From riotous fiestas and sizzling cuisine to world-class museums and cutting-edge art galleries, there's a reason why Spain endures as one of the world's most popular destinations. Like the country's famous tapas, Spain itself is a tempting smorgasbord of bustling cities, scenic countryside and sunny islands, which visitors can nibble away at on repeat trips or consume in one giant feast. Either way, it is one appetising nation.
In spite of its myriad attractions, most come to Spain for sun, sand and self-indulgence, flocking to the likes of the Costa del Sol and Costa Brava to while away days on beaches and nights in clubs. An early pioneer of package holidays, Spain's leading resorts have long been geared up for the mass market – from the Balearics to the Canary Islands – but it's not all sprawling hotel complexes; quaint fishing villages, bijous retreats and secluded beaches abound if you're looking to veer off the tourist trail.
Spain is much more than holidays in the sun, though. Away from the beach there's an extraordinary variety of things to do; from climbing snow-capped peaks in the Pyrénées to hiking the ancient pilgrimage route of St James's Way; from diving in the protected Medes Islands to stargazing in Tenerife. Alternatively, you could drop in on one of the country's many festivals (think Running of the Bulls, La Tomatina and the Baby Jumping Festival) which are madder than a box of frogs.
And then there are the cities; Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville, Valencia, the list goes on. Each one of these vibrant metropolises has their own distinct flavour; the Dali architecture and sweeping beaches of Barcelona seem a long way from the wide boulevards and soaring skyscrapers of Madrid (though the Catalans wish it was further).
But for all their disparities, these cities are bound by Spain's remarkable history and enviable cultural feats, which are proudly displayed in the country's museums, galleries and UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Suffice to say, its popularity shows no sign of waning.
Spain is a member of the European Union and a valid EU or North American passport entitles visitors to a 90 day stay in the country. Citizens of other countries should check with the Spanish embassy or consulate in their home country regarding entry requirements and visas.
The monetary unit is the Euro. Credit cards are widely accepted, and ATM machines, banks and “cambios” are easily found. Visitors might want to dress so as to blend in with the locals. Ensure wallets and passports and concealed and hold cameras and purses close to you in crowded urban areas, in case of pickpockets.
When To Go
As a rule, Spain enjoys four distinct seasons, but the country is large and therefore climates vary greatly from region to region. For example, July and August will bring average temperatures in the 90's to Madrid and Seville, while Santiago rarely sees days over the low 70's, even in mid-summer.
And though the mountainous regions will see snow and freezing temperatures each winter, lows in other parts of the country tend to hover in the mid 40's, although Madrid can experience colder weather, sometimes in the low 30's.
During the summer months of June, July and August, inland cities can be unbearably hot, with Madrid and Seville regularly hitting 110F (44C). Like many European countries, August is when Spaniards take their vacations and the locals head straight to the coast. Though summer is a wonderful time for touring Spain, visitors should be aware that early summer brings crowds, and in late summer, some shops, cafes, bars and restaurants may be closed because their owners are at the beach, escaping the heat. Watch for signs that say “cerrado por vacaciones” (closed for vacation).
Both fall and spring are generally mild, with days warm enough for sunbathing, but cool enough for more active pursuits. As elsewhere, springtime weather can be unpredictable and visitors should come prepared for cold, rainy weather as well as sunny, dry days.
As a rule, winters are cold and some regions, particularly Galicia in the northwest are very wet, with an average of 20 days of rain per month. The southern regions may still experience mild, warm days.
– Sailing, yachting or fishing in the Mediterranean, or around the Balearic Islands or Canary Islands.
– Walking along one of the many via verdes.
– Hiking or Trekking the many GR trails around the country.
– Skiing in the Pyrenees, at Baqueira-Beret resort or any of the other alpine or Nordic ski resorts.
– Skiing in the Sierra Nevadas, with occasional ocean views.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Spain
– Alhambra – Generalife and Albayzín
– Burgos Cathedral
– Historic Centre of Cordoba