Haggling over prices is accepted in some markets, and shops may offer a small discount if you’re spending a lot of money. Otherwise expect to pay the stated price.
Dangers & Annoyances
Most visitors to Spain never feel remotely threatened, but enough have unpleasant experiences to warrant some care. The main thing to be wary of is petty theft (which may not seem so petty if your passport, cash, travellers cheques, credit card and camera go missing).
- In cities, especially Madrid and Barcelona, stick to areas with plenty of people around and avoid deserted streets.
- Keep valuables concealed or locked away in your hotel room.
- Try not to look like a tourist (eg don't consult maps in crowded tourist areas).
- Be wary of pickpockets in areas with plenty of other tourists.
There must be 50 ways to lose your wallet. As a rule, talented petty thieves work in groups and capitalise on distraction. Tricks usually involve a team of two or more (sometimes one of them an attractive woman to distract male victims). While one attracts your attention, the other empties your pockets. More imaginative strikes include someone dropping a milk mixture onto the victim from a balcony. Immediately a concerned citizen comes up to help you brush off what you assume to be pigeon poo, and thus suitably occupied, you don’t notice the contents of your pockets slipping away.
Beware: not all thieves look like thieves. Watch out for an old classic: the ladies offering flowers for good luck. We don’t know how they do it, but if you get too involved in a friendly chat with these people, your pockets almost always wind up empty.
On some highways, especially the AP7 from the French border to Barcelona, bands of thieves occasionally operate. Beware of men trying to distract you in rest areas, and don’t stop along the highway if people driving alongside indicate you have a problem with the car. While one inspects the rear of the car with you, his pals will empty your vehicle. Another gag has them puncturing tyres of cars stopped in rest areas, then following and ‘helping’ the victim when they stop to change the wheel. Hire cars and those with foreign plates are especially targeted. When you do call in at highway rest stops, try to park close to the buildings and leave nothing of value in view. If you do stop to change a tyre and find yourself getting unsolicited aid, make sure doors are all locked and don’t allow yourself to be distracted.
Even parking your car can be fraught. In some towns fairly dodgy self-appointed parking attendants operate in central areas where you may want to park. They will direct you frantically to a spot. If possible, ignore them and find your own. If unavoidable, you may well want to pay them some token not to scratch or otherwise damage your vehicle after you’ve walked away. You definitely don’t want to leave anything visible in the car (or open the boot – trunk – if you intend to leave luggage or anything else in it) under these circumstances.
Theft is mostly a risk in tourist resorts, big cities and when you first arrive in a new city and may be off your guard. You are at your most vulnerable when dragging around luggage to or from your hotel. Barcelona, Madrid and Seville have the worst reputations for theft and, on very rare occasions, muggings.
Anything left lying on the beach can disappear in a flash when your back is turned. At night avoid dingy, empty city alleys and backstreets, or anywhere that just doesn’t feel 100% safe.
Report thefts to the national police – visit www.policia.es for a full list of comisarías (police stations) around the country. You are unlikely to recover your goods but you need to make a formal denuncia for insurance purposes. To avoid endless queues at the comisaría, you can make the report by phone (902 102112) in various languages or online at www.policia.es (click on ‘denunciar por Internet’) although the instructions are in Spanish only. The following day you go to the station of your choice to pick up and sign the report, without queuing.
Government Travel Advice
The following government websites offer travel advisory services and information for travellers:
- Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.smartraveller.gov.au)
- Global Affairs Canada (www.voyage.gc.ca)
- Ministère de l'Europe et des Affaires étrangères (www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/conseils-aux-voyageurs)
- Auswärtiges Amt, Länder und Reiseinformationen (www.auswaertiges-amt.de/de/)
- Italian Ministero degli Affari Esteri e della Cooperazione Internazionale (www.viaggiaresicuri.mae.aci.it)
- Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken (www.rijksoverheid.nl/ministeries/ministerie-van-buitenlandse-zaken#ref-minbuza.nl)
- New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (www.safetravel.govt.nz)
- UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
- US Department of State (www.travel.state.gov)
At museums, never hesitate to ask if there are discounts for students, young people, children, families or seniors.
- Seniors Reduced prices for people over 60, 63 or 65 (depending on the place) at various museums and attractions (sometimes restricted to EU citizens) and occasionally on transport.
- Student cards Discounts (usually half the normal fee) for students. You will need some kind of identification (eg an International Student Identity Card; www.isic.org) to prove student status. Not accepted everywhere.
- Youth cards Travel, sights and youth-hostel discounts with the European Youth Card (www.eyca.org), known as Carné Joven in Spain.
Spain uses the two-pin continental plugs in use elsewhere in Europe. In Gibraltar, both these and the three-square-pin plugs from the UK are used, though the latter is more common.
