The vibrancy of coastal Majorca and Valencia, the medieval sites of Segovia and Seville, Gaudi and Gothic architecture in Barcelona…a trip to Spain is an exploration through time and culture. With 17 different regions in this Southern European country, finding your own path takes a bit of research. Thankfully we’ve handled that task with this insider’s guide to Spain.
The euro is the official currency of Spain. Before the Euro Spaniards used the peseta, but as of 2002 this form of currency no longer has legal tender status. Therefore, if you are traveling with a few pesetas passed down to you from other travelers to Spain, leave them behind and save yourself the hassle.
When changing money choose ATMs or bureaux de change. Local banks typically only deal with locals and bank customers, so you won’t have much luck changing money at these establishments. The cheapest, and easiest, way to change money is to use your debit card at an ATM. Choose an ATM located inside a bank lobby or bank branch for your safest option.
The bureaux of change will advertise great rates, but you can only earn these when changing large sums of cash. Additionally, you will have to bring cash money in order to use the bureaux of change. This can prove a security risk, so in reality you are much better off to stick with ATMs for withdrawals in euros.
When in Spain you don’t have to tip as gratuities aren’t expected. That being said, as a tourist from the US where tipping is customary, your tips are welcomed in tourist-friendly areas. This includes tipping hotel concierge, cleaning staff, taxis from airports, tour company guides and restaurants that cater to tourists.
How much should you tip? 5 to 10 percent for fine dining is sufficient, while small change and single euros are on par for other tipping situations.
The official language of Spain is Spanish. Use your Spanish language skills to show your respect for the culture. Just make sure to use the formal tense of everything.
Spanish is not the only language you’ll hear in this diverse country. Other official languages that co-exist with Spanish include Catalan, Basque, Galician and Occitan.
Catalan is primarily spoken in the northeastern region of the country. It is the official language for the residents of Catalonia and Valencia on the continent, as well as for the islanders of the Balearic Islands. Basque is officially referred to as Euskara in the Basque country, which is located in northern Spain where the country borders France.
The Galician language is the primary language of the community of Galicia in the northwestern part of Spain. Occitan has between 100,000 and 800,000 native speakers and is the official language of Catalonia.
Culture and Etiquette
As for the culture and etiquette of the insider’s guide to Spain, start with wearing proper attire. Informal attire is fine for walking about, but casual-smart dress will get you into most places including churches and restaurants. If you are on the beach and wear a swimsuit, bring a coverup when venturing to dining establishments and shops nearby.
Speaking of shops, the local custom is to shut down for a siesta from 2 to 5 pm every afternoon. So join the locals and take this time to rest from your travels as you won’t be able to dine or shop at these hours.
Food and Dining
Meal times in Spain differ from the rest of the world. Expect lunch to be served no earlier than 1:30 pm, while most diners will sit for their mid-day meal at 2 pm, followed by a siesta. For dinner wait until 9 pm to go out to eat. In fact, finding restaurants that start serving dinner at 10 pm is par for the course. The exception is for areas that are tourist-friendly, which will serve meals earlier according to the meal times of tourists.
Another word of wisdom, if you want to eat outdoors be early as this is the most popular place to dine. Additionally, you’ll have to pay more for the experience. This is noted as a service fee on your bill, or you will see the price differences on the menu when you order.
To get the best of the local cuisine, avoid restaurants with menus in more than one English. Yes, this will test your Spanish language skills. However, the restaurants with Spanish-only menus will feature authentic dishes.
If you want to save some cash on dining out, choose restaurants with a menu del dia, or menu of the day. These menus feature a set price per plate, along with an every changing menu based on what is in season and available at the market. You save money, while also tasting the freshest foods in the city. As an added bonus, these meals come with freebies including drinks and bread.
Spain offers a variety of food so be sure to try something new while you are here. A few of our favorites includes tapas (small appetizer sized meals), paella, jamon iberico (cured ham or iberian ham), churros con chocolate and pimientos de padron (a pepper appetizer that might be spicy, and it might not). Pair your meal with a beverage; cafe, beer (cerveza), red wine, sangria and cava are all great options.
The best season for visiting Spain is from June to August, which is considered the high season thanks to the climate. During this season there is little rainfall, and the average temperature ranges from 60 to 80 degrees F.
The shoulder season runs from March to May, and August to October. These months offer mild temperatures and clear days. However, you can save money at these times because there aren’t the public holidays that are popular during the high season.
The low season in Spain runs from November to February. Expect rain, especially in the northern end, along with cold temperatures in the central part of the country around Madrid. Temps in Madrid during the low season average 36 degrees F, and you can anticipate some rain, on an average of at least once every three days.
First and foremost, if you need police assistance or have an emergency the number to call is 112 in Spain. However, chances are you’ll never need to dial those digits. Spain is considered one of Europe’s safest countries thanks to very little crime. When traveling in major cities, tourist hotspots, and crowded areas, use common sense regarding protection against pickpockets.
Adventures and Exploration
As noted there are 17 regions in Spain, each with its own culture and diverse geography.
The best way to decide where to visit in Spain is by looking at your travel interests. Our insider’s guide to Spain recommends that beachcombers and partiers head to the Balearic Islands for the party capital of Ibiza. Other coastal shores beckoning beach lovers include Cabo de Gata on the Andalusian coast or Playa de la Concha for one of the world’s most perfect beaches.
Architecture & History Buffs
Interested in architecture and Moorish history? Andalusia is the area for you so you can explore the Alhambra palace, Mezquita mosque and Alcazar fortress in the cities of Seville, Cordoba and Granada. To explore the ancient Roman ruins of Spain, stick to the Extremadura, Castilla Y Leon, Galicia and Aragon regions of Northern Spain. Some of the most sought out archaeological sites in these regions include the Roman amphitheater of Italica, intact Roman city of Baelo Claduia and Roman ruin of Villa Romana La Olmeda.
Art enthusiasts will be drawn to the royal galleries of Museo del Prado. Located in Madrid, this is one of the most prestigious art galleries in the world. Picasso lovers abound in the native country of this famous artist, and top picks of galleries include Museu Picasso in Barcelona of the Catalonia region.
Everywhere in Spain offers unique cuisine, culture, shopping, sites and lessons in history. By focusing on the regions that best suit your travel needs, you save time and money on traveling across this expansive country.