Spain, Travel

Common misconceptions about Spain

Spain seems to be somewhere most people have either visited already or it is on their list to visit soon.

Last year Spain became the second most popular travel destination in the World. It over took the USA and sits just behind France with over 82 million people visiting Spain during 2017.

But in my experience people seem to have some strange misconceptions about Spain.

Common misconceptions of Spain

Spain is a country synonymous with certain things. When you think of Spain, you most likely think of sunshine, beaches, delicious food and great wine.

People have an idea of what Spain is like from iconic images of flamenco dancers, bull fighting rings and romantic depictions of Latin lothario’s.

But I think we have created stereotypes, clichés of what Spain is like. Leading to some very common misconceptions about Spain growing overseas.

In my day job I welcome hundreds of overseas visitors into Madrid every week. They are here to explore the country and enjoy a nice holiday. I’ve noticed that people are often surprised when I tell them that Madrid has more inhabitants then Barcelona. Or shocked when they learn that it takes over 9 hours to drive from Northern Spain to Southern Spain. Astonished when they hear about Spain’s rich history and diverse culture.

I have witnessed many misconceptions about Spain. Some baffle me and some are very amusing. These are the most common misconceptions of Spain and the clichés I find overseas visitors seem to expect from Spain

Spain misconceptions - Tenerife

9 clichés that overseas visitors seem to expect in Spain

1. Everyone has an afternoon nap

Siestas do exist in Spain, particularly in more rural areas and in smaller towns. The idea of a Spanish siesta is to have a break from the sun. It originates from field workers needing to rest in the afternoon then continuing work into the early evening.

It gets very hot in Spain during the summer and people don’t like to be out and about shopping in the peak day heat, plus there are laws on how many hours per week shops can trade. So, many shops close between 2-5pm and even bars and even restaurants close between 4-7pm. But having a little nap during siesta is not very likely.

What Spaniards actually do during siesta is have a nice big lunch. It’s traditional for families to meet up for a big home cooked meal and enjoy substantial amount of food and drink.

2. It’s always sunny

Spain has a variable climate and due to the size of its land mass and mixed terrain the weather can differ significantly from region to region. Generally speaking during the summer months Spain will be awash with glorious sunshine.

But don’t expect to fly into Barcelona in December or even Ibiza in February and be lying by the beach. It’s worth being aware that the Northern regions of Asturias, Galicia, Cantabria and Basque have high rainfall and as such lush green vegetation. Madrid with its high altitude gets bitterly cold in winter and areas surrounded by mountain like Granada see snow-capped mountain tops for half of the year.

Great weather is not guaranteed, it really depends on what area of Spain you visit and what time of year. So, it’s best to either be prepared for changeable weather or do a little research before you go.

*RELATED: For info on which areas of Spain you should visit during winter check out – 5 best winter sun destinations in Spain

Spain misconceptions - Sierra Nevada

3. All of Spain is the same

The idyllic, picture perfect, image most people have of Spain is quite Andalucian. Andalucia is the southern region of Spain that encompasses some of the country’s most famous cities and beaches.

But not all of Spain is the same. Up in Aragon you’ll find the Pyrenees mountains and many ski resorts. Asturias has a rugged coastline that looks quite like Ireland. Tenerife in the Canary Islands has black sand beaches and volcanic rock. Castille in Spain’s centre has flat, dry, open fields dotted with medieval old towns and castles. And the capital Madrid, is a huge city, the 3rd largest in Europe with hustle and bustle and high-rise apartments.

There is so much to see in Spain and the variety between the regions is what makes the country so special.

4. You can see Spain in a matter of days

People are always amazed at the sheer size of Spain. And I am equally amazed when I hear people say they want to “see Spain” in a week or less. Spain is the perfect country for a short city break from the UK or to spend a relaxing week lying by the pool. The key to a short trip to Spain is to choose one location.

If you want to visit Seville, Barcelona and Menorca you will need longer than a few days. To take into account the drive or train journey from one city to the next plus the flight or ferry time out to the Balearic Islands. Domestic travel in Spain is fantastic and road conditions are perfect for self-driving but don’t be over ambitious. You run the risk of having to miss something out and being disappointed or rushing around and not enjoying your holiday.

Take your time, spend a few weeks or months if you can, exploring this amazing country.

Spain misconceptions - Cantabria

5. Spanish is the only language spoken

Spanish is the official language and known also as Castillian but some regions do have their own language. Therefore, Spanish is not the only language spoken in Spain. In Catalonia and the Balearic Islands they speak Catalan, in Valencia they speak a variation of Catalan called Valencian. In Galicia they speak Galician and in Basque and Navarra they speak Euskera.

Also, don’t be surprised if you learn a little Spanish but can’t understand a local’s accent. Certain areas will have a slightly different pronunciation and may drop letters. As a tourist visiting Spain the different languages won’t affect you too much, most people will still appreciate you trying to communicate with them in Spanish but do be aware that road signs, street names and menus will differ.

6. Paella is good everywhere

Everyone who visits me in Madrid wants to have a great paella while they’re here. Well, authentic paella doesn’t really exist outside of Valencia. This can be hard to believe, as overseas the rice dish of paella is what people imagine all Spaniards eat.

