Why visit Spain, you ask? Because it is listed as top three tourist destinations in the world for years now. Reasons are many: friendly people, excellent cuisine, dynamic night life and vast cultural heritage. Spain is a mixture of many cultures, ethnicities and languages and they are all worth exploring. The country is divided into 17 autonomous communities and each one of them has its distinguished cultural heritage, customs, cuisine and even language (or at least a dialect).
Central Spain with capital Madrid is the largest set of communities by the area size. Green Spain is in the north and northwest, by the Atlantic Ocean. Northern Spain is famous as a wine country with Zaragoza and Bilbao as main cities. Eastern part of Spain with cities like Barcelona, Valencia and Murcia is the main coastal region. South Spain, Andalucía, with distinguished Moorish heritage is where cities of Seville, Granada, Cordoba and Malaga are located.
Outside of mainland, Spain has two major sets of islands: Canary Islands, off the coast of northwest Africa and Balearic Islands in Mediterranean Sea. There are also small enclaves in the North Africa, bordering Morocco.
Here are 14 essential things you need to know when you go visit Spain:
1. Quick facts
- Official name: Kingdom of Spain
- Capital: Madrid
- Population: 46.7 million
- Area:505,988 sq km (195,363 sq miles)
- Major languages:Spanish (Castilian), Catalan and its variant Valencian, Gallego (Galician), Euskera (Basque)
- Major religion: Christianity
- Life expectancy: 79 years (men), 85 years (women)
- Currency: Euro
2. Where is it?
Location and neighbors: Spain is located in Southwestern Europe, on Iberian Peninsula, which it shares with Portugal. Spain is bordering with 5 countries: Morocco, Gibraltar, Andorra, France and Portugal.
Size: Spain is medium sized country by its area, it is 52nd in the world and 4th in Europe. With 92 persons living per square kilometre, its population density is at world’s average.
Read more: where is Spain?
3. Visa requirements
Spain is part of Schengen agreement and visa for any of the countries from the Schengen group is also valid for Spain. List of countries members of Schengen Agreement and countries requiring visa can be found here.
As with many countries, your passport must be valid for at least three months after you complete visit to Spain, so please plan ahead.
More details about visa requirement for Italy and application process can be found here.
4. Getting there
If you are traveling to Spain from overseas, the best way to arrive there is via one of the international airports: Madrid (MAD), Barcelona (BCN), Valencia (VLC), Malaga (AGP) ad several more. From any of these airports you will be able to fly anywhere else within Spain as ther are many more local airports.
If you are traveling to Spain from Europe or neighboring countries, you can travel by train, bus or a car, especially if you are coming from France.
If you have plenty of time, driving throughout any of the scenic routes is the best choice.
Read more: Cheap flights to Spain
5. Where to stay in Spain?
Travel accommodation in Spain is very diverse, affordable and up to a standard. Deepening on which part of Spain you want to visit and what your budget permits, you sab stay in standard or all inclusive hotels, hostels, paradors (lodging in historic buildings), pensiones (family run lodgings), monasteries (some are offering basic accommodations), guesthouses and agritourism lodgings and camping.
You can also use AirBnB to book your stay, and there are traditional real-estate agencies that offer short term stay with good quality accommodation as well.
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Read more: Accommodation tips for Spain
6. Moving around
Spain’s public transport is well developed, and it consists of network of airports, high speed trains between main cities, regular trains for regional routes and comprehensive bus network.
With high speed trains you can travel between cities within few hours, which makes it more attractive than all the hassle with airport security checks and waiting time. Also, traveling by train gives you an opportunity to enjoy beautiful Spanish landscapes, especially in spring and summer.
If you prefer driving, renting a car in Spain is also an excellent option – it gives you freedom, it can be cheaper than a train or a bus if there are 4 persons sharing a car and highways are stretching all over Spain and they are in great condition.
Click here for car and bike rentals.
