Spain is a beautiful and diverse country located in the southwest of Europe. It shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal, Gibraltar and Andorra. To the Northeast it borders with France and the tiny principality of Andorra. To the West its limits are defined by the Balearic Islands located in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea. Its Southern most territories are the picturesque Canary Islands, in the Atlantic Ocean and the cities of Ceuta and Melilla located in the North of Africa. This is why travelling to Spain is likely to be a enriching experience since tourism in the country offers a wide variety of destinations, activities and landscapes.
Spain is a country of large geographical and cultural diversity, often a surprise for tourists who are expecting to find a country mostly known for beach tourism. Travel to Spain and you will find everything, from lush meadows, green valleys, hills and snowy mountains in the Northern regions to almost desert zones in the South. Its beaches are also famous and worth visiting, small and charming creeks in the North and wide white sand beaches on the South and Western parts of the country, without forgetting the exotic black sand beaches of the volcanic Canary Islands.
Airport : Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport, commonly known as Madrid Airport, serves the city of Madrid, Spain. It is the main international airport in Madrid.
Country Code: 34
Credit Cards: All major credit cards accepted: American Express, Visa, Master Card and Diners Club
Departure Tax: Included in the price of your ticket.
Drives on the: Right
Electricity: 230 V
Ethnic Groups: 87% Spanish; 13% other
Location: Central Europe
Official Language(s): Spanish (Castillian), Basque, Catalan
Religion: Catholic, Agnostic
Time Zone: CET (UTC +1)
Tipping: Tipping is expected on top of a fluxuating Value Added Tax. "Rounding up" is common.
The best time to visit Spain is typically in the spring (March to May) or during the fall (September to November). At these times, you'll likely find fewer crowds, cheaper accommodations, and the best weather (even for hitting the beach!).
Whenever you decide to go, use this guide to help plan your trip to this country known for its rich culture, pristine beaches, delicious food, and endless things to do.
Temperatures in Spain typically don't dip too low, even in winter when the lows typically stay in the 40- to 50-degrees F range country-wide.
But summers, on the other hand, can get really hot, with highs creeping into the low to mid-90s in some places.
For this reason, it can actually be best to visit the beaches during the shoulder seasons in late spring/early summer (May or early June) or late summer (August to September, even October) to avoid the extreme heat.
While temperatures are a little more unpredictable during these times (be prepared for the occasional rain shower), average temps still go up to the high 70s or low 80s, making them an ideal time for beach days and also days to sightsee and explore the cities as well.
If the hot summer months of July and August are the only time you can travel, consider visiting the north of Spain where temps don't soar quite as high (highs reaching upper 70s in the summer), such as Bilbao and Santiago de Compostela.
Peak Season in Spain
For tourism, peak season is typically during the summer months, particularly July and August, and that's evident from the higher prices for hotels, possibly flights, and other accommodations in the cities. So if you're looking to travel at this time, book on the earlier side to avoid paying whatever higher prices are left as it gets closer.
And just because it's peak season for tourists, that doesn't necessarily mean it's overwhelmingly crowded. A lot of locals, especially people from the inland cities, actually leave the country or head to the coast to escape the heat. However, this also means that many local businesses in the same towns might be shut down temporarily to give their employees vacation.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid
The main square in Madrid is also the city’s most attractive. The Plaza Mayor is a rectangular-shaped square and is surrounded by historical buildings. It has been called by many other names until the Spanish Civil War when it was given its current name. There are nine entrances to the square. The majority of the buildings are residential except the Casa de la Panaderia (Bakery House) which is now used for cultural events. Interestingly, buildings are no higher than 3 stories and there are 237 balconies overlooking the square. There are many arcades that surround the square that house restaurants and cafes as well as wine bars to sit at and take in the beauty of Plaza Mayor on Spain holidays.
The Prado Museum, Madrid
This is one of the most important art galleries in the world. The Prado has a collection of European art from the 12th to the 19th Century and specifically Spanish art. The building itself dates back to 1785 when it was designed on the orders of Charles III. This art museum has around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures and over 13,000 drawings, prints, historic documents and other works of art. Some of the highlights include a large number of Goya paintings and work by Diego, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Van Dyck, Velazquez and Bosch.
