Spain Travel Guide: Top Tips & Advice
Welcome to The Unrivaled Guide to Immersive Spain Travel Guide! Called España Spanish, it’s easy to immersive yourself and have a wonderful time in this laid back country. Café culture, delectable treats, gorgeous wines, and stunning scenery reign across Spain’s numerous regions.
Many people think of Madrid and Barcelona when planning a trip to the Iberian peninsula, but there are many off-the-beaten path towns and sights worth a visit for both the newbie and well-seasoned traveler. In fact, Spain contains the second largest number of UNESCO world heritage sites in the world. Thus, there are many amazing sights within arm’s reach of major tourist destinations for the traveler desiring a deeper, immersive travel experience in Spain.
Table of Contents
- Spain Travel Guide: Top Tips & Advice
- What can I expect from Spain?
- Things to Do and See in Spain
- Book a Tour in Spain
- Typical Costs When Traveling
- Where to Stay in Spain
- What to Eat in Spain
- How to Get Around Spain
- When to Go to Spain
- How to Stay Safe in Spain
- Gear & Packing List
- Spain City & Regional Guides
- Guidebooks & Tools
- Related Blogs on Spain
What can I expect from Spain?
Overview: Known for a slower rhythm, an adjustment to Spain’s timetable is often difficult for foreigners. However, it’s also one of the most enjoyable aspects of vacationing in the country, especially for the slow traveler and its many British expats. Enjoy your time the way the Spanish do: a coffee and toast in the late morning at an outdoor café (also commonly called a bar), a late communal lunch, and a restful siesta before a lively evening of drinks and tapas.
Currency: The Euro (€) is the official currency of Spain
Electrical Plug: Spain uses the type C and the type F electrical plugs, which has two round posts side-by-side. Spain operates on 230V and 50 Hz. A plug adaptor will be needed to use your appliances in Spain.
Visa: As a part of the Schengen area, Americans can enter Spain for a total of 90 days on a tourist visa. You do not need to apply for a visa ahead of time; simply let Customs know you are in Europe for the purposes of travel upon arrival.
Religion: Spain has a fascinating religious history with signs of the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths in its architecture, food, and culture. Today, most Spanish identify as Catholic or non-religious. Source: Statista.
Languages: The main language spoken in Spain is Spanish, but there are five languages spoken in total: Spanish, Galician, Basque, Catalan, and Occitan as well as regional variants. Don’t worry, you’ll get along just fine speaking Spanish (castellano), but it’s always appreciated to learn a few words of the local language.
Opening Hours: Many local businesses close during the siesta from 2-6 pm. In the larger cities and more tourist-centered areas, many business stay open. Sundays are also very quiet with many businesses being closed, so check schedules ahead of time.
Regions: Regional identity is strong in the country. In fact, across Spain’s 17 regions, you can expect to find many distinctive local flavors, traditions, and architecture. Stop by anytime of year for unique regional parties unlike anything you’ve seen in locations throughout the country.
Festivals/Celebrations: Spain is well-known for a variety both well- and lesser-known traditional fiestas or festivals and celebrations throughout the year. Some of our favorites are Las Fallas (Valencia, spring), New Years Eve, and Semana Santa (Holy Week/Easter). Be sure to check your destination so you don’t miss out on the festivities.
Things to Do and See in Spain
Top Things to Do in Spain
- Marvel at the Alhambra in Granada – Visit the Alhambra in Granada for a glance at the splendor Moorish Spain. Afterwards, shop in Granada’s wandering streets, sample North African fare, and take a dip in the Arab baths.
- Eat tapas and raciones late into the night – Well known for partying, it seems the Spanish do not sleep. Share a variety of small plates and divine wines with friends, new and old in any local bar or cafeteria.
- Take a day trip to Montserrat abbey – Take a break from visiting Gaudi’s masterpieces in Barcelona, and visit Montserrat abbey via cable car. The cable car station is about 1 hour outside the city by metro.
