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​Spain: Know before you go

By Anna Sarjeant ​- House of Travel



The lowdown on all things ​Spain. This is your definitive guide to holidaying in ​Spain.  

Spain enjoys year-round pleasant temperatures and tapas. Two of our favourite things. Spain also boasts Gaudi and Picasso, with world-famous art hubs such as Madrid and Barcelona at the heart of Spain’s cultural heritage, while Real Madrid is one of the most famous football clubs on the planet. You won’t walk two blocks without stumbling across children volleying in the streets. Food? Check. Art? Check. Culture? Double check. Just look how Spain ticks all the boxes.

Malaga Street Madrid 

​1. How long can I stay without a visa
New Zealand citizen holders with a valid New Zealand passport are not required to obtain a visa to enter Spain, as long as they stay no more than 90 days.

 

2. What’s the local currency?
Euro.

 

3. Do I need to tip?
Unlike many countries in Europe, Spain don’t often add a service charge to the bill, and while not leaving one is common, it’s more common than in NZ. As a rough guide, if you had a good meal, add an extra 10% to the total amount and you will receive a heartfelt goodbye when you leave. Similarly, both taxi drivers and porters will be grateful for a small gratuity; a couple of Euros will suffice.

Spanish Tapas Spain


4. Transport to and from the airport                           
A taxi from Barcelona–El Prat International Airport to the city should cost around 15€ - 20€, plus a surcharge​ of 1€ for each suitcase.      

Aerobús is the fastest way to reach Barcelona's city centre on public transport. The price for a single ticket should be roughly €5.90. Alternatively, the subway or "metro" connects both terminals of the Airport with Barcelona. Catch the L9 Sud line from both terminal 1 and 2.  
                 
Say no to public transport. We guarantee after a 24+ hour flight from NZ, you won't want to deal with a transfer via ​trains and buses. Ask your HoT consultant about booking a transfer before you even leave NZ.


5. Getting around.

Uber: ​Have met a considerable amount of resistance in Spain. As of August 2017, Ubers can only be sought in Madrid.

Public transport: Is readily available across Spain, but be aware that services are hugely reduced on Sundays and public holidays.

 

6. Weather: what can you expect when you go?
Being in the northern hemisphere, the climate generally gets warmer the further south you travel. If you’re looking to visit out of season, the south and east coast is a fairly reliable year-round bet, with a lovely Mediterranean climate. Because it’s located on a plateau, Spain’s interior stays mostly hot and dry throughout the year.

Seville Spain
 

7.​ Top 10 phrases

  • Hola – Hello
  • Adios – Goodbye
  • Por favor – Please
  • Gracias – Thank you
  • Si – Yes
  • No – No
  • Perdon – Excuse me
  • No hablo espanol – I don’t speak Spanish
  • Habla inglés? - Do you speak English?
  • Tiene? - Do you have?
  • Cuánto cuesta? - How much does it cost?

 

8.​ Rules and customs

Siesta! Most people know the Spaniards love a siesta but the timings of such can be a little ambiguous. School children might leave at midday and return by 2pm, whereas businesses might not even close until 3pm – and reopen at 5pm.

Shop closures: Most shops outside major cities will close between 2pm and 5pm and many are likely to reopen come nightfall, and remain so until 8pm or 9pm.

Dining times: In Spain, evening meals don’t usually commence until at least 9pm, so if you want a restaurant with an atmosphere, hold on. If you’re looking for a little solitude (or peace and quiet) be the first through the door at six.

Holy Week:  The week before Easter (the Holy Week in Spain), the annual tribute of the Passion of Jesus Christ is celebrated by Catholic religious. As the biggest religious celebration of the year, locals perform penance processions on the streets of almost every Spanish city. Watch elaborate reenactments ​for hours on end, including a giant cross carried through the streets atop an elaborate float. 

Spain Holy Week

9. Where to have fun
Work off all the churros you’ve gobbled in Barcelona and take a day hike to the Montserrat Mountain range. Roughly 50km out of the city, hire a guide and spend six hours winding through craggy mountainside, much of which resembles animals and objects. Look out for the cat, elephant and a pregnant woman. Real Madrid has got to be one of the most famous football clubs in the world. Every player the world over dreams of walking down the players’ tunnel at Santiago Bernabéu Stadium; Real Madrid's home stadium. Take a self-guided tour of this impressive, 81,000 seater giant. Also keep a keen eye out for The MadrEAT food fair, which takes place in the middle of Madrid’s Financial District. You’ll find traditional Spanish stews, Colombian arepas and a stand selling vermut - the Madrileños wouldn't dream of drinking anything but! Art lovers will be in heaven in Madrid, with the largest art gallery in the world. The Prado, Reina Sofia - Spain's national museum of 20th-century art, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which houses artwork from up to five centuries prior.

