Wondering what you should know before visiting Spain?
Then you’ve come to the right place!
A beautiful country full of mouth-watering food, ancient sites, and stunning landscapes, Spain is one of the most culturally rich countries in Europe — but there are some travel tips you should know before you go.
I’ve been to Spain on more than one occasion (it’s one of my favorite countries so far), and have even worked at a hostel in Granada. Through my experience, I’ve learned what to do and what not to do in Spain and I’m here to spill the tea!
From the flavors of Basque Country to the beaches of Andalusia, here are my top 20 things to know before visiting Spain.
(PS – scroll to the bottom of this article for a special Spain travel FAQ section.)
20 Important Things to Know Before Traveling in Spain
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#1 – People Eat Dinner Very Late
It’s often a shock to the system for most North Americans, but Spanish people tend to have dinner around 9-10 pm.
Can you feel your blood sugar dropping just reading this? Then buckle up, because all meal times are a little later in the day here.
Breakfast isn’t really a special meal in Spain (often it’ll be very light), lunch is had around 3-4 pm, and dinner is when the Spaniards really come out to play.
Dinner can easily be a few hours long, with wine flowing and multiple courses introduced throughout.
Not to mention, meals in Spain are often just as focused on the people as they are on the food, which can make for excellent events.
📚 Read More: 20 Fun and Unique Things to Do in Granada, Spain
#2 – Public Transporation is Widespread
If it’s your first time in Spain, then you’ll be delighted to hear that public transport is widespread, timely, and simple to use.
There are a few public transport options including buses, trains, planes, and rideshare companies.
Spain’s buses and trains are new, clean, and punctual (and quite frankly a lot better than any I’ve ever taken in North America), but if you’re going a far distance, then check flights as well. Oftentimes you can find crazy good flight deals between major cities like Barcelona and San Sebastian that are even cheaper than ground transport.
Just keep in mind that when you buy a public transportation ticket in Spain, you’ll often find your seat number printed on it. People don’t just sit wherever on buses in Europe, so be sure to stick to your assigned seat.
👉 Pro Tip: Renting a car in Spain is made easy with Discover Cars. They’re my personal go-to for comparing rates and securing international car insurance.
#3- You’ll Need to Speak a Little Spanish
It’s no secret that people in Spain speak Spanish, but if you’re a total newbie to the language, it’ll be absolutely worth learning a few key phrases.
This is pretty typical as far as travel tips go, but I will caution that getting around Spain with no Spanish experience can be tricky.
Not everyone speaks English, and if you run into issues or have questions then you’ll either have to stumble your way through the language or rely on a translator app.
#4 – But Spanish Is Not The Only Language
Though everyone in Spain speaks Spanish, it’s worth noting that it’s not the only language spoken in the country.
There are multiple semi-autonomous regions within Spain, and Catalan, Valencian, and Basque are common minority languages within these perspective regions.
It’s estimated that 81% of Spaniards regard Spanish as their official first language, while Catalan comes in number two at 8%.
#5 – Tipping Isn’t the Norm
Unlike North America, tipping in Spain isn’t common and is often the exception, not the rule.
That said, just because tipping isn’t compulsory doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated. It’s common for people to leave a couple of euros on the table as a gratuity, although 10-15% is a good move at higher-end restaurants.
#6 – It’s A Fairly Large Country
What constitutes a large country probably depends on where you come from (I’m from Canada so I feel my perspective is skewed), but it would be a mistake to think that you can see all of Spain in one fell swoop.
Spain’s landmass is just under 506,000 km2, and driving top to bottom without stopping would take you over 10 hours.
Because of this, I recommend picking a couple of regions for your trip and trying to cover those as best as possible.
#7 – It’s Home to 11 Mountain Ranges
Stretching from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, Spain lays claim to eleven distinct mountain ranges, including the most well-known Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada, Montserrat, Picos de Europa, and Sistema de Gredos.
Because of this, Spain has distinct alpine culture as reflected by the climate.
In particular, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in the Spanish region of Andalusia is home to the highest point in the country at 3479 meters above sea level.
While much of Andalusia and the Costa del Sol can feel like the desert, the Sierra Nevada brings a stark alpine contrast. Here, you’ll find attractions such as the road to Pico de Veleta, the village of Capileira, ski resorts, and hiking trails.