Las Ramblas, Barcelona
This is Barcelona's most famous street and is 1.2 kilometres/.75 miles long. The popular tree-lined pedestrian central promenade of Las Ramblas is always full of people day and night. All along the street are kiosks that sell newspapers, souvenirs and flowers. Other attractions are buskers, performers, mime artists and “living” statues plus many sidewalk cafes and bars. One notable sight is a mosaic by the modern Spanish painter, Joan Miro, a circular tile work. Another is the Font de Canaletes, a famous fountain and popular meeting point. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that Las Ramblas was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end".
La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The famous architect, Antoni Gaudi has influenced Barcelona’s landscape with his whimsical architectural designs which include parks, apartment buildings and churches. His most famous architectural gem to visit on a trip to Spain is the unfinished La Sagrada Familia designed in the manner of medieval cathedrals. It is totally unique and awe-inspiring and still under construction even after more than 130 years. It is Spain’s most visited monument attracting almost 3 million visitors annually. Gaudí devised a temple capable of seating 13,000 people. At Gaudi’s death, only the crypt, the apse walls, one portal and one tower had been finished. Three more towers were added by 1930, completing the northeast facade. The Museu Gaudí, below ground level, includes interesting material on Gaudi’s life as well as models and photos of La Sagrada Família.
The Alhambra Granada
Granada was the last Muslim city to fall to the Christians in 1492. The Alhambra (translated from Arabic means Red Castle) was built in 1238 and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It overlooks the city from the top of a hill and is an extensive series of beautiful palaces and gardens. It has been described as a fortress, a palace and a city within a city and its architecture is simply dazzling. In the centre of the Alhambra is the immensely large Palace of Charles V, a magnificent example of Spanish Renaissance architecture. The complex of buildings called the Nasrid Palaces was the residences of the Kings of Granada. The domed ceiling stands out with its more than 8000 cedar pieces which, with its star pattern, represent the seven heavens. Adjacent to the Alhambra is the Generalife which translates as “Garden of Paradise” and is a series of beautifully laid-out gardens containing courtyards, archways, pathways, pools, fountains, waterfalls and flowers. Check out the 700 year-old cypress tree. The Generalife Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage site in their own rights. Inside the Alhambra is the Museo de la Alhambra which has a collection of artifacts relating to the building.
The Mezquita, Cordoba
This is Cordoba’s beautiful great mosque with its serene and spacious interior. It is one of the world's greatest works of Islamic architecture built in a time when Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived side by side and enriched Cordoba with diverse cultures. It was originally a church but in 784 AD, it was developed to a greater extent and became a mosque. The Mezquita’s minaret influenced all minarets built later throughout the western Islamic world. It has a beautiful courtyard full of orange, palm and cypress trees and fountains. Following the Christian conquest of Cordoba in 1236, the Mezquita was used as a cathedral but remained largely unaltered for nearly 3 Centuries. Today, there is still controversy over whether this is a mosque or a church.
The Alcazar, Seville
The Alcazar Palace was built initially in the 1300s and has been expanded and reconstructed many times over the centuries. Today, it is still used as a royal palace. It is an enormous complex with many rooms, magnificent halls, and courtyards all hidden behind its walls. The Alcazar is divided into sections dating through a succession of eras which include Moorish (11th-12th century), Gothic (13th century), Mudejar (14th century), and Renaissance (15th-16th century). The heart of the Alcazar features the Mudejar Palace, with its Mudejar architecture; (the Mudejars were the Moors who stayed on in Spain after the Christians took over the region). The Renaissance Palace was where Columbus signed his agreement with Queen Isabella. The gardens are truly exotic in style, with many tropical flowers on display and have both Moorish and Renaissance influences.
Toledo, 70 kilometres/44 miles south of Madrid, is a fortified walled city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Located on a hill, once you step inside, it is like going back in time on a trip to Spain. It is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” because Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together here for centuries. There are churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues. The outstanding Gothic Cathedral here which, although its structure dates back to the 13th Century, was not finished until the 15th Century. Inside the Cathedral are works by well-known painters including Goya, El Greco and Van Dyck. The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz, built in 999 AD, is an unusual building as it is more or less in the same state as it was when it was originally built. The Synagogue of El Transito is a historic building and has been compared to the Alcazar in Seville and the Alhambra Palace in Granada. The Alcazar here is a huge and impressive stone fortification located in the highest part of the city. The house of the painter, El Greco is also a museum which contains exhibits of some of his greatest works.