Embassies & Consulates
The embassies are located in Madrid. Some countries also maintain consulates in major cities, particularly in Barcelona.
- Australian Embassy
- Canadian Embassy
- Canadian Consulate
- Canadian Consulate
- Dutch Embassy
- French Embassy
- French Consulate Further consulates in Bilbao and Seville.
- German Embassy
- German Consulate Further consulates in Málaga and Palma de Mallorca.
- Irish Embassy
- Japanese Embassy
- Moroccan Embassy Further consulates-general in Algeciras, Almería, Bilbao, Seville, Tarragona and Valencia.
- New Zealand Embassy
- UK Embassy
- UK Consulate Further consulates in Alicante, Bilbao, Ibiza, Palma de Mallorca and Málaga.
- US Embassy
- US Consulate Consular agencies in A Coruña, Fuengirola, Palma de Mallorca, Seville and Valencia.
Emergency & Important Numbers
There are no area codes in Spain.
|Spain's country code||34|
|International access code||00|
|International directory inquiries||11825|
|National directory inquiries||11818|
Entry & Exit Formalities
Immigration and customs checks (which usually only take place if you’re arriving from outside the EU) normally involve a minimum of fuss, although there are exceptions.
Your vehicle could be searched on arrival from Andorra. The tiny principality of Andorra is not in the European Union (EU), so border controls remain in place. Spanish customs look out for contraband duty-free products destined for illegal resale in Spain. The same may apply to travellers arriving from Morocco or the Spanish North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. In this case the search is for controlled substances. Expect long delays at these borders, especially in summer.
Duty-free allowances for travellers entering Spain from outside the EU include 2L of wine (or 1L of wine and 1L of spirits), and 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco.
There are no restrictions on the import of duty-paid items into Spain from other EU countries for personal use. You can buy VAT-free articles at airport shops when travelling between EU countries.
Citizens of other EU member states as well as those from Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Switzerland can travel to Spain with their national identity card alone. If such countries do not issue ID cards – as in the UK – travellers must carry a valid passport. All other nationalities must have a valid passport.
In the aftermath of the UK's decision to leave the EU, the future requirements for UK citizens travelling in Spain and the rest of the EU remains unclear – check with your local Spanish embassy or consulate for the latest rules.
By law you are supposed to carry your passport or ID card with you in Spain at all times.
Generally not required for stays of up to 90 days per 180 days (visas are not required at all for members of EU or Schengen countries). Some nationalities need a Schengen visa.
Spain is one of 26 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which 22 EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) plus Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland have abolished checks at common borders.
The visa situation for entering Spain is as follows:
Citizens or residents of EU & Schengen countries No visa required.
Citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand & the USA No visa required for tourist visits of up to 90 days out of every 180 days.
Other countries Check with a Spanish embassy or consulate.
To work or study in Spain A special visa may be required – contact a Spanish embassy or consulate before travel.
Extensions & Residence
Schengen visas cannot be extended. You can apply for no more than two visas in any 12-month period and they are not renewable once you are in Spain.
Nationals of EU countries, Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein and Switzerland can enter and leave Spain at will and don’t need to apply for a tarjeta de residencia (residence card), although they are supposed to apply for residence papers.
People of other nationalities who want to stay in Spain longer than 90 days have to get a residence card, and for them it can be a drawn-out process, starting with an appropriate visa issued by a Spanish consulate in their country of residence. Start the process well in advance.
- Greetings Spaniards almost always greet friends and strangers alike with a kiss on each cheek, although two males only do this if they’re close friends. It is customary to say ‘Hola, buenos días’ or ‘Hola, buenas tardes’ (in the afternoon or evening) when meeting someone or when entering a shop or bar, and ‘Hasta luego’ when leaving.
- Eating and drinking Spanish waiters won’t expect you to thank them every time they bring you something, but they may expect you to keep your cutlery between courses in more casual bars and restaurants.
- Visiting churches It is considered disrespectful to visit churches for the purposes of tourism during Mass and other worship services.
- Escalators Always stand on the right to let people pass.
Spain has become perhaps the most gay-friendly country in southern Europe. Homosexuality is legal and the age of consent is 16, as it is for heterosexuals. Same-sex marriages were legalised in 2005 – the move was extremely popular but met with opposition from the country's powerful Catholic Church.
In rural areas, lesbians and gay men generally keep a fairly low profile, but are quite open in the cities. Madrid, Barcelona, Sitges, Torremolinos and Ibiza have particularly lively scenes. Sitges is a major destination on the international gay-party circuit; gays take a leading role in the wild Carnaval there. There are also gay parades, marches and events in several cities on and around the last Saturday in June, when Madrid’s gay and lesbian pride march takes place.
Madrid also hosts the annual Les Gai Cine Mad festival, a celebration of lesbian, gay and transsexual films.
