50 things you need to know before traveling to Spain

Spain has been one of the world’s most prominent tourist destinations for many years now. People come to Spain looking for its extraordinary culture and history, together with amazing beaches in the south, delicious food, and inviting weather. This post will explore everything you need to know before traveling to Spain.

From the best destinations to the costs of traveling in Spain, from the history, culture, and what to eat, to travel safety and how to travel within Spain, this list of 50 travel tips will make your Spain trip an experience to remember.

Spain and the Locals

#1 The kingdom of Spain, as it’s officially known, used to be separated kingdoms and only united after the 15th century. Today, it’s divided into 17 autonomous regions (15 on the mainland and the Balearic and Canary Islands) and the referred enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla in North Africa.

#2 Despite being a developed and peaceful country, these divisions are still very strong in Spain today, with independence claims in several autonomous regions, particularly in Catalonia and the Basque Country.

What to do in the Basque country, Spain
Geopark in the Basque Country – things you need to know before traveling to Spain

#3 This means that Spain is culturally diverse and rich. A Basque is very different from an Andalusian, a Madrilenian, and so on… Meaning that traveling in Spain is a very interesting and diverse experience. You will probably notice some of these idiosyncrasies traveling from one region to another.

#4 Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, with more than 406 million native speakers, it comes slightly ahead of English and only after Chinese. However, in Spain, the official language is Castilian Spanish, with the regional languages Catalan, Basque, and Galician all having official status.

Where to go in Spain
Burgos, Spain

#5 As a tourist, if you speak Spanish, you can communicate with everyone in every region of Spain. If you don’t, you should know that Spain isn’t the most English-friendly country in Europe, but you’ll probably find people speaking English quickly, particularly closer to touristy areas.

#6 The climate in Spain is one of the most diverse in Europe due to its size, coasts, and extensive mountain ranges. However, we can easily notice that the north is wet and cold, while the south is dry and hot.

When planning a trip to Spain, be aware that in Summer, the south can be burning hot, particularly away from the coast! On the other hand, the north during winter can be pretty cold, windy, and mostly rainy! Finally, it usually snows in the mountains, making Spain a good winter destination!

Things to do in Marbella
Puerto Banús, Malaga

#7 The majority of Spaniards are formally Roman Catholic, but different religious beliefs are accepted. However, the younger generations are much less religious, like in many other Western countries.

#8 Spain was (partially) under Muslim rule for over 700 years from the year 711 to 1571. That is a long time!

To put it into perspective, the USA is independent for 242… The south of Spain, particularly Andalusia, is where the Muslim rule was the longest. There you can still see the influences in buildings and architecture.

Top attractions of Spain
Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba

#9 Spaniards are known to have a different approach to daily life from other Europeans… Typically, the day starts late, they have lunch only between 1 and 3 pm, dine very late (around 10 pm), and take the famous afternoon nap known as the siesta! I don’t know about you guys, but I wouldn’t mind taking on this lifestyle 🙂

Is Spain safe to travel to?

#10 Spain is a very safe country to travel to. Most travelers will never face any kind of serious threat or danger. However, you should be aware of pickpocketing and scams in the top tourist areas as there are reports of it. In our experience, we have never felt unsafe in Spain, and neither has been approached by scammers.

facts travel in Spain
Burgos Cathedral, Spain | Things to know before traveling to Spain

Travel in Spain and Tourism

#11 Spain is the 3rd most visited country in the world, with more than 68 Million international arrivals in 2022. Only France and the USA had more!

This obviously means that there aren’t many off-the-beaten-track destinations in Spain. Though it’s a big country, if you visit outside during peak season (Summer), you shouldn’t have too many troubles with over-tourism.

Top attractions in Spain
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao | Things to know before visiting Spain

#12 Out of this immensity of tourists, Barcelona leads as Spain’s most visited destination. Barcelona is a tourist hotspot that blends splendid architecture, a leading art scene, and a boundless culture.

