Essential España: making the most of your trip to Spain

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Heading to sunny Spain any time soon? ¡Qué suerte! (Lucky you!) This diverse country is a traveller's dream, with all the fine food and wine, architecture, outdoor adventure opportunities and action-packed nightlife you could wish for. Oh, and golden beaches. And galleries. And great shopping…well, you get the picture. Here are a few tips that'll make your Spanish sojourn even better.

Glorious white sands in Menorca. Image by Falk Lehmann / CC by 2.0

Peak season needn't mean freak-out season

They don't call it peak season for nothing: from June to August, Spain absolutely heaves with foreign visitors. Beaches are packed, bars spill out onto the streets, and accommodation is at a premium. Feeling claustrophobic? Flee the tourist hordes by escaping to the lesser known beaches of Menorca or Costa de Almeria, or by heading to cooler mountain regions such as those in Aragon and in Cantabria and Asturias.

Sports nuts, take note

Visitors flying to Spain can expect a hefty surcharge for carrying sporting equipment such as surfboards, bikes and diving equipment. Iberia and Air France charge so much to carry it that it’s often cheaper to buy equipment in Spain and sell it at the end of the trip. Bring your running things - the Spanish love jogging and people will happily point you in the direction of good running routes. Footballers are sure to find impromptu games taking place, and players will often be happy for you to join in.

Set your watch (and stomach!) to Spain time

Shops are usually open from about 9am to 2pm and again from 4pm or 5pm for another three hours, Monday to Friday, with similar hours on Saturday (although many skip the evening session). The further south you go, the longer the afternoon break tends to be. Restaurants generally open for lunch from 1pm to 4pm and for dinner from 8pm to midnight. Again, this doesn't apply quite so reliably in the country's south, where locals tend to eat out even later. Whereas restaurants in Barcelona may be busy by 9.30pm, their Madrid counterparts will still be half empty.

Bear in mind that many restaurants shut down during August, when locals leave town for their summer holidays.

Lingo for the little 'uns

Most younger children are fascinated by the ubiquitous street-corner kioscos selling sweets or gusanitos (corn puffs) for a few céntimos (cents). The magnetism of these places often overcomes a child’s inhibitions enough for them to carry out their own first Spanish-language transactions.

Siestas, leisurely late dinners, impromptu football matches - what's not to love? Grab Lonely Planet's latest Spain guide and have yourself un buen viaje!