In addition to the following resources, Barcelona’s tourist board publishes Barcelona: The Official Gay and Lesbian Tourist Guide biannually, while Madrid’s tourist office has useful information on its website (www.esmadrid.com/lgtb-madrid).
- Chueca (www.chueca.com) Useful gay portal with extensive links.
- GayBarcelona (www.gaybarcelona.com) News and views and an extensive listings section covering bars, saunas, shops and more in Barcelona and Sitges.
- Gay Iberia (www.gayiberia.com) Gay guides to Barcelona, Madrid, Sitges and 26 other Spanish cities.
- Gay Madrid 4 U (www.gaymadrid4u.com) A good overview of Madrid’s gay bars and nightclubs.
- Gay Seville (www.patroc.com/seville) Gay guide to Andalucía's capital.
- NightTours.com (www.nighttours.com) A reasonably good guide to gay nightlife and other attractions in Madrid, Barcelona and 18 other Spanish locations.
- Shangay (www.shangay.com) For news, upcoming events, reviews and contacts. It also publishes Shanguide, a Madrid-centric biweekly magazine jammed with listings (including saunas and hard-core clubs) and contact ads. Its companion publication Shangay Express is better for articles with a handful of listings and ads. They’re available in gay bookshops, and gay and gay-friendly bars.
- Universo Gay (www.guia.universogay.com) A little bit of everything.
- Casal Lambda A gay and lesbian social, cultural and information centre in Barcelona’s La Ribera.
- Colectivo de Gais y Lesbianas de Madrid Offers activities and has an information office and social centre.
- Federación Estatal de Lesbianas, Gays, Transexuales & Bisexuales A national advocacy group, based in Madrid, that played a leading role in lobbying for the legalisation of gay marriage.
- Fundación Triángulo One of several sources of information on gay issues in Madrid.
A travel-insurance policy to cover theft, loss, medical problems and cancellation or delays to your travel arrangements is a good idea. Paying for your ticket with a credit card can often provide limited travel-accident insurance and you may be able to reclaim the payment if the operator doesn’t deliver.
Worldwide travel insurance is available at www.lonelyplanet.com/travel-insurance. You can buy, extend and claim online anytime – even if you’re already on the road.
Checking insurance quotes…
Wi-fi is almost universally available at hotels, as well as in some cafes, restaurants and airports; usually (but not always) it’s free. Connection speed often varies from room to room in hotels (and coverage is sometimes restricted to the hotel lobby), so always ask when you check in or make your reservation if you need a good connection. Some tourist offices may have a list of wi-fi hot spots in their area.
If you’re arrested, you will be allotted the free services of an abogado de oficio (duty solicitor), who may speak only Spanish. You're also entitled to make a phone call. If you use this to contact your embassy or consulate, the staff will probably be able to do no more than refer you to a lawyer who speaks your language. If you end up in court, the authorities are obliged to provide a translator.
In theory, you are supposed to have your national ID card or passport with you at all times. If asked for it by the police, you are supposed to be able to produce it on the spot. In practice it is rarely an issue and many people choose to leave passports in hotel safes.
The Policía Local or Policía Municipal operates at a local level and deals with such issues as traffic infringements and minor crime. The Policía Nacional (091) is the state police force, dealing with major crime and operating primarily in the cities. The military-linked Guardia Civil (created in the 19th century to deal with banditry) is largely responsible for highway patrols, borders, security, major crime and terrorism. Several regions have their own police forces, such as the Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia and the Ertzaintza in the Basque Country.
Cannabis is legal but only for personal use and in very small quantities. Public consumption of any illicit drug is illegal. Travellers entering Spain from Morocco should be prepared for drug searches, especially if you have a vehicle.
Spain has some excellent maps if you’re driving around the country – many are available from petrol stations. Topographical and hiking maps are available from specialist stores.
Some of the best maps for travellers are by Michelin, which produces the 1:1,000,000 Spain Portugal map and six 1:400,000 regional maps covering the whole country. These are all pretty accurate and are updated regularly, even down to the state of minor country roads. Also good are the GeoCenter maps published by Germany's RV Verlag.
Probably the best physical map of Spain is Península Ibérica, Baleares y Canarias published by the Centro Nacional de Información Geográfica, the publishing arm of the Instituto Geográfico Nacional (www.ign.es). Ask for it in good bookshops.
Useful for hiking and exploring some areas (particularly in the Pyrenees) are Editorial Alpina’s Guía Cartográfica and Guía Excursionista y Turística series. The series combines information booklets in Spanish (and sometimes Catalan) with detailed maps at scales ranging from 1:25,000 to 1:50,000. They are an indispensable tool for hikers (and some come in English and German), but they have their inaccuracies.
