If you’re heading to Spain for your first ever trip this article is for you. It will cover the things you need to think about and plan in advance. Plus, a whole load of tips and things you should be aware of.
It’s exciting traveling to Spain for the first time and you will certainly have a wonderful time. I’m sure you have lots planned and quite vivid ideas of what you want to see and do. But before you get too swept away in the romantic thoughts of what Spain will be like make sure you get a little prepared for your trip. This article will include my top tips for first time travel in Spain, including advice on…
- Planning ahead
- Things to be aware of
- Organising your time
- Staying safe
Planning ahead when traveling to Spain
Learn some basic Spanish
If you know a few Spanish words and phrases you will feel so much more confident traveling in Spain. Many people can speak English but don’t expect everyone to. Bring a phrasebook or use google translate to help you ask for things or if you get lost. You will find people much more receptive when you try to speak their language.
To help you get started read our article – Useful Spanish phrases for traveling in Spain
Don’t pack too much
Think about what you will be doing and plan your outfits so that you don’t need to pack your entire wardrobe. Leave unnecessary valuables at home and make sure the weight and size of your bag in manageable. Trains and buses in Spain do not cater for bags, taxis have limited boot space and elevators are surprisingly small.
For helpful advice on how to pack read – Tips for packing light
Research where you are visiting
Find a guide book or blog post that will give you a little insight into the place you are visiting. While it’s nice to find some hidden gems and surprises while traveling, going to Spain without some research is likely to lead to you having unrealistic expectations. Also bear in mind that Spain is divided into may different regions and each region has it’s own unique features, customs and traditions.
Take a look at our travel guides section – Seeking the Spanish Sun Spain guides
Book accommodation and travel arrangements
Book as many hotels, trains, planes etc as possible in advance. You will find the best prices online and popular places or routes get booked up fast.
We have discount codes for Airbnb and booking.com here – Discount codes for your trip to Spain
Bring some euro with you
I recommend that you get some Euro currency before you travel. That way you are ready to pay for taxi’s buses, food or water as soon as you arrive. You can withdraw money easily from atm’s but money exchange desks are not always easy to find and the airports will offer bad rates. It is not possible to exchange currency in banks, hotels or the post office in Spain.
Things to be aware of when traveling to Spain
Getting service in bars and restaurants
The service in Spain from waiters and bartenders can be slow and rather unfriendly. What tourists often feel is disinterested or rude is really just how service is given here. Be ready to assert yourself to place an order and it helps if you know what you want to order quite quickly. Once you have food and drinks take your time to enjoy them and don’t expect to go anywhere in a hurry. Assert yourself again to get the bill and don’t be afraid to flag the waiter down if you need something.
If you want to know more about how to order in Spanish bars read – What to drink in Madrid and how to order like a local
Lunch and dinner are eaten much, much later in Spain with small meals or snacks eaten in between. Try to adjust to the change of pace and match the locals who will eat lunch at 2pm and dinner at 9pm. If you can manage this you will find a better selection of restaurants open and receive better quality food.
To get an idea of what dishes will be on the menu read – What to eat in Madrid
There aren’t many public toilets in Spain and expect to pay 30-50 euro cents for facilities in most train or bus stations. In bars and cafes the toilets will be very small and usually hidden at the back of the building. Don’t be surprised if you have squeeze in behind beer barrels, piles of extra chairs or go into a dark basement. You might need to ask for a key from the waiter/bartender first as you can only use the toilets if you are a customer.
Be aware that the signs for Mens and Womens will differ you may see an M for “mujeres” which is actually the ladies or a picture of a cowboy hat which is indicating the mens. Take a moment to check the signs or icons before you enter to avoid any surprises. Other things that might seem a little strange are that the lights are often on a sensor so you must walk into the toilet before the light comes on. Plus, not all parts of Spain allow toilet paper to be flushed. This is because the water pipe systems cannot cope with the paper so you must put it in the bin.
