DESTINATIONS AT A GLANCE
Want to discover one of the world's favorite countries? Here are some basic facts for the traveler in Spain.
When to go
In general, late spring and late summer-early autumn are the best times for traveling in Spain. Fair weather is practically guaranteed, and the countryside is at its best.
High summer is stiflingly hot in most inland areas, including Madrid and the inland cities of Andalusia such as Seville and Córdoba. Big cities, especially Madrid, empty during August, with many shops and restaurants closing, though a visit then does have advantages, such as light traffic (you can even find a parking space).
Summer weather is milder along the Mediterranean coast, but July and August in popular resorts such as the Costa del Sol are best avoided unless you like crowds. Summer along the northern coast of Spain, from the Basque Country to Galicia, can be very pleasant.
Winters along the Mediterranean coast are generally mild, but expect occasional heavy rains - alternating with long spells of glorious sunshine - any time between October and April. In inland areas, winter temperatures can reach below freezing and snow is is not infrequent.
Bear in mind Spain's fiestas when planning a trip - be it to go to them, or to avoid them. During major fiestas such as the San Fermin bull runs in Pamplona or the April Fair in Seville, hotel rates double and even so rooms must be reserved months in advance.
Practically all transcontinental flights land at Madrid's Barajas airport, so you will need to book an extra flight if you want to travel by air to another destination in Spain. Air fares between North America and Europe are highly competitive. You might find it cheaper to fly to Spain via another European country. Rates between Great Britain and any number of destinations in Spain are especially worth checking out.
Rail communications between the rest of Europe and Barcelona, Madrid, Valencia and Seville are very good. There are also regular ferries between southern England and northern Spain. Major cities in Spain are well connected to continental Europe and each other by motorway.
If you are a citizen of a European Union country, all you need to enter Spain is a national identity card. In the case of the United Kingdom, which does not issue such cards, you'll need a passport. Visas for stays of no longer than 90 days are not required for travelers from the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand, but South Africans do need to apply for a visa before they leave.
A knowledge of Spanish will enrichen a trip to Spain, but you can get by perfectly well with English in the major destinations. Spaniards are in general friendly and tolerant towards foreign visitors.
Spain is a big country - the second largest in western Europe after France - so don't expect to "do Spain" in a week.
Flights between Spanish cities are frequent, but the fares tend to be high. Iberia, Spanair and Air Europa are the major operators.
Train service between the larger cities is excellent, and irreproachably punctual, but slower in the case of smaller regional cities. The bus is an inexpensive alternative.
Driving in Spain
Renting a car is a reasonably-priced option, and by far the best way to travel if you want to enjoy Spain's rich and varied countryside. The major international car hire firms operate in Spain; local companies usually charge somewhat cheaper rates. In any case, it is usually a better bet to reserve and pay for your rental car from home, before you leave.
To rent a car you have to be over 21 and have a valid driver's license. Your national license is valid for driving in Spain as a tourist.
Major roads are generally good, though traffic can be heavy on more popular routes, especially on weekends or during holiday periods. Local roads range from good and pleasant to hair-raisingly narrow and winding. Enquire locally before embarking on a driver to a distant village, and don't take a road just because it is a reassuring color on the road map.
Avoid driving in cities: it can be a nightmare experience, especially if you're unfamiliar with the city or with some of the quirkier local driving habits. Park in a guarded parking area, and take a taxi, which are very good value in Spain. In Madrid, it's worth familiarizing yourself with the excellent Metro (subway) system.
The official currency in Spain is the Euro
Credit cards are widely accepted in Spain, Visa and Masters more so than American Express or Diners. Provided you know your Personal Identification Number, you can use your card to withdraw cash from ATMs in Spain. Often, you'll find the rate of exchange is more favorable than if you go to a bank or exchange bureau. When exchanging money at a bank, avoid converting small amounts at a time, as the minimum commission charged can be prohibitive.
Most Spanish banks close in the afternoon, all day Saturday during summer, and all day Sunday year round.
Value added tax (IVA) is charged on purchases, at a rate of 16% for most goods and services (it is 7% for hotel accommodation). If you are resident of a non-European Union country, you can get a refund of this tax on purchases over 100 Euros in certain participating shops. The refund can be claimed at the airport customs office on your departure: you can either get cash there, or have them send a check to your home address or credit the amount to your credit card.
Staying in Touch
To call abroad from Spain, dial the international access code (00), then your country code (such as 1 for the US, 44 for Great Britain), then the number. If you have a phone card from your home company, you can place a call by dialing your company's access number in Spain:
ATT 900 990 011
MCI 900 990 014
Sprint 900 990 013
British Telecom 900 990 044
Mobile phones can be used in Spain provided they conform to the European GSM standard and the "roam" feature is activated.
In general, hotels in Spain are comfortable and good value. Hotels in large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona are around twice the price as hotels elsewhere in Spain.
Hotels are rated from one to five stars, which gives a rough indication of their facilities, but not of the friendliness or efficiency of the service. Fodor's guide to Spain gives good, up-to-date information on hotels in the major Spanish destinations.
Hotels often offer good deals in slower periods, such as summer in Madrid. When phoning for a reservation, always ask for the room rate, and enquire regarding special offers. Spanish hotels do not normally require your credit card number to accept a reservation.
For more advice on choosing where to stay in Spain, see the article by Nick Inman on Hotels in Spain, and check our Guide to Hotels in Madrid, Barcelona, Bilbao, Granada and Seville.
The electrical current in Spain is 200 volts, 50 cycles AC. Plugs are of the continental type, with two round prongs. American appliances require a transformer and a plug adapter for use in Spain.
Have A Question?
If you have a question regarding any aspect of traveling in Spain, you can obtain personalized travel information from the experts by visiting guidebookwriters.com. In addition, you can post a message in our Forum section to request information or exchange views with other travelers to Spain. For useful on-line sources of information for travelers, head for our Links section and click on "Travel".
DESTINATIONS AT A GLANCE:
Madrid - Barcelona - Bilbao - Granada - Seville
Almería desert - La Mancha - Formentera
Canary Islands: La Palma - Canary Islands: Puerto de la Cruz
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