For those that have never been, Spain conjures images of intrepid bullfighters, bedazzled flamenco dancers, ruggedly handsome pop stars, and olive-skinned beauties on sun-splashed beaches. Art enthusiasts will rave about Picasso's reinvention of modern art, Gaudi's boundary-shattering architecture, and Dali's spearheading of Surrrealism. Historians will point to a whopping forty-four (and counting) world heritage sites, which tell of a lineage that began with the hominid cave paintings of Altamira and continued through lengthy periods of Roman, Muslim, and Christian rule, making for quite a variety of ancient ruins, palaces, places of worship, and more. But to see these incredible landmarks in person- to walk the streets of Granada as the Moorish brilliance of the Alhambra towers above, to ponder the unfinished wonder of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, to be within arms reach of timeless works of art in the Prado Museum: this is the stuff that inspires people to travel.
Sure, if you want landmarks, you go to Spain. But what about that sense of adventure that make a trip truly memorable? If you're like us, then nothing less than a trek to the rim of a 3,700 meter volcano or a night of stars in the middle of a 10 km crater unmarred by civilized lights will get you out of your ergonomic office chair. Luckily, a trip to the Canary Islands will satisfy these requirements, so other adventurous locales are just icing on the cake. That icing includes mountain chains like the Sierra Nevadas, the Pyrenees, and the Picos de Europa, where hikers, skiers, and rock climbers chase the next thril, while water lovers can enjoy the marine reserves of the Balearic Islands or southern Spain's aptly named Costa del Sol.
And yet adventure is much more than a journey of natural proportions or a shot of adrenaline to jack up your nervous system, just as culture is hardly summed up by the museums and artifacts of past lives. The intense zealotry of a Real Madrid or FC Barcelona football match is a definitive taste of Spanish culture, although if the sensory experience you prefer truly is taste, then you'll want to do a tapas crawl or a sampling of authentic regional cuisines (Mediterranean, Catalonian, Andalusian, and Basque to name a few). Even Spanish nightlife is an adventure. Ibiza is the clubbing capital of the world and the carnival in Tenerife rivals only that of Rio de Janeiro, while major cities like Madrid and Granada have earned reputations for genuine flamenco tablaos
Spain is much more than afternoon siestas or dinner after sundown. Not only does it have access to plenty of adventurous activities (there are even a ton of skydiving drop zones), but there are a handful of cultural hubs that distinguish Spain as not only a leading preserver of its varied past, but an innovating and exciting world travel destination. Add to this a modern transport infrastructure and you've got one of the best places to visit in Europe. Browse our included pictures, videos, and information for further inspiration; it's the best way to get the ball rolling to a destination that is among the best in Europe for an Embark traveler.
Visas aren't required when traveling from a developed country. If you are unsure of whether you would need a visa, then check this site for more specific information.
Spain's currency is the Euro. The current exchange rate may be found here.
Spain is a constitutional monarchy whose hereditary monarch serves as head of state, while the President of the Government (sometimes referred to as the Prime Minister) serves as the head of government. Numerous vice presidents of government head the various ministries of state and contribute to the make-up of the Council of Ministers, the executive body; the Cortes Generales is the bicameral legislative branch, which consists of the Congress of Deputies and the Senate; and the highest judicial bodies are the Supreme Court and Constitutional Court. A multi-party system, although the conservative People's Party and the social-democrat Spanish Socialist Worker's Party are the two frontrunners, Spain is known to have a stable and reliable government, despite the fact that the economy has been in a downturn since 2008 and nationalist movements in regions like Galicia, Basque, and Catalonia have long been central issues of debate.
The experience that each traveler has in Spain will differ depending on the people you come in contact with or the type of adventure pursued; no matter where you are or what you're doing, be sure to try speaking the language, even if you lack the confidence. Spain is like the United States in that, despite the other language being taught in schools, the majority of the people do not have a faculty with it. You'll find English spoken more prevalently in big cities like Barcelona or Madrid (by tour guides and at tourist attractions especially), but once you veer away from these well-trod areas into authentic Spain a little basic Spanish will be a huge help in securing cheap accommodations, buying a souvenir from that hole-in-the-wall shop, receiving assistance or enjoying a more unique trip than the one that other website would have planned FOR you. Brush up on your Spanish prior to going and make sure to bring a translator app or book; chances are if you're seeing the highlights of Spain, you may not even need it, but it's worth the preparation.
Crime and Safety:
Despite the fact that crime numbers are consistently lower than the average of other participants in the European Union, some travelers are still concerned about entering Spain because of terrorist incidents that have occurred in the last decade and reports of tourist-targeting by petty criminals. No matter where you are, the likelihood of a terrorist event is infinitesimal and even more rarely are tourists targeted; if you are concerned, then make sure you stay updated as your trip approaches to any warnings that may be issued. Petty crimes like pickpocketing and even muggings have occurred in all of Spain's major cities to international travelers, particularly in tourist areas or in airports. Often it is in an attempt to get money or a passport, so keep a limited amount of cash on you and only carry a copy of your passport when sight-seeing. Then again, the probability of this happening is quite low, so keeping your possessions secure in public places and being sure to avoid dark or unknown areas are common sense ways of further lessening such a probability. In the case that a crime does occur, Spain's emergency number is 112; you may access further information from the US government site.
