Here at Totally Spain, we’ve designed tens of thousands of custom trips and travelled every inch of Spain, and we’ve seen the difference that knowledge and foresight makes. If you want to make your next Spain holiday even more amazing, check out the top Spain travel blunders, slip-ups and faux-pas to steer clear of while travelling in Spain.
55 Must-Nots in Spain
Must-Nots While Travelling Around Spain
1 Under no circumstances should you think that you can ‘do’ Spain in a few days. Spain is a big country. Unless you are spending a month here, our advice is to pick just no more than four locations. Click here for 10 of our favourite cities in Spain to help you choose. And check out our favourite boutique destinations that you may not have even heard of but will thoroughly enjoy.
2 Do not expect flamenco and sangria everywhere you travel in Spain. Spain is very different from the North to the South and East to West. The history, traditions and gastronomy of Galicia have little in common with those of Madrid, Extremadura or the Basque Country. Try to read up a little on the regions you are travelling to.
3 If coming from the US or Canada, think twice before booking any touring on the afternoon you arrive. You’ll be tired after your international flight, dealing with customs and getting to your hotel.
4 Don’t pack too much. Taxis don’t have much room for large cases and the trains don’t provide much room for luggage either. Try to stick to one suitcase weighing no more than 20kgs and one piece of hand luggage. Research where you are visiting before you travel and check out our travel checklist and what to pack.
5 Never expect porterage at a train station or airport. Do what we recommend and arrange a private transfer. Read about hiring a private driver and check out our guide to travelling by high-speed train here.
6 Do not underestimate how challenging it can be to drive around Spain’s historical cities such as Granada and Seville where many streets are traffic-free and access and parking is for residents only. Hire a private driver to drop you and your bags safely or research hotels that are easy to access (or have us do this for you).
7 Do not expect to tour the Pyrenees in a day or two. Driving in this region is very demanding and time consuming. Beware of calculations on your GPS – seek local advice or have your routes set by somebody who is familiar with the region.
8 Never expect that you can pick a car up in Spain and drop it off in Portugal/France. There is a very hefty one-way fee. You may be better off arranging two one-way flights instead. Read 49 more things you need to know about driving in Spain and Portugal.
9 Do not underestimate the effect of the heat when touring Andalusian cities in summer. You might never have a nap at home but if you can avoid the heat from 2pm – 5pm you’ll have much more energy to enjoy your evening (and will synchronise with the local timetable too)
10 Don’t pack too much sightseeing into a day. It’s just impossible to see Madrid or Barcelona in one day. If you are really tight on time, spend two days (or more) exploring one of the places rather than one day chasing around each. And hiring a private guide for a city tour is not only great fun but handy for fantastic insider tips as well as avoiding the lines.
11 Never leave luggage unattended at airport or in hotel lobbies. Not only it is a security hazard but if your bag is taken you’ll waste your precious time filling out paperwork at the local police station and contacting your insurance company.
12 Don’t carry important documents on you when out sightseeing. Scan originals and put them on the Cloud and only carry photocopies of your documents on your person. Check out our travel checklist for more handy tips.
13 Don’t wait until the last day to book your private drivers and expert guides. The best will be gone. Plan ahead.
14 Don’t book free city tours if you expect quality touring and have any respect for legal, professional and trained city tour guides.
15 Under no circumstances should you fetch up at the Alhambra without a ticket. Most tickets are released for sale three months in advance. On the morning of your visit, a very limited number are released so don’t ruin your trip to Granada by missing out on this UNESCO monument. Pre-book.
16 And when you have pre-booked, don’t miss your time slot at the Alhambra Palace (you have a window of 30 mins to enter the Nazaries Palaces from the time you book), otherwise you won’t get in and will have to buy another ticket, if available.
17 Never assume anybody speaks English. If they do speak to you in English, thank them for it. When you find yourself in a place without any English speakers, reach out to technology and give some of the online translation tools a whirl. Check out our guide to handy apps.
18 Never arrive at a winery expecting it to be open and ready to give a tour in English. You need to pre-book your visit. At the very least a quick phone call the day before you plan to visit but ideally a month before you travel, you should set up your wineries itinerary. Want to know which wineries are worth visiting?
19 Don’t drink and drive. Not only is it morally wrong but if you are stopped and breathalysed, your trip could become a lot more complicated. If you do want to enjoy Spanish wines, take public transport or book a private driver. Otherwise, have one of Spain’s many alcohol-free drinks.