The Institut Cartogràfic de Catalunya puts out some decent maps for hiking in the Catalan Pyrenees that are often better than their Editorial Alpina counterparts. Remember that for hiking only, maps scaled at 1:25,000 are seriously useful. The CNIG (www.cnig.es) also covers most of the country in 1:25,000 sheets.
You can often pick up Editorial Alpina publications and CNIG maps at bookshops near trekking areas, and at specialist bookshops such as the following:
Altaïr In Barcelona.
De Viaje In Madrid.
La Tienda Verde In Madrid.
Librería Desnivel In Madrid.
- Newspapers The three main newspapers are the centre-left El País (www.elpais.com), centre-right El Mundo (www.elmundo.es) and right-wing ABC (www.abc.es); the widely available International New York Times includes an eight-page supplement of articles from El País translated into English, or check out www.elpais.com/elpais/inenglish.html.
- Radio Radio Nacional de España (RNE) has Radio 1, with general interest and current-affairs programs; Radio 5, with sport and entertainment; and Radio 3 (Radio d’Espop). Stations covering current affairs include the left-leaning Cadena Ser and the right-wing COPE. The most popular commercial pop and rock stations are 40 Principales, Kiss FM, Cadena 100 and Onda Cero.
- TV National channels are the state-run Televisión Española (TVE1 and La 2) and the independent Antena 3, Tele 5, Cuatro and La Sexta. Regional governments run local stations, such as Madrid’s Telemadrid, Catalonia’s TV-3 and Canal 33 (both in Catalan), Galicia's TVG, the Basque Country’s ETB-1 and ETB-2, Valencia’s Canal 9 and Andalucía's Canal Sur.
ATMs widely available. Credit cards accepted in most hotels and restaurants.
The most convenient way to bring your money is in the form of a debit or credit card, with some extra cash in case of an emergency.
Many credit and debit cards can be used for withdrawing money from cajeros automáticos (ATMs) that display the relevant symbols such as Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus etc. There is usually a charge (around 1.5% to 2%) on ATM cash withdrawals abroad.
Most banks and building societies will exchange major foreign currencies and offer the best rates. Ask about commissions and take your passport.
Credit & Debit Cards
These can be used to pay for most purchases. You'll often be asked to show your passport or some other form of identification. Among the most widely accepted are Visa, MasterCard, American Express (Amex), Cirrus, Maestro, Plus and JCB. Diners Club is less widely accepted. If your card is lost, stolen or swallowed by an ATM, you can call the following (mostly freecall) telephone numbers to have an immediate stop put on its use: Amex, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa.
For current exchange rates, see www.xe.com.
You can exchange both cash and travellers cheques at cambio (exchange) offices. Generally they offer longer opening hours and quicker service than banks, but worse exchange rates and higher commissions.
Tipping is almost always optional.
- Restaurants Many Spaniards leave small change, others up to 5%, which is considered generous.
- Taxis Optional, but most locals round up to the nearest euro.
- Bars It’s rare to leave a tip in bars (even if the bartender gives you your change on a small dish).
Does anyone still us these? If you do, travellers cheques can be changed at most banks and building societies, often with a commission. Visa, Amex and Travelex are widely accepted brands with (usually) efficient replacement policies. It’s vital to keep your initial receipt, and a record of your cheque numbers and the ones you have used, separate from the cheques themselves.
Banks 8.30am–2pm Monday–Friday; some also open 4–7pm Thursday and 9am–1pm Saturday
Central post offices 8.30am–9.30pm Monday–Friday, 8.30am–2pm Saturday; most other branches 8.30am–2.30pm Monday–Friday, 9.30am–1pm Saturday
Nightclubs Midnight or 1am–5am or 6am
Restaurants Lunch 1–4pm, dinner 8.30–11pm or midnight
Shops 10am–2pm and 4.30–7.30pm or 5–8pm Monday–Friday or Saturday; big supermarkets and department stores generally open 10am–10pm Monday–Saturday
Correos, the Spanish postal system, is generally reliable, if a little slow at times.
Postal Rates & Services
- Sellos (stamps) are sold at most estancos (tobacconists; look for ‘Tabacos’ in yellow letters on a maroon background), as well as at post offices.
- A postcard or letter weighing up to 20g costs €1.25 from Spain to other European countries, and €1.35 to the rest of the world.
- For a full list of prices for certificado (certified) and urgente (express post), go to www.correos.es and click on ‘Tarifas'.
Delivery times are erratic but ordinary mail to other Western European countries can take up to a week (although often as little as three days); to North America up to 10 days; and to Australia or New Zealand between 10 days and three weeks.
The two main periods when Spaniards go on holiday are Semana Santa (the week leading up to Easter Sunday) and July and August. At these times accommodation in resorts can be scarce and transport heavily booked, but other places are often half-empty.
