Experience Transat

What You Need to Know Before Visiting Spain

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Looking to bask under the warm Spanish sun? Whether you’re travelling as a couple, with friends or as a family, the land of tapas and flamenco is an excellent destination. From Catalonia to Andalusia, this diverse country has a few surprises in store. Here are 10 things to know before you go.

1- Not all Spaniards speak Spanish (and even fewer speak English!)

If your gateway is Barcelona, you’ll soon discover that Catalan is king and your beginner’s Spanish course won’t help you outside the tourist areas. While Catalonia speaks Catalan, San Sebastian and Bilbao speak Basque. Galicia speaks Galician, which is closer to Portuguese. Your Spanish – even rudimentary – will come in handy in Madrid, as even in the capital it’s not uncommon to be unable to communicate in English with shopkeepers or in restaurants (try your luck in French, sometimes it works!). Cultural immersion guaranteed!

2- Stick to a region

Spain is full of cultural, natural and culinary riches. You can’t see or taste everything in one trip. Choose your destination according to your preferences (city or beach? nature or culture?). You can also take advantage of an Air Transat multi-destination flight between the three cities served (Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga) to discover as much as possible. As trains can be quite expensive in Spain, flying is often a better option between major cities.

3- Avoid the queues

Popular attractions such as the Sagrada Família or Gaudí’s houses in Barcelona are very crowded. If you don’t want to spend half a day queuing to get in (and even risk not being able to visit!), book your visit online in advance. This applies to all the must-sees, such as the Prado Museum in Madrid, the Alhambra in Granada or the Picasso Museum in Barcelona, all of which are very busy.

4- It gets very hot in the afternoon in summer

July and August are very hot and full of tourists. If you can avoid them, do so. Otherwise, remember that it’s almost unbearable to walk around the cities in the middle of the afternoon when temperatures often exceed 40 degrees Celsius. Take advantage of this time by booking tickets for museums in the early afternoon to enjoy the air conditioning and escape the scorching sun, or do as the Spanish do and take a siesta to emerge refreshed and ready for the evening’s festivities.

To get the most out of Spain, spring and autumn are recommended, as the weather is milder and there are fewer tourists than in summer. With over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, you can visit at any time of the year, depending on the region you visit!

In winter, the southern and south-eastern coasts are favoured as the weather is mild. In summer, head north-west for less stifling heat than elsewhere, and note that Catalonia enjoys a temperate climate all year round.

5- Spaniards eat very late

Don’t try to find an open restaurant at 7pm! Many restaurants don’t open until 9pm and don’t get busy until 10pm or even 11pm. And not just in summer, but all year round, children included! That’s why you need to recharge your batteries with an afternoon siesta.

6- Enjoy the aperitif to the fullest

If you’re feeling hungry early in the evening, an aperitif will tide you over. Many bars offer pintxos (a slice of bread topped with fish, egg or sausage) free with every drink or for the modest sum of 1 euro. After two glasses of Tinto de Verano (a sweet, fresh, sparkling red wine) and two delicious tartines, you’ll feel like you’ve had dinner… and that’ll keep you going until dinner, which is served much later.

7- Do the tapas tour

But if you want to eat like the locals, don’t eat your whole meal in one place. Each bar or bistro has its own speciality, so stop by this one for garlic prawns, that one for Iberian ham, or another for garlic mushrooms (we recommend Mesón del Champiñon in Madrid). This is the true way to eat tapas (or raciones, as they’re called in Spain): go from restaurant to restaurant to enjoy them, rather than ordering several dishes in one place. And don’t turn your back if a bistro seems too crowded or has debris on the floor: it means it’s a local favourite and they’re sure to find you a seat – even a tiny one – at the bar. An experience not to be missed!

8- Eating (and drinking) is not expensive

Yes, you’re in Europe, but you’ll be surprised at how much less you have to pay for your meals. To save even more, opt for daily specials in restaurants. Especially at lunchtime (between 13:30 and 15:00) you can enjoy a three-course meal for a very reasonable price (sometimes less than 10 euros!).

9- Tips are optional

Servers do not expect tips. You can round up or add a few euros if you enjoyed the service, but the 15% rule does not apply in Spain. Good to know!

10- It’s a perfect destination for families

Spaniards love children and welcome them everywhere and at all times (don’t be surprised to see children eating in restaurants at 10pm on a weeknight!) Major attractions and museums offer great audio guides in “children’s” versions. Thanks to Gaudí’s creative architecture, the colourful works of Miró and Picasso and the nearby beach, Barcelona is a top destination for families.

The comments and contributions expressed are assumed only by the author. The recommendations, intentions or opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Transat AT Inc. or its affiliates. See terms of use of the Air Transat website.

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