The Salvador Dali Museum, Figueres
If you like whimsy with your art on Spain holidays, head to this wonderful and innovative building. Dali was the master of surrealism and the exhibits here are wide-ranging and some, simply weird. Someone called this a ‘theatre-museum’ which is apt for this trip through the incredibly fertile imagination of one of the great showmen of the 20th Century. It is full of surprises, tricks and illusion and contains a substantial portion of Dali’s life’s work. The mood is set the moment you arrive outside as above the entrance are medieval suits of armour balancing baguettes on their heads plus other bizarre sculptures. A separate entrance leads into Dali Joies, a collection of 37 jewels designed by Dali himself.
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral
This cathedral soars above the city centre and is a splendid mixture of spires and sculptures. It was built gradually over several centuries and is a mix of an original Romanesque structure constructed between 1075 and 1211 and later Gothic and Baroque elements. The most important part of the church is the Portico de la Gloria which features 200 outstanding Romanesque sculptures. Hundreds of Christian pilgrims set off annually from various starting points with their destination being this church as the tomb of Santiago lies beneath the main altar. They come by foot, some by bicycle and a few travel on horseback or by donkey. A special pilgrims' Mass is usually celebrated at the High Altar at noon daily. For wonderful views of the cathedral's interior from its upper storeys and of the city from the cathedral roof, take a cathedral rooftop tour.
San Sebastian, Basque Country
San Sebastian is a stunning and sophisticated, Internationally-renowned city and resort in the Basque region of Spain, lying in a bay with twin peaks at each end of an excellent sandy beach. The beachfront runs the length of the bay with the Old Town at one end and a modern shopping district at the other. San Sebastian has one of the best beaches in Europe, ideal on trips to Spain. It is also known as the culinary capital of Spain with around 30 Michelin-rated restaurants. The heart of the Old Town is the Plaza de la Constitution. In this colourful district, you will find numerous restaurants and bars offering the “national” snack, Pintxos to be enjoyed on a trip to Spain. There are also some lovely old churches from the 16th and 18th Centuries and a 16th Century monastery.
Guernica, Basque Country Guernica is a town on the coast and best-known for the bombing it endured from Nazi Germany in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War when it was razed to the ground. It inspired Picasso’s famous painting of the same name. There is a reproduction of Picasso's Guernica consisting of a mosaic of tiles which shows, in puzzle form, Picasso's great work, the original of which is currently on display at the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid. The Biscayan Assembly building and the Tree of Guernica both survived and offer an insight into the history of the Basque people such as the Basque independence movement.
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Basque Country This museum is one of modern architecture's most iconic buildings to be experienced on a trip to Spain. There is no doubt the Guggenheim Museum is one of modern architecture's most outstanding buildings. Designed by Fran Gehry, this shining edifice, made of titanium, cannot be missed with its riverside location. The gleaming titanium tiles that sheathe most of the building are said to have been inspired by the architect’s childhood fascination with fish. Immediately outside is the whimsical puppy designed by Jeff Koons. It is a 12 metre/37 foot-tall Highland Terrier made up of thousands of begonias. The museum hosts many temporary exhibitions of modern art and design.
Very few countries can boast that they have such a large selection of beaches as Spain. The principal beach destinations on Spain holidays include the following. The Costa del Sol on the south coast is aptly named as the climate varies from mild in the winter to hot in the summer. It stretches 160 kilometres/100 miles. Resorts vary from touristy to quaint. For golfers, this is a haven as the region has the highest concentration of world-class golf courses in Spain – more than 60. Marbella is probably the best-known resort on the Costa del Sol due to its reputation for elegance and style reflected in its attraction of the rich and famous. The Costa Brava is located in the north-east on the Mediterranean Sea, stretching 300 kilometres/180 miles from due north of Barcelona to as far as the French border. It is an area of natural beauty with excellent sandy beaches and a mountainous backdrop perfect for a holiday in Spain or an extension to a stay in Barcelona. The coastline will surprise you with the beauty of its superb beaches. The Balearic Islands lie off the south-east coast of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea and comprise Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera plus a number of minor islands. All four of the principal islands are very much geared to tourism but each has its own style and character on a trip to Spain. Mallorca is the largest and best-known island. The capital, Palma de Mallorca has historical and cultural attractions. There are some excellent beaches which are close by to the town. Other beaches can be found along the island’s 550 kilometre/345 mile coastline with small coves set between cliffs and pine groves in the north of the island. The inland portion of Mallorca is truly scenic and in parts, is very mountainous. The Canary Islands are located 100 kilometres/62 miles west of the North African coast opposite Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean. Due to their position, they offer a subtropical climate with hot summers and warm winters perfect for a Spain holiday. The principal islands are Tenerife, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura. Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and is the most contrasting on a trip to Spain. Not only does it have beaches but it has an amazing hinterland. The beaches, interestingly, are affected by the volcanic aspects of the island resulting in black sand beaches. Gran Canaria has stunning landscapes plus peaceful coves and beaches in the south of the island contrasting with the more commercial and popular tourist areas such as Las Palmas de Gran Canaria which has some historic neighbourhoods, an interesting cathedral and some colonial architecture from the 15th and 16th Centuries.
