage Sites and the largest number of World Heritage Cities of any nation in the world.

In the south of Spain, Andalusia holds many reminders of old Spain. Cadiz is regarded as one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in western Europe, with remnants of the Roman settlement that once stood here. Nearby, Ronda is a beautiful town situated atop steep cliffs and noted for its gorge-spanning bridge and the oldest bullring in Spain. Cordoba and Granada hold the most spectacular reminders of the nation's Muslim past, with the red-and-white striped arches of the Mezquita in Cordoba and the stunning Alhambra palace perched on a hill above Granada. Seville, the cultural center of Andalusia, has a dazzling collection of sights built when the city was the main port for goods from the Americas, the grandest of which being the city's cathedral, the largest in the country.

Moving north across the plains of La Mancha into Central Spain, picturesque Toledo stands as perhaps the historical center of the nation, a beautiful medieval city sitting atop a hill that once served as the capital of Spain before Madrid was built. North of Madrid and an easy day-trip from the capital city is El Escorial, once the center of the Spanish empire during the time of the Inquisition, and Segovia, noted for its spectacular Roman aqueduct which spans one of the city's squares.

Further north in Castile-Leon is Salamanca, known for its famous university and abundance of historic architecture. Galicia in northwestern Spain is home to Santiago de Compostela, the end point of the old Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) pilgrimage route and the supposed burial place of St. James, with perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in all of Spain at the heart of its lovely old town. Northeastern Spain has a couple of historical centers to note: Zaragoza, with Roman, Muslim, medieval and Renaissance buildings from throughout its two thousand years of history, and Barcelona with its pseudo-medieval Barri Gòtic neighborhood.

Art museums

L'Hemisfèric, in The City of Arts and Sciences (Spanish: Ciudad de Las Artes y Las Ciencias) (Valencia)

Spain has played a key role in Western art, heavily influenced by French and Italian artists but very distinct in its own regard, owing to the nation's history of Muslim influence, Counter-Reformation climate and, later, the hardships from the decline of the Spanish empire, giving rise to such noted artists like El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. In the last century, Spain's unique position in Europe brought forth some of the leading artists of the Modernist and Surrealist movements, most notably the famed Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

Guggenheim Museum with Salve Bridge in the foreground (Bilbao)

Today, Spain's two largest cities hold the lion's share of Spain's most famous artworks. Madrid's Museum Triangle is home to the Museo del Prado, the largest art museum in Spain with many of the most famous works by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya as well as some notable works by Italian, Flemish, Dutch and German masters. Nearby sits the Reina Sofía, most notable for holding Picasso's Guernica but also containing a number of works by Dalí and other Modernist, Surrealist and abstract painters.

Barcelona is renowned for its stunning collection of modern and contemporary art and architecture. This is where you will find the Picasso Museum, which covers the artist's early career quite well, and the architectural wonders of Antoni Gaudi, with their twisting organic forms that are a delight to look at.

Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, the art museums quickly dwindle in size and importance, although there are a couple of worthy mentions that should not be overlooked . Many of El Greco's most famous works lie in Toledo, an easy day trip from Madrid. The Disrobing of Christ, perhaps El Greco's most famous work, sits in the Cathedral, but you can also find work by him in one of the small art museums around town. Bilbao in the Basque Country of northern Spain is home to a spectacular Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry that has put the city on the map. A day trip from Barcelona is the town of Figueres, noted for the Salvador Dalí Museum, designed by the Surrealist himself.

Archaeological sites




Spain has a lot of local festivals that are worth going to.

Falla of the Town Hall Square 2012 (Valencia)


La Puerta del Sol, is the venue for the New Year's party in Spain. At 23:59h sound "los cuartos (In Spanish)" some bells announcing that it will begin to sound the twelve chimes (campanadas in Spanish). While sounding "los cuartos", moves down from the top chime of the clock, with the same purpose as "los cuartos" sound will indicate that "las campanadas". That will sound at 24:00 and that indicate the start of a new year. During each chime must eat a grape, according to tradition. Between each chime, there is a time span of three seconds. "Las Campanadas", are broadcast live on the main national TV channels, as in the rest of Spain, people are still currently taking grapes from home or on giant screens installed in major cities, following the chimes from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

Start the New Year in La Puerta del Sol (Madrid)

After ringing "las campanadas", starts a fireworks extravaganza. This is a famous party in Spain and is a great time to enjoy because show is secured in the center of the capital of Spain.

