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Your complete Spain Travel Guide: the best things to do, see, and eat

Feb 28, 2024 by The Go Ahead Tours Team

The rhythmic clacking of castanets, fragrant smell of paella, and awe-inspiring sights of castles and cathedrals are just a few of the things you’ll experience on a trip to Spain. The country has a history as rich as its churros con chocolate. You can see the remaining influences of Romans and Moors on architecture, cuisine, and even language. Even more permeating than Spain’s proud history is perhaps its inhabitants’ laid-back attitude. The long meals, daily siestas, and general ease of life might be even better than the sites. See for yourself on one of our Spain tours. Read on for our insider tips for traveling to Spain.

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The best time to go

What to see

What to eat and drink

What to do

Souvenirs to buy

What to pack

Spain Travel Guide basics

Currency: euro 

Language: The national language of Spain is Castilian Spanish, but many regions have their own language. In the northeast region of Catalonia, Catalan is just as common as Spanish, and a similar dialect is spoken in Valencia. In the central part of the north coast, Basque (known locally as Euskera) is spoken. Galician (shaped by Celtic and Portuguese) is spoken in Galicia, in the northwest. There are many other regional languages, some of which—like Silbo Gomero, a whistled language from one of the Canary Islands—are nationally protected.

UNESCO-listed sites: Spain is home to a whopping 50 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. One of the best things to do in Spain includes seeing the renowned architectural works of Antoni Gaudí, such as the Sagrada Familia cathedral and Park Güell in Barcelona. Southern Spain encompasses incredibly preserved Roman and Moorish buildings, such as the Alhambra in Granada, La Mezquita in Córdoba, and the Alcázar of Seville.

Best way to get around: Trains are often the quickest way to travel between cities in Spain, but they can be expensive and infrequent, depending on where you’re going. Traveling by bus or car takes more time, but the trade-off is being able to detour to smaller towns and visit rural areas more easily. On our Spain tours, you get the best of both worlds with a private motor coach to take you directly to each destination. No need to stress over transportation timetables (or be confused by military time), we arrange all the on-tour traveling.

Phrases to know:

  • No pasa nada. Spaniards are known for their laid-back, unbothered attitude, which can be perfectly summed up by this phrase. It translates to “nothing happens,” but the saying is similar to the English-language phrase “no worries” and is used frequently.

  • Tío/tía. While the literal meaning of these words refer to “uncle” and “aunt,” respectively, in Spain this is an informal way of referring to your “buddy” or “mate.” Many words in the Spanish language are gendered, so words that end in “o” are typically masculine while words that end in “a” are typically feminine. Some Spanish speakers are advocating for more inclusive, non-gendered language, and replacing the vowel at the end of the word with ‘e’ or ‘x’, like “Latine” or “Latinx”.

  • Vale. In Spanish the letters ‘v’ and ‘b’ make the same sound, so it’s pronounced as “bah-lay.” It’s a very common expression in Spain, and you can use it as a response to almost anything. It’s basically it’s like saying “okay” or “got it”.

  • Tapear. Most likely you’re already familiar with tapas—small, snackable plates of Spanish food. This word makes it into an activity. Pronounced like “tah-pay-are,” it’s the act of going to eat tapas.

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When to travel to Spain

Visit Spain in spring to smell the flowers and enjoy festivals. Spain is known for its siestas, but springtime is all about fiestas. People travel to Spain to attend the renowned processions of Semana Santa, taking place during Holy Week. While Catholic in origin, the parades have become a cultural symbol of Spain, even for those who aren’t religious, and all are welcome to attend.

Beginning in April and lasting throughout May, cities all over Spain (especially in the south) host fairs—ferias—that are massive social events. The Feria de Abril in Seville is one of the largest of these celebrations, and it’s filled with iconic dresses, flamenco music, dancing, and food.

Spain is one of the best places to travel in April because the temperature stays comfortably around 50-70 F, which is perfect for meandering through a garden. Fresh floral blooms make a lovely contrast against the stone walls of medieval castles and Moorish fortresses. With orange blossoms in the south, almond blossoms along the northern coast, and cherry blossoms near the border of Portugal, fragrant fields of trees perfume the country during spring.

Visit Spain in summer for long days with plenty of sun. If your ideal vacation involves soaking up the sun and some vitamin sea, you won’t want to miss summer in Spain. The weather is warm and the days are long which makes it a perfect time for visiting the many beautiful beaches.

However, summer in Spain gets hot. The average temperature is around 77-86 F, but in some of the Southern cities, like Seville, the high can get into the upper 90s. Make sure to stay hydrated and protect yourself from the sun.

