With 65 million tourist arrivals in 2014, Spain is the third most visited country after France and the USA. No wonder!
Often referred to as ‘Sunny’ Spain, it has of course much more to offer than that. This is a culture unique in Europe due to the fusion of its Latin and Moorish legacies complemented by Catalonian, Basque and Celtic influences. Not to mention the Castillian culture of the centre, all of which fuse together to form the traditional Spanish way of life.
Like its neighbour France, Spain has long been attractive to visitors who have often finished up staying. The cave paintings at Nerja and Pileta are evidence of life in Andalucia 25,000 years ago.
Later came the Romans who named the whole peninsula Hispania. The Visigoths, who filled the vacuum left when the Roman Empire crumbled, used the same appellation. Hispania is of course the root of the modern name for the country although for a while it was known as Al Andalus thanks to the Moors who came from North Africa in AD711 and overran most of the Peninsula.
Little by little the Moors were driven from Spain during the Reconquista and by 1492 Moorish rule was over. Those Moors remaining behind were assimilated into the Christian population. Next to arrive were the French under Napoleon but their visit was hostile and very brief, (1807 – 1814) thanks, partially at least, to a certain Duke of Wellington.
Since the 1950s, most visitors have been friendly folk looking for a couple of weeks in the sun or perhaps to settle in a warm climate!
Spain is a large and varied country which shares the Iberian Peninsula with it neighbour Portugal. It is blessed with a long Mediterranean coastline and two Atlantic coastlines. A short one in the south around Cadiz and a long one in the north on the Bay of Biscay. Beach lovers have plenty to choose from, especially when the island groups of the Canaries and the Ballearics are included
It is also a relatively mountainous country with significant ranges throughout. For example, the Pyrénées in the north which form the frontier with France, the Guadarrama mountains near Madrid and the Sierra Nevada in the south all offer a full range of Winter and Summer Activities.
Away from the beaches and mountains Spain has some magnificent cities just waiting to be visited. In the north explore Leon, the seat of the Reconquista, the World Heritage site of Zaragosa and Valladolid where Isabella and Ferdinand married.
In the centre is magnificent, vibrant Madrid, capital of Spain with great architecture and three leading art museums. (check out Beebe Bahrami’s great itineraries including her Belle Époque Madrid). Nearby Toledo is a World Heritage site known as the ‘city of the three cultures’ because Christians, Moors and Jews lived here in relative peace and harmony for centuries.
The south also has the magnificent Moorish cities of Granada with its splendid and magical Alhambra, Seville and its impressive Giralda (check out Jeremy Head’s amazing Seville itineraries!) and Córdoba with its stunning Mosque. All different but equally fascinating.
Spain has 17 Regions, including Madrid, and these are divided into numerous provinces for administrative reasons.
Green Spain runs along the North Coast and includes the Regions of Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria, Basque and part of Navarre. This area is popular with many especially the thousands who trek the Camino from the Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostella.
Just south of Green Spain is La Rioja home of the renowned wine of the same name. Catalunya in the north east corner is much loved, especially by northern Europeans, due to its fine beach resorts. In the South, the Region of Andalucía welcomed 8.5 million tourists in 2014 although most of these visitors head straight for the narrow coastal strip and the resorts of Nerja, Marbella and Torremolinos.
Finally, for those who are looking for somewhere quintessentially Spanish to stay, how about the Paradors? All countries have great hotels but the Spanish Paradors are unique. Owned and run by the Government, they offer luxury hotel accommodation in Castles, Palaces, Monasteries, Convents and other historic buildings.
The best known are the 16th century monastery at Leon and the former Convent at the Alhambra Palace at Granada. Both need to be booked months in advance due to the demand for accommodation at this remarkable site.
Useful Link: Spanish Tourism
Spain, especially around its eastern and southern coastline, is a year-round destination and indeed many sun-starved Northern Europeans over-winter on the Costa del Sol in Andalucía. Inland it can be quite cold during the winter especially around Madrid while in the summer it can be very hot away from the coast. The best months to visit, if you want to travel around Spain and follow some of our itineraries, are during the Spring and Autumn. The bonus is that it’s even warm enough to spend time on the beach too!