- Enjoy sevillanas in the south – Get to know the gypsy roots of flamenco in Andalusia.
- Hike the Camino de Santiago – Hike one of the many pilgrimage routes along the St. James Way to Santiago de Compostela. If that sounds interesting, read our post on how to know if the Camino is calling you.
- Shop for damascene in Toledo – No trip to Madrid is complete without a half day spent in the ancient walled city of Toledo. The mixture of Jewish, Christian, and Arab architecture is enough to make anyone’s jaw drop. Stop by mannerist painter El Greco’s home before a simple ham sandwich lunch in the Plaza de Zocodover.
- Relax on the beach in Málaga – This city holds a special place in my heart as the first city visited in Spain. A lively yet calm Mediterranean city on the Costa de Sol, Málaga has a little bit for everyone – great beaches, shopping, museums, history, and a bull ring visible shorty after arrival by train.
- Shop Madrid’s stores & markets – Madrid will easily win the slow traveler’s heart with it’s old world architecture, art scene, nightlife, and plentiful museums. There is so much to see and do in Madrid, but shopping along the Gran Via and it’s connecting streets is electric.
- Savor world class wines – Wine lovers are sure to fall in love with one of Spain’s many world class regional wines (El Bierzo region is our favorite!). Not only do they taste heavenly, but wine is incredibly cheap, making treating your friends to a glass easy on any budget.
- Enjoy Las Fallas festival in Valencia – Spain boasts a multitude of traditional, regional, and religious festivals and celebrations throughout the year.
- Take in Goya and Picasso’s masterpieces – You don’t have to be an art enthusiasts to marvel at the art created by famous Spanish artists (Goya, Picasso, and Velazquez to name just a few) in Madrid’s three major museums as well as throughout Spain.
- Stand in awe at the architecture in Bilbao – Bilbao (and the northern Basque region) is a city all of it’s own. The architecture of Bilbao is well thought out, every detail not only functional, but artful. While your eyes take in the architecture, don’t forget to test Basque pintxos or pinchos, one bite delicacies available for choosing on any bar counter.
Book a Tour in Spain
Browse amazing tours in Spain organized by our friends at GetYourGuide.
Typical Costs When Traveling
Accommodation – Although costs have risen in recent years, Spain is still affordable for budget, mid-range and luxury travelers alike. Clean, funky hostels and hotels are readily available for travelers. In larger cities such as Bilbao and Barcelona, it may be hard to find cheaper accommodation with private rooms. In many smaller cities and even in the capital of Madrid, lovely private rooms can still be found for 50 euros/night. Watch out for vacation rentals, as cities have begun to crack down as they are driving up prices for residents.
Food – Sit down for a light Spanish breakfast around 10 m, costing about 3€. Lunch is enjoyed later in the day around 2 pm. As the main meal of the day, fill up on the three course meal called the Menú del día, wine included (10-12€). Dinner time in Spain starts around 10 pm and consists of light, shared fare and drinks.
Transportation – The transportation system in Spain is very sophisticated and affordable, and you can easily get around larger cities using public transportation. For travel in-country, Renfe operates a system of trains ranging from commuter to high speed long distance trains. ALSA is the go-to bus line. Trips are easily searched and booked online, but please note fares are not typically available more than 2 months in advance.
Activities – There is no shortage of activities in Spain ranging from festivals, museums, beaches, parks, eating tapas, or walking the Camino de Santiago. Entry fees are minimal.
Suggested daily budget – 40-50 EUR / 44-54 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out at local establishments, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in luxury accommodation or splurge on meals, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Skip the sit down restaurants – We’ve already mentioned that the Menú del día is a great way enjoy typical Spanish cuisine at a fair price. But, there are rumors that the tradition may be on it’s way out. Other affordable food options are fast casual dining in Spain, grocery stores, and stands or bars offering light snacks (try the tuna empanadas.