Outdoor activities

Skiing in the northern region of Spain

Scuba Diving

For a treat, try Costa Brava and the world renowned Canary Islands.



Spain uses the euro. It is one of several European countries that uses this common currency. All euro banknotes and coins are legal tender within all the countries.

Countries that have the euro as their official currency:

One euro is divided into 100 cents.

The official symbol for the euro is , and its ISO code is EUR. There is no official symbol for the cent.

Bank of Spain

The euro replaced the Spanish peseta in 2002. A few people may still use the old national currency (166,386 pts = 1 €, 1.000 pts = 6 €) and convert into Euros later. This is much due to the huge presence of peseta, and "her" many nicknames in colloquial Spanish.

Cash euro: €500 banknotes are not accepted in many stores--always have alternative banknotes.

Other currencies: Do not expect anybody to accept other types of currency, or to be willing to exchange currency. Exceptions are shops and restaurants at airports. These will generally accept at least US Dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate.

If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some may require that you have an account there before they will exchange your money), where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule; other exception is tourist districts in the large cities (Barcelona, Madrid).

Credit cards: Credit cards are well accepted: even in a stall at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, on an average highway gas station in the middle of the country, or in small towns like Alquezar. It's more difficult to find a place where credit card is not accepted in Spain.

Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that. Most Spanish stores will ask for ID before accepting your credit card. Some stores may not accept a foreign driving license or ID card and you will need to show your passport. This measure is designed to help avoid credit card fraud.


Tipping, or "propina" in Spanish, is not mandatory or considered customary in Spain unless there was something absolutely exceptional about the service. As a result, you may find that waiters are not as attentive or courteous as you may be used to since they don't work for tips. If you choose to tip, the tip amount in restaurants depends on your economic status, the locale and type of establishment. If you feel that you have experienced good service then leave some loose change on the table - possibly €1 or €2 . If you don't, it is no big deal.

Bars expect only tourists, particularly American tourists, to leave a tip. They are aware that it is customary in the United States to leave a tip for every drink or meal. It is rare to see anyone other than Americans tipping in Spain. Note that in major resorts tipping may be common; look around at other diners to assess if tipping is appropriate.

Outside the restaurant business, some service providers, such as taxi drivers, hairdressers and hotel personnel may expect a tip in an upscale setting.

Business hours

Most businesses (including most shops, but not restaurants) close in the afternoons around 13:30/14:00 and reopen for the evening around 16:30/17:00. Exceptions are large malls or major chain stores.

For most Spaniards, lunch is the main meal of the day and you will find bars and restaurants open during this time. On Saturdays, businesses often do not reopen in the evening and almost everywhere is closed on Sundays. The exception is the month of December, where most shops in Madrid and Barcelona will be open as per on weekdays on Sundays to cash in on the festive season. Also, many public offices and banks do not reopen in the evenings even on weekdays, so if you have any important business to take care of, be sure to check hours of operation.

If you plan to spend whole day shopping in small shops, the following rule of thumb can work: a closed shop should remind it's also time for your own lunch. And when you finish your lunch, some shops will be likely open again.

Gran Vía of Madrid, is a perfect place for shopping

Clothes and shoes

Designer brands

Besides well-known mass brands which are known around the world (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper, Desigual), Spain has many designer brands which are more hard to find outside Spain--and may be worth looking for if you shop for designer wear while travelling. Some of these brands include:

Department stores

Corte Inglés store under construction in Madrid



The Spanish are very passionate about their food and wine and Spanish cuisine. Spanish food can be described as quite light with a lot of vegetables and a huge variety of meat and fish. The Spanish cuisine does not use many spices; it relies only on the use of high quality ingredients to give a good taste. As such, you may find Spanish food bland at times but there are usually a variety of restaurants in most cities (Italian, Chinese, American fast food) if you would like to experience a variety of flavors.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times

Spaniards have a different eating timetable than many people are used to.

The key thing to remember for a traveler is:

"Pinchos" in Barcelona

Normally, restaurants in big cities don't close until midnight during the week and 2-3AM during the weekend.


