For anyone traveling to Spain for the first time, the trip comes preloaded with a little mental baggage.
Depending on where you’re from, Spain probably conjures easy images in your mind. Maybe “Spain” means beaches and family holidays to you. Maybe it connotes football. Maybe it makes you think of flamenco and jamón.
For me, the first images that come to mind when I think of traveling to Spain are picturesque coastal towns, beautiful coves and beaches, and glasses of sangria in the sun.
But, after years of living in Spain, I know this country has a lot more to offer than that!
Visiting Spain is popular and I’ve been seeing a lot of questions about Spain online. So, I want to start this article by answering the most popular questions about Spain.
As a result, below are some of the crucial things to know before traveling to Spain, in the form of 10 questions.
Also Read: Surprising, Shocking & Fun Facts About Spain
Things to Know Before Going to Spain: 10 Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is Spain Expensive to Visit? / Is Spain Cheap to Visit?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions about Spain, and the answer really depends on your perspective.
If you’re flying from São Paulo, the flight alone could set you back nearly 1000 euros (US$ 1000+), and lunches out will be roughly on par with what you’re used to paying.
If you’re flying from Copenhagen, however, your travel costs could be less than 100 euros (US$ 110), and a lunch out could be cheaper than what you normally pay for a single glass of wine.
Something I’ve found helpful to put Spanish costs into perspective is Numbeo’s cost-of-living calculator. According to Numbeo’s data, the cost of living in Valencia is roughly equivalent to the cost of living in Prague (as are local salaries).
That’s been my experience, too. You can find decent hotel rooms and managed apartments for around 50 or 60 euros per night. You can find good 3-course menus for lunch (menu del dia in Spanish) for about 10 euros.
You can expect to pay about 2 euros in a restaurant for a beer, and bottles of house wine are frequently less than 10 euros.
Multiply those figures by 1.5 to approximate Barcelona and Madrid prices. And multiply those figures by 2 if you’re hanging in super-touristy neighborhoods like Santa Catalina in Palma de Mallorca during high season.
Now, if 5 euros for a beer still sounds reasonable, then you’ll find just about everywhere in Spain cheap to visit. If you’re more in the 2-euro-beer budget range, stick to regional cities, out-of-the-way coastal towns, and the low-key neighborhoods around Barcelona and Madrid.
2. How Much Money Do You Need per Day in Spain?
Surprisingly little, it turns out.
The great thing about Spain — and this goes for cities as well as beach areas — is you can easily spend a whole day walking around just looking at stuff for free.
If, like me, you come from a country where it rains more often than it doesn’t, a big part of the allure of Spain is just relaxing in the sun. You can do that for free on a beach or a mountain. You can do that on a city terrace for the price of a coffee.
So, let’s use Valencia again as an example. Aside from the cost of your accommodation, you could have a wonderful afternoon strolling around with just 20 euros in your pocket:
- Budget 3 or 4 euros so you can stop for a coffee and a snack.
- Budget another 10 for lunch. As I mentioned in my Fun Facts About Spain article, tipping is not common at all, so a 10-euro lunch is actually a 10-euro lunch.
- Then, spend the remainder on entrance to a museum or to the cathedral.
Of course, these costs can scale up, depending on your interests and your needs. Families with an activities-heavy itinerary can end up spending a little more, for example.
And if you’re more interested in Barcelona nightlife or Michelin-star dining in the Basque Country, then the sky is the limit for your budget.
But if you’re into aimless wandering, lazy afternoons on a terrace, and the occasional tapa, Spain can be a pretty affordable destination.
3. What is the Best Time to Visit Spain?
The best time to visit Spain depends a little on where in Spain you want to go and a lot on your personal preferences.
I would say the best time to visit Spain, or at least most parts of the country, is from March until early June and from early September until mid-November. So in short: spring and fall.
These times of year the weather is pleasant and the country is less crowded with tourists.
High season, roughly from mid-June until the end of August, is when most popular destinations in Spain get very crowded and prices for accommodation go up.
But, if you want perfect beach weather, high season might still be your preferred time to visit Spain. And in the spring and fall the north of Spain can be quite chilly, so you might want to put up with the crowds and elevated prices just to get the best weather.
Some smaller coastal towns that largely live off tourism turn into ghost towns in winter, with many shops and restaurants closing for one or several months.
Quite contrary to this, the bigger cities (most notably Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia) actually have many shops and some restaurants closing in August. This is when a lot of Spanish people take their vacations and leave the city to escape the heat.
That city heat is real by the way and I would absolutely advise against visiting Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia in August!
From October until the end of February it rains more (with some surprisingly rainy days in September and March as well), which you will notice especially in the North. Some years extreme floodings occur during these months.
Lastly, If you are looking for winter sports, the best time to visit is from January until March, although skiing in the Sierra Nevada is sometimes possible until early June!
But, Spain is a very varied country and when the best time is to visit really depends on where you are going and why you are visiting Spain. Therefore I wrote a separate article about the best time to visit Spain, depending on your type of trip.