Modes of Transportation:
Spain has a vast, well-integrated network of transport options for international travelers. On the local level, nearly every major city (Barcelona, Madrid, Palma, Granada, etc.) has an efficient metro system, while buses are a much more plausible option during the weekdays. Be aware that further off the beaten path it will be harder to get bus transport, especially on the weekends (fewer work commuters), and that there may not always be signage stating where the buses pick up. Do your research ahead of time and be prepared to ask a local if need be. The system of roads is generally well kept and renting a car and using the highways (some with tolls) between your destinations will more than likely be your best combination of autonomy, cost, and timeliness. If you prefer comfort, the train may be a better option when traveling across the country (the Renfe Spain Pass may be the way to go for travelers looking to see multiple destinations in different parts of Spain); the high-speed rail in and out of Madrid is also a possibility. If getting somewhere quickly is your main concern, then head straight to the airport, where cheaper, non-refundable tickets ($150 USD and up) can be booked ahead of time. Otherwise, flying can get expensive.
Weather in Spain will vary greatly depending on the part of the country you're visiting. Inland cities like Madrid have largely contrasting temperatures depending on the season; during the summer, the temperatures will reach the 100's Fahrenheit, while winter temperatures drop below freezing with frequency. The eastern and southern coasts of the country (including the Balearic Islands) are mostly Mediterranean in climate, with warm weather conditions and moderate rainfall throughout the year, although the warmest months are during the summer and the rainiest are in the fall. Areas to the north like Galicia and Basque country fall within an Oceanic climate, meaning that warm summers and mild winters are to be expected along with high yearly rainfall.
Eating and Tipping:
There are differing opinions on tipping etiquette in Spanish restaurants, but you'll find that no matter what the Spanish usually do, establishments in touristy areas have come to expect tips from the tourists who flock there. This means that you don't have to tip, particularly if you've managed to find authentic Spanish food away from where the tourists pen themselves like zoo exhibits for the locals to point at. Bars and cafes don't expect tips, but you'll find that tipping up to 10% (and even this is high for the Spanish) at a nice restaurant is fine and rounding up anywhere else is an act of kindness. Honestly, the only people living off of tips are street performers, so if anything, save your Euros for them. Also, the Spanish eat much later than Americans may be used to; dinner usually doesn't get going until 9pm. If you plan on eating when the locals eat, then it may be a good idea to grab a snack or some tapas to hold you over until then.
First off, you'll find that the large difference between Spanish and American alcohol culture is the reason for partaking. You'll often find Americans in bars drinking to get drunk, while in Spain the social component has a much higher value. Quite often you'll see families at a tapas bar or cervecería in the afternoon; the adults may have a beer or glass of wine while snacking on tapas, but that will often be the extent of it. Younger clubbing generations may get a bit more involved in drinking for its own sake, but it's not something as widespread as it is in the United States. It's pretty obvious that Spain is wine country. There are sixty-seven wine regions. Sixty-seven. These regions account for the most vine planted in any country in the world, which leads you to rightly assume that the people of Spain not only like to make wine, but drink it. Those with a sweet tooth should try to get off-the-beaten-path and drink some sangria; otherwise, there is wine for every taste. Beer is common, whether it is from domestic giants like Mahou-San Miguel and Damm or popular imports like Budweiser and Heineken, but there really isn't much of a craft beer culture like you may find in some other European countries. As far as purchasing alcohol is concerned, you need to be 16 and have valid identification, although minors are still allowed to purchase alcohol as long as they are doing so in the company of a legal guardian.
Interesting Cultural Fact:
Like the tooth fairy in English-speaking countries, Spain also has a magical creature that collects baby teeth and leaves money under the pillow: a tiny mouse named Ratoncito Perez.
Peak season:June August
In regards to size and scope, the only carnival bigger than the one held in Santa Cruz de Tenerife is Carnival in Brazil. This 14-day extravagana is held annually in late February; be sure to join the thousands each day who don often brilliant and colorful disguises, celebrate age-old traditions like Pinata Weekend, and enjoy the libations and music of a truly unique cultural event.
Feria de Sevilla
One of the great Andalusian festivals is the Feria de Sevilla, which takes place the week after Easter. Rides, bullfighting, flamenco, and plenty of alcohol mark this week straight of excitement and excess, which still retains the lavish costumes, parades, and other cultural extravagances that have marked it since its inception in 1847.
San Fermin y Correo de Toros
Celebrated from July 6-14, San Fermin is the world famous festival that includes the Correo de Toros (Running of the Bulls). The festival, which takes place in Pamplona, is opened with the shooting of a rocket into the sky and marks nine days of partying and excess, including the aforementioned Running of the Bulls (run at your own risk!) and the big-head parade.
La Tomatina is the original, largest sanctioned tomato fight in the world. It takes place in Buñol (a small town near Valencia) and falls on the fourth Wednesday in August. This wild event begins once one of the participants has climbed a greased pole and knocked down a slab of ham, and then goes on to entail a few hours of slinging squashed tomatoes in the town square. You know, the type of thing that happens in Hollywood movies about college that somehow have little repercussion? This is your chance to live it.