Casa Batllo façade

25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time

Idyllic islands, whitewashed villages, green landscapes, iconic monuments and incredible food culture make Spain an excellent European destination to visit.

Spain is very diverse, but not everyone is aware of it. It’s often sold as a beach and warm destination, but you need to know that there are more than beaches, sangria and flamenco in Spain. At the same time, there are more incredible destinations than famous cities like Barcelona and Madrid, and you’ll be surprised.

If this is your first time visiting the country, there are a few things you want to know to enjoy an authentic experience in the country and avoid any disappointments.

If you’re asking yourself “What should I know before visiting Spain?”, keep reading to discover tips for travelling in Spain you need to know.

25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time 25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time

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Tips for travelling in Spain

Don’t assume the weather is sunny and warm everywhere

Although it’s quite common to see photos and videos of sunny Spain, the truth is that the weather is different from region to region, and this is something important to consider when choosing the right destination for you.

If you want a beach holiday, visit Southern Spain or the islands, but if you’re looking for a hiking adventure, Northern Spain is the best choice for you.

If you aren’t sure about the destination you plan to visit, do some research so you can also pack appropriately and plan activities according to the weather.

view of Bilbao from viewpoint

Pack appropriate clothes

As I mentioned before, the weather in Spain varies from region to region, and the last thing you want to do is pack clothes that you aren’t going to wear because it’s too hot or it’s a bit chilly.

To avoid this, I always check the weather forecast before I travel to any destination.

Generally, if you visit Spain in spring or early autumn, you should be fine with light clothes and a jacket, but this can be different from person to person.

Visit off the beaten path destinations

Barcelona, Madrid and Sevilla are some of the most popular city breaks in Spain, and there is no doubt that these destinations are unique in their own way.

La Sagrada Familia and all of the Gaudi pieces of art are to admire, the lively atmosphere of Madrid is unbeatable, and the Andalusian culture in Sevilla is something you want to experience.

Whilst these cities must be on your Spain bucket list, there are other unique and magical places that are worth visiting.

When you visit these less touristy destinations, you have a more authentic experience in Spain, you get to know a bit more about the culture and experience the place without crowds or queueing to visit attractions.

One of my favourite towns is Nerja in the Costa del Sol. Visiting this whitewashed town is incredible because you can enjoy some of the best coastal views in Southern Spain and relax at less frequented beaches.

View of Santander city centre

Sightsee during the low season

Summer in Spain is very warm, especially in the south where temperatures reach up to 40 degrees which makes sightseeing a bit difficult. If you’re travelling to Spain to explore must-see attractions instead of a beach holiday, visit the country during the low season.

The low season is perfect to sightsee because there are no crowds and you can often find cheap flight and accommodation deals. It’s a great time to visit Spain if you prefer a quieter atmosphere.

The downside of visiting Spain during the low season is that some attractions may not be open since they are only open for the summer season (June to September), and you can also experience some rainy and cloudy days.

Malaga cathedral back view

Tipping isn’t a thing in Spain

Whilst tipping in many European countries is the norm, you won’t see Spanish people tipping in a restaurant or bar, and if you see any locals doing so, they won’t tip a 5 euro note but a very small change.

That doesn’t mean you can’t do it, but don’t be surprised if the waiter is surprised.

Avoid restaurants in the tourist areas

When you’re a tourist, it isn’t always easy to tell if a restaurant is good or not. 

It’s quite often that restaurants or bars located near main attractions don’t offer authentic traditional food. Those that have a menu poorly translated into several languages won’t offer authentic dishes either.

In addition to this, if you see too many tourists, probably isn’t going to be a good sign. 

Having a meal with a stunning view of Sagrada Familia can be lovely, but the food isn’t going to be the best.  

To avoid this, do some research before visiting the destination. Have a look at Tripadvisor and blogs to see food recommendations from other travellers, or even better ask a local if you know one.

Attend ferias and traditional events

Immersing yourself in the culture is a unique travel experience, and for many travellers, like me and maybe you, discovering the local culture is essential.

A great way to learn more about Spain and its people is by attending the local fairs (ferias) and traditional events. You don’t necessarily need to attend a popular event like Las Fallas in Valencia to experience one, there are many small towns that have their own feria.

Before travelling to your destination, have a look at the city’s or town’s event calendar to ensure you aren’t missing a fun or interesting event.

