Tips for Planning Travel to Spain
These tips are for first time travelers to Spain. Many seem obvious, but one is always surprised at questions new travelers ask in the Trip Advisor forums. One has to do some homework if one’s trip will be one of pleasure and have less stress.
1. Buy a book about travel to Spain. Read it and decide what parts of Spain interest you and which cities you want to visit.
2. Get an idea of the geography of Spain. This is a good article from Wikipedia:
Be aware that Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe (after France) and one of the most mountainous (after Switzerland). The central meseta is a highland plateau and Madrid is on this meseta. Be aware of distances between cities. Google Maps or the Via Michelin website can tell you what these distances are.
3. The best time to travel in Spain is spring and fall because that is when good weather occurs. The months of April, May, June, September, and October are very good for travel. Summer is quite hot, especially in inland cities like Seville, Cordoba, and Madrid. The months of July and August are very crowded in resorts along the Mediterranean, so early reservations for hotels are required for these areas.
If one want to visit cities in northern Spain near the Atlantic, such as San Sebastian, Oviedo, and Santiago de Compostela and the rest of Galicia, the months of July and August are the best. Barcelona, the Costa Brava, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands are best from May to September.
The Costa del Sol and Almeria are the best places to visit during winter because they are the warmest. The Costa del Sol has balmy weather during summer. Almeria hardly gets any rain during the year. Nights in Granada are always cool because it is high up in the mountains. The central plateau gets weather extremes during summer and winter.
There are many weather sites that will give one the average temperatures by month for every city in Spain. It is best to check them before making travel plans. Be careful of traveling during winter, especially if you are driving. Many mountain passes get closed and having chains is very important to have in a car.
It makes no sense to travel to places like Leon, Burgos, Vitoria, Pamplona, and Logroño during winter. They get very cold and have much snow and ice. Not all of Spain is sunny all year long. Check the weather for each place you want to visit before making travel plans. The following site will give one average temperatures by month for each city.
4. During fall, many resorts in the north of Spain and along the Mediterranean have many of their stores and restaurants closed for the season. This may happen in the middle of September. This never happens in the Costa del Sol, which is always open because there are many northern Europeans who migrate during this time and spend winter in the area.
It is also a fallacy that most stores and restaurants close up during summer in big cities. Madrid is a city of 5 million and most stores and restaurants are open all year long.
5. Madrid is in the geographic center of Spain. King Felipe II chose Madrid to be the capital of Spain for this very reason.
The best way to travel from Madrid to other cities is by the high speed train, the AVE. It beats air travel because it is more comfortable than the plane, because you can move around in the train and go to the cafeteria car to eat snacks. Airlines like to restrict movement of passengers within the plane. Spain is now the European country with the largest network of high speed trains. If you have never traveled on a high speed train, you will enjoy the travel on the AVE.
Read Buying Renfe Tickets Online. Study the map which shows what cities that the AVE goes to. You may be able to get the web discounts if you buy early.
If one is to travel between extremities of Spain, such as Malaga and Barcelona, then the plane is better because the time will be much shorter than the train.
Be aware that the AVE still does not go to Granada, so the best way to get to this city may be the plane or the bus.
A Rail Pass will be more expensive than buying tickets at Renfe directly. You cannot get the discounts that Renfe gives.
6. Do not plan to see too much of Spain at one time. Many want to see one new city every day. They may be unaware of the distances between cities and one does not want to be traveling every single day. It is best to stay in cities for at a minimum of two nights, preferably three. That way one can see a city in depth and remember it. Spain has to be savored slowly with time for one to sit at a sidewalk cafe, eating tapas and drinking a glass of wine while one sees the passing parade or contemplates a monument.
7. Most travelers will want to experience Andalusia. From propaganda in foreign countries, Andalusia will be more like what a tourist expects of Spain, being the image of Spain, with women dancing flamenco, and with flowers in their hair. There are many monuments in Andalusia, such as the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the No. 1 tourist attraction of Spain, getting 3 million visitors a year. If you plan to visit the Alhambra, read Buying Alhambra Tickets Online. Cordoba has the Mezquita, and Seville has its Cathedral with the Giralda Tower and many other monuments. Do not forget Malaga, which has many monuments and museums, as well as its beaches and the best weather in Europe.
8. Many say that Spain’s best invention are its tapas. About 30% of visitors say they come to Spain for gastronomy. In most places in Spain one can eat marvelously. One can eat tapas instead of having lunch or dinner and enjoy a wide variety of food. Read the top question in the Trip Advisor forums for each city you want to visit to see if there are articles about good restaurants and tapas places.
9. The best way to get euros is to use an ATM machine. Spain is the European country with the most ATM machines and every block in cities has an ATM machine. Be sure to contact your bank that you will be using your ATM in Spain. The back of your ATM card will show what networks your bank is tied to, so using an ATM machine with the same network will minimize any currency charges. When you use an ATM machine, try to find one inside a bank for better security. Most banks will have an ATM machine inside the bank and another on the sidewalk.
You may want to opt to not purchase Travelers Checks. There very few exchange locations and rates are high. You could lose a great deal in the exchange. Spanish banks will not accept Travelers Checks, nor will businesses. If you do not have an ATM , your best option is either to buy euros from your bank (the rate of exchange + % they add per dollar + flat order and shipping fee), or take dollars to Spain and exchange them at a bank (the rate of exchange + % they add per dollar or some banks will offer flat fee exchange rates per x number of dollars for euros exchanged). Spanish banks also close for the day typically by 2:30 p.m. While you can find other exchange locations open after banking hours, exchange rates will be higher.
10. If you plan to rent a car and drive, read the Driving Guide for Foreigners. You will need an International Driving Permit. Be aware that it is almost impossible to find free parking on the street in cities. In big cities a commercial parking garage will cost between 18 and 30 euros a day. Hotels with parking will charge about 11 to 12 euros a night for parking.If you plan to drive between cities on the highway network, beware that although there are NO warnings, speed is controlled by photo radar. Even if you travel just 10Km over the speed limit, you will get a speeding ticket in the mail when you return home. The car rental companies do not warn you about this. So be sure to drive exactly the speed limit. For Andalusia, check the top questions for parking guides for different cities. Rental Cars are available at any major airport with offices of the big international rental companies such as Hertz, Avis, Europcar…Some local companies received a lot of negative feedback such as Record Rent a Car.
11. You can see Spain with a group tour. However be aware that most tours of Spain will try to allow you to see the most monuments and cities, so they do not leave one with enough free time. One cannot dawdle with these tours. For many older travelers, they may be too fast paced and one may develop health problems because of this. Most of them go by bus, so it is not much fun to be traveling by bus all day. One can see Spain on one’s own without a group tour if one plans properly. One is perfectly safe in Spain by going alone. If one is mature one does not need a chaperone or guide to tell him what to do all day long.