What is it like to spend a vacation in Spain?
Whether you come to Spain to enjoy the fiesta in Ibiza, to relax on the Costa Brava, or to experience gastronomy in San Sebastian, Spain has it all,.
This blog will provide you with the information you need to help you avoid tourist traps, learn more about Spanish cultural norms, and prepare you for an unforgettable trip.
Top 5 reasons to visit Spain
- Beautiful scenery
- Beaches that are very beautiful
- Excellent food
- Cosmopolitan Cities are global people places
- Villages with a vibrant culture
Spain occupies approximately 80% of the Iberian Peninsula, making it the second largest country in Western Europe. Spain has evolved into what it is today as a result of thousands of years of migration and conquest, most notably the Phoenicians, the Romans, and most recently the Moors invading from Morocco in the 8th century to make Spain one of the leading centers of learning in the world.
Spain is known as a nation of nations, a legacy of the Reconquista, which took place in 1492, when the Catholic King of Castile brought all the different kingdoms together to push the Moors out of Spain. The year 1492 is the year Columbus set sail for the new world. In just a few decades, the Spanish Empire developed into one of the most powerful kingdoms throughout all of history.
Top Spanish Places To Visit
Madrid, the capital, is the most economically important city in Spain but also prides itself on bringing together the best of Spain. The beachside city of Barcelona fuses the medieval history with the modernist architecture of Catalan-born Antoni Gaud. And, of course, flamenco-crazed Seville in the south.
Salamanca is an underrated jewel and one of our most recommended destinations. Most of the city center is pedestrianized, encouraging visitors to walk around and explore the city at their own pace. Salamanca is bustling with cafés, terraces, and bars, making it the perfect place to spend a pleasant afternoon in the sun. Salamanca’s historic city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Get lost in its ancient architecture or stroll through its streets, and you will find a city with a vibrant cultural past and a rich heritage.
Spain is home to many distinct locations like Catalonia with the Costa Brava and the Pyrenees, the Basque Country, a foodie paradise with great waves and its own cultural history and the Andalucia where Moorish heritage blends with Spanish traditions.
Of course, they have beaches, as well. not only the Costa del Sol or Costa Brava, but also the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera, as well as the tropical Canary Islands, which are actually located off the coast of West Africa and different from any part of Spain. Spain has over 5,000 miles of coastline and thousands of beaches. No matter where you go, you are never far from a beach. From secluded coves to popular resorts, there is a beach for everyone. With over 300 days of sunshine annually, you are guaranteed the right weather to enjoy them! With thousands of beaches available to you, where will you go? Our top recommendation has got to be a trip to Costa de la Luz. Close to the Portuguese border, this region is home to beautiful beaches and is a sun worshipper’s paradise. Costa de la Luz is less well known than some of Spain’s more popular tourist spots, which means it has a wide variety of unspoiled beaches, secret coves, and turquoise waters.
Football (Soccer) fans in Spain worship at the altar of football, the country’s national sport. Spain is home to two of the world’s best teams: Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, Watching a match at the Santiago Bernabéu in Madrid or in Barcelona’s Camp Nou is an unforgettable experience for any sports fan
Although some of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations are located along the Mediterranean, most of the country lies on what’s known as the Meseta: a raised plateau that is cold in winter and hot in summer and makes Madrid the highest capital in Europe.
The north of Spain is mostly green because of the constant rain, especially in the Basque Country where locals call this type of rain, “xirimiri.” Therefore, when packing for a trip, it is always best to bring layers, especially if you are traveling outside of the Mediterranean. If you’re visiting during the winter, make sure to wear a waterproof jacket, even though it doesn’t really snow unless you are in the mountains.
Furthermore, pack something nice to wear or plan on shopping as a last resort if you happen to be underdressed. Summers in Spain are slammed with foreign tourists known as guiris, while domestic tourism booms during Christmas and Easter, known as Semana Santa, which is most prominent in Sevilla.