Spain Spanish Flamenco Dancer

10. What to do in an emergency?
Spain is considered a safe country, but they are so good at pick pocketing it's almost considered an art form. In Barcelona be especially on your guard. Particularly if you're using the subway. If you’re being touched, or even grazed, you’re a potential target. Bear hug your belongings and try to secure some personal space. Thieves rarely work alone. Essentially they want to focus your attention elsewhere while they ‘rob you blind’. Hence where that expression comes from. Stay on guard from anyone or anything designed to distract you. Unfortunately these distractions usually take advantage of your own decency – cute children, animals, helpful (or helpless) locals, the elderly. Sad but true. Ultimately, pickpocketing is 100% about opportunity and speed; take away either (preferably both) and you’ll reduce the danger. Fortunately, there are four kinds of police in Spain so that should make you feel safer. The emergency telephone number (police, firefighters and ambulance) is 112.

Here's the lowdown on how to avoid Spain's pickpockets​.  

We recommend safely and securely storing three important travel documents (your passport, credit card and driver's license) on your phone. Use an app such as Traveler ID which will store a series of documents in one place. Of course, you might lose your phone, so also store them in the Cloud, or your saved emails.

11. Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
Spain has four network operators:

  • Movistar 
  • Vodafone
  • Orange
  • Yoigo 

If your phone is unlocked, a contract-free SIM card will be a useful investment. Pricing is competitive and short-term visitors can pick up a pretty good deal. For example, Vodafone starts from as little as €15 ($24) which includes 50 minutes and 4GB of data. If you have the time, shop around and find a deal that won't even be half the price of your NZ data roaming charges.

Vodafone provide plenty of information for tourists needing SIM cards.
 

12. HOT’s top 5 Spanish eats 

1. Paella: Originating from Valencia, Paella consists of stock flavoured rice and (traditionally) a mix of chicken, rabbit, snails and beans. But these days there are over 200 variables.

Try it: The Central Market of Valencia. Work up an appetite perusing the extensive food stalls and then fill up on fresh paella – straight from the chargrilled pan.   
Address: Plaça de la Ciutat de Bruges, s/n, 46001 València. 


2. Gazpacho: AKA the cold soup. Gazpacho is usually tomato based, full of vegetables and served cold. The perfect hot-weather soup.

Try it: Try the Gazpacho at The Village Café in the small coastal village of Deià. Set within a stone courtyard and surrounded by flowering rock gardens, it’s the quintessential Spanish tavern.
Address: Carrer Felipe Bauzà, 1, 07179 Deià, Illes Balears. 



3. Jamón ibérico:
When in Rome (but clearly we mean Barcelona). Jamón ibérico is well regarded as the most silky and deeply delicious of all Spanish raw ham. Sought from the Black Iberian Pig (cerdo negro), the Spanish claim it's the only breed to feed on acorns. Owing to the rich flavours of the meat. 

Try it: Jamón Jamón. With two specialised stores in Barcelona (in Les Corts as well as in Poble Nou District) pick up all your gourmet ham products here.
Address: Carrer d’ Europa, 23 (Barcelona). Con Gandesa, Les Corts.



4. Churros con chocolate:
Predominately long strips of donut, sugared and then drizzled in chocolate sauce (and they’re not shy with the sauce either). Need we say more.

Try it: Chocolatería San Ginés. The churros are served hot and freshly cooked, ready for dunking into the thick, dark and wonderfully gloopy pot of chocolate. Aim to sit outside, although a word of warning​, your wait time may exceed an hour.
Address: Pasadizo San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid.  


5. Callos a la Madrileña: Do you dare? Callos is a 15th century stew common across Spain but notably Madrid, consisting of beef tripe and chickpeas, blood sausage and chorizo. Can your palette handle stomach lining and blood all in one dish? If it helps, the Spanish love it. And have done for 700 years.

