Spain

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Spain is a diverse country that shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal at the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. It has the second-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites after Italy and the largest number of World Heritage Cities. Spain is considered an exotic country in Europe due to its friendly inhabitants, relaxed lifestyle, its cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and world-famous folklore and festivities. Among many places worth visiting are Spain's thriving capital Madrid, the vibrant coastal city of Barcelona, the lively third Spanish city Valencia, the famous "Running of the Bulls" at Pamplona, major Andalusian cities with Islamic architecture, like Seville, Granada and Córdoba, the Way of St. James to Galicia and the idyllic Balearic and Canary Islands. (less...) (more...)

Population: 47,370,542 people
Area: 505,370 km2
Highest point: 3,718 m
Coastline: 4,964 km
Life expectancy: 81.37 years
GDP per capita: $31,100
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About Spain

History

Once the centre of a global empire with territories in North, Central and South America, Africa (e.g. Equatorial Guinea or Western Sahara), and Asia (e.g. the Philippines), contemporary Spain is still struggling to shake off the shackles of a monarchy imposed by Franco, the dictator, and to develop a true democracy. A peaceful transition from the dictatorship meant that no real justice was brought to the country, which still remains divided as it did in the 1930's.

Activities

Festivals

Spain has a lot of local festivals that are worth going to.

  • Málaga's Semana Santa (Easter) - worth to see. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. Lots of processions occur within that week.
  • Córdoba en Mayo (Cordoba in May) - great month to visit the Southern city
  • Las Cruces (1st week in May) - big flower-made crosses embellishing public squares in the city center, where you will also find at night music and drinking and lot of people having fun!
  • Festival de Patios - one of the most interesting cultural exhibitions, 2 weeks when some people open doors of their houses to show their old Patios full of flowers
  • Cata del Vino Montilla-Moriles - great wine tasting in a big tent in the city center during one week in May
  • Dia de Sant Jordi - The Catalan must, in April 23th Barcelona is embellished with roses everywhere and book-selling stands can be found in the Rambla. There are also book signings, concerts and diverse animations.
  • Fallas - Valencia's festival in March - burning the "fallas" is a must
  • Málaga's August Fair - flamenco dancing, drinking sherry, bullfights
  • San Fermines - July in Pamplona, Navarra.
  • Fiesta de San Isidro - May 15 in Madrid - a celebration of Madrid's patron saint.
  • Holy week (Easter Week) - best in Seville and the rest of Andalusia; also interesting in Valladolid (silent processions) and Zaragoza (where hundreds of drums are played in processions)
  • Carnival - best in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Cádiz
  • Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three wise men parade) - on the eve of epiphany, 5th of January, the night before Spanish kids get their Christmas presents, it rains sweets and toys in every single town and city
  • San Sebastian International Film Festival - held annually in San Sebastian, a gorgeous city in the Basque Country, towards the end of September
  • La Tomatina - a giant tomato fight in Buñol
  • Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians, mostly found in Southeastern Spain during spring time) - parades and "battles" remembering the fights of medieval ages
  • 85 festivals in Galicia throughout the year from wine to wild horses.

Holidays

  • New Year eve: "Nochevieja" in Spanish. There's a tradition in Spain to eat grapes as the clock counts down the New Year, one grape for each of the last twelve seconds before midnight. For this, even small packs of grapes (exactly 12 grapes per pack) are sold in supermarkets before New Year.

La Puerta del Sol, is the venue for the New Year's party in Spain. At 23:59h sound "los cuartos (In Spanish)" some bells announcing that it will begin to sound the twelve chimes (campanadas in Spanish). While sounding "los cuartos", moves down from the top chime of the clock, with the same purpose as "los cuartos" sound will indicate that "las campanadas". That will sound at 24:00 and that indicate the start of a new year. During each chime must eat a grape, according to tradition. Between each chime, there is a time span of three seconds. "Las Campanadas", are broadcast live on the main national TV channels, as in the rest of of Spain, people are still currently taking grapes from home or on giant screens installed in major cities, following the chimes from the Puerta del Sol in Madrid.

After ringing "las campanadas", starts a fireworks extravaganza. This is a famous party in Spain and is a great time to enjoy because show is secured in the center of the capital of Spain.

Outdoor activities

  • Canyoning: see Spain section in the Canyoning article
  • Climbing in: Los Mallos (Aragon) and Siurana (near Barcelona)
  • Whitewater sports in: Campo, Murillo de Gallego (Aragon)
  • Hiking in Galicia
  • Downhill skiing There are a lot of downhill skiing resorts in Spain.

Skiing in the northern region of Spain

Scuba Diving

For a treat, try Costa Brava and the world renowned Canary Islands.

