Spain is a fascinating country with many peculiarities that make it unique. Well, that happens in almost every country in the world, right? 😊 And as every good traveler knows, knowing each country’s cultural essences and customs makes it much easier to have a fuller and more satisfying travel experience. In short, live the country authentically!
There is a saying in Spain that goes: “Allá donde fueres, haz lo que vieres” (Wherever you go, do as you see). A piece of popular wisdom that advises us something as simple as always trying to blend in with the people and culture we visit. And although we are very sure that our Local in-Destination Experts in Spain will help you make your trip in Spain unique, here you have a few information pills regarding customs, habits, and curiosities of the country that we believe can help you to squeeze your travel experience in Spain.
In Spain, the timetables are very particular. And although little by little some schedules are being “Europeanized,” and tourism is changing some uses, the truth is that the “times” life in Spain differ quite a lot from those of other countries.
For example, meals are not usually served before 14:00, and it is pretty normal to eat in a restaurant until 15:30. Likewise, dinners typically start late. So much so that in some tourist cities, there are already two reservation shifts: tourists from 19:00 to 21:00, and Spaniards from 21:00 to 23:00.
Timetables are often a consequence of the pace of life. And, in general, in Spain, there is no rush (except in the big cities, which do not escape the frenetic pace of any other big city in the world). So, in Spain, you will find that people like to take things slowly. And that, sometimes, can be desperate for those who are used to another rhythm of life.
Spain is the country with the most bars and restaurants per person globally: one for every 175 inhabitants, totaling 277,539 gastronomic establishments. You can see this very quickly in the cities, where a good part of the social life takes place indoors, and even more in the outdoor terraces. But even in the smallest towns, it is common to find one. When a town does not have one, it is almost considered dead.
Tapas are one of the hallmarks of Spanish culture. It is customary to serve a small portion of food with every drink ordered in a bar. But beware! A tapa is only a tapa when done free with the glass. If we have to pay for it, it will surely be a “pintxo” if it is an individual portion, or a portion of it is more significant to share. Some of the most famous cities for their tapas are Granada, Leon, Seville, Santiago de Compostela… While the fame of the best “pintxos” is -deservedly- for the Basque Country.
In Spain, eating is not just about filling up the tank and recharging energy. Instead, it is a significant social act in which people take the opportunity to talk and laugh in the company of friends, family, or colleagues. So much so that there is a name to refer to the time spent at the table after having finished eating: “sobremesa,” which tends to be quite long, especially if liquors accompany it?
You can check it out in this fantastic Culinary Journey in Spain .
An unfortunate consequence of tourism in the most frequented areas is “tourist trap” restaurants. There is nothing authentic about these paellas. There is nothing original about that tortilla de patatas. And even worse: on top of that, their prices are inflated. Whenever possible, get away from the tourist areas when looking for a place to eat. It will be easier to find an authentic bar with authentic Spanish food.
Spain has a first-class transportation network by land, sea, and air. It is straightforward to fly to almost any medium-sized city by plane. But our recommendation for getting around the country is to travel on the high-speed rail network, called AVE. With Madrid as the epicenter of the connections, it is possible to move from end to end of the Peninsula at more than 300 Km/h in trains with all the comforts.
Regional differences are very marked in Spain. Its long and turbulent history has given rise to different Autonomous Communities, divided into regions, each with its defining features. In Spain, there are four official languages: Spanish is the common language, but Catalan, Basque and Galician are also spoken, as well as other dialects in other areas. And if at some point you find it difficult to understand, don’t worry, even for a Spaniard from the north, it can be complicated to realize a Spaniard from the south and vice versa!
Spaniards are passionate people. And noisy. Quite loud. In some places like concerts or discos, you will be pleased with how vehement and sociable we can be. In others, such as public transport or restaurants, you may be uncomfortable with the decibels of the room, because sometimes it seems that we fight to be the loudest!
Siestas and plazas
Spaniards like life in the street. Perhaps it is a consequence of its enviable climate throughout the year (this does not apply to the country’s northern regions), but the truth is that the squares of the villages have been – and still are – a place of meeting and coexistence. And as for the famous Spanish “siesta,” it is a custom that is still very much alive, but especially in the summer months to get stronger during the hottest hours of the day and have more energy at night, which is when you can enjoy the street.