Known to some as the land of tapas, bulls, flamenco and siestas, Spain is a beautiful little country located in the Iberian Peninsula. Situated right next to Portugal and below France, the country boasts mediterranean cuisine, beautiful beaches and the perfect location for any foodie! The country definitely offers more than tapas (although they are delicious), bulls, flamenco and siestas. The only thing is, you may have to go searching for it. There are many best kept secrets in this vibrant country. It’s heavily influenced with moorish architecture, Roman ruins and a rich culture that makes you feel welcomed and intrigued.
Does this make you interested in seeing what Spain has to offer? Here are 7 things you need to know before planning your trip to this mediterranean country!
Dry Heat and Spanish Sun
Spanish sun is not your average sun. It’s strong, packs heat and during peak hours, can make you feel tired and extremely sluggish. Even during the winter, temperatures can change drastically when the sun is out. Be cautious because you may burn faster without noticing. The climate in Spain is normally dry heat, with a bit more humidity on the coast. In the shade, it will automatically feel SO much cooler! Stay in the shade to avoid feeling fatigued with the strong sun.
Although the Spanish sun is extremely strong, the temperatures can range from one extreme to the other! In the morning, it will most likely be a bit chillier than normal. I usually carry around a light jacket during the Spring and Fall time, or a scarf, to bundle up a bit more. This also happens at night when the sun sets. The temperature will begin to drop, so having something warmer just incase is nice. The sun’s peak hours are around 12-4pm, so this is usually when you will start sweating! In the south of Spain, temperatures start to reach up to 100°F (40°C). Most people stay in their homes from 12-8/9pm because of the unbearable heat.
*Pro Tip: Always carry around a small bottle of water when walking around. Also, carrying around a light jacket or scarf is perfect to layer when temperatures start dropping or easy to take off when temperatures are rising.
Pintxos vs. Tapas
What is a pintxo and what is a tapa? A pintxo is normally served in the north of Spain. A tapa is normally served in the south, to make things simple. Pintxos are especially popular the northern region of Spain, País Vasco, also known as Basque Country. Tapas are especially popular in the southern region of Spain, Andalucía. Although it seems like the central region of Spain is quickly picking up this tradition.
The word “pintxo” comes from the language Euskara, the language that is spoken in País Vasco. When translated it means “thorn” or “spike”. This makes a lot more sense when you have a pintxo! Most pintxos are served on skewers, or they are stacked with a toothpick through the center. A stacked pintxo usually has a slice of bread on the bottom, then a piece of meat and then the toothpick. There are a lot of different gourmet pintxos, that have eggs, peppers, tomatoes, eggs, and more on top!
A tapa is usually a small “appetizer” that can be served hot or cold. Tapas are a lot more famous in the southern region of Spain, and come free with your drink! Although central Spain is starting to adopt this tradition, to find the “real” tapas, you’ll have to travel to the south of Spain. With each drink you order, whether it is water, soda, beer or wine, you will most likely receive a tapa for free! Some of the best cities for free tapas are Granada and Sevilla, where the tapas are known to be LARGE plates.
Spanish Meals and Schedule
In Spain, there is a very specific meal schedule. If you’re from the United States, it is very different than what we are used to! In the morning, most Spaniards will have a small breakfast consisting of a glass of milk with Cola Cao (very similar to Nesquilk) and some biscuits (or cookies as we like to call them). Sometimes they will also have a long piece of toasted baguette with tomatoes, olive oil and a dash of salt (if you want, you can also add ham). It’s a small and quick breakfast before most people head out for the day. Of course if you’re a coffee drinker, a cafe con leche is the go to, and another favorite is fresh squeezed orange juice.
After breakfast, most people will bring a small snack to eat around 10/11am. This is usually a piece of fruit, a small sandwich or maybe some yogurt. Lunchtime isn’t until about 2/2:30pm! Don’t expect to eat at 12pm in Spain, unless you’re in a very touristy area like Madrid. On weekends, lunchtime starts around 2/2:30pm and can last up to two hours if you’re eating with a Spanish family! This usually happens if you’re out eating and celebrating something. If you’re in a smaller town, a lot of the shops close from 2pm to 5pm. This happens because it’s very common for shop owners and employees to return home and eat with their families, have a quick siesta and then return in the afternoon to continue working.
For dinner, don’t expect to eat before 9-10pm! Anything before 9pm is not considered normal dinner time and more of a snack. If you do find yourself in a more touristy area, there will be restaurants that are open and ready to serve dinner. In small cities and towns, most restaurants won’t have their kitchen ready and prepped for dinner until about 8pm.
*Pro Tip: In Spain, tipping isn’t a custom. But, if you feel like the waiter or waitress did a great job, it’s always appreciated! Usually I give a euro or extra change. It’s not like the United States where servers earn their pay through tips.