"Chocolate con churros"

Breakfast is eaten by most Spaniards. Traditional Spanish breakfast includes coffee or orange juice, and pastries or a small sandwich. In Madrid, it is also common to have hot chocolate with "churros" or "porras". In cafes, you can expect varieties of tortilla de patatas (see the Spanish dishes section), sometimes tapas (either breakfast variety or same kind as served in the evenings with alcohol).


Spanish Tapas

The entry level to Spanish food is found in bars as tapas, which are a bit like "starters" or "appetizers", but are instead considered side orders to accompany your drink. Some bars will offer a wide variety of different tapas; others specialize on a specific kind (like seafood-based). A Spanish custom is to have one tapa and one small drink at a bar, then go to the next bar and do the same. A group of two or more individuals may order two or more tapas or order raciones instead, which are a bit larger in order to share.

Fast food

Fast food has not yet established a strong grip on the Spaniards and you will find McDonalds and Burger King only in bigger towns in the usual places. The menu can be a surprise since it has been customized to appeal to the locals and beer, salads, yogurt (primarily Danone), and wine are prominent. Pizza is increasingly popular and you will find some outlets in bigger towns but it can be their own homegrown franchises, such as TelePizza. In spite of beer and wine on the menu, fast food is often seen as "kiddie food." American franchises generally charge higher prices than in the United States, and fast food is not necessarily the cheapest alternative for eating out.


Seafood: on a seacoast, fresh seafood is widely available and quite affordable. In the inner regions, frozen (and poor quality) seafood can be frequently encountered outside few highly reputed (and expensive) restaurants. In coastal areas seafood deserves some attention, especially on the north Atlantic coast.

Quality seafood in Spain comes from Spain's northwestern region of Galicia. So restaurants with the words Gallego (Galician) will generally specialize in seafood. If you are feeling adventurous, you might want to try the Galician regional specialty Pulpo a la Gallega, which is boiled octopus served with paprika, rock salt and olive oil. Another adventurous option is Sepia which is cuttlefish, a relative of squid, or the various forms of Calamares (squid) that you can find in most seafood restaurants. If that isn't your style you can always order Gambas Ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pescado Frito (fried fish), Buñuelos de Bacalao (breaded and deep fried cod) or the ever-present Paella dishes.

Meat products are usually of very good quality, because Spain has maintained quite a high percentage of free range animals.

Ordering beef steaks is highly recommended, since most comes from free range cows from the mountains north of the city.

Pork cuts which are also highly coveted are those known as Presa Iberica and Secreto Iberico, an absolute must if found in the menu of any restaurant.

Soups: choice of soups beyond gazpacho is very limited in Spanish restaurants.

Water is frequently served without a specific request, and is normally charged for--unless it's included in your menu del dia. If you would like free tap water instead of bottled water, request "agua del grifo" (water from the tap). However, not all restaurants will offer this and you may be forced to order bottled water.

Appetizers such as bread, cheese, and other items may be brought to your table even if you didn't order them. You will be charged for them. If you do not want these appetizers, politely inform the waiter that you do not want them.

World-level restaurants: There are several restaurants in Spain which are destinations in itself, becoming a sole reason to travel to a specific city. One of them is El Bulli in Roses.

Service charges and VAT

No service charges are included in the bill. A little extra tip is common and you are free to increase that if you are very pleased. Obviously you don’t have to tip a lousy waiter. You would typically leave the small change after paying with a note.

VAT is-not-included is a common trick for mid-range and splurge restaurants: always check in menu whether VAT (10%, IVA in Spanish) is included in menu prices.

Menú del día

Many restaurants offer a complete lunch meal for a fixed price "menú del día" and this often works out as a bargain. Water or wine is commonly included in the price.

Touristy places

Typical Spanish food can be found all over the country, however top tourist destinations such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol have turned all existing traditions upside down. This means drinks are generally more expensive - about double what they cost elsewhere - and quality is variable. In touristy places, restaurants most certainly do serve Spanish dishes (after all, this is what many visitors are looking for) but these may have been adapted to suit the tastes of tourists. However, if you are prepared to look a little harder, then even in the busiest tourist towns, you can find some exceptional traditional Spanish restaurants. If you are on the coast then think fish and seafood and you won't be disappointed.