Read more: transportation tips for Spain
7. Food in Spain
Food in Spain is a mixture of many influences, Mediterranean, continental European and Arabic/Middle Eastern. Throughout its turbulent history, Spain has conquered the world, but also brought some food tastes back to its cuisine. And it worked very well. Spanish tapas are on the many of almost every bar in the world, and that is just a sample of real Spanish food.
Here are some dishes popular in Spain and a must to try once you visit:
Tortilla. This is a staple dish in tapas, but it is not only a finger food. Since this is very nutritious omelette type of savory tart with onions, potatoes and eggs, it can be also eaten as a main dish. Paella. This is not actually national dish, as it is more native to city of Valencia and its region, but it is definitely meal to try. This tasty dish is rice based with different meat, chicken or rabbit or sea food variation, cooked with spices in several variations. Patatas bravas. This is also very often part of tapas and they can also be served as a full meal, as fried potatoes with spicy sauce can fill your empty stomach very fast.
Croquetas. This is ultimate tapas finger food, breaded and fried croquets (many variations exist worldwide) made from Spanish ham, sausages, mixed with béchamel sauce. Gazpacho. This is definitely an appetizer; this chilled tomato soup, mixed with peppers, cucumbers, garlic, and herbs and will have you refreshed on a hot day in Spain. Pisto. This can be called Spanish ratatouille, but technically it is not. Mixture of tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, onions, and garlic all sliced up and roasted in olive oil, makes this tasty dish very popular throughout Spain.
Fabada. If you happen to visit Spain during the winter, you might need a meal that will warm you up. Fabada is perfect as it is hearty stew with chorizo and blood sausage and will keep you running during cold days. Gambas al ajillo. Yet another tapas member, this quick dish is made of fried prawns with spices and garlic. Leche frita. Literally translated as a ‘fried milk’, this is popular sweet in northern Spain. Milk cream dipped in batter and fried. Served powdered with cinnamon and with whipped cream.
These are just a few examples of Spanish dishes and food in Spain. Don’t forget to try ham, sausages and chees and great Spanish wines.
Read more: Food in Spain
How safe is Spain for tourists and to move around? As a top tourist destination in the world, Spain is very safe country overall. Tourist areas are generally safe, both for single tourists and groups or families. The only problem can be pickpocketers in the crowded areas or scammers, who will try to distract you and their accomplices would try and rob you.
Read more: Safety in Spain
Spain is not that costly for tourists, and you can always find great deals on accommodation, meals and attraction tickets. For detailed pricing information for various items, click here.
Prices throughout Spain are almost the same, with slight variation, but Madrid, Barcelona and Palma de Malorca are the most expensive for general tourism.
Here is example of various items with average prices in Spain:
|Basic lunch (with a drink)||$15||Downtown, in most cities|
|Dinner for two||$34||Neighborhood pub, basic dinner|
|Pint of beer||$4.7||Neighborhood pub|
|1 liter (1/4 gallon) of gas||$1.5||Useful if renting a car|
|Monthly ticket for public transport||$50||If you are staying for longer period of time|
|Pack of cigarettes||$6||Marlboro or similar|
|Monthly rent||$1,464||Long term rental, 85 m2 (900 sqft) furnished accommodation in expensive area, daily rent of similar size is about $100|
Due to its geographical position and being surrounded by a sea, Spain has moderate climate throughout its territory. You can expect hot summers in the south along the sea with moderate winters and nice weather throughout the rest of the year.
North of Spain has fewer hot days and can be cold in the winter, especially in the mountainous areas.
Average temperatures during the summer are around 30 C (85 F) and winter on the south coast gives pleasant 18-24 Celsius. North is colder during the winter and there temperature can go below zero (Celsius).
Read more: Weather in Spain
11. Best time to visit Spain
Spring and fall are the best times to visit Spain in general, as summer can be hot in the south. Unless you want to visit beach resorts during summer, it is better to avoid south coast during period June-August. Atlantic coast is less popular, but it can be less crowded and with more pleasant weather during summer.