Food

The Spanish are very passionate about their food and wine and Spanish cuisine. Spanish food can be described as quite light with a lot of vegetables and a huge variety of meat and fish. The Spanish cuisine does not use many spices; it relies only on the use of high quality ingredients to give a good taste. As such, you may find Spanish food bland at times but there are usually a variety of restaurants in most cities (Italian, Chinese, American fast food) if you would like to experience a variety of flavors.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner times

Spaniards have a different eating timetable than many people are used to.

The key thing to remember for a traveler is:

  • breakfast (el desayuno) for most Spaniards is light and consists of just coffee and perhaps a galleta (like a graham cracker) or magdalena (sweet muffin-like bread). Later, some will go to a cafe for a pastry midmorning, but not too close to lunchtime.
  • "el aperitivo" is a light snack eaten around 12:00. However, this could include a couple of glasses of beer and a large filled baguette or a "pincho de tortilla".
  • lunch (la comida) starts at 13:30-14:30 (though often not until 15:00) and was once typically followed by a short siesta, usually at summer when temperatures can be quite hot in the afternoon. This is the main meal of the day with two courses (el primer plato and el segundo plato followed by dessert. La comida and siesta are usually over by 16:00 at the latest. However, since life has become busier, there is no opportunity for a siesta.
  • dinner (la cena) starts at 20:30 or 21, with most clientèle coming after 21. It is a lighter meal than lunch. In Madrid restaurants rarely open before 21:00 and most customers do not appear before 23:00.
  • there is also an afternoon snack that some take between la comida and la cena called la merienda. It is similar to a tea time and is taken around 18 or so.
  • between the lunch and dinner times, most restaurants and cafes are closed, and it takes extra effort to find a place to eat if you missed lunch time. Despite this, you can always look for a bar and ask for a bocadillo, a baguette sandwich. There are bocadillos fríos, cold sandwiches, which can be filled with ham, cheese or any kind of embutido, and bocadillos calientes, hot sandwiches, filled with pork loin, tortilla, bacon, sausage and similar options with cheese. This can be a really cheap and tasty option if you find a good place.

Normally, restaurants in big cities don't close until midnight during the week and 2-3AM during the weekend.

Breakfast

Breakfast is eaten by most Spaniards. Traditional Spanish breakfast includes coffee or orange juice, and pastries or a small sandwich. In Madrid, it is also common to have hot chocolate with "churros" or "porras". In cafes, you can expect varieties of tortilla de patatas (see the Spanish dishes section), sometimes tapas (either breakfast variety or same kind as served in the evenings with alcohol).

Tapas

The entry level to Spanish food is found in bars as tapas, which are a bit like "starters" or "appetizers", but are instead considered side orders to accompany your drink. Some bars will offer a wide variety of different tapas; others specialize on a specific kind (like seafood-based). A Spanish custom is to have one tapa and one small drink at a bar, then go to the next bar and do the same. A group of two or more individuals may order two or more tapas or order raciones instead, which are a bit larger in order to share.

Fast food

Fast food has not yet established a strong grip on the Spaniards and you will find McDonalds and Burger King only in bigger towns in the usual places. The menu can be a surprise since it has been customized to appeal to the locals and beer, salads, yogurt (primarily Danone), and wine are prominent. Pizza is increasingly popular and you will find some outlets in bigger towns but it can be their own homegrown franchises, such as TelePizza. In spite of beer and wine on the menu, fast food is often seen as "kiddie food." American franchises generally charge higher prices than in the United States, and fast food is not necessarily the cheapest alternative for eating out.

Restaurants

Seafood: on a seacoast, fresh seafood is widely available and quite affordable. In the inner regions, frozen (and poor quality) seafood can be frequently encountered outside few highly reputed (and expensive) restaurants. In coastal areas seafood deserves some attention, especially on the north Atlantic coast.

Quality seafood in Spain comes from Spain's northwestern region of Galicia. So restaurants with the words Gallego (Galician) will generally specialize in seafood. If you are feeling adventurous, you might want to try the Galician regional specialty Pulpo a la Gallega, which is boiled octopus served with paprika, rock salt and olive oil. Another adventurous option is Sepia which is cuttlefish, a relative of squid, or the various forms of Calamares (squid) that you can find in most seafood restaurants. If that isn't your style you can always order Gambas Ajillo (garlic shrimp), Pescado Frito (fried fish), Buñuelos de Bacalao (breaded and deep fried cod) or the ever-present Paella dishes.

Meat products are usually of very good quality, because Spain has maintained quite a high percentage of free range animals.

Ordering beef steaks is highly recommended, since most comes from free range cows from the mountains north of the city.

Pork cuts which are also highly coveted are those known as Presa Iberica and Secreto Iberico, an absolute must if found in the menu of any restaurant.