There are at least 14 official holidays a year – some observed nationwide, some locally. When a holiday falls close to a weekend, Spaniards like to make a puente (bridge), meaning they take the intervening day off too. Occasionally when some holidays fall close, they make an acueducto (aqueduct)! Here are the national holidays:
- Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day) 1 January
- Viernes Santo (Good Friday) March/April
- Fiesta del Trabajo (Labour Day) 1 May
- La Asunción (Feast of the Assumption) 15 August
- Fiesta Nacional de España (National Day) 12 October
- La Inmaculada Concepción (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) 8 December
- Navidad (Christmas) 25 December
Regional governments set five holidays and local councils two more. Common dates include the following:
- Epifanía (Epiphany) or Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day) 6 January
- Jueves Santo (Good Thursday) March/April; not observed in Catalonia and Valencia.
- Corpus Christi June; the Thursday after the eighth Sunday after Easter Sunday.
- Día de Santiago Apóstol (Feast of St James the Apostle) 25 July
- Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) 1 November
- Día de la Constitución (Constitution Day) 6 December
- Smoking Banned in all enclosed public spaces.
Taxes & Refunds
- In Spain, value-added tax (VAT) is known as IVA (ee-ba; impuesto sobre el valor añadido).
- Hotel rooms and restaurant meals attract an additional 10% (usually included in the quoted price but always ask); most other items have 21% added.
Tax Refunds for Tourists
Visitors are entitled to a refund of the 21% IVA on purchases costing more than €90.16 from any shop, if they are taking them out of the EU within three months. Ask the shop for a cash-back (or similar) refund form showing the price and IVA paid for each item, and identifying the vendor and purchaser. Present your IVA refund form to the customs booth for refunds at the airport, port or border when you leave the EU.
Local SIM cards can be used in European/Australian phones. Other phones must be set to roaming to work – be wary of roaming charges, although these should no longer apply if you have an EU phone.
Placing una llamada a cobro revertido (an international collect call) is simple. Dial 99 00 followed by the code for the country you’re calling.
Local SIM cards are widely available and can be used in European and Australian mobile phones. Not compatible with many North American or Japanese systems.
Spain uses GSM 900/1800, which is compatible with the rest of Europe and Australia but not with the North American system unless you have a GSM/GPRS-compatible phone (some AT&T and T-Mobile cell phones may work), or the system used in Japan. From those countries, you will need to travel with a tri-band or quadric-band phone.
You can buy SIM cards and prepaid time in Spain for your mobile phone, provided you own a GSM, dual- or tri-band cellular phone. This only works if your national phone hasn’t been code-blocked; check before leaving home.
All the Spanish mobile-phone companies (Telefónica's MoviStar, Orange and Vodafone) offer prepagado (prepaid) accounts for mobiles. The SIM card costs from €10, to which you add some prepaid phone time. Phone outlets are scattered across the country. You can then top up in their shops or by buying cards in outlets, such as estancos (tobacconists) and newspaper kiosks. Pepephone (www.pepephone.com) is another option.
If you're from the EU, there is now EU-wide roaming so that call and data plans for mobile phones from any EU country should be valid in Spain without any extra roaming charges. If you're from elsewhere, check with your mobile provider for information on roaming charges.
Mobile (cell) phone numbers start with 6. Numbers starting with 900 are national toll-free numbers, while those starting with 901 to 905 come with varying costs. A common one is 902, which is a national standard rate number, but which can only be dialled from within Spain. In a similar category are numbers starting with 800, 803, 806 and 807.
International access code 00
Spain country code 34
There are no local area codes.
Cut-rate prepaid phonecards can be good value for international calls. They can be bought from estancos, small grocery stores, locutorios (private call centres) and newspaper kiosks in the main cities and tourist resorts. If possible, try to compare rates. Many of the private operators offer better deals than those offered by Telefónica. Locutorios that specialise in cut-rate overseas calls have popped up all over the place in bigger cities.
Once widespread, but now almost non-existent, blue payphones are easy to use for international and domestic calls. They accept coins, tarjetas telefónicas (phonecards) issued by the national phone company Telefónica and, in some cases, various credit cards.
Time zone Same as most of Western Europe (GMT/UTC plus one hour during winter and GMT/UTC plus two hours during the daylight-saving period).
Daylight saving From the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
UK, Ireland, Portugal & Canary Islands One hour behind mainland Spain.
Morocco Morocco is on GMT/UTC year-round. From the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, subtract two hours from Spanish time to get Moroccan time; the rest of the year, subtract one hour.
USA Spanish time is USA Eastern Time plus six hours and USA Pacific Time plus nine hours.
Australia During the Australian winter (Spanish summer), subtract eight hours from Australian Eastern Standard Time to get Spanish time; during the Australian summer, subtract 10 hours. For most of October, it's nine hours.
12- and 24-hour clock Although the 24-hour clock is used in most official situations, you’ll find people generally use the 12-hour clock in everyday conversation.
