So, you’re traveling over to the land of tapas and sangria, shimmering costas and soaring sierras? Why not? This corner of Iberia is a stunning part of the continent, with glorious beaches and enthralling cities alike. But what are the things to avoid in Spain?
That’s where this guide comes in. We’ve slung together seven pointers that we think are good tips for the first-time traveler. They include info on the language you’ll speak and the places to eat, the seasons to go and the things to wear, along with a whole load more besides.
The aim is to outline a couple of things to avoid in Spain that you might not have thought of; to make that holiday to the southern climbs of Europe go off without a hitch, a happening, or an issue. You know, so you can concentrate on glugging the Rioja wine, tanning yourself on Barceloneta Beach, or lazing on the yacht deck down in Marbella. Let’s begin…
Table of Contents
Sorry, but we just can’t help but cringe when we see a marina packed with greasy spoon kitchens selling full English breakfasts on the Costa Brava or the in the coast towns of Lanzarote. It just doesn’t feel right. This is the land of spicy patatas bravas, of salty Iberico ham, of Manchego cheeses, and Mediterranean seafood so good you’ll be eating fish for three meals of the day. It’s not right to come and skip the food.
Now, we’re not saying you can’t ever visit an international eatery. What we’re saying here is that you shouldn’t visit only the international spots. A bout of sausage and egg to cure the hangover can always be forgiven, and everyone loves a pizza to punctuate the paella now and then.
The point is that Spanish food is fantastic and almost always best eaten in local taverns. Tempted? Consider visiting one of the famous food hubs of the country. There’s San Sebastian, the home of Basque cooking on the north shore. There’s Madrid, the capital of Spain that’s a veritable haven for tapas eaters. And there are the Canary Islands, where mojo sauces collide with volcanic-infused wines.
The heat of the day
Spaniards have been skipping the hottest part of the day for centuries, preferring instead the rejuvenating nap time of siesta. Yep, don’t be surprised to find that shops close, plazas empty, restaurants wind up, and whole towns go into hibernation between 2pm and 5pm, especially throughout the balmy summer months.
The whole point of this apparently now-dying tradition is to avoid the most scorching hours on the clock. We’d wholeheartedly recommend you try to do the same if you’re traveling into the land of sangria and flamenco any time between May and August.
Why? It gets hot here, that’s why! Thermometers can regularly read over 100 F (that’s 40 C+) in the balmiest months of all. In fact, several of the spots that are in the running to be called the hottest places in Europe are on the south coast of Spain. There are plenty of ways to dodge the heat, too, whether you head back to the hotel pool or dip under the shade of a royal palm tree on the Costa del Sol. Easy.
Speaking English ALL the time
English might be the most spoken of all the second languages in Spain – nearly 28% of the whole population speak it fluently – but that doesn’t mean it should be you MO for the holiday. Nope, learning even a little bit of Spanish will help you navigate all sorts of aspects of day-to-day life in the sun-splashed country…
From ordering your tapas dishes in the bars of Madrid’s Gran Via to discussing your Rioja wine labels in the cellar doors of the north, there are all sorts of things that having some lingo under your belt can solve. And even if you don’t get that far, you can rest assured that having a simple hola or gracias on the tip of your tongue will endear the locals.
The good news is that learning Spanish shouldn’t be too hard for native English speakers. It’s actually considered among the easiest European lingos to get to grips with, as there are lots of crossover words and sounds. On top of that, it’s worth remembering that having a bit of Spanish in the locker will help you in loads of other places, whether you’re planning on traveling the white-sand beaches of Mexico or the Andean coffee towns of Colombia next.
The peak, peak season
Spain gets something like 82 million visitors per year. Mhmm…that’s a Jeff Bezos bank account number of visitors. It’s hardly a surprise! The country is a stunning spot, with a climate that’s to die for, cities that burst with history and art, and some of the best transport links to the rest of Europe. People are obviously going to come.
