There are few things as exciting as traveling to a new country, and often there can be a bit of anxiety bubbling just under the surface of the excitement and eager anticipation. Different customs and languages can be a bit daunting, but never underestimate the power of a friendly smile to break down cultural barriers and ingratiate yourself to the locals. It is often said that “knowledge is power” so here are a few tips you should know before going on your holiday to Spain.
Language Barrier Overload
Although you should have no problem with people understanding you if you speak English in the major cities like Barcelona and Madrid, it is important to note that there are four languages spoken in Spain. Castilian Spanish is the official language, but there is also the Basque language (Euskera), Galician, and Catalan.
To Tip Or Not To Tip
The good news is that tipping is not commonly practiced in Spain by locals, and it is entirely optional if you are a tourist. Locals rarely tip, and if they do, it’s usually just a bit of change left over from their tab at a cafe or bar. If you happen to go to an expensive restaurant, you may want to tip. No set percentage is expected, so you will want to base your tip on your overall experience with the food, service, and attention that the waiter provides.
Late To Rise, Late To Dine
If you are looking to have a proper sit-down dinner at around 5 or 6 in the evening in Spain, you may be in for a disappointment. Most restaurants don’t start taking reservations till 9 PM, and these meals can quickly go on for several hours and into the wee hours of the morning. This also applies to lunch, which is usually served later in the day between the hours of 14:00-16:00 instead of noon. This has a lot to do with the practice of siesta, which we will go into more details about a bit later.
Afro Spanish Adventures
While most people are familiar with the beaches, mountains, and cities of Spain, many fail to realize that Spain has two islands and two territories in Africa. If you want to get off the beaten track and explore some different cultural corners of the country, head to the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, or the territories of Ceuta and Melilla situated in North Africa. The Canary Islands is home to popular destinations like Tenerife, Gran Canaria, and Lanzarote. You can also explore some lesser known spots like the Cèis Islands.
Daytime Nap Time
Although the Spanish siesta is still a very real thing, it does not have to affect your holiday if you plan accordingly. Most museums, hotel venues, supermarkets and department stores will stay open, especially in the more urban areas. There are two main time periods that you should be aware of as it differs slightly for shops and restaurants. The siesta for shops and businesses to be closed is from 14:00-16:00, while restaurants and bars will generally close from 16:00-21:00. This just means that you may want to call ahead or check online before venturing out to your destination during these hours.
One thing you should be prepared for when visiting Spain, is an impromptu parade, festival or religious procession to strike at seemingly any moment. Some significant events are well known such as Carnival in March, the Semana Santa in April and the Corpus Christi in May, but they are not the only large-scale celebrations that take place. The world-famous tomato fight, LaTomatina, often attracts massive crowds of more than 20,000 people, and the running of the bulls, San Fermin, in Pamplona has been known to eclipse even those figures. Be sure to check your calendar before visiting so that you can either join the fun or avoid the crowds.
If you are expecting to find people Flamenco dancing in the streets, on the rooftops and everywhere you go, be prepared to adjust your expectations. Flamenco is not the national dance of Spain. You’ll typically find the most authentic Flamenco shows in Andalusia–Granada, Sevilla, and Jaen where you can see dancers perform in small, intimate grottos.
Melissa is a passionate foodie, travel writer, and editor working in media internationally and in the USA. She has lived in Bangkok since 2004 and has a background in the travel industry. Melissa’s writing has been published globally in many prestigious online and print magazines for over a decade. Her motto for life is “You cannot live or love well if you have not wined and dined well!”