Planning a trip to Spain this year? You´ve come to the right place.
After living in Barcelona for over two years now, I can say with confidence that I’ve learned a thing or two about Spanish culture (even though Barcelona is more considered Catalonia than Spain, both share major similarities that reflect its very rich and inspiring culture).
I’ve taken the time to put together my best advice on traveling in Spain all in one place. So if you’re looking for information on what to do in Spain, keep on reading.
A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO SPAIN
Spain! The land of cold sangrias and flamenco dancing. If you close your eyes you can actually hear the raging sound of the dancers’ feet expressively stomping to the ground in harmony with the melody that the Spanish guitar tunes in the background…
If you’ve ever been to a Flamenco show before you know what I mean.
However, in case you haven’t, you really should consider adding this to your things to see before you die.
However, a word to the wise: Even though Barcelona is located in Spain, Flamenco is NOT a part of Catalan culture. Furthermore, if you ever visit Barcelona, chances are you will see many Flamenco options. Be warned that these are exclusively catered to tourists and not exactly authentic.
After living in Barcelona for almost 3 years now, I have created a post about common mistakes people make when visiting Barcelona for the first time.
Ah yes, there definitely is a seductive mist of emotions within Spanish culture, ranging from the immediate warmth of affection that the general population emanates, to the loud waves of laughter coming from a young group of workers enjoying a cold beer at the end of their shift, and cheering for the weekend to come.
Indeed, the fiesta mood is everywhere and at first, this can be a bit intense, especially for those who are visiting from more Nordic countries.
However, it doesn’t take long for anyone to notice that part of the country’s charisma comes from its noisy, yet warm, population.
So don’t be shy, grab your cerveza and join the fun!!
BEFORE YOU GO
Don’t forget to pack one of these. For a more thorough checklist, be sure to my travel resource library here.
HAVE YOU CHECKED YOUR CALENDAR?
Before making a commitment to spending your vacations in Spain, I recommend checking your calendar in advance to see if there will be any major holidays in the destination you are going.
Just in case you are not yet familiar, Spain is actually well-known for having more holidays than other European countries and, just like most European cities, everything will be closed during those days. Avoid having a useless day in your trip and check your calendar in advance.
This site gives out exactly the dates to look out for regarding Spanish holidays
WHEN TO VISIT SPAIN
If you’re planning your first trip, it can be a bit tricky trying to work out the very best time to go. The most popular times to visit Spain are June through August, especially because the weather is delightfully warm with little rain.
This means you, your aunt and her parrot all want to be in
That being said, an alternative to avoiding the crowded season is if you plan your visit for either May or September. Both are great periods weather-wise, as it is is not yet boiling hot, AND you can actually enjoy beaches and monuments at a much more pleasant pace.
Last year Cris and I took a flight to Ibiza from Barcelona during the off-season and scooped up incredibly cheap flights (I am talking 33 EUR for two-way flight to Ibiza. THAT CHEAP, GUYS!). So budget travelers might also take heaps of advantage if traveling a bit before or after the Spanish hype season.
WHAT TO PACK FOR SPAIN
- Pack light. It gets very (very) hot, so you’ll want clothes that don’t make you feel sweaty or gross. Keep in mind to pack comfortable and breathable clothing if you’re visiting in summer. The best is to try and take a variety of shirts to mix and match as much as possible in order to create different outfits, without overpacking.
- I recommend packing soft, flat shoes as you’ll most probably than not be doing a lot of walking.
- Be sure to take sunscreen and a hat with you to keep you protected when you’re at the beach and when walking around the city.
- On that note: Swimwear is a must!
- If you plan on hitting the clubs, you might want to pack a few nice outfits. Don’t worry too much about packing heels, as you will not necessarily need them to go into clubs.
- Throw a scarf or shawl in your bag so you can cover up respectfully when visiting churches and cathedrals (and also as a nice DIY blanket to use inside planes and train rides)
Or that during summertime, in the shy city of Buñol, you can join an epic tomato fight where people literally swim in a red sea of tomatoes during the ultimate Valencian yearly fruit battle?
If this word doesn’t ring a bell to you, be prepared to feel annoyed during your afternoons in Spain.
Siesta is the time of the day, just after lunch and before dinner, during which the Spaniards like to take some rest. This means that it is not uncommon to find most restaurants, bars, and shops closed during afternoon times, only to reopen later on in the day.
This is especially annoying in smaller towns and you can easily find yourself without having literally anything to do for a good few hours.
My tip? Don’t stress! Remember you’re on vacation!!
During our normal daily routines, we have this tendency to keep complaining about how much stress we are under and how much we had wished we could have just stayed in bed and do nothing for a few hours on the mornings.
Embrace Spanish culture and relax a little bit too. You will certainly be surprised in how doing nothing, even during your vacation, can also be extremely refreshing to both your mind and soul.