Non-Spanish cuisine

Things like schnitzel, full English breakfast, pizza, döner, and frozen fish are largely available in tourist destinations. In most cities you can also find international cuisine such as Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Argentinian, etc. The bigger the city, the more variety you can find.

For the past decade there has been a surge in the number of Irish pubs and Japanese restaurants to be found in most cities.

Specialties to buy

  • Queso Manchego is the most famous one.
  • Cabrales,Tetilla,Mahon are also popular.
Manchego cheese is one of the most representative species culinary of Castilla La Mancha.
Jamon is an ordinary foodstuff also in supermarket
Judging by Boqueria in Barcelona, Jamon Iberico starts at 80/kg, and Jamon Serrano is about 25/kg. One well known chain in Spain is Mesón Cinco Jotas , which is known by locals for their expensive, but good quality ham.
Visiting Spain without trying Jamon Iberico would be considered a crime by most Spaniards. Spaniards treat their ham very seriously and types and qualities of ham vary in a similar way to wine. Quality ham is generally expensive but has little to do with the many cheaper versions available. The diet of the pig is the most important factor in determining the quality of the ham. The least expensive ham comes from pigs fed on normal grains whereas medium grade pigs are raised on a combination of acorns and grains. The top tier pigs are fed exclusively on acorns and their hams are not considered to be the best grade without an "acorn fed" stamp. These top grade hams have a rich flavor and an oily texture but to non-connoisseurs, glossiness and the presence of white lines of fat crisscrossing a slice of ham is generally a good indicator of its quality.

Spanish dishes

Typical Spanish dishes include:

There are probably thousands of different variants of paella


Tea and Coffee

Spanish people are very passionate about the quality, intensity and taste of their coffee and good freshly brewed coffee is available almost everywhere.

The usual choices are solo, the milk-less espresso version; cortado, solo with a dash of milk; con leche, solo with milk added; and manchado, coffee with lots of milk (sort of like the French cafe au lait). Asking for caffee latte will likely result in less milk than you are used to--it's always OK to ask for adding extra milk.

Regional variants can be found, such as bombón in Eastern Spain, solo with condensed milk.

Starbucks is the only national chain operating in Spain. Locals argue that it cannot compete with small local cafes in quality of coffee and visited only by tourists. It is not present in smaller cities.

If you eat for €20 per dinner, you will never be served a good tea; expect Pompadour or Lipton. It takes some effort to find a good tea if you spend most time of the day in touristy places.


The drinking age in Spain is 18. People under this age are forbidden to drink and buy alcoholic drinks, although enforcement in tourist and clubbing areas is lax. Drinking in the streets has recently been banned (although it is still a common practice in most nightlife areas).

Try an absinthe cocktail (the fabled liquor was never outlawed here, but it is not a popular drink in Spain).


Probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain is in bars. Everyone visits them and they are always busy and sometimes bursting with people. There is no age restriction imposed to enter these premises. but children and teenagers often will not be served alcoholic drinks. Age restrictions for the consumption of alcohol are clearly posted at bars but are enforced only intermittently. It is common to see an entire family at a bar.

It's important to know the difference between a pub (which closes at 3-3:30AM) and a club (which opens until 6-8AM but is usually deserted early in the night).

On weekends, the time to go out for copas (drinks) usually starts at about 11PM-1AM which is somewhat later than in North and Central Europe. Before that, people usually do any number of things, have some tapas (raciones, algo para picar), eat a "real" dinner in a restaurant, stay at home with family, or go to cultural events. If you want to go dancing, you will find that most of the clubs in Madrid are relatively empty before midnight (some do not even open until 1AM) and most won't get crowded until 3AM People usually go to pubs, then go to the clubs until 6-8AM

For a true Spanish experience, after a night of dancing and drinking it is common to have a breakfast of chocolate con churros with your friends before going home. (CcC is a small cup of thick, melted chocolate served with freshly fried sweet fritters used for dipping in the chocolate and should be tried, if only for the great taste.)

Bars are mainly to have drink and a small tapa while socializing and decompressing from work or studies. Usually Spaniards can control their alcohol consumption better than their northern European neighbors and drunken people are rarely seen at bars or on the streets. A drink, if ordered without an accompanying tapa, is often served with a "minor" or inexpensive tapa as a courtesy.