Popular events in Spain

  • Semana Santa. Easter is a big celebration in Spain. During the Holy Week, you can see the processions in which men carry heavy floats carefully decorated with Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary figures representing scenes from the last days before its death. Even if you aren’t a religious person, it’s quite interesting seeing it.
  • San Fermín. This is a very controversial festival that happens in Pamplona in early July. San Fermin consists of a festival in which bulls ran after you. The truth is that is very dangerous and unethical, so I wouldn’t recommend assisting this event.
  • La Tomatina. This is the famous tomato festival in which people throw tomatoes at each other! It takes place in Buñol (Valencia) on the last Wednesday in August.
  • Las Fallas. Another popular event from Valencia is Las Fallas held from 15th to 19th March. This is celebrated by burning artistic monuments of all sizes and colours in the tradition of ancient Valencian carpenters.
  • Feria de Sevilla. Seville’s fair is one of the most known in Spain. It begins two weeks after the Semana Santa, and here you’ll immerse yourself in the Andalusian culture. Expect lots of fun attractions, flamenco dancing and food.
  • Carnaval. The carnival isn’t as big as other events, but it’s still celebrated. Cadiz is one of the best cities to experience the carnival. Locals are very passionate about it and not only do they dress up but also sing chirigotas, satirical songs about daily life, politics, and other topics about society.
  • Nochevieja/Año Nuevo. Have you ever heard of the 12 grapes that need to be eaten just before 12 o’clock? Nochevieja is one of my favourite events because you gather with family and friends to celebrate the New year. If you want to spend New Year’s in Spain, you must go to Puerta del Sol in Madrid.
Christmas in Spain

Many shops and attractions close in the afternoon

Something that is worth knowing before visiting Spain is the fact that many shops and attractions close in the afternoon because it’s lunchtime (2-3 pm), and siesta time for some people. So it’s not a surprise to see that places close at 2 pm and reopen at 5 pm.

Knowing this can make a big difference, especially when you’re visiting a city for a short period of time and you want to tick off as many places as possible.

If in doubt, double-check the opening and closing times of the attractions you have in your itinerary before turning up there.

Book attractions in advance

Are you visiting a popular destination like Madrid or Barcelona? Make sure to book your attractions in advance to avoid any disappointment.

casa vicens barcelona

Instead of booking them a few days in advance, I’d recommend booking them two weeks in advance if possible as many of them sell out or may not have the time slot you want to choose.

Not only does this apply to these two big destinations, but other big cities as well. This becomes even more important if you’re travelling to Spain during peak season.

Learn basic Spanish words and sentences

If you’re wondering if you really need to know Spanish to travel around Spain, the answer is probably no.

However, this depends on the places you plan to visit, let’s say you go to Costa del Sol, then you won’t find many issues with the language if you’re in the touristy area, however, if you go to a less popular town or village, then it may be good to know the basics.

Regardless of the city, you’re visiting, it’s always good to know a bit of the language. You’ll feel better and the locals will appreciate your effort to speak the language.

Basic words in Spanish

  • Hola – Hello
  • Adiós – Bye
  • Gracias – Thank you
  • Por favor – Please
  • Lo siento – Sorry
  • Sí – Yes
  • No – No
  • ¿Puede ayudarme? – Can you help me?

There’s more than paella

Who doesn’t like paella? This dish from Valencia is the most well-known Spanish dish in the world. There are so many different types of paella to keep happy everyone. You can have a vegetarian paella, a traditional Valencian paella, a chicken and prawns paella, and the list goes on.

25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time 25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time

Although paella is incredibly delicious, Spain has other incredible dishes too. If you’re a foodie, you’ll love tasting the different regional dishes across the country.

If you go to Andalusia, gazpacho (cold tomato soup) and fried fish are traditional Andalusian dishes to try, if you go to Madrid, bocadillo de calamares (squid sandwich) needs to be on your list, and let’s say that you go to Mallorca, ensaimadas are mouthwatering pastries you’ll fall in love with.

Be careful with alcohol

Alcohol in Spain isn’t measured, and if you go to a beach club or any club you’ll see the waiter directly pouring the alcohol into your glass, so if you don’t want a strong drink, make sure to tell them to stop.

In other countries, there’s no way that they would do this, and alcohol is carefully measured. Therefore, you end up buying more drinks. This is one of the reasons why some tourists get drunk very quickly in Spain. If you don’t want to get drunk, just be aware of this.

Those who love a drink will be very happy with this and will save money at the same time.

Go party late

If you’re planning a night out during your trip to Spain, you need to know that clubs open late, and by late I mean from 11:30 pm onwards.

If you go early, there are two possible scenarios: the club is still closed or you turn up and there’s no atmosphere because there are no people.

At the same time, clubs close quite late, and locals sometimes stay all night and have breakfast as soon as the cafes open before heading home.

Don’t go to the beach on a Sunday

If you’re visiting Spain in the summer, you’ll want to head over to the beach. This is a great activity considering how warm it is in most places in Spain during this time of the year.