When traveling to Spain, Barcelona should be on your list, probably on top if you remember the works of Gaudi and particularly the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Yet, there’s more to it, there are so many fun things to do in Barcelona.

#13 Spain has 46 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 40 cultural sites, four natural sites, and two mixed sites. Only Italy with 58 sites, China with 56, and Germany with 51 have more.

From prehistoric rock art, historic cities, and buildings to bridges, national parks, and landscapes, there is an immensity of Heritage sites and famous Landmarks in Spain.

#14 Andalusia is probably our favorite region in Spain. It has so much to offer, from the unreal Alhambra Palaces in Granada and the Cathedral/Mosque of Cordoba to the Plaza de España in Seville…

Granada Alhambra - UNESCO World Heritage site, Spain
Alhambra Palaces in Granada | Things to know before going to Spain

#15 However, the most incredible thing about traveling in Spain is the amount of unbelievably beautiful old towns/buildings you can find. Some of the best places to visit in Spain are relatively small cities like Leon, Burgos, Segovia, Cordoba, Salamanca, Caceres, Ávila… and the list goes on almost endlessly…

#16 In all honesty, cathedrals like Leon’s or Burgos in many countries would be the biggest tourist attraction… In Spain, they are only… “another cathedral,” and that says a lot!

Best things to do in Spain
Cathedral of Leon, what to know before traveling to Spain

#17 One of our favorite hikes is in Spain, close to Malaga, El Caminito del Rey. This was once an infamous dangerous trail, but now it’s an incredible hike through a magnificent gorge made with all the safety possible. It’s a great, easy, family hiking trail if you don’t have a fear of heights, obviously 🙂

Side note: if you want a lesser-known hike in Andalusia, try Los Cahorros. Find here all the info you’ll need.

Best hikes in Spain
El Caminito del Rey, Spain | What to know before going to Spain

#18 Within Spain, you can also find some great mountain destinations! In the north, you have the Asturias and Picos de Europa, in the South, the imposing Sierra Nevada, and obviously, the Pyrenees separating Spain from France. All of these are great Winter destinations, but they are also lots of fun in Summer.

#19 Culturally, the Basque country is probably the most peculiar region in Spain, with a distinctly different language, costumes, and even food. It’s also one of our favorites, with San Sebastian being probably our favorite small (medium) town in Europe. It just brings together everything we want in a place.

City Hall San Sebastian
Beautiful city Hall San Sebastian, Basque Country

#20 The Basque Coast is also an incredible place to have a road trip! It’s full of amazing beaches, incredible lookouts, cute villages, stunning cliffs, great hikes, and unbelievable islets! Here we have to mention the marvelous San Juan de Gaztelugatxe!

#21 With all of this, you might think we forgot the main reason why so many people come to Spain… looking for sun and beaches! We didn’t; it’s almost impossible. Spain has amazing beaches all around!

From the famous Mediterranean coast, where you find the famous Costa del Sol, Costa Brava, Costa de Valencia, and so on, to the northern, wilder beaches of Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque Country!

things you need to know before traveling to Spain
Marbella Beach, Spain

#22 And then, there are the islands! The Balearic Islands, with Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza on the top! Here you have the full package of parties and beaches! If you want to go to the beach during the day and party at night, Ibiza is the place to go!

#23 The Canary Islands, on the other hand, are volcanic and offer a different landscape from the rest of Spain. Tenerife is the largest island and where you can climb to the top of the volcano/mountain Teide, hike in volcanic craters, and enjoy some of the amazing beaches in Tenerife.

Gran Canaria is also a very popular beach destination. Playa de Maspalomas is particularly nice with its dunes.

#24 Hiking El Camino de Santiago or the way of Saint James. It started as a Christian pilgrimage where Pilgrims walk from several places in Europe for weeks or months to Santiago.

Lately, more and more people are doing the way for many reasons, some very different from the religious ones! Though, for everyone, this is an unforgettable (even mystical) experience.

