Know Before You Go to Spain | My Spain Travel Guide [VIDEO GUIDE]

As an American tourist in Spain, I’ve learned many things over the years. There are some major differences between the U.S. and Spain, and I’ve divided my tips for visiting into three categories. I’ll talk about all things food, including a popular Spanish breakfast, dinner time in Spain, and other tips to know when dining out. I’ll discuss Spanish cultural tips like siestas and tipping, along with my best overall Spain travel tips.

I hope you enjoy my 2019 Spain travel guide (updated for 2024). Before you plan Spain solo travel or group trips… watch my video below!

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Spain Travel Guide: General Travel Tips

When you’re trying to plan your Spain travel itinerary, there’s more to think about than just what to see and do. It’s best to also plan when you’re going to go, how you’re going to get from point A to point B, how to communicate, and more. Here are my general Spain travel tips for getting around and exploring different parts of this beautiful country.

Spain Travel Tip #1: Hablo Español?

The first of my Spain travel tips actually applies to every single country that you go to: it’s best if you learn a few words of the native language. It’s okay if you can’t speak it perfectly, it doesn’t hurt anything. Most people know you’re going to mess up at times, but the fact that you made the effort makes all the difference in the world! I suggest learning:

  • “Yes”
  • “No”
  • “Please”
  • “Thank you”
  • “Where are the bathrooms?”
  • Basic directions
  • Details about your hotel, like the location, name, and street

A great way to learn these and other common Spain travel phrases is to practice with handy language apps like Babbel and Rosetta Stone. They gamify the learning process and make it easier to pick up new languages by using visual aids instead of direct translations of words from Spanish to English.

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Spain Travel Tip #2: Spain is a Big Country

The next travel tip I have for you is to know that Spain is big! It’s almost as big as Texas, where I’m from, and it takes more than ten hours to drive from north to south or east to west. It’s really, really important to note that it takes quite a while to get from point A to point B in Spain. So make sure you plan for that in your Spain travel itinerary, and don’t try to see the entire country in one trip.

Spain Travel Tip #3: Don’t Be Afraid to Drive

But not to worry! The roads are fantastic in Spain, so it’s okay if it takes you ten hours… the roads are great!

It’s very easy to rent a car and travel anywhere you want to go in the country.

Just note: there are lots of camera speed traps everywhere throughout Spain, and the speed limit is usually about 120 kilometers an hour when you’re on the highway.

I think every single time I’ve driven in this country, I’ve ended up with a ticket in the mail, so… follow speed limit signs!

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Spain Travel Tip #4: Fly If You Can

If you don’t feel like driving: book flights!

Typically in Spain, flights are cheaper than booking a train and just as cheap as taking the bus. It’s a lot faster and more comfortable to book a cheap air flight to get from point A to point B than it is to spend 8 or more hours on a bus.

Spain Travel Tip #5: Beware of the Summers

The summer heat in Spain is not for the faint of heart. This is definitely not the best time to travel to Spain, even if it is a popular vacation time.

Expect it to be over a hundred, sometimes 110F in Madrid, and even worse in Sevilla and Granada to the south. You might want to come to Spain in an off-season, perhaps in April or in May.

OR come in September or October when the crowds wind down, and the weather is cooler, but you can still go to the beach.

Tapas: My Spain Travel Guide

Spain Travel Tip #6: Get Outta Town

To me, this is the most important of my Spain travel tips: don’t just hit the big cities!

There are so many incredible things to see, and some of the best places to travel in Spain are actually outside the big cities. Don’t just go to Madrid, Barcelona and Sevilla. There’s so much more to this country, and I love every single part of it.

Some smaller cities and towns I recommend you visit include:

Spain Travel Tip #7: Shop Til You Drop

When you’re in Madrid, definitely come to Calle de la Montera for some epic shoe shopping! You might want to leave some room in your suitcase to bring home a pair or two.

Shoe Shopping: My Spain Travel Guide

Spain Travel Guide: Tips on Dining in Spain

When you’re doing your Spain travel planning, you don’t want to forget about planning for all the food experiences! There is so much delicious food in Spain, and it’s just as important to explore the food as it is to see the architecture and cultural hot spots. Food IS culture in Spain!

Spain Food Tip #1: Let’s Start with Breakfast.

Spain travel is all about the food, but the most curious thing is that when you’re served breakfast in the morning, expect to get toasted bread with tomato sauce.

What? Tomato sauce??

Yes. With fresh tomatoes, garlic, and onion, they say it’s pan tostado con tomate, which is a very, very normal breakfast to be eating while you’re in Spain. Do as the locals do!

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Spain Food Tip #2: But First (or Second), COFFEE!

If you’re a coffee drinker, you have to learn the lingo for coffee.

First of all, an espresso is called a cafe solo.

A Cortado is similar to a Macchiato, which is an espresso with a little bit of milk on top.

A Cafe Largo is the closest thing to the coffee that we have in America. It’s similar to an Americano in Italy, except it’s thick. You’ll probably need to ask for a little bit of hot water if you’re used to American coffee.

And the last is Cafe con Leche, which is like a Cafe au Lait: you have your coffee and a bunch of milk on top. You’ll need your energy for all the exploring you’re going to do!

Coffee in Spain | Spain Travel Guide

Spain Food Tip #3: Let’s Move On to Lunch!

Lunch, or comida, is the most important meal of the day in Spain. It’s when the Spaniards take off from work, they go visit their family, and the kids leave school to go home.

It’s about a three-hour ordeal, and it’s the main meal of the day, so expect it to be filling. (That might also explain why siesta time is typically sometime after lunch!)