Visit Spain in the fall for mushroom and grape harvests. Fall is a great time for foodies to travel to Spain since its harvest season. Delicious treats like hazelnuts and mushrooms are collected and showcased in seasonal dishes. If you want to explore the regional foods of Spain in depth, take our Food & Wine: Barcelona & Northern Spain with America’s Test Kitchen tour. You’ll visit local markets with our expert guides and learn culinary secrets from esteemed Spanish chefs.

Enjoy the cooler weather and fewer crowds during fall in Spain by joining in on grape harvesting festivities. Grapes are harvested in September and October all over Spain—with different types of grapes grown in each region. It’s the perfect time to tour wineries, taste the goods, and see the winemaking process (and maybe join in on some grape stomping yourself). Taste bubbly Cava in Catalonia, bright txakoli in the Basque Country, and full-bodied tempranillo from the underground wine cellars of Ribera del Duero on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour.

Visit Spain in the winter for holiday decorations. During winter in Spain, especially in the central regions, traditional winter weather inspires Christmas markets and elaborate nativity scenes—one of the more unique seasonal things to see in Spain. Admire the lights and festive decorations on tour when you celebrate on our New Year’s Eve in Madrid with Barcelona & Seville tour.

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Things to see in Spain

The Alhambra. One of the best places to visit in Spain is the Alhambra, a breath-taking fortress and palace in Granada. The complex is one of the most famous examples of Islamic architecture, and is home to one of the best-preserved palaces in the world. The grounds are grand and beautiful with red sandstone, colorful tiles, bubbling fountains, and lush gardens—and the panoramic views you get of Granada aren’t half bad either! Visit this UNESCO-listed site and learn its history on our Journey through Andalusia: Seville, Granada & Málaga tour.

La Sagrada Família. This church is known for its unique architectural mix of Gothic and Art Nouveau design, conceptualized by the artist Antonio Gaudí. It’s the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world and has been under constant construction since 1882. In fact, it was only a quarter complete when Gaudí died in 1926, and he is buried in church’s crypt. To enter the church, you’ll need to purchase tickets (and they can sell out well in advance). We’ll take care of the tickets and show you show this Gaudían masterpiece on our A Week in Spain: Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour.

Toledo. The walled city of Toledo is one of the best places to visit in Spain, and is only about 45 miles from Madrid. Known as the “City of Three Cultures,” the medieval city is filled with Arab, Jewish, and Christian monuments. This ancient city sits atop a hill and is home to the famous Spanish painter, El Greco. Get the most out of your visit by taking our guided excursion to Toledo on our Spain for Solo Travelers: Barcelona, Sevilla & Madrid tour.

Prado Museum. If you’re wondering what to do in Spain to admire some of Europe’s incredible fine art, the Prado Museum in Madrid is home to more than 2,000 paintings and even more sculptures, drawings, and prints. It’s described as “a museum of painters, not paintings” due to the habits of Spain’s 16th and 17th century monarchs who collected every possible work by their favorite artists. Therefore, extensive collections of the artists, Titian, El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, and Goya are featured in the museum.

Plaza de España. This ornate plaza was built in 1929 for the Ibero-American Exposition to showcase Spain’s industry and technology. The half-mile plaza is in the shape of a semi-circle and features fountains, pavilions, bridges, and tiled alcoves representing each province of Spain. Today the buildings are used as government offices, but the plaza is open to the public and free to visit. Its beauty even inspired filmmakers and is featured in Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones. Insider tip: You can rent a rowboat and paddle through the moat in front of the buildings and under the bridges.

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What to eat and drink in Spain

Tapas and pintxos. Our Spain Travel Guide would be wholly incomplete if we didn’t mentioned these two delicious dishes. While both are small snacks commonly served with an alcoholic beverage, there are some differences between them. Regionally, tapas are common in the south and central parts of Spain and are small portions of typical dishes meant for sharing. Pintxos are from the Basque region along the northern coast of Spain and are typically consumed in one or two bites. The word pintxos comes from the Spanish word “pinchar,” which means “to poke” or “to stab.” This references the toothpick used to hold the toppings in place atop the small slice of bread. Taste them both on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour.

Jamón Iberico. This salty, melt-in-your-mouth morsel is known worldwide. Jamón Iberico is a cured pork only found in Spain, due to the type of pigs (black Iberian) and their diet of regional acorns. The entire rear leg of the pig is cured and shaved directly into thin slices for serving.

Tinto de verano. One of the most quintessential things to do in Spain is bask in the sun while seated at an outdoor patio in a plaza. It’s only made better by having this beverage of red wine and lemon soda in hand.

Tortilla (de patata). Not to be confused with the tortillas we know from tacos and burritos, Spanish tortilla is a fluffy casserole of eggs and potatoes. The full name “tortilla de patata” translates to “potato cake,” but in Spain you can simply call it “tortilla.”

