Spain is the getaway destination for a lot of Europeans and why wouldn’t you want to visit?! Spain has mountains, beaches, warm weather, culture, food and a nightlife culture that makes any American club look downright tame. One thing Spain is known for is it’s distinct cultures that exist through out the country. You have Catalonia in the North, Basque Country, Castillian, Galician, and a history of conquering Arabic’s. Spain is a relatively cheap country to visit and to be in, well at least compared to the rest of Europe. It’s one of the reasons people have been flocking to Spain and with the recent economic disaster… Spain is even cheaper. This is the time to take advantage of the beauty that Spain has to offer. Barcelona in northern Spain is consider to many as one of the jewel cities of Europe. A world class city filled with art, culture, beaches, friendly people and literally thousands of things to do that will surprise you. Southern Spain, also home of the famous bull fighting culture, is known as a getaway destination because of the beaches and the ancient Arabic buildings. Spain is best described as authentic with a type of down to earth culture that is greatly admired. Spain is a western Europe country that is intense and yet charming at the same time and should be a must on your European travels.
(click on a topic to skip to that section)
Getting to Spain
Breakdown of Costs
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
From Splurging to Saving
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
Noteworthy Places I’ve Been To
Barcelona – This city is best described as one of the jewels of Europe and has everything a big city could offer; art, culture, food, and fashion. Barcelona is in the region of Catalonia and along with Spanish the people also speak Catalan (so don’t be confused when you see words that look like a mix between Spanish and French). If you’re up for fun in the sun, Barcelona has excellent wide beaches to lay out and relax. Also the city is famous for its Park Güell which overlooks the city offering spectacular views. Not to miss is the famous La Rambla, the Spanish equivalent of Champs-Élysées, and is famous for it’s “living statues.” If you’re into funky churches and buildings make sure to check out the famous works of Gaudí, which includes the famed Sagrada Família.
Madrid – Madrid is the capital of Spain and is located rightly so in the center of the country. Surrounded by mountains the capital city is surprisingly high with an elevation at around 2,100 feet. The city is considered the financial capital of Spain and certainly has that sort of feel but also has amazing sites like Plaza Mayor, Retiro Park, Paseo del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and of course the beauty of surrounding mountains.
Málaga – Located in Southern Spain, Málaga is known for it’s fantastic weather, La Malagueta beach, ancient forts and buildings and as the birth place of renowned artist Pablo Picasso.
Granada – Granada is located in the Andalucía region and is best known for it’s huge Moorish citadel and palace, the Alhambra. The city also offers a charming downtown with views of mountains and hills dotted with white houses.
Getting to Spain
By Plane – You’re best option to get to Spain is to fly. Spain is well served by many European Airlines including the national airlines Iberia. The major cities to fly into include Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia, and Málaga. When I flew to Spain I used budget airlines like RyanAir and Easyjet (and you can find deals as low as 20 euros). But you can also find deals on other major airlines and shouldn’t have a huge problem money wise getting to Spain. These airlines fly from many destinations throughout Europe to Spain because many Europeans travel to Spain to relax and take in the sun. So if you’re coming from the United States mostly likely you will connect through a European city or through Madrid if you plan to go to another Spanish city.
By Bus – Sure you could ride a bus from any major European city but why would you? Train or flight is going to be your best option and going to get you to your destination much faster. The bus system is alright in Spain but the terrain is mountainous and the journey will be long if you decide to take the bus.
By Train – Train is an alright way to get to Spain if you’re already in Europe. You will have to come from France and is not incredibly cheap but manageable. The train system is handled by Renfe; so make sure to check their website to see what destinations they serve. Remember that the country is mountainous so your travels will take you a little longer than countries in France. I think for Spain the best option is to fly whenever possible.
Breakdown of Costs
Hotels – Hotel prices range throughout Spain but in general they are less expensive than other western European countries. In Málaga I stayed in a hostel and only costs around 10-15 euros a night. But of course if you were staying in the bigger cities like Barcelona and Madrid expect to pay a higher price, at least above 100 euros a night for a quality hotel. Of course hostels are always a great option and usually you can find great hostels throughout the major cities. Keep in mind though that hostels are popular and you must book in advance. I used www.hostelworld.com. (tip make sure the hostel receives a rating of above 80%). Spain will have hotels offered in every range of peoples budget but note that hotels in Europe are not the same quality like they are in the states.
Food – I find food to be incredibly inexpensive for European standards. Going to the grocery store is easy to do and the prices are one of the cheapest in Europe. If you want to go out and get a plate of tapas it might cost you a total of 10 euros for a really great meal. If you find yourself in a group while traveling you can splurge on a really nice meal and can expect to pay anywhere between 20-30 euros. Make sure to try the local dishes like paella and tapas and of course drink Sangria!
