Top events in Spain

March
03

In the neighbourhood of Gràcia, the religious festival of Sant Medir is celebrated in full vigour as its streets convert into a carnival...

March
15

As one of Spain's most spectacular traditional festivals, Las Fallas is a massive fire festivity largely celebrated in the Valencia community....

March
15

Thousands of runners from around the world take to the streets of Barcelona for this big sporting event. The route, which changes every year,...

Belmonte Castle near La Mancha, Spain
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Belmonte Castle near La Mancha, Spain

© 123rf.com / Matt Trommer

Spain Travel Guide

Key Facts
Area

504,782 sq km (194,897 sq miles). Includes Balearics, Canaries, Ceuta, and Melilla.

Population

46.6 million (2012).

Population density

93.8 per sq km.

Capital

Madrid.

Government

Parliamentary monarchy since 1977.

Head of state

King Felipe VI of Spain since 2014.

Head of government

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy since 2011.

Electricity

230 volts AC, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are in use.

From sizzling cuisine and riotous fiestas to cutting-edge contemporary art, age-old museums and a palpitating beach culture, Spain sure packs a punch. It’s feisty, sexy and extremely hot – almost like a sensual flamenco dancer who captivates with her mesmerising moves. Whether you are a culture vulture, history buff or beach bum, it’s almost inevitable that with Spain, it’ll be love at first sight.

Spain is a country as diverse as it is eclectic: futuristic buildings stand alongside ancient Roman cathedrals, while traditional flamenco tablaos abut stylish boutique hotels. In a country with this much historical background, the marriage of distinctive cultures is evident from its flurry of Romanesque churches, baroque buildings, Moorish fortresses and Renaissance palaces.

As versatile as a chameleon, Spain’s multifaceted personality is further highlighted by different corners of the country: from the golden sun-kissed shores of Costa del Sol to the snow-lathered peaks of the Pyrénées; from the futuristic architecture of Valencia to the medieval towns of Catalonia; from the expansive boulevards of cosmopolitan Madrid to the rural countryside of Galicia.

In the food department, Spanish cuisine has kicked up a storm worldwide, and it’s easy to see why. Whether you’re hopping from bar to bar to sample tasty tapas, or splurging on an exquisite gourmet meal, Spanish cuisine promises to stir up your soul. Home to the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, Spain is the birthplace of nouveau cuisine and naturally the epicentre of the culinary world. Treat yourself to a fine-dining experience in Barcelona, sample pintxos (miniature bread-based tapas) from bar to bar in Bilbao, tuck into rich traditional stews in the countryside of Asturias or snack on tapas in a lively market of Seville – the variety of Spanish gastronomy is simply endless.

Nightlife in Spain buzzes, with a raging party scene that goes on till the wee hours, the after party continuing through the day. Night owls will not be disappointed in Madrid and Barcelona, where you’ll find the best jazz bars, techno clubs and hip-hop joints in the country. Foam parties and rave festivals are massively popular with the clubbing set, on the island of Ibiza.

Eternal sunshine and endless stretches of golden beaches are certainly part of the sultry charm of this country, but Spain’s allure clearly stretches beyond the coastline. In the north, the mountainous national parks of Asturias offer scenic hiking in alpine environments, while the craggy coastline of Galicia surprises with isolated bays and picturesque fishing villages. Head west to find your way through the Roman ruins of Extremadura, or weave your way eastwards to marvel at the architectural wonders of Valencia and Tarragona. Down South, a plethora of ancient monuments, wonderful cities and traditional arts await in Andalucía. Take your time to explore, because Spain will surprise you.

Travel Advice

Last updated: 01 March 2015

The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. 'We' refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.


Crime

Most visits to Spain are trouble-free, but you should be alert to the existence of street crime, especially thieves using distraction techniques. Thieves often work in teams of two or more people and tend to target money and passports. Don’t carry all your valuables in one place, and remember to keep a photocopy or scanned copy of your passport somewhere safe.

Many people have their passports stolen while passing through airports, either on arrival in or departure from Spain. Take extra care to guard passports, money and personal belongings when collecting or checking in luggage at the airport, and while arranging car hire.

In some city centres and resorts, thieves posing as police officers may approach tourists and ask to see their wallets for identification purposes. If this happens to you, establish that the officers are genuine and if necessary show some other form of ID. Genuine police officers don’t ask to see wallets or purses.

In any emergency, call 112. To report a crime, including stolen property and lost or stolen passports, visit the nearest Policia Nacional, regional police (Ertzaintza in the Basque Country, Mossos d’Esquadra in Catalonia, and Foruzaingoa in Navarre) or Guardia Civil Station to make a police report (denuncia). If you have had belongings stolen, you will need to keep the report for insurance purposes. If your passport is lost or stolen, you will also need the report to apply for an emergency travel document from the nearest British Consulate and to apply for a replacement passport when you return to the UK. Make sure you get a ‘police report’ (una denuncia) and not a ‘sworn declaration’ (una declaración judicial), as the latter may not be accepted as evidence of the crime for insurance purposes, or when applying for your new passport.

Personal attacks, including sexual assaults, are rare but they do occur, and are often carried out by other British nationals. Be alert to the possible use of ‘date rape’ and other drugs including ‘GHB’ and liquid ecstasy. Buy your own drinks and keep sight of them at all times to make sure they aren’t spiked. Alcohol and drugs can make you less vigilant, less in control and less aware of your environment. If you drink, know your limit - remember that drinks served in bars are often stronger than those in the UK. Avoid splitting up from your friends, and don’t go off with people you don’t know.