You can eat it on its own or order a slice between two pieces of delicious crusty bread, called a bocadillo (said “boh-kah-DEE-yo”). If you’re ready to step it up, find a spot that serves tortilla stuffed with savory additions like caramelized onions and goat cheese (you can taste this particular one at La Buha in Madrid during your free time on our A Week in Spain: Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour).

Seafood. Spain is a peninsula, after all, meaning there are plenty of fish in its seas. Shellfish, such as razor clams, mussels, and langostino—a small, slightly sweet crustacean—are harvested from the cold water in the north.

Spain’s southern and central regions have less direct access to the ocean, so pickling is a common way to preserve fish. Anchovies in vinegar are a classic Spanish fare, as is fried seafood, such as sardines and bacalou—pickled then fried white fish.

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What to do in Spain

See a flamenco show. One of the best things to do in Spain is see a live flamenco performance. Flamenco combines song, dance, and guitar to tell the story of the Romani people in Southern Spain. The lyrics are expressive and the choreography passionate, with audience participation often encouraged in the form of clapping and cheers of “ole!”. Flamenco was officially recognized as part of UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices. Get swept up in a mesmerizing flamenco performance on our Spain for Solo Travelers: Barcelona, Madrid & Seville tour.

Tour a vineyard. Spain is a huge producer of wine; it’s got the most acres of vines in the world—more than two million. Each region of Spain uses different winemaking traditions, farming techniques, and regional foods to pair with their wines. One of the best things to do in Spain is tour a vineyard, which you can do in both the Ribera del Duero and Rioja regions on our Food & Wine: A Taste of Spain tour.

Hike part of the camino (or just enjoy the comida). Santiago de Compostela is the end of the trail for many peregrinos (or walkers) who make the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. If you’re wondering what to see in Spain, Santiago de Compostela is a historically import Christian city where the tomb of St. James lies (known as “Santiago” in Spain). If you’re interested in making a pilgrimage, take our Marian Shrines & the Way of St. James tour.

Aside from its religious importance, Santiago de Compostela is a seafood haven. It’s proximity to the northwest coast of Spain provides access to many types of fresh shellfish. Well-loved foods of this region include: Tetilla cheese—a mild, nutty hard cheese, pulpo a la Gallega—Galician-style boiled octopus with olive oil, salt, and Spanish paprika, and tarta de Santiago—a sweet almond cake topped with powdered sugar.

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Best souvenirs to buy in Spain

Alpargatas (or espadrilles). For a unique and wearable souvenir, buy a pair of these comfy, casual shoes. Made of canvas and esparto rope (or braided esparto grass) these shoes are designed to be functional and affordable. One of the best places to buy these shoes is at Casa Hernanz in Madrid—a family-owned store specializing in handmaking alpargatas since opening in 1845. Today there are many colors and styles to choose from, as well as the original flat-soled option.

Olive oil. When you tour our favorite olive oil farm in Spain, you’ll see how the olives are of the highest quality and picked at peak freshness before being processed and packaged. If you’re wondering where to buy olive oil in Spain, this is the place. It’s so fresh and flavorful that Spaniards will often just drizzle a glug of olive oil over some bread to eat as a snack or light meal. You can visit a working olive farm on our Grand Tour of Spain.

Turrón. This sticky, sweet treat is made of honey, sugar, eggs, and most importantly toasted nuts—like almonds or pistachios. It’s made in loads of flavors, and you can choose between hard and brittle or soft and chewy types. This nougat-based dessert travels well and makes a great gift to take home from your travels.

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What to pack for Spain

Spaniards dress modestly, but smart. Typical clothing you might expect to see includes trousers, blazers, tops with long sleeves, and below-the-knee dresses or skirts. Most people don’t wear leggings or active wear for occasions other than exercising.

Pants or trousers. Even in warmer months, wearing shorts isn’t very common. If you plan on visiting any cathedrals, you’ll want to wear something that covers your knees or you could potentially be denied entry. Lightweight and quick-drying fabric like linen and cotton make great travel clothes.

Lightweight jacket or cardigan. Depending on the time of year you plan to visit Spain, you’ll want to pack layers to adjust for varying temperatures. Even in the spring and summer, sleeveless shirts are rare, so we recommend packing something to keep your shoulders covered.

Comfy walking shoes. Stroll along charming cobblestone streets, vibrant central plazas, and other pedestrian friendly spots for the best experience in Spain.

Ready to plan your Spanish adventure? Book your trip to Spain today.

About the author | The Go Ahead Tours Team
We’re a team of passionate travel experts, dedicated to helping people explore the world. From inspiring stories to tips for an amazing trip, the topics we cover are all about getting you out there and making discoveries.

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