Soups: choice of soups beyond gazpacho is very limited in Spanish restaurants.

Water is frequently served without a specific request, and is normally charged for--unless it's included in your menu del dia. If you would like free tap water instead of bottled water, request "agua del grifo" (water from the tap). However, not all restaurants will offer this and you may be forced to order bottled water.

Appetizers such as bread, cheese, and other items may be brought to your table even if you didn't order them. You will be charged for them. If you do not want these appetizers, politely inform the waiter that you do not want them.

Tipping is not observed in Spain so don't tip (unless there was something absolutely exceptional about the service). As a result, you may find that waiters are not as attentive or courteous as you may be used to since they don't work for tips. This is less true in major resorts and cities where tipping is common. Look around at other diners to assess if tipping is appropriate.

World-level restaurants: There are several restaurants in Spain which are destinations in itself, becoming a sole reason to travel to a specific city. One of them is El Bulli in Roses.

Tipping and VAT

No service charges are included in the bill. A little extra tip is common and you are free to increase that if you are very pleased. Obviously you don’t have to tip a lousy waiter. You would typically leave the small change after paying with a note.

VAT is-not-included is a common trick for mid-range and splurge restaurants: always check in menu whether VAT (8%, IVA in Spanish) is included in menu prices.

Menú del día

Many restaurants offer a complete lunch meal for a fixed price – "menú del día" – and this often works out as a bargain. Water or wine is commonly included in the price.

Touristy places

Typical Spanish food can be found all over the country, however top tourist destinations such as Costa Brava and Costa del Sol have turned all existing traditions upside down. Meaning that drinks are generally more expensive (about double) and quality is at its lowest. It is difficult to find proper Spanish food in the tourist centers.

However you will get Schnitzel, original English breakfast, Pizza, Donner, and frozen fish. However, if you are prepared to look a little harder, then even in the busiest tourist towns, you can find some exceptional traditional Spanish restaurants. If you are on the coast then think fish and seafood and you won't be disappointed.

Non-Spanish cuisine

In most cities you can also find international cuisine such as Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Japanese, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Argentinian, etc. The bigger the city, the more variety you can find.

For the past decade there has been a surge in the number of Irish pubs and Japanese restaurants to be found in most cities.

Specialties to buy

  • Cheese: Spain offers a wide variety of regional cheeses.
  • Chorizo: Spain's most popular sausage is spiced cured, made from pork, ham, salt, garlic and pepper and is produced in multitude of varieties, in different sizes, shapes, short and long, spicy, in all different shades of red, soft, air dried and hard or smoked. Frequently contains emulgators and conservatives, so check ingredients if you feel sensitive.
  • Jamón (air dried ham): Jamón Serrano (Serrano ham): Is obtained from the salt meat of the back legs of the pig and air dried. This same product is given the name of trowel or paletilla when it is obtained from the front legs. Also it receives the names of jamón Iberico (Iberian) and jamón of bellota (acorn). They are specially famous jamones that takes place in Huelva (Spain), in Guijuelo (province Salamanca), in the Pedroches (province Cordova) and in Trevélez (province of Granada). Jamón Iberico is made from free range pigs.
  • Morcilla: Black sausages made from pig blood, generally made with rice or onion. Sometimes flavoured with anise, it comes as a fresh, smoked or air dried variety.

Spanish dishes

Typical Spanish dishes include:

  • Aceitunas, Olivas: Olives, often served for nibbling.
  • Bocadillo de Calamares: Fried battered calamari served in a ciabatta sandwich with lemon juice.
  • Boquerones en vinagre: Anchovies marinated in vinegar with garlic and parsley.
  • Caracoles: Snails in a hot sauce.
  • Calamares en su tinta: Squid in its ink.
  • Chipirones a la plancha: Grilled little squids.
  • Churros: A fried horn-shaped snack, sometimes referred to as a Spanish doughnut. Typical for a Spanish breakfast or for tea time. Served with hot chocolate drink.
  • Empanadas Gallegas: Meat or tuna pies are also very popular in Madrid. Originally from region of Galicia.
  • Ensaladilla Rusa (Russian Salad): This potato salad dish of Russian origin, widely consumed in parts of Eastern Europe and the Middle East, is strangely enough, extremely popular in Spain.
  • Fabada asturiana: Bean stew from Asturias.
  • Gambas al ajillo: Prawns with garlic and chili. Fantastic hot stuff.
  • Gazpacho Andaluz: Cold vegetable soup. Best during the hot weather. It's like drinking a salad.
  • Lentejas: A dish made from lentils with chorizo sausage and/or Serrano ham.
  • Mariscos: Shellfish from the province of Pontevedra.
  • Merluza a la Vizcaina: The Spanish are not very fond of sauces. One of the few exceptions is merluza a la Vasca. The dish contains hake (fish of the cod family) prepared with white asparagus and green peas.
  • Potajes or pucheros: Garbanzo beans stew at its best
  • Paella or Paella Valenciana: This is a rice dish originally from Valencia. Rice is grown locally in what look like wheat fields, and this is the variety used in paella. The original paella used chicken and rabbit, and saffron (el azafran). Nowadays varieties of paella can be found all over Spain, many containing seafood. Locals suggest to find true paella in large parties like a wedding in a village, but few restaurants still can compete with it.
  • Patatas Bravas: Fried potatoes which have been previously boiled, served with a patented spicy sauce. They are potatoes cut in form of dices or prism, of one to two centimeters of size approximately and that they are fried in oil and accompanied by a sharp sauce that spills on potatoes using hot spices. The name of this plate comes from its sharp flavor, indicating that it has fire or temperament, recalling the first operation of I goad in which a goad nails to him so that he is brave in the bullfight.
  • Pescaíto frito: Delicious fried fish that can be found mainly in southern Spain
  • Pimientos rellenos: Peppers stuffed with minced meat or seafood. The peppers in Spain taste different than all other peppers in Europe.
  • Potaje de espinacas y garbanzos: Chick pea stew with spinach. Typical of Seville.
  • Revuelto de ajetes con setas: Scrambled eggs with fresh garlic sprouts and wild mushrooms. Also commonly contains shrimps.
  • Setas al ajillo/Gambas al ajillo: Shrimps or wild mushrooms fried in garlic.
  • Sepia con alioli: Fried cuttlefish with garlic mayonnaise. Very popular among tourists.
  • Tortilla de patatas: Spanish egg omelet with fried potato. Probably the most popular dish in Spain. You can easily assess how good a restaurant is by having a small piece of its potato tortillas. Frequently it is made also with onion, depending on the zone or the pleasure. The potatoes must be fried in oil (preferably of olive), and they are left soaking with the scrambled egg for more than 10 minutes, although better if it is average hour so that they are soaked and they acquire the suitable consistency.

Drinks

Tea and Coffee

Spanish people are very passionate about the quality, intensity and taste of their coffee and good freshly brewed coffee is available almost everywhere.

The usual choices are solo, the milk-less espresso version; cortado, solo with a dash of milk; con leche, solo with milk added; and manchado, coffee with lots of milk (sort of like the French cafe au lait). Asking for caffee latte will likely result in less milk than you are used to--it's always OK to ask for adding extra milk.

Regional variants can be found, such as bombón in Eastern Spain, solo with condensed milk.

Starbucks is the only national chain operating in Spain. Locals argue that it cannot compete with small local cafes in quality of coffee and visited only by tourists. It is not present in smaller cities.

If you eat for €20 per dinner, you will never be served a good tea; expect Pompadour or Lipton. It takes some effort to find a good tea if you spend most time of the day in touristy places.

Alcohol

The drinking age in Spain is 18. People under this age are forbidden to drink and buy alcoholic drinks, although enforcement in tourist and clubbing areas is lax. Drinking in the streets has recently been banned (although it is still a common practice in most nightlife areas).

Try an absinthe cocktail (the fabled liquor was never outlawed here, but it is not a popular drink in Spain).

Bars

Probably one of the best places to meet people in Spain is in bars. Everyone visits them and they are always busy and sometimes bursting with people. There is no age restriction imposed to enter these premises. but children and teenagers often will not be served alcoholic drinks. Age restrictions for the consumption of alcohol are clearly posted at bars but are enforced only intermittently. It is common to see an entire family at a bar.

It's important to know the difference between a pub (which closes at 3-3:30 a.m.) and a club (which opens until 6-8 a.m. but is usually deserted early in the night).

On weekends, the time to go out for copas (drinks) usually starts at about 11 p.m.-1 a.m. which is somewhat later than in North and Central Europe. Before that, people usually do any number of things, have some tapas (raciones, algo para picar), eat a "real" dinner in a restaurant, stay at home with family, or go to cultural events. If you want to go dancing, you will find that most of the clubs in Madrid are relatively empty before midnight (some do not even open until 1 a.m.) and most won't get crowded until 3 a.m. People usually go to pubs, then go to the clubs until 6-8 a.m.

For a true Spanish experience, after a night of dancing and drinking it is common to have a breakfast of chocolate con churros with your friends before going home. (CcC is a small cup of thick, melted chocolate served with freshly fried sweet fritters used for dipping in the chocolate and should be tried, if only for the great taste.)

Bars are mainly to have drink and a small tapa while socializing and decompressing from work or studies. Usually Spaniards can control their alcohol consumption better than their northern European neighbors and drunken people are rarely seen at bars or on the streets. A drink, if ordered without an accompanying tapa, is often served with a "minor" or inexpensive tapa as a courtesy.

