Spain is now divided into autonomías or autonomous regions. Some of the autonomías - notably the ones with languages other than Spanish as co-official (Basque Country or Euskadi -Basque language-, Galicia -Galician language-, Catalonia or Catalunya and Valencian Country or País Valencià -Catalan language-) and Andalucía - are historical regions. Travelers to these parts of the Iberian Peninsula will do well to respect their history and language.
Spain has hundreds of interesting cities. In addition to its vibrant capital, Madrid, here are 9 of the most popular destinations:
Once the center of a global empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa, and the Philippines, contemporary Spain has overcome civil war and fascism in the 20th century to stand proud and centered in itself. With great beaches, fun nightlife, many cultural regions and historic cities, Spain makes a great destination for any kind of trip.
A country of large geographical and cultural diversity, Spain is sometimes a surprise to people who know its reputation for great beach holidays. There is everything from lush meadows , snowy mountains, huge marsh and salines, and some desert zones in east Andalusia.
Spain is a member of the European Union and the Schengen Agreement, which governs its visa policies. No visa is required for citizens of other EU member states, and those of nations with whom the European Union has special treaties. There are no border controls between Spain and other Schengen Agreement nations, making travel less complicated.
As of May 2004 citizens of the following countries do not need a visa for entry into Spain. Note that citizens of these countries (except EU nationals) must not stay longer than three months in half a year and must not work in Spain: Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao, Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Sweden, Switzerland, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, South Korea, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City and Venezuela.
There are a number of ways to get into Spain. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride are feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
The busiest airports are Madrid, A Coruña, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Murcia, Barcelona, Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante, Santiago de Compostella
All are listed on the following web page which is the official site of the airports governing body.
Train system in Spain is modern and reliable, most of the trains are brand new and the punctuality rate is one of the highest in Europe, the only problem is that not all the populated areas have a train station, sometimes small towns don't have one, in those cases you need to take a bus. Another issue with the Spanish Rail network is that the lines are disposed in a radial way so almost all the lines head to Madrid. That's why sometimes traveling from one city to another geographically close to it might take longer by train than by bus if they are not in the same line. Always check whether the bus or the train is more convenient.
Bus travel in Spain is increasingly an attractive option for people travelling on a tight budget. Thanks largely to European Union funding, Spain's road network has vastly improved over the past twenty years, so bus journeys don't take nearly as long as they used to.
There are lots of private bus companies offering routes to all major Spanish cities. If you want to travel around Spain by bus, the best idea is to go to your local bus station (Apart from Madrid and Barcelona, most towns and cities have just one) and see what is available.
Travelling by bus in Spain is usually reliable (except on peak holiday days when roads can be very crowded and you should expect long delays on popular routes),coaches are modern and comfortable. You can expect to pay about 8 Euros per 100km.
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The easiest way to get around most parts of Spain is by bus. Most major routes are point to point, and very high frequency. There is a different operator for each route, but usually just one operator per route. At the bus station, each operator has its own wicket. The staff at any of them are usually happy to tell you who operates which route, however.
Hitchhiking is not illegal, however Spain does not have a strong hitchhiking culture and getting a ride can be much more difficult than in other European countries. A good alternative to hitchhiking is organized ride sharing, popular in many european countries. There are several ride sharing communities on the web, for example viajamosjuntos.org.
Wherever you are in Spain, from your private yacht you can enjoy gorgeous scenery and distance yourself from the inevitable crowds of tourists that flock to these destinations. May is a particularly pleasant time to charter in the regions of Costa Brava, Costa Blanca and the Balearic Islands as the weather is good and the crowds have yet to descend. The summer months of July and August are the hottest and tend to have lighter winds. There is no low season for the Canary Islands, as the weather resembles springtime all year round. If you would like to bareboat anywhere in Spain, including the Balearic or Canary Islands, a US Coast Guard License is the only acceptable certification needed by Americans to bareboat. For everyone else, a RYA Yacht Master Certification or International Certificate of Competence will normally do. Although a skipper may be required, a hostess/chef may or may not be necessary. Dining out is strong part of Spanish custom and tradition. If you are planning on docking in a port and exploring fabulous bars and restaurants a hostess/cook may just be useful for serving drinks and making beds. Extra crew can take up valuable room on a tight ship.
Unsurprisingly, the primary language used in Spain is Spanish (español), but it's more complicated than that. It differs in pronunciation and other details from the Spanish spoken in the Americas. The language, one of the Romance language family, along with Portuguese, Italian, and French – is more properly called Castilian (castellano), and was temporarily imposed on the rest of Spain in the mid 20th century. Although it is spoken natively by the majority of Spaniards, and consistently pronounced and understood throughout Spain, there are several regions where it is not the dominant language, although it's still spoken and understood, and in several areas local languages are co-official with Castilian.
With the exception of Basque, the languages of the Iberian Peninsula are all part of a dialect continuum and are very easy to understand if you speak Spanish. The Arabs conquered all but the north coast of the Iberian peninsula, where the Vulgar Latin dialects were spoken. These dialects gradually underwent linguistic change, until they were no longer mutually intelligible. When the Christian north reconquered the peninsula the languages spread, and political events lead to the predominance of certain languages. The Franco regime was one of a long line of governments which tried to eliminate the local languages, but they nevertheless were legalized (at least on paper) by the 1976 Constitution.