#8 – Free Tapas Can be Hard to Find
When you think of Spanish cuisine, tapas will often come to mind.
These flavor-packed dishes that come free with drinks are often regarded as a pillar of Spanish custom, but did you know that they don’t quite exist all around Spain?
True, they used to be more of a widespread practice back in the day, but now you’ll primarily find them in Granada and Seville in the south, and San Sebastian in the north.
🍽️ Fancy a tour? This gourmet tapas tour in Granada will take you to the best tapas spots and teach you about local food history.
#9 – Many Shops & Businesses Close for Siesta
Something that often trips up travelers when visiting Spain for the first time is the fact that many Spanish people do in fact take a siesta.
Though not found so much in the corporate world, many shops and public-facing businesses will shut their doors between 2-5 pm for a lunch break — especially in smaller towns.
This practice was first introduced among farmers who wanted to beat the heat of the day but has been adopted in many areas as a way to connect with family and relax.
Something to keep in mind if you plan to hit any mid-day shops or restaurants.
#10 – Sangria is for Tourists, Tinto de Verano is for Spaniards
Want to look like a newbie tourist in Spain? Order Sangria.
Of course, there’s nothing that says you can’t order a Sangria in Spain — I mean, who doesn’t love this fruity, bubbly, wine drink on a hot summer day?
But if you want to roll with the locals, skip the fruit juice and opt for a Tinto de Verano. Where Sangria often features orange juice and fruit chunks, Tinto de Verano is simply just wine mixed with a carbonated drink (often just water, sprite, or fanta).
Truthbetold I like them both, and you should honestly just order whatever makes you happy, but I do find that in the heat of summer Tinto de Verano can be much more refreshing.
🍷 Want to experience the best of Spain’s food and drink? Take a tour! This wine and tapas tour from Madrid will take you to some of the city’s oldest bars and teach you about local gastronomy.
#11 – The Climate is Very Diverse
I mentioned it earlier, but you should be prepared for specific weather patterns based on where you’re planning to visit in Spain
Overall, there are three different climate areas in Spain (although these are often categorized into 13 sub-climates). Though most of the country can be characterized as Mediterranean with hot, dry summers and rainy winters, the country does also experience continental and oceanic zones.
You’ll find quite a bit of winter snowfall in the northern Basque country, while the oceanic Pyrenees and Asturia regions experience relatively mild winters and warm (but not hot) summers.
#12 – Pickpocketing Can be a Problem in Major Cities
Though it’s not a problem everywhere in Spain, if you’ll be spending time in cities such as Barcelona and Madrid, then keep an eye out for pickpockets.
Pickpockets tend to strike when you’re distracted or in crowds, so always keep an eye on your belongings, make sure your bags have sturdy zips, and purchase slash-proof gear.
👉 Pro Tip: This slash-proof bag is a great choice if you want to secure your items to your person. Also, I always travel with a Pacsafe bag protector to secure my electronics in my hotel when I’m out for the day.
#13 – But Spain is a Very Safe Country Overall
That said, though it has its issues (like everywhere) Spain is a statistically safe country to visit.
According to the 2020 Global Peace Index, Spain ranks 38 out of 163 counties in terms of safety, and violent crime (especially against tourists) is very rare.
That said, always keep an eye on your belongings, don’t be out alone at night in big cities, and learn a few Spanish words to get yourself through potentially rocky situations.
#14- Spain is the Second Most Visited Country in the World
Did you know that, with 83.7 million people visiting Spain in 2019, the country is the second most popular destination for tourism in the world?
According to the World Population Review, Spain has remained in the top five most-visited countries for years and it only sits behind its neighbor France, who welcomed 89.4 million visitors that same year, in terms of popularity.
This means great things for Spain’s economy, but it also means that it seriously struggles with overtourism.
Not to put you off of your visit, but I would caution you to plan your Spain travel accordingly. Try to steer clear of visiting Spain in the peak season (summer) and opt for lesser-visited areas such as the Canary Islands, Granada, Valencia, and Seville.
📚 Read More: 20 Essential Tips for Solo Traveling As a Woman
#15- There Is No Limit to Nightlife
I’m going to level with you — most of western Europe has insanely good nightlife. Countries such as Germany, The Netherlands, and France are renowned for what happens after the sun goes down, and Spain keeps up with the best of them.