Size and price of tapas changes a lot throughout Spain. For instance, it's almost impossible to get free tapas in big cities like Valencia or Barcelona, excluding Madrid where there are several Tapa Bars although some times are a bit expensive. You can eat for free (just paying for the drinks), with huge tapas and cheap prices at cities like Granada, Badajoz or Salamanca.

The tapa, and the related pincho, trace their existence in Spain to both acting as a cover ("Tapa") on top of a cup of wine to prevent flies from accessing it, and as a requirement of law when serving wine at an establishment during the Middle Ages.

Beer

The Spanish beer is not too bad and well worth a try. Most popular local brands include San Miguel, Cruzcampo, Mahou, Ámbar, Estrella Galicia, Keller and many others, including local brands at most cities; import beers are also available. A great beer is 'Mezquita' (Cervezas Alhambra), try to find it! Also "Legado de Yuste" is one of the best beer made in Spain, and is quite extended, but more expensive than a normal 'caña'. In Spain, beer is often served from a tap in 25 cl ("caña") or 33 cl ("tubo") tube glasses. Bigger servings are rare, but you can also ask for a "corto", "zurito" (round the Basque country) or simply "una cerveza" or "tanque" (south of the country) to get a half size beer, perfect to drink in one go and get quickly to the next bar while having tapas.

If you're in Zaragoza (or Aragon, in general), the Pilsner-type Ambar (5.2% alc.) and the stronger Export (double malt, 7.0% alc.) are available. Ambar 1900: Its production began in 1996. The system of fermentation to room temperature is used. Marlen is a beer of traditional manufacture using malted barley and hops.

Locals in Aragon often add lemon juice to their beer. Particularly on hot summer days people will drink a refreshing "clara" which is a light beer mixed with lemon/lemonade.

Cava

Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and the name went from Spanish Champagne to Cava was after a long lasting dispute with the French. The Spanish called it for a long time champan, but the French argued that champagne can be made only from grapes grown in the Champagne region in France. Nevertheless, Cava is a quite successful sparkling wine and 99% of the production comes from the area around Barcelona.

Cider (Sidra)

Can be found in the Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and Pais Vasco.

Horchata

A milky non-alcoholic drink made of tigernuts and sugar. Alboraia, a small town close to Valencia, is regarded as a best place where horchata is produced.

Sangria

Sangria is drink made of wine and fruits and usually is made from simple wines. You will find sangria in areas frequented by tourists. Spanish prepare sangria for fiestas and hot summer, and not every day as seen in touristic regions like Mallorca.

Sangria in restaurants aimed for foreigners are best avoided, but it is a very good drink to try if a Spaniard prepares it for a fiesta!

Sherry (Fino)

The pale sherry wine around Jerez called "fino" is fortified with alcohol to 15 percent. If you would like to have one in a bar you have to order a fino. Manzanilla is bit salty, good as an appetizer. Amontillado and Oloroso are a different types of sherry were the oxidative aging process has taken the lead.

Wine

Spain is a country with great wine-making and drinking traditions: 22% of Europe's wine growing area is in Spain, however the production is about half of what the French produce.

Regions: most famous wines come from Rioja region, less known but also important come from Ribera del Duero, Priorato, Toro and Jumilla . The latter are becoming more and more popular and are slightly less expensive than Rioja wines. White, rose and red wines are produced, but the red wines are certainly the most important ones.

Grapes: main red grapes are Tempranillo, Garnacha, Monastrell and Mencia. Primary white grape used is Albarino, and the grapes used in Jerez are: 'Pedro Ximenez and Palomino.

Specific names: Valdepenas is good value for money. Whites: Belondrade Y Lurton is regarded as greatest white wine in Spain. Vina Sol is good as a mass product, with fruity taste.

Grades: Spanish quality wines are produced using an aging process and they have been in an oak barrel for at least one year before they can be labeled Crianza and then spend another two years in a bottle before been sold. Reservas are aged for five years and Gran Reservas are aged for 10 years.

Prices: Spain has seen a tremendous rise in wine prices over the last decade and Spanish wines are not as much of a bargain as they used to be. However you will still find 5, 10 and 20 year old wines at affordable prices especially when compared with similar quality wines from Australia, Chile, France, and the US.

Wine bars: they are more and more popular. In short, a wine bar is a sophisticated tapas bar where you can order wine by the glass. You will immediately see a blackboard with the wines that are available and the price per glass.

In a bar: for red wine in a bar, ask "un tinto por favor", for white wine "un blanco por favor", for rose: "un rosado por favor".