Spain has a lot of local festivals that are worth going to.
· Córdoba en Mayo. Cordoba in May, great month to visit the Southern city.
Las Cruces: big flower-made crosses embellishing public squares in the city center, where you will also find at night music and drinking and lot of people having fun! 1st week in May.
Festival de Patios One of the most interesting cultural exhibitions, 2 weeks when some people open doors of their houses to show their old Patios full of flowers. A must see!
Cata del Vino Montilla-Moriles Great wine tasting in a big tent in the city center during one week in May.
Fallas Valencia´s festival in march. Burning the "fallas" is a must.
Seville´s april fair Flamenco dancing, drinking sherry, bullfights.
Holy week. Best in Seville and the rest of Andalusia. Also interesting in Valladolid.
Carnival. Best in Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Cádiz.
Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos. Three wise men parade. On the eve of epyphany, 5th of january, the night before spanish kids get their Christmas presents. In every single town or city. It rains sweets and toys.
Moros y Cristianos. Moors and christians. Parades and "battles" remembering the fights of medieval ages. Mostly found in Southeastern Spain during spring time.
Spain is part of the European Union and the Eurozone; as such it replaced Spanish pesetas with the Euro (symbol: €) in the year 2002. Since it has been only a few years since the introduction of Euro cash, a few people will still use the old national currency names. For example, it is entirely possible that a Spaniard would still refer to peseta. They mean Euros and Cents, so just mentally substitute the two.
Do not expect anybody to accept other types of currency, or to be willing to exchange currency. An exception are shops and restaurants at airports. These will generally accept at least US Dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate. If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some may require that you have an account there before they will exchange your money), where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule.
Credit cards are well accepted. Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that. Notice many Spanish stores will ask for your passport, driving license or ID card before accepting your credit card. Although somewhat awkward for people from Eurozone countries that do not have an ID Card, this measure helps avoid credit card robbery.
The Spanish are very passionate about their food and wine and Spanish cuisine. Spanish food can be described as quite light with a lot of vegetables and a huge variety of meat and fish. The Spanish cuisine does not use many spices; it relies only on the use of high quality ingredients to give a good taste.
Bars and fast food
The entry level to Spanish food is found in bars as tapas, which are a bit like "starters" or "appetizers", but are instead considered side orders to accompany your drink. Some bars will offer a variety of different tapas; others specialize. A Spanish custom is to have one tapa and one small drink at a bar, then go to the next bar and do the same. Tourists are easily spotted when they load their plates full of tapas.
Fast food has not yet established a strong grip on the Spaniards and you will find McDonalds and Burger King only in bigger towns in the usual places. Pizza is increasingly popular and you will find some outlets in bigger towns as well.
Restaurants deliver a wide range of food. In coastal areas seafood deserves some attention, especially on the north Atlantic coast. Spanish are very concerned about the freshness of seafood and you may place an order only to have the waiter tell you that he can not serve this dish, because they did not receive this particular seafood freshly that day. It is very unlikely to find dishes prepared from frozen fish in a real Spanish restaurant. Obviously so much freshness has its toll and seafood is quite pricey. Meat products are usually of very good quality, because Spain has maintained quite a high percentage of free range animal. A specialty is "jamón iberico" from free range pigs.
A service charge is NOT included in the bill. A little extra tip is common and you are free to increase that if you are very pleased, but obviously you don’t have to tip a lousy waiter. You would typically leave the small change after paying with a note.
Many restaurants offer a complete lunch meal for a fixed price – "menú del día" – and this often works out as a bargain. Water and wine are commonly included in the price.
Lunch and dinner times
Spaniards have a different eating timetable than most people are used to, spreading meals out over a longer period of the day. Breakfast is of course eaten first thing of the day. The main lunch time starts around 2-3 pm. Most shops and public offices will also close from 1:30 pm to 4:30 or 5 pm, excluding those located in large malls or belonging to big stores. Dinnertime starts at around 9 or 10 pm so don’t be surprised that a restaurant looks completely deserted at 8 pm and crowded at 11 pm. Normally, restaurants in big cities don't close until midnight during the week and 2-3 am during the weekend.
Typical Spanish food can be found all over the country, however top tourist destinations such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol have turned all existing traditions upside down. Meaning that drinks are generally more expensive (about double) and it is difficult to find proper Spanish food in the tourist centers. However you will get Schnitzel, original English breakfast, Pizza, Donair, and frozen fish. However, if you are prepared to look a little harder, then even in the busiest tourist towns, you can find some exceptional traditional Spanish restaurants. If you are on the coast then think fish and seafood and you wont be disappointed.
Typical dishes are:
Probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain is in bars. Everyone visits them and they are always busy and sometimes bursting with people. There is no age restriction imposed to enter these premises. They are mainly to have drink or a small tapa. Usually Spaniards can control their drink better than their northern European fellows and drunk people are rarely seen here or on the streets.
