What I need to know when traveling to Spain

Famous for its stunning beaches, the running of the bulls, an annual food fight which may be the largest in the world, and afternoon siestas, the European country of Spain offers the perfect vacation destination when you need to get away from the fast pace of life. The people of this country take their time, work fewer hours, and enjoy the passage of each day at a much slower pace than in most other parts of the world. While this might require some adjustment for tourists who have to manage around the country’s national pastime of afternoon naps, which results in closed businesses everywhere, if you join in this pace, you can rejoin your regular world after the vacation feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.


Getting into Spain


Spain is part of the Schengen Agreement with other European countries. This makes it possible to travel across borders with other Schengen participants such as Portugal and France without the need for a visa. You will need an up to date passport with at least six more months of validity. This allows you entry into the country for up to 90 days within a 6 month period. For longer stays, you would need to apply for a visa and provide specifics about your travel plans and purposes as well as a criminal background history.


Even for short vacations, Spain rigidly enforces its travel and immigration laws. Be prepared to answer questions about how much money you have available for your stay as well as your hotel accommodations and return travel plans. There are no minimum or maximum currency requirements or required vaccines for entry into Spain.


Be certain that you comply with all Spanish entry and travel requirements because it’s not uncommon for US travelers who have violated Spanish policies to be barred from entry on subsequent visits.

What is there to do in Spain?

Spain hosts a variety of geographical features from the famous beaches along the southern part of the country, to the rugged mountains which run along its border with France. The conflagration of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish populations throughout its history provides Spain with a unique cultural heritage that’s demonstrated in its folklore and architectural variety that runs the gamut from Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and castles to Byzantine style Mosques.


Here are just some of the notable sights and activities:

  • La Tomatina is a tomato festival held in the tiny town of Buñol on the final Wednesday in August each year that draws tens of thousands, who join together in the world’s biggest food fight by hurling tomatoes at each other. Whether you wade into the fray or observe the mayhem from safer vantage points, expect to get messy and dress accordingly.
  • The running of the bulls in Pamplona occurs in July. This is a culmination of a multi-day festival where the Sangria flows liberally, but even if you lack the bravery (or stupidity) and fleetness of foot to be in the thick of things, you can enjoy the excitement vicariously from various safe locations throughout the city.  
  • The cities of Cordoba, Granada, and Seville offer a wealth of architectural wonders that hearken back to the period of Islamic rule during the high Middle Ages. Cordoba features a festival in May, which is the best time to visit this city. Seville features a large and winding Jewish Quarter, one of the world’s largest cathedrals, and a beautiful Muslim palace. Granada boasts one of the most popular attractions in Spain, the Alhambra, one of the last Moorish strongholds in Europe.
  • If you want more of a spiritual experience, the pilgrimage route known as El Camino de Santiago (The Way of Saint James) with its terminal point in the town of Santiago de Compostela is one possibility. From various starting points pilgrims and hikers walk, bicycle, or ride donkeys or horses hundreds of kilometers along various established routes through Southern France and Northern Spain. You can join at any point along the various routes, but official completion of the pilgrimage, which entitles you to a certificate called compostela, requires at least 100 kilometers of travel. A great opportunity to rough it and experience the countryside of Spain in a timeless fashion.
  • Enjoy the nightlife of Madrid and Barcelona. Even though Spain is renowned for its slow pace, the night life in these cities is hopping. It’s not uncommon for the locals to eat dinner at midnight in these cities.  
  • The Costa del Sol is a long stretch of beaches stretching from Malaga to Cadiz that’s perfect for all manner of beach and water activities.

The traveler’s tongue


Spain is host to a number of different languages and dialects in addition to its national language, Spanish. The pronunciation of Spanish words spoken here is somewhat different than the variety of accents found in North and South American Spanish speakers. Spanish as spoken in Spain has a more lisp-y quality. For example, North American Spanish speakers pronounce the Spanish word for thank you as grawss-eee-us, but in Spain it’s pronounced more like grawth-eee-uh.


In addition to variations on pronunciation, there are also numerous dialects. In fact, Spanish as spoken in Spain is often referred to by others as Castilian Spanish. Other languages include Galician, Catalan, Basque, and Aragonese, which are spoken in various regions of Spain.


While many Spanish speakers have been taught English in school, with the exception of hotels and restaurants in high tourist areas, finding fluent English speakers is dicey. Italian and Portuguese share many similarities with Spanish, and French is another language that many Spaniards may be familiar with, so there are opportunities for multilingual conversations if you’re feeling adventurous. At the very least, it is a good idea to learn a small degree of survival Spanish unless you have no intention of venturing outside of the touristy areas.


Best times to visit, how much it costs, and other tips


The summer time is the peak tourist season in Spain, particularly in the south. Consequently, if you visit at this time, expect to deal with large crowds. Each region or town will have its own set of peak and off times year round for their attractions as well, although you can find numerous things to do in Spain whatever time of year you come.


Spain has long been one of the cheaper destinations in Europe, although of late prices have increased. Like other Schengen Agreement countries, it uses the euro for its currency, where one euro is approximately $1.35 in US dollars. If you plan on backpacking and living frugally, and Spain is a country where this is more doable than others, you can scrape by on about €50 a day, including accommodation in a hostel or camping, buying food from markets and cooking it yourself while eating lightly, and using public transportation.


If you need more comfort and want to enjoy more sights and restaurant dining, expect to spend around €150-200 a day. Keep in mind that tipping in Spain as we do in the US is usually unnecessary, although it is common to leave your change as a tip. A 5-10% tip is considered generous. Restaurants typically pay their servers a wage, so they do not rely upon tips as they do in the US.


When changing money, look for banks and building societies, which tend to offer the lowest fees. You can also change money at special booths marked Cambio, and while service at these is pretty quick, you can be charged exorbitant amounts for their money changing service.


Spain charges a tax on goods and services call IVA. Travelers can get the IVA tax refunded to them for purchases of goods above €90 in value. To do so, be sure and get a form from the place where you got your purchase. You can present this form to a customs officer when you leave Spain and get a stamp for a refund at a specified bank.


If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing in a particular city, look into buying a city pass which provides you with free transportation as well as discounted prices for entry into museums and other notable places.


Whenever you need to slow down the pace of your life, remember that a vacation to Spain can be the perfect remedy. 

About the Author

C.W. Garay is an alumnus from the University of North Texas, where he received both his BA in psychology and an MA in English, specializing in creative writing, fiction. When not traveling he resides in Denton, TX, rated as the number one small town in which to live in the US according to Business Insider’s 2013 survey. In addition to writing articles on traveling, he also writes fiction under a pseudonym. He can be reached via email at