Spain is divided neatly into four regions, each with its own distinct personality and language. The Pamplona region is home to the San Fermins Festival and is the birthplace of the legendary Spanish Bullfights. The Northeast includes the sunny Balearic Islands and Catalunya, home to Picasso and Salvador Dali. The Northeastern region also includes Barcelona, one of Spain’s most celebrated cities. Galicia is the northwest corner of the country; from here Portugal is just a short drive away. Finally, Andalucia is the most historic part of the country and contains cities such as Granada and Sevilla.
- Currency: Euro 1 euro = 100 cents
- Time Zone: GMT + 1
- Language: Spanish (Castillan) although other regional dialects are also spoken
- Telephone Services: Country code +34, International access number 00
- Emergency Numbers: 112 for all service
The weather in Spain is generally good, ranging from temperate in the northern reaches of the country to hot and dry in the south. Some find the middle of the summer excessively hot, and if visiting at this time you may have to start taking a mid-day siesta like the locals!
Things to see and do
Spain has a whole range of things to see and do. For those who enjoy sampling new foods, wherever you are in Spain you should visit the local tapas bars. Tapas bars serve assorted dishes of local specialities which are normally eaten as a snack, perhaps whist relaxing with a glass of chilled sangria, another Spanish speciality.
If you are into your history you couldn’t go wrong with a visit to Granada’s Alhambra. This ancient Moorish palace is perched on the hillside overlooking Granada, and is surrounded by beautiful scenic mountains. It was built in 1238 by Ibn Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid Dynasty. The Alcazaba (citadel) and palace sections are open to visitors, the highlight is the “Patio de los Le” (Court of the Lions) which is a magnificent alabaster basin supported by 12 ornate white marble lions.
Or perhaps you would rather spend a day at “Universal Mediterranea” a huge theme park on Spain’s Costa Dorada. As well as the expected white-knuckle and water-splash rides there are nightly shows and other assorted entertainment.
Another great place to visit is the Basque Country with its stunning scenery, top quality museums and world-class gastronomy. The three major Basque cities are Vitoria, Bilbao and San Sebastian, each has its own unique charm where you can find a true sense of Spanish life.
Finally, there are the beaches. The magnificent Spanish weather attracts millions to the sun kissed beaches along the Costa del Sol, and to the alcohol fuelled party mayhem of the Spanish Islands. Whatever your taste, Spain is a classic beach destination. You will find beaches generally quite busy but well serviced by the inevitable hordes of tacky gift shops, English-style pubs, and other traditional tourist traps.
Spain is quite easy to travel around in, the rail network is for the most part well maintained and easy to use. RENFE operates a large network including connections between Madrid and most major cities. The network is fairly radial in topography so you might find buses better for short distances. Return fares offer you a 40% reduction on the return leg so it is wise to use them where possible.
As well as the travel passes outlined in our transport section, under 26’s can purchase a “Tarjeta Explorerail” from RENFE which allows unlimited travel on most trains. These passes come in various flavours from 3 days right up to a month and represent good value for money. If, however, you are travelling through other European countries you might want to look into getting a more universal travel pass. See our section on European rail travel for more details.
Accommodation is easy to find; in any of the major tourist hot-spots there are the traditional sky rise hotels and sprawling hotel compounds. However, these are almost always fairly expensive. A far better way to stay is in “Pensiones” which are broadly the equivalent of a bed and breakfast and are generally run by a local family that lives on the premises.
Alternatively, Spain has a very well organised youth hostel network. REAJ is the Spanish hostel network and has information on over 200 hostels throughout Spain. Most can only be booked from Spain but in general this isn’t a problem since they are rarely completely full. If you are travelling during a festival or other major holiday it might be worth phoning ahead a few days early though.
The standard of Spanish healthcare is generally quite good, especially in the major tourist hot-spots. Carrying a valid EHIC card and taking out comprehensive travel insurance should guarantee you a good standard of treatment in local medical facilities. The tap water is considered drinkable and no special vaccinations are required when travelling to Spain.
Andalucia.com is an unofficial source of tourist information.
REAJ is the Spanish youth hostel network.
RENFE operate the major rail network in Spain.
tizz.com is another unofficial source of tourist informations.
Malaga Car Hire – Even backpackers might find themselves in situations where car hire might be an option to get across one or another region in Spain. Use this site to view a list of companies offering cost-effective car hire deals.