What are my lodging options in Spain? For a slice of Spanish culture, stay in a parador; to indulge your pastoral fantasies, try a casa rural (country house), Spain's version of a bed-and-breakfast. On the other end of the spectrum are luxurious high-rise hotels along the coastline and chain hotels in the major cities. Traveling with your family? Consider renting an apartment.
Do I need to book hotels beforehand, or can I just improvise once I'm in Spain? In big cities or popular tourist areas it's best to reserve well ahead. In smaller towns and rural areas you can usually find something on the spot, except when local fiestas are on—for those dates you may have to book months in advance.
How can I avoid looking like a tourist in Spain? Ditch the white tennis shoes and shorts for a start, and try to avoid baseball caps. A fanny pack will betray you instantly; a mochila—an all-purpose cloth or leather bag with a long shoulder strap, bought locally, will serve you better.
Do shops really close for siesta? In general, shops close from 2 pm to 5 pm, particularly in small towns and villages. The exceptions are supermarkets and large department stores, which tend to be open from 9 am to 9 pm in the center of Madrid and Barcelona, and at major resorts stores often stay open all day.
How much should I tip at a restaurant? You won't find a service charge on the bill, but the tip is included. For stellar service, leave a small sum in addition to the bill, but not more than 10%. If you're indulging in tapas, just round the bill to the nearest euro. For cocktails, tip about €0.50 a drink.
If I only have time for one city, should I choose Barcelona or Madrid? It depends on what you're looking for. Madrid will give you world-class art and much more of a sense of a workaday Spanish city, while cosmopolitan Barcelona has Gaudí, Catalan cuisine, and its special Mediterranean atmosphere.
Can I get dinner at 7, or do I really have to wait until the Spanish eat at 9? If you really can't wait, head for the most touristy part of town; there you should be able to find bars and cafés that will serve meals at any time of day. But it won't be nearly as good as the food the Spaniards are eating a couple of hours later. You might be better off just dining on tapas.
How easy is it to cross the border from Spain into neighboring countries? Spain, Portugal, and France are members of the EU, so borders are open. Good trains connect Madrid and Lisbon (about €60), and Madrid and Paris (about €150). American citizens need only a valid passport to enter Morocco; ferries run regularly to Tangier from Tarifa (€27 one way, €75 with a car) and Gibraltar (€32 one way, €83 with a car).
Can I bring home the famous Ibérico ham, Spanish olives, almonds, or baby eels? Products you can legally bring into the United States include olive oil, cheese, olives, almonds, wood-smoked paprika, and saffron. Ibérico ham, even vacuum-sealed, is not legal, so you may not get past customs agents and their canine associates. If caught, you risk confiscation and fines. And don't even think about trying to bring back angulas (eels).
Fodor's Trip Planning Ideas
- Fodor's Go List 2014: Where we are going in 2014
- World Cup Fever: Start planning your trip to Brazil!
- Fodor's 100 Hotel Awards: Check out the winners of 2013
- Weekend Getaways: Fodor's Recommends the Best Weekend Escapes in the US
- Great American Vacation: Find Your Next U.S. Trip with Fodor's
- 80 Degrees: Fodor's Helps You Find Your Best Beach Vacation Spots
- Best of Europe: Fodor's Picks the Best Places to Visit in Europe