An insight into one of the worlds most popular holiday destinations
Spain is the preferred holiday destination of millions of tourists and visitors each year, its enviable climate is the envy of the rest of Europe as well boasting over 5,000 kilometers of diverse coastline. There are many reasons to visit Spain including the famous Spanish festivals, enviable ski resorts, the vibrant nightlife, it’s delightful gastronomy or playing golf on over 500 top class golf courses. There is of course the historic sites, the picturesque villages and stunning countryside.
Spain is a country located in south-western Europe, bordered by France to the north-east, Portugal to the west, and the small British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar towards the southern tip. Its area is just over 505,000 square kilometres, positioning it as 52nd largest country in the world, and second in the European Union, which Spain forms part of. The country's government system is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, with a democratic approach to leadership. The Spanish capital city is Madrid, located in the exact centre of the country.
The territory of Spain is comprised of its mainland Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands archipelago, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the mainland's east coast; the Canary Islands archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Morocco; and the seaside enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, located in northern Morocco.
The country has a population of just over 46 million, concentrated mainly in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. The coastal regions of Malaga, Alicante and Catalonia also have a higher density of population.
Politically Spain is divided into autonomous communities, which are further divided into provinces, the smaller regional areas known as comarcas and finally municipalities, which are the individual villages, towns and cities. In total, there are 17 communities plus Ceuta and Melilla, and 50 provinces.
Hundreds of blue flag beaches
You will find some of the best beaches in Spain located all around the Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines. The mainland coastal regions run from Galicia in the north west to Santander being bathed by the Atlantic waters. The Mediterranean coastline runs from Catalonia in the north east down to the Costa del Sol. The Atlantic coast is again present in the most southern part of Spain running from Tarifa to Huelva next to the Portuguese border.
The varied and formidable coastlines of the Balearic and Canary Islands offer hundreds of miles of a coastal areas where you will find many of the most highly rates beaches in Europe. In fact Spain boasts around 5,000 kilometers of coastline so you will never be far away from a beach haven to enjoy your holidays in Spain. Spain has made good use of their prized assets and the huge tourism industry has been built largely along its famous costas including the Costa del Sol and the Costa Blanca.
Huge selection of varied accommodation
As far as accommodation goes Spain offers a vast array of options from super 5 star luxury hotels, romantic holiday hotspots, amazing family resorts budget friendly hostels and an incredible selection of self catering apartments and villas for rent.
Be sure to check our travel resources page where you will find a selection of tried and trusted travel companies to help you find the best deal for your next Spanish holidays.
Spain is well know for its Mediterranean diet of fresh vegetables, salads, fish, rice dishes and the wide use of quality extra virgin olive oil. One of the greatest pleasure you can enjoy when visiting Spain is the wide and varied gastronomy on offer from the smallest tapas bar located in the back streets of a typical coastal fishing village to the large number of Michelin starred restaurants dotted around Catalonia, and San Sebastian. Foods of note from Spain include, black foot cured ham, olives, fresh fish, garlic, vegetables, fish and meet stews.
The most popular dish consumed by holiday makers is Paella a rice dish that comes in many forms and was first eaten in Valencia. And of course Spain is know throughout the world for its delicious Tapas dishes, small plates of food which include just about every type of food on offer.
Each region of Spain has its own take of tapas so well worth trying them in as many towns and cities as you can. Spain is of course also producer of many fine wines such as sherry from Jerez in southern Spain, Albarino from Galicia and the world renowned Rioja varieties from the central northern wine region.
Colourful festivals, fiestas and carnivals
Spanish festivals take place in every city, town and village throughout Spain at some point during the year. Some of the best festivals and fiestas in Spain have deep religious and historical meaning whilst others are simply meant for partying and having fun.
The most popular festivals in Spain include the Tomatina, the worlds largest tomato fight, the Fire of Valencia ( Las Fallas ) , the running with the bulls in Pamplona, the Sevilla April Fair and the amazing carnivals in Tenerife.
The weather in Spain varies depending mainly on location and altitude. The mountainous regions named before all experience alpine climates, with considerable snow in winter and little to no snow in summer (except for the Pyrenees, which remains more densely snowed all year round).
The northern coastal provinces of Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, Pais Vasco (Basque Country), Navarra, as well as eastern Catalonia, northern Aragon and north-western Castilla y Leon, all experience an oceanic climate due to their close or adjacent proximity to the Atlantic Ocean; this is characterised by mild winters and cool summers, with high rainfall all year round; this area is sometimes called Green Spain.
The northern inland regions of Castilla y Leon, La Rioja, southern Aragon, Madrid, and northern Castilla-La Mancha all have a continental Mediterranean climate, featuring cold, usually snowy winters, and hot, dry summers. The southern inland regions of Extremadura, southern Castilla-La Mancha and northernmost Andalusia have a very similar climate, with cold to cool winters with no or very little snow, and scorching dry summers.