Given that dinner doesn’t happen until 9 or 10 pm, oftentimes Spanish nightlife doesn’t really get rolling til midnight and can go into the wee hours of the morning.
The rules for how late music and club venues can operate vary around Spain, but many destinations have the last call around 4 am or none at all.
#16 – Spain has Renowned Islands
Though you should absolutely visit the mainland on your trip to Spain, I’d also highly recommend factoring in an island or two.
Depending on your travel style, some of the best islands in Spain include Mallorca, Ibiza (famous for partying), Tenerife, Lanzarote, Formentera, Menorca, La Palma, and Fuerteventura.
These regions are especially great for beach vacations, stunning landscapes, and water activities.
⛵ Fun alert! This half-day catamaran tour from Palma de Mallorca includes a buffet meal and bar service.
#17- Book Tickets for Attractions in Advance
One of my biggest Spain travel tips is to, regardless of the time of year, book your tickets for attractions and activities in advance.
Even if you think you’ve got it made by visiting Spain in the off-season, you’ll find that many attractions book up well in advance. For example, the renowned Alhambra in Granada has a tendency to sell out of tickets well over a month ahead of time, and this can be a major bummer if you’re traveling on the fly.
Not to mention, the most popular restaurants in places like Barcelona and Madrid require reservations and are often packed.
You can absolutely leave a little room for spontaneity on your trip, but if you visit Spain with the big-ticket items booked, you’ll be a happy camper.
📚 Read More: My 20 Best Tips for Traveling on a Budget
#18 – High-Speed Internet is (Almost) Everywhere
Two decades into the 21st century, we pretty much expect high-speed internet to exist in all European countries.
Gone are the days of internet cafes and paper maps, as all we need to access the internet is our handy dandy smartphone.
That said, while high-speed internet exists in all of Spain’s major cities, there are some spots around the country (such as smaller towns and islands) that leave this area to be desired.
This may be great news for you if you want to go off-grid, but I’d recommend purchasing either an international phone plan or a Spain SIM card to keep yourself connected just in case.
#19 – Punctuality Is the Exception, Not the Rule
Again, this may come as a shock to my North American readers, but showing up late in Spain is kinda just accepted as normal.
Though this absolutely does not apply to ticket times and boarding passes (all Spain travel is very much on schedule), you’ll find that interpersonal events can often start up to a half-hour after the agreed-upon time.
If this happens to you, just go with the flow and uh, bring a book to read in case you’re left hangin’.
📚 Read More: Chasing Picasso in Malaga
#20 – Spain Has Strong Catholic Roots
Though it’s becoming increasingly secular in beliefs, Spain has a very strong Roman Catholic background that’s apparent almost everywhere you look.
Alongside the churches and cathedrals in pretty much every city and smaller town, you’ll also find festivals, monuments, and religious paraphernalia galore.
Of course, Spain has a long and varied history of being overtaken by different religions, and I honestly think this is one of the most interesting things about it. Alongside the cathedrals, you’ll find Moorish structures, Jewish communities, and more — with the end result being a culturally-rich mix.
📚 Read More: Stumbling Upon Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Seville
Visiting Spain Travel Tips FAQ
Is it expensive to visit Spain?
Spain has a reputation for being on the slightly-more-expensive end of the spectrum. It’s quite possible to visit Spain on a budget, but expect things to cost the same as elsewhere in western Europe.
What should I avoid in Spain?
Common blunders in Spain include only planning your trip around Madrid and Barcelona, eating at the wrong time of day, visiting in the middle of summer, and having too low of a budget.
Is Spain safe for females?
Spain is one of the best places to visit for solo female travelers. It’s incredibly safe and diverse, and Spaniards are notoriously friendly.
What are the best places to travel in Spain?
Some of the best places to travel in Spain include Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, Valencia, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Ibiza, and the islands.
That’s it for the top things you need to know before visiting Spain!
As I said at the start, Spain is one of my favorite counties and is a great country to visit for all travelers.
For more inspiration on Spain and European travel, visit:
- The Ultimate Spain Playlist
- 10 Best Day Trips from Split, Croatia That You’ll Love
- 10 Things To Do in Dublin for the Music and History Lover
Spill any Spain travel questions in the comments!