However, as a local, I wouldn’t recommend visiting the beach on a Sunday. The reason behind this is very simple. Many people don’t work on a Sunday, and may not have a swimming pool so the best place to be is the beach.

Carihuela beach in torremolinos

Families and friends gather together at the beach, and it isn’t unusual that they set up a tent with tables, chairs, and towels. Some of them meet up early so they can ensure a spot at the beach. As you can imagine, the beach is full, and if you don’t want crowds, opt for an alternative activity.

If you can cope with warm temperatures, it may be worth visiting some outdoor attractions so you can have it to yourself, or going to a museum.

Spanish isn’t the only language

Did you know that there are 5 different languages in Spain? Spain is rich in culture, and this is can be seen in the languages and dialects you’ll find across the country.

The 5 official languages are Aranese, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Castilian (Spanish), and on top of these, there are many dialects like Andalusian. All of them are complex in their own way, but if you’re a traveller you won’t need to know any of these languages.

However, if you plan to move to Spain, you’ll need to learn Spanish and get used to the dialect of the area. Let’s say you move to Barcelona, there is no need to learn Catalan, as well as locals, who will speak to you in Spanish.

Check out the mealtimes

Mealtimes in Spain are completely different to other European countries, and this can be a cultural shock for many travellers.

Breakfast is anytime between 8 am and 10 am, lunch is between 2 pm and 3 pm, merienda (afternoon snack) is between 5 and 6 pm, and dinner anytime from 9 pm. These times may slightly change from place to place and season. For example, locals have dinner later during the summer months.

When you visit Spain for a few days and even weeks, you don’t have to need to adapt to their mealtimes, however, you need to be aware of them as restaurants and bars will serve food at their normal times which are different from yours.

The truth is that many restaurants in cities like Malaga and Barcelona accommodate their times to tourists, but these places aren’t the type of food places where you’ll get authentic Spanish dishes.

Watch for pickpockets in popular destinations

Pickpocketing is common in big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, and you just need to keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded streets.

Although I haven’t experienced pickpocketing in Spain, I know other travellers have and you don’t want to be in that situation.

The best way to avoid pickpocketing is by not taking valuable objects and lots of money with you. If your hotel has a safe, lock your belongings there.

If there isn’t a safe or you need to take important things with you, then it’s worth looking at some items to prevent pickpocketing such as using pickpocket clips, a security belt or even an anti-theft bag.

If your hobby or job is photography related, it’s completely fine to take your camera with you. The only advice is if you’re travelling solo, don’t use a tripod to take your photos in a busy area, otherwise, you’ll be a target for pickpockets.

Flights can be cheaper than train

Travelling around Spain will allow you to see how diverse the country is. Despite Spain being an affordable country to visit in comparison to other countries, moving around Spain isn’t always cheap.

Let’s say you want to go from the south of Spain to Madrid. You can go there by many ways of transport – car, coach, train or plane.

If you don’t drive, a coach is often an economic option, but you spend lots of hours on the road and you may want to arrive in Madrid as soon as possible to make the most of it, or maybe you don’t like long bus rides.

A train may sound like a great idea, but it’s worth knowing that trains tickets are often more expensive than flights, so before booking your train tickets, have a look at cheap flights with airlines like Ryanair or Vueling.

Drive on the right side of the road

If you come from the US, you won’t have any issues with driving in Spain. However, if you come from countries like the UK or Ireland, you’ll have to get used to driving on the right side of the road.

Going on a road trip around Andalucia or other parts of Spain is a great opportunity to explore cities at your own pace, but also to access remote towns, beaches or mountains which you may not be able to visit if you use public transport.

Other important things to know if you’re renting a car are seatbelts are required for all passengers, you can’t use your phone while driving, and never park on a yellow line (these are only for residents and they may call the tow truck.)

However, traveling through Spain isn’t complicated.

Don’t forget to go island hopping in Spain

Ibiza is the most popular island in Spain, and other nearby islands are forgotten or less visited by international travellers.

Island hopping around the Balearic Islands is a unique experience. There are a total of 4 main islands: Ibiza, Mallorca, Menorca and Formentera, and it’s completely possible to travel between them.

Each island has something to offer, but all of them will guarantee you pristine beaches like Playa De Alcudia and Cala Agulla.

25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time 25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time

Pack sun cream

Sun cream is an item you can’t forget to add to your suitcase regardless of the season you visit Spain. It’s very important to use sun cream for your skincare all year round.

However, it’s even more important in summer when the sun is really strong and you can end up with sunburns and being in pain for several days.

