Spain (Spanish: España) is a diverse country in Mediterranean Europe, sharing the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. Among many places worth visiting are Spain's thriving capital Madrid, the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona, the famous running with bulls at Pamplona, and the city where flamenco was born: Seville.
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 deserts in the south east.
Spain is divided into autonomías or autonomous regions, plus two independent cities. Some of the autonomías - notably the ones which have other official languages alongside Spanish - are regions with their own unique historical tradition. These include the Basque Country or Euskadi (Basque), Galicia (Galician), Catalonia or Catalunya, the Valencian region or País Valencià, and the Balearic Islands or Illes Balears (Catalan), but also Andalucía. Travelers to these parts of the Iberian Peninsula should respect their history and language. The Canary Islands lie off the coast of Morocco and are geographically part of Africa, as are the two cities of Ceuta and Melilla.
For ease of reference, Spain's many regions can be grouped as follows:
Northwestern Spain, including Galicia, Asturias and Cantabria
Basque Country and northern Spain, including the Basque Country, Navarra and La Rioja.
Catalonia and northeastern Spain, comprising Catalonia and historic Aragón.
Central and western Spain, including the capital Madrid, Castile-La Mancha, Castile-Leon and Extremadura.
Eastern Spain, including Murcia and Valencia
Non-Iberian Spain, including the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, Ceuta and Melilla.
Spain has hundreds of interesting cities, here are nine of the most popular:
- Madrid - The vibrant capital, with fantastic museums, great food and nightlife
- Barcelona - Spain's second city, full of modernist buildings and a vibrant cultural life, nightclubs, and beaches.
- Bilbao - former industrial city, home to the Guggenheim Museum.
- Cadiz - oldest city in Western Europe, celebrates a famous carnival.
- Córdoba - The Grand Mosque ('Mezquita') of Cordoba is one of the world's finest buildings.
- Granada - stunning city in the south, surrounded by snow capped mountains of the Sierra Nevada, home of La Alhambra.
- Zaragoza - recently held a Expo and is the 5th largest city.
- Seville - a beautiful, verdant city, and home to the world's third largest cathedral.
- Valencia - paella was invented here, has a very nice beach.
- León - used to be a Roman colony, great monuments, nice food.
- Béjar - really nice place to visit.
- El Arenosillo - rocket launch site near Mazagón in Huelva, Andalucia
- Jerez de la Frontera - home of sherry wine.
- La Rioja - Rioja wine and fossilized dinosaur tracks.
- Peñiscola - attractive town on the east coast with a medieval castle.
- Rías Altas (comprising the province of Lugo plus the northern part of the province of Coruña) - beautiful beaches and food.
- Rías Baixas (comprising the province of Pontevedra plus the southern part of the province of Coruña) - beautiful beaches and food.
- Ronda - beautifully preserved old town in southern Spain with the oldest still-used bullring in Spain, the location for the film of Carmen with Placido Domingo.
- Salamanca - home to the oldest University in Spain, the premier learning center during the middle ages.
- Toledo - the first capital of Spain, the ecclesiastical capital of Spain
- Valladolid - the third capital of Spain, a nice place to visit.
- Sitges - a seaside resort near Barcelona.
- Costa Brava - the rugged coast.
- Mérida - an historical city in the west.
Palma - Located on the island of Mallorca, after a boat ride is full of amazing beaches, and great nightlife Ibiza- Located on an island of the best place for clubbing, raving, and DJ´s in the entire world
Once the center of a global empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa i.e. Equatorial Guinea, and Asia i.e. the Philippines, contemporary Spain has overcome civil war and fascism in the 20th century to stand proud and centered in itself.
Spain holds a historical attachment to its neighbors within the Iberian Peninsula i.e. Andorra and Portugal, to its former colonies, to former citizens and their descendants, and to a special category of former citizens, namely Sephardic Jews. Individuals from these categories may acquire Spanish citizenship in an accelerated fashion which may or may not require that the individuals reside in Spain, and residency requirements are as short as 1 to 3 years depending on the category. Citizens of countries in the European Union may acquire citizenship after living in Spain for five years. Citizens of any other country may acquire citizenship after residing in Spain for ten years.
The population of Spain is growing in large part due to migration from relatively poor and/or politically unstable areas of South America, such as Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, or Peru, and Europe, such as Romania, that have either a historical, and/or a linguistic attachment to Spain.
There are a number of ways to get into Spain. From neighboring European countries, a drive with the car or a train ride is feasible; visitors from further away will probably be using air travel.
Spain's national carrier is Iberia.
The busiest airports are Madrid, A Coruña, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Murcia, Barcelona, Jerez de la Frontera, Seville, Valencia, Bilbao, Alicante, Santiago de Compostella and Vigo. All are listed on the official airport governing body website:
Madrid and Bilbao have the most beautiful airports, designed by famous architects.
Low cost carriers operating to Spain include: ClickAir, a discount subsidiary of Iberia, operating from Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia, Vueling , easyJet , RyanAir , Blue Air  and Sterling Airlines .