The word paella is actually the name of the big round pan that the rice is cooked in and to be deemed traditional paella there are strict cooking methods that must be met. The history of the dish comes from the farmlands of Valencia and as such is classed as a regional Valencian dish not a Spanish dish. Rice dishes are cooked across Spain and most of them are very tasty but a decent restaurant will call the dishes “arroz con …” meaning rice with whatever meat or seafood it was cooked with. Unfortunately, with tourists wanting paella many establishments will provide a version which is well below the standards of the traditional dish.

I recommend that you avoid any restaurants advertising paella with a large, generic, colour-photo poster, anywhere that serves paella for 1 person or doesn’t advise a cooking time of at least 30 mins.

*RELATED: For more info on Paella Valenciana check out – My train to Valencia and all the city highlights

7. All of Spain is near the beach

A friend of mine once asked me “is Madrid on the Costa del Sol?” Hmmm, it may be due to the poor geography lessons in the UK but I think lots of people assume that everywhere in Spain is near the beach.

The Spanish Costas are amazing and nothing beats a dip in the ocean on a hot summer day or a leisurely walk along the beach-front. There is almost 5,000 kilometres of coastline in Spain but 500,000 square kilometres of land inland. Many of Spain’s major cities are inland but I guess what comes to people’s mind are the holiday resorts by the beach.

Trust me, there is so much more to Spain than holiday resorts. It’s a country full of amazing cities, towns and villages that have rich history, culture and architecture. There are 45 listed UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain and 15 National Parks.

Spain misconceptions - Castille

8. Everyone loves bullfighting

Bullfighting still happens in Spain but not as popular as people think and certainly not all Spanish people support it. The Canary Islands and Catalonia have both voted to ban bull fights with Matadors. In 2017 the Balearic Islands introduced new strict rules on bull fighting which were welcomed buy animal rights activists.

Spain is very much divided when it comes to bullfighting. Pro-bullfighting argue that it’s a cultural tradition and the history and heritage of the art should be respected. Anti-bullfighting argue it’s a barbaric blood sport that is cruel and to torture bulls for entertainment is bringing national shame. A National Spanish paper El Pais reported a significant drop in the number of bull fights held in Spain over the lest 10 years.

9. Everyone dances flamenco

The art of flamenco originates in the Andalucia region of Spain. It’s an intricate, skilled performance consisting of singing, dancing, guitar playing, rythmic clapping and feet stamping. The image many people have of flamenco is a dark haired, pretty lady, swirling around in a red dress (I blame that emoji).

While many female flamenco dancers do wear their hair a certain way and like to dress in the traditional clothes this is not really what flamenco is about. The true heart of flamenco comes from the voice. Flamenco songs are mostly broken down into two types of song, gypsy or andaluz. Groups of people would traditionally get together and break into spontaneous song, never performing to a set time or on demand.

Nowadays there are flamenco shows all over Spain but the most famous artists through flamenco history came from Southern Spain and that’s where flamenco is still strongest.

There are many clichés, stereotypes and misconceptions about Spain and I was guilty of a few of them before I moved here. I guess its down to the image presented, the most common photos of Spain show the beach, sun and relaxation. I just hope that visitors coming to Spain realize that there is much more to see and that people explore parts of Spain they never even knew existed.

I will be sharing more of the hidden gems and lesser known locations in Spain while we live and travel the country. Follow or subscribe to this blog to see and learn more.

I hope you found this post interesting, please don’t forget to like or share it on social media.

Other Seeking the Spanish Sun guides to Spain you might enjoy reading…

Adjusting to life in Spain

The best cities to visit in Spain

The most delicious seafood to eat in Spain

26 thoughts on “Common misconceptions about Spain”

  1. I’m in love with paella and will need to visit someday! Even if some people do not take siestas, I will still probably take a nap 😉

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  2. Awesome post! I agree with many of the points here! especially people thinking that everywhere in Spain is the same or it’s sunny all the time. Heck I even thought it was sunny all the time in Spain until Madrid’s winter “shook me” ahaha. But yeah: great points. I actually wrote a similar piece as well

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    1. Thanks Kareemah! I had a look at your post and likewise 🙂 The Madrid winter still gets me sometimes (that’s where I live at the moment). It’s funny that these image of Spain are portrayed overseas and to be honest you wouldn’t know any different until you visit for yourself. I would just love people to embrace some of the “less Spain-like” areas and attractions as they are equally as lovely just not as famous.

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    1. Oh me too! Don’t worry, its easy to get caught up in the image that’s presented of a holiday destination. At least with Spain, there is actually much more to it then you imagine. It’s a country with lots of culture, history and beautifully varied landscapes. I’m glad you enjoyed the post, thank you for reading and commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve not visited Spain yet, but it is always high on my visit! Especially the Seville area. Wonderful post highlighting there is so much more to Spain than beaches and paella.

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  4. Your number 2 made me smile. I’ve been in Cantabria since last October and I swear we’ve seen all four seasons in one day! I’ve also been quite intrigued by the differences in regional dishes. I did have a paella here, and it was disappointing! I enjoyed the article.

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    1. Thanks Safar, so glad you enjoyed the article. The weather here has been much crazier then I expected! The food is delicious but really does vary a lot across regions and local specialities taste so much better from the home region. I guess they keep secret recipes well hidden 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s interesting, as I’m currently living in Cantabria, but very close to the border with Asturias. I sort of expected the two regions to influence each other more being so close to the border, yet when in Cantabria it’s cocida montañes, and Asturias, fabada for starters!

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