Evan (my husband) and I just got back from Spain. I hadn't been to Europe since studying in France twelve years ago, and the moment we stepped off the plane in Madrid my love for Europe came rushing back. How had I forgotten how obsessed I am with everything European?! And even better than France, in Spain they have Siestas (naps).
Before we left on the trip I tried to ask friends the questions I thought would get me answers on how to prep. How much Spanish should I know? Should I take out Euros or is using a credit card popular like it is here? And (most importantly) are there actually free tapas with your beer??
Below is our itinerary along with notes on what we would change if we did it again, and a long list of answers that I wish I had had before traveling to Spain.
Overnight flight from JFK, landed in Madrid at 9am. We had Renfe (train) tickets booked for 12pm to Seville. We took a 20min bus ride (less than $5) to the Madrid-Atocha train station.
- Look for the out of town part area of Atocha station as the larger part of the station is the in-town train.
- We booked the more expensive train ticket that allowed us to change our ticket if we needed. I'm glad we did because we were able to catch the earlier train and move it up an hour!
We were in Seville for 2 nights, took a bus to Malaga for 2 nights, bus to Granada for 1 night, and train back to Madrid for 3 nights. We absolutely loved Seville and Granada. We would skip Malaga unless it was over 80 degrees and sunny as it is primarily a beach town. It was 65 and sunny with 85% humidity and a cold breeze, which turned out to be one of the most uncomfortable temperatures I've ever felt!
Hopefully some of the below notes help you in your travels!
- We always received free tapas with our drinks in Granada and Madrid. Most of the time they were olives, some ham and bread, sometimes whatever they had leftover from the day. The strangest we had was french fries with spaghetti sauce on them with egg mixed in! (we had a good laugh while trying this one).
- Wine! The red wine is usually a young tempranillo and is only 3 euros for the youngest, 5 euros for the middle range (crianza). The naming difference for these wines refers to how long they were aged. Use your Spanish to order! Just say 'vino tinto crianza, favor'. It's amazing paired with ham!
- Vermut and Sangria are both really awesome options when you want to switch it up from wine. Spanish vermut is a wine and is different from the dry vermouth you use to make martinis, if you are worried about drinking straight vermouth!
- Pricing at the bar vs table vs outside may be different for your drinks (cheapest at the bar).
- When you arrive at a cafe or casual restaurant, you don't have to wait to be seated or ask where you can sit - you can simply sit down inside or outside.
- Remember that the restaurant experience is different in Europe. They will not rush you and they will not come over to make sure you have everything you need. If you need something, just catch their eye and wave them over. You'll need to do this to get your check ('la cuenta') as well. Enjoy the slower pace!
- You don't need to tip, but if the service is great / excellent leave a small amount of cash (50 centimos to 2 euros).
- Most places have English menus or translations on the menu (you might get a kick out of some of the translations... : )
- A lot of places open after 10am and close from 2-4 for Siesta. Dinner restaurants sometimes don't open until 8pm or later! We took advantage of the siesta time to go back home and relax and change for the evening. (or take a nap!)
- Euros: We brought 140 euros in cash and ended up taking out another 150. It was easier to use cash in southern Spain, mostly because everything was so affordable so it was quicker to pay a couple dollars in cash. Madrid we used the card ('la tarjeta') for everything - sometimes there were minimums.
- Lunch: Sandwiches ('bocadillos') are everywhere and usually 2-5 euros (that's about $2.50 to $6) depending on the place. I loved the chorizo y queso. We took them to go ('para llevar') and often ate them in a park.
- Speaking Spanish: Buenas (good morning greeting -- they use it like we'd use "hello"), Seco (dry, use for wine), Gracias (Thank you- pronouced Grathias or Grathia), Aseos (bathroom, asking for the "bano" in Spain gets you a weird look!).
- We found hotels to be cheaper than Airbnb with more flexible check in times or at least the option to leave your bag. They are quite small though. We preferred Airbnb for stays over 2 nights.
- Book the bus at least 2-3 days in advance if you are on a tight schedule! We didn't experience the train being full, so you could possibly book same day once you know your timing better.
- In my opinion driving here would be quite the challenge for someone from the US. The streets are often tiny and the traffic signals and street names...not exactly well displayed.
- The trains and buses leave exactly at the time they are listed. Always get there at least 15 minutes early.
- Book the Alhambra (pictured above) in Granada in advance (at least a month or two). We did not book tickets for the Real Alcazar in Seville in advance. We went at 10am right when it opened and got in without a problem. We saw a long line later in the day and were very happy we went early.
- Eat the churros and chocolate! The churros aren't covered in sugar like we're used to - we loved them!
I'd love to hear you experiences or questions on itinerary or culture! Keep traveling, keep exploring and keep getting outside of your comfort zone.