Warning: If you buy an e-ticket from Iberia or ClickAir over the Internet with a credit card, you may have to show the original credit card upon check-in. If you fail to do so, you will have to purchase another ticket for the same fare, and the original ticket will be refunded many weeks or even months later.
- RENFE - Timetables and Prices
- FEVE - FEVE's web page
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 traveling 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.
Traveling 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.
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 any 180 day period in any country covered by the Schengen Agreement and they 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.
For Latin American people, especially those from Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Paraguay, and in some cases Venezuela, Chile and Argentina you need to have a hotel reservation confirmed, and international insurance for at least 30.000 EURO; if your trip is from 1-9 days you need 514 EURO, for each additional day 57 EURO and a return air ticket.
Venezuelan credit cards are not accepted like funds for immigration due to the currency exchange control in this country.
- Renfe is the Spanish national rail carrier. Long-distance trains always get in time, but be aware that short-distance trains (called Cercanías) can bear long delays, from ten to twenty minutes, and especially in the Barcelona area. To be safe, always take the train before the one you need.
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 is usually happy to tell you who operates which route, however.
- Movelia - provides schedules and fares for most operators.
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.
- Sailing in Spain - All types of yachts for charter, skippered and bareboat. Hire a motor boat, sailing boat, exclusive mega yacht, wooden gulet or motor sailer for an unique nautical experience.
In major cities like Barcelona and in mid-sized like San Sebastian, moving around by car is both expensive and nerve-wracking. Fines for improper parking are uncompromising (€85 and up).
Having a driving map is essential - many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable).
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to move from one city to another every other day, ideally if you don't plan to park overnight in large cities.
Intersections of two highways typically have a roundabout under the higher one--so you can both choose any turn and to start driving in an opposite direction there.
Green light for cars about to turn is frequently on at the same time as green light for pedestrians: every time you turn, check if the pedestrians pass you cross doesn't also have green light for them.
Between cities, drivers are required to have some rest every 2 hours they drive--there's a fine if you don't follow. It's unclear how it's enforced, however.
Filling procedure for gas stations varies from brand to brand. At Agip, you first fill the tank yourself, and then pay inside the shop.
Spain isn't a good country for hitchhiking. Sometimes you can wait many hours. Try to speak with people at gas stations, parking lots etc. They are scared and suspicious, but when you show them that they shouldn't be afraid, they gladly accept you and mostly also show their generosity.
Renting a car
If you plan to move around large cities, consider renting a car with GPS navigation--it will be even easier to drive than having an automobile map.
Consider having full-coverage insurance instead of franchise: other drivers are not always careful parking near other cars, especially when parking space on a street is limited.
Avis accepts payment in US dollars when you pay by a credit card. If you need to pay when you return rented car, payment is made from deposit you provided by credit card in the beginning--so you don't pay extra money upon return, waiting for weeks for deposit to be unblocked.
Spain is heaven for cycling, judging by how many cyclists you can see in the cities. Cycling lanes are available in mid-sized and large cities. It must be taken into account that Spain is the second most mountainous country in Europe, and the mountains and hills are from coast to coast. For example, Madrid is between 600 and 700 meters above sea, so if you travel through it by bicycle you have to be in a good shape.
Unsurprisingly, the official and universal language used in Spain is Spanish (español, castellano), but it's more complicated than that, as it differs in pronunciation and other details. It is part of the Romance family of languages (others include Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Italian, Occitan, French, and Romanian) and is one of the main branches of that family. It is more properly called Castilian (castellano).
However, there are a number of languages — Catalan, Basque, Galician, Asturian, etc — spoken in various parts of Spain. Some of these languages are dominant in their respective regions, and following their legalization in the 1978 constitution, they are co-official with Castilian. Apart from Basque (whose origins are still debated) the languages of the Iberian Peninsula are part of the Romance family and are fairly easy to pick up if you know Castilian well. Learning a few words in the local languages where you are traveling will help endear you to the locals.
Catalan (Catalan: català, Castilian: catalán), is a distinct language similar to Castilian but more closely related to the Oc branch of the Romance Languages and is considered by many to be part of a Dialect Continuum spanning across Spain, France, and Italy and including the other Lengas d'òc such as Provençal, Beàrnais, Limousin, Auvernhat and Niçard. Various dialects are spoken in the northeastern region of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia (where it is often referred to as Valencià), east of Aragon, as well as neighboring Andorra and southern France. To a casual listener Catalan superficially appears to be a cross between Spanish and French, and though it does share features of both it is an independent language in it's own right.
Galician (Galician: galego, Castilian: gallego), very closely related to Portuguese, Galician is spoken in Galicia and the western portion of Asturias. Galician predates Portuguese and is deemed one of the four main dialects of the Galician-Portuguese family group which includes Brazilian, Southern Portuguese, Central Portuguese, and Galician.
Basque (Basque: euskara, Castilian: vasco), a language unrelated to Castilian (or any other known language), is spoken in the three provinces of the Basque Country, on the two adjacent provinces on the French side of the Spain-French border, and in Navarre. Basque is unrelated to any Romance language or to any branch of the Indo-European or Indo-Iranian family of languages. It currently remains unclassified and is deemed a linguistic isolate seemingly unrelated to any branch of the linguistic family tree.
