Discover the many flavours of Spain's art, food and wine.
My personal list of handy Spain travel tips. All first hand knowledge - written during my travels in Spain.
All the tips have been categorised into sections. Just click on each tab to fully open and start reading.
- If you’re a non EU resident, you can obtain VAT refunds on purchases over €90.15 at selected stores (saving up to 21% tax). When you make a purchase over €90.15, ensure you get your Tax Free form from the store. Then get your Customs approval stamp at the last EU departure point. They give you a maximum 3 month time limit. Once at the airport, show your completed Tax Form, the purchased goods (still sealed and unused), purchase receipts, passport and airline ticket.
- Spanish time means that everything generally closes between 1-4pm except restaurants. Start getting used to siesta time!
- A lot of places are closed on Sundays too.
TRAVELLING BY BUS
- It is easy to travel around Spain on the extensive bus network offered by many bus companies. Check for schedules on Check My Bus website, select the time and price that suits you and you will be redirected to the appropriate bus companies website to make the reservation. I always recommend purchasing tickets on the company’s’ own website instead of third party websites as they tend to charge higher change fees.
Spain Travel Tips - cities
- If you have purchased an airline ticket with a low-cost airline, such as Ryan Air, Smartwings, Thomas Cook Airlines, Transavia and others, do check your itinerary for the exact airport name. For example, you could be arriving at Girona airport (a town north of the city) rather than the much closer international Barcelona-El Prat.
- Passeig de Gracia is one of the major avenues in Barcelona aside from La Rambla, containing many classy shops! Spot the Gaudi buildings amongst the upmarket branded shops.
- If you like to prepare your own food on occasions, there is a large supermarket on the lower level of the El Cortes Ingles department store. It is located near Plaza Catalunya. Plus free Wifi.
- The famous Guadi basilica Sagrada Familia is still a must. It still looked awesome on my second visit to Barcelona. If you do purchase a ticket to go inside, it is worth paying the extra €2.00 to go up one of the spires by elevator. The views from the city and the spire tips are amazing. Then I walked the 360 steps back down to ground level.
- If you’re looking to get out of touristy Barcelona for a day, then visit the strange and bizarre Dali Musuem in Figueres. This town has now become touristy itself but on smaller scale. It’s a 2 hour 45 minute train journey from Barcelona to Figueres. Enjoy a lunch in the surrounding cafés which are much cheaper than Barcelona.
- Museo del Prado, housing a huge collection of European art, has free admission in the evenings: 6pm-8pm Monday to Saturday and 5pm-7pm on Sundays and holidays. End the day with a peaceful walk through the neighbouring Royal Botantical Gardens for a small fee or walk two blocks to the free El Retiro park.
- Personal recommendation: Populart Café for the best blues and jazz live music in town. Its a small bar, so get in early. Expect the drinks to be pricey though.
- Personal recommendation: Looking for something non-touristy? View Spanish made sculptures for free at a suburban outdoor sculpture park. Take the metro to station Dario Ruben and walk to Paseo de la Castellana.
- San Sebastian is where you will find the best tapas (called Pintxo’s in this city) in the whole of Spain. Spend time walking the streets of Parte Vieja (old town) and go pintxo hopping. Each bar has their own unique pintxo’s on offer.
- Visit the nearby scenic valley of The Plazaola “green route” by bike. Rent a bike from Bici Rent, then take the train and get off the 6th stop at Andoain. Bring a picnic lunch or ride to the village of Leitza and sample local ciders at a typical cider house. Bici Rent can help with advising many biking routes or guided treks.
- For the best views of the bay and surrounding mountains, take the funicular up Monte Igeldo.
- The beautiful and amazing Mezquita (a catholic church nestled inside a mosque) must be visited. You can gain free entry by visiting between 8.30-9.30am daily except Sunday and excluding days of extraordinary celebrations. Its the perfect time to take photos as there a few tourists about. You will then be ushered out by 9.30am to make way for paying tourists at 10am.
- The Museo de Bellas Artes (Museum of Fine Arts) is free for European passport holders.