Overtourism is a serious problem in Spain, specifically in Barcelona, and so we recommend traveling during the shoulder season. September to November or March to May, when temperatures are still warm, but hotels and flights are cheaper than in summer. Language can be problematic in Spain. You may assume that everyone speaks Spanish, but many regions in Spain have their own languages, such as Catalan and Galician, which are Latin-based, the Basque language, one of the oldest living languages and the only non-Indo-European language in Europe. Spanish, as we know it, originates from the region of Castilla. Thus, in Spain, people use the term Castellano. During the Reconquista, the kings and queens of Castilla, Ferdinand and Isabella, made the Castellano language the national language of Spain. Calling Castellano “Spanish” is somewhat similar to calling English “British” because England is only one part of Britain. Many people identify with these regional dialects, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where many people are trying to push for independence from Spain. If you learn some local words such as “kaixo”, the Basque equivalent of “hello” and “bon dias” in Catalan, they will be highly appreciated by the locals.
Now that we have covered some of the basics, let’s start by debunking popular myths associated with Spain– bullfighting. The truth is, not all Spanish people enjoy bullfighting. In fact, many people dislike it and it has been outlawed in certain regions such as Catalonia. Meanwhile, it remains popular in Spain’s traditional areas, and it’s unlikely to disappear in the near future. Neither do all Spaniards dance flamenco.
Like many things associated with Spain, it actually originated from Andalusia, more specifically the Roma people, who migrated from India more than 1500 years ago and have contributed greatly to Spanish culture, especially in the south, despite persecution. Spaniards certainly know what it is like to live life so many foreigners presume that life has been easy. In reality, Spain has faced several serious challenges, notably during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s, when the democratically-elected government was defeated by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco who was backed by Adolf Hitler, who ruled Spain for forty years with an iron fist.
Since then Spain has returned to democracy, enjoyed a liberal Renaissance known as the Madalena Renaissance, and joined the European Union. However, the scars of the Spanish Civil War that turned brothers against brothers remain very, very real today.
More recently, the 2008 financial crisis left one out of two young Spaniards without jobs, hence, over 80% of young Spanish citizens under the age of 30 still live with their parents. Although the economy has begun to recover, the pandemic, unemployment and low wages continue to afflict young Spaniards. It should be noted that not all Spaniards take “siestas.” The tradition actually originated in southern Portugal where it was used by day laborers to escape the midday sun.
The typical day for Spanish people would start with lunch at home, a brief nap, maybe a paseo, a nice stroll around town, and then return to work from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. Having said that, most businesses close between 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. daily, and on Sunday as well. So be sure to plan your shopping accordingly.
Spain is probably one of the most fervently Catholic countries in the world. Despite the fact that the Inquisition, the Jesuits, and Opus Dei emerged in Spain, very few Spanish individuals actually practice the religion. Additionally, Spain was very influenced by Sephardic Jews who arrived during Roman times and spoke a hybrid of Spanish and Hebrew, which was known as Ladino, as well as the Islamic Moors who turned Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada into some of the most advanced educational centers in the world at that time. During the Inquisition, members of these two religions were either required to convert to Christianity, leave Spain, or die. Although their legacy has endured in various ways, their influence can be seen in Jewish influence on Spanish cooking or the Arabic impact on Spanish language “azucar, aceite, al” = alcohol any word that begins with al probably has Arabic roots. While Spain did conquer most of the Americas, some people believe Spanish culture is similar to Latin American cultures in places like Mexico, Peru, or Argentina. In fact they are a blend of Spanish culture and indigenous and immigrant traditions. In addition, there were many things that flowed back to Spain from the Americas, most notably looted gold and silver that still adorn many cathedrals throughout the country, but most notably in Toledo.
Holy Toledo! Not to mention their love of chocolate and potatoes, which are key elements in the Spanish diet. Speaking of diet, let’s talk about another part of Spain- food and drink. Spain is easily one of the best foodie destinations in the world, with over 171 Michelin-starred restaurants and good food at every price point. Before we discuss where to eat and what to eat, I would like to discuss why Spaniards eat later than other European countries. Breakfast or “desayuno” in Spain is a simple affair. It generally consists of just a sweet pastry and a cafe con leche, or a cortado, which is a shot of espresso mixed with just a little bit of milk.