Also Read: 5 Crazy Spanish Festivals Worth Visiting!
4. Is Spain Safe?
In general: yes, Spain is safe. Whether you are visiting Spain alone, with friends or with kids, Spain is a safe country to visit.
At the same time, with the rise of the far-right Vox party and the fascism its rhetoric has given a voice to, Spain certainly feels a lot less friendly than it did a few years ago.
During the marches to celebrate Valencia Community Day on 9 October the past few years, I’ve personally seen the straight-armed salutes from far-right counter-demonstrators, who have been galvanized by political messaging that is anti-immigration, anti-Catalan and misogynistic in its response to the La Manada rape case in Pamplona.
That messaging would also have you believe that Barcelona has become a hotbed of migrant crime. The statistics don’t really support that though. Nationwide, crime rates have been falling steadily since the early 2000s.
Spain’s national crime rate is on par with Portugal and Austria — and significantly lower than in countries like the UK, Canada, and Finland.
Just be wary of pickpockets in the cities, especially in Barcelona. They’re unlikely to confront or use violence to steal your belongings, but they’re very skilled at sneaking a hand into a backpack or back pocket.
Also Read: How to Stay Safe While Traveling
5. Can You Drink Tap Water in Spain?
Yes, you can drink tap water in Spain. The plumbing infrastructure in all major cities is fine and on-par with other modern European cities.
To be fair, the taste of the water in some places can be off-putting and there is often a lot of chlorine in the water. That’s definitely the case here in Valencia, and why so many locals either buy bottled water or use water filters.
But the water isn’t unsafe to drink; it’s just minerally and a little unpleasant.
Note: although most sources say tap water in Spain is safe to drink, there is some research that shows some harmful effects of high levels of chlorine in the water.
6. What Is the Most Visited Place in Spain?
That would be the Alhambra palace and fortress complex in Granada.
If you’re planning to visit, be sure to book your tickets well in advance.
7. What Is the Nicest Beach in Spain?
That’s a difficult one!
One of the things I love about Spain is how many incredible beaches it has. From large, sandy beaches with beach bars and water sports, to tiny, hidden coves that you can have all to yourself.
Rodas Beach on the Cies Islands is listed as one of the best beaches in the world.
But also check out the beaches I highlight in this article about the Costa Brava, Costa Dorada & Costa Verde.
8. Can You Wear Flip-Flops in Spain? Can You Wear Shorts in Spain?
Theoretically, yes. But should you? That’s a more nuanced question.
First, the flip-flops. As a rule, save them for the beach or the pool. Spanish people are pretty smart dressers, and at the very least you’re likely to get worse service if you show up to a restaurant in flip-flops.
Plus, the pickpockets in Barcelona will recognize you as an easy mark if they spot you on the metro in beachwear.
Now, the shorts. Shorts can certainly be appropriate dress in Spain during the summer. A rule that I’ve found to work: When it’s 30-plus degrees Celcius, wear whatever you need to be comfortable.
Here in Valencia, it’s not uncommon to see older men with their shirts unbuttoned to the navel on a hot summer day. Shorts aren’t gauche when it’s oppressively hot.
Note: one of the more important things to know about Spain on this subject is that you cannot wear flip-flops when driving. And yes, you will get a fine when the police stop you!
You also cannot drive barefoot so if you are planning to drive in Spain, make sure you bring proper shoes or sandals.
9. Is Barcelona Safe at Night?
Barcelona is one of the most popular places to visit in Spain, so of course, a lot of questions about Spain are about Barcelona.
The short answer to this question: Barcelona is as safe as any big city in the EU.
Going back to Numbeo’s data, you’ll see that crime in Barcelona is low to moderate in most cases. The most common crimes are petty theft (a non-confrontational pickpocketing on the metro, for example) or someone breaking into your car at night.
That’s what Numbeo’s data suggests, and that’s been my experience, as well.
So, don’t make your phone or your wallet easily accessible, and don’t leave valuables in your car. Also, as noted above, don’t make yourself a mark by wearing shorts and flip-flops in November.
Physical attacks against your person are pretty rare — though sex crimes are statistically on the rise.
My personal experience: Barcelona has a thriving nightlife, so take normal precautions when walking by groups of drunk anybodies.
A report from El Pais I think will help put this in perspective:
“Most of the crimes committed in the city are robberies, which experts say tend not to be violent. Last year the city witnessed 299 daily robberies, or 12 every hour, the majority of which took place in Ciutat Vella, Barcelona’s historic neighborhood.
Although petty crime is high, numbers for more serious crimes such as murder and homicide are very low.
10. Is It Better to Visit Madrid or Barcelona?
¿Por qué no los dos? (Why not both?)
But, really, it depends on what you’re looking for:
- If you want to see the beach, go to Barcelona.
- If you want to see splendid palaces, go to Madrid.
- If you want great nightlife, Barcelona still has the edge over Madrid.
