MADRID & BARCELONA
Tour at a Glance
|MADRID||1 - 5|
|BARCELONA||5 - 8|
|Transfer||Madrid Barajas Airport [MAD]||NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado|
|Transfer||NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado||Madrid Atocha Railway Station|
|Transfer||Barcelona Sants Railway Station||Granados 83|
|Transfer||Granados 83||Barcelona-El Prat International Airport [BCN]|
|Train||Madrid Atocha Railway Station||Barcelona Sants Railway Station|
Set on Europe’s Iberian Peninsula between the Atlantic Sea and the Mediterranean Sea, Spain typically conjures up images of matadors, sangria, flamenco dancers and paella. While it offers all of these traditional cliches in abundance, the country’s real attraction is to be found in its passionate, laid back people and its unbeatable natural beauty. Even along the well-beaten tourist tracks, there are authentic Spanish experiences to be had, traditional local dishes to sample and idyllic villages of timeless charm to explore. Like the country’s famous tapas, Spain itself is a veritable smorgasbord of thriving cities, bizarre festivals, panoramic views and breathtaking beaches – rendering it a beautiful and beguiling country unlike any other. Weird, enthralling architecture, incredible nightlife and its diversity of art and culture add to the country’s unique allure.
BANKING AND CURRENCY
Spain uses the European monetary unit, the euro (€). Euro bills come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500; coins are worth 1 cent of a euro, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, 1 euro, and 2 euros. Local merchants may refuse to accept €200 and €500 bills due to the prevalence of counterfeit bills.
Travellers will find that managing money in Spain is easy but expensive. Banking facilities are generally modern and function quite efficiently, but bank charges and commissions on international transfers are hefty when compared to most other countries in the European Union (EU).
Spain has one of the highest bank branches per capita on the European continent and most offer online banking with fast, easy transfers; Solbank and Bancaja cater specifically to British citizens.
Banks in Spain open from Monday to Friday 8.30am to 2pm and, in the winter, on Saturday mornings from 9am to 1pm or Thursday afternoons, from 5pm to 7pm.
ATMs (cajeros automáticos) are widely available and normally accept foreign cards. These machines provide the best exchange rates, but transaction charges do apply.
Alternatively, currency exchange offices (cambio) can be found at most airports and in most tourist areas. The exchange rates they tend to offer are less attractive than those provided by banks.
Debit and credit cards are widely accepted in Spain, although transaction charges will apply if someone is using an international debit or credit card.
TRAVEL, TRANSPORT AND GETTING AROUND
Most of Spain is well covered by public transport. The rail network reaches all the provincial capitals and the main towns along the inter-city lines, and there’s an expanding high-speed network that has slashed journey times on major cross-country routes from Madrid. Inter-city bus services are often more frequent and cheaper than the regular trains, and will usually take you closer to your destination, as some train stations are a few kilometres from the town or village they serve. Driving a car, meanwhile, will give you the freedom to head away from the major tourist routes and take in some of the spectacular scenery at your own pace.
One important point to remember is that all public transport, and the bus service especially, is drastically reduced on Sundays and public holidays, don’t even consider travelling to out-of-the-way places on these days. The words to look out for on timetables are diario (daily), laborables (workdays, including Sat), and domingos y festivos (Sun and public hols).
FOOD, DRINK AND CUISINE ADVICE
Standards of hygiene in relation to food health and safety in Spain are generally high in hotels, restaurants, pubs and nightspots.
Food is more than a form of sustenance in Spain, it is literally a way of life. Friendships are formed, families unite, and the working week can be set around every day’s very important meals. The country’s distinctive cuisine brings together unique regional dishes, special ingredients and long standing influences from Moorish and Arab settlers.
Tourists travelling to Spain are often given a useful piece of advice – the Spanish eat late. Don’t expect many restaurants to be open before 9pm. Book a restaurant table for between 11pm and midnight and you’ll see the place hopping. Dinner is often light after a large lunch..