Lunch is the primary meal of the day and is referred to as “la comida.” It is served during the siesta time frame, which runs from about 1:00 in the afternoon until 4:00 pm. Save money on a 3-course meal, accompanied by wine, coffee, and dessert items, is available for around 10 to 15 euros in the “menu del dia.” It is the best deal in the country, and if you are on a tight budget, the menu of the day can last you all day long. Spain is famous for its culture of tapas, which means “covers.” According to tradition, they were once meant to cover the drinking glass of travelers staying at roadside inns so they did not get too drunk while riding to the next village. No one really knows where they originated from, but they are excellent and extremely cheap if not free, at least in Granada, where you can get free tapas with every drink order, which is pretty awesome. You can enjoy them for lunch, but they are typically served with a glass of wine at dinner. Barcelona is renowned for its authentic tapas bars.
In the Basque Country, they serve pintxos, which are similar to tapas but a bit more elaborate and more expensive. However, San Sebastian’s best pintxos bars will allow you to enjoy the pleasure of high-quality cuisine without having to spend money on a Michelin-star meal. I grew up loving Basque food and looked forward to our summer trips in California where we went to various Basque restaurants in Reno, Lake Tahoe and around Bakersfield. Catalonia and the Basque Country have the highest concentration of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. With more Michelin stars per capita than any other country on earth these restaurants aren’t cheap.They range from 100 to 300 euros for a 12-course tasting menu, wine not included. If you can afford it, you should do it. It is an experience that you will not soon forget. Let’s now discuss what to eat on your trip to Spain: the essential dishes you must eat.
Probably the most famous Spanish dish is the “tortilla de patata.” In Spain, a tortilla is different from one made in Mexico. It is an egg and potato omelet and is often served with onion or chorizo, but it is best served if it is gooey in the middle. Around ten o’clock in the morning, they begin to appear, so you can have a cup of coffee with them for a late breakfast. They’re usually the tastiest and cheapest way to stay fed while on vacation. Paella is Spain’s most famous dish outside of Valencia, but it is not widely consumed outside the city. If you happen to see it advertised in a bar or restaurant in Madrid or Barcelona, then it is most likely a tourist trap. Pescatarians, take note! Traditional paella dishes include quail and ham.
If you wish to try a more traditional seafood dish, then you should try cod, known as “bacalao” locally, best served in Pil Pil style in Bilbao in the Basque Country. Also common in tapas are anchovies and bonito tuna. Jamon is the Spanish word for ham, specifically cured ham. It comes in various types of quality- pata negra being the highest and jamon serrano being usually a good quality that is still affordable. Locals eat jamon serrano by buying the “pata,” meaning a leg of cured ham. It is definitely more economical and easier to carry if you just pick up a couple slices at the deli, put some jamon and manchego cheese on a baguette, and you’re good to go. Even better, before you take down the ham and the cheese, rub the bread with garlic and tomato and you have pan tomaca, a traditional Catalan breakfast that can be eaten any time of the day.
Finally, an essential dish is “patatas bravas,” or brave potatoes. Crispy potatoes served with spicy mayonnaise. It’s nothing special, but it’s a great way to fill your belly before eating more expensive and much less filling tapas. Trust me on this. There is nothing worse than going out for tapas and spending 50 euros and coming home hungry. Therefore, do as the pros do – start with the patatas bravas.
With all this great food, you will need something to wash it down. Even though you might think about sangria, it is essentially a drink served mostly to tourists. The better choice would be to drink one of Spain’s many wines, which are of high quality and affordably priced, averaging about one euro and 25 cents per liter.
Spanish Beer and Wine
Here’s a summary of Spain’s key wine regions and varietals. The most common grape grown in Spain is Tempranillo, a medium-bodied red grape grown largely in the La Rioja region of Northern Spain, and its name comes from it being picked early in the season. Also popular are Garnacha and Grenache, which are mixed grape varieties but can be excellent on their own.