Read more about some of the annoying things in Spain here – Things I love about Spain vs Things I find annoying
Using your phone
If you do not want to use roaming on your phone you can buy a cheap international sim card from any convenience store. Then you can call home and you’ll have an easy way to contact hotels, airlines, travel companies etc should you need to. If you are coming from an EU country your phone will allow free roaming in Spain. Free wifi is offered in most hotels, bars and restaurants and you will need a 2 prong European adapter to charge your phone.
Organising your time when traveling in Spain
Most shops, offices and banks will close for siesta. This is a lunch break in the middle of the day typically from 2pm-4pm but times will vary. Some cafes, bars and restaurants may also take a break in services between lunch and dinner which is a little later from 5pm-8pm. In the big cities and busy tourist areas you will find most places stay open all day now. But if you need to visit the bank or post office its best to go there in the morning.
There are many, many fiestas and events held across Spain throughout the year. They are exciting and great fun to join but can disrupt travel plans if you are caught unaware. Roads, museums and tourist attractions may be closed and bars and restaurants full to the brim. Look up in advance if a fiesta, holiday or event is taking place when you visit so that you can plan accordingly.
Spain is a large land mass and it takes time to travel from one side of the country to another. If you are taking public transport be aware that not all major routes are direct. Plan your route ahead and take into account travel time and distances.
If you want to learn more about the geography of Spain read – A quick guide to the different regions of Spain
Staying safe when traveling in Spain
Like all major destinations, Spain does have pickpockets. They tend to target busy areas like on the metro, train or bus. Or, where tourist crowds gather and get distracted like markets, plazas and tourist attractions. Be extra vigilant to avoid having your valuables stolen, wear a small cross body bag or hidden money belt, never let your bags out of your sight in public spaces and be aware of anyone standing too close to you.
For more advice on this subject read – How to keep your valuables safe when traveling
Crossing the street
Be extra careful when crossing streets in Spain. The traffic on a two-way street will be coming from the left but always look both ways. There are many one-way streets in Spain, scooters mount the curb and cyclist can come from nowhere. Always use a zebra crossing on busy traffic streets and wait for the green man/woman. If it’s flashing you must hurry across and if there is an amber man it’s wise to wait as a car can still pass if the crossing is clear.
For the most part water is safe to drink in Spain, however there are some areas that do not have modern facilities so the water may taste a little different. Remote villages and coastal areas tend to not have as good quality pipes and sterilization as big cities. However, public drinking fountains are common and usually provide, fresh cold water. Tap water in bars and restaurants is not so common and waiters will expect you to buy bottled mineral water.
Even on a slightly cloudy day it is easy to get a little sun burnt in Spain. Pack some sun screen for your trip and make sure its a high SPF, I always use factor 30. Put cream on first thing before you go out in the sunshine and re-apply throughout the day. If you have particularly pale or sensitive skin try to avoid the peak sun between 2-5pm. If you are sunbathing by the pool or beach re-apply after every swim because the sun screen will wash off.
Traveling to Spain? Don’t forget…
- The only currency accepted is Euro €
- Plug sockets are circular 2 prong, you will need an adapter
- Not everyone can speak English
- It’s helpful to learn some Spanish words and phrases
- Cars drive in the right
- Be careful when crossing roads
- Spain is a large country, plan your travel time
- Most drinking water is safe but it’s best to check first
- Don’t plan too many things, allow time to explore and enjoy
- Some shops close for siesta
- Lunch and dinner are eaten much later in Spain
- Don’t carry unnecessary valuables
- You might not be able to flush toilet paper
Do you guys have any good tips to share for first time travel to Spain? Tell us in the comments box below ↓↓
I hope this information has been helpful. If you are planning to travel to Spain and have any other concerns or questions please get in touch, we’d be happy to help if we can!
Also check out our “Need to know guides” covering some of Spain’s major cities…
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