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Many assume they know what Spain is all about – siestas, paella and sangria right? However the country is so diverse and complex, this is far from the truth. To help you get to know the real Spain and sort the fact from the fiction, here are 10 things you should know before visiting.
Spaniards across the country eat very late – lunch is around 2pm and dinner is eaten at around 9pm or 10pm even. You’ll have to adjust your meal times when you visit as most restaurants don’t open or start serving meals until at least 8pm or later in the evenings. Don’t worry though, tapas is usually available throughout the day, so you won’t go hungry.
The siesta has always been the part of Spanish culture that the rest of the world envies, but it’s not really what people think. Yes most shops and businesses close between 2pm and 4pm, but that doesn’t mean people actually sleep. Most of the time they just go home to eat lunch and spend time with their family. You might only sleep if you’re a toddler or an elderly person. When the shops re-open, Spanish are back at work until 8pm or 9pm, so most people work much longer hours here too.
Official things will begin on time, but if you’ve arranged to meet up with a group of friends or have been invited to a party, don’t be surprised if you’re the first one there. You may have to wait around for events to begin too, so make sure you’ve packed your patience in your suitcase along with your swimsuit.
Although many things are late in Spain, the public transport is not. Trains and buses almost always leave on time. Compared to other countries, such as the UK, public transport is very affordable, and you can travel long distances without it being too much of a strain on your wallet. The AVE – Spain’s fast train, means that you can zip around the country at great speeds too. It takes just one hour and 40 minutes to travel on a high speed train between Valencia and Madrid or two and half hours from Madrid to Malaga.
The Spanish speak many different languages and will greatly appreciate you learning a few words of the local language before you go. In Catalonia, Catalan is spoken, you’ll see it on all the signs and most of the menus too. In Valencia and the Balearic Islands, various dialects of Catalan are also considered official languages. In the Basque Country, in northern Spain, Basque is spoken, while in Galicia, you’ll hear Galician, which shares many similarities with Portuguese.
Paella is from Spain’s Valencia region, and while you can find it widely across Andalusia and many of the touristy restaurants in Barcelona, it’s not a typical dish that’s eaten everywhere. In the Basque Country and Galicia for example, you’re more likely to find pintxos, cod or octopus on the menus, rather than paella. Sangria is really only a drink for tourists too (sorry) – you won’t see many locals drinking it. If you want something more typical, try a tinto de verano (summer wine) instead or look at our list of Spain’s most typical drinks.
Flamenco is not really Spain’s traditional dance, it’s actually Andalusia’s traditional dance. While there are many places to watch flamenco in places such as Granada, Seville and Cordoba, you won’t find much of it in Galicia, Cantabria or the Basque Country. While there are places that tourists can watch it in Barcelona, it’s not part of Catalan culture either.
Some might say that Spain is the festival capital of the world, there are so many here that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Chances are that at least one festival will coincide with your trip somewhere in Spain. Some of the best Spanish festivals include Las Fallas in Valencia, La Mercè in Barcelona and Seville’s Feria de Abril . Here’s our list of Spain’s Most Awesome Festivals.
The Moors ruled Spain for approximately 800 years, from around 711 to 1492, so it’s no wonder that much of Spanish culture is derived from them. You can still see a lot of Moorish architecture across Spain, particularly in Andalusia such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada and the Real Alcazar in Seville. The Moors also influenced the Spanish language – words such as almohada (pillow), azúcar (sugar) and almendra (almond) come directly from Arabic. The Moors also left their mark on Spanish cuisine, such as the chickpea and spinach dish, which is popular in Andalusia.
Despite August being the middle of the summer holidays and most families taking their vacations during this time, August is not a great month to visit Spain. Most of Spain goes on holiday in August to the beach or summer homes in the countryside, so many businesses, including restaurants and cafes, close for the month. Major tourist attractions will still be open, but to see a more local side of the country, choose a different month. August if of course also the hottest month in Spain too. Cities such as Granada, Seville and Cordoba regularly reach temperatures of over 40 degrees celsius, so it’s not great weather for walking around and sightseeing.