Spain is one of those places most travelers visit first, or perhaps second in their international travels. Me? It was country #54! I don’t really know what took me so long, but I finally made it, and I’m here to help you make it a reality, too! Here are the essentials you definitely need to know before you visit the Kingdom of Spain.
While English has become sort of the “unofficial” international language of travel, you should definitely not expect everyone you meet in Spain to speak English. We were actually quite surprised to find how difficult it was to find people who spoke English even in the most touristy areas of Spain’s capital of Madrid! Keep your translator app handy, and consider brushing up on your high school Spanish in the DuoLingo app! You won’t be fluent in a matter of weeks, but you’ll learn a lot if you stick with it for even a few days!
There are 19 Distinct Regions
Spain is Spain, right? Well, not really! On mainland Spain, you’ll find 17 distinct regions. And if you’re looking for something even more different, Spain has two island regions as well (the Balearic and Canary Islands)! Also, Spanish is the official language, but there are also four co-official languages (Catalan/Valencian, Basque, Galician, and Aranese), plus two recognized, but unofficial languages (Asturleonese and Aragonese). If you think one trip to Spain will give you the big picture, think again!
Getting There and Getting Around
If you’re going to mainland Spain from the Americas, Africa, Asia, or Eastern Europe, you will most likely fly into one of the major cities with an international airport. Most likely, you’ll be flying from the United States into Madrid (MAD) or Barcelona (BCN). Flights have recently started from the United States to Mallorca (PMI) and the Canary Islands (TFS) as well!
If you’re traveling within Spain or from a neighboring country, you may like taking the train as an option! The trains within Spain are very efficient and affordable, so it’s a great option if you’re planning to visit multiple cities or take day trips while you’re there.
Once you’ve arrived, most cities are best explored on foot! Pack your comfortable walking shoes and leave the stilettos behind, ladies! Madrid is quite spread out, so you may benefit from taking the Metro if you want to see sites that are spread across town. Other Spanish cities, however, are more compact and can be navigated easily without depending on very much public transportation.
Essential info: The Top 10 Things to Do in Madrid
Spain is on the Euro! If you’re traveling around Europe, you’ll be glad to know that you won’t have to change your money when you arrive in Spain. ATMs are plentiful, but as with any ATM, you’re usually safest from scams if you use one at or inside a bank. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted, and most card machines we encountered use contactless technology.
We actually didn’t use any cash the whole time we were in the country, but it’s always a safe bet to have some cash on-hand; about €40-€50 should be enough to hold you if you encounter a restaurant or small museum that operates with cash only.
Also helpful: The Best Money Saving Tips for Madrid
The Foods You Must Try
Food is a key element to understanding any culture!
Beef and Cheese
You’ll find lots of beef and beef byproducts, such as cheeses, around Spain. Perhaps this is due in part to bullfighting as a major sport. Definitely try the beef in as many forms as you can, since it’s all delicious! And get the burrata cheese, or really any cheese locally made in Spain for that matter. It’ll be some of the best you’ve ever had!
You’ll also find a lot of “ham,” which is not the pressed lunchmeat Americans think of when we see the word “ham.” Think more along the lines of prosciutto! You might get kind of tired of ham and cheese sandwiches by the end of your trip, but there are other options if you’re willing to branch out a bit.
Spain has more miles of coastlines than land borders! As a result, even cities in the middle of Spain can boast excellent seafood. Madrid is known for calamari sandwiches, and it has no ocean nearby! Try your seafood in the paella!
Fruits and Veggies
You’ve heard of Valencia oranges, right? Situated right on the Mediterranean, the fruits and veggies grown in the south and east of Spain are some of the best in the world.
Churros and Chocolate
Pro tip: You will have to ask for chocolate with your churros! It won’t come together automatically. But you have to try them when you come to Spain. Otherwise, have you really been to Spain?
Keep eating: The Best Places to Eat in Madrid
Embrace the Siesta
So, my husband and I are not napping people! We like to go all day until about 4:00pm, have an early dinner (maybe take-out that we bring to the room), and go to sleep by 7:00pm. That SO did not work in Spain! Many businesses, museums, attractions, and restaurants close entirely for several hours in the afternoon. Sometime it’s from 1:00pm-4:00pm. Sometimes it’s from 2:00pm-6:00pm. Some restaurants don’t start serving food again until 8:00pm!
There are very few options if you want to spend your time a different way, so just plan to embrace the siesta and relax in your room for a few hours in the afternoon. You never know; you might like it! The famous cliche phrase should really be, “When in Spain, do as the Spaniards do!”
Need more? Check out all you need to know on my dedicated Spain Page!
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