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Introduction to Spain

Spain Flag

Once away from the holiday costas, you could only be in Spain. In the cities, narrow twisting old streets suddenly open out to views of daring modern architecture, while spit-and-sawdust bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos.

Travel is easy, accommodation plentiful, the climate benign, the people relaxed, the beaches long and sandy, the food and drink easy to come by and full of regional variety. More than 50 million foreigners a year visit Spain, yet you can also travel for days and hear nothing but Spanish.

Geographically, Spain's diversity is immense. There are endless tracts of wild and crinkled sierra to explore, as well as some spectacularly rugged stretches of coast between the beaches.

Culturally, the country is littered with historical old buildings, from Roman aqueducts and Islamic palaces to Gothic cathedrals. Almost every second village has a medieval castle. Spain has been the home of some of the world's great artists — El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Picasso, Dalí — and has museums and galleries to match. The country vibrates with music of every kind —from the drama of flamenco to the melancholy lyricism of the Celtic music and gaitas (bagpipes) of the northwest.

Traveler Facts

  • Time Zone: GMT/UTC +1
  • Dialling Code: 34
  • Electricity: 220V ,50 Hz
  • Weights & measures: Metric
  • Currency: Euro (€ or EUR)

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Compare Spain Hotel Prices (Top Cities)
A Coruna Alcoceber Alicante Almeria Almunecar Andorra Antigua
Avila Badajoz Barcelona Benidorm Bilbao Blanes Burgos
Caceres Cadiz Cala Bona Cala D'Or Cala Millor Cala Ratjada Calella
Caleta de Fuste Calpe Calvia Can Pastilla Can Picafort Cangas De Onis Capdepera
Castelldefels Castellon Castellon de la Plana Ciudad Real Ciutadella Cordoba Costa Calma
Costa Del Sol Cuenca Denia El Puerto
de Santa Maria
Es Mercadal Fuerteventura Gijon
Best time to Visit

Spain can be enjoyable any time of year. The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in the south). At these times you can rely on good-to-excellent weather, yet avoid the extreme heat – and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists – of July and August. But there's decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year round. Winter along the southern and southeastern Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height of summer you can retreat to the northwest, to beaches or high mountains anywhere to escape excessive heat. The best festivals are mostly concentrated between Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) and September to October.

Detailed information on all 4 seasons

Spring Season
Is an ideal time to visit the central regions of Castile, Andalusia, the Mediterranean Coast, and the Balearic Islands. The climate is generally very good, but expect occasional rain.

Summer Season
It is a good season to visit the northern regions, especially the resorts along the Costa Blanca and Costa Brava, for less heat than in the southern coasts like Costa del Sol and Costa Tropical.

Autumn / Fall Season
It ss perhaps the best season of the year to visit the entire country. The climate is excellent, with sunny days and blue skies.

Winter Season
Is a good time to visit the Mediterranean area along the Costa del Sol. The high mountain ranges in both the north and the south offer excellent conditions for winter sports.

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Attractions

Madrid

This is Spain's headiest city, where the revelling lasts long into the night and life is seized with the teeth and both hands. Strangers quickly become friends, passion blooms in an instant, and visitors are swiftly addicted to the city's charms.

With a triad of truly great art museums that includes the Museo del Prado, and buildings like the Palacio Real that span the centuries, plus lively plazas, mighty boulevards and neighbourhoods brimming with character, Madrid has plenty of sights to keep the eyes, ears and mind occupied.

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Barcelona

Barcelona has transformed itself from smug backwater into one of the most dynamic and stylish cities in the world. Summer is serious party time, with week-long fiesta fun. But year-round the city sizzles – it's always on the biting edge of architecture, food, fashion, style, music and good times.

The wild and whimsical architecture of Gaudí dominates the streets of Barcelona and makes for some of the finest city-walking in the world. The art will beckon you from museums and streetsides. The vibrant central drag, La Rambla, will lead you to the city's marvellous medieval quarter, Barri Gòtic.

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Bilbao

Post-industrial Bilbao, the largest city in Basque Country (the País Vasco) is transforming itself with ambitious urban-renewal projects, most notably the marvellous Museo Guggenheim. This twist-up of glass and titanium, designed by US architect Frank Gehry and inspired by the anatomy of the fish and the hull of a boat, is the city's showpiece. The contents of this sardine can are no less stunning than its exterior: works by Serra, Braque, Kandinsky, Picasso, Warhol and more line its walls and halls. The Museo de Bellas Artes, just 300m up the road, is also worth a look. When you tire of art riches, wander over to the restaurants and bars of the medieval casco viejo (old town).

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Granada

During the period of Muslim domination of Spain, Granada was the finest city on the peninsula. Today it is still home to the greatest Muslim legacy in Europe, and one of the most inspiring attractions on the Continent - the 11th century Alhambra.

The Alhambra palace is a must-see. Set against the stunning Sierra Nevada and surrounded by cypress and elms, it's an escape into Granada's Moorish past. There's a lot to see, including the Alcazaba, the Palacio Nazaries (Nasrid Palace) and the Generalife gardens, so set aside a whole day if you can.

