If there’s one distinctive aspect of Spanish culture that stands out to tourists, it’s the tendency for activities, particularly dining, to occur later than in many countries.

Restaurants in Spain typically don’t open until around 8pm, and even then, they don’t fill up properly until around 9pm. In fact, it’s not unusual for dinners to extend to midnight and beyond. There’s no word for "evening" in Spanish, and the tarde (afternoon) can last until 6 or 7pm when it’s unheard of to be out for dinner.

It has been that way for a long time but recently, Spain’s Second Vice President and Labor Minister, Yolanda Díaz, criticized the nation’s dining habits, arguing that it’s unreasonable for restaurants to remain open until 1am and for work meetings to continue until 8pm. She highlighted the significant difference in schedules between Spain and other European countries during a meeting with Spanish tourism leaders.

The minister said, “It is not reasonable for Spain to be a country where we convene meetings at 8 in the evening. It is not reasonable for a country that has its restaurants open at 1 a.m.” and suggested that this late-night lifestyle could negatively impact the mental well-being of hospitality industry workers.

Díaz received a lot of backlash for her comments, especially from the president of the local Madrid government, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, who, during the pandemic, infamously kept many of the city’s bars and restaurants open. “Spain is different,” she responded on social media network X. “We have the best nightlife in the world with streets full of life and freedom. And that also promotes employment.”

Street cafes lively with people sitting and dining at restaurant terraces in the center of Madrid.
In Spain,

Why does Spain eat later than its European neighbors?

Spain's late dining is attributed to various factors, including a workday that extends longer and later than in most European countries, with businesses often closing for a few hours in the afternoon. Even though, according to the European Commission, Spaniards work an average of 37.8 hours per week, which is near the EU average of 37 hours, the hours aren’t as rigid as in other European countries.

Many businesses, including shops, often close between 2pm and 4 or 5pm, giving Spaniards a two- or three-hour lunch break in which to eat their main meal of the day before returning to work to finish around 8pm. By the time they’ve gone home after work, cooked dinner or gotten ready to go out, it’s at least 9pm and the whole day has shifted.

Weather also plays a crucial role in Spain’s late-night dining habits. Often, in summer, it’s just far too hot to cook and eat when the sun is up, so it’s typical to wait until after sundown, which is around 9:30pm.

Diners sit at outside tables. A large clock overhead shows the time as 9:35pm
People tend to work later in Spain and aren't ready to go out to restaurants until at least 9pm © Gary Yeowell / Getty Images

This is also evident from the fact that dining times change across the country depending on the climate. For example, in Andalusía in the south of Spain, which has some of the hottest summer temperatures, often reaching above 40°C (104°F), bars and restaurants typically stay open until 1am. While in the Basque Country, in the north of Spain, which has an average summer temperature of 25°C (77°F), bars and restaurants tend to close much earlier, around 11pm.

It doesn’t help that Spain is technically in the wrong time zone. According to its longitude, Spain should be in the same time zone as Portugal, Ireland and the UK, but during WWII, fascist dictator Francisco Franco changed the country’s time to align with Hitler and Germany.

Comparatively, dinner times in other European countries occur much earlier in the evening. In the UK, for example, dinner is eaten around 6:30–7:30pm; in France, it’s around 7:30–8:30pm, and in Sweden, it can be around 5–6pm.

People sit outside at restaurant tables tucked down a side street
In some parts of Spain, it's simply too hot in the summer months to cook until later in the evening © Emad Aljumah / Getty Images

Work-life balance

The Spanish schedule has drawn mixed reactions from both locals and expatriates, with some appreciating the vibrant late-night culture and others calling for a schedule more aligned with the rest of Europe to improve work-life balance and sleep quality.

Mireia Goula, a Catalan from Barcelona, says, “I think it’s fine for restaurants to stay open until 1am on the weekends; why not?” But she has a very different opinion when it comes to Spain’s late timetable during the week. “If we wake up and start work at the same as other Europeans, then we should finish at the same time too,” she explains. “Timetables here are too late, and I think we don’t get enough sleep. Sometimes, it’s very difficult to even get out to eat before 9pm.”

Dan Convey, a Briton who lives in Spain, believes that Spain’s late-night bar and restaurant culture is more civilized than back in the UK. “It’s a lot better going out to a tapas bar or restaurant until 1am rather than having to go to a nightclub because there are no other options open,” he explains. “It also means that alcohol is drunk in moderation and is always accompanied by food.”

A good work-life balance is very important in Spanish culture, and most socializing takes place around the dinner table or in restaurants. Therefore, when the workday is over, bars and restaurants play an essential role in bringing friends and families together for as long as possible. It’s not just about the eating; people linger afterward to relax, chat, and enjoy drinks and coffee in what’s known as sobremesa

Extra-long lunch breaks and afternoon siestas have mostly been phased out in big companies in major cities, but even so, it doesn’t seem like dining times are going to change any time soon. Despite what the politicians say, most Spaniards are proud of the late-night dining scene and could never even imagine eating dinner at 6pm. And as summers just keep getting hotter and hotter, could dinners get even later?

Explore related stories

BUNOL, SPAIN - AUGUST 30: Revelers celebrate and throw tomatoes at each other as they participate in the annual Tomatina festival on August 30, 2023 in Bunol, Spain. Spain's tomato throwing party in the streets of Bunol, Valencia brings together almost 20,000 people, with some 150,000 kilos of tomatoes thrown each year, this year with a backdrop of high food prices affected by Spain's historic drought.. (Photo by Zowy Voeten/Getty Images)
bestof, topix

Festivals & Events

Spain’s La Tomatina 2024: the fullest guide to the messiest festival

May 3, 2024 • 6 min read