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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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