- If you want to see great artwork, the Prado and the Reina Sofia museums in Madrid are the best in the country.
- If you want to eat and drink to your heart’s content, flip a coin. They’re both world-class gastronomy destinations.
Also Read: What to Do in Madrid – Tips From a Local Tour Guide and check out this overview of articles about Barcelona.
Other Things to Know Before Traveling to Spain
1. The Currency in Spain Is the Euro
Credit and debit cards are widely accepted throughout Spain. But, especially in smaller towns I’d recommend always carrying enough cash to cover your meal or other smaller purchase because you might find yourself in a place where they only take cash.
2. The Country Code / Prefix is +34
If you want to phone a number in Spain +34 is the prefix you add to the Spanish phone number.
If you want to call a number outside of Spain while you are in Spain, look up the prefix for that country (+1 for the USA for example) and add that to the number you want to call.
3. Spain Has Two Time Zones
And Spain observes daylight saving time.
Spain mainly uses Central European Time (GMT+01:00) and Central European Summer Time (GMT+02:00).
The exception is the Canary Islands, where the time zone is Western European Time (GMT±00:00) and Western European Summer Time (GMT+01:00).
Daylight saving time starts on the last Sunday in March at 2AM and lasts until the last Sunday in October at 3AM.
4. Plugs & Voltage in Spain
Spain uses a two-prong plug classified as type C or E/F plug with 230 Volt.
This is the same as in many other European countries such as the Netherlands, France, Sweden, etc., but different from plugs in the UK, Ireland, Malta or Cyprus.
If you need a travel adapter, this is my favorite travel adapter because it’s compact and works in over 200 countries, including Spain.
And while most of your electronics (i.e. phone and laptop chargers) will be able to handle 230-volt plugs, do double-check before traveling to Spain! My hairdryer for example, which I bought in the USA, does not work in Spain.
5. Public Transport in Spain
Public transport in and between cities is good, but if you want to visit smaller towns or explore the countryside then you really need to rent a car.
But, the good news is that renting a car in Spain doesn’t have to be expensive! I often rent a (small) car outside of high season for less than 10 Euros a day (no, that’s not a typo!).
And I do recommend renting a smaller car because streets in Spanish cities and towns can get quite narrow and so are parking spots!
I also recommend renting your car at an airport instead of in a city or town, because car rental at airports tends to be a lot cheaper.
Do book online because rental prices on the day at the car rental agencies are almost always (a lot) higher.
Also Read: Tips for Driving Abroad for the First Time
6. Most Shops are Closed on Sundays
Shops, including supermarkets, generally close on Sundays. And although I’ve lived in Spain for several years now, I still can’t really get used to this and often seem to urgently need something on a Sunday…
In the more touristy areas more shops stay open on Sundays, at least during high season, but it’s good to keep in mind that you can’t count on this throughout Spain.
Some shops also still close for siesta, which can be anywhere between 1pm and 5pm.
7. Spain Has a Lot of Public Holidays
Check if you happen to be visiting Spain during any public holidays as most shops and offices close on those days.
It can also mean that some fun events will be organized in the place you are visiting, so it’s worth checking for that too.
For example, Valencia’s biggest annual event is Las Fallas, which basically is one giant street party that lasts for five days.
8. The Spanish Eat Dinner Late
And by late, think 10pm or even 11pm, especially in summer.
Most restaurants won’t serve food before 8pm which is good to know before you start planning your days.
And if you think you can just go to a restaurant that serves lunch and dinner (because their kitchen surely must remain open) you might go wrong there too.
Many restaurants that are open all day close their kitchen for a few hours in between lunch and dinner, making it difficult to find a place to eat roughly between 4pm and 8pm.
Touristy areas will have slightly more options as they try to cater to different nationalities with different preferred dinner times. But then those touristy restaurants might not be the best places to get authentic Spanish food…
9. Spain Is a Big and Very Diverse Country!
From drinking sangria on the beach to sightseeing in a historic city center or skiing in the Sierra Nevada. Spain has a lot to offer.
But that also means you shouldn’t expect Spain to be the same everywhere.
For example, in some parts of the country you get a free tapa with every drink. But in Valencia, that is not common at all. And while along the south and east coast of Spain you can find a lot of seafood, in the north it’s much more about meat.
What I’m trying to say is to use this list of things to know about Spain as an initial introduction to the country and culture, but do read up on the specific areas you are visiting, to get a better understanding of what those places are like.
Further Reading Before Traveling to Spain
I’ve spent a large part of my adult life in Spain, and this blog has a wealth of tips, advice, and ideas for anyone planning a visit to Spain.
Be sure to check out some of these articles if you need extra help planning your trip:
- Interesting Facts About Spain
- The Best Spanish Food to Eat in Spain
- Things to Do in Madrid
- Things to Do in Valencia
- The Best Family Vacations in Spain
- Why I Recommend Staying at Paradores in Spain
- Is Mallorca Worth Visiting?
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