The thing is…the crowds can be downright exhausting in the peak of the high season. When June turns to July, visitor numbers crank skywards, and you’ll find it much harder to find that seclusion you’ve been seeking. That’s especially true in major tourist hotspots like Barcelona (where Las Ramblas brims with bodies) and the Costa del Sol (where there’s hardly an empty speck of sand in sight).
You can mitigate that by aiming for more off-the-beaten-track corners of the country. Take Galicia as an example. It’s got a lush and green coastline with reliable summer surf spots and gritty port cities like Vigo. Oh, and then there are the Canary Islands. The peak season that far south is actually the opposite to the mainland, running from December to April, meaning you can dodge the midsummer crowds by pointing the compass that a-way.
Thinking you can see the WHOLE country in one trip
Let’s just get this one out of the way: Spain is huge. Like, 505,990 square kilometers sort of huge. Like covers a whole cut-out of the Iberian Peninsula and a couple of island archipelagos besides sort of huge. The point? Don’t go thinking that there’s any way you can check off the country in one fell swoop. It just isn’t gonna’ happen.
Crucially, different parts of Spain have very differing cultures. For example, there’s a hint of spicy African flavor in the food of the Canaries, while Basque Country takes a nod from French cooking. On top of that, they speak different languages in Galicia as they do in Catalonia, and the climate is something else on the Med to what it is on the Atlantic.
What we’re trying to say here is that there’s no such thing as “doing Spain”. You’d need months and months, years and years, to really get a feel for the rich histories, cultures, and peoples of this iconic European nation. Don’t go trying to do it all in a single vacation.
The most touristy areas
Look, we love Las Ramblas (Barcelona’s buzzy main boulevard) and the Puerta del Sol (the hub of happening Madrid). We also love the white-sand beaches and white-painted towns of the Costa del Sol and the Costa Brava, along with the wine country of Rioja, and the lovely resorts of the Canary Islands. But we also know that they are some of the most touristy parts of Spain and it’s sometimes a shame to stick to only that.
The reason is that there’s SO much to see when you venture off the beaten track in this country. And you don’t even have to go very far to do it…
You can cruise inland from the southern beaches of Marbella for less than an hour and find yourself wandering the zigzagging lanes of Gaucin village. You can skip Puerto del Carmen in Lanzarote for Caleta on the north shore to get surf breaks and wild cliffs. You can head from Barcelona into the jagged Spanish Pyrenees to get ski resorts and world-famous pilgrimage trails.
Only packing gear for warm weather
A mistake that’s often made is thinking that, because Spain is usually hot, it’s always hot. That’s simply not the case. Granted the beaches that run from the Costa Brava all the way to the Costa del Sol are among the balmiest places in Europe most years. Millions and millions of travelers jet down there to seek out endless rays and thermometers that hit the 100s.
But there are some parts of Spain that see sub-zero temperatures. In fact, there are some parts of Spain that see snow. You can even ski up in the Sierra Nevada or the Pyrenees between December and April! Mountains like Mulhacen (3,579 meters) and Pico del Teide (3,718 meters) go up beyond the clouds and into climactic zones where the board shorts just won’t cut it.
On top of that, a huge chunk of the populated parts of the country sit at a pretty high elevation. Madrid happens to be one of the most altitudinous capitals in Europe, at over 650 meters above sea level. It can get cold, with December lows stooping to a shiver-inducing 39 F (4 C) in the middle of December. Our advice? Pack accordingly, folks!
Things to avoid in Spain – our conclusion
There are quite a few things to avoid in Spain if you’re hopping across to this chunk of Iberia this year. Our guide outlines just a few, including the scorching heat of the midday sun and the most touristy parts of the country when the summer crowds are around. Oh, and we’d also recommend steering a little off the beaten path if you can, not to mention packing suitable clothing for the place you’re headed – Spain isn’t all a sauna, you know?