- Cordoba’s shopping is really known for its leather and silver jewellery.
- Everything is closed from 1.00 to 5.30pm. But on a Saturday most shops/café don’t reopen in the evening.
- Cordoba hosts many festivals over the summer months. I was lucky enough to extend my stay in Cordoba to be able to enjoy the la Noche Blanco del Flamenco festival (The White Night of Flamenco). In one evening 30 different flamenco artists such as singers, musicians and dancers, performed at different times over 30 venues in the town. So do check the festival calendar before you book your Spanish holiday.
- In my opinion, after viewing all the pottery and ceramics in Spain, Cordoba had the best on display!
- Personal recommendation: Relax the body and soul at the typical Arabian styled baths of Hamman Al Andalus. Complete a 90 minute circuit of warm pool, hot pool, cold pool, aromatherapy massage, sauna and finish with a mint tea. Price includes shower gels, shampoos, moisturising creams and hairdryer. Avoid booking the last appointment of the day so that you are not rushed at the end.
- Many ceramic shops/factories across the river at the corner of Calle Alfareria and Calle Antillano Campos – just cross the Puente de Isabel II bridge. They are cheaper here in Seville but I liked the designs more in Cordoba shops.
- The La Carboneria offers free flamenco nights. It will be pot luck if you get a good dancer that evening. And the bar is quite touristy. However, you can pay for professional flamenco shows at the Casa de la Memoria
- Check for any free Friday night Flamenco shows at Pena Flamenco de la Perla Cadiz. All authentic shows. It was full of locals – we were the only tourists there! Usually starts at 10pm – Spanish time!
- The fortress of Castillo de Santa Catalina is free admission. Great views of the town beach and Castillo de San Sebastian in the distance. Sometimes there are free exhibits inside.
- If travelling overland from Cadiz to Granada, it is definitely worth a stopover in picturesque Ronda. A small village sitting on top of a cliff, split into two by a gorge. Spend the day there but can be very touristy with many day trippers. Or stay overnight to enjoy the evening without the hordes of tourists. I took a bus from Cadiz to Ronda early in the morning and then an afternoon train from Ronda to Granada.
- Lots of craft shops, selling much nicer wares than Seville or Cadiz. Or if you prefer the many fashionable clothing and shoe stores. Plus lots of cafés and restaurants to replenish the soul’s energy.
- Left luggage service: there are no lockers at the train station but you can use the storage services of Hotel Andalucia across the road from the station (approx. €5). I’ve heard that the lockers at the bus station are quite expensive. Then its only a 10 minute walk to the centre of the village.
- The tourist highlight in Granada is the huge palaces of Alhambra. Avoid long queues and sold out days in the summer season (Jul – Sep) by purchasing online at www.tickets.alhambra-patronato.es/en .
- Do most of your sightseeing early in the morning when its cooler, as the sun becomes hot quite quickly. Plus it’s not fun queuing in the sun.
- For something different, another highlight I recommend is walking down the colourful Moroccan souk (markets) on Calle Caldereria Nueva. You don’t feel like you’re in Spain at all. While there try a Granadino tea in one of the many Moroccan teteria’s (teahouses). There are many flavours to choose from.
- There is another smaller market called Alcaiceria, behind the Cathedral. Sells many Arabic craftwork and the prices seemed cheaper here than the Moroccan souk on Calle Caldereria Nueva.
- Personal recommendation: Most bars in Granada offer free tapas with your drink order. Bodegas Castaneda had the largest free tapas with your drink! Seems to be a favourite with the locals too.
- Personal recommendation: Envinarte, on Calle Serrano, is a great wine shop which the owner speaks English and can help you decipher all the Spanish wines that are available. For example, Crianza wine has been in a barrel for minimum 9 months, and a Reserva wine means its been in a barrel between 1-3 years, therefore smoother taste and hence more expensive. Rioja wines are from the Rioja region. These wines are the most famous because its from the first wine growing region. But she admitted to me that she didn’t like the taste of those wines either!