Breakfast in Spain is a pretty simple and traditionally European affair. The continental meal can include fresh rolls, bread and jam with coffee, hot chocolate or tea.
Tapas are probably the concept of Spanish cuisine most admired and imitated around the world, inspiring thousands of bars and restaurants. The idea is simple, straightforward, and a visit to a tapas bar is possibly the best way to sample a wide variety of Spanish food. Tapas can constitute something as simple as a piece of toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and dipped in olive oil, or a dish of olives. Slices of ham or salami, cheese, pieces of Spanish tortilla and marinated anchovies are popular. Dishes like meatballs in tomato sauce, garlic mushrooms, shrimp or cooked chorizo in wine are all offered to tickle the tastebuds at tapas bars around the country. So is paella, the saffron infused rice dish with meat, seafood and vegetables which is a Spanish institution.
Tap water is generally safe to drink in Spain. If you are in any doubt, ask ¿Es potable el agua (de grifo)? (Is the (tap) water drinkable?). Do not drink water from rivers or lakes as it may contain bacteria or viruses that can cause diarrhoea or vomiting.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Spain’s climate varies from temperate in the north to dry and hot in the south. As it is a big country with varying terrain and altitudes, climate can be extremely distinctive from one corner to another. Overall, the coastal regions in the South and Eastern parts of Spain are excellent to visit all year round thanks to the Mediterranean climate (mild temperatures and long days). Northern Spain generally experiences colder temperatures than the South, while Central Spain stays hot and dry due to its location on a plateau.
The best time to visit depends on the region and type of travel experience you’re seeking. For a beach vacation, the best months for guaranteed sunshine are June to August. Naturally, these are also the busiest months for tourism along the coast and on the Spanish islands, so be prepared for high prices and crowds. If you’re looking to escape the crowds, head inland to cities like Seville, Madrid and Granada where temperatures are sizzling but streets are empty.
The shoulder season for travel in Spain is usually late spring and autumn: from April to end of May and October to November. These are when tourist destinations are least crowded and weather is still pleasant. January to February is the best time to ski, as snow is ample and the sun is shining. Especially in the Sierra Nevada, the sun can be quite overwhelming even in the snow – come prepared with snow goggles and sunscreen.
CLOTHING AND DRESS RECOMMENDATIONS
Spain is a modern country, but with many traditions of dress. Traditional/region dresses are usually worn at fiestas, but not by everyone. Try and attend a fiesta or two to see just how diverse the traditional clothing was.
Away from the beach men can wear shorts and T shirts, with flip flops, if they want to. The same would also be ideal for women too. Men and women should not wear swimming clothes at any restaurant, unless it is at a beach side restaurant. A tip to women who want to go topless on the beach. The law permits topless attire at every beach. Some beaches are designated nudist beaches.
Spain does get all of the seasons of the year, meaning spring, summer, autumn/fall, and winter, so pack with layers in mind. Buildings can be hot and stuffy whilst the outside temperatures are low. Remember that some, but not all, places of worship have enforced dress rules. For chilly days or nights, and for going out to restaurants, jersey/cardigan or lightweight jackets would be ideal attire. Bring some sort of waterproof clothing, especially during spring, autumn/fall, and winter periods. It should be noted that at a few hotels restaurants and clubs, if you are dressed inappropriately, will not let you in.
ELECTRICITY AND PLUG STANDARDS
Electricity supply is 220 volts throughout Spain with 2 pin wall sockets. For any European countries that utilise 240 volts your electrical appliance should function adequately.
If you intend to use the UK electrical plugs then you will need an electricity plug adapter that will convert the standard 3 pin socket into a two pin socket. In the US where the electricity supply is 110 volts a transformer would be required to step down the voltage to 110 volts. Damage to the electrical appliance can occur if you attempt to use a 110 volt rated electrical appliance with a 220 volt supply.