It seems that everyone on the internet has an opinion lately about traveling in Spain. People who have been to Spain once for only a few days or just passed through like to advise others about traveling in this country. And while this is good-natured, there is a lot a lot of misinformation out there. A lot of people have been to Spain. In fact, it is the #3 most visited country in the world after France and the United States. And with a lot of people comes a lot of bad advice, which leads to mistakes that travelers make in Spain. (Psst - you want some personalized good Spanish travel advice? Hit me up!)
Here are some common mistakes I see all the time, in my travel groups, forums, and on cheap, non-customized Spain itineraries targeted to cookie-cutter tourism.
Barcelona is a beautiful city, no doubt. And there is a reason it is included on many Spain itineraries. But traditional Spanish culture, Barcelona is not. Barcelona is the capital of the fiercely independent autonomous community of Calaluña, with its own distinct culture and language (Catalan is more widely spoken than Spanish). A flamenco show in Barcelona is authentic as a slice of Chicago pizza in New York City. It's a tourist gimmick, and there is nothing local or special about the experience. Go to Barcelona for the Gaudís, but save that flamenco show for Andalucía. (Another common travel mistake involving Barcelona is to limit your Spain experience to just Barcelona. This is something those "22 European countries in 18 days" tours are very commonly guilty of).
Geographically, Spain is the second largest country in the EU, making it not-such-a-small country. Aside from the long distances, Spain is packed with sights to see, and trying to cram too much in during just a few weeks visit is a big mistake. Sure you can "do" Córdoba in a day from Sevilla (a suggestion I recently saw, and rebuked, on a travel group), but how much of Córdoba will you really see? And then there are those super fast paces nine-day itineraries that include Madrid, Barcelona, Basque Country, and Andalucía. Really? Four different (and far from one another) regions in just a little over a week? With only a few weeks on the ground, you need to pick and choose knowing that you won't see nearly everything.
After a long day of sightseeing at 7:30 pm, that restaurant in Plaza Mayor that has a multilingual menu with pictures probably looks quite tempting. But resist! ** The food will be overpriced and subpar.** The restaurants that line the popular tourist attractions are made for... tourists. Wait it out and eat dinner the way the locals do it, perhaps in a locals' neighborhood. The food will be much more inexpensive, authentic, and delicious. (On a related note, eating early dinner should also be avoided. Spaniards are late eaters and tend not to eat dinner until 9 pm at the very earliest.)
I am currently hanging out in my Madrid flat wearing the following: fleece leggings, a heavy sweater with a long sleeve tee shirt under it, warm slippers, a scarf, and even a hat. Despite the photos, you see of the palm trees and beautiful beaches, Spain is not a year-round tropical destination. Summers are blazingly hot, winters are face-smacking cold, generally speaking. And there are varying climates throughout the country too. Even Andalucía gets very cold in the winter too. It can easily snow (just about) anywhere in the country, including in Granada which is in the mountains. See that photo that goes along with this blog post? That is not Austria or Switzerland but was taken in October in the mountains of Aragón, Spain. Spanish homes generally are not well insulated, so if you are coming during the winter months, even to the south, make sure to pack layers. So if your Spanish dream is hanging out on a warm beach, come during the late Spring or early Fall (Another tip: traveling to Spain in the summer is not recommended as it can get very hot and very crowded with other travelers. Especially on the coastal areas.)
Unlike a lot of northern Europe, not everyone speaks English in Spain. And why should they? Their (main) language, Spanish, is the second most spoken language on the planet after Mandarin with even more native Spanish speakers than English speakers. ** If you expect everyone to speak English, you will be disappointed.** But if you make an attempt to learn a few words in Spanish, Spaniards will be so delighted and generally a lot happier to try to help you, even with a language barrier. Before you board that flight to Madrid, it's time to brush up on that 7th grade Spanish (but hey, if you are going to Barcelona, remember what you read above, Catalan is the defacto language there)
Despite that Madrid is Spain's largest city (as well as its capital), and is Spain's beating heart so many travelers to Spain completely skip it. Some only briefly pass through throwing Madrid a no more than a day on their itineraries. And that is a damn shame. Madrid is a vibrant and authentic 24/7 city. Not only is it cheaper than Barcelona (and a whole lot safer in terms of pickpockets), but Madrid sees fewer visitors. The result: a real city, not one that only caters to tourists. Madrid is full of things to do that it is almost impossible to get bored. Give it at least a few days to explore the diverse (funky to posh to everything in between) neighborhoods, check out its world-class museums, eat Spanish food from all over the country, and kick back with a Mahou on a rooftop terrace at sunset. Regardless of what you like, Madrid has it!
So now you know what some of the Spanish travel mistakes are. And I hope you can prevent them. If you want to explore Spain more in-depth and ensure that you don't make another Spain travel error, seeking the help of a professional pretty much guarantees you will get it right. Let me know if I can help you make your Spanish trip beyond amazing and error-free! Que tengas un buen viaje!