Size and price of tapas changes a lot throughout Spain. For instance, it's almost impossible to get free tapas in big cities like Valencia or Barcelona, excluding Madrid where there are several Tapa Bars although some times are a bit expensive. You can eat for free (just paying for the drinks), with huge tapas and cheap prices at cities like Granada, Badajoz or Salamanca.

The tapa, and the related pincho, trace their existence in Spain to both acting as a cover ("Tapa") on top of a cup of wine to prevent flies from accessing it, and as a requirement of law when serving wine at an establishment during the Middle Ages.


The Spanish beer is well worth a try. Most popular local brands include San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ámbar, Estrella Galicia, Keller and many others, including local brands at most cities; import beers are also available. A great beer is 'Mezquita' (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! Also "Legado de Yuste" is one of the best beer made in Spain, and is quite extended, but more expensive than a normal 'caña'. In Spain, beer is often served from a tap in 25 cl ("caña") or 33 cl ("tubo") tube glasses. Bigger servings are rare, but you can also ask for a "corto", "zurito" (round the Basque country) or simply "una cerveza" or "tanque" (south of the country) to get a half size beer, perfect to drink in one go and get quickly to the next bar while having tapas.

If you're in Zaragoza (or Aragon, in general), the Pilsner-type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.) are available. Ambar 1900: Its production began in 1996. The system of fermentation to room temperature is used. Marlen is a beer of traditional manufacture using malted barley and hops.

Locals in Aragon often add lemon juice to their beer. Particularly on hot summer days people will drink a refreshing "clara" which is a light beer mixed with lemon/lemonade.


Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and the name went from Spanish Champagne to Cava was after a long lasting dispute with the French. The Spanish called it for a long time champan, but the French argued that champagne can be made only from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. Nevertheless, Cava is a quite successful sparkling wine and 99% of the production comes from the area around Barcelona.

Cider (Sidra)

Can be found in the Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Pais Vasco.


A refreshing glass of horchata

A milky non-alcoholic drink made of tigernuts and sugar. Alboraia, a small town close to Valencia, is regarded as a best place where horchata is produced.


Sangria is drink made of wine and fruits and usually is made from simple wines. You will find sangria in areas frequented by tourists. Spanish prepare sangria for fiestas and hot summer, and not every day as seen in touristic regions like Mallorca.

Sangria in restaurants aimed for foreigners are best avoided, but it is a very good drink to try if a Spaniard prepares it for a fiesta!

Sherry (Fino)

The pale sherry wine around Jerez called "fino" is fortified with alcohol to 15 percent. If you would like to have one in a bar you have to order a fino. Manzanilla is bit salty, good as an appetizer. Amontillado and Oloroso are a different types of sherry were the oxidative aging process has taken the lead.


Spain is a country with great wine-making and drinking traditions: 22% of Europe's wine growing area is in Spain, however the production is about half of what the French produce.

Regions: most famous wines come from Rioja region, less known but also important come from Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Toro and Jumilla . The latter are becoming more and more popular and are slightly less expensive than Rioja wines. White, rose and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important ones.

Grapes: main red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Mencia. Primary white grape used is Albarino, and the grapes used in Jerez are: 'Pedro Ximenez and Palomino.

Specific names: Valdepenas is good value for money. Whites: Belondrade Y Lurton is regarded as greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is good as a mass product, with fruity taste.

Grades: Spanish quality wines are produced using an aging process and they have been in an oak barrel for at least one year before they can be labeled Crianza and then spend another two years in a bottle before been sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas are aged for 10 years.

Prices: Spain has seen a tremendous rise in wine prices over the last decade and Spanish wines are not as much of a bargain as they used to be. However you will still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices especially when compared with similar quality wines from Australia, Chile, France, and the US.

Wine bars: they are more and more popular. In short, a wine bar is a sophisticated tapas bar where you can order wine by the glass. You will immediately see a blackboard with the wines that are available and the price per glass.

In a bar: for red wine in a bar, ask "un tinto por favor", for white wine "un blanco por favor", for rose: "un rosado por favor".

