Despite the unfortunate reputation of a booze filled party destination or as a country full of cheap and nasty resorts for budget minded package tourists on the Costa Del Sol, Spain has so much more to offer the independent traveller than the images of ‘Benidorm’ would have you believe.
The real Spain is in reality very diverse, from the surprisingly cosmopolitan Granada or Valencia to the beautiful architecture of Barcelona, Spain also offers wild central plains, beautiful islands far removed from the budget resort cliché, a Moorish ambience in the South and even vast mountain vistas for travellers who take the time to really explore and get off the beaten track.
Spaniards don’t speak of Spain as a whole, they speak of her as a multitude of Spains, as more than one country. Regional cultural identities run as deep here as they do in Spain’s close neighbours of France, Italy and Britain, and each region can vary wildly from the next.
One thing that binds the whole country is a deep love of life, a sharing tapas culture, a slow paced, relaxed outlook and a love of siestas that takes a little getting used to, but is deeply infectious once you do.
Citizens of the EU, including the UK, require no visa to enter or stay in Spain for up to 90 days. Many other countries including the USA, Australia , New Zealand, Canada and others can visit for up to 3 months. Check with your own embassy if your country is on this list.
Citizens of most other countries will have to apply for a Schengen visa which allows you to visit any of the countries in the Schengen zone, including Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Iceland, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Sweden for up to 90 days.
There are no specific vaccinations necessary for any visit to Spain beyond the routine vaccinations that are given in childhood and teenage years in the UK, and the country has an excellent health care system that is easily accessible. Health insurance is absolutely essential, and members of the EU should carry an EHIC card for access to any reciprocal healthcare.
Crime and Safety.
Spain is generally very safe with relatively low crime rates compared to some countries. This does not mean that crime does not occur at all, with theft and pickpocketing perhaps the largest problems for travellers, but reasonable common sense precautions for the security of your belongings and for your personal health and safety are enough to keep you safe. Most visitors who have trouble in the country do so as a result of alcohol, so enjoy yourself but within reason.
Costs and money.
The currency of Spain is the Euro. Spain is not a budget destination by any stretch of the imagination but it is by far the most expensive country in Europe. Accommodation will be your biggest expense, with the cheapest private room in a pension averaging out at around £30, but this can rise significantly in major cities and resorts. A comfortable midrange budget with comfortable lodgings, a few nice but modest meals, travel costs and sights and activities can average out at around £100 a day. You can travel for a lot cheaper if you severely tighten the purse strings and limit yourself, but you can spend a lot more too.
When to go.
The best time to visit anywhere in Spain is April till October, although the summer months of July and August are peak summer holiday season in Europe and things can go up in price.
The temperatures in the Meseta and Northern Spain can fall below freezing in the winter months of November, December and January, and the Pyrenees can get heavier rainfall during this time, although heavy showers throughout the year are not uncommon.
Seville is the capital of the province of Andalucia, and as legend has it is the birthplace of the passionate flamenco! A legend you can easily believe once you have visited the old gypsy neighbourhood of Triana. With a ton of impressive sites, including the grand cathedral, and plenty of things to keep you occupied, not to mention all that tapas, Seville is a perfect city break destination!
If you haven’t heard of Burgos before, I won’t blame you; but you should seriously head there now and explore the stunning gothic cathedral and grand architecture of this tiny city before everyone else discovers it!
Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular city break destinations, and understandably so. The historic streets, the famous architecture and grand museums and buildings are a great way to get a taste of the city, but you can’t truly understand Barcelona until you sleep until 10.00 at night and then go out to feast and party with the locals.
Granada is one of Spain’s greatest and most underrated cities. Flying under most tourists radars, Granada is a beautiful, cosmopolitan city with a great infrastructure, a ton of history and a rich culture to explore.
Spain’s capital city is famous for its nightlife and doesn’t truly wake up until at least 11.00 at night, with a wealth of great bars and restaurants to choose from. If you can tear yourself away from the great food, great music and the laid back, party atmosphere, the museums and culture are well worth exploring.
Tapas culture can be found all over Spain, but Andalucia is where it is really at! Head to Granada or Cordoba and sit yourself down at any one of the multitude of tapas bars to experience this very Spanish tradition! The mini snacks are amazingly delicious and you could easily fill up on them!
Explore the Sierra Nevada.
Whether you hike or hire a horse to ride, exploring the mountainous terrain of the Sierra Nevada is one of the truly great activities in Spain.
Watch a traditional Flamenco dance in Seville.
You haven’t been to Spain until you have seen and heard this heart stirring dance that is the cultural soul of the Spanish. Watching two skilled dancers in the dance’s spiritual home is a sight worth travelling for. You could even take a few classes yourself!
Seriously. I know Spain isn’t exactly known as a ski destination, but Pradollano in the Sierra Nevada National Park has one of Europe’s longest ski seasons.