Three to five days is usually enough to cover most aspects of large cities such as Madrid, Seville and Barcelona although if you choose to do all of our itineraries you’ll need at least a week for each place! To explore any of the Regions though you’ll need at least a fortnight or even three weeks and even that won’t be enough. If your aim is to explore the whole country then you’d better set a couple of months aside at least!
As with everywhere in Europe, High Season tends to be July and August with the peak being from mid-month to mid-month. The shoulder season tends to get longer the further south you are and the Costa del Sol will also be busy during June and September. High Season in the Sierra Nevada or the Pyrénées for the winter sports is January and February.
The Low Season i.e. the winter months, can still be quite busy on the Costa del Sol although it will be quiet in the rest of the country except for the big cities like Madrid, Seville and Barcelona which are popular all year round.
Southern Spain has a Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild wet winters although the area around Murcia in the south east has an almost African climate due to being extremely arid. Regions along the north coast like the Basque country experience a Maritime climate with cool summers and mild winters with some rain – this area is often referred to as Green Spain for obvious reasons! The area in the centre around Madrid has a Continental climate with hot dry summers and very cold winters.
For further detail check this website.
Local Events include:
Early January – Three Kings Day Throughout Spain
Mid-January – San Sebastian Festival, Majorca and San Sebastian
Early February – The Arizkun Festival Navarra
Mid-March – Las Fallas Festival Valencia
Easter Week – Semanta Santa Seville
April 23rd – Sant Jordi Festival Barcelona
Mid-May – Fiesta de San Isidro Madrid
June 20-24 – Night of San Juan Valenci Region
Early July – Medieval Theatre Festival Hita, Guadalajara
Early July – Hiking Festival La Palma Canary Islands
Early-mid-July – Running of the Bulls Pamplona
Mid-July – Benicàssim International Festival Valencia
Mid-August – Festa Major de Gràcia, Catalonia
End-August – La Tomatina Buñol (Tomato throwing fest)
Late September – International Film Festival San Sebastian
October 12 – Hispanic Day Parades Throughout Spain
End November-December – Christmas Market Barcelona
Spanish Holidays include:
January 1st New Year’s Day
January 6th Epiphany
Good Friday and Easter Monday
May 1st or the first Monday in May
May 14th Ascension Day
May Whit Monday – last Monday of month
August 15th Assumption Day
October 12th – Hispanic Day (Columbus Day)
November 1st – All Saints Day
December 6th – Constitution Day
December 8th – Immaculate Conception Day
December 25th: Christmas Day
December 26th: Boxing Day
Consult: For further information and Regional Holidays click here.
Spain is located in the Central European Time (CET)
Daylight Saving Time (DST) happens in the Spring (last Sunday in March at 1AM) when clocks are advanced one hour. In the Autumn (last Sunday in October at 1AM), clocks shift back one hour to standard time to give more daylight in the morning.
Spain is not expensive – expect to pay much the same as, or even less, than you would elsewhere. Admission to sites of interest is often surprisingly cheap and eating out, while not exactly inexpensive, is normally very reasonably priced.
Of course the traveller will find that large cities can be a little pricey especially for eating out but, if you are prepared to shop around a little, you will find something to suit your pocket.
What you can expect is value for money wherever you go. For food shopping try the local outdoor market, held daily in the big cities and weekly in small towns and villages. These are not necessarily cheaper than the shops but the produce is guaranteed to be local and fresh.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in €.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €15 per person
€€ => Tickets €15- €30 per person
€€€ => Tickets €30 per person
Sleep — Out of town/rural
€ => Rooms less than €60 for a double
€€ => Rooms €60 – €100 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €100 for a double
Sleep — Large Cities
€ => Rooms less than €100 for a double
€€ => Rooms €100 – €150 for a double
€€€ => Rooms €150 for a double
€=> €5- €10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€ => €10 – €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
€€€ => €25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
€ => Tickets less than €25 per person
€€ => Tickets €25 – €50 per person
€€€ => Tickets €50 per person
Fly the Friendly Skies
Airfares are a fickle thing. When you need it to be low, it’s high. And when prices dip, what happens? You can’t get off work to travel. Sigh.
