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Travel Tips

Authentic Travel Tips—Spain

Barcelona, Aragon, Catalonia, Madrid, The Alhambra, Seville, Andalucia… These Spanish names tap out an exotic rhythm fit for a flamenco dancer. Thousands of years of diverse cultures—where Moors, the Knights of the Templar, Jewish sensibilities, and Renaissance architects all met—created a world like no other. Filled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites that explore and celebrate innovation as well as nature’s bounty, Spain is a feast for the senses.

Below are authentic travel tips that will make discovering Spain a pleasure.


Euro money

Spain’s currency is the Euro, €. Several weeks before you leave, stop into your bank, and order some Euros. They’re handy to have when you touch down. If you don’t have time, there are places in the airport to change your US Dollars to Euros—the charge is simply a bit higher than what your bank will charge you. Also, it’s nice to have cash on hand.

When in Spain, you can change money at an exchange office or post office. You might also be able to change money at your hotel. You’ll need your passport or other photo ID when you exchange money.


ATMs are plentiful in Spain, and most accept cards tied into the Visa, MasterCard, Cirrus, and Maestro systems. Take out the cash you think you will actually need plus a bit more. Transaction fees apply every time you use the ATM. (Sometimes the fee is lower if you go inside a bank and withdraw cash there with your card.) If one card doesn’t work, try another—the machines can be temperamental. Before you leave home, give your credit card or debit companies a call and let them know you’ll be traveling in Spain. And remember your PIN numbers—a must.

Credit Cards

Most urban establishments accept major credit, debit, and prepaid currency cards. American Express is less common. In the country, especially in a dining establishment, sometimes only cash is accepted. Ask before you order.

VAT Tax Refund

Spain charges a Value Added Tax (VAT) on all goods and services. It is currently at 21%, maximum. Some goods and services are considerably lower. The VAT tax is included in the price tag of an item that you purchase. As a non-EU citizen, you are entitled to a refund on much of the VAT you paid during your travels.

The electronic VAT refund procedure (DIVA) makes the validating process quicker and easier. You just have to ask the shops offering this service to provide you with the DIVA form, and validate it directly at the automatic terminals installed in Spain’s main ports and airports. These are called a Pablo Terminal.

Ronda Puente Nuevo BridgeRonda Puente Nuevo Bridge


The Spain power sockets have a Type F plug and are 230V—twice that of the US. Simply purchase a Spain adapter for your plugs before leaving. They are inexpensive, small, and easy to purchase online or in many stores. If you forget, you can purchase one in Spain, but it is much easier to get it in advance.

Chauffeured Driving

Should you want to extend a small guided vacation in Spain, many people like to have a chauffeured driver. It is reasonably priced, great for several people traveling together, there’s room for your luggage, and you get to relax and simply enjoy your vacation. And a local driver can share off-the-beaten-path possibilities with you. Ask your Authentic Destination Expert about this option.

Driving Spain Yourself

Spain’s roads are generally in good shape but, as it is everywhere, driving in large cities can be a nightmare. Ancient cities are best navigated on foot, bus, chauffeur, or taxi. U.S. citizens who plan to drive in Spain must obtain an international driving permit (IDP) prior to their arrival.

All drivers must carry their car rental insurance documents and driver’s license. Drive on the right in Spain, the same side of the road you drive on in America. When you approach a roundabout, yield to traffic coming from the left. (As in the States, pull over for emergency vehicles.) Roundabouts also have images that indicate sites and restaurants.

Road signs are in Spanish. Distances are shown in kilometers (km). Signs generally do not indicate north, west, south, or east—they have the name of a city. A GPS is a godsend, and you might want to bring a small pocket map of the country, so you get a feel for how cities are situated in relation to each other.

Seatbelts must be worn at all times. Do not use your cell phone while driving unless you have a hands-free device—many accidents in Spain are caused by texting or talking on cell phones. And, although drinking wine is part of daily life, under .5% BAC is mandatory. This law is strictly enforced.

Aerial view of CadaquesCadaques

Speed Limits

Speed limits on all Spanish roads are sign-posted by black numbers on a white background, surrounded by a red circle. The recommended maximum speed is posted in white on a square blue sign. Few police check the roads, but there are many cameras, especially on highways. If you’re driving a rental car, and you exceed the speed limit, the ticket goes to the rental company which will take the amount of the fine off your credit card. So, go easy on the roads and enjoy the stunning scenery.

Driving Distances

Below are listed examples of drive times. We suggest that you keep your driving time down when possible. Spanish roads travel through stunning territory. Relax.

