Spain is located on the Iberian Peninsula and it is one of the largest countries inside of the EU, attracting over 75 million visitors every year. The capital of Spain is Madrid, but the country is made up of 17 regions, each with their own cultures, traditions, geography, dialects and capital cities. Whilst the official language of Spain is Castilian Spanish, there are also regional languages, such as Catalan in Catalonia, Basque in the Basque country and Galician in Galicia. Spain is well known for its beautiful beaches, laid back attitude, mid afternoon siestas, dance culture and fiestas, but each region and capital city has so much more to offer in terms of architecture, history, art, lifestyle and cuisine. Barcelona is home to the famous La Sagrada Familia temple and Parc Guell, examples of Antoni Gaudi’s most exquisite creations, and La Ramblas, a famous and visually stunning walking street; Madrid offers The Prado and Paseo art museums and San Lorenzo de El Escorial; Bilbao is the gateway to the famous Guggenhein museum; Valencia is home to the incredible Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias and L’Oceanografic; and then there is the white towns of Andalucia, the beaches of the Costa de Sol and the Alhambra and Generalife gardens of Granada. Spain has something for everyone.
Climate in Spain
Due to its size, there are multiple climate zones in Spain, which can be divided into:
- The North Atlantic coast: Humid with rain and strong winds all year round. Expect temperatures between 8-20°C (46-68°F).
- Mediterranean Coast: Places close to the Mediterranean coast, such as Barcelona and Valencia, offer a warm and sunny climate all year round with less rain that the North Atlantic coast. Expect temperatures of up to 30°C (86°F) in the summer months.
- Interior Spain: Hot summers and cool winters. Relatively dry all year round. Expect daytime temperatures in the summer months to reach 30°C (86°F), with cooler temperatures in the evenings (8°C / 46°F).
- Southern and eastern coastal regions: Mild and sunny with an average temperature of 22°C (72°F).
- Pyrenees and Sierra mountain ranges: Much cooler than the rest of Spain, but dependent on altitude. Snow is found in the Sierra Nevada ranges, where skiing is popular.
- Andalusia: Cool winter months and hot summer months. Temperatures can reach 40°C (104°F) in peak summer months.
Best time to go? If you are looking for a beach holiday, the Mediterranean coast will offer the best temperatures, especially during July and August, but this is high tourist season, so it will be busy and prices will most likely be inflated. For those looking to explore the cities, the Spring/Autumn months (May, June, September) offer a good time to visit the Southern and central parts of Spain, with minimal rain and an average daytime temperature of 22°C (72°F).
Currency in Spain
Since 1999, Spain have adopted the Euro (€). At the time of writing the conversion rates were as follows: €1 = £0.90 / $1.10.
As Spain is part of the Euro, it has a fantastic banking system and plenty of ATMs in the cities and towns. ATMs are called Cajeros Automaticos and they accept Visa and Mastercard. The main banks you will see are:
- La Caixa
- Banco Sabadell
Most of the ATMs listed above will charge, but there are some that offer free withdrawals to customers who bank with partner institutions. Do your homework beforehand and try and avoid these unnecessary fees. Also, always choose to pay in the local currency rather than your home currency and this includes when withdrawing money as well as paying for things over the counter. This will avoid extreme charges and poor exchange rates. My advice is to try and pay using your debit card as much as possible, rather than withdrawing money, to avoid charges, and make sure you always have identification on you (passport). If you need to change your money, you can do this at the airport, any major hotels, at the bank or an exchange office (cambios).
I used the Monzo card when I was travelling which allowed me to withdraw £250 free of charge per month and no charge incurred when I paid for purchases using my card, although this may change so please check their policy information. Another option is the Starling Card. I would suggest taking two bank cards with you, or one bank and one credit card and store them separately, so if you lose one, you will always have a back up.
Go Travel and Talk Top Tip: Always let you bank know that you are travelling abroad. This will prevent them from freezing your card which they will do if they think it has been stolen.
Getting Around Spain
Spain has multiple airports and depending on where you are going, most tend to be in easy distance to the town or city you are most likely looking to explore. Some of the major airports are: Barcelona (BCN) Valencia (VCL), Madrid (MAD), Lanzarote (ACE) and Gran Canaria Airport (LPA). There are plenty of internal domestic flight options and if you book in advance, you can find super cheap deals. I like to use Skyscanner.
Spain is incredibly well connected and has a fantastic road, metro and rail system in place, making it very easy to navigate this beautiful country. You can jump on a bus and travel around the cities, between towns and even on to other European countries effortlessly.
Within cities/towns: Buses within the cities and towns are super affordable and a great way to explore. You can either buy your ticket at the station beforehand, or pay the driver when you get on the bus. You will usually board the bus from the front and exit through the side or back door. Occasionally there will be a conductor onboard, if this is the case, you will buy your ticket from them. They have a bell system that you press if you would like to get off. I suggest downloading maps.me from the app store, which allows you to follow your journey and location offline - make sure you download the area you are exploring when in Wifi and before you set off, unless you can use your data. Or try Citymapper, another great app. Buses run regularly throughout the day in major towns and cities between 6am-11pm, but traffic can be a problem, so most people tend to use the metro instead.
Long distance buses: The main service is with Alsa-Enatcar, which offer comfortable buses with free Wifi and bus routes across most of Spain. Other operators include: Lycar, Comes, Linebus. Bus tickets are relatively budget friendly, but operate on a class system, so it is dependent on how you would like to travel. For example, a return fare for Barcelona to Madrid is around €35 ($40).