But you can get notifications from companies like Kayak, which will email you when airfares drop. Type your destination and the dates you are watching and boom, when there’s a deal, you’ll hear about it immediately via your inbox.
Sites like Momondo also display prices for multiple airlines, so you can compare rates without visiting individual airline sites.
That said, there is an advantage to visiting an individual airline’s site. Why? Because some of their really great deals don’t show up on the aggregator airfare sites. Most airlines share limited-time, super-specials via their Facebook pages or email blasts. So it pays to be their ‘friend’ or subscribe to their e-mailings. European operators such as easyJet, Ryanair, Air France-KLM, Jet2, British Airways, flybe and Lufthansa offer an extensive range of routes in Europe.
Have Car, Will Travel
Like airlines, car rental rates are all over the map. Companies like Expedia and Hotwire offer comparison price shopping.
Zipcar is another choice for rentals. Available in many major cities, Zipcar is a great alternative for super-short term rentals. Picture this scenario: you are in a big city with terrific public transport, so you don’t need a car. But then you hear about an amazing restaurant 20 miles away in the suburbs. You can’t go home without trying it. A taxi would cost a fortune. You’d have to wait a long time to get a return taxi. Download the Zipcar app; search for a nearby Zipcar locale. Memberships cost about €8/£6 a month; rentals are about €8-13.50/£6-10 per hour; fuel and insurance are included.
Ride-sharing companies, such as Uber, are also ubiquitous in major cities. Through a smart phone app, you can line up rides all over town. It’s convenient because no money changes hands (payment is made through the app) and it’s usually cheaper than a taxi. Another bonus? After requesting a ride, you can see where the driver is on a map, so you know that they are on their way and how long it will be. Try that with a cab.
All the major car rental companies such as Avis, Sixt, Hertz and Europcar operate throughout Europe. It is not normally possible to rent in the UK and take the vehicle to mainland Europe or vice versa.
Hopefully, your trip to (or within) Europe goes without a glitch. But what if an unexpected situation arises? Will you lose the money you invested in the trip? Will you need quick cash to cover sudden costs?
Travel insurance policies are meant to cover these unexpected costs and assist you when problems arise. The fee is typically based on the cost of the trip and the age of the traveler.
Most travel insurance providers offer comprehensive coverage that usually includes protection for the following common events:
Trip Cancellation — About 40 percent of all claims fall in this category.
Medical — Travellers within Europe from European Union member states should obtain an EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) card which entitles them to healthcare on the same terms as citizens from the country they are visiting. This is a reciprocal agreement which means for example that EEA visitors to the UK will receive free care in NHS hospitals in the same way that UK residents do. Some countries e.g. France make a charge known as a patient contribution for GP visits or stays in hospital for both their own citizens and visitors from the EEA. Even so, travellers are well advised to have additional medical insurance to cover for example the cost of repatriation, mountain rescue in ski resorts and other emergencies.
For travellers from outside the European Union the cost of health services in Europe, while not as high as in the US for example, can be relatively expensive for the uninsured. For this reason it is essential to consider purchasing medical insurance. If you have a Health Care Plan back home it may cover you for most situations which arise abroad but you need to check this out and in any case additional medical travel insurance will cover you for private health care or other expenses.
Some countries outside the European Union have a reciprocal agreement for healthcare with certain European countries. For example Switzerland has an agreement with all European Union countries and Australia has agreements with the UK, the Netherlands, Italy and others. It pays to check before leaving home.
Trip Interruption — For example, if you become ill during your trip or if someone at home gets sick, and you have to get off the cruise ship or abandon a tour. The insurer will often pay up to 150% of the cost of your trip to get you home.
