Spain Travel Tips

If you're traveling to Spain for the first time, some aspects of the local culture might give you culture shock. Team Smigin is here to help out! Read on for some insider tips on wine, tapas, and traveling smart in España:

Café

  • A good espresso (un café solo) should have a thick body topped with a thin layer of foam.

  • A café con leche is more than your typical latte. It’s half espresso, half steamed milk: the intense, full taste of espresso topped with lush milk foam.

  • A carajillo (pronounced “kah-rah-hee-yoh”) is a coffee-based drink for adults! With one part brandy and another part espresso, it’s sure to boost spirits in the early afternoon.

  • To order a decaf drink, ask for it descafeinado. Make sure to specify that you want it from the espresso machine (de
    máquina
    ) – otherwise, you might end up with instant coffee!

Restaurant

  • The Spanish stay up later and eat meals later. Lunch runs from 2-4pm and no one would eat dinner, or reserve a table at a restaurant before 9pm. If you get hungry in between, just go for some tapas and a drink!

  • Tapas are small plates of food served in bars along with drinks. Almost any kind of food can be a tapa, so don’t hesitate to try as many as you can while bar hopping around Spain!

  • If you order beer or wine, your waiter may bring a small plate of anchoas en vinagre. Don’t worry – this snack is often given “on the house” out of gratitude for ordering drinks.

  • Menu del día: One of Spain’s best kept secrets! For less than €10, you can enjoy a set 2-3 course lunch menu with a room full of locals. Some of these meals even include wine! Menus are displayed outside the restaurant, and the best places don’t require much advertising. If you spot a waiter trying to convince you to come inside – or, worse, laminated pictures of food on display, RUN!

A note on jamón...

Jamón (ham) is a Spanish institution, so it’s best to know what kind you’re ordering! At the top of the list is Jamón ibérico de bellota, which comes from black pigs fed with a diet of acorns.

Other forms of Jamón ibérico fall just below in terms of quality. At the lower end is Jamón serrano, a cheaper version from white pigs. It still tastes good, though!

Culture & Tourism

  • Spain is festival-friendly! Try Las Fallas in Valencia where people light everything on fire, Pamplona where people literally run with the bulls, or La Tomatina, where it’s totally acceptable to fling tomatoes at one another. 

  • Banks have an odd habit of closing at 2pm, so be sure to get that stuff out of the way as early as you can!

  • Madrid has the best tap water in Spain, and it’s totally safe to drink. 

  • Be sure to check websites of museums you want to visit – they will often have free entrance late in the afternoon or on Sundays.

  • Want to upgrade your hotel experience? Try one of Spain’s Paradors – old castles and monasteries that were converted into luxury hotels. There are over 90 of them scattered around the country!

  • To balance work and leisure, the Spanish practice the tradition of siesta. It’s a couple of relaxing hours in the middle of the day to return home and eat lunch with family and friends. Many businesses also close in the middle of the day for siesta.

  • Rioja is famous for their red wine, but the white is just as terrific. Albariño is another famous white; it’s dry, crisp, and goes perfectly with seafood. If you prefer sparkling wine, try Cava or the more local Txakoli (cha-koh-lee).

  • Keep in mind, you will always be asked to provide photo ID when paying with a credit card.

  • Going out? Get ready for a late night. Most people in Spain don’t begin their night out until 11pm or midnight, and they often stay out until morning.