HomeArticlesSpain Travel Guide | Tips & Local Hacks for Visiting Spain
Spain Travel Guide | Tips & Local Hacks for Visiting Spain
August 25, 2019
When I came to Spain and I saw people partying, I said to myself, “WTF?” Whether you come to Spain for the Fiesta in Ibiza, a siesta on the Costa Brava, or a foodie tour of San Sebastian, this video will help you avoid tourist traps, understand Spanish cultural do’s and don’ts, and learn everything you need to know to make your trip to Spain truly unforgettable. I’m Alex. I’m Marko. And you are watching Vagabrothers, your go-to guide for travel tips, vlogs and inspiration here on YouTube. We lived in Spain for three years, and in this video, we’re going to share all the tips, hacks, and insider information that we learned while living there. So if you haven’t already, hit the subscribe button and turn on notifications so you don’t miss any videos, share this video with your travel buddies, and get ready to have some fun because “La gente esta muy loca.” Hello again Bond, whiskey? Thank you, M. Holiday in Spain? How original. Where are we off to this time, Magaluf? No, no far too common. Ibiza? A bit too posh for my liking. Barcccccelona? No, it’s more subtle than that. Shall we get on with the briefing then, M? Right. Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe, occupying approximately 80 percent of the Iberian Peninsula. Modern Spain is a product of thousands of years of migration and conquests, most notably the Phoenicians, the Romans, and more recently the Moors who in the eighth century invaded from Morocco to turn Spain into one of the leading centers of learning in all of the world. A mosaic of conscience if you will, M. Precisely. Modern Spain is best described as a nation of nations, a legacy of the Reconquista when the Catholic kings of Castile united all of the different kingdoms to push out the Moors in 1492. 1492 the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Spot-on. In just a number of decades, Spain went from being a conquered occupied country into one of the most powerful kingdoms in all of history. Okay. Let’s talk where to go. The three most popular cities are Madrid, the capital , which brings together the best of Spain; beachside Barcelona, which fuses the medieval quarter with the modernist architecture of Catalan born Antoni Gaudí; sultry Sevilla in the south, the birthplace of flamenco. Spain is full of distinct regions like Catalonia with the Costa Brava and the Pyrenees; the Basque Country, a foodie paradise with great waves and a unique culture and Andalusia where Moorish influence blends with iconic Spanish traditions. And of course, there’re beaches… not just the Costa del Sol or the Costa Brava, but the Balearic Islands- Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza, and Formentera and the tropical Canary Islands, which are actually off the west coast of Africa and unlike any part of Spain. If you want more information on where to go and what to do in Spain, make sure that you subscribe to our channel and turn on notifications so you don’t miss the video that we’re making about that subject very soon. Also if you haven’t seen our eight part series on the Basque Country or our top ten things to do in Barcelona, check out those videos, as well. Moving on to climate…. Although some of Spain’s most popular destinations are on the Mediterranean, most of the country is on what’s called the “meseta,” an elevated plateau that’s cold in the winter, hot in the summer, and makes Madrid Europe’s highest capital. The north of Spain is green because it rains all the time, especially in the Basque Country where locals have a specific name for their type of rain called, “xirimiri.” Therefore, when packing it’s best to bring layers, especially if you’re journeying away from the Mediterranean. If you’re visiting in the winter, make sure you have a warm waterproof jacket, although it doesn’t really snow unless you’re in the mountains. Also, pack a dressy outfit for going out or just head to a Zara if you find yourself underdressed. In summer Spain gets slammed with foreign tourists known as “guiris,” while domestic tourism surges around Christmas and Easter, known as Semana Santa, which is most big in Sevilla. Over tourism is a serious problem in parts of Spain, specifically Barcelona so we recommend traveling during the shoulder seasons, September to November or March to May, when the weather is still warm, but prices for flights and hotels are much lower than in summer. Language is a tricky issue in Spain. You might assume that everyone speaks Spanish, but many regions have their own languages like the Latin based languages of Catalan and Galician or Euskera, the Basque language, the only non Indo-European language in Europe and one of the oldest living languages in the world. Spanish as we know it actually comes from the region of Castilla, So people in Spain call it Castellano. Castellano became the lingua franca of Spain during the Reconquista, which was led by the king and queen of Castilla, Ferdinand and Isabella. Calling Castellano “Spanish” is kind of like calling English “British,” if that makes sense because England’s only one part of Britain. These regional languages are central to many people’s identities, especially in the Basque Country and Catalonia, where many people are pushing for independence from Spain. If you try to learn some local words like “kaixo,”- “hello” in Basque or “Bon Dia” in Catalon, It will be much appreciated by the locals. Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s debunk some popular myths starting with the one thing that we all seem to associate with Spain– bullfighting. The truth is that not all Spaniards love bullfighting. In fact many hate it, and it’s banned in regions like Catalonia. However, it remains popular in more traditional parts of Spain, and it’s probably not going anywhere anytime soon. Nor do all Spaniards dance flamenco. Like many things associated with Spain, it actually comes from Andalusia, specifically from the Roma people who originally migrated from India almost 1500 years ago and who despite persecution have added much to Spanish culture, especially in the south. Spaniards do know how to enjoy life so many foreigners assume that life has been easy. But the truth is Spain has faced some serious challenges, especially in the last century, most notably the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s in which the democratically elected republic was overthrown by the fascist dictator Francisco Franco who ruled Spain with an iron fist until his death in 1975. Since then Spain has returned to democracy, had a liberal Renaissance known as La Movida Madalena, and joined the European Union. But the wounds of the Spanish Civil War that turned brother against brother are still very ,very, real. Be respectful. More recently challenges include the 2008 financial crisis known as “la crisis,” which left one out of two young Spaniards without a job, which is why over 80% of young Spaniards under 30 still live with their parents. The economy has started to recover, but unemployment and low wages continue to make life difficult for young Spanish people. Not all Spaniards take “siestas.” And the tradition actually originated in Southern Portugal where it was a way for day laborers to get a rest from the midday sun. Typically you have lunch at home, have a short nap, maybe take a “paseo,” a walk around town and then return to work from 5 to 8 p.m. That being said most small businesses do shutdown between 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. everyday and on Sundays. So plan your shopping accordingly. Spain has to be one of the most fervently Catholic countries in the world. It’s the birthplace of the Inquisition, the Jesuits, and Opus Dei and even though over Three-quarters of modern Spaniards identify as Catholics, very few of them actually practice the religion. Furthermore, Spain was deeply influenced by Sephardic Jews who arrived during Roman times and spoke a hybrid of Spanish and Hebrew known as Ladino, as well as the Islamic Moors who turned Cordoba, Sevilla ,and Granada into some of the most advanced centers of science and learning in all of the world at that time. During the Inquisition these two religions were forced to either convert to Christianity , leave Spain, or die. But their legacy has survived in many ways: Jewish influence on Spanish cooking or the Arabic impact on the Spanish language “azucar, aceite, al”=alcohol any word that starts with an al probably comes from Arabic. Some people assume that Spanish culture is similar to Latin America, and while Spain did conquer the vast majority of the Americas, the cultures in places like Mexico, Peru, or Argentina are actually blends of Spanish culture with indigenous and immigrant traditions. Of course, there are many things that flowed back to Spain from the Americas most notably looted gold and silver, which still to this day still adorn many of the cathedrals across the country, most notably in Toledo. Holy Toledo! Not to mention a love of hot chocolate and the potato, which form a cornerstone of the Spanish diet. Speaking of diet, let’s talk about one of the best parts of Spain- food and drink. With over 171 Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain and good food at any price point, Spain is easily one of the best foodie destinations in the entire world. Before we talk about where and what to eat, let’s talk about how to eat, specifically why Spaniards eat later than other European countries. Breakfast or “desayuno” is a minimal affair in Spain. It’s usually just a sweet pastry and a cafe con leche, which is kind of like a latte or a cortado, which