In the U.S., we prefer to have dinner as a main meal, but in Spain, it’s lunchtime between 1:00 and 4:00 pm.

Spain Food Tip #4: A Money-Saving Tip for Lunch

The best value during comida for lunch is the “menu.”

It’s quite normal to order a “menu,” which is three courses, typically 10 to 15 Euros, and you get a starter of a salad or a soup, a secondi, which is a meat or a fish course, and a dessert.

It’s typically served with a glass of wine, beer, or water. The coffee that you order after your lunch is going to be extra. I definitely recommend planning for at least one “menu” lunch in your Spain travel itinerary.

Spain Food Tip #5: Spanish Dinner

Dinner time in Spain starts around 9:30 or 10 o’clock at night.

Yes, half the world goes to bed by 9:30, but the Spaniards are just getting started! Personally, I love the food in Spain. I love the shareable tapas plates and the fact that it’s relatively inexpensive.

Most of all, I love the fact that everyone is getting together for every single meal. No matter where you go, it’s all about sitting with friends, having a drink, and socializing. This is why food is culture in Spain, and so you simply must do as the locals do while you’re here!

Kim, The Abundant Traveler, sitting on a bench and drinking wine at a restaurant in Spain - My Spain Travel Guide

Spain Food Tip #6: Go On a Food Tour

I always recommend taking a food tour when you visit a new destination, on the first night if you can. This is a fantastic way to get a feel for the area and where you want to spend your time while you’re there. Taking a food tour with a local guide means you can get all their personal tips and recommendations you might not find in any Spain travel guide book.

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Spain Food Tip #7: Where’s Your Bill?

In Spain, it is considered rude for the waiter to bring the bill before you’re ready.

That’s right!

After every meal, you specifically have to ask for the bill (and expect to wait around four or five minutes before it arrives).

In Spain, food is never rushed. You’re meant to truly savor the flavors and enjoy the break in your day to replenish yourself.

Spain Food Tip #8: To Tip or Not to Tip?

Tipping is not expected or necessary in Spain. Most of the waiters make a real wage and receive health insurance, so it’s not common to tip there.

If you feel like tipping and you feel like you’ve had great service, about 10 percent is enough!

Spain Travel Guide: Tips on Culture

There are some major cultural differences between the U.S. and Spain, from their daily routines to how and when they eat. You might even want to bring some of these practices and habits home with you. I absolutely love traveling to Spain and living as the Spanish do! So, here’s my Spain travel guide on the cultural aspects of your visit.

Spanish Culture Tip #1: Slow Down

First and foremost, you want to slow down when you’re traveling to Spain.

The locals are living life to enjoy their lives!

It’s not about rushing around and getting all the things done. Everything is at a slower pace there, so make sure to kick back, relax, and enjoy the ride!

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Spanish Culture Tip #2: Siestas

Siestas in Spain are serious business.

After comida, when the whole family gets together during lunchtime, all the shops are closed (so don’t expect to be shopping then!).

Go home, take a nap, or go to the park where everybody’s hanging out and laying low. They’re resting before the shops and offices open back up for the evening. When in Spain! (I wish we did this more in the States).

Spanish Culture Tip #3: Keep Religious Holidays In Mind When Making Travel Plans

It’s important to remember that Spain is primarily Catholic. You might want to check the Catholic religious holiday schedule before you head to the country to avoid any surprises.

You don’t want to end up there during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when everything is closed and all the Spaniards are on holiday. This is their Easter holiday and takes place for one week during April.

Because so many things will be closed, you won’t have anything to do or anywhere to eat! Hotel prices are higher during this time, too.

Kim, The Abundant Traveler, in Spain | My Spain Travel Guide

Spanish Culture Tip #4: Diversity in Spain

The next cultural tip is to note that even though the country is primarily Catholic, there is a huge influence of other cultures in this beautiful country, too.

If you go to the south of Spain, there’s a Moorish influence as well as an Arab influence from Morocco.

If you’re in the north, there’s a huge French influence across the Pyrenees. And if you’re in Barcelona, it’s a completely different culture. They have even considered seceding from the country of Spain.

So, keep that in mind when you’re planning your Spain travel itinerary if you’re looking to experience a particular aspect of Spanish culture.

Spanish Culture Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid of Eye Contact

This next cultural tip applies to my female-identifying readers but is also good to note for everyone.

It’s quite common for men to be walking down the street and give you a piercing look. It’s very normal for people to try and make eye contact. You might hear that and think, is it safe to travel to Spain then, especially as a female solo traveler?

At first, it can seem a bit strange when we’re used to looking down and not paying attention to anybody. But here in Spain, it’s quite normal… and can be quite exciting!

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Spanish Cultural Tip #6: Spanish Time

The last cultural tip I have for you is called “Spanish time.”

If you’re out meeting a Spaniard for tapas or for a drink, and they say they’re going to show up at 7 p.m., then expect them to show up sometime around 7:30. That’s just the way it is in Spain!

Remember, as I started this off saying, just kick back, relax and enjoy the ride. You’re on Spanish time now!

Kim, The Abundant Traveler, in Spain

That wraps up my top Spain travel tips!

Are you ready to plan your dream trip to Spain? Do you have any other questions or tips to share that aren’t mentioned in my Spain travel guide? Let me know in the comments below!

And if you’re planning on traveling to Toledo, Spain, then don’t miss my blog post here for tips on how to take a day trip from Madrid.

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Looking for more Spain travel tips? Check out my favorite travel products to bring and some of my other posts on visiting Spain and all it has to offer!

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