Asturiano (Asturiano: asturianu, Castilian: asturiano, also known as bable), is spoken in the province of Asturias, where it enjoys semi-official protection. It was also spoken in rural parts of Leon, Zamora, Salamanca, in a few villages in Portugal (where it is called Mirandes) and in villages in the extreme north of Extremadura. While the constitution of Spain explicitly protects Basque, Balearic-Catalan-Valencian under the term Catalan, Galician, and Spanish, it does not explicitly protect Asturian. The province of Asturias explicitly protects it and Spain implicitly protects it by not objecting before the Supreme Court.
Aragonese (Aragonese: aragonés, Castilian: aragonés, also known colloquially as fabla), is spoken in the north of Aragon. It is only vaguely recognized, but not official (as of June, 2008). This language is close to Catalan (specially in Benasque) and to Castilian, with some Basque and Occitan (southern France) influences. Nowadays only a few villages near the Pyrenees use the language vigorously, while most people mix it with Castilian in their daily speech.
Aranese (Castilian: Aranés, Catalan/Aranese Occitan: Aranès), is spoken in the Aran Valley, and is recognized as an official language of Catalonia (not of Spain), alongside Catalan and Spanish. This language is a variety of Gascon Occitan, and as such is very closely related to Provençal, Limousin, Languedoc, and Catalan.
In addition to the native languages, English or French are commonly studied in school. If you are visiting a tourist area you will find people who are fluent in several languages. You may not be lucky elsewhere, and your best bet would be young urban people. Speak slowly, use simple words and don't hesitate to use gestures or a notebook to be understood. Chances are people will understand words more easily if you write them down.
French is the most widely understood in the north-east of Spain, like Alquezar and Cap de Creus (at times even better than English), as majority of travelers there come from France.
Locals will appreciate any attempts you make to speak their language. For example, "Good morning" and "Thank you".
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 (1st week in May) - 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!
- 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
- 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
- San Fermines - July in Pamplona, Navarra.
- Fiesta de San Isidro - May 15 in Madrid - a celebration of Madrid's patron saint.
- 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 epiphany, 5th of January, the night before Spanish kids get their Christmas presents, it rains sweets and toys in every single town and city
- La Tomatina - a giant tomato fight in Buñol
- Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians, mostly found in Southeastern Spain during spring time) - parades and "battles" remembering the fights of medieval ages
- Canyoning: see Spain section in the Canyoning article
- Climbing in: Los Mallos (Aragon)
- Whitewater sports in: Campo, Murillo de Gallego (Aragon)
Skiing in the northen region of spain
The Spanish beer is not too bad at all and well worth a try. Most popular local brands include San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ambar, Estrella Galicia, Keller 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 Zaragoza (or Aragon, in general), the best beer available is the Pilsner-type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.). Ambar 1900: Its production began in 1996. The system of fermentation to room temperature is used. Marlen is a beer of traditional manufacture using malted barley and hops.
Locals in Aragon often add lemon juice to their beer. Particularly on hot summer days people will drink a refreshing "clara" which is a light beer mixed with lemon/lemonade.
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 be 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.
Can be found in the Basque Country, Galicia and Asturias.
A milky non-alcoholic drink made of tigernuts and sugar. Alboraia, a small town close to Valencia, is regarded as a best place where horchata is produced.
Spain is a country with great wine-making and drinking traditions: 22% of Europe's wine growing area is located in Spain, however the production is about half of what the French produce.
Regions: The most famous wines come from Rioja region, less known but also important comes from Ribera del Duero. The latter 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.
Grapes: The primary red grape used is Tempranillo, the primary white grape used is Albarino, and the privary Jerez grape used is Pedro Ximenez but others can be found. The grapes used are quite delicate and thus there is a reduction in yield.
Specific names: Valdepenas is good value for money. Whites: Belondrade Y Lurton regarded as greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is good as a mass product, with fruity taste.
Grades: Spanish quality wines are produced using an aging process and they have been in a oak barrel for at least one year before they can be labeled Crianza and then spend another two years in a bottle before been sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas are aged for 10 years.
Prices: Spain has seen a tremendous rise in wine prices over the last decade and Spanish wines are not as much of a bargain as they were a decade ago. However you will still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices especially when compared with similar quality wines from Australia, Chile, France, and the US.
In a bar: For red wine in a bar, ask "un tinto por favor", for white wine "un blanco por favor", for rose: "un rosado por favor".
Wine-based drinks: Young people in Spain have developed their own way to have wine. When having botellones (big outdoor parties with drink and lots of people), 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 (in the Basque Country and Navarre) 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 of the idea! As a general rule, any wine that comes in a glass bottle is considered "too good" to make kalimotxo.
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 and hot summer, and not every day as seen in touristic regions like 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. Manzanilla is bit salty, good as an appetizer. Amontillado and Oloroso are sweet, good after having a meal.