Sun, sand and siestas: The definitive guide to Spain

spain-flag-flutter-spanish-54097With its sultry weather, lavish tapas spreads and enchanting cities, Spain has always been on our wish list. Whether you want to admire Gaudi and Picasso in world-famous art hubs like Barcelona, cheer on Real Madrid at the iconic Santiago Bernabéu Stadium, or eat your way through late night tapas bars, you’re in for a treat.

Want the lowdown on all things Spain? This is your definitive guide to holidaying in “La Furia Roja.”

How long can I stay without a visa?
Thanks to reciprocal visa arrangements, New Zealand citizen holders with a valid passport are not required to obtain a visa to enter Spain, as long as they don’t stay longer than 90 days.

What’s the local currency?
Like most of Europe, Spain is powered by the Euro so don’t forget to stock up before you go. It’s always worth keeping an eye on the exchange rate in the lead up to your trip because it can fluctuate significantly.

Do I need to tip?
Unlike many European countries, Spain doesn’t add a service charge to the bill which means tipping is entirely up to you. As a rough guide, if you had a good meal or loved your sassy Spanish server add an extra 10% to the total amount. Similarly, both taxi drivers and porters will be grateful for a small gratuity.

pexels-photo-58737Transport to and from the airport
Taxis from Barcelona–El Prat International Airport can be pricey, so why not jump aboard the Aerobús or ride the subway to central Barcelona for a couple of Euros? Of course, we guarantee that after a 24+ hour flight from NZ you won’t want to deal with public transport, or even taxis for that matter. Instead, ask your HoT consultant about booking a transfer before you leave NZ.

Getting around
Taxis are plentiful in most major Spanish cities, though as far as we’re concerned learning to navigate public transport is both fun and affordable. Plus, it’s the best way to get a feel for how the locals live.

Weather: what can you expect when you go?
Spain is famously sunny, with a lovely Mediterranean climate that keeps temperatures mild throughout the year. Plus, because it’s located on a plateau Spain’s interior stays mostly hot and dry throughout the year. As a general rule of thumb head south to maximise your chances of sunshine.

Need to know phrases
Practicing your Spanish is all part of the fun so don’t be scared to have a chat with the locals. Hola means hello, while adios means goodbye. Don’t forget pleases (por favor) and thank yous (gracias), as well as handy phrases like “no hablo espanol” which means I don’t speak Spanish. If you’re not sure if someone speaks English, start with a polite habla inglés? which translates to do you speak English? Tiene? is a great one for restaurants and simply means do you have? You can also use cuánto cuesta? when shopping, which means how much does it cost?

Rules and customs
The Spaniards love a good siesta, so expect plenty of businesses to close at around 2 pm and open up again at 5 pm. It’s a great opportunity to head back to your hotel, escape the heat and even enjoy a cheeky nap. Unlike New Zealand, Spain doesn’t blink twice at a late evening meal. In fact, some restaurants don’t get busy until at least 9 pm so hold off if you’re looking for atmosphere and ambience.

pexels-photo-461326Where to have fun
You don’t need us to harp on about big-ticket sights like Barcelona’s bustling Las Ramblas strip, Granada’s sun-bronzed Alhambra palace, Madrid’s magnificent Royal Palace and Gran Canaria’s golden beaches. But what we can do is let you in on a few insider secrets. Like, the fact that Spain is dotted with stunning national parks, including the dramatic Parc Natural de de la Muntanya de Montserrat where you can hike amongst rugged peaks. When the sun goes down, swap touristy restaurants for real deal “tascas” Spanish taverns where you’ll find friendly locals, cheap drinks and most importantly, free tapas. Yes, free.

Top eats
A trip to Spain wouldn’t be complete without devouring local cuisine at every chance you get. After all, “barriga llena, corazón content” as the locals like to say. That’s Spanish for “full stomach, happy heart” and we couldn’t agree more. Start with paella, a fragrant rice dish that originated in Valencia. Gazpacho is a chilled tomato-based soup that’s the perfect antidote to a sticky day of sightseeing. Silky and rich, jamón ibérico is Spanish raw ham sought from the Black Iberian Pig which feeds exclusively on acorns. Sweet tooths will fall head over heels for churros con chocolate, long strips of crispy doughnut that have been sugared and then drizzled in chocolate sauce. Utterly divine. If you dare, ask for a dish of Callos a la Madrileña, a 15th century stew consisting of beef tripe, chickpeas, blood sausage and chorizo. If it helps, the Spanish love it and have done for 700 years.

Mobile usage – to roam or not to roam?
If your phone is unlocked a SIM card with major carriers like Vodafone is always a good idea. Pricing is competitive and you can pick up a pretty good deal that’ll save you from getting hit with global roaming charges from your NZ carrier.