Spain shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal, the British Crown Territory of Gibraltar, and the tiny principality of Andorra. One of only three countries with both an Atlantic and Mediterranean coastline (France and Morocco are the others), Spain is mostly mountainous, dominated by high plateaus and soaring peaks. The Sierra Nevada is the tallest range.
Though it is one country, several of Spain’s provinces hold strong regional identities. Many Basques, Catalans, and Castillians, for instance, identify themselves only secondarily as “Spanish.” Their cultures embrace the qualities of the larger country, to be sure, but they cling to other traditions that are wholly unique. Some provinces, for instance, speak a variation of the Spanish language and would even prefer independence. For now, however, the united Spain is a democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its capital in Madrid.
Spanish is Spain’s official language. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Life in Spain
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and from 4:30 to 8:00 p.m.; most department stores and some supermarkets are open all day, every day of the week, from 10:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. Banks are open from 8:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., Monday to Saturday (except from June to September when they are closed on Saturday).
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served from 1:00 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and dinner is served from 8:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Tipping: Tipping in restaurants and bars is included in the total bill, but it is customary to leave an additional 5 to 10 percent of the total. Taxi drivers also receive 5 to 10 percent of the total, or you could round up the total, letting the driver keep the change. For luggage assistance, a small tip of one to three euros is appropriate.
Spanish public holidays: To assist in travel planning, it may be helpful to be aware of Spanish public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events. Visit the Spanish tourist board’s website for a list of public holidays and a list of festivals and events.
Thoroughly Mediterranean, the foundation of Spanish cuisine is olive oil, garlic, and local and seasonal produce, meat, and fish. Spanish food varies by region in the same way that there is great variety in Spain’s geography and climate; however, some dishes can be found throughout the country—a range of tapas (see below), paella, gazpacho, excellent cured ham, chorizo, meatballs, salads, good bread, fresh fruit, cheeses, and for dessert, flan (vanilla custard). Surrounded as Spain is on three sides by water, seafood dishes are plentiful throughout, including shrimp with garlic, calamari, octopus, porgy, or monkfish, all with regional variations.
Equally steeped in Mediterranean culture, wine has been produced in Spain since the time of the Romans, and the country is third in European wine production after France and Italy. Except near Santiago de Compostela, quality red and white wines can be found in all regions, with the majority from the central Castilla-La Mancha and Catalonia regions. A crisp and bubbly before-dinner drink is Catalonia’s sparkling wine, cava, named after the cellars in which it is produced.
Tapas, or pinxtos as they are known in the Basque country, are perhaps Spain’s best-known culinary export, with tapas bars and restaurants popping up worldwide. Part of Spanish life, they can be eaten with a drink as appetizers before a meal, or as a meal in themselves. There is even a verb in the Spanish language—tapear—meaning “to eat tapas.” These small savory dishes can be as simple as a plate of olives, slices of Manchego cheese or chorizo, or more complicated dishes such as grilled eggplant in tomato vinaigrette or slices of tortilla Española, a dense potato and onion omelet. In Catalonia, a favorite is Pan Catalan (or in Catalan, pa amb tomàquet), lightly toasted bread with chopped tomatoes drizzled with olive oil.
Here are a few others Spanish favorites
Patatas bravas: spicy potatoes with a hot sauce.
Croquetas: a range of small fried croquettes that can be stuffed with Serrano ham, salt cod, hard-boiled egg, cheese, or vegetables.
Champiñones al ajillo: mushrooms, dripping with olive oil, garlic and dry Spanish sherry.
Morcilla frita: bite-size pieces of spicy blood sausage flavored with garlic and oregano.
One of Europe’s warmest and sunniest countries, Spain has a predominantly warm Mediterranean climate, with dry summers and pleasant temperatures in spring and fall. Spain has a variety of climates and zones because of its considerable geographic diversity. In Catalonia, for instance, the combination of Mediterranean and mountainous climates results in temperatures between the low 60s and mid-80s, or even 90s midday in August and September. In southern Spain’s Andalusia, spring and fall are dry and sunny, with temperatures ranging from the 60s to the 80s.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least three months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days. For more information, see travel.state.gov.
No immunizations are required to enter Spain. Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 800-232-4636), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Electricity: Alternating current of 220V and 50Hz is used in Spain. Plugs have two round pins. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Spain’s country code is “+34.” Cell phone coverage throughout Spain is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Spain is in the Central European Time Zone, Eastern Standard Time plus 6 hours. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at spain.info.
International Airports in Spain
- A Coruña – Alvedro Airport
- Alicante Airport
- Almería International Airport
- Asturias Airport
- Barcelona Airport
- Ciudad Real Central Airport
- Fuerteventura Airport
- Girona-Costa Brava Airport
- Gran Canaria Airport
- Granada Airport
- Huesca-Pirineos Airport
- Ibiza Airport
- Jerez de la Frontera – Jerez Airport
- Santa Cruz de la Palma – La Palma Airport
- Lanzarote Airport
- Lleida – Alguaire Airport
- Madrid-Barajas Airport
- Málaga Airport
- Minorca – Menorca Airport
- Murcia-San Javier Airport
- Palma de Mallorca Airport
- Reus Airport
- Santander – Santander Airport
- Santiago de Compostela Airport
- Seville Airport
- Tenerife South Airport
- Valencia – Valencia Airport
- Valladolid Airport
- Zaragoza Airport
Spanish Railway: Spain’s national train company is renfe.com. It has an extensive network, including high-speed routes (AVE) from Madrid. You may book your train travel directly with them. Or, if you plan to travel for longer periods, consider Rail Europe, a U.S.-based company that provides schedules, reservations, and ticketing for all European train networks. Their multi-day, -week or -month passes in one country or combinations of countries may be a more economical and convenient choice. For more information, go to raileurope.com or call 800.622.8600.
Other local transportation
In addition to rail and airline networks, Spain also has many regional bus lines that can be found at: movelia.es. Most major car rental agencies are available at airports and train stations. Taxis are available at all major airports, train stations, and in smaller towns, and can be reserved in advance (your hotel can usually provide assistance). For more information go to spain.info, and click on “Practical information” then “Transport.”