Wine-based drinks: young people in Spain have developed their own way to have wine. When having botellones (big outdoor parties with drink and lots of people), most of them mix some red wine with Coke and drink it straight from the Coke bottle. The name of this drink is calimocho or kalimotxo (in the Basque Country and Navarre) and is really very popular... But don't ask for it while in an upper class bar or among adults, since they will most certainly not approve of the idea! As a general rule, any wine that comes in a glass bottle is considered "too good" to make kalimotxo.

Shopping

Money

Spain uses the euro (€, EUR) as its money. It is one of 24 European countries that use this common European currency: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain (which are all eurozone countries of the European Union or EU) together with the six non-EU members Andorra, Kosovo, Monaco, Montenegro, San Marino and the Vatican that also solely use euros but have no say in eurozone affairs. These 24 countries together have a population of more than 330 million.

One euro is divided into 100 cents. Except for Kosovo and Montenegro, all issue their own coins with a distinctive, national face. However, all the coins' obverse looks the same, as do all bills or banknotes and all are legal tender in all 24 countries.

The euro replaced the Spanish peseta in 2002. A few people may still use the old national currency (166,386 pts = 1 €, 1.000 pts = 6 €) and convert into Euros later. This is much due to the huge presence of peseta, and "her" many nicknames in colloquial Spanish.

Cash euro: €500 banknotes are not accepted in many stores--always have alternative banknotes.

Other currencies: Do not expect anybody to accept other types of currency, or to be willing to exchange currency. Exceptions are shops and restaurants at airports. These will generally accept at least US Dollars at a slightly worse exchange rate.

If you wish to exchange money, you can do so at any bank (some may require that you have an account there before they will exchange your money), where you can also cash in your traveller's cheques. Currency exchanges, once a common sight, have all but disappeared since the introduction of the Euro. Again, international airports are an exception to this rule; other exception is tourist districts in the large cities (Barcelona, Madrid).

Credit cards: Credit cards are well accepted: even in a stall at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, on an average highway gas station in the middle of the country, or in small towns like Alquezar. It's more difficult to find a place where credit card is not accepted in Spain.

Most ATMs will allow you to withdraw money with your credit card, but you'll need to know your card's PIN for that. Most Spanish stores will ask for ID before accepting your credit card. Some stores may not accept a foreign driving license or ID card and you will need to show your passport. This measure is designed to help avoid credit card fraud.

Business hours

Most businesses (including most shops, but not restaurants) close in the afternoons around 13:30/14:00 and reopen for the evening around 16:30/17:00. Exceptions are large malls or major chain stores.

For most Spaniards, lunch is the main meal of the day and you will find bars and restaurants open during this time. On Saturdays, businesses often do not reopen in the evening and almost everywhere is closed on Sundays. The exception is the month of December, where most shops in Madrid and Barcelona will be open as per on weekdays on Sundays to cash in on the festive season. Also, many public offices and banks do not reopen in the evenings even on weekdays, so if you have any important business to take care of, be sure to check hours of operation.

If you plan to spend whole day shopping in small shops, the following rule of thumb can work: a closed shop should remind it's also time for your own lunch. And when you finish your lunch, some shops will be likely open again.

Clothes and shoes

Designer brands

Besides well-known mass brands which are known around the world (Zara, Mango, Bershka, Camper, Desigual), Spain has many designer brands which are more hard to find outside Spain--and may be worth looking for if you shop for designer wear while travelling. Some of these brands include:

  • Custo Barcelona. Headquartered in Barcelona, has stores in Bilbao, Ibiza, La Coruna, Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, León, Madrid, Marbella, Palma de Mallorca, Salamanca, Tenerife.
  • Kowalski, head office: Ctra. del Leon, km, 2; 03293 Elche,  +34 966 630 612. Designer shoes and sneakers (trademark Herman Monster and others) for women, men and unisex.

Department stores

  • El Corte Ingles. Major national chain that can be found in nearly every city. In most cities, enjoys central location but resides in functional, uninspiring buildings. Has department for everything--but is not good enough for most purposes, except maybe for buying gourmet food and local food specialties. Still very popular with uneducated travelling shoppers. Tax refund for purchases at El Corte Ingles, unlike most other stores in Spain, can be returned only to a debit/credit card, even if you originally payed in cash.

Others

  • Casas. A chain of footwear stores that selects most popular (?) models from a dozen+ of mid-range brands.
  • Camper. Camper shoes can be seen in most cities in the country. While it may seem that they are sold everywhere, finding right model and size may be a trouble--so if you find what you need, don't postpone your purchase. Campers are sold both in standalone branded shops, and as a part of a mix with other brands in local shoe stores. Standalones generally provide wider choice of models and sizes; local stores can help if you need to hunt for a specific model and size.
  • For. Private national fashion chain featuring many premium brands. Main location is Bilbao; some stores in San Sebastian and Zaragoza.