- Rent a Bike – Like many other tourist destinations, bikes and scooters are easily found and rented for a few hours of your trip. If you speak Spanish, you can especially enjoy the sweet bicycle puns in various cities’ rental program titles (ie: Sevici in Sevilla).
- Book ahead in the high season – Budget accommodations in highly trafficked cities have a way of selling out in the high season. If you are sure of your travel dates, consider booking several months in advance to ensure a place in the center of the city within your budget.”
- Sharing Economy Services – Download the BlaBlaCar ridesharing APP to see if someone is driving to your destination, and split the cost of gas. For accommodations, rent an Airbnb, couchsurf, or participate in a work exchange. (Of course, use good judgement if deciding to use any of these services.)
Where to Stay in Spain
In each city you frequent, it’s essential to stay in the city center. Try to book within walking distance (15 minutes) to all of the major tourist attractions. In smaller cities where you can walk the entire length of the town in 20 minutes, any clean, appealing location will be suitable.
Please note that Spaniards are known for socializing late into the night. If you want a good night’s sleep, choose an accommodation that’s a few streets away from the action.
- HostalIN (Madrid, Barcelona)
- Room007 Ventura Hostel (Madrid)
- Casa Susi (Pilgrim’s Only, Trabadelo)
- Parador de Santiago (Santiago de Compostela)
Traveler Tip: Look through reviews prior to booking to see how previous guests describe the atmosphere and nights sleep.
What to Eat in Spain
The mealtime culture in Spain is an adjustment for tourists to the Iberian peninsula.
Upon waking, feel free to have a small snack in your room or at an open bar. After a but of sightseeing, sit down for a Spanish breakfast around 10 am. This light meal typically consists of toast or pastry, coffee, and fresh juice.
Lunch is enjoyed later in the day around 2 pm as many shops close for the siesta. As the main meal of the day, tourists can fill up on the three course prix fixe meal called the Menú del día, wine included.
Dinner time in Spain starts much later, with many Spaniards heading out to eat no earlier than 10 pm. However, kitchens typically open around 8 pm. Get a table early, and plan to stay for the night. However don’t plan to eat your own entrée. Instead, sharing a range of delectable small plates called tapas and wine or beer. In the north, hop from place to place, enjoying each restaurant or bar’s signature one-bite pincho.
Best Food to Try in Spain
Paella – Although quite popular outside of Spain, you’ll never eat it again abroad once you head to Valencia and taste the original, traditional paella valenciana.
Salmorejo – A thicker alternative to gaspacho, salmorejo is eaten in Andalucía and resembles a dip. Savor this tangy tomatoes and garlic dish with small picos, small, dried bread bites.
Dulce de membrillo con queso – Finish your evening in Galicia with a simple dish of regional cow’s milk cheese with quince paste.
How to Get Around Spain
Public Transportation – You will find a great network of public transportation including metro, rail, and bus services. Plan to do a lot of walking as many plazas in Spain are pedestrian-only. Many smaller cities are walkable if you stay in the city center, meaning you will not need to take public transportation at all after arrival. You can simply use your own two legs!
Train – The transportation system in Spain is very sophisticated, and you can easily get around larger cities using public transportation. For travel in-country, Spain’s national rail line Renfe operates a system of trains ranging from commuter to high speed long distance trains. Most trips are easily searched and booked online, but please note fares are not typically available more than 2 months in advance.
Bus – If you have a little more time and/or want to save money, buses are typically cheaper than trains and run regularly. Some towns not serviced by train are accessible by bus, but please be aware they may only run once per day. Check out our recommended booking tools to search and book schedules.
Budget Airlines – We prefer enjoying the landscape and the ease of traveling by train. Nevertheless, Europe boasts many budget airlines both to get to/from Spain as well as to travel within Spain. Prices are often similar to trains, so take into account the total travel time to decide if taking a flight is worth it to you. Vueling is an airline I’ve taken many times in Spain, and I have found it to be efficient and affordable.