The Mediterranean region of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, as well as the south-western part of Andalusia, have a climate characterised by mild winters with moderate rainfall, and warm to slightly hot, dry summers. The eastern and south-eastern Mediterranean regions of Comunidad Valenciana, Murcia and eastern Andalucia have a semi-arid climate, featuring mild to warm winters and very hot summers, and very little rainfall throughout the year. Southern Andalusia has a Mediterranean subtropical climate, very similar to the one described above, only with a little more rainfall.
Finally, the special climate of the Canary Islands, which is an oceanic subtropical climate, with very warm winters and slightly hot, but never scorching, summers, and little to moderate rainfall all year round. This is probably the best and most comforting climate in the whole of Spain.
Fun theme parks
There are many top notch theme parks in Spain for all the family to enjoy including the Terra Mitica park near Benidorm in Alicante, the Warner Park in Madrid and Spain's largest and most spectacular theme park, PortVentura near Barcelona. PortAventura offers visitors a choice of 4 top-class themed hotels, each providing easy access to the park and the opportunity for visitors to make the most of their time there.
The Isla Magica is located in the heart of Seville, just a five minute walk from the town centre, making it easily accessible and a popular attraction for families visiting the area. Divided into lands of deep intrigue and mystery, such as the Amazon and the Pirates’ Lair, Isla Magica offers a keen sense of adventure and action guaranteed to capture the imaginations of both adults and children alike. Each land offers a selection of quirky rides for all ages, as well as a comprehensive schedule of spectacular shows and a water park that includes wild slides – a great way to cool off in the Spanish sun.
Modern transport services
Spain is renowned for its excellent, world-class transport facilities and links so getting around Spain these days is very easy. The Spanish highway system is the fourth longest in the world at 15,152 kilometres, only behind the huge countries of USA, China and Canada. Madrid has six motorways radiating out to each of the corners of the country, and many other toll roads and freeways connect the main cities and towns in the country.
They are always maintained in prime condition and operate with strict standards; many of the newer highways receive very little use and, as a whole, they rarely experience traffic incidents and overcrowding. Highways in Spain are denoted by the letter A (for autopista or autovia). Their speed limit is usually set at 120 km/h. In addition, there are hundreds of second degree national roads, the longest one, the N-340, running over 1,000 kilometres from Girona to Cadiz. Spain has invested heavily in a high speed train network which is run by the national train service carrier Renfe.
The now famous Ave high speed train service has cut the travel times significantly between the major cities around mainland Spain travelling at speeds of of over 300 kilometers an hour. You can now travel in comfort and style from Madrid to Barcelona in just over 2 hours and 30 minutes or from Madrid to Malaga on the Costa del Sol in under 3 hours.
Spain is still thought of as a budget destination although in general, prices though have increased considerably over the last ten years. If you plan to spend most of your time in the major cities your holiday money in Spain may not last as long as you hoped.
Prices do vary quite considerably around Spain and depend greatly on the location, however, if you are on a tight budget it is still possible to make your holiday money go further than you think.
As you would expect prices for dining and drinking out will be affected by the location along with the time year are travelling. One thing to look out for on prices generally is the addition of sales tax – IVA (usually pronounced “iba”) – which may come as an unexpected extra when you pay the bill for food or accommodation, especially in more expensive establishments.
The current rate of IVA ( VAT ) in Spain stands at 21%.
It is safe to say that it is not advisable to exchage your holiday spending money at the airport on arrival as the rate normally much lower then the standard rates. The best places to change your money are the local exchange bureus found in most of the well known resorts, here you will usually get a better commission free deal.
Spanish Bancos (banks) and Cajas de Ahorros (savings banks) have branches in all but the smallest villages, some of the biggest Spanish, UK and international banks operating in Spain currently include Santander, Barclays, Solbank, Banesto, Bankinter and Unicaja .
ATM cash machines ( cajeros automaticos ) are widespread throughout the country in cities, towns and even many villages and you only need a valid card with PIN number to use them; this is probably the most convenient way to get cash when you need it, although you would be wise not to rely on this method exclusively just in case your card gets swallowed up or, indeed, lost or stolen.
Money changing machines now feature also in many larger cities and feeding in pounds or dollars will give you instant cash.
Banking hours are generally Mon-Fri 8.30am-4pm, with some city branches open Sat 8.30am-1pm (except from June to September when all banks close on Saturday), although times can vary from bank to bank. Some banks in Spain , such as Citybank and Sabadell Atlantico now open on certain days during the week.
Youth and student discounts
Various official and quasi-official youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students are eligible for the International Student ID Card (ISIC), which entitles the bearer to special air, rail and bus fares and discounts at museums, theaters and other attractions.
You have to be 26 or younger to qualify for the. All these cards are available in the UK from Usit Campus and STA; in the US from Council travel, STA, travel Cuts and, in Canada, Hostelling International; in Australia and New Zealand from STA or Campus travel.
Several other travel organizations and accommodation groups also sell their own cards, good for various discounts. A university photo ID might open some doors, but is not as easily recognizable as the ISIC card, although the latter is often not accepted as valid proof of age, for example in bars or clubs.