Top activities in Spain
El Camino de Santiago | What to know when traveling to Spain

#25 Finally, we have Madrid, the capital of Spain! Madrid is famous for its museums, particularly Museo del Prado, with magnificent pieces of Goya, Rubens, and Velasquez, and Museo Reina Sofia, dedicated to Spanish, where Guernica from Picasso is the main attraction.

Madrid also has one hell of nightlife, so enjoy it when visiting!

Eating and drinking in Spain

#26 Spanish cuisine is heavily influenced by its regional cuisines and the historical processes that shaped its culture and society. Although as diverse as their culture, Spanish food is usually simple, unpretentious, and uses beautifully fresh seasonal ingredients.

In other words, Spaniards make the most of the best local produce.

Places to visit in Spain
Córdoba, Spain

#27 Nevertheless, some of the world’s best gourmet restaurants are located in Spain, with several (many actually) Michelin-stared restaurants. San Sebastian, in particular, is known for being a foodie’s paradise and having one of the world’s highest numbers o Michelin stars per capita.

#28 Perhaps the most famous Spanish food is tapas and its lesser-known cousin, pintxos. Here we explored the difference between them and why they are so freakin’ good! In hindsight, if you like food… you have to go to San Sebastian! 🙂

#29 In a country as big and diverse as Spain, you are bound to have an incredible amount of traditional dishes. But one thing you should know before visiting Spain is that Spanish food is mostly regional, even the most famous dishes.

Some of the most known and easy to find are Paella (mostly in the Mediterranean, particularly Valencia), Jamon, gazpacho (mostly in Andalusia), pulpo à feira (mostly in Galicia), Patatas Bravas, tortilla de patatas (potato omelet) Churros, turrón…

What to eat in Spain
Pulpo à feira

#30 Among these, Paella is probably the most famous – usually considered a staple food in Spain (although it’s mostly a Valencian dish). Paella is a rice dish with many variations. The original is made with meat (chicken, duck, and rabbit) and veggies, but there are seafood and mixed paella versions. All of them use lots of saffron and olive oil.

#31 Jamón ibérico (Iberian “ham”), which is similar to the Portuguese “Presunto” and the Italian “prosciutto,” is a cured piece of pork that is set to dry. It is salted and cut into very thin strips when served. It’s made with the back legs of the pork. You’ll see these served as a starter or as tapas everywhere.

What to eat in Spain
Jamon ibérico, one of the things to eat in Spain

#32 Although it isn’t for everyone, we really need to mention the Gazpacho. This cold soap is made of the reddest, ripest tomatoes blended with olive oil, garlic, bread, peppers, and cucumber until it becomes smooth. Note: You should eat gazpacho in Andalusia; anywhere else, it’s at your own risk 🙂

#33 As per sweet dishes, the two things you can’t skip in Spain are Churros and Turrón. Churros are typical fried-dough pastries (usually slightly crispy) sprinkled with sugar. They are usually eaten as a dessert or breakfast pastry.

What to eat in Spain
Churros with chocolate, typical Spanish Breakfast

#34 On the other hand, a Turrón is made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. Spaniards love it; you’ll see them everywhere. And once you taste them, you will thank me for it because you’ll constantly be craving them!

#35 Spain is one of the biggest producers in the world of olive oil, which makes it a great opportunity to try some great olive oil. It’s also a great producer of veggies and fruits; therefore, you won’t have problems eating fresh and healthy.

#36 One thing to know before traveling to Spain is that tips are not customary, especially for cheap meals. Usually, people round up the check, and it’s OK to go.

Breakfast in Spain - what to eat in Spain
Tostada with olive oil and tomato

Money and Costs of traveling to Spain

#37 Spain is a founding member of the Eurozone and thus uses the Euro as currency, making a traveler’s life so much easier for us European – even more for foreign tourists traveling through several European countries!