Moreover, you may have heard about the vast majority of languages they speak in Spain (Catalan, Basque, Gallego, Euskera …) and as a general rule, the vast majority of the country also speaks Spanish (or Castellano), even when their preferred language might be Catalan (such as it happens in Barcelona).
It doesn’t hurt to know a few words in the local language at least just to show that you are ‘’aware’ of the fact that you are in a different region of Spain and that you respect their cultural differences.
You’d be amazed how better treated you will be just by greeting and saying thank you in their local dialect. A little can go a loooooong way.
EATING OUT IN SPAIN
Meanwhile, as a laid back country, Spaniard’s eating habits could not be different from their way of living. For instance, you can expect to have late lunches, and even later dinners, when you are in Spain.
Likewise, in many cities, most restaurants won’t even open before 20h (and don’t expect them to be full until after 21h).
Once I booked a special dinner for me and Cris and I booked it at 20h at a renowned restaurant that I love here in Barcelona. We were surprised to arrive on time at the restaurant and be greeted by the waiters playing cards at the tables (and can you believe they even complained that we had arrived on time? Haha I am not even kidding!).
It was a bit awkward during the first hour of our dinner, being only Cris and me inside the restaurant being privately served by the waiters while we waited for it to fill up with other diners.
A good time to go for dinners in Spain would be around 21h, 21h30. That’s when you the places will be most hyped. Similarly, I wouldn’t recommend having lunch before 13h for the same reasons.
PAELLA, A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP
My gosh, to me the most overrated thing ever in Spain is a Paella. Not because it is not good, but because it is so much easier to find TERRIBLE ones than a slightly decent one.
And it seems impossible to run away from them, as it is literally advertised in every corner of Spain, to the point where you give it a go. And you will most certainly be disappointed.
Paellas are usually done in big pans (read: in large quantities) and then kept in smaller ones to store and sell until they run out and do a new one. Moreover, in touristy places, they don’t put the love into preparing it, and most certainly they will be using sub-par, questionable ingredients.
Likewise, it doesn’t hurt to be careful even in cities such as Valencia, the birthplace of Paella, as even there the busiest restaurants are probably catering to tourists.
If you are in other regions of Spain, my advice is to look for small local spots and keep in mind to always avoid busy paella restaurants!
NO CHILI, NO JALAPEÑO
Spaniards, as opposed to their Mexican counterparts, do not enjoy spicy food and you will be surprised how simple their cooking ingredients are: salt, pepper, olive oil, and paprika, to name a few.
In short, you won’t be finding spicy food anywhere in Spain, and even in typical restaurants that serve Indian food, for example, you will be having to ask for spicier (if that is what you are into).
MAKE RESERVATIONS IF YOU WANT TO EAT ANYWHERE SPECIFIC
For example, you know that restaurant your friend who visited Madrid last year said you cannot miss? Well, be sure to call them and make a reservation.
People in Spain eat out quite often and even in wintertime, as the weather is quite agreeable, you will find most restaurants packed with people from all ages enjoying a meal or sharing a glass of wine.
This can be especially a problem in small towns, keeping in mind that rush hours happens at once and having fewer dining options than bigger cities, you can risk going to bed with a growling stomach.
This tip is even more valuable for weekends when the restaurants will be even more crowded.
Be a good millennial and book your restaurants!! 😉
TAPAS AND PINTXOS IN SPAIN
One of the important do’s and don’ts when visiting Spain is to know how to order pintxos.
Both Pintxos and Tapas are small appetizers, usually made to share. Pintxos are small slices of bread, served with diverse ingredients on top, such as dried tomatoes or anchovies. Tapas are small portions of food, many of it fried, and you usually order many dishes to share with friends at a table. I’ve created a whole list of restaurant recommendations and what tapas to eat here.
Headed to Barcelona during your trip to Spain? If so, check out the perfect Barcelona itinerary I’ve put together! I’ve taken the time to create a self-guided 3-day tour of Barcelona especially for you.
DON’T STAY IN THE SAME TAPAS BAR TOO LONG
To this day, one of the best Spain travel tips I ever received was from a friend who told me: “no matter what, don’t stay in any single tapas bar too long”.
Why’s that? It’s because there is bound to be another one just as delicious, if not more so, right around the corner! Don’t sell yourself short with dining variety when it comes to traveling in Spain. Variety is key and you’ll be glad that you sampled everything.
I hope this Spain travel tips have helped you prepare for your trip! For ideas on what to pack, check out my post filled with ideas and inspiration on what to pack for Spain.
Other Posts on the Spain Series La Belle World
- 12 Common Mistakes Visitors Make When Visiting Barcelona
- Barcelona City Guide: The Perfect 2-day Self-Walking Tour
- Where to Eat in Barcelona (recommendations from a local)
- Barcelona: 9 Mistakes You Will Want to Avoid when Visiting the Sagrada Familia
- Spain: What to Pack for Summer (coming soon)
- Tips for a Perfect Summer in Ibiza (coming soon)