Spain is full of surprises. Many people arrive in the country with a preconceived idea of what the land and the culture is like only to be met with a very different reality.
When you’re preparing to visit Spain it’s a good idea to come with a clear idea of what you might find. To help you do this, we’ve collated 20 surprising facts about Spain that most tourists might not expect.
1. Every City Offers a Different Kind of Experience
Spain’s most visited cities are all distinctly different from one another. Whichever city you go to you can be sure you’ll enjoy a unique experience that won’t be the same anywhere else in the country. Be sure to find out further information about your destination so that you can get a feel of what it’s like before you arrive.
2. Paella Isn’t Common Everywhere in Spain
Most people consider paella to be the national dish of Spain. However, that’s not quite the case and you may not find it on the menu at some restaurants at all.
Paella is originally from Valencia, which remains the best place to try the delicious rice dish. However, the rest of the country has truly regionalised cuisine and ordering paella may raise a few eyebrows in some parts of the country.
3. Nor is Flamenco
Like paella, flamenco is usually only seen in one distinct part of Spain. It is famously from Andalusia in the south of the country and that is where you will find most of the best performances.
You will sometimes get flamenco shows in bigger tourist destinations like Barcelona and Madrid too. However, for the most authentic experience, it’s best to head south.
4. You Might Hear Bagpipes Being Played
It’s not just the Scots who love the music of the bagpipes, it’s also a tradition for many Spanish people too. The country has Celtic customs going back centuries, especially in the north-west of the country around Galicia. This includes bagpipers and tartan.
5. Spanish Isn’t the Only Language You’ll Hear on The Street
Spanish may be the 2nd most spoken language in the entire world but it is not universally the first language of Spanish people. Spain is home to several languages including Catalan, Basque and Galician and around 30% of the population will speak one of these tongues during their daily lives.
6. It’s the 2nd Biggest Country in the EU
Spain is big, very big in fact. It covers a whopping 505,990 km² in total and is bigger than the likes of Germany, Poland and Sweden.
Luckily, however, there are lots of ways to travel easily around the country. Spain offers good high-speed rail and internal flights options to tourists who want to speedily see everything the nation has to offer.
7. It’s Not Hot All The Time
Whilst Spain is a very hot land most of the time it still has a seasonal climate. Winter in some parts of the country can sometimes be icy and cold, especially in the central plateau and mountainous regions.
That’s not all bad news for any winter tourists, however. Destinations in the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada offer great skiing options for visitors.
8. Spanish People Hate Spicy Food
Let’s be clear about something, Spain isn’t Mexico. The local cuisine in the country is very different and you shouldn’t expect to find many spicy dishes on the menu at a restaurant.
When arriving in Spain, most tourists will find instead that the locals prefer much simpler seasoned dishes that don’t pack a punch in terms of spice. The famous Patatas Bravas are often about as spicy as things get for many Spaniards.
9. Bullfighting Isn’t Popular Everywhere
When most people think of Spain, the first thing that often comes to mind is bullfighting. Whilst the bull is the national animal of the country, you won’t find bullfighting everywhere across Spain.
Some regions of the country such as Catalonia and the Canary Islands have prohibited the sport entirely. Therefore if you’re visiting these areas don’t expect to find much happening in their local bullrings.
10. Spain Has Over 40 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
Spain is a truly historical land. It is home to around 44 UNESCO World Heritage sites, some dating back thousands of years. These antiquities are dotted all over the country and have been well preserved so that tourists can enjoy them today.
11. Spain is Home to Western Europe’s Only Desert
That’s right, Spain has a desert. The Tabernas Desert in the southeast of the country, close to Almeria is one of Europe’s only deserts and covers 280 km².
You’ve probably seen it before however, as it’s frequently used as a filming location. Movies like Indiana Jones, Lawrence of Arabia and Once Upon a Time in the West were all shot in the Tabernas.
12. Your Tapas Might Be Complimentary
Tapas tradition in Spain offers many pleasant surprises. However, none more so than the fact these delicious dishes often come free with your drink.
When you order a glass of wine or a beer in some regions of Spain, you may find that you get a small plate of food brought over with your beverage. This isn’t a mistake, it’s a complimentary dish for you to enjoy with your drink.
13. Some of Spain Isn’t Even in Europe
That’s right, some of the country is located outside of Europe. Spain has two small enclaves that are located in North Africa; the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. Additionally, the Canary Islands are even further away sitting off the northwest coast of Africa.
14. Spain’s Tallest Mountain Isn’t Actually in Spain (or Europe)
That brings us neatly on to Spain’s tallest mountain, which isn’t located on the Spanish mainland. Mount Teide is found on the island of Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) and stands at around 3,718m in height.
15. Beach Nudity Is Quite Common
Things get hot in Spain and as a result, some beachgoers will often enjoy the sun and sea nude. This is since Spain has no nationwide anti-nudity laws.
Some regions and cities like Barcelona have instigated local rules to stop people wandering the streets naked. However, the beach remains a place to let it all hang out across Spain.
16. Spain Is Not a Very Religious Country
Spain is full of beautiful churches and cathedrals but the locals have largely cast off religion. Despite its predominantly Catholic population and the impression the religion has left on Spain’s history, only around 30% of the population regularly go to church.
17. Siestas Aren’t As Common As You May Think
Despite the stereotypes about the Spanish siesta, it’s not as common as most people believe. Today, most businesses operate to conventional schedules without downtime for a daytime nap. That’s not to say you shouldn’t enjoy a quick siesta on your trip during the hottest time of the day.
18. Wine is a Big Deal in Spain
France may be the most famous wine producer in Europe but Spain certainly gives it a run for its money. Around 1 million hectares of the country is dedicated to vineyards and the country offers some of the best European wines around.
19. Spain is the King of Olive Oil
Spain, however, is number one in terms of world olive oil production. Around 45% of all olive oil is produced here. There’s a very good chance that the olive oil in your kitchen originated in Spain.
20. Spanish Christmas is a Huge Celebration
Christmas in Spain is a real experience. The locals love the celebration so much they effectively celebrate it twice. Christmas Day is celebrated as normal on the 25th December, but then the Spaniards have one more big gift-giving day on the 6th January as well.
Spain is one of the most visited places in the world for a good reason. It is a great destination for relaxation, culture and delicious food that will never stop surprising you.