Public toilets are rare to non-existent in Spain and it’s not really the done thing to go into a bar or cafe solely to use the toilet; ordering a quick coffee is a small price to pay for relieving the problem. Otherwise you can usually get away with it in larger, crowded places where they can’t really keep track of who’s coming and going. Another option in some larger cities is to visit the department stores of El Corte Inglés.
All cities and many smaller towns have an oficina de turismo or oficina de información turística. In the country's provincial capitals you will sometimes find more than one tourist office – one specialising in information on the city alone, the other carrying mostly provincial or regional information. National and natural parks also often have their own visitor centres offering useful information.
Turespaña (www.spain.info) is the country’s national tourism body, and it operates branches around the world. Check the website for office locations.
Travel with Children
Spain is a family-friendly destination with excellent transport and accommodation infrastructure, food to satisfy even the fussiest of eaters, and an extraordinary range of attractions that appeal to both adults and children. Visiting as a family does require careful planning, but no more than for visiting any other European country.
Best Regions for Kids
- Mediterranean Spain
Spain’s coastline may be a summer-holiday cliché, but it’s a fabulous place for a family holiday. From Catalonia in the north to Andalucía in the south, most beaches have gentle waters and numerous child-friendly attractions and activities (from water parks to water sports for older kids).
Theme parks, a wax museum, a chocolate museum, all manner of other museums with interactive exhibits, beaches, gardens… Barcelona is one of Spain’s most child-friendly cities – even its architecture seems to have sprung from a child’s imagination.
- Inland Spain
Spain’s interior may not be the first place you think of for a family holiday, but its concentrations of castles, tiny villages and fascinating, easily negotiated cities make it worth considering.
Food and children are two of the great loves for Spaniards, and Spanish fare is rarely spicy so kids tend to like it.
Children are usually welcome, whether in a sit-down restaurant or in a chaotically busy bar. Indeed, it’s rare that you’ll be made to feel uncomfortable as your children run amok, though the more formal the place, the more uncomfortable you’re likely to feel. In summer the abundance of outdoor terraces with tables is ideal for families; take care, though, as it can be easy to lose sight of wandering young ones amid the scrum of people.
You cannot rely on restaurants having tronas (high chairs), although many do these days. Those that do, however, rarely have more than one (a handful at most), so make the request when making your reservation or as soon as you arrive.
Very few restaurants (or other public facilities) have nappy-changing facilities.
A small but growing number of restaurants offer a menú infantil (children’s menu), which usually includes a main course (hamburger, chicken nuggets, pasta and the like), a drink and an ice cream or milkshake for dessert.
One challenge can be adapting to Spanish eating hours – when kids get hungry between meals it’s sometimes possible to zip into the nearest tasca (tapas bar) and get them a snack, and there are also sweet shops scattered around most towns. That said, we recommend carrying emergency supplies from a supermarket for those times when there’s simply nothing open.
Spain has a surfeit of castles, horse shows, fiestas and ferias, interactive museums, flamenco shows and even the Semana Santa (Holy Week) processions, to name just a few highlights for kids.
When it comes to activities, quite a lot of adventure activities – including rafting, kayaking, canoeing, canyoning and mountain-biking – can be done at easy beginners' levels suitable for children, although check before you book in case there are age minimums. Surf and ski schools also cater to kids.
Spain’s beaches, especially those along the Mediterranean coast, are custom-made for children: many (particularly along the Costa Brava) are sheltered from the open ocean by protective coves, while most others are characterised by waveless waters that quietly lap the shore. Yes, some can get a little overcrowded in the height of summer, but there are still plenty of tranquil stretches of sand if you choose carefully.
- Playa de la Concha, San Sebastián This is Spain’s most easily accessible city beach.
- Aiguablava & Fornells Sheltered, beautiful Costa Brava coves.
- Cala Sant Vicenç Four of Mallorca’s loveliest cove beaches.
- Menorca Quiet north-coast beaches, even in summer.
- Zahara de los Atunes Cádiz-province beach with pristine sand.
Architecture of the Imagination
Some of Spain's signature buildings look as if they emerged from some childhood fantasy, and many of these (such as the Alhambra and most art galleries) also have guidebooks aimed specifically at children. And then there’s live flamenco, something that every child should see once in their lives.
- Alcázar, Segovia The inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
- Park Güell and Casa Batlló Gaudí’s weird-and-wonderful Barcelona creations.
- Castillo de Loarre, Aragón The stereotypically turreted castle.
- Casas Colgadas, Cuenca Houses that hang out over the cliff.
- Estadio Santiago Bernabéu and Camp Nou Football, football, football…
- Museo Guggenheim Bilbao Watch them gaze in wonder.
Theme Parks & Horse Shows
Spain has seen an explosion of Disneyfied theme parks in recent years. Parks range from places that re-create the era of the dinosaurs or the Wild West to more traditional parks with rides and animals.
