Spain is one of Europe’s most geographically diverse countries. Its’ more than 505,000 square kilometres stretch from the lush green mountains of Galicia in the north-west, to the desert dunes in Almeria’s south-east; and from the snow-capped Pyrenees in the north to the fiery active volcanoes of the Canary Islands. From traditional villages to cosmopolitan cities, and among the world’s most impressive gastronomic delicacies, Spain is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations.
Odyssey travels by coach and occasionally uses local transport, including trains and ferries. Specifics are always outlined in your tour itinerary. Spain has an extensive rail network connecting most of the country as well as links with Portugal and France. The network is comprised of mid and long distance trains and AVE (high speed trains). Barcelona offers great bus and metro transport to get around the city and visit all the main sights.
In major cities, Odyssey stays in centrally located 3-4 star hotels, with easy access to public transport. In smaller towns or rural areas, we usually stay in family-run hotels or guesthouses. On our long stay tours, during which you spend the length of the tour in a single location, we use serviced apartments.
Odyssey always engages local guides with regional knowledge to ensure an authentic experience during which you can learn as much as possible about the history and culture of places you visit.
Geography, Weather, & environment
Spain shares the Iberian Peninsula with Portugal and is bounded to the north by the Pyrenees, which separate Spain from France. The Balearic Islands, Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera, lie about 190 kilometres south-east of Barcelona, while the Canary Islands lie off the west coast of Africa. The tiny enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla on the North African mainland also belong to Spain.
The Pyrenees stretch roughly 400 kilometres from the Basque Country in the west to the Mediterranean Sea. The peaks exceed 1,500 metres in some points, the highest standing at 3,404 metres. Spain is dominated by its vast central plateau, the Meseta, divided by several chains of sierras. The higher northern area includes Castile and León, while the southern section comprises Castile-La Mancha and Extremadura. In the south the plateau drops abruptly at the Sierra Morena, beyond which lies the valley of the Guadalquivir. Sierra Nevada lies to the south-east of Granada. It is part of the Baetic Cordillera, which runs parallel to the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean coast stretches from the French frontier in the north-east down to the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow strip of water linking the Mediterranean with the Atlantic and separating Spain from North Africa.
Spain’s climate varies from temperate in the north to dry and hot in the south. The best months are from April to October, although mid-summer, July and August, can be excessively hot throughout the country except in the coastal regions. Madrid is best in late spring or autumn (though there are advantages to travelling in shoulder and off seasons). The central plateau can be bitterly cold in winter.
World Heritage sites
Spain boasts the third largest number of UNESCO World Heritage sites. It has 46 sites listed, which you can view on the official site here: (https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/es). While every single site has something of value, there are a few highlights:
Alhambra, Generalife and Albayzín, Granada. The Alhambra is currently the only preserved palatine city of the Islamic period. It is a vast complex of fortress and gardens, set in a picturesque district that blends Moorish and Andalusian architecture.
The Santiago de Compostela is a heritage listed Christian pilgrimage route, with the routes of Camino Francés and Northern Spain as optional extensions. The awe-inspring cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is also a notable heritage site.
Antoni Gaudí’s seven buildings in and around Barcelona testify to his exceptional creative contribution to the development of architecture and building technology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Festivals & events
Spain hosts a number of cultural, culinary, and religious events throughout the year. From La Tomatina in Bunol, to the many celebrations of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and Carnaval, you will certainly be able to find something that suits your schedule and taste. Other events include Fiesta de San Isidro Labrador in Madrid, honouring the city’s patron saint and marking the start of bullfighting season; Festa Major de Grácia in Barcelona where locals compete for the most elaborately decorated street; and San Sebástian International Film Festival, a two-week festival that begun in the 1950s.
- Spain by Jan Morris
- The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal
- Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher
- The Revolution and Civil War in Spain by Pierre Broue and Emile Temine
- Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past by Giles Tremlett
Eating & drinking
Spanish food is one of the country’s main attractions and a key driver of tourism. While foreigners often think of Spanish food as one category, it actually varies widely based on the region. Some popular regional dishes include Paella Valenciana from the Eastern region town of Valencia, and Iberian Ham and Jerez Vinegar from the Andalusía region. Spanish wine is also very popular and with different varieties of grapes grown throughout the country, there’s a great variety of wines on offer, from Tempranillo to Syrah to Verdejo. Olives are grown in different regions in Spain, mainly in Andalucía and Catalonia. The country is the world’s biggest virgin olive oil producer, one of the main ingredients in Spanish cooking. It’s estimated Spaniards consume approximately 9 litres of olive oil per person each year!
Health & safety
As of writing, smarttraveller.gov recommends exercising normal safety precautions when travelling in Spain. While much of Spain is usually safe to travel around, it’s important to stay alert to anything unusual. Demonstrations and strikes affecting transport services and traffic can occur at minimal or no notice; we advise you to monitor local media and be prepared to adjust your travel plans. Pickpocketing is popular in tourist areas and on public transport, so keep a close eye on your belongings at all times.
Whenever you travel overseas, it’s always wise to take an appropriate travel adaptor. Plugs in Spain have two round pins (type F), so make sure to pick up the right adaptor before your trip.
Spain has a single time zone (excluding its overseas territories), on Central European Time. The nation observes daylight saving time from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October.
If you’re on an Odyssey tour, we take care of tipping so you don’t need to give it a second thought. However, in your free time, or if travelling independently, it’s essential that you tip an appropriate amount for services, as is the case throughout much of Europe. It is customary to tip up to 5% of the bill at restaurants. You may just leave small change at more casual establishments. It is not customary to tip in bars, even if you receive some small change back from the bartender. However, tips for good service are always appreciated.
Internet access is easily accessible, and most hotels and many cafes will offer it. It maybe patchy in the more remote areas of Spain.
Check with your cell phone provider to see whether you’re able to make calls and use data while in Spain. Many providers will offer a daily fee that allows you to make calls and check the internet, while only being charged your regular rates. However, be certain to inform your provider that you’re heading overseas, because just like a bank, they can turn off your service as a result of unusual activity.
Responsible Travel Tips For Spain
- Learn at least the local greetings to break the ice. Although many locals speak English, The more you know of the native language, the greater your experience of the country will be.
- Carry a card in your wallet or purse from your local hotel, to assist you with the return journey if you do become lost.
- Always ensure that you are covered by travel insurance. If you need advice on this feel free to contact Odyssey and we’ll be able to help.
- When travelling independently, make sure you check the opening hours of shops and museums so that you don’t miss out! Also be certain to check whether your trip coincides with any public holidays, so you can plan accordingly.
- Before departing on your trip, contact your bank to inform them that you may be making purchases overseas. Otherwise, they may flag any activity on your account as suspicious. Also, check which ATMs and banks are compatible with your cards, to ensure you can withdraw cash with minimal fees.
- Before departing, make sure you have a number of euros in a range of denominations. You don’t want to be carrying around enormous amounts of cash, but take enough to make it easy to pay in locations that might not accept credit card. It will also help you avoid card transaction fees, and it makes tipping a breeze.