Other Activities – Spain has lots to offer and has so charming cities that dot the landscape. Taking a day trip for a major city is very easy to do. Usually the buses are efficient enough and leave on time. For me Granada was an excursion fro Málaga but there was also the option to go to Seville. From Madrid there are day excursions to cities to Toledo and other ancient cities. In the south it’s possible to leave the strait of Gibraltar to Morocco or you can fly from Madrid (something I had the pleasure of doing). All of the regions of Spain are a little different from the other so there is definitely a lot to see and understand while in Spain.
The Spanish are interesting people and boy do they know how to have a good time. I found the Spanish to be very friendly people and love to help you whenever possible. I found the people to be very down to earth and authentic whenever talking with you. Spain has a lively culture and I would consider the Spanish to be more lively compared to Northern Europeans. The people are also very well put together and like to look nice (something to consider while traveling in Spain, although they won’t look down on you if you decide to bum it). Most people will find Spain a very relaxing country to be in. Nobody is pressured to do anything they don’t want to and the people don’t have a pretentious feel to them.
Spanish is somewhat a necessity to be able to communicate but you will be able to find English speakers in cities like Madrid and Barcelona. Because I took Spanish in high school and know French it was a little easier to understand what was going on (plus body languages goes along way). Spaniards don’t expect you to know Spanish but it’s still polite to know a little. Remember that the Spanish talk very fast and have a lisp. So if you already know Spanish you might be caught off guard. Plus if you are in cities like Barcelona you won’t even recognize some of the words that are in Catalan. Most of the time people in Barcelona know both Catalan and Spanish so don’t feel intimidated.
Definitely Do’s and Don’ts
Do appreciate the differences in culture that exists in Spain. You will see all different type of people and some who don’t even consider themselves part of Spain. Remember this and appreciate it.
Don’t be that American who is loud and obnoxious everywhere you go. We already have a stereotype over there about this so please don’t perpetuate it more.
Do experience the nightlife that Spain has to offer. I was very surprised how late the Spaniards stay out and party. Most of the time Spaniards don’t even eat until very late at night and then don’t start going to clubs until 1 in the morning.
Don’t go to McDonalds. Kind of goes along with above. There is plenty of time for McDonalds back in the states. This is your chance to try something new and if you hate it you hate. At least you tried it. You’re in Spain and Spain also has a lot of national dishes that are just downright amazing.
Do enjoy the beaches of Spain. It’s one of the many reasons so many people travel to Spain. It’s one of the few countries that exists in Europe that has a mild winter and such amazing beaches.
Don’t be surprised if you didn’t know Spain has so much things to offer. Spain is sometimes pushed aside compared to countries like France, England, and Italy. But Spain has several cities big and small that are just as charming if not more.
Do dress up while you’re there. Please don’t be that American slob who is wearing an over sized t-shirt or gym shorts. You’re in a country where fashion is important to both men and women. It may not be as pretentious as France but they still do like to look nice.
From Splurging to Saving
You’re money will go further in Spain compared with Northern European countries. If you’re on a budget stick to the budget and see the sites that are the most important. A lot of museums are relatively inexpensive to see and house some of the greatest works of art. The sites to see are also relatively cheap and transportation is around the major cities are easy to manage. Of course if you have money there are of course several ways to splurge in Spain.
My advice is to always have a credit card and cash. Credit cards are not always going to work so easily in Spain but I didn’t really seem to find a problem to draw money from the bank. Sometimes it’s better to have cash in your hand so you know how much money you are exactly spending. Proper souvenirs shouldn’t cost you too much money. Remember that even though Spain is one of the cheaper countries to travel it’s still in Europe. Hotels will cost over 100 euros and hostels should cost you around 15 – 50 euros… depending on when you go and how comfortable you want to be.
Good for Gay Lifestyle?
It’s Spain! Of course it is a great place to be gay in. Remember though that you are still in a Catholic Country so some of the older generation might not understand so much. But in the major cities like Barcelona and Madrid there is a lot of gay clubs and bar and gay places to hang out at. And just recently Spain has upheld that allowance of gay marriage.
It’s a very metro-sexual type of society (which most gay men love.) The men and women always dress up very smartly and fashionably. Don’t be surprised if you don’t know who is gay and who is.
Before traveling to Europe call your bank and make sure you tell them you’re traveling to Spain, etc… so you don’t get your account blocked.
Get Euros from your local bank before you leave. Credit Cards work in Spain and are great but you could be subject to an international usage fee and ATM’s eating up your cards.
Tap water is safe in Spain but you must ask for it.
Accept that you’re not in the US anymore. Everything will be more expensive and probably smaller.
Use public transportation. It’s clean, easy and efficient.
Let yourself be immersed in the cultures of Spain. If will be a once in a life time experience.
image by: will