Spain is full of surprises. Many people come to the country with a preconceived idea of what land and culture are, only to come up against a very different reality.
When preparing to visit Spain, it’s a good idea to have a clear idea of what you might find. To help you out, we’ve rounded up 20 surprising facts about Spain that most tourists might not expect.
1. Every city offers a different type of experience
The most visited cities in Spain are all very different from each other. No matter which city you travel to, you can be sure that you will have a unique experience that will not be the same elsewhere in the country. Be sure to find out more information about your destination so you can get a feel for what it is before you arrive.
2. Paella is not common everywhere in Spain
Most people consider paella to be Spain’s national dish. However, this is not quite the case and you may not find it on the menu at some restaurants at all.
The paella originates from Valencia, which remains the best place to taste the delicious rice dish. However, the rest of the country has a truly regionalized cuisine and ordering paella can raise a few eyebrows in some parts of the country.
3. Flamenco either
Like paella, flamenco is typically only seen in a separate part of Spain. It is famous from Andalusia in the south of the country and this is where you will find most of the best performances.
Sometimes you will have flamenco shows in larger tourist destinations like Barcelona and Madrid. However, for the most authentic experience, it is best to head south.
4. You might hear the bagpipes playing
It is not only Scots who love bagpipe music, it is also a tradition for many Spaniards. The country has Celtic customs that go back centuries, especially in the northwest of the country around Galicia. This includes bagpipes and tartan.
5. Spanish is not the only language you will hear on the street
Spanish may be the second most spoken language in the world, but it is not universally the first language of Spaniards. Spain is home to several languages of which Catalan, Basque and Galician and around 30% of the population will speak one of these languages during their daily life.
6. It is the 2nd largest country in the EU
Spain is big, very big indeed. It covers a total of 505,990 km² and is larger than Germany, Poland and Sweden.
Fortunately, however, there are plenty of ways to easily travel across the country. Spain offers a good high-speed train and domestic flight options for tourists who want to quickly see all the nation has to offer.
7. It’s not hot all the time
While Spain is a very hot land most of the time, it still has a seasonal climate. Winter in parts of the country can be freezing and cold at times, especially in the central plateau and mountainous regions.
However, it’s not all bad news for winter tourists. The Pyrenees and Sierra Nevada destinations offer excellent skiing options for visitors.
8. Spaniards hate spicy food
Let’s be clear on something, Spain is not Mexico. The local cuisine of the country is very different and you shouldn’t expect to find many spicy dishes on a restaurant menu.
Rather, when arriving in Spain, most tourists will find that the locals prefer much simpler seasoned dishes that don’t pack a punch in terms of spices. The famous Patatas Bravas are often as spicy as it gets for many Spaniards.
9. Bullfighting is not popular everywhere
When most people think of Spain, the first thing that often comes to mind is bullfighting. While the bull is the country’s national animal, you won’t find bullfighting anywhere in Spain.
Some regions of the country such as Catalonia and the Canary Islands have banned the sport altogether. Therefore, if you are visiting these regions, don’t expect to find much in their local arenas.
10. Spain has more than 40 UNESCO World Heritage sites
Spain is a truly historic land. It houses about 44 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, some dating back thousands of years. These antiques are dotted all over the country and have been well preserved for tourists to enjoy today.
11. Spain is home to the only desert in Western Europe
It’s true, Spain has a desert. The Tabernas Desert in the south-east of the country, near Almeria, is one of the only deserts in Europe and covers 280 km².
You’ve probably seen it before, 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 filmed in the Tabernas.
12. Your tapas could be free
The tradition of tapas in Spain offers many pleasant surprises. However, nothing more than the fact that these delicious dishes are often free with your drink.
When you order a glass of wine or a beer in some parts of Spain, you may find that you get a small plate of food that you bring with your drink. This is not a mistake, this is a free dish to enjoy with your drink.
13. Part of Spain is not even in Europe
It’s true, part of the country is located outside of Europe. Spain has two small enclaves located in North Africa; the cities of Ceuta and Melilla. In addition, the Canary Islands are even further away from the northwest coast of Africa.
14. The highest mountain in Spain is not actually in Spain (or Europe)
This brings us perfectly to the highest mountain in Spain, which is not located on the Spanish mainland. Mount Teide is located on the island of Tenerife (one of the Canary Islands) and is approximately 3,718 m high.
15. Nudity at the beach is quite common
Things get hot in Spain and as a result some beach goers will often enjoy the bare sun and sea. This is because Spain does not have national anti-nudity laws.
Some regions and cities like Barcelona have local rules to prevent people from roaming the streets naked. However, the beach remains a place to let everything pass through Spain.
16. Spain is not a very religious country
Spain is full of beautiful churches and cathedrals, but the locals have largely abandoned religion. Despite its predominantly Catholic population and the impression religion has left on the history of Spain, only around 30% of the population attend church regularly.
17. Naps are not as common as you might think
Despite stereotypes about the Spanish siesta, it’s not as common as most people believe. Today, most businesses operate on conventional schedules with no downtime for a daytime nap. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t enjoy a nap during your trip during the hottest hour of the day.
18. Wine is big business in Spain
France may be the most famous wine producer in Europe, but Spain certainly gets its money’s worth. About 1 million hectares of the country are dedicated to vineyards and the country offers some of the best European wines.
19. Spain is the king of olive oil
Spain, however, is number one in terms of global olive oil production. About 45% of all olive oil is produced here. Chances are, the olive oil in your kitchen comes from Spain.
20. Spanish Christmas is a big celebration
Christmas in Spain is a real experience. Locals love the celebration so much that they actually celebrate it twice. Christmas Day is normally celebrated on December 25, but the Spanish also have another big gift day on January 6.
Spain is one of the most visited places in the world for good reason. It is an ideal destination for relaxation, culture and delicious cuisine that will never cease to amaze you.