Questions About Spain: Definitive Guide For Travellers
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
Questions About Spain
Odyssey Traveller specialises in crafting unforgettable experiences for mature-aged travellers, providing adventure and educational programs to small groups since 1983. Odyssey has built up a reasonable knowledge bank to answer questions about Spain that travellers are likely to ask, as they make their plans to tour independently, or with us as part of a small group tour. We hope that this list of frequently asked questions and the answers we provide will help you with planning your next holiday.
Read on, but please do not hesitate to contact us via the website, or through email or chat if you have more questions about Spain or our other tours.
Our small group tour to Spain is a 21-day educational programme which includes tours of the country’s biggest cities –starting in the capital of Madrid and ending in Barcelona in northern Spain–with stops in smaller but equally beautiful towns that are not normally included in other commercial Spanish tours. It also includes the services of a Program Leader from our team in Australia, and a handful of local guides. For more details, see the complete itinerary. You can also see our other tours to Spain here.
This three-week journey especially designed for senior and mature-aged travellers offers a variety of sights and experiences. Madrid is a modern metropolis that has preserved its historic neighbourhoods and buildings, and will serve as the perfect gateway on our three-week sojourn into Spain’s storied past. Among the many places we will visit include:
- the sights of Madrid, including the Museo del Prado, which holds artwork from artists such as celebrated Spanish painter Francisco Goya
- the Valley of the Fallen in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a sombre and at times controversial monument commissioned by Francisco Franco and where the people who died in the Spanish Civil War were laid to rest
- the city of Montserrat, travelling by cable car up to an abbey nestled in the mountain to visit the Black Madonna
- the surrealist dreams of Salvador Dali in the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres
- the Gaudi-designed monuments in Barcelona
This tour mixes guided tours with plenty of free time, and the small group setting affords travellers focused attention and flexibility.
The best time to visit Spain is during the spring and fall, offering the traveller the best combination of good weather, fewer crowds, but a lively time in the cities with lots of activities to choose from. At Odyssey Traveller, we make it a point to travel during this “shoulder season”, the months between peak season and low season; this is why our small group tours to Spain depart in May (spring) and September (fall). This schedule avoids the massive crowds in April travelling to Catholic Spain for Easter, the unbearably hot days of August, and the sub-zero temperatures of a Spanish winter.
In Madrid, where we begin our tour, the average high temperature in May is 22 degrees Celsius with a low of 11 degrees. In September, the average high temperature is 26 degrees, with a low of 15 degrees. You can comfortably walk around on your tour and even spend a fun day at the beach!
Bullfighting, or corrida de toros (“running of bulls”) is a spectacle and sport in Spain wherein a bull is fought and usually killed by a bullfighter (matador) in a sand arena. We don’t know its exact origins, but archaeological findings show evidence of some form of bullfighting in Minoan and ancient Roman cultures. When the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by the Visigoths in the 5th century, the new rulers continued and modified the sport. The Visigoths were conquered by the Moors in the 8th century, and bullfighting became a tournament between Moorish chieftains and Christian Iberian knights. Even after the Moors were defeated, bullfighting continued to be the favourite sport of the aristocracy. For 600 years, nobles fought bulls on horse mount. When the aristocracy abandoned bullfighting, the masses took it up, getting rid of the horse and fighting the bulls on foot. It attracted spectators from all walks of life and bullfighting became an important part of Spanish festivals and community life. Bullfighting became professionalised and commercialised in the 18th century. Both sides fighting during the Spanish Civil War even organised bullfights to raise funds.
Sevilla-born Joaquín Rodríguez Costillares is said to be the father of modern bullfighting in Spain, credited with inventing the many aspects of bullfighting we still associate with the spectacle to this day: the elaborate costume of the matador, the cape, and killing the bull by transfixing it with the cape and plunging a knife between the bull’s shoulder blades. The Seville bullfighting festival, one of the most well-known in the world, is held during the Feria de Abril de Sevilla (Seville April Fair) and begins two weeks after Easter. The bullring of the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Sevilla is the site of these bullfights.
Bullfighting has entered public debate in recent years, with defenders saying it remains part of Spain’s national fabric, and objectors saying it is a form of animal cruelty. In 2019, it also became highly politicised, with Spain’s far-right party Vox supporting bullfighting as a “defence of traditional moral values“.
The history of Spanish architecture is shaped by Spain’s successive rulers. The Romans and the Visigoths left behind their distinctive styles and building techniques. Moorish invasion in the 8th century brought Islamic influences to the Iberian Peninsula, which eventually gave rise to the Mudejar style (12th to 17th centuries) which was a blending of European Christian and Islamic influences in architecture. For the most part, Spain was also influenced by the architectural movements of the Continent, but in the 17th century, it would develop its own vernacular strand of Baroque, called Spanish Baroque. Baroque, as we’ve written before, is characterised by elaborate designs, luxurious materials, and ornate extravagance, and had its roots in Renaissance Rome and spread from Italy to the rest of continental Europe. Spanish Baroque, commonly seen in religious buildings, was at times more elaborate and indulgent than the Baroque style that developed on the Continent.
Of course, discussion of Spanish architecture will not be complete without mentioning Antoni Gaudi, whose unique style was inspired by various architectural eras–Mudejar, Gothic, Baroque–but after 1902 “his designs elude conventional stylistic nomenclature“. The famous Catalan architect worked in Barcelona, and many of his buildings are included in our small group tours to Spain.