The Spanish beer is not too bad at all and well worth a try. Most popular local brands include San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou and many others, including local brands at most cities; import beers are also available. A great beer is 'Mezquita' (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! In Spain, beer is often served from a tap in 25 cl ("caña") or 33 cl ("tubo") tube glasses. Bigger servings are rare, but you can also ask for a "corto", "zurito" (round the Basque country) or simply "una cerveza" or "tanque" (south of the country) to get a half size beer, perfect to drink in one go and get quickly to the next bar while having tapas.
If you're in Barcelona (or Catalonia, in general), the best beer available is the Pilsner-type Estrella Damm (5.4 alc.) and the stronger Voll Damm (double malt, 7.2 alc.). They are very tasty, refreshing and bitter. Beware with Voll Damm, it's strong and makes quite easy to get drunk without even realizing
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and was invented after a long lasting dispute with the French about the right name for the sparkling wine. The Spanish called it for a long time champan, but the French argued that champagne can made only from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. Nevertheless, Cava is a quite successful sparkling wine and 99% of the production comes from the area around Barcelona.
Sangria is drink made of wine and fruits and usually is made from simple wines. You will find sangria mainly in touristy places prepared for tourists. Spanish prepare sangria for fiestas only and not every day as seen in Mallorca. Sangria in restaurants aimed for foreigners are best avoided, but it is a very good drink to try if a Spaniard prepares it for a fiesta!
The wines around Jerez are very high in alcohol and they produce the famous sherry. If you would like to have one in a bar you have to order a fino.
Spain is a country with great wine-making traditions: 22% of Europe's wine growing area is located in Spain, however the production is about half of what the French produce. The most famous wines come from Rioja region, less known but also important comes from Ribera del Duero. The later ones are becoming more and more popular and are slightly more expensive than Rioja wines. White, rose and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important ones. Spanish wines are produced with time and they have been in a oak barrel for at least one year (Crianza) and then another two years in a bottle, Reservas are first released after five years and Gran Reservas leave the wine estate after 10 years. Spain has seen a tremendous rise in wine prices over the last decade and Spanish wines are not any more such a bargain as they were one decade before. However you will still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines for affordable prices.
To order a red wine in a bar you have to ask for a "un tinto por favor", white wine "un blanco por favor" and last not least rose "un rosado por favor".
Young people in Spain have developed their own way to have wine. When having "botellones" (big outdoor parties with drink and lots of people from the same town), most of them will be mixing some red wine with coke and drink such mix straight from the coke bottle. The name of this drink is "calimocho" or "kalimotxo" (depending on the part of the country you're in) and is really very popular... But don't ask for it while in an upper class bar, or among adults, since they will most certainly not approve the idea!
There are many different kinds of tourist accommodations, ranging from hotels, pensions, rented villas, to campings or even monasteries.
Casa Rural, the B&Bs of Spain
If you are looking for a more homely sort of accommodation then it is recommended that you look for a Casa Rural. A Casa Rural is the equivalent to a Bed and Breakfast or a Gîtes. Not all houses are situated in the countryside, as the name implies. Some are situated in the smaller towns. Casa Rurals, throughout Spain, vary in quality and price. In some regions, like [Galicia], they are strictly controlled and inspected. Other regions are not so though in their regulations. Here is a web site] that owners have to pay to be on. There are reviews of the houses, in several languages.
A Parador ("inn")  is a state owned hotel in Spain (rating from 3 to 5 stars). These are a chain of hotels founded in 1928 by the Spanish King Alfonso XIII. The unique aspects of Paradores are their location and their history. Found mostly in historical buildings, such as convents, Moorish castles (like La Alhambra), or haciendas, Paradores are the exact opposite of the uncontrolled development found in coastal regions like the Costa del Sol. Hospitality has been harmoniously integrated with the restoration of castles, palaces and convents, rescuing from ruin and abandonment monuments representative of Spain's historical and cultural heritage.
For example the Parador in Santiago de Compostella is located next to the Cathedral in a former royal hospital built in the year 1499. Rooms are decorated in an old-fashioned way, but nevertheless have modern facilities. Other notable Paradores are in Arcos de la Frontera, Ronda, Santillana del Mar (Altamira cave) as well as more than 100 other destination all over Spain.
Paradores will serve breakfast (about €10) and often have very good local cuisine typical for their region (about €25).
Accommodation prices are a good value, when you consider that the hotels are often found in the heart of scenic areas, varying from €85 for a double room to €245 for a twin room (like in Granada). Two of the most beautiful paradors are in Léon and Santiago de Compostela.
There are some promotions available:
The promotions do not always apply, especially in August they are not valid. It's not possible to have a discount at the parador of Granana, which had no vacancies, unless you book at least 6 months before your arrival.
There are plenty of hostels in Spain, mostly in Madrid. Prices can vary from €15 to €25 per night.
There are four kinds of police:
All kinds of police also wear high-visibility clothing ("reflective" jackets) while directing traffic, or in the road.
Spain is a safe country, but you should take some basic precautions:
Swindles you should avoid
Some people could try to take advantage of your ignorance of local customs.
Other things you should know