20 Do not expect to find shops open between 1.30pm and 4.30pm. And the only Sunday opening you will find is in central Madrid and Barcelona. Check out our guide to shopping in Spain for more.
21 Avoid the Boqueria and Las Ramblas in Barcelona and Puerta de Sol and El Rastro in Madrid if you don’t like crowds. Seek out the quieter food and flea markets instead. Be very careful with your luggage in these busy streets. The last place you want to end up on your holiday is the police-station reporting a robbery.
22 Don’t be phased by the number of paintings in El Prado or the Reina Sofia. Read up beforehand on the paintings you want to see or book a private guide to escort you around the collections. If you aren’t into art, check out the smaller niche museums instead.
23 Never underestimate the enjoyment you can get from people-watching in a plaza. The Spanish really make great use of their public spaces. See which are our favourite plazas in Spain.
24 Never fail to be amazed at the number of elderly people and children out and about late into the evening. This is a country that cherishes its children and respects its elders.
25 Don’t drive on the left – this is mainland Europe where cars drive on the right! And most car rentals are diesel so check what fuel your engine uses before you fill it up.
26 Don’t talk on your mobile phone in Spain while driving either. It’s against the law. Read up on driving in Spain here.
27 Roaming is now free in the EU (unless you are on a ferry). If you want to keep your data in check, look into hiring a mobile wifi device.
28 Look to the more unusual locations to avoid the lines and crowds in peak season – for example, if you are touring the Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, do some of the must-sees but take on Colonia Guell or the Casa Vicens as well. Read up on how to visit Gaudi’s Barcelona here.
29 Don’t think less of anybody who drives the Camino de Santiago. When you are walking as a pilgrim, you often don’t have the time or energy to actually explore the charming village churches and monasteries. If you drive the route, you won’t get the pilgrim credentials but you will have seen more of the historic sights than the average peregrino for sure. Read up on the Camino de Santiago and its many driving routes here.
31 Don’t expect to wing a free hotel room upgrade even for special events such as a honeymoon or engagement in Spain. Be prepared to pay for a view or any other extras you need. Arrive early to bag the best space for the category you have paid for. Read up more about getting the best hotel room in Spain, planning a romantic break and how to avoid the typical hotel bugbears here.
32 Do not expect hotels in Spain to provide you with free parking. In the towns and cities, expect to pay 20 EUR per night and that may be in a multi-story near your hotel. If you want to have on-site hotel parking, you have to ask each hotel or only choose remote locations.
33 Don’t think that cities in the South are garden-free. In regions such as Andalusia, the gardens are on the inside rather than the outside of the properties. Check out the amazing variety of gardens and courtyards of Spain here.
34 Some people from the Basque Country and Catalonia appreciate being referred to as Basques or Catalans before being referred to as Spanish. Be aware of this and listen and learn about the regional differences as you travel around. Not sure whether you are in a region with a strong identity? Just look at the street names and signs – if they are in another language (apart from Spanish) that’s your clue!
35 Don’t talk politics unless you are well-versed in advance. References to the past including the civil war and Franco aren’t appreciated unless you can illustrate that you are sensitive to the events. The safest topic to discuss is always food followed by family.
36 Never walk barefoot and don’t wear flip flops or swimwear or overly casual clothes unless you are on the beach or poolside. Not only do you risk being refused entry into bars and restaurants, you are also making yourself a prime target for pickpocketing.
37 You may be surprised when you see the pointy hats called ‘capirotes’ worn during the Easter processions in Spain but there is no sinister connection. Their conical design was simply intended to help the people wearing them to feel closer to heaven.
38 Don’t expect much open on Christmas Day. To understand how these festivities are celebrated in Spain, check out our detailed guide to the holiday season.
Must-Nots While Eating & Drinking in Spain
39 Spanish mealtimes are a source of much confusion while travelling in Spain. No matter how hungry you are, and insistent you come across, you will not find lunch being served in any restaurant until 1:30pm and dinner service only begins at 8-9pm (at the earliest!) If you do find a place serving food outside Spanish mealtimes, don’t criticise it for lack of atmosphere or creativity – it is you who is out of kilter. Take our advice and try to mimic when the locals eat and where they eat.
