Tips to Travel Spain Like a Local: What to Know Before You Go

Last updated on July 9th, 2021

Featured image: The ancient city of Toledo, Spain in the evening light / Photo by elxeneize on Envato

14 Tips to Sip, Tip, and Explore Spain

By Regina Winkle-Bryan, Founder, Bold Spirit Travel 
(Sponsored)

You will never blend in completely, and why should that even be the goal? You are a foreigner in a new land, taking in unknown sounds, flavors, and scenery. Still, it pays to brush up on cultural expectations; know the “rules” and then decide whether or not to break them. 

You can try to live like a local when in Spain, but also remember that “you do you.” If you need to eat at 6 p.m. because 9 p.m. is too late, find a tapas bar and make a (delicious) dinner of them. No one expects you to be fluent in Spanish, but a few simple phrases go a long way. Spain is a country of warm, fun-loving people who will show you the art of lingering, rambling, and celebrating food.

The author with a glass of wine at a bar in Portland

Regina enjoying her vino tinto!

My Tips

I lived in Spain for a decade and visit often when leading Camino and Barcelona tours or checking in with family. I offer you these tips, most learned the hard way. 

1. Hola, Buenos Días: When you enter a shop, greet the shopkeeper. If your Spanish is limited, a cheery “hola” will suffice.

2. Lingo Lessons: So much can be translated with your smartphone these days, but it still pays off to know a few key phrases in Spanish (or Basque or Catalan if you are visiting those areas).

Brush up on: “¿Cuánto cuesta?” (How much is it?), “Un café con leche, porfa” (one latte, please) and basics for directions such as “izquierda” y “derecha” (left and right). The “c” in Castilian is often pronounced like “th” making “gracias” sound like “gra-th-ias.”

3. Out to Eat: Hungry? Pack a PowerBar as you adjust to Spain’s timetable for dining. Breakfast is from about 8:00 a.m. – 12 noon; lunch from 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. (some restaurants will open at 1:00 p.m.); and dinner from 8:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m.

 

4. La Cena: Large, heavy dishes like paella and fideuà are not for dinner but for lunch. Spaniards eat late and so an enormous meal does not make sense at 10 p.m.

5. August: In the summer months, timetables change across Spain. The majority of businesses close for all of August or at least part of the month. It is also hot, but a good time to be at the beach.

6. No Big Tips: Tipping is not common in Spain. Locals don’t tip bartenders, or baristas, or waiters more than a few coins.

For example, if a café con leche costs €1.40 a customer might leave €1.50, or their spare change. If you feel you received excellent service at a restaurant, leave 10%  (though most don’t). Many times the tip is already included, so look over your bill. I know this one is hard for Americans and Canadians. The guilt is real! But do try to hold back.

River and medieval bridge in Allariz, Orense

River and medieval bridge in Allariz, Orense

7. More Outdoors: If you opt to eat or have a drink on a cafe’s terrace don’t be surprised if the price goes up. Many eateries charge more, around 5-10%, for outdoor patio dining. This will especially be true in bigger cities. 

8. Good Treads: You’ll be walking a lot, down cobblestone alleys, along stately boulevards, beside the glittering Mediterranean Sea, and if you’re doing the Camino then across all kinds of terrain. Get comfortable shoes. Yes, those sandals are cute, but can you walk six miles in them and not be covered in blisters? Spaniards love to stroll; do as they do happily in the right gear.

9. Don’t Split: Restaurants and bars do not like to split checks. Some refuse to do it. Pay as you go at a bar to avoid problems and make sure to have small change if you’re with a big group.

10. Feasting with Amigos: Groups of friends dining together often prefer to split the check equally, even if one guest ate far more or far less than the rest of the party.

11. Afraid of change?: There is often a shortage of change. I’m not sure why this is. Don’t be surprised if you’re asked for something smaller when you try to pay with a €50.00 or even a €20.00. Keep small bills on you. On the flip side, many places, especially shops, will not accept denominations higher than €50.00.

A tile marking the Camino de Santiago
A sign of the Camino de Santiago at sunset in the middle of nature as it passes through Cantabria

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Playa de la Concha, San Sebastian

Playa de la Concha in San Sebastián

12. Double-Check: Look over your bill before you pay it. Look carefully. I’ve been overcharged a lot. Some say this is worse if you’re a tourist (or just look like a tourist). On the other hand, I’ve also been undercharged many times, too. Whatever the motivation is behind incorrect bills it pays to double-check them.

13. Market Matters: At a traditional market the vendor may not want you to touch the fruit or vegetables elegantly stacked in tempting pyramids. Unless the vendor gives you a bag, you should point out what apple you’d like to buy and they’ll get it for you. 

14. Kiss Me: Well, maybe not anymore, post-COVID. But traditionally you will be expected to kiss a new friend—once on each cheek—when meeting. Handshakes suffice for business meetings, although sometimes women get kissed anyway. When in doubt, let the Spaniard lead, if they lean in, you know a kiss greeting is coming your way. As we make our way out of COVID, you might just opt for the elbow bump and call it good.

Ready for Spain? Good Idea!

Join the Bold Spirit Travel crew in Spain this fall for the Camino de Santiago Walking Tour. Our group of bold women begin the journey in Sarria and finish in Santiago de Compostela. You will learn about Spain’s history and customs as we trek 115 kms along an ancient pathway, eat Galician cuisine, and have a ton of fun. 

This is a fully supported trip, which means you have two guides, van assistance, rooms at adorable historic inns, planning sessions, and traditional Spanish meals (yes, there will be wine!). Embrace the opportunity to meet adventurous women like you on a trip of a lifetime. Ready?

Learn more about the September 2021 Camino here

Or get in touch to explore our Barcelona or Rome-Tuscany tours. The Bold Spirit Travel team loves this part of the world and we look forward to sharing it with you! 

Visit our webpage here.

Bold Spirit Travel - Women's Travel Directory

Regina enjoying the sunset in Spain 

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