- Premium: This class offers food menus, refreshments, good security and help with your luggage, TVs and entertainment systems, free Wifi, USB charging facilities and door to door pick up service.
- Economy: Free Wifi, bottles of water and good security.
If you are looking to travel out of Spain or into Spain from other countries, look at Eurolines. Whilst ticket prices are reasonable and the buses are comfortable, check prices for flights first. You might be able to get a better deal, at a fraction of the travel time! I like to use Skyscanner.
The extensive bus system offers a relatively cheap way to cover great distances, however, the private coaches can be confusing as there is often not one centralised bus station, the locations vary depending on the company and they do not always adhere to the timetables. Make sure you check where your bus is departing from when you buy your ticket.
There are extensive underground metro systems in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and Bilbao, where public transport tickets will allow you to travel on all modes of transport (bus, metro, rail). Metros offer a quick and easy way to explore the city and connect you with all the main tourist sites. The networks are extensive and can take you across great distances. Costs vary from city to city, but expect to pay around €2 ($2.50) for a single ticket. For more information, please see our individual travel guides on Spain.
Spain has a fantastic rail network. High speed trains (Alta Velocidad Espanola), connect all the major cities in Spain and to other European cities, with speeds of up to 186 mph. You can book in online with the Spanish rail website, Renfe, and if you book in advance, you can get some great deals. Prices vary depending on your journey and what class you book. For more information, check out the Man in Seat 61 blog, he offers incredibly detailed information on destinations, how to book, what to expect and so much more.
Hiring a car:
If you wanted to explore on your own terms, hiring a car is an option, but it is more expensive than getting a bus/metro/train. If you plan in advance you can get some really good deals, but remember you will need to pay a deposit and extra for the insurance. I would strongly advise booking this in advance and picking the car up at the Airport or in the city you fly into.
Travel Insurance for Spain
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries and it is the only travel insurance we will ever use! It is designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
WorldNomads.com is backed by a suite of strong and specialist travel insurers who provide you with great cover, 24 hour emergency assistance and the highest levels of support. The WorldNomads.com prices are some of the most competitive online and if you need to change plans, you can buy more cover or claim online while you are still away. You can even buy a World Nomads policy if you're already travelling. They also offer travel safety advice and tips online through the World Nomads Travel Safety Hub and WorldNomads.com members can learn the local lingo through a series of iPod & iPhone Language Guides and can stay in touch with family and friends with an online travel journal. You can find out more about why travel insurance is important for your trip. If you have any questions about your travel insurance or travel safety in general, please contact WorldNomads.com directly.
Medical Advice for Spain
Whilst I did not have any vaccinations for Spain, the World Health Organisation recommends that you should have the following. These can be booked through your doctor. If you would like more information, check out Fit for Travel.
- Hepatitis A and B (for protection against contaminated food/water).
What to pack for Spain
- Long sleeved tops and long comfortable walking trousers if you are hiking
- Dresses / shorts / light clothes for the beach
- Warm clothes for the evenings
- Quick dry towel
- Waterproof clothing
- Walking shoes / trainers / sandals
- Bug spray and sunscreen
- Battery pack / electronics / adapters
- First aid kit
- Money belt
- Book / journal for bus journeys
- Packing cubes. Go for different colours to separate your clean and dirty clothes!
- Zip lock bags for traveling with leftover food items / prevent liquid items from spill
- Life Straw. This is an amazing accessory to have when you are trekking and a cheap alternative to buying water along the way, it also saves on buying plastic bottles and for every purchase, a child in a developing country, receives clean drinking water for 1 school year!
- Travel Pillow
- Zip lock bags for traveling with left over food items / prevent liquid items from spilling
Safety Considerations for Spain
Spain feels extremely safe and I have never had any problems when exploring here, nor have I heard of any horror stories. However, it is always good to remain cautious, especially in the larger cities.
- Always keep your valuables hidden or locked away.
- Always keep your valuables in your small backpack and wear it on your front.
- If you are travelling on buses, do not store your small backpack overhead or in the back of the bus, keep it on you at all times. For extra security, put your passport, money and phone in a money belt around your waist, under your clothes.
- When travelling on buses, always padlock your big bag.
- Do not walk around at night on your own, always take a taxi, even if it is a short distance.
- Always ask your hostel about the area and for safety advice.
- Keep your bank cards separate, so if anything happens, you have a second source of money.
- Always have a photocopy of your passport, so if you lose your passport, you still have a copy.
- Bring another form of identification with you (drivers license).
- Never leave your drinks unattended at night.
- Barcelona attracts alot of pickpockets. Don't take much out with you and keep your phone hidden at all times
Budget for Spain
This is completely subjective and dependent on what you do whilst exploring Spain. If you are exploring multiple areas, transport costs will add up, but there are plenty of budget friendly hostels in the major towns and cities and good guest houses in the more rural areas and you can find lots of cheap eats. However, if you are visiting castles, museums, famous sights, eating out, partying etc your expenditure soon adds up. I budgeted €100 ($120) per day for everything but I wasn’t staying in hostels. If you are going as a backpacker, €80 ($90) per day should be about right, but you won’t be able to experience all the sights.
Don't forget to buy Travel Insurance...