Get OUT of the major cities
Of course there are some cities you HAVE to visit in Spain. I’m not saying cut those out of your trip, but don’t just stay in those areas. The lifestyle in Spain can really be felt in the smaller cities and towns. If you’re looking to experience authentic Spanish culture that isn’t too touristy, plan to visit those smaller pueblos, towns and cities!
There is a lot of history, stories and culture that can be found when you venture out of the bigger cities like Barcelona, Madrid or Sevilla. In the surrounding towns, you can find some of the most beautiful architecture, Roman ruins, the best restaurant that serves the best whatever and get a taste of how Spaniards live their day to day life. Some of my favorite smaller areas are Ronda, Toledo and Burgos. In these areas you can still feel the tourism, but you’ll also be able to get a taste of Spanish culture that isn’t heavily influenced by tourists.
*Pro Tip: If you don’t have a car while traveling through the country, there are a lot of buses, trains or even a carpool system that allows you to get to your destination!
One thing that I really loved about Spain while I was living there was the style and street fashion. Spaniards definitely have a sportier chic style. The ladies definitely know how to kick it up a notch with their “going out” attire. While walking around larger cities, I see a lot of tennis shoes or comfortable walking shoes. Flip-flops are a HARD no. I’ve definitely worn flip-flops out once, and was gawked at for wearing a “summer” shoe during “non-summer” season! My advice is to stick to some thing that is comfortable and chic, especially when it comes to shoes. You’ll be walking a lot and your feet will definitely be tired! Stick to something that gives you support.
Ladies, if you want to blend in a little more, swipe on a bold lipstick! I’ve seen a lot of Spanish women head out with a bright colored lipstick while going out or even just walking around and running errands. I love wearing bolder colors to spice up an outfit and turn something plain into something a bit nicer!
*Pro Tip: Spaniards dress for the SEASON, NOT the weather. You may still find people in light jackets during the early summertime, when it’s very warm! Also, temperatures vary greatly in the morning, afternoon and at night.
Before coming to Spain, I didn’t really know anything about Spanish culture. I knew siestas, sangria and a little bit about flamenco. But, other than that, I was a bit clueless! After living in the country for two years, I’ve learned that Spanish culture is truly one of a kind! Its culture is colorful, passionate, vibrant and loud.
While traveling around Spain, it’s so important to have an open mind to really understand the culture of the country. Spain was under dictatorship until 1975, when Franco passed away. The country had a civil war that lasted three years, and is still a relatively “new” country with some “old school” traditions.
You may find that the mentality of the older generation can be a bit put-off to newer things, just like any older generation. The country still hosts bullfights, which is extremely controversial in Spain. Although you may have your opinions and reservations about certain aspects of the country and the Spaniards, it’s important to understand that the country is changing quickly. They’ve made drastic changes in their government, lifestyle, and culture in a very short period of time! The country has also been in an economic crisis for about 10 years. The impact of that crisis has affected an entire generation!
I couldn’t finish this post and NOT include something about las fiestas en España, now could I?! What I’ve come to learn about the party scene in Spain is that it can go all night! In the United States, we pregame and have power hours around 8-10pm, get to the bars/clubs by 11pm and end the night at 2am. The Spaniards have got a whole different system set up for parties.
It definitely took a bit of time to get used to the party schedule they have. What my boyfriend had told me the first night I arrived in Spain was that if you’re leaving a party at 2am, that is WAY too early because most people ARRIVE to the bars/clubs/parties AT 2am! When I heard that, I freaked out! I thought that I had my party days in college, but clearly I was partying the wrong way. Before a night on the town, most Spaniards will have dinner around 9:30/10pm; eating out and having tapas or having dinner with friends. After dinner, they have their own pregame, called botellón. Botellón can start at 11/11:30pm or later, and go until 2/3am! After that, they head out on the town until 6 or 7am!
And if you’re feeling the party and having a great night that you don’t want to end at 7am, you can head to the “Afters”. “Afters” are clubs that stay open after the other clubs have closed. You could be there from 7am to 10am if you really wanted to! I’ve never been in one because I usually end my nights around 6 or 7am. And to some, that’s ending the night early!
*Pro Tip: If you’re there in the summer, find a group of friends to go to the botellón with! Their pregame are usually held in a field or parking lot outside, with music, a large group of people drinking, dancing and talking. Think, Fast & Furious, but in Spanish!
Spain has captured my heart, from it’s traditions, food and vibrant culture. The small mediterranean country has more to offer than ham, flamenco, bull fights and olive oil! If you’re thinking about planning a trip to this country and need some help, take a look at Map It Trips and send us a message! The boyfriend and I would love to help you set up your trip, with a personalised itinerary to your traveling style!