40 Don’t order tapas unless somebody else is doing so in the same premises at the same time. If it is empty, you may be there at the wrong time or a once-popular place might have changed management. Use your own judgement before ordering anything to eat – and if in doubt – just order a beer or a soda and leave. We recommend taking a food tour if you aren’t familiar with eating tapas in Spain. And check out our guide to the lovely San Sebastian – famous for its pintxos.
41 Don’t expect paella that you order in a Plaza Mayor to be anything other than mediocre. You need to order it carefully – wait and get a recommendation. Read up on this classic rice dish here.
42 Good jamon is expensive. If you are offered a platter of jamon iberico de bellota in a restaurant, expect to pay handsomely for it. If you want to keep costs down, order a few slices in a deli and stick to the cheaper meats such as chorizo and morcilla when eating out. Other expensive items include the anchovies from Santona which are hand-filleted. If you’re on a tight budget, buy a small jar from the deli and stick to the gambas while dining out. Read about the artistry in Spanish gastronomy here.
43 Fish often comes served with its head and tail in a restaurant. If you’d rather avoid this encounter, stick to fillets of the bigger fish such as cod and hake.
44 Do not leave Spain without trying the Spanish omelette. Tortilla is the ultimate comfort food. Best in a crowded bar anytime from 11-12. Avoid it after 2pm as it’s probably been sitting there all morning. Never eat tortilla in a service–station. In fact, never eat in a service station if you can avoid it. And don’t be tempted to buy any of the ready-made tortillas on sale in supermarkets.
45 Don’t judge the Spanish diet by what you see on the menu. The Spanish enjoy a lot of chorizo, jamon and fried meats and fish dishes when they eat out – but at home will eat simpler salads and chickpea, bean and lentil stews, soups and casseroles. If you need to eat a low-calorie or low sodium diet, say that to your waiter who will be able to produce something appropriate. Need tips on travelling here as a vegetarian or vegan?
46 Don’t expect service to be the same in Spain. People rarely eat in a hurry or grab a quick cup of coffee. If you need to eat quickly, say so. If you want a quick dose of caffeine, never sit down – stand at the bar.46 Don’t sit down unless you have to, when eating tapas. You’ll get comfortable and won’t want to explore more than one or two of the tapas bars. If you don’t have the energy to stand, then try to get a table near the bar and order a few platters of food called ‘raciones’ rather than tapas.
47 Tipping in Spain is often confusing simply because you tip so little here. Never tip more than loose change. That doesn’t mean that the gratuity is included in the bill. The percentage at the end of your receipt is always the amount of VAT. If you want to tip, always do so in cash as there is no tradition of adding in a tip to the bill by card.
48 Don’t wait to order cheese for dessert in Spain– it’s almost always eaten as an appetiser. Learn more about Spain’s cheese here.
49 Unless you are in Catalonia, bubbly known as cava is usually consumed with dessert at the end of a meal not for an aperitif! It’s the same with G&Ts – they are usually a digestif here.
50 Be very suspicious of any dish that includes both chorizo and seafood. It’s not a typical combination here in Spain.
51 Don’t be surprised by the sweet breakfasts. It’s perfectly normal to eat buns and cakes first thing and wash it down with a hot chocolate or Cola Cao! Popular with adults, kids will enjoy it also. Read more about feeding your family in Spain here.
52 Don’t assume that bars with remnants of food on the floor are to be avoided. It can be a sign of an authentic place! Check out our other foodie tips on quirky Spain here.
53 Don’t expect butter to be served with bread when eating out. If you find it dry, then don’t eat it until you have something to scoop on it or else ask for olive oil which will be of significantly better quality than any butter on offer will be.
54 Avoid eating an appetiser on your own – it’s usually designed to be shared. Learn about the art of sharing food here.
55 Do not underestimate the work it takes to put together a great holiday in Spain. We’ve been doing this for 17 years and it still takes our experienced in-house travel planners a few days’ work to prepare even the shortest of trips. If you want the perfect holiday, you need to put in some legwork. Read why you should book a trip with Totally Spain and check out the questions we ask clients when planning a custom trip here. Not yet convinced Spain is where you want to visit? Start by reading our insiders guides and popular posts! And see 25 Photos that Define Spain – Bucketlist Inspiration for your Next Trip. More free advice from the travel experts? We must be mad!!
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