Try it: Sobrino de Botín, founded in 1725 and located near the Plaza Mayor.
Address: Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005 Madrid.

Spain Food Market

13. Is the water safe to drink?
Unless you see "Agua no potable", tap water is safe to drink in all major Spanish cities and resorts. If you’re travelling anywhere very remote, err on the side of caution and buy bottled.  

 

14. HOT’s top insider tips

1. The world's oldest restaurant:
 In Madrid, ​eat at the 200+ year old restaurant which specialises in Suckling Pig in Madrid, near the Plaza Mayor. It's called Restaurante Botin​: Calle Cuchilleros, 17, 28005. The claim to fame is mostly that it has never closed since first opening centuries prior. 

2. Consider a Madrid City Bus Tour: A two day pass for the Madrid City Bus Tour is 25 euros. On-board there are headphone jacks so you can choose your language. A good option for getting around if you don't want to walk but would prefer to give the tube a miss.

3. Authentic Spanish weekends: As well as tourists, the locals also head to The San Miguel Market at Plaza de San Miguel in Madrid. It boasts dozens of food vendors all under the one glass roof. Patisseries and meat vendors (try a 'cone of meat') as well as tapas, yoghurt stalls and coffee shops. We recommend the Portuguese egg tarts, wine, beer, Sangria and Argentinian empanadas. Everything you could want in one place - if not a wee bit pricey. 

4. Go in seek of ‘Ginger’ A cosy, unspoilt and relatively undiscovered Spanish bar in the heart of Barri Gótic; Barcelona's Old Town. Serving classic cocktails, fresh tapas, jazz and of course, Cava, its dimly lit interior is undisputedly seductive. Order an aperitif and give into its Catalan charm. 

5. World famous Prado: The Prado/ Museo del Prado. Visit after 6pm and entry is free. However, this only allows a few hours for viewing, whereas on average, most people spend over four. Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum is opposite The Prado, so nip across the road and visit two spectacles in one day. 

6. Not a fan of running from bulls? The Spanish city of Mataelpino (roughly 50km from Madrid) has swapped its bulls for over-sized balls. The Running of the ​BALLS. Of course, Spain is well known for its bull runs. Notoriously so. But this event, which solely uses gigantic rolling balls, is just as much fun for the bulls ​as it is the participants - notably because the​ bulls get to stay in ​a field. 

​7. Nip to Andorra: The tiny Pyrenees-based principality that nestles inconspicuously between France and Spain. Three hours from Barcelona, in summer it’s a mecca for shopping, with over 2000 shops. While in winter, the skiing is said to be the best in the world.

8. Visit Game of Thrones' Dragonstone in real life: If you'd like to traverse the same long and windy stone paths where Daenerys Targaryen tried (and failed) to ge Jon Snow to bend the knee, Dragonstone is actually Spain's San Juan de Gaztelugatxe. A small island in Basque Country complete with narrow stone bridge and all those steps​. Climb to the top ​and you'll find ​a small church, where you can ring a bell and make a wish. 

Séville Spain

 

15. Spain for kids
You can make almost any French activity as fun for children as it is for the adults. Take a ghost tour/walk in Paris or navigate the rural vineyards with a bike ride. If you’re critters are brave critters, cycle on a country road and wait for the trucks carrying hay bales to pass – nothing more fun than a hay storm! In summer, many of the French farmers craft their fields into crazy mazes. A maize maze if you will. The French are also particularly good at designing a really great park, with all sorts of swings, slides and monkey bars. If you’re not close to the coast, many municipals have manmade lakes with small slivers of sand and swimming pontoons. And you might not get the kids eating duck liver pate by lunchtime, but we bet they won’t mind a picnic with a pastry from the patisserie. Look out for the savoury options covered in shredded emmental cheese – the cheese makes the slice look excessively hairy and kids love it.


European Heritage Days
These are annual national events, currently set up by more than fifty countries whereby the public are permitted to visit buildings and other historical places of interest which are not usually open to the public, or museums whose access then becomes free, or reduced in price.  

These heritage days are launched every year on the third weekend of September. Also known as Doors Open Days and Open Doors Days. For more information click here.

 

16. What adapter do I need?
Mains voltage is 220-240 volts AC (50 cycles) and all sockets take small round two-pin plugs.

Barcelona Old Quarter
 

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