20 Things Not To Do in Spain

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.

Spain, just like any other country out there, has its own quirks, laws, prejudices, and even bizarre customs, so here’s a list of what not to do when visiting the country of flamenco and bullfighting.

Spanish terrace

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.

2. Do not rush or take punctuality too seriously. Spanish tend to have a very relaxed sense of time, so be patient and just enjoy being in Spain!

3. Do not get involved in discussions about regionalism. Spanish people are extremely sensitive to this topic and they 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 other 12 beautiful coasts in Spain waiting to be explored, and all of them boast wonderful beaches, picturesque towns, and fabulous local cuisine.

Las Negras Spain

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 currently 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’re going to 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, Cadiz, 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, Blanco, 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.

Spain bullring

9. Don’t head for a table every time you enter a locale. Sitting at the bar is always a good idea in Spain, 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.

Daroca, Spain

11. Do not wander the city streets wearing only swimsuit. It’s tasteless, inappropriate, and even illegal in seaside cities like Barcelona, Malaga, and Palma de Mallorca, where you can be punished with a €100 – €200 fine.

12. Don’t underestimate tapas, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. They are 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 free when ordering a drink, like in Granada and Madrid.

Tapas Bar in 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.

Salamanca, Spain

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 serve it with delicious crispy churros.

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 trying to experience something new? Go out there, explore Spain on your own, connect with locals and their culture, try new foods, and be adventurous!

Beach at sunset

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.

Sierra Nevada, Spain

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 Tuesday, don’t get married, don’t board (on a ship or plane), and don’t leave the house.

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  1. What a great post! We recently returned from a trip to Spain, visiting Barcelona, Tarragona, Toledo, Avila and Alcala de Henares and I couldn’t agree more about having fluid travel plans. Barcelona was excellent, and I would love to go back to see more of what the city offers, but Avila stole my heart. It was like being in a fairy tale walking the walls of this ancient city!

  2. Good list. I’d like to add something. We spent a month in Spain two years ago and rented small apartments in Sevilla, Cordoba, Granada and Barcelona. Always in the centre of town. No cars as parking is difficult and old-town streets very narrow. We walked. Shopped at the bakery, greengrocer, and ate out. If we were really tired, we’d take a taxi. And we took the high-speed trains between cities and saw the countryside.

    So, remain carless to see the towns. We didn’t go to the beach, which are available in most countries. We wanted to experience Spain and its culture.

  3. Hi, I’m Spanish. Yes, most people here get up late on weekend. For us, eating earlier than 2pm is weird. We like to go to bed late too, that’s true. But we are tired of topics. Please, Spain is not regionalism, bulls and flamenco. Regionalism does exist, but a Catalán won’t get angry with a tourist for calling him Spanish. Not everyone would like to separate from Spain. The same in Euskadi. And in Galicia. I am Galician and here the regionalism is not as hard as in Cataluña. It’s another culture and we have our own language too. But we use to be friendly people, and regionalism is not necessary a taboo topic.

    I’ve never heard before the superstition of the salt shaker. Lol. In Andalucía they use to be more religious and superstitious than in other parts of Spain. And don’t expect to find bulls and flamenco in the north. Each part of Spain has it’s own culture. In only one trip you cannot see every of them. Neither in 200. So just come here to enjoy, I would recommend searching on the internet the culture of the part of Spain that you are going to travel. Oh, and rebajas are not only in July. In January we have them too.

    Please forgive me if my English is not perfect. I am still learning 😉

    1. Gracias for all the tips! I hope to one day explore the land my grandfather came from before he and my grandmother, who was Italian, migrated to the states in the 40s! Such beautiful lands and people seem to be so nice!

  4. 19. “Don’t pass the salt shaker from hand to hand”. I’ve never heard such a thing (I’m from Spain, by the way.
    20. “Don’t plan anything important on Tuesday 13”. C’mon… this is old grandmother stories almost forgotten. Everyone in Spain do know this superstition but most people don’t even notice when it happens.

    1. Sooooooo true man! I’m Spanish too, and those pieces of advice are stupid. Noone here cares abuot how you handle the salt shaker, and the thing about Tuesdays is more of a childish terror story than a real thing. Get rid of topics and just enjoy whta you see!
      By the way, most Spanish people know nothing about flamenco and consider the bull tradition as archaic, irrational and bloody, and want it to be illegal.

  5. Just so you know. I’m from Spain and some of us HATE being called Spaniard. For us, Spaniards are from Mexico and South America. We’re SPANISH. You could offend a lot of people by calling them that.

    1. Hi Julia,

      I’m really sorry that you (and other readers) felt offended by the word “Spaniard”. This wasn’t my intention at all. However, I love this country and its people, which is why I’ve just updated the article and replaced this “sensitive” appellation.

  6. Really great and funny post, but passing the salt shaker from hand to hand doesn’t bring you bad luck. Dropping the salt brings you bad luck and in order to avoid the consequences, people in Spain throw a bit of salt above both shoulders. 😃😃😃

  7. Hola,

    I went in Spain in May 2015. I visited Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona.
    I felt in love with this country, and since this time I just think to go back.
    I began to learn Spanish, and actually I am looking for a Spain correspondant in order to practice.

    I am very respectuous of new language, culture, and history. I always said when you go to another country you need to respect their rules and their laws. You are not at home.

    Muchas Gracias

  8. I’m from Spain and I must correct some points:
    1. No one eats lunch at 13:00. The usual time is from 14:00 to 15:30 or sometimes even later. Only those forced by job schedules would eat at 13:00 or 16:00.
    2. It’s nice to be perceived as relaxed people, we normally are, but as always, you can always meet a person that gets upset or even offended if you are 10 minutes late, for example teachers in school or college, jobs of course, some friends… It depends on the person.
    3. 5. It’s true that in Spain we have a few languages: Galicia, Cataluña, País Vasco… and also each region is Spain is different, just like in any other country in the world: regional food, regional events and celebrations… but that doesn’t mean in ANY way you can’t refer to them as spanish people. Don’t call a catalonian spanish? Really?
    Only the very most radical and angry people from Cataluña, País Vasco or even Galicia (very rarely) would take thay badly. If you meet someone that gets offended by being referred as spanish in any of those regions, specially coming from a foreigner, avoid them, they’re probably very problematic and radicalized. Now, one thing is true: don’t dare to argue about politics, regions or independence, being a foreigner, specially in those regions. It’s not nice to meet a foreginer with strong political views about a country that barely knows. There has been heavy terrorism during decades and lots of victims involved, so you’re way better off avoiding to talk about any of those topics.

    Finally, Spain has many old places and a lot of history, so although you can totally live in Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla… for many years and not get bored, you should totally visit the old and important places that are all over the country: Cataluña, Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha y Castilla-León, Galicia, Aragón… pretty much every region has plenty of little old jewels you should visit, don’t stick just to the modern all new cities. Hahaha, by the way, I neither like the word “spaniard”, I find it very ugly, it even sounds ugly. I prefer to be called spanish or from Spain.

  9. Most of the people in Catalonia don’t want independence and most of them who want it is because of the Spanish government, not because they don’t consider themselves as Spanish, they feel like the government it’s not treating them right and that’s it, then there’s a small part of radicals who would get offended and probably aggressive, just avoid that kind of stuff just in case one of these crackheads happen to be around.

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