is a shot of espresso with just a little bit of milk. Lunch known as “la comida” is the main meal of the day. It’s served during the siesta from about 1:00 in the afternoon until 4:00pm. Save money with a “menu del dia,” a three-course meal with wine, coffee, and dessert included for around 10 to 15 euros. It’s the best deal in the country, and if you’re on a budget, timing the menu del dia right could carry you through the full day. Spain is famous for its culture of tapas, which means “covers” because supposedly they were designed to cover the glass of wine for travellers in roadside inns so they didn’t get too drunk before they had to ride their horse to the next village. A lot of different explanations… No one really knows where they came from, but they’re excellent and usually cheap if not free, at least in Granada where you get a free top-up with every drink order, which is pretty epic. You can eat them for lunch, but it’s more common to have them with a glass of wine at dinner. In the Basque Country they serve “pintxos,” similar to tapas but a bit more elaborate and a little bit more expensive. However, the best pintxos bars in San Sebastian will allow you to taste high-level Basque cuisine without having to spend the money for a Michelin-Star meal. The highest concentration of Michelin- Star restaurants in the world are found in Catalonia and the Basque Country. With more Michelin stars per capita than anywhere else on earth. These restaurants are not cheap. They range between a hundred to three hundred euros for a 12-course tasting menu, wine not included. If you can afford it, it’s a bucket-list dining experience that you will never forget. Alright now let’s talk about what to eat, the essential dishes to try on your trip to Spain. Perhaps the most classic Spanish dish is the “tortilla de patata.” A tortilla in Spain is different than tortilla in Mexico. It’s an egg and potato omelette that’s sometimes serve with onion or chorizo, but best served if it’s gooey in the middle. You start to see them around ten o’clock in the morning where you can have it with a coffee for a late breakfast or late at night. They’re generally the tastiest and cheapest way to keep yourself full throughout your trip. Paella is Spain’s most internationally know dish, but locals don’t eat it often outside of Valencia. So if you see it advertised at a restaurant in Madrid or Barcelona, then chances are it’s probably a tourist trap. Pescatarians, beware! Traditional paella usually include quail and ham. If you want a more traditional seafood plate, try cod fish known locally as “bacalao,” best served Pil Pil style in Bilbao in the Basque Country. Also anchovies and bonito tuna are very common, especially in tapas. “Jamon” is Spanish for ham, cured ham to be specific. It comes in all different types of qualities- pata negra is the highest quality and jamon serrano is generally a good quality that’s still affordable. Locals buy jamon serrano buy the “pata,” literally a cured leg of ham. It’s probably more economical and easy to carry if you just get a couple slices at the deli, put some jamon on a baguette with some manchego cheese, and you’re golden. Even better before you put down the ham and the cheese, rub the bread with garlic and tomato and you have “pan tomaca,” a typical Catalan breakfast that’s good any time of day anywhere in Spain. Lastly, an essential dish is “patatas bravas,” brave patatoes. crispy potatoes with spicy mayonnaise. Now, it’s nothing special, but it is a great way to line your stomach before getting more expensive and less filling tapas. Trust me. There’s nothing worse than going out for pintxos or tapas, spending 50 euros and coming home hungry. So do as the pros do- get the patatas bravas primero, and then you should be good to go. With all this good food, you’ll need something to wash it down. You’re probably thinking about sangria, but this is really something that’s mostly served to tourists. A smarter choice is to try Spain’s many wines which are high quality and low price, on average about one euro and 25 cents per litre, to be exact. Here’s an overview of Spain’s main wine regions and varietals: The most common grapes are Tempranillo, a medium bodied red that’s grown largely in the La Rioja region in Northern Spain, and its name comes from being picked somewhat early in the season. Also popular is Garnacha or Grenache, which is typically a mixing grape but can be great on its own. Cava is a sparkling white wine similar to champagne, and it’s mostly grown in Catalonia. Sherry is very popular worldwide, but in Spain is called “jerez” after its town of origin in Andalusia. Other popular whites are Albariño, which is minerally because it’s grown on the fjords of the coastal region of Galicia and the naturally effervescent txakoli, which comes from the Basque Country, and both txakoli