Wine-based drinks: young people in Spain have developed their own way to have wine. When having botellones (big outdoor parties with drink and lots of people), most of them mix some red wine with Coke and drink it straight from the Coke bottle. The name of this drink is calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) and is really very popular... But don't ask for it while in an upper class bar or among adults, since they will most certainly not approve of the idea! As a general rule, any wine that comes in a glass bottle is considered "too good" to make kalimotxo.


What's the difference?

There are three names for hotel-like accommodation in large cities in Spain: hotel, hostal and pension. It is important not to confuse a hostel with a hostal; a hostel offers backpacker-type accommodation with shared rooms, whereas a hostal is very similar to a guest house and is generally cheaper than a hotel.

There are many types of tourist accommodation, ranging from hotels, pensions and rented villas, to camping and even monasteries.

"7% VAT is not included" is a common trick for mid-range guesthouses and hotels: always check the small print when you choose your place to stay. VAT is IVA in Spanish.

Small villages

Besides the coasts, Spain is rich in small tourist-friendly inland villages, like Alquezar: with narrow medieval streets, charming silence and isolation, still good selection of affordable restaurants and accommodation.

Casa rural, the bed and breakfasts of Spain

For a more homely sort of accommodation consider the casa rural. A casa rural is the rough equivalent to a bed and breakfast or a gîte. Not all houses are situated in the countryside, as the name implies. Some are situated in the smaller towns, and they are in virtually every province.

Casas rurales vary in quality and price throughout Spain. In some regions, like Galicia, they are strictly controlled and inspected. Other regions are not so thorough in applying their regulations.


Many foreign visitors stay in hotels that have been organised by tour operators who offer package holidays to the popular resorts on the costas and islands. However, for the independent traveller, there are hotels all over the country in all categories and to suit every budget. In fact, due to the well developed internal and foreign tourism markets Spain may well be one of the best served European countries in terms of numbers and quality of hotels.


A parador is a state-owned hotel in Spain (rating from 3 to 5 stars). This chain of inns was founded in 1928 by the Spanish King Alfonso XIII. The unique aspects of paradores are their location and their history. Found mostly in historical buildings, such as convents, Moorish castles (like La Alhambra), or haciendas, paradores are the exact opposite of the uncontrolled development found in coastal regions like the Costa del Sol. Hospitality has been harmoniously integrated with the restoration of castles, palaces and convents, rescuing from ruin and abandonment monuments representative of Spain's historical and cultural heritage.

Parador de Santo Estevo, in the province of Orense (Galicia).

For example the parador in Santiago de Compostela is located next to the Cathedral in a former royal hospital built in the year 1499. Rooms are decorated in an old-fashioned way, but nevertheless have modern facilities. Other notable paradores are in Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, Santillana del Mar (Altamira cave) as well as more than one hundred other destination all over Spain.

Paradores serve breakfast (about €10) and often have very good local cuisine typical of their region (about €25).

Accommodation prices are good value, when you consider that the hotels are often found in the heart of scenic areas, varying from €85 for a double room to €245 for a twin room (like in Granada). Two of the most beautiful paradors are in Léon and Santiago de Compostela.

There are some promotions available:

The promotions do not always apply, especially in August they are not valid, and may require advance bookings.


There are plenty of hostels, mostly in Madrid. Prices vary from €15 to €25 per night.

Apartment rental

Short-term, self-catering apartment rental is an option for travellers who want to stay in one place for a week or more. Accommodations range from small apartments to villas.

The number of holiday rentals available depends on the area of Spain you are planning to visit. Although they are common in coastal areas, big capitals and other popular tourist cities, if you plan to visit small inland towns, you will find casas rurales more easily.


Camping is the least expensive lodging option.

Stay safe

In Spain, pickpockets are not jailed if they steal less than €400. After they are arrested, they are automatically bailed to carry on pickpocketing so they can easily pay their €200 fine when they go to court. Many have been around the Spanish justice merry-go-round hundreds of times. Spanish pickpockets are really skilful but they are in competition with many more from South America.


There are four kinds of police:

National Police car

All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing ("reflective" jackets) while directing traffic, or in the road.

Some thieves have been known to pose as police officers, asking to see wallets for identification purposes. If approached by someone claiming to be a police officer we recommend you show only your ID and not your wallet or other valuables.

