Getting To/Around Spain
Most major cities have airports, but if you're arriving from the US you'll likely to land in either Madrid's Barajas airport (MAD) or Barcelona's El Prat airport (BCN). Both airports are well-connected to the city centers with frequent buses.
Taxis: The easiest places to find taxis are at airports, bus stations and train stations. Taxi ranks tend to be sparse, but your taxis will stop if you hail them (look for a green light or libre sign). The initial charge during the daytime is approximately €2.40 in Madrid and €1.05 -1.20 per additional kilometer depending on time of day. Keep in mind that there is a maximum of four people per taxi and there may be luggage surcharges.
Subways And Buses: Spanish cities are generally well-serviced by public transportation and even small cities tend to have their own bus systems. Both Madrid and Barcelona have extensive metro and bus systems, which are generally cheap and reliable. Tickets can be bought individually for about €1-2 depending on the city, but it's generally cheaper to buy tickets in packs of ten. You can purchase tickets at most tobacco or newspaper shops, as well as dedicated kiosks in metro/train stations. Buses tend to run from about 6am to midnight, or up to 2am in larger cities on busier routes. Night buses also operate in Madrid and Barcelona, but in smaller cities you'll have to rely on taxis in the wee hours.
Bikes: Bike sharing systems are popular in most larger Spanish cities, including Barcelona, Madrid, Seville and Valencia; however, many cities require users purchase a yearly pass, meaning it's not always a viable option for tourists. Work those walking legs instead!
Long-Distance Trains: Spain boasts an extensive rail network operated by Renfe and a handful of smaller operators. The country's high-speed service has seen considerable improvements in recent years with increasing destinations and connections between cities You’ll want to book ahead for longer and more popular routes. All long distance trains have 1st and 2nd classes, called preferente and turista, respectively. Youth and children discounts are available on most services. Most train stations have consignas (left luggage facilities), where you can store a bag for €4-6 per day.
Buses: While Spain has an extensive local bus networks, the time tables can be frustrating for visitors. Links between smaller cities tend to run infrequently, or might be limited to a couple arrivals and departures on Saturday or Sunday. Still, the bus tends to be a cheaper alternative to trains. In general, bus tickets are sold for specific departures. Tickets should be bought in advance for high-volume routes or during popular travel times (think holidays and weekends). While larger towns and cities might have a dedicated bus station, in smaller areas they may operate from unmarked kiosks or plazas—be sure to ask the locals!
Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, each of which retains a limited amount of control over their political organization. While the politics of this might impact Spanish citizens, it won't be on the traveler's mind. What will be on their mind, however, is the differences between each area. Spain has been described as a "nation of nations," which testifies to the strong sub-national identities that exist throughout the Peninsula.
Spain's regions, in order of population, are: Andalusia, Catalonia, the Community of Madrid, Valencian Community, Galicia, Castile and Leon, Basque Country, Castile-La Mancha, Canary Islands, Region of Murcia, Aragon, Extremadura, Balearic Islands, Asturias, Navarre, Cantabria and La Rioja.
While Spanish is the most common language in the country, there are also a handful of regional languages that have official states. Catalan is the second most popular language with 10 million speakers. Like Spanish, it is a Romance language, but in pronunciation, it's more similar to French or Italian than to Spanish (probably because it's derived from Occitan languages of southern France).
Other regional languages include: Galician, Asturian, Basque and Aragonese. Basque is an interesting case as it's unrelated to other European languages. While the language is not widely spoken, Basque residents are proud of their identity. Some inhabitants want to be independent from Spain and to reunite with the Basque regions on the other side of the Pyrenees in France. This gave rise separatist-terrorist group ETA, who declared a permanent ceasefire in 2010.
Even the regions of Spain that don't seek independence have their own unique cultures. Head to Andalusia in the South and you'll enjoy remarkable Sherry, flamenco dancing and delicious tapas. In Valencia you'll find a language similar to Catalan, paella and the fantastic fallas parade. Navarre's capital Pamplona is famous for bullfighting and Zaragoza in Aragon features UNESCO World Heritage Mudejar architecture.
Spain has used the euro since the currency was first introduced in 2002. While cash is still the most common way to pay, more and more places are accepting debit and credit cards, especially in big cities. Be aware, some ticketing machines will only accept chip and pin cards, so it's good always to have some cash on hand. You can get cash at any cajero, or ATM. The most common banks are Santander, BBVA and Caixabank.
How expensive you find Spain depends on your tastes and what you're willing to spend. You can expect to pay the same for a 3-star meal as you would elsewhere! Tipping, however, is rare in restaurants and a 5% tip is considered quite generous. The same goes for bars, where tipping is rare even if you are given small change. For taxis, most Spaniards will simply round up the price to the nearest euro.
VAT of 21% is included in all transactions, including meals, and is calculated into the list price. In big cities such as Barcelona, hotels will also add a tourist tax of about 10% for the first seven nights of your stay.
- Cafe solo (espresso) - €1-2 (depending on location)
- Lunch - €10–20
- High-end dinner - €150–250 for two
- Museum admission - €10 - 20
- Mid-range hotel - €65 - 140 (depending on city and season)
Sure, every phrase book will tell you how to say hello and goodbye. But you weren't sleeping during your school language lessons. Here are some fun phrases that will help you pass for a local:
- A otra cosa, mariposa - Let's move on (literally: to the other thing, butterfly)
- Esta tarta está de muerte - This cake is incredible
- Estoy enganchado/a - I'm hooked on...
- ¡Ni di coña! — No way!
- Ponte las pilas - Look alive! (literally: put in the batteries)
- Por si las moscas - Just in case (literally: just if the flies)
- ¡Qué barbaridad! - Wow! / I can't believe it!
- ¿Que onda? - What's up? (literally: what wave?)
- ¡Soy la leche! - I'm the coolest!
- Tirar/echar la casa por la ventana - To go all out on something (literally: to throw the house out the window)
- Volverse un ocho - confuse and complicate a situation (literally: to return an eight)
- Un vaso de vino (tinto/blanco/rosado) – A glass of (red/white/rosé) wine
For more on how plan a trip to España, refer to this 7-10 day Spain itinerary (where to go, what to see, and tips to consider).