Five Things First Time Travellers To Spain Should Know
- The Spanish honour the daily tradition of siesta. Before heading out, you'll need to plan your day around shops closing down and restaurants not serving food in the afternoon. While there are exceptions in the more touristy areas, keep some snacks on you and do your shopping before or after the siesta.
- Don't expect everyone to speak English. Despite being a popular destination for Europeans, most Spaniards won't understand you. This is because Spanish is already the second language to locals, with their mother tongue dependent on the region.
- Stick to the local dishes. While Spain is a popular destination for foodies, it's not known for its international cuisine skills. Stay away from ordering Chinese or Thai unless you're dining out in Barcelona.
- Only tourists eat before 9:00 p.m. Thanks to the siesta, the Spanish eat dinner much later than most tourists are used to back home. Restaurants don't open their doors before 8:00 p.m. so if you can't wait until then, keep some snacks to keep you satisfied until dinner time.
- Tipping is not that common in Spain. You are not expected to tip bartenders, cab drivers or waiters unless you think the service was exceptional.
Best Time To Visit Spain
One of the best times of the year to visit Spain is during autumn. From September to November, the weather is still warm, and the changing fall colours are reason enough to visit. It's also the annual Chestnut festival where you can go foraging for wild mushrooms with the locals.
The busiest time of year is during the summer months. From July to August, the weather is hot and perfect for visiting Spain's popular coastal destinations. However, the crowded summer months should be avoided if you are travelling on a budget.
Another period to keep in mind when planning your trip are the national holidays. Easter, Christmas and New Year are popular times to travel for locals as well as driving up prices for hotels. Train and plane tickets also tend to book up fast, so make your reservations well in advance.
For wine lovers, Spain's harvest season kicks off in early September. Visit the bodegas of Rioja and Ribera and indulge in the country's finest wines.
If you're on a tight budget, book your flights to Spain between December and February. Prices are low, crowds are at a minimum, and the weather is ideal for exploring.
Madrid is the capital city of Spain, and one of its top destinations. Only a short flight from other European countries, it's a popular choice for a weekend break or holiday abroad. While the city isn't overflowing with architectural gems, it's home to an impressive collection of art and cultural sites.
Visit the city's boutique museums, manicured gardens and marvel at its art pieces that date back to the 12th century.
Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain, and it's famous around the world for its impressive architectural pieces.
Take a stroll past the city's Gothic facades, Catalan Art Nouveau buildings and its more modern constructions by renowned architect Juan Nouvel.
End your day off with a sundowner on the beach, before exploring one the city's many Michelin-starred restaurants and lively nightlife.
Seville is the third largest city in Spain and the capital of the Andalusia region. It's full of historic landmarks, festivals and a thriving nightlife scene. The town is the home of classic flamenco dancing and the best place in the country to take a few lessons.
Its top attractions include the Cathedral of Seville, where Christopher Columbus is buried; an opulent Moorish palace and its 18th-century bullring.
Top Attractions in Spain
The Alhambra and Generalife Gardens
The Alhambra is one of the top attractions in Spain. Constructed in the 14th century by the Nasrid sultans, the part-palace part-fortress is an architectural highlight of the country's Islamic period.
Inside the sprawling complex, you'll find towers, walls, gardens, several buildings and a mosque. But what makes it stand out are all the exquisite details. Alhambra's structures are beautifully decorated with delicate filigrees, tile-lined ceilings and graceful arches.
With so much to see before you even reach Generalife's terraced gardens, Alhambra is well worth a visit. Be sure to book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Sagrada Familia and Gaudi Sites
Located in Barcelona, the Sagrada Familia is Spain's most impressive Roman Catholic church. Designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, he worked on the project for almost 40 years before his death in 1926. Started in 1883, Sagrada is still under construction and estimated to be completed in the first third of the 21st century.
Today, the building is one of Barcelona's most famous landmarks and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
If you don't want to stand outside in long lines waiting to get in, buy your tickets online. Prices start at EUR 15, and you can choose between a guided or self-guided tour.
Seville Cathedral and Alcazar
A UNESCO Heritage Site, Seville Cathedral and the Royal Alcazar Palace are the city's top attractions.
Inside the cathedral is a 37-metre long altar, full of carved statues covered in gold. It's also home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus and La Giralda, the emblem of Seville.
The Alcazar stands opposite and is equally impressive. Construction began by the Moors in 712 and was continued in the 1300s by King Pedro.
To skip the long lines, book your tickets online. It's also a good idea to buy combo packages to save money on entrance fees.
Located in the Canary Islands, El Teide is the highest peak in Spain. It's considered one of the top natural wonders in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you want to get close up to El Teide's cone, you have two options. The first is to hike all the way up, and the other is to take the eight-minute cable ride.
It's also a good idea to check the weather before visiting this wonder. Try planning your trip on a clear day to get a view of the entire archipelago. You'll even catch a glimpse of North Africa, the nearest land mass to the islands.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba
The Great Mosque of Cordoba is one of the largest in the world. Built in 785, it grew over the years to include a prayer hall of nineteen aisles.
The structure is considered one of the finest examples of Moorish architecture in Spain. It also boasts a blend of different cultures, with a Catholic church in its centre.
Make sure you stop to explore the Patio de lo Naranjos. It's a beautiful garden just outside the Great Mosque full of fountains, trees and orange blossoms.
Major International Airports in Spain
- Madrid Airport
- Barcelona Airport
- Palma de Mallorca Airport
- Málaga Airport
- Alicante Airport