The Wine Regions of Spain
Spain can healthily compete with France and Italy when it comes to quality wines. There are many wine-producing regions which are spread out all over the country. Two of the most important are The Rioja region and the Jerez region. Rioja is one of the best-known wine types in Spain. This region is located in the north-central area of the country. It is rich in history having been invaded by the Phoenicians Romans, Moors and the Crusaders. Ancient sites of Roman wineries still exist in and around the area today. Sherry is synonymous with Spain. This fortified wine is produced in the far south-west corner of the country in Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Sherry has been produced in a range of styles since the 1600s.
When in Spain, the flamenco is a major entertainment. This combination of Latin, Gipsy and Jewish influences and traditions is more than music; it is a folk art involving singing, dance and guitar and rhythm accompaniment. It originated in Andalusia many centuries ago. There are daily flamenco shows in Madrid, Barcelona and Andalusian cities such as Seville, Granada, Cordoba and Malaga and there are flamenco festivals which take place annually in Barcelona in July and August, Madrid in June, Cordoba in July and Granada in June/July.
Bullfighting is another tradition in Spain. It is not for everyone on a Spain holiday. It can be bloody and violent. For the most part, the bullfighting season in Spain runs from April to September, in most major cities usually on Sundays. There are a number of bullfighting festivals throughout the season which usually run for one or two weeks. If attending a bullfight, consider buying a more expensive ticket for a seat in the shade as a bullfight can last up to 3 to 4 hours.
January begins with Three Kings Day celebrations on the 6th, followed by a number of interesting celebrations in the Balearic Islands.
The San Sebastian festival in the city of the same name, with its Tamborrada drumming, is the biggest event of the month.
February is carnival month, a celebration to mark the start of Lent, with the biggest events appearing in Cadiz and the Canary Islands.
The Festival de Jerez, one of the most prominent flamenco festivals in the country, happens in the city of Jerez.
In March, Valencia is home to Las Fallas, a weeklong event mostly known for its giant, crafted figurines are paraded through town and then set on fire.
Semana Santa, a.k.a Holy Week, is a religious celebration with processions in the streets put on by local brotherhoods. It takes place throughout several cities in Spain during Easter, lasting about a week or longer depending on the location.
There are a number of local festivals in Spain in May, usually celebrating each area's local traditions and customs, including the Festival de San Isidro in Madrid and the Feria de Patios and Feria de las Cruces in Cordoba.
Madrid hosts the Madrid Open, the country's largest tennis tournament. Lleida is home to the Aplec del Caragol, where 12 tons of snails are eaten in this culinary festival.
Granada hosts the Water and Ham festival, which is basically just a gigantic water fight. Madrid hosts PHoto España, the city's largest photo exhibition.
San Fermin, more commonly known by one of its events, the running of the bulls, happens every year in Pamplona from July 6th to July 14th.
Horse racing on the beach at Sanlucar de Barrameda is also a popular event this month.
Another well-known event, Tomatina, is a festival where thousands of people throw tomatoes at each other. This happens on the last Wednesday of August in the town of Buñol.
Feria de Malaga, perhaps Andalusia's biggest summer festival, includes concerts, dancing, great food, and more.
The Basque region also holds a large festival, Semana Grande, in Bilbao and San Sebastian, that's packed with events like fireworks, bullfighting, and more.
Festa de la Mercé happens in Barcelona, one of the city's biggest festivals of the year that celebrates the city's patron saint with wine fairs, fireworks, and other events.
San Sebastian also hosts one of the world's largest film festivals at this time. The region of La Rioja, Spain's famous wine region, holds its grape harvest celebration.