and albariño go great with seafood. Most Spanish beers are crisp lagers like San Miguel, but craft beer is making inroads in major cities. Hard ciders are popular in the Basque Country and Asturias, and students all over Spain love to pre-party with a mixture of coca cola and boxed red wine known as “kalimotxo.” Lastly, let’s talk about one of the most important things to know before you go- social etiquette do’s and dont’s. Do greet people, both friends and total strangers, with two kisses on the cheek. There’s nothing romantic about this. It’s done between everybody, but usually not between guys. You’re not actually kissing people on the cheek, you’re kissing like right next to the cheek. You go left side first, then right side. You make the noise. You don’t actually do a slobbery kiss on cheek because that would be weird. Don’t expect things to get done at the snap of a finger. This is especially important for people from the United States of America who expect the customer to come first. In Spain the customer does not come first, and you will not get anywhere by demanding things to happen right away. Remember if a store or restaurant is closed, it’s closed. Do linger after the meal is finished. In Spanish this is called the “sobremesa,” and it’s one of the best parts about dining with friends. So have a coffee or a liquor like anis or patxarran, and enjoy the conversation. Don’t tip too much. One of the reasons you can enjoy the sobremesa is because waiters aren’t trying to turn your table over to get more tips. So sit down and enjoy slow food. Ladies, do feel free to go topless at the beach. It’s legal across Spain and totally normal. Guys, try not to make a big deal about girls being topless at the beach. It might not be normal in your country, but it’s really impolite to stare. So if you really can’t hold it all together, I guess just put on a pair of sunglasses and try not to be a weirdo. For both guys and girls, do expect to be out late. Spaniards usually dine at around 10:00 or sometimes even 11:00 p.m. and stay out all night dancing ” Viva la fiesta. Viva la noche.” Spaniards drink for a long time, but they do it little by little so nobody ever gets too wasted. If you get drunk quickly or early, you’re going to make a fool out of yourself. Do expect to see a lot of PDA, public displays of affection. This is because young people typically live with their parents, and they don’t really have a place to go hook up with their boyfriend or girlfriend. So after the clubs close, you typically see a lot of people, especially in parks, making out… sometimes more than making out, sometimes a lot more than making out. Last but not least, if you want to dive into Spanish culture, here are some further resources: The classic Spanish book is Don Quixote de la Mancha, con su amigito, Sancho, which was the first novel ever. If that’s too dense for you, you could read Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, a fictional story set in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. Many of the most powerful stories from Spain come from the period of the Spanish Civil War. A lot of them were written by foreigners like Homage to Catalonia, by George Orwell, or Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway who set many of his novels in Spain, including the Sun Also Rises. For those of you who want a really deep dive into Spanish culture, I recommend the New Spaniards, by John Cooper. It’s thin, concise, and will tell you everything about Spain. Spain has a great film industry, most notably the films of director Almodovar including Volver and Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Also great is Pan’s Labyrinth and Ocho Apellidos dos Vascos, known as the Spanish Affair in English, which is available on Netflix and documents the hilarious story of a Basque woman falling in love with an Andalusian man. Lastly, check out our Spotify playlist about Spain. We have a link in the info box. We got tunes from Ojos a Brujo, Facto Delafe, y Las Flores Azules and Manu Chao, who is actually French but his parents came from Spain. Okay, damas y caballeros, ladies and gentlemen, those are the things that you need to know before you go to Spain. If you have any tips of your own make sure you add them down there in the comment section. If you enjoyed this video, please give it a big thumbs up, hit that subscribe button and enable notifications so you never miss any of our videos. This is the first video that we’ve done in this format, so let us know what you think. Is there any other information that you want to hear from us? Are there other destinations that you really want us to cover? Let us know in the comments section, and we’ll be sure to incorporate it into future videos. Alright in the meantime remember, stay curious, keep exploring ,and we will see you on the road. Paz y amor.