If you are a victim of crime call 112. You can ask for a copy of the “denuncia” (police report) if you need it for insurance purposes, or to apply for replacement documents. Make sure that it is a “una denuncia” not a sworn declaration (una declaración judicial), as the latter may not be accepted as evidence of the crime for insurance purposes, or when applying for your new passport.

Making a police report

You can make a police report in three different ways:

1. In person. A list of police stations in the different regions of Spain is available here. It is important to note that English language interpreters are not always available at short notice: it may be advisable to bring a Spanish-speaking person with you.

2. By phone: You can make a police report by phone in English by phoning 901 102 112. The English language service is available from 9am - 9pm, seven days a week. Once you have made your report, you will be instructed to pick up a signed copy of the report at your nearest police station. However, some crimes, particularly more serious crimes or those involving violence, can only be reported in person.

3. Online: You can also make a police report online, but in Spanish only. Some crimes, especially more serious crimes involving physical violence, must be reported in person.

You can read further advice from the Spanish police on the following webpage:

Emergency services

Dialing 112 on any telephone will reach the emergency central. It can be used to request Police, Firemen, Rescue, Ambulance or other emergency assistance. Calls to that number are free. The emergency operator will ask you for your data and the nature of the emergency and so will send the appropriate services to the place. It can be also used freely from public payphones.

Permissions and documentation

Spanish law strictly requires foreigners who are in Spanish territory to have documentation proving their identity and the fact of being legally in Spain. You must have that with you all the time because you may be asked by the Police to show those at any moment.


Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions encouraged in the entire world:


see also common scams

Some people could try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.

Other things you should know


In Spain possession and consumption of illegal drugs at private places is not prosecuted. Taking drugs in public and possession, for personal use, will be fined from €300 to €3000 depending of the drug and the quantity that you carry on, you will not get arrested unless you have large quantities destined for street sale.

Stay healthy


Smoking is banned in all enclosed public spaces and places of work, in public transportation, and in outdoor public places near hospitals and in playgrounds. Smoking is also banned in outdoor sections of bars and restaurants. Smoking is banned in television broadcasts as well.


Culture and identity


Eating and drinking


Among Spaniards, lunch time is usually between 13:00 and 14:30, while dinner time is around 20:30. However, in special celebrations, dinner can be as late as 22:00. Almost all businesses close between 14:30 and 17:00, so plan your shopping and sight-seeing accordingly. Shopping malls and supermarkets, however, are usually open from 9:30 to 22:00, and there are several 24 h shops, usually owned by Chinese immigrants.

Spanish cities can be noisy in some areas so be warned.

Some brands are not available in Spain: Blend-a-Med toothpaste or Dirol (Stimorol chewing gum has been available for years). Bring in enough for your whole trip if you must have it. Still, Spanish and other European brands are of good quality. Brands like Colgate and Orbit are very common.



Wi-Fi points in bars and cafeterias are available to customers, and most hotels offer Wi-Fi connection in common areas for their guests.

Be conscious of security when using a laptop in an outdoor location.

Mobile phones and SIM cards

Cheap mobile phones (less than €50) with some pre-paid minutes are sold at FNAC (Plaza Callao if you're staying in Madrid, or El Triangle if you're staying in Barcelona) or any phone operator's shop and can be purchased without many formalities (ID is usually required). Topping-up is then done by buying scratch cards from the small stores "Frutos Secos," supermarkets, vending points (often found in tobacco shops) or kiosks -- recharging using the Web or an ATM does not work with foreign credit cards.

The three mobile phone networks in Spain are Vodafone, Movistar and Orange.

You can hire a Mi-Fi (portable 3G Wi-Fi hotspot) from tripNETer) that allows an Internet connection from any Wi-Fi device: Smart-phones, Tablets, PCs…

Discount calling

"Locutorios" (Call Shops) are widely spread in bigger cities and touristy locations. In Madrid or Toledo it's very easy to find one. Making calls from "Locutorios" tend to be much cheaper, especially international calls (usually made through VoIP). They are usually a good pick for calling home. Prepaid calling cards for cheap international calls are widely available in newsagents or grocery stores around the city. Ask for a "tarjeta telefonica".

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Saturday, April 02, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.