There has been an increase in reports of burglaries in areas with holiday accommodation and residential areas in major cities. Make sure your accommodation has adequate security measures in place and lock all doors and windows at night or when you aren’t in. If you’re a tourist and are concerned about the security of your accommodation, speak to your tour operator or the owner. Make sure you know the contact details of the local emergency services and the location of the nearest police station.

When driving, be wary of approaches by bogus police officers in plain clothes travelling in unmarked cars. In all traffic-related matters, police officers will be in uniform, and all police officers, including those in plain clothes, carry official ID. Unmarked police vehicles have a flashing electronic sign on the rear window which reads Policía (Police) or Guardia Civil (Civil Guard), and normally have blue flashing lights. Genuine police officers will only ask you to show them your documents and will not ask for your bag or wallet/purse.

If in any doubt, you should talk through the car window and contact the Civil Guard on 062 or Police on 112 and ask them to confirm that the registration number of the vehicle corresponds to an official police vehicle.

Be aware of ‘highway pirates’ who target foreign-registered and hire cars, especially those towing caravans. Some will (forcefully) try to make you stop, claiming there is something wrong with your car or that you have damaged theirs. If you decide to stop to check the condition of your/their vehicle, stop in a public area with lights like a service station, and be extremely wary of anyone offering help.

Only use officially registered or licensed taxis.

Lottery scams

There have been reports of lottery scams in Spain. A person receives what appears to be official notification from the Spanish Inland Revenue office (Hacienda) that they’ve won the Spanish lottery and should deposit money in a bank account to receive their winnings. It’s likely to be a scam if you haven’t entered a lottery, you’re asked to pay anything up-front and the contact telephone number is for a mobile phone.

Balcony Falls (Balconing)

There have been a number of very serious accidents (some fatal) as a result of falls from balconies. Many of these incidents have been caused by British nationals being under the influence of drink or drugs and most should have been avoidable. Your travel insurance probably won’t cover you for incidents that take place while you’re under the influence of drink or drugs.

Some local councils have introduced laws banning the misuse of balconies with fines for those who are caught.

Outdoor activities

Take care when swimming in the sea. Some beaches, especially around Spanish Islands, may have strong undercurrents. Most of them have a flag system. Before swimming, make sure you understand the system and follow any warnings (a red flag means you mustn’t enter the water). You should take extra care if there are no life-guards, flags or signs. Follow local advice if jellyfish are present.

You should avoid swimming at beaches that are close to rivers. Don’t dive into unknown water as hidden rocks or shallow depths can cause serious injury or death.

Take care when walking along unmanned beaches close to the water’s edge as some waves can be of an unpredictable size and come in further than expected with strong undertows.

Temperatures in some parts of Spain can change very quickly. Take extra care when planning a hike or walk to check local weather reports for warnings of extreme heat or cold temperatures.

If an accident occurs whilst mountaineering, canoeing, potholing or climbing, or if you become lost in the mountains or other areas requiring mountain rescue, call 112 for the emergency services or 062 for the Civil Guard.

For advice on safety and weather conditions for skiing or other outdoor activities call the Spanish National Tourist Office in London on 020 7486 8077 or see the Goski or European Avalanche Warning Services.

The Catalonia region has started billing negligent climbers, skiers and other adventurers who have to be rescued.

Crossing between Spain and Gibraltar

Spanish border checks can cause delays when crossing between Spain and Gibraltar. There is no charge to enter or leave Gibraltar. Don’t hand over money if you’re approached by anyone claiming that there is a charge.

Road travel

Driving is on the right. Driving rules and customs are different from those in the UK and the accident rate is higher, especially on motorways. In 2012 there were 1,834 road deaths in Spain (source: DfT). This equates to 4.0 road deaths per 100,000 of population compared to the UK figure of 2.8 per 100,000 of population in 2012..

You must carry two red warning triangles which should be placed, in the event of an accident or breakdown, in front of and behind the vehicle. You must have a spare pair of glasses (if needed for driving), a spare wheel, and a full set of spare light bulbs plus the tools to change them. If at any time you have to leave your vehicle due to an accident or breakdown or while waiting for the arrival of the emergency services, you must wear a reflective jacket or you may face a heavy fine. UK provisional licences are not valid for driving in Spain.

Carry a certificate of insurance in case you’re stopped. If you are using UK insurance, always carry your certificate with you. Remember that this certificate is generally only valid for a stay of less than three months - contact your insurer if you are staying longer.

Spain has strict drink driving laws. Penalties include heavy fines, loss of licence and imprisonment.

Seat belts are required for all passengers in the front and back seats. No children under the age of 12 should be in the front seat and small children must be in an approved child safety seat in the back seat. Your car hire agency will be able to provide a seat so let them know you need one when you reserve the car.

Talking on a mobile phone when driving is forbidden, even if you have pulled over to the side of the road. You must be completely away from the road. Using an earpiece is also prohibited but you are allowed to use with a completely hands-free unit.

See the European Commission, AA and RAC guides on driving in Spain.

Unlicensed taxi drivers

Passengers caught using unlicensed taxi services are liable for fines of up to 600€. Make sure you book your taxi or airport transfer through a licensed firm.

Political situation

Demonstrations and strikes have taken place in response to government reforms. These may affect local services. Follow developments in the media and check for possible transport delays before you travel. Avoid all demonstrations and follow the advice of police and local authorities.

Timeshare and holiday clubs

Timeshare ownership is well established in Spain with many respected companies, agents and resorts operating legally and fairly. However, there are also many unscrupulous companies, some of which claim to provide various incentives, which don’t always materialise. Further information and advice is available from the Timeshare Consumers Association (TCA) and on the British Embassy website.

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