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San Sebastián

Famed as a ritzy resort for wealthy Spaniards who want to get away from the hordes in the south, stunning San Sebastián has been a stronghold of Basque nationalist feeling since well before Franco banned the use of Euskera, the Basque language, in the 1930s.

Donostia, as the city is known in Euskera, is a surprisingly relaxed place with a small-town feel. Those who live here consider themselves the luckiest people in Spain and won't hesitate to tell you so. After a short stay you may well begin to appreciate their immodest claim.

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Seville

One of the first people to fall in love with Seville was the poet-king Al-Mutamid, and the city's ability to dazzle has not abated since. It takes a stony heart not to be captivated by its exuberant atmosphere – stylish, confident, ancient, proud, yet also convivial, intimate and fun-loving.

In keeping with the slow-burn nature of the city's charms, two great monuments - the Muslim Alcázar and the Christian cathedral - reveal most of their glories only once you're inside them. These, along with many other buildings and areas around Seville, are World Heritage Sites.

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Toledo

Toledo is an intact medieval city of narrow winding streets perched on a small hill above the Río Tajo. The city is crammed with fascinating museums, galleries, churches and castles. The awesome cathedral harbours glorious murals, stained-glass windows and works by El Greco, Velázquez and Goya.

Unfortunately, it is also crammed with daytrippers, so travellers wanting to enjoy the city should stay overnight and explore in the evening and early morning to see it at its best. The dominant Alcázar has been the scene of military battles from the Middle Ages right through to the 20th century.

Other attractions include the city's two synagogues, the Iglesia de Santo Tomé (which contains El Greco's greatest masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz) and the Museo de Santa Cruz. Archaeologists working on Toledo's Carranque recently uncovered a 4th-century Roman basilica, Spain's oldest.

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Valencia

Spain's third-largest city, and capital of the province of Valencia, comes as a pleasant surprise to many. Home to paella and the Holy Grail, it is also blessed with great weather and the spring festival of Las Fallas, one of the wildest parties in the country.

One of Valencia's best attractions is the baroque Palacio del Marqués de Dos Aguas. The facade is extravagantly sculpted and the inside is just as outrageous. The Museo de Bellas Artes also ranks among the best museums in the country, containing works by artists such as El Greco, Goya and Velázquez.

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Costs / Approx. Spending

Meals

Budget: €5-10 Mid-range: €10-15
High: €15-20 Deluxe: €20+

Lodging

Budget: €15-40 Mid-range: €40-70
High: €70-100 Deluxe: €100+

Spain is one of Europe's more affordable countries. If you are particularly frugal it's just about possible to scrape by for around EUR20.00 a day. This would involve staying in the cheapest possible accommodation, avoiding eating in restaurants or going to museums or bars, and not moving around too much. A more comfortable budget would be EUR40.00 a day, allowing for a basic hotel room, set meals, public transport and entry to museums. With EUR100.00 a day you can stay in excellent accommodation, rent a car and eat some of the best food Spain has to offer.

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted at hotels and restaurants, especially from the mid-range up, and also for long-distance train tickets.

Be careful carrying your money, whether it's jingling or plastic, as tourists are a major target of theft – hundreds of thousands of credit cards go missing in Spain every year.

In restaurants the law requires menu prices to include service charge, and tipping is a matter of personal choice – most people leave some small change if they're satisfied and 5% is usually plenty. It's common to leave small change at bar and café tables.

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Events

In true Spanish style, cultural events are almost inevitably celebrated with a wild party and a holiday. Among the festivals to look out for are La Tamborrada (Festividad de San Sebastián) in San Sebastián on 19 January, a short but rowdy event where the whole town dresses up and goes berserk. Carnaval takes place throughout the country in late February; the wildest are said to be in Sitges and Cádiz. In March, Valencia has a week-long party known as Las Fallas, which is marked by all-night dancing, drinking, first-class fireworks and colourful processions. Semana Santa (Holy Week) is the week leading up to Easter Sunday, and is marked by parades of holy images through the streets; Seville is the place to be if you can get accommodation. In late April, Seville's Feria de Abril is a week-long party counterbalancing the religious fervour of Semana Santa.

The last Wednesday in August sees the Valencian town of Buñol go bonkers with La Tomatina, in which the surplus from its tomato harvest is sploshed around in a friendly riot. The Running of the Bulls (Fiesta de San Fermín) in Pamplona in July is perhaps Spain's most famous festival. Along the north coast, staggered through the first half of August, is Semana Grande, another week of heavy drinking and hangovers.

Public Holidays

1 Jan - Año Nuevo (New Year's Day)

Mar/Apr - Viernes Santo (Good Friday)

1 May - Fiesta del Trabajo (Labour Day)

15 Aug - La Asunción (Feast of the Assumption)

12 Oct - Fiesta Nacional de España (National Day)

8 Dec - La Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception)

25 Dec - Navidad (Christmas)

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