This article is based on Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike 3.0 Licensed text from the article Spain on Wikivoyage.

Popular cities in Spain

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Barcelona the capital and largest city of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city, with a population of nearly two million people. The city, located directly on the northeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, has a rich history dating back at least 2,000 years when it gained prominence as a Roman town under ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Roman Tombs
  • Palau de la Musica Catalana
  • Barcelona Cathedral
  • Palau Guell
  • Gran Teatre del Liceu
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Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain, as well as the capital of the autonomous community of the same name (Comunidad de Madrid). The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million with a metro area population of almost 6.5 million. Madrid is best known for its great cultural and artistic heritage, a ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Joy Madrid
  • Convent de las Descalzas Reales
  • Plaza de Oriente
  • Almudena Cathedral
  • Royal Monastery of the Incarnation
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Calviá is a municipality in Mallorca, one of the Balearic Islands off the Spanish east coast.

Interesting places:

  • Palma Nova Beach
  • Fantasia Mini Golf
  • Puerto Portals Marina
  • Real Golf Bendinat
  • Marineland Mallorca
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Interesting places:

  • Maspalomas Lighthouse
  • Kasbah Shopping Center
  • CITA Shopping Center
  • Yumbo Shopping Center
  • Playa de San Agustin
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Seville is the capital of Andalucia and the cultural and financial centre of southern Spain. A city of just over 700,000 inhabitants (1.6 million in the metropolitan area, making it Spain's 4th largest city), Seville is Andalucia's top destination, with much to offer the traveler.

Interesting places:

  • Alcazar
  • Hospital de la Caridad
  • Seville Cathedral
  • Giralda Tower
  • General Archive of the Indies
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Valencia / València, pronounced [baˈlenθja] (bahl-EHN-thee-ah) in Spanish, and [vaˈlensia] (vahl-EHN-see-ah) in Valencian, is a charming old city and the capital of the Valencian Autonomous Community of Spain that is well worth a visit. It is the third Spanish city in terms of importance and population, and ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Prince Felipe Museum of Sciences
  • City of Arts and Sciences
  • Saint Mary of Valencia Cathedral
  • Plaza de la Virgen
  • Plaza de la Reina
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Lloret del Mar is a resort city on the Costa Brava, Spain, northeast of Barcelona. Lloret is famed for its "young crowd", late nightlife, and the beach.

Interesting places:

  • Lloret de Mar Beach
  • Parish Church of Sant Roma
  • Sant Joan Castle
  • Sa Caleta Beach
  • Cala Boadella Beach
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Interesting places:

  • Del Duque Beach
  • Puerto Colon
  • Troya Beach
  • Bobo Beach
  • Veronicas Strip
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Granada is a province in Andalusia in Spain.

Interesting places:

  • Alhambra
  • Plaza Nueva
  • Generalife
  • Archaeological Museum of Granada
  • Plaza Bib-Rambla
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Benidorm is a seaside resort on the Costa Blanca in the province of Alicante province, Valencia, Spain. It has a large Spanish population as well as a large retired British population. Benidorm was built compact thanks to the foresight of the town's mayor who in the 1960s saw a vision of a resort which grew ... (read more)

Interesting places:

  • Terra Mitica
  • Aqualandia
  • Cala del Tio Ximo Beach
  • Mundomar
  • Benidorm Island
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States in Spain

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Points of Interest in Spain

The most popular beaches are the ones in the Mediterranean coasts and the Canary Islands. Meanwhile, for hiking, the mountains of Sierra Nevada in the south, the Central Cordillera and the northern Pyrenees are the best places.

Historic cities

Historically, Spain has been an important crossroads: between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, between North Africa and Europe, and as Europe beginning colonizing the New World, between Europe and the Americas. As such, the country is blessed with a fantastic collection of historical landmarks - in fact, it has the 2nd largest number of UNESCO Heritage Sites and the largest number of World Heritage Cities of any nation in the world.

In the south of Spain, Andalusia holds many reminders of old Spain. Cadiz is regarded as one of the oldest continuously-inhabited cities in western Europe, with remnants of the Roman settlement that once stood here. Nearby, Ronda is a beautiful town situated atop steep cliffs and noted for its gorge-spanning bridge and the oldest bullring in Spain. Cordoba and Granada hold the most spectacular reminders of the nation's Muslim past, with the red-and-white striped arches of the Mezquita in Cordoba and the stunning Alhambra palace perched on a hill above Granada. Seville, the cultural center of Andalusia, has a dazzling collection of sights built when the city was the main port for goods from the Americas, the grandest of which being the city's cathedral, the largest in the country.

