10 Things You MUST Know Before Travelling to Spain

Jul 12, 2018

I know, I know. It reads like a clickbait title… “click on this or your trip to Spain will be a total disaster.” Well, I don’t mean it like that. But having just been to Rome, and spending the first two days wondering, “So, when do the locals eat pizza – lunch, dinner, both?”, I think that the answers to some very basic questions about a country can help you have a much richer experience there. So, here is my humble effort.

Do I tip in Spain? What’s up with bullfighting? Are they still at it? What the hell are tapas? What time to the shops open? When do those damned Spaniards eat dinner. 10.30pm at night, really???!!! These are questions that I think if you can get answered as you’re planning your experience, you’ll have an easier experience, and probably a richer one. Because you’ll be in synch with the locals.

Anyway, let me do a roundabout of the tips I cover in this video:

1. Spain is Regional! This is one that really does turn heads. Whenever we imagine another country, our head fills with images that generally only represent one aspect or part of that country. A whittled down cliche that doesn’t capture the richness of a place. But people simply don’t realise that the north of Spain is green, green, green. It looks like Ireland in them thar hills. And it’s not just because of the bloody rain – northern Spain has deep Celtic roots (they play the bagpipes!), and I need to do more research on exactly why that is (my mum old me she saw a documentary that the Irish are actually descendants of the ancient inhabitants of Northern Spain).

2. What time do the shops and bars open in Spain? You’ll see in the video that hours are much more restrictive in the traditional establishments (the ones with all the charm!) but that in the big cities you can get most things any day of the week, and at any hour (department stores and supermarkets open consistently, even 24 hours now).

3. What time do Spaniards eat? Famously late, in short! Lunch is from 2-4pm, and dinner even later. I give more info in the video, but this is a really important one to pin down before you travel to Spain. You don’t want to be eating alone in all the bars and restaurants!

4. What are tapas? Ah, a favourite topic of mine. I explain in the video, how tapas are more than a plate of food. They’re an activity. And that’s why while you can eat tapas all over the world, you can only DO tapas in Spain!

5. Do you tip in Spain? Yes! And no! It’s not like the USA with a percentage, but it’s a little bit of change, Again, a little more context in the video.

6. Do people take siestas in Spain? Yes! And no! (Sorry to repeat the gag). It’s certainly a cliche, but one grounded in history and fact. Given our daily rhythms and the fact that we work in offices, we can’t sleep under the desk. But give one of my Spanish friends a big lunch, a glass of wine and the rest of the day to stretch out, and they may grab a little cat nap… In the video I lie out on a city bench and help you understand this tradition, as well as giving you my 3 rules for the perfect siesta.

7. Is there bullfighting in Spain? Yes! And no! (Sorry, this is getting old). It’s certainly on the wane (and has been banned in some parts of Spain. I head to a bar in Madrid with bullfighting memorabilia to explain a little more, plus give a little insight about what I thought when I went to a bullfight.

8. Do Spaniards speak English? For this piece in the vid, we’re joined by my amazing wife Yoly (a Spaniard who speaks excellent English!). The upshot is the older generations don’t, the younger ones might and either way, you’ll get by!

9. How should I get around Spain. Please do use the AVE fast train whenever possible instead of air travel. It’s simply easier, and better on the environment. But there are certain routes that are very hard (or slow) via train. Heading to the north and northwest (Galicia, Asturias, Basque Country), for example, is very slow experience (no AVE to many destinations), and the AVE also doesn’t extend to Extremadura yet (that great region which has, I recall, the lowest tourist numbers in the whole country… and the best jamón!).

10. How do we greet in Spain? Kiss, kiss! Two besos, one on each cheek. But it does depend a little if men are meeting men, if women are meeting men and all the rest. And as a mention in the video, if you’re meeting the king, shake his hand.

Enjoy the video guys! Be sure to give it a thumbs up if you like it, and subscribe if you’d like to know when I publish more videos.

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