10 Unforgettable Things To Experience On Your Next Trip To Spain
Headed to Spain this year? Travel smart and follow our 10 insiders tips to experience local Spanish traditions firsthand and get the most from your trip.
Illustration by Victoria Fernández
Yes, we know about the sunbathing and tapas-eating, but what else can you do when next visiting Spain in order to take full advantage of your trip? Here are a few recommendations, ¡a disfrutar!
1. Have 12 grapes for dessert
Let’s start from the very end — the end of the year, that is. If your trip to Spain takes place any time close to New Year’s Eve, you shouldn’t miss one of our most established traditions: eating 12 grapes at midnight.
If you are in Madrid, you might want to join the famous and massive celebration at Puerta del Sol. If you happen to be in Barcelona, the place to celebrate is around Font Màgica de Montjuïc.
Regardless of where you will be, there is an emblematic place in every city or town, where people gather to eat their 12 grapes and welcome in the New Year at the stroke of midnight.
One grape for each toll of the clock, and you will probably end up screaming to your friends with a full mouth, ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!
2. Carnival, I love you
In Spain there are three cities that host carnivals recognized as Festivals of International Touristic Interest: Cádiz, Andalusia, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in the Canary Islands and Águilas, Murcia.
Each one has its own style, adding a unique touch of color and originality to the traditional parades.
The main traditional point to look out for in Cádiz is the satyrical lyrics of their songs, mainly coplas and chirigotas. You had better learn some Spanish if you want to understand them! In Santa Cruz de Tenerife selecting the Queen of the Carnival is a big deal, and the famous parades in Águilas are the grandest and most spectacular of all.
3. Experience the Semana Santa
The celebration of Easter in Spain, Semana Santa (Holy Week) is quite peculiar and very different depending on where in the country you are spending your holidays.
In any case, Semana Santa is often celebrated with parades featuring either sculptures or actors performing the last days of the life of Jesus. It is a very dramatic role-play depicting torture and suffering (think Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ). Music also plays a very important role in these parades. Thousands of pious believers make up the audience in these events and even pay money to rent balconies with the best views of the parade. The most well known in the world is the Semana Santa in Seville. However, the celebrations in Valladolid and Toledo were officially deemed to be of International Touristic Interest. Zamora’s has the oldest guild in Spain; Cartagena (Murcia) boasts monumental thrones; and the Semana Santa in Hellín (Albacete) is famous because of its tamborradas (traditional drum festival).
4. Indulge the palate
If there is something that you can (and must) do in Spain, it’s eating well. The country’s most famous dishes have gone global thanks, among other things, to great figures of gastronomy who have managed to modernize Mediterranean cuisine and elevate it to an art form.
On the less glamorous side (but not necessarily less tasty) you can find la cocina del aprovechamiento (the cooking of the harvest). Associated for a long time with humble origins, this traditional way of cooking has produced delicious dishes. Torrijas are a great example, followed by recipes as tasty as croquetas, migas and garlic soup, among others.
5. Do the Camino
Doing the pilgrimage route to Santiago, regardless of your belief, is a great opportunity to discover another side of Spain. If you are into hiking, have a backpacker’s spirit, and like history, art and nature, don’t hesitate to walk El camino de Santiago! This is a great opportunity to set yourself a personal goal and enjoy the tourism on offer in the North of Spain.
There are different routes you can take, all declared World Cultural Heritage sites in 1993 and which all lead to the same place: la Catedral de Santiago de Compostela (Galicia).
6. Chilling in the chiringuito
With almost 8000 km of coast dividing the peninsula and the archipelagos, bathed by the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, you won’t have to look too hard to find your perfect chiringuito.
A chiringuito is a seasonal small business, usually located very close to the sea (or directly on the beach), where you can have a cold beer, a snack or a cocktail while you enjoy the fantastic sea views. Who could resist that?
7. The historical visit
One special characteristic of Spain is the great variety of civilizations and cultures who have left their marks here over the centuries: Greek colonies, Phoenician civilisations, Celtiberian settlements, Roman cities, the Moorish castles of Al-Ándalus… their legacies are a part of Spain’s geography, architecture, history and languages — and it would be a pity not to get to know them better!
8. Spend a day in a museum
If you are passionate about cultural tourism, don’t miss the chance to visit one of our museums. Prado and Reina Sofía in Madrid, the famous Guggenheim in Bilbao, the MACBA in Barcelona, Museo Picasso in Málaga and a long list of art galleries are waiting for you.
9. Go to music festivals
If you are a jazz lover and find yourself in the Basque Country near the French border around the third week of July, don’t miss the Festival de Jazz de San Sebastián, one of the oldest in Europe and guaranteed to have a fantastic line-up.
If you are into alternative music, you can always visit Madrid at the end of May, since it hosts one of the largest and most important festivals of rock music in Spain, Festimad.
For those avant-garde people among us who might happen to be in Barcelona in mid June, visit Sónar, where you will find the cream of the crop of the electronic music scene.
10. Doze between 2 pm and 4 pm without people judging you
Siesta might be, together with fiesta one of the most well known Spanish words in other languages. Enjoy yourself and take a nap. You are on holiday after all, so you probably deserve it!