Visiting coastal cities during winter can be fun as weather is usually mild. Inland Spain can be very cold during winter and unless you are visiting for ski and winter sports, it is better to visit during warmer months.
Read more: When to visit Spain
12. Money matters
Spain is part of the European Union and Euro zone and official currency is Euro. You should always pay attention when paying bills if you are coming from non-Euro countries and mind the exchange rate. (Xe.com). Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but please do check card charges from your bank in foreign countries before the trip. It is always good to have some cash on you, especially when leaving a tip in the restaurant or for taxi ride.
There are ATMs and banks on every corner and cash withdrawals are in Euros with a fee. Major banks don’t charge ATM fees to foreigners, but privately-operated ATMs may sometimes charge high fees, so pay attention before engaging into withdrawals. However, machine should warn you about the charge, so you have a choice to cancel the transaction before committing to it.
Read more: Money and Banks in Spain
13. What to see in Spain?
What to see in Spain? Spain is packed with attractions and landmarks and singling out only some of them would be difficult. Here is a list of about fifty attractions in Spain to get you started, and there are hundreds more.
La Sagrada Familia. Monumental church In Barcelona, Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, started in the 1880s, with museum and spectacular city views.
Alhambra. Fortified hilltop Moorish complex in Granada, Andalucia, dating back to 9th century.
Park Güell. Hilltop park on several levels, overlooking Barcelona, with Gaudi designed buildings and sculptures. Offering Gaudi museum and city views.
Casa Milà. Known as ‘La Pedrera’ (‘stone quarry’), is another art nouveau building designed by Gaudi. Located in downtown Barcelona.
Casa Batlló. Originally an apartment building designed by Gaudi, now serving as a museum. Located in Barcelona’s center, it is recognizable by its rooftop dragon structure.
Royal Alcázar of Seville. Royal palace in Seville, built on the site of former Abbadid Muslim residential fortress in Moorish-Renaissance style. It features gardens with fountains and it is inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
La Rambla. Main pedestrian area in Barcelona, alongside many shops, restaurants and cafes. Filled with souvenir sellers and street performers.
Ibiza. Ibiza is one of the Balearic Islands, a Mediterranean archipelago located off the coast from Spain. It is well known for the vibrant nightlife in Ibiza Town and Sant Antoni, where there are summer outposts for significant European nightclubs.
Costa del Sol. A region in the south of Spain, in the community of Andalusia, encompassing the coastal towns and communities along the coastline of the Province of Málaga.
Gran Canaria. Gran Canaria is one of Spain’s Canary Islands, off the coast of northwestern Africa. It’s known for its black lava and white sand beaches.
Plaza Mayor. The main square of Madrid. Centrally located, with statue of Philip III in the middle, this square is lined with restaurants and cafes. The main starting point to explore the city.
Gothic Quarter. Central area of Barcelona, Gothic Quarter, known locally as Barri Gòtic, is crossed with narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and diverse cuisine restaurants.
Costa Brava. A coastal region of Catalonia in northeastern Spain, consisting of the comarques of Alt Empordà, Baix Empordà and Selva in the province of Girona.
Plaza de España. Landmark square in Madrid lined with ceramic tiles. Featuring sculpture of Miguel de Cervantes, water fountain and a pond and nearby skyscrapers.
Mosque of Cordoba. Iconic Moorish architecture example, this basilica is one of the oldest built in Islamic Spain. Arched pillars and beautiful frescos.
El Retiro Park. Fully named as The Buen Retiro Park, this vast green area in Madrid was converted to public park in 19th century. Featuring boating lake, rose garden, several fountains and statues.
Teide. Active volcano and Spain’s highest peak, featuring a scenic aerial cable car and hiking trails.
Museo Nacional del Prado. One of the most important art museums in Europe, hosting works of Velazquez, Goya and El Greco in a large collection spanning from 12th until 19th century.