Another good reason to buy it before travelling to Spain is to save money, but in case you forget to pack it, don’t get your sun cream from a convenience store near the beach area because you’ll pay double the price. Instead, go to a supermarket where you’ll have more selection and better prices.

Have cash with you

Many supermarkets and restaurants have become cashless, and you need to pay with your card. However, there are still small shops and even public transport that requires cash.

I remember when I visited Santander and I was about to take the bus from the city centre to the airport, and the bus driver told me I couldn’t pay by card, so I had to rush to a cash machine to get some money out.

To avoid any situation like this, make sure to have some cash with you, even if it’s 10 euros.

Explore the countryside

Beaches in Spain are incredible, but many travellers don’t know how beautiful the Spanish countryside is. Depending on the region you visit, you’ll see different types of landscapes and wildlife.

If you love outdoor activities like hiking, have a look at AllTrails to find hiking routes near the city you visit. You’ll be amazed by all the options you find. One of the most famous hiking trails in Spain is Camino de Santiago.

In addition to this, did you know you can also ski in Spain? Sierra Nevada, located in the province of Granada, has the highest point in the country, and you can ski there from November to May.

25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time 25 Top Tips for Travelling in Spain for the First Time

Expect things and people to be late

Although many people love the laid-back culture, it’s also a negative thing. If you make friends in Spain, there’s always someone who is late, and that isn’t great. They’ll come up with a silly excuse (blaming someone else) on why they’re late.

Similarly, when you go to a restaurant or bar, your food sometimes can take ages, especially if it’s busy.

In the case that you move to Spain, it’s also important to know that bureaucracy is very slow, so if you need to get important documents, don’t leave it for the last minute, book an appointment to sort out your documents as soon as possible.

Greet like a local

If you’re travelling to Spain for the first time, you may not know that locals greet each other with two kisses on the cheeks. This only happens between woman and man, and woman and woman (men give hugs to each other or shake hands.)

This can be a cultural shock because you may be wondering why two strangers kiss each other, right? In your culture, this may sound a bit crazy, but it’s the norm in Spain, so don’t be surprised if they greet you like this.

I hope this travel guide has helped you get to know a bit more about Spain and be aware of a few things to make the most of your time in my country.

If you have any questions about visiting Spain or you’re planning a trip to Spain, you can always reach me via email or Instagram. I’m happy to help!

Did you enjoy reading these top tips for travelling in Spain for the first time? Do you know any other Spain tips? Let me know in the comments.

Safe adventures!

Cristina x

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Frequently asked questions about visiting Spain for the first time

When is the best time to travel to Spain?

It depends on the activities you want to do during your time in Spain. No matter when you go to Spain because every season has something to offer!

If you want to sightsee, late spring and early autumn are perfect because temperatures are pleasant.

If you want to swim in the sea, go in July and August as these are the warmest months, but be aware that it’s peak season, so expect crowds and more expensive prices for accommodation and flights.

Winter is a great option if you travel on a budget because you’ll find cheap flights and accommodation. Also, you’ll find fewer crowds, and although you may experience rain and cloudy days, some areas of Spain have a mild winter which means pleasant temperatures for sightseeing and swimming for those who are brave.

Examples of warm places in Spain during winter are the Canary Islands, Malaga and Cartagena.

What shouldn’t I do in Spain?

Some of the things you shouldn’t do in Spain are:

  • Assume everyone knows English.
  • Don’t wear swimming wear outside the beach.
  • Don’t be surprised if you’re greeted with two kisses.
  • Get involved in difficult conversations such as politics, bullfighting, etc. Some people are very passionate about these topics and won’t stop trying to convince you about their point of view which can be annoying! I know this from experience as a local.
  • Not keeping an eye on your belongings in busy areas.
  • Don’t generalise about Spain.
  • Not researching for places to avoid in Spain or in a specific city. You don’t want to stay in a conflicting neighbourhood. Most cities have a few areas to avoid.

Is getting around Spain easy? What’s the best way to travel in Spain?

Yes! Public transport is often modern, safe and well-connected. Many cities are walkable which means you won’t need to use public transport, however, if you need to use it, you’ll find cheap buses and underground fares.

If you want to explore off the beaten path places in Spain, you’ll need to rent a car. You can find many convenient rent a car places outside large airports and big cities, but if you want to save some money, have a look online to compare prices.

How do you plan a trip to Spain on a budget?

  • Travel off-season to get the best flight and accommodation deals.
  • Be flexible with your travel dates.
  • Eat in bars rather than restaurants.
  • Check for free attractions. Some museums and art galleries, you often need to pay, offer free admission dates, have a look at their website to find out when these dates are.

Things to do before visiting Spain

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