- Dinópolis, Teruel This is a cross between Jurassic Park and a funfair.
- PortAventura Fine amusement park close to Tarragona.
- Terra Mítica, Benidorm Where the spirit of Disneyland meets the Med.
- Oasys Mini Hollywood, Almería Wild West movie sets in the deserts.
- Zoo Aquarium de Madrid Probably Spain’s best zoo.
- Parc d’Atraccions, Barcelona Great rides and a puppet museum.
- Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre Andalucían horse shows in all their finery.
- Caballerizas Reales Another excellent horse show, this time in Córdoba.
For general advice on travelling with young ones, see Lonely Planet’s Travel with Children (2015) or visit the websites www.travelwithyourkids.com and www.familytravelnetwork.com.
What to Bring
Although you might want to bring a small supply of items that you’re used to having back home (this is particularly true for baby products) in case of emergency (or a Sunday when most pharmacies and supermarkets are closed), Spain is likely to have everything you need.
- Baby formula in powder or liquid form, as well as sterilising solutions such as Milton, can be bought at farmacias (pharmacies).
- Disposable pañales (nappies or diapers) are widely available at supermarkets and farmacias.
- Fresh cow’s milk is sold in cartons and plastic bottles in supermarkets in big cities, but can be hard to find in small towns, where UHT is often the only option.
When to Go
If you’re heading for the beach, summer (especially July and August) is the obvious choice – but it’s also when Spaniards undertake a mass pilgrimage to the coast, so book well ahead. It’s also a good time to travel to the mountains (the Pyrenees, Sierra Nevada). The interior can be unbearably hot during the summer months, however – Seville and Córdoba regularly experience daytime temperatures of almost 50ºC.
Our favourite time for visiting Spain is in spring and autumn, particularly May, June, September and October. In all but October, you might be lucky and get weather warm enough for the beach, but temperatures in these months are generally mild and the weather often fine.
Winter can be bitterly cold in much of Spain – fine if you come prepared and even better if you’re heading for the snow.
Most hotels (but rarely budget establishments) have cots for small children, although most only have a handful, so reserve one when booking your room. If you’re asking for a cuna (cot), it can be a good idea to ask for a larger room as many Spanish hotel or hostal (budget hotel) rooms can be on the small side, making for very cramped conditions. Cots sometimes cost extra, while other hotels offer them for free.
In top-end hotels you can sometimes arrange for child care, and in some places child-minding agencies cater to temporary visitors. Some top-end hotels – particularly resorts, but also some paradores (luxurious state-owned hotels) – have play areas or children’s playgrounds, and many also have swimming pools.
Spain’s transport infrastructure is world-class, and high-speed AVE trains render irrelevant the distances between many major cities. Apart from anything else, most kids love the idea that they’re travelling at nearly 300km/h.
Discounts are available for children (usually under 12) on public transport. Those under four generally go free.
You can hire a silla infantil (car seat; usually for an additional cost) for infants and children from most car-hire firms, but you should always book them in advance. This is especially true during busy travel periods, such as Spanish school holidays, Navidad (Christmas) and Semana Santa (Holy Week).
It’s extremely rare that taxis have child seats – unless you’re carrying a portable version from home, you’re expected to sit the child on your lap, with the seatbelt around you both.
Feature: Tips for Travelling with Children
- Expect your children to be kissed, offered sweets, have their cheeks pinched and their hair ruffled at least once a day.
- Always ask for extra tapas in bars, such as bread, olives or cut, raw carrots.
- Adjust your children to Spanish time (ie late nights) as quickly as you can; otherwise they’ll miss half of what’s worth seeing.
- Crayons and paper are rarely given out in restaurants – bring your own.
- If you’re willing to let your child share your bed, you won’t incur a supplement. Extra beds usually incur a €20 to €30 charge.
- Always ask the local tourist office for the nearest children’s playgrounds.
Spain is not overly accommodating for travellers with disabilities, but some things are slowly changing. For example, disabled access to some museums, official buildings and hotels represents a change in local thinking. In major cities more is slowly being done to facilitate disabled access to public transport and taxis; in some cities, wheelchair-adapted taxis are called ‘Eurotaxis'. Newly constructed hotels in most areas of Spain are required to have wheelchair-adapted rooms. With older places, you need to be a little wary of hotels who advertise themselves as being disabled-friendly, as this can mean as little as wide doors to rooms and bathrooms, or other token efforts.
Some tourist offices – notably those in Madrid and Barcelona – offer guided tours of the city for travellers with disabilities.
Inout Hostel Worthy of a special mention is Barcelona’s Inout Hostel, which is completely accessible for those with disabilities, and nearly all the staff that work there have disabilities of one kind or another. The facilities and service are first-class.