Moving north across the plains of La Mancha into Central Spain, picturesque Toledo stands as perhaps the historical center of the nation, a beautiful medieval city sitting atop a hill that once served as the capital of Spain before Madrid was built. North of Madrid and an easy day-trip from the capital city is El Escorial, once the center of the Spanish empire during the time of the Inquisition, and Segovia, noted for its spectacular Roman aqueduct which spans one of the city's squares.

Further north in Castile-Leon is Salamanca, known for its famous university and abundance of historic architecture. Galicia in northwestern Spain is home to Santiago de Compostela, the end point of the old Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago) pilgrimage route and the supposed burial place of St. James, with perhaps the most beautiful cathedral in all of Spain at the heart of its lovely old town. Northeastern Spain has a couple of historical centers to note: Zaragoza, with Roman, Muslim, medieval and Renaissance buildings from throughout its two thousand years of history, and Barcelona with its pseudo-medieval Barri Gòtic neighborhood.

Art museums

Spain has played a key role in Western art, heavily influenced by French and Italian artists but very distinct in its own regard, owing to the nation's history of Muslim influence, Counter-Reformation climate and, later, the hardships from the decline of the Spanish empire, giving rise to such noted artists like El Greco, Diego Velázquez and Francisco Goya. In the last century, Spain's unique position in Europe brought forth some of the leading artists of the Modernist and Surrealist movements, most notably the famed Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

Today, Spain's two largest cities hold the lion's share of Spain's most famous artworks. Madrid's Museum Triangle is home to the Museo del Prado, the largest art museum in Spain with many of the most famous works by El Greco, Velázquez, and Goya as well as some notable works by Italian, Flemish, Dutch and German masters. Nearby sits the Reina Sofía, most notable for holding Picasso's Guernica but also containing a number of works by Dalí and other Modernist, Surrealist and abstract painters.

Barcelona is renowned for its stunning collection of modern and contemporary art and architecture. This is where you will find the Picasso Museum, which covers the artist's early career quite well, and the architectural wonders of Antoni Gaudi, with their twisting organic forms that are a delight to look at. A day trip from Barcelona is the town of Figueres, noted for the Salvador Dalí Museum, designed by the Surrealist himself.

Outside of Madrid and Barcelona, the art museums quickly dwindle in size and importance, although there are a couple of worthy mentions that should not be looked over: Many of El Greco's most famous works lie in Toledo, an easy day trip from Madrid. The Disrobing of Christ, perhaps El Greco's most famous work, sits in the Cathedral, but you can also find work by him in one of the small art museums around town. Bilbao in the Basque Country of northern Spain is home to a spectacular Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry that has put the city on the map.

Archaeological sites

  • Ampurias, excavations of a Greek and Roman town, Roman basilica, temples of Asclepios and Serapis, (between Gerona and Figueras, Catalunya)
  • Antequetera, La Menga and Viera dolmens,
  • Calatrava la Nueva, well preserved medieval castle,
  • Calatrava la Vieja, remains of the Arab town, castle of the order of Calatrava,
  • Clunia, Roman town with forum, shops, temple, public bath houses and Roman villa,
  • Fraga, Roman villa, Bronze Age settlements,
  • Gormaz, Arab castle,
  • Italica, Roman town with amphitheatre, city walls, House of the Exedra, House of the Peacocks, Baths of the Moorish Queen, House of the Hylas, temple complex (near Sevilla),
  • Merida, Roman city, Roman bridge, Amphitheatre, Hippodrome, House of the Amphitheatre, House of the Mithraeum with mosaics, aquaeducts, museum
  • San Juan de los Banos, Visigoth church (between Burgos and Valladolid),
  • San Pedro de la Nave, Visigoth church (near Zamora),
  • Santa Maria de Melque, Visigoth church,
  • Segobriga (Cabeza del Griego), Roman town, Visigoth church, museum (between Madrid and Albacete)
  • Tarragona, Roman town with “Cyclopean wall”, amphitheatre, hippodrome, form and triumphal arch,

Itineraries

  • Via de la Plata Route Historic 800km route from Gijón to Sevilla.
  • Way of St. James

Alcazar - Seville

Roman Tombs - Barcelona

Alhambra - Granada

Joy Madrid - Madrid

Palma Town Hall - Palma de Mallorca

Mosque of Cristo de la Luz - Toledo

Palacio Episcopal - Malaga

Roman Bridge - Cordoba

Prince Felipe Museum of Sciences - Valencia

Salamanca Museum - Salamanca

Casa do Cabildo - Santiago de Compostela

Seville Cathedral - Seville

Giralda Tower - Seville

Hospital de la Caridad - Seville

General Archive of the Indies - Seville

Palau de la Musica Catalana - Barcelona

Barcelona Cathedral - Barcelona

Placa Reial - Barcelona

Gran Teatre del Liceu - Barcelona

Las Ramblas - Barcelona

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