Travel Delay — Insurance usually covers incidentals like meals and overnight lodging while you wait to travel home.
Baggage — Insurance will typically cover lost and mishandled baggage.
Some insurance companies allow you to purchase a policy that allows you to cancel for any reason. This may cost more (often 10% or more), but it is worthwhile for certain travellers.
Do I need travel insurance?
If your trip is expensive it’s essential and even if it isn’t it’s certainly a good idea. Your age and health are important factors. Your English or other European language skills are also crucial because insurance policies often include concierge services with 24-hour hotlines that can connect you quickly with someone who speaks your language.
How do I choose an insurance provider?
Do your homework — check around.
The largest insurers in the U.S. include Travel Guard, Allianz and CSA Travel Protection. Smaller reputable companies include Berkley, Berkshire Hathaway Travel Protection, Travel Insured International and Travelex. You may also find deals through aggregates like Squaremouth and InsureMyTrip.
Many airlines and travel companies also offer travel insurance when you book your flight (often contracted with the above major players).
In Europe the largest insurers are Allianz, Axa and Zurich but there are many smaller providers such as insureandgo and Direct Line.
Pre-existing health conditions — Many policies have exclusion policies if you have a pre-existing medical condition or charge an additional premium related to the condition. Some companies also offer waivers that overwrite the exclusion if you purchase the policy within a certain time frame of paying for your trip (e.g., within 24 hours of buying your cruise package). Again, it’s best to check the fine print.
Credit card insurance — If you buy your airfare or trip with a credit card, you may be partially covered by the credit card’s issuing bank. Check directly with the company to find out exactly what’s covered, as many have “stripped down” coverage and restrictions.
The main currency of Europe is the Euro which is currently used in 25 countries a few of which are not even EU members. Some countries within the European Union have retained their original currency including the UK (Pound), Denmark (Kroner) and Poland (Zloty). Most non-EU countries such as Switzerland (Swiss Franc) and Turkey (Lira) continue to use their own currency. All are decimalised and have 100 ‘pennies’ in each main unit.
Euros come in €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500 notes. They vary in size, from 120mm x 62mm (€5) to 160mm x 82mm (500), and colour, so it is easy to differentiate between them. All feature European architecture throughout the ages. (Smaller businesses may not accept the larger notes, so plan to have €20s or smaller notes in hand)
There are eight denominations of euro coin: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20 and 50 cent plus a €1 and €2 coin. All have a common side and a national side. Remember to spend all coins before you leave – they can’t be exchanged!
Many travellers like to have a small amount of local currency when they arrive in a country but this is becoming less and less important as ATMs and Bureaux de Change appear everywhere especially in transport terminals.
The good news for travellers in Spain is that you don’t need to get stressed about tipping – you don’t have to do it and when you do it really should reflect good or excellent service rather than be something you are expected to do. On the whole workers in tourism are reasonably well paid and don’t depend upon tips to make up their wages. In some cases over-tipping can be embarrassing for all concerned.
Many restaurants include a ‘service’ charge in the price so check and, if it isn’t mentioned, then a tip of between 5 – 10% is quite enough. Even where it is included but you feel that you’ve had really excellent service then the same amount is adequate but ensure that your server receives this by handing it directly to them.
Other methods are to add a euro for each member of the party or round up the bill to the nearest 5 or 10 euros.
With taxis, just round up to the next euro or pound for a short journey or, for a long ride, to the nearest ten. Again 10% is the maximum you should consider unless of course the driver carries your bags into the hotel or airport when a little more will be appreciated.
You may wish to give the porter a euro for each bag he carries but, while it will be appreciated, it is not normally expected. Similarly you may wish to leave a small tip for the housekeeping staff, especially if they have been particularly helpful, but this is completely up to you.
The large cities are well served by efficient and cheap public transport and the country as a whole has a very extensive network of rail and bus services.
This section of the website will be developed shortly. Why not let us know what you’d like to see covered?