  • Barcelona to Valencia: 4 hours
  • Barcelona to Zaragoza: 3.5 hours
  • Malaga to Granada: 1.5 hours
  • Malaga to Seville: 2.5 hours
  • Madrid to Barcelona: 6 hours
  • Madrid to Santiago de Compostela: 6.5 hours
  • Seville to Cadiz: 1.5 hours
  • Seville to Granada 2.75 hours


We strongly suggest the use of a GPS. Tell your Authentic Destination Expert you want one when setting up your car rental. If you forget to do that, ask for one at the rental agency desk at the airport. But, far better to plan in advance.


Spain is not big on tipping, but it is appreciated. Here is a general guide, but as in the States go up or down, depending on the service you received.

  • Waiters: 5% – 10%
  • Hotel Porter: 1 €/bag
  • Housekeeping: 1 €/day
  • Concierge: 2 – 3 €
  • Taxi Driver: Round up to the nearest Euro

Mature couple toasting during lunch at Spanish restaurant

Holidays & Public Closures

Public Holidays—Schools, post offices, and banks close. Many shops and attractions have limited hours or close. Many small towns also have days off. The following are dates and names of holidays:

  • New Year’s Day: January 1
  • March/April: Good Friday
  • Labor Day: May 1
  • Assumption Day: August 15
  • Spain’s National Day: October 12
  • All Saint’s Day: November 1
  • Spanish Constitution Day: December 6
  • Feast of the Immaculate Conception: December 8
  • Christmas Day: December 25

Hours For Shops & Banks

Hours vary throughout the year, especially in rural areas. In large cities, shops often stay open during lunch and Sunday mornings. But take note:

Many places close for the siesta between 1pm or 2pm – 5pm. On Mondays, many museums, public buildings, and monuments are closed. On Sunday, churches and cathedrals are closed to the public during mass. And, on public holidays, most museums and many shops close early are don’t open at all.

Normal bank hours in Spain are weekdays, 8:30 – 2:30

Smoking, Drugs, & Alcohol

Smoking is banned in bars, restaurants, shopping malls, and all public places. The possession of illegal drugs is prohibited and could result in a prison sentence. The legal limit for Blood Alcohol Content is .05% and strictly enforced.

Time Zone

Spain is on Central European Time, one hour ahead of GMT. (When it is 8 am in London, it is 9 am in Spain.) Peninsular Spain is on CEST, which is two hours ahead of GMT.

View of Sevilla SquareSevilla Square

Visiting Sacred Sites and Natural Wonders

When visiting a church, cathedral, or ancient site remember you are on sacred ground and show respect.

What to Pack

Pack good walking shoes—many streets are made of cobblestones, and you’ll want solid footing. Bring your hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen.

Feel free to wear shorts, t-shirts, sandals, and sleeveless tops in the summer, particularly at the beach. Wear long sleeves when dining out. Pack at least one smart, casual outfit for dining out and in the evenings. Unless it’s winter, you’ll only need a light sweater.

Pack your electrical adapter, a copy of your passport, and credit or debit cards. (Best to only bring two or three of these.) Make copies of your health insurance. Keep your meds, important copies of docs, and some cash in one small, convenient bag.

Cell Phones and Wi-Fi

Free hotspots are available in main towns and cities. Your lodgings have Wi-Fi, although, as with anywhere, small towns often have spotty coverage. Before leaving, contact your cell phone carrier. Most will charge you a relatively small fee, usually $10/day, for making calls back to the US and within Spain on your cell phone. This is very handy!

Emergency Phone Numbers

Dial 112

Aerial view of San SebastianSan Sebastian


Spain has a world-class health system. For non-EU and non-UK citizens, payment must be made at time of service, so it’s best to purchase comprehensive travel insurance before you leave home. Drugs and medicines are sold at pharmacies. The word Farmacia can be seen in either a red or green cross. Each pharmacy displays a card in the window, showing the address of the nearest all-night pharmacy.

Local Customs

Regional pride is strong in Spain. Try not to call Catalans, Galicians, or Basque people ‘Spanish’. They can find this offensive. The most famous Spanish custom is the siesta. Many shops close between 1pm and 5pm, and stay open into the night.


You will need your US driver’s license and your passport at the car rental desk.

Spanish tapa dishes

Hair Dryers:

Hairdryers are generally supplied in our accommodations.

Wash Cloths:

Wash cloths are an American invention, and you will rarely see them in Spain. If this is something you absolutely must have, pack your own.

Spain is the place to be when you’re ready to experience a heady mix of cultures, cuisine, history, music, dance, and art. The countryside is spellbinding and the villages are situated on plains, vineyards, and cliffs. All await exploration!

Let your Destination Expert know if you’d like to see flamenco dancers, the Alhambra, Pilgrimage Routes, or castles. They’ll make it happen for you!