As a cultural centre, Spain has more than a thousand museums all over the country, with many concentrated in the big cities of Madrid and Barcelona.
The Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid opened to the public in 1819, starting with 1,510 paintings from the royal collection and which grew throughout the centuries. Highlights include The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch, The Nobleman with his hand on his Chest by El Greco, Self-portrait by Dürer and The Family of Carlos IV by Goya. Also in Madrid are Reina Sofía, a museum of contemporary art; and Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which began as a private collection of Heinrich Thyssen, a German-Hungarian art collector.
The Picasso Museum in Barcelona, opened in 1963, focuses on the formative years of the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), carrying a collection of his early paintings and more than 4,000 pieces in its permanent collection. Also in Barcelona is the National Art Museum of Catalonia; highlights include a collection of Medieval Gothic Art and work by the city’s most famous architect, Gaudi.
Outside these two cities are the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, a museum of modern and contemporary art, and the Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, hometown of surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
The Centro de la Memoria Sefardí in Granada, Spain offers information on the culture, history and traditions of the Sephardic Jewish community. (“Sepharad” from modern Hebrew was the name given to Spain or the Iberian Peninsula.) The city of Granada sits at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, and was once one of the most important cities of the Umayyad Caliphate in the Iberian Peninsula and, after the caliphate’s collapse, the centre of Jewish culture and scholarship. However, in 1492, Spain passed the Edict of Expulsion which ruled that Jews should either convert to Christianity or leave within four months; otherwise, they would be executed.
The small museum, which opened in 2013, features maps of the city, a library on Jewish subjects, and other objects that offer a glimpse on the daily lives of Sephardic Jews before their violent expulsion from Spain.
In 2015, as a “gesture of atonement“, the Spanish Parliament passed a law that would offer Spanish citizenship to Sephardic Jews without making them give up their current citizenship.
Paella is one of the most well-known dishes in Spanish cuisine, and a dish you may have already tried at your local restaurant. But authentic paella originates from the Valencian region. “Paella” in the Valencian regional language, means “frying pan”. Ingredients for Paella Valenciana include chicken or rabbit, rice, beans, and saffron for seasoning and colour. A seafood paella swaps the meat for seafood.
Gazpacho is a tomato-based soup and is Andalucian in origin. Made from ripe tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, bread, peppers, and cucumber blended together, this soup is served chilled, sometimes in glasses. This may strike some as strange at first, but it is a refreshing savoury treat in the heat of summer.
A tapa is an appetizer in Spanish cuisine, and one staple tapa is patatas bravas (“brave potatoes”), in which potatoes are cubed, fried, and often served with a spicy tomato sauce.
Jamón, or cured ham, is also a staple, made by salting a leg of ham and hanging it to dry. Jamón Serrano (“of the mountain”) comes from white pigs and is what you’ll commonly see in Spain. Another type, Jamón Iberico, is more expensive and comes from black pigs. Thin slices of melt-in-your-mouth jamón are a good salty accompaniment to wine before having your main dish.
Spain is a great place to be if you have a sweet tooth! Among the most popular sweet snacks is churros, made from frying dough pastry shaped like sausages, doused in sugar, and dipped in hot melted chocolate. Spanish hot chocolate is thick enough to use as a dip for churros as well, but you can simply sip with a spoon and enjoy it on its own. The dark chocolate adds a bitterness to balance the richness of the drink.
Flan is made from milk, whole eggs, and sugar, and topped with syrup or caramel sauce. Another flan-like dessert is Tocino de Cielo or “bacon from heaven”; however, this dessert from Andalucia contains no pork product and is made only from egg yolks, sugar and water, topped with caramel syrup. Tocino de Cielo was said to have been invented in Jerez in the 1300s, where leftover yolks were given to nuns who whipped up this rich dessert.
Crema Catalana (Catalan cream) originates from the Catalonia region near the border of France, and has similarities with the French crème brûlée. It is also topped with a burnt sugar crust you can crack with a spoon.
Membrillo con Queso is a combination of membrillo, a dense jam made from quince fruit, and cheese, often Manchego, which is made from sheep’s milk. A good sweet and salty bite after a hearty meal.
The personal identification needed for your travel to Spain depends on your country of origin. If you are a citizen of a European Union country, Switzerland, Norway, Iceland or Lichtenstein, you will only need a valid passport or ID card. Citizens of other nations may need a passport and/or a visa.
Spain is a part of the Schengen zone, along with a number of other European countries. Currently, citizens of 61 nations, including Australia, New Zealand, United States, and Canada, are permitted to enter the Schengen zone without a visa for up to 90 days of business or travel. You’ll need a visa if you are visiting for reasons other than tourism or more than 90 days.
By 2021, however, citizens of certain countries who are able to travel to Spain visa-free may still need to apply for entry authorisation before arrival to the Schengen zone. Read more in our article on European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS). You can check if you need an ETIAS to travel to Europe by 2021 here.
Visa and entry and exit conditions can change at short notice, so it would be best to check with your nearest Spanish embassy or consulate before travelling.
The Euro is the official currency of Spain. Notes are in denominations of: 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200 and 500. Please note that the €200 and €500 notes are reasonably rare and may be quite difficult to change. Coins are in the denominations of: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50 cents, 1 Euro and 2 Euros.
We also regularly publish articles on our destinations. Click here to see our Spain-related posts.