Catch the Bienal de Flamenco, Spain's biggest flamenco festival, held every two years.
The Week of Architecture celebration has exhibits, children's workshops, and events held in Madrid's most famous buildings.
Tarragona hosts an annual "human castle building" competition, where large teams of people transform themselves into castles by stacking high on top of each other.
Jazz fans will enjoy the festivals in Madrid, Granada, and Barcelona this month.
There are several beverage tastings held across the country, such as International Sherry Week in Jerez, Feast of the Orujo in Potes, and the San Andres Festival on the island of Tenerife.
Several film festivals are held around the country—see a full list here.
December is dominated by Christmas and the many events associated with it, several local events per week, especially in Madrid and Barcelona.
When it comes to shopping, knowing the shopping landscape, where to find the best deals and the cheapest goods, and when and how to bargain is very important.
Shopping in Thailand is not difficult when you can find all you need to know on the TAT website. It is a good idea to browse many places to compare prices before making your purchase, but most of the time the prices vary according to the goods quality or if they are selling imitation goods, so it is worth checking carefully before you buy it. Buying in bulk is always a lot cheaper, so you should bring your friends to a wholesale market, trust us you will be surprised by the prices there.
You should bargain the price when buying stuff in Thailand as it is part of the culture to haggle. You can usually lower the price drastically by haggling at most stalls here, while only some are selling goods at fixed prices. If you want to bargain, the rule is 20% lower than the initially stated price.
If you want even bigger bargains, we suggest you cut out the middle man or wait until there is a sale expo or a midnight sale, where you will get incredibly cheap deals. Sales usually start at the beginning of the month and there are also big sales at the end of the year. For more information on sales, visit the TAT website.
Thailand shopping tips
Most malls open daily from 10.00 am - 10.00 pm. It is safe to say night markets always open until midnight and local fresh markets open around 4.00 - 9.00 am. All these are Thailand shopping experience you shouldn’t miss out on.
Places to shop
Bangkok - Chatuchak, Klong Thom, Sampeng, Pratunam, and Bobae Markets
Chiang Mai - Wualai Walking Street, Thapae Walking Street, Chiang Mai Night Bazar, and Kad Rin Come Night Market Hat Yai - Kim Yong and Santisuk Markets
Food in Spain is not simply a way to stave off hunger, but rather is an experience that has become a massive part of what makes the country unique. For North Americans, breakfast has traditionally been considered the most important meal of the day, but in Spain, it is lunch. Spread out over multiple courses, people generally devote quite a bit of time to this meal, traditionally served between 1:30-3:30 pm. As a result of such a large meal, dinner is a considerably lighter affair and is generally eaten much later than in North America.
Various regions of Spain have varying specialties. The interior is known for its meat dishes including roasts and suckling pigs. The east coast is popular for its rice dishes, while northern Spain boasts sausages and seafood. As a nation with long coastlines, naturally fresh seafood is not hard to come by.
Popular dishes include:
Paella: a rice dish that is flavoured with saffron and other local spices. A dish commonly associated with Spain, Paella is traditionally served with shellfish, chicken, sausage and peppers.
Chorizo: This dish consists of slices of smoked pork sausage that has been seasoned with smoked paprika.
Gazpacho: Originating in Andalusia, Gazpacho is a tomato-based soup that is served cold.
Croquetas: These are small fritters served with béchamel sauce and ham, tuna or cod.
Pimientos rellenos: This dish consists of skinless red peppers that have been stuffed with either tuna or cod.
Tapas: Another cultural element closely associated with Spain is Tapas. It is a wide variety of appetizers or snacks that can be made up of hot or cold elements. Tapas is meant to encourage conversation, as diners aren’t solely focused on one main meal.
For Spaniards, wine is considered the national drink and is produced throughout the country. No matter where one travels, they are sure to come across tasty wines. Wine may be the national drink, but Sangria is arguably the most popular. It is a red wine punch flavoured with oranges, lemons, seltzer and sugar. Beer, or cerveza, is another common drink in Spain with domestic brands including: San Miguel, Mahou, Aguila and Cruz Blanca.
Things to Know:
While tipping isn’t a major part of Spanish culture, between 5-10% is acceptable for good service.
Remember: Because lunch is served later, and for longer, most restaurants open later for dinner than North American travellers may be used to. It is important to keep this in mind when dining out.
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