Mercado de La Boqueria. Famous and vibrant public market with diverse foods: meat, cheese, produce and other items on sale in indoor space in central Barcelona.
Montjuïc. The hill overlooking Barcelona featuring harbor views, a park with a castle and museums. Reachable via cable car.
Picasso Museum. Located in five adjoining Medieval mansions, this museum is housing more than 4,200 works of this world-famous artist.
Catedral de Sevilla. Large, Gothic style cathedral featuring iconic Moorish bell tower with city views. It has a tomb of famous Christopher Columbus.
Puerta del Sol. One of the busiest squares in Madrid, laying on the intersection of several man roads in the city. Featuring famous clock with a bell.
Plaça de Catalunya. Massive, central square in Barcelona lined with trees and sculptures, souvenir shops and cafes. Place of numerous public events.
Alcazaba. Medieval Moorish palace with sea vistas. A fortress overlooking the sea, with lush, fountain-filled gardens, located in Malaga.
Montserrat. Mountaintop monastery with breathtaking views, located near Barcelona.
La Giralda. Bell tower built atop a former minaret in Cathedral of Seville.
Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias. City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia is modern science and culture park with lots of entertainment and educational programs.
Timanfaya National Park. National park with a volcanic landscape with geysers and novelty eatery. Located in Lanzarote, one of the Canary Islands.
Cathedral of Barcelona. Originally named The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, this beautiful cathedral is located in the old city of Barcelona. Offering guided tours and city views.
Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. Large circular fountain offering scheduled shows of water and light choreographed to music. Located in Montjuïc neighborhood in Barcelona.
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. Uniquely constructed, this titanium and glass museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is hosting modern art exhibits.
Ciutadella Park. Park opened in late 19th century, featuring zoo, boating lake and walking trails. Located next to the Barcelona harbor.
Gran Vía. Central shopping street in Madrid. Numerous shops, restaurants and bars are lined up alongside this road with early 20th century architecture.
La Barceloneta. A seaside neighborhood of Barcelona popular with locals for surfing and sunbathing on Sant Sebastià Beach. Lined up with seafood restaurants and featuring a park as well.
Costa Blanca. Over 200 kilometers of Mediterranean coastline in the Alicante province, on the southeastern coast of Spain.
Palau de la Música Catalana. Art nouveau concert hall in central Barcelona, known for its ornate facade and lavish auditorium with stained-glass dome.
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. Prominent museum in Madrid hosting Spanish 20th-century art collection with works by Gris, Dali, Picasso and Miro.
Siam Park. Outdoor adventure water park with Thai-themed thrill and family slides, swimming pools and beach,
Camp Nou. Massive football stadium, with capacity of almost 100,000 visitors for FC Barcelona club. Offering guided tours and football museum.
Catedral-Basílica de Santa María de Mallorca. Gothic place of worship on the seafront. Ornate Gothic edifice overlooking the sea, with a vast rose window and wrought-iron canopy designed by Gaudí.
Loro Park. Landscaped zoo with gorillas, tigers and penguin habitat with man-made iceberg, plus dolphin shows, located in Tenerife, Canary Islands.
Passeig de Gràcia. Wide avenue in Barcelona, lined with modernist architecture buildings and high-end shops.
Temple of Debod. Reconstructed ancient Egyptian temple moved from Aswan in Egypt with all the details, located in the green area just north from city center.
Torre del Oro. Unique, dodecagonal defensive tower built in early 13th century, with multiple theories as to the origins of its name. Located in Seville.
These are top attractions to see and visit while in Spain. For more attractions and tours, please visit Spain destination page.
14. Interesting facts about Spain
Here are few interesting facts about Spain:
- Spain receives more than 75 million tourists per year.
- Even with so many operational churches and monasteries, Spanish people are not that religious, less than 14% claim they are religious and attend church services.
- Spain is number one olive oil producer in the world.
Read more: Interesting facts about Spain
We hope you enjoyed reading about Spain!
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