10 things you need to know about Spain

From the glittering Mediterranean, stunning architecture and culinary magic, Spain is the go-to destination for culture and glamour seekers alike.

It’s the original European holiday destination and when it comes to escapes to the sun, Spain has nailed it across the board, from families to pleasure seekers, from hikers to beach bums. But doing like the locals do and adopting their way of life, albeit just for just your holiday, is a great way of enhancing your Spanish experience. Here are some insider tips that will ensure a better trip to this beautiful country.

1. Dress up

That dress you wore to a friend’s wedding? Take it to Spain with you, no matter how smart or glamorous, you’ll fit right in. During the day, housecoats are popular for the older lady, for everyone else; wear anything you can survive the heat in. Come nighttime, especially during a fiesta, dig out your Sunday best. This is the case for women and men, young and old. Take a paseo (a walk) after dinner, people watch and compare dress (shoe, bag, hair) notes.

Related: The most innovative boutiques in Spain

Old womanSpanish woman walking down the street, source: Flickr/Hernán Piñera

2. Eat late

The main meal of the day is lunch so a light supper is normal. Depending on the kind of evening you want, it’s advisable to plan everything a little later. An early dinner, say at 8pm, will get you the best table in the house but table reservation at 10pm will land you in the middle of a buzzing atmosphere. An after-dinner stroll can you lead you home, or it could lead you to the clubs, which don’t start filling up until after midnight.

TapasTapas, source: Flickr/Adam Wyles

3. Children

Family is hugely important in every day life in Spain. Children are loved and looked after by the whole family, abuelas (grandmothers) and tias (aunts) across the land muck in and help with the childcare. Spanish families also keep their children up late. While your little-ones are tucked up in bed, with help from the hotel baby-sitting service, prepare for your evening out to be interrupted by local children who, thanks to their afternoon siesta, are full of life until the early hours. Leaving you wondering why you didn’t bring yours out with you.

4. All hail the menu del dia

Lunchtimes are sacred in Spain. Many workers go home to their families or out to restaurants for at least an hour. When you are out for lunch, normally between 1-4pm, opt for the menu del dia. With a starter, main, desert with wine and water included for around €10, you really can’t go wrong. Stick to smaller, locally run restaurants for something authentic and home-cooked. And, as ever, go where you see lots of locals – a sure sign that you’ll get a good lunch. Larger swankier restaurants will also offer a menu del dia, around the €25 mark, it’s well worth going for what the chef has prepared specifically for that day.

Related: A brief history of tapas

WaiterSpanish waiter, source: Flickr/deandare06

5. Coffee

When you go out for a coffee, don’t ask for a cappuccino. Café con leche is what you’re after, it is essentially the same as its Italian cousin. Don’t complicate things and ask for a drink that Spain hasn’t needed to adopt.

6. Go to the beach late

It’s true what they say about mad dogs and English men. The message is clear, stay out of the sun as much as you can. An early morning swim and an early evening beach visit with a long lunch and a siesta in between is the perfect day in the hot Spanish climate. In fact, no matter how hot it is at the end of September, you won’t see Spanish people hit the Beach. Once the back-to-school period arrives in September, the beach trips are over and the open-air swimming pools are closed.

BeachBeach in Zahora, source: Flickr/Diego David Garcia

7. It can be cold

Life isn’t all sun, sand, sea and cocktails. Winter in Spain can be very cold. In townhouses and villas, thick stone walls keep the heat out during the summer. That’s great when it’s 40 degrees celsius outside. However, these houses are no contest when it comes to the cold and the damp and central heating cannot be assumed. Pack for the season and layer up.

BaqueiraBaqueira ski resort in Spain, source: baqueira.es

8. Speak the language

Wherever you go in the world, attempting to speak your host’s language will earn you brownie points; you may even make a new friend. If you’re in Spain, take it a step further and learn a few words in Catalan or Basque if appropriate. An initially brusque response to another tourist will instantly warm to your efforts and your new Spanish friend will brighten your day. Some useful phrases are:

Where is the beach? - ¿Dónde está la playa?

The bill please? - La cuenta, por favor.

Please may I have a coffee/beer/bottle of water: Por favor, ¿puedo tomar un café/ una cerveza / una botella de agua?

AlhambraAlhambra, source: Flickr/Bert Kaufmann

 9. Look for the fiesta

Always, always check the local what’s on guide, there will always, always be a fiesta going on near you. They are a major part of life in Spain and it will be a highlight of your trip. What’s more they are free, they can be quirky, interesting and will keep the whole family entertained. Normally a fiesta is a culmination of a week-long agenda of kid’s discos, neighbourhood dinners on the streets, foam parties, traditional dance and more, so look at the week leading up to the big day. Check at the tourism office or look for the local paper, English language or Spanish – even if your Spanish is rusty, you’ll get the gist.

Girl in front of wallMudejar art, source: Flickr/Hernán Piñera

10. Your car

If you plan to take your car to Spain with you, be prepared to let go of the pristine condition of your pride and joy. Expect bumps and scratches, and accept that your car will go home with a little bit of Spanish decoration. Likewise, if you hire a car, consider excess insurance. Wing mirror wipeouts, scrapes and other ‘injuries’ your hire car suffers will cost you. To prevent this, park in carparks and avoid parking in narrow streets.