Cava is a sparkling white wine similar to champagne, grown mainly in Catalonia. Sherry is popular throughout the world, but in Spain it is called “jerez” after its town of origin in Andalusia. Other white wines are Albario, which is minerally and comes from the coastal region of Galicia, and txakoli, which is naturally fizzy from the Basque Country, and both go fantastically with seafood, especially fish.
Most Spanish beers are crisp lagers such as San Miguel, but craft beer is gaining popularity in major cities. Most tourists will try a Damm Beer. Hard cider drinks are common in the Basque Country and Asturias, and youth in Spain enjoy pre-parties with a coca cola and red wine mix called “kalimotxo.”
Social Ettiquette in Spain
Lastly, let’s talk about one of the most crucial things before travel begins: social etiquette do’s and don’ts. First, greet all people with two kisses on the cheek, regardless of who they are. There is no romantic nature to this. It happens between everyone, but generally not between men. You are not actually kissing people on the cheeks, you are kissing right next to their cheeks. You begin with the left side and then move on to the right side. You create the kissing smack noise. You do not actually do slobbery kisses on the cheek because it would be awkward.
You should not expect things to get done at the flick of the finger. This is especially important for Americans because they expect that customers will come first in everything they do. The customer does not come first in Spain and you do not win by demanding everything happen right away.
When a restaurant or store is closed, it is closed. Taking time to linger after the meal is finished is desirable. In Spanish, this is referred to as a sobremesa, and it is one of the most enjoyable aspects of dining with friends. So have a cup of coffee or a soothing beverage such as anis or patxarran, and enjoy the conversation. Cuban cigars are also readily available in Spain and great to enjoy after a meal.
Do not tip too much. One of the reasons you are able to enjoy the sobremesa is because the waiters are not trying to turn the table over for more tips. Therefore, relax and enjoy your slow food.
Feel free to go topless at the beach, ladies. It is totally normal and legal in Spain. Guys, do not make a big deal about girls not wearing tops on the beach. It might not be common in your country, but I think it is very rude to stare. So if you simply cannot control your behavior, I suggest that you don a pair of sunglasses and try not to be weird.
Be prepared to be out very late. Spaniards typically eat dinner at around 10:00 or sometimes even 11:00 p.m. and stay out that night partying “Vivit la fiesta! Vivit la noche!” Spaniards drink for hours but do so slowly so as not to get too drunk. If you drink too much, or too early, you will make a fool of yourself.
Expect to see a lot of PDA, public displays of affection. Because young people tend to live with their parents, they normally don’t have access to a place to hook up with their boyfriends or girlfriends. In the evening after the clubs have closed, you normally see a lot of people, particularly in the parks, having a good time…sometimes more than just having a good time, sometimes quite a lot more than just having a good time.
Last, but not least, if you wish to learn more about Spanish culture, here are a few further resources. The classic Spanish novel is Don Quixote de la Mancha. If that sounds too intellectual for you, you might be interested in Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a fictional story set during the Civil War in Barcelona. Many of the most powerful Spanish stories come from the period of the Spanish Civil War. Many of them were written by foreign authors, such as Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, or Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, who set a number of his novels in Spain, such as The Sun Also Rises.
For those of you who wish to explore Spanish culture in greater depth, I recommend reading The New Spaniards, by John Cooper. The book is concise and contains everything you need to know about Spain. Spain has a thriving film industry, which includes films directed by Almodovar, such as Volver and Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Also really fabulous are Pan’s Labyrinth and Ocho Apellidos dos Vascos, known in English as the Spanish Affair, which is available on Netflix, following the story of a Basque woman falling in love with an Andalucian man.
Damas y caballeros, gentlemen and ladies, that is what you ought to know before you travel to Spain. Feel free to leave any tips in the comment section and to follow our blog at https://europeantravel.blog.
Paz y Amor – Peace and love.
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