Museo Tifológico This attraction is specifically for people who are visually impaired. Run by the Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (National Organisation for the Blind, ONCE), its exhibits (all of which may be touched) include paintings, sculptures and tapestries, as well as more than 40 scale models of world monuments, including Madrid’s Palacio Real and Cibeles fountain, as well as La Alhambra in Granada and the aqueduct in Segovia. It also provides leaflets in Braille and audio guides to the museum.
Madrid Accesible (Accessible Madrid; www.esmadrid.com/madrid-accesible) Your first stop for more information on accessibility for travellers in Madrid should be the tourist section known as 'Madrid Accesible', where you can download a PDF of their excellent Guía de Turismo Accesible in English or Spanish. It has an exhaustive list of the city’s attractions and transport and a detailed assessment of their accessibility, as well as a list of accessible restaurants. Most tourist offices in Madrid have a mapa turístico accesible in Spanish, English and French
Accessible Travel & Leisure Claims to be the biggest UK travel agent dealing with travel for people with a disability, and encourages independent travel. Spain is one of the countries it covers in detail.
Barcelona Turisme Website devoted to making Barcelona accessible for visitors with a disability.
ONCE The Spanish association for those who are blind. You may be able to get hold of guides in Braille to Madrid, although they’re not published every year.
Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality (www.sath.org) A good resource, which gives advice on how to travel with a wheelchair, kidney disease, sight impairment or deafness.
Metro or tram lines, or stations built (or upgraded) since the late 1990s, generally have elevators for wheelchair access, but the older lines can be ill-equipped (including many of Madrid’s lines; check the map at www.metromadrid.es). Even in stations with wheelchair access, not all platforms necessarily have functioning escalators or elevators.
The single-deck piso bajo (low floor) buses are now commonplace in most Spanish cities. They have no steps inside and in some cases have ramps that can be used by people in wheelchairs.
If you call any taxi company and ask for a ‘Eurotaxi’ you should be sent one adapted for wheelchair users.
Accessible Travel Online Resources
Download Lonely Planet's free Accessible Travel guides from http://lptravel.to/AccessibleTravel.
Volunteering possibilities in Spain:
Earthwatch Institute (www.earthwatch.org) Occasionally Spanish conservation projects appear on its program.
Go Abroad (www.goabroad.com) Dozens of different volunteering opportunities in Spain.
Sunseed Desert Technology This UK-run project, developing sustainable ways to live in semi-arid environments, is based in the hamlet of Los Molinos del Río Agua in Almería.
Transitions Abroad (www.transitionsabroad.com) A good website to start your research.
Weights & Measures
- Weights & Measures The metric system is used.
Travelling in Spain as a woman is as easy as travelling anywhere in the Western world. That said, foreign women can attract unwanted male attention, especially when travelling solo and in small, remote places. You should also be choosy about your accommodation. Bottom-end fleapits with all-male staff can be insalubrious locations to bed down for the night. Lone women should take care in city streets at night – stick with the crowds. Hitching for solo women travellers is never recommended.
Spanish men under about 40, who’ve grown up in the liberated post-Franco era, conform far less to old-fashioned sexual stereotypes, although you might notice that sexual stereotyping becomes a little more pronounced as you move from north to south in Spain, and from city to country.
Nationals of EU countries, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland may freely work in Spain. If you are offered a contract, your employer will normally steer you through any bureaucracy.
Virtually everyone else is supposed to obtain a work permit from a Spanish consulate in their country of residence, and if they plan to stay more than 90 days, a residence visa. These procedures are well-nigh impossible unless you have a job contract lined up before you begin them.
You could look for casual work in fruit picking, harvesting or construction, but this is generally done with imported labour from Morocco and Eastern Europe, with pay and conditions that can often best be described as dire.
Translating and interpreting could be an option if you are fluent in Spanish and have a language in demand.
Language-teaching qualifications are a big help when trying to find work as a teacher, and the more reputable places will require TEFL qualifications. Sources of information on possible teaching work – in a school or as a private tutor – include foreign cultural centres such as the British Council and Alliance Française, foreign-language bookshops, universities and language schools. Many have noticeboards where you may find work opportunities or can advertise your own services.
Summer work on the Mediterranean coasts is a possibility, especially if you arrive early in the season and are prepared to stay a while. Check any local press in foreign languages, such as the Costa del Sol’s Sur in English (www.surinenglish.com), which lists ads for waiters, nannies, chefs, babysitters, cleaners and the like.
It is possible to stumble upon work as crew on yachts and cruisers. The best ports at which to look include (in descending order) Palma de Mallorca, Gibraltar and Puerto Banús.
In summer the voyages tend to be restricted to the Mediterranean, but from about November to January, many boats head for the Caribbean. Such work is usually unpaid and about the only way to find it is to ask around on the docks.