When visiting a new country, we’re often looking for the best things to do while there. Well, Not To Do things are just as important as they make for some really great travel tips, ensuring your experience will be free of unpleasant surprises.
After living here for a while, I’ve learned that the land of flamenco and bullfighting, just like any other country out there, has its own quirks, laws, prejudices, and even bizarre customs, so I’ve put together a list of what not to do when visiting Spain.
1. Don’t expect to eat early. Spain does everything late, and eating is no exception. Lunchtime is usually between 13:00 – 15:30, and dinner is rarely served before 21:00 (even later in summer).
2. Do not rush or take punctuality too seriously. Spanish people tend to have a very relaxed sense of time, so be patient and just enjoy being in Spain! It’s not really unpleasant if you are a tourist, but not so fun if you live there, though.
3. Do not get involved in discussions about regionalism. Spanish people are extremely sensitive to this topic and have a very strong sense of regional pride, especially in Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Galicia, where locals have their own language and cultural identity.
4. Don’t limit yourself to Costa del Sol. Surely, this Andalusian stretch of coast is absolutely lovely, but parts of it can also be very touristy and expensive. Besides, there are 12 other beautiful coasts in Spain waiting to be explored, and they all boast wonderful beaches, picturesque towns, and fabulous local cuisine. My favorite so far is Cadiz’ less-developed Costa de la Luz, where white, soft-sand beaches stretch as far as the eye can see.
5. Do not call a Catalan Spanish. You certainly don’t want to piss off more than 7 million people who are so proud of their language, culture, and history, and who struggle for their independence. Nothing will offend them more.
6. Do not expect to see Flamenco everywhere. Of course, this is a genuine Spanish form of art and one of the first things that come to mind when thinking of Spain. And although it has a strong tradition in many parts of the country, that doesn’t mean you’ll see an authentic show everywhere you travel.
You won’t go wrong with Andalusia, though. This is arguably the birthplace of flamenco, or at least its spiritual home, so wonderful shows are held almost daily in venues across Seville, Granada, Cádiz, or Jerez de la Frontera.
Madrid is also a great place to enjoy this famous Spanish tradition, offering an excellent range of tablaos. One more thing, don’t expect to see locals dancing flamenco for fun (unless you’re visiting a gypsy cave in Granada); this is a performance art usually put on display in theaters and other dedicated venues.
7. Don’t bring too many clothes. Spain is a shopping mecca with options for any budget and style out there. Not to mention chances are you’ll be tempted by their chic and delightfully accessible fashion brands such as Zara, Mango, Bershka, Pull & Bear, Stradivarius, Sfera, and so on. You can find them everywhere, and if you have the chance to visit Spain during the sales (rebajas) periods, you’ll get some really fantastic bargains.
8. Don’t expect to see a bullfight in Barcelona or the Canary Islands. Catalonia was the second Spanish region to ban this blood sport, after the Canary Islands.
9. Don’t head for a table every time you enter a locale. Sitting at the bar is always a good idea in Spain, especially when visiting a traditional tapas bar, as this is by far the liveliest spot in the room. Also, this will offer you the opportunity to socialize with the staff and the other clients, make friends, and learn things that you don’t usually find in tourist guides.
10. Don’t stick to the main cities. Yes, Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and Valencia are magnificent cities, but half of the magic of Spain lies in its wonderful countryside, lesser-known towns, and charming villages. Visiting them will help you get a better sense of the heritage, customs, and traditions of the region you’re in. Even more than that, this will ensure a rich, authentic, and truly memorable travel experience without spending a fortune or being bothered by huge tourist crowds.
11. Do not wander the city streets wearing only your swimsuit. It’s tasteless, inappropriate, and even illegal in seaside cities like Barcelona, Málaga, and Palma de Mallorca, where you can be punished with a €100 – €200 fine.
12. Don’t underestimate the tapas, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. Tapeando, or going out to enjoy tapas with your friends, is not just an excellent way to immerse yourself in the Spanish culture and sample the local cuisine, but also a great way to cut down on travel costs. They usually come for a small price or even free when ordering a drink in cities like Granada and Madrid.
13. Don’t wear the wrong things. As already mentioned above, beachwear is for the beach, but in addition to that, there are still several fashion rules that travelers to Spain must adhere to in order to avoid trouble. Some of the most important are to always wear the right shoes (comfortable for the day, elegant for the night); never forget to dress accordingly when visiting a monastery, church, or sacred place; and by no means wear the wrong football shirt in the wrong city.
14. Don’t ignore local markets. Whether you’re visiting a big metropolis or a small pueblo tucked away in the countryside, local markets are particularly interesting in Spain. They not only offer fresh fruits and vegetables, but also some of the most exquisite seafood, hams, and traditional specialties, as well as a chance to soak up the local atmosphere. Furthermore, some of them have been transformed into genuine culinary temples, impressing visitors with their eye-catching architecture and tremendous dining opportunities.
15. Don’t plan every minute of your trip. Following a schedule could be an effective way to manage your time, but who needs that in a country where art, history, and local culture can be experienced almost everywhere – on the streets, at the market, in the tiny plazas, in the lively bars, and even on the football stadium. Every visitor to Spain should leave some time for serendipitous opportunities; you never know what you might discover by chance in this beautiful country that bursts with treasures, excitement, and creativity.
16. Don’t drink your hot chocolate. Spanish hot chocolate is usually very thick and creamy, more like a pudding than a proper drink. Do as locals do and dip your churros in it.
17. Don’t stay in a tourist resort. Spain’s major coasts are packed with all kinds of tourist hotels and all-inclusive resorts, and most of them do offer all the comforts and amenities one would need for a pleasant holiday, but they’re also pretty expensive, dull, and unfriendly. So instead of spending all day by the pool with a bunch of tourists, why not try to experience something new? Go out there, explore Spain on your own, connect with locals and their culture, try new foods, and be adventurous!
18. Don’t overlook the mountains. Spain may be the land of sunny costas and charming Mediterranean way of life, but it’s also the second most mountainous country in Europe, with extraordinary hiking, skiing, and other adventure opportunities. Mallorca’s Serra de Tramuntana, the Pyrenees, and the Sierra Nevada in Andalusia are all wonderful destinations whether you’re looking for recreation, thrilling outdoors, culture, history, or authentic cuisine.
19. Don’t pass the salt shaker from hand to hand. According to Spanish tradition, it brings bad luck.
20. Don’t plan anything important on Tuesday 13, or Tuesday in general. In Spain is not Friday the 13th that brings bad luck, but Tuesday. They even have a saying for it: En martes, ni te cases, ni te embarques, ni de tu casa te apartes – On a Tuesday, don’t get married, don’t get on board (on a ship or plane), and don’t leave the house.