Car Rental – There are many towns and hamlets worth a stop, so for the more adventurous heading off the beaten path, it’s advisable to rent a car. Roads are well marked, and we have found driving and finding parking in Spain fairly accessible (as well as fun!). Spain drives on the right side of the road (same as the USA), and stick shift cars are most common. Prepare to pay a premium to rent an automatic.
Rideshare – For the budget conscious and less risk-averse, ride shares using the Bla Bla Car APP are an option. Simply search for a ride, meet your driver, and split the cost of gas. This can be a great option to jump to a small village and an opportunity for cultural exchange. During my time in Spain, I’ve found many new friends that enjoy hosting foreigners and sharing local advice. Assess your risk, and be sure to have travel insurance prior to deciding if this service is right for you.
When to Go to Spain
Spain’s Mediterranean climate is generally mild, but there is variations between Spain’s north, center, and coastline. Spring (April-May) and early fall (September – October) are the best in terms of climate and will see less tourism.
While early June is quite nice, late June-August is hot and people flock from all over the world to enjoy the sun. Beaches fill to an almost uncomfortable capacity, and the sun becomes bright and hot. However, visiting Spain in the heat is still enjoyable; take advantage of the siesta to get a respite from the heat before spending the evening eating outdoors.
How to Stay Safe in Spain
Spain is relatively safe for travelers, and incidences of violent crime are low. There is a chance for petty theft, such as of a passport or wallet, particularly in crowded tourist areas. Stay alert, keep an eye on your belongings at all times, and watch for travel scams.
There is some civil unrest which leads to protests in major cities. Steer clear of protests or large gatherings in main tourist squares or near government buildings.
Spain has an APP for their police force, the Guardia Civil. Download the AlertCops APP for Apple or at the Google Play Store. Don’t forget to register before your trip on the off change you need to alert them. Watch a short video explanation of the APP (Spanish with English subtitles).
Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance with World Nomads prior to your trip in case of an emergency or trip interruption. Check out the many benefits of travel insurance on our dedicated World Nomads page, or get a quote below.
Best Booking Tools for Spain
Check out our recommended booking tools for self-planned itineraries:
- Google Flights – To get an idea of flight prices and routes, browse Google Flights by using the exploration map.
- Momondo – Best search engine (powered by booking.com)
- Booking.com – Access a clear, easy hotel booking process and ability to see itinerary on the APP.
- Hostelworld – the leading provider of online hostel reservations to budget, independent, and youth travelers
- Airbnb – Rent a room or entire apartment (Use my link to get $65 off your first stay)
- Begin planning your in-country travel with Rome 2 Rio, a website offering multiple routes including air, train, bus, or car.
- For train and bus travel, consult Rail Europe and Trainline (our preference). You can also purchase Spanish train tickets directly from Renfe and bus tickets from ALSA or Flixbus.
- Bla Bla Car – Ridesharing APP
- World Nomads – Don’t forget to protect your investment from trip interruptions to unexpected injuries
Check out our resources page for more booking tools we use to plan our trips
Gear & Packing List
The landscape and climate can change drastically in Spain, so pack a variety of clothing and footwear if you’re planning to travel extensively. While the south is known for it’s sunny beaches, the northern coast can be cool and wet.
Check out my packing list for Europe. In addition, be sure to include the following for Spain specifically:
- a sun hat (summer) – women’s sun hat | men’s/unisex sun hat
- lightweight summer dress (women) or dri-fit button down top (men) for evenings out (summer)
- bathing suit (summer)
Shop My Spain Travel Essentials
Pro Tip: Test out your new gear prior to your trip to ensure fit and comfort.
Spain City & Regional Guides
Guidebooks & Tools
Check out our recommended Spain guidebooks, apps, and language learning tools to help you learn about the Spanish language and culture.
Related Blogs on Spain
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