#38 Spain is one of the least expensive countries in Western Europe. A little more expensive than Portugal, but less than France, Germany, and so on…

Things to know before going to spain
Ronda Bridge, Spain

#39 Excluding flights, you can easily spend less than 50 Eur per person per day in Spain, particularly outside peak season. Note that this mainly depends on your way of traveling, and this is mainly a budget travel site, which means we are frugal. If you are a big spender, you won’t be able to keep your budget under 50 EUR 🙂

#40 Accommodation is probably where you spend more money, particularly if you want to stay in the old towns or close to the beaches during the high season. On the other hand, the interior of Spain can be surprisingly cheap.

#41 ATMs are widely available, and credit cards are accepted in many hotels and restaurants. However, be aware that you may get surprises, so always keep some cash with you! We always remember that we had to pay cash in some major tourist attractions (Alhambra, we are looking at you!)

You should also note that many (if not all) ATMs charge for withdrawing money in Spain. Unfortunately, this is something that changed in the last few years.

things to know about spain
Marques de Riscal winery in the Basque Country

Transportation in Spain

#42 Spain has an excellent public transport network, with buses, trains, and even airports spread all around the country. Many low-cost airlines are flying to these airports. It is fairly easy to travel around only using public transportation. If you are planning to visit Spain by train, we recommend you to read this Spain train travel guide.

In fact, we believe that Spain is one of the best destinations to include on an interrail. With its extensive rail system, you can reach many destinations for a reasonable price. Interrailing in Spain is an excellent option for exploring the country on a budget.

#43 However, outside the big towns we suggest you travel by car! It’s much faster, and you can cover many more tourist destinations. If you have many things to see in Spain and little time, this is your option! It’s also cheaper if it’s a group of 4 or 5 people…

What to do in Bilbao, Spain
Vizcaya Bridge in Bilbao

#44 On the downside, when you reach bigger towns, it can be very difficult to park the car. Almost every Spanish town is a parking nightmare and can be very costly! Malaga, Granada, San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Barcelona are all very problematic…

#45 In Spain, we drive on the right side of the road (wheel on the left), so be aware if you are not used to it. Also, when renting a car, be aware if it’s a stick gear or automatic. Like in most of the other European countries, the majority of cars are manual. If you can’t drive a stick shift, ask for an automatic for your rental.

#46 Apart from this, driving in Spain is fairly straightforward. Some drivers are a bit more “nervous,” and the traffic is slightly less organized than in northern Europe, but nothing should worry you… The rules are fairly the same as in other Western countries.

Americans (and a few others), please note that you can’t turn right at a red light… 🙂

things you need to know before traveling to Spain
Piene del Viento in San Sebastian

Other useful info about traveling in Spain

#47 You’ll be able to find WIFI barely everywhere. From restaurants and coffee shops to hotels and hostels. We advise you to check it still when booking a hotel, but you won’t have problems finding places with free WIFI.

#48 However, you can always buy a prepaid data sim card. For example, Vodafone’s sim card costs 12 Euros for four weeks with 12GB. It won’t break your budget if you need it.

Note that if you are originally from an EU country, you don’t need to buy a sim card because, with new laws, you don’t pay for roaming within the EU.

San Juan de Gaztelugatxe in the Basque Country, a great reason to travel to Spain
San Juan de Gaztelugatxe, Basque Country

#49 What documents do I need to enter Spain? Spain is an EU member and integrates the Schengen area, which means free movement of people within this area.  If you are from a Schengen country, just take your ID Card (or passport) and enjoy these great times :). If not, click here for more info on this and Schengen Visas.

#50 Do I need vaccinations to travel to Spain? You do not need to take any vaccinations before traveling to Spain. However, as in any part of the world, it is advisable to have your anti-tetanus vaccination up to date if you are in contact with nature and the countryside, as well as any other official vaccination program.

Recommended Spain Travel Guide Books

Lonely Planet Spain (Travel Guide)

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Rick Steves Spain 2018

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Things to know before traveling in Spain