A few simple notes that may help you along during your trip…
One of the first things some visitors need to get used to in Spain is how time is expressed, using the 24-hour versus the 12-hour system (a.m./p.m.). Everything is fine until 12.00h. (12.00 p.m.), but it could get confusing once you reach 13.00h! It’s actually quite simple to understand, since what the system does is basically to count the hours of the day (13.00h. is the 13th hour of the day, 14.00h. the 14th, and so forth), but the trick, to actually translate that into something you can “process” right away, is as easy as subtracting TWO from the second digit in the time (i.e. 14.00h. is 2 p.m., 17.00h. is 5 p.m., 23.00h. is 11 p.m., etc.).
You’ll find schedules in Spain have little to do with other European countries, or what you’re accustomed to back home. This could take a little getting used to, since the day seems to start later and run on much longer, but we’re sure you’ll get the hang of it soon enough and enjoy. Here’s a general guideline:
The most common business hours are Monday through Saturday, from 9.30 to 13.30, and from 16.30 to 20.00, but the “malls” or big shopping centers and department stores open from 10.00 to 21.00 or 22.00, with no interruption.
In big cities there are lots of 24-hour shops (Opencor is the best quality) or venues like VIPS which combine restaurant and all-day “everything” shops.
Some big stores will sometimes be open on Sunday, but this is not common, and usually limited to holiday seasons like Christmas. Depending on the area (for example beach or tourist spots) shops can be open up to 22.00 h.
Pharmacies are open normal business hours, but all major cities have pharmacies that open 12 or 24 hours, apart from a rolling late-hour schedule that goes from one pharmacy to another, which is published in the newspapers, and posted at all pharmacies.
Meal times are more or less as follows: Breakfast is usually taken from 8.00 to 10.00. Lunch, at restaurants, is served between 13.00 to 15.30. Dinner is served from 20.30 to 23.00. Many establishments are open all day, especially bars and cafeterias , where you can have “tapas”, appetizers, and platos combinados (combo meals).
You should know that the night time is very important in Spain, specially from Thursday to Sunday. Pubs, bars, and nightclubs usually stay open until at least 3.00 or 4.00 in the morning, though it is generally easy to find venues that won’t close until dawn.
As a general guideline, in Spain you’ll find lodgings that go from camp sites called campings, to pensiones, to hostales, to hotels and Paradores. You can also opt for renting apartments (with or without cleaning services), and country houses.
As opposed to other countries, the rating system for accommodation in Spain (1 to 5 stars) is generally a good indication of the actual quality level. In other words, 5* will be wonderful, while 1* will be correct, but you shouldn’t expect much from it, etc…
Seasons: as in other countries, the price for accommodation is generally subject to change according to the different seasons. High season generally goes from July to September, but also includes Semana Santa (Easter), Christmas, and long weekends linked to national holidays (1 May, 12 October, 1 November, 6 and 8 December, etc.). Low season would be the rest of the year.
For long trips, air travel is always an option, since prices have gone down considerably over the past years, but Spain also has a fantastic Railway System, including various high-speed connections, called AVE, which some may find more practical and enjoyable. Buses are also a reliable and safe option, though generally more time costly.
For city travel, where available, the Metro (Subway or Underground) is the fastest and most reliable way to get around, though most cities boast a dependable bus system as well. Riding a taxi is also an option, though more expensive, of course. In most cities they can be hailed at any point in the street, or found at various taxi-stops, and you can also call one directly at the local taxi service number.
As anywhere else, people in Spain dress differently according to the season, the place they are going to, and the circumstances, but it can be generally said that people “dress up” quite a bit more than other places. Elegant casual is good during the day and night, though a special dinner, for example, may require fancier dress.
Regarding packing for hot or cold weather: On the coast, because of the mild climate, it is usually not necessary to pack very warm clothes; while in the interior temperatures vary greatly from one season to the next, so you should plan for very cold winters, and really hot summers. And something you may have not thought about, warm clothing in the south! Remember it can get quite chilly since things are built for the heat, not to mention areas like Granada actually have mountains and snow!
Spain’s international code is +34, so to make a call to Spain from abroad or within Spain from a foreign phone, dial +34 followed by the local number (9 digits). To make a local call simply dial the 9 digits, regardless of whether it is a landline or mobile. If you want to call another country from Spain, then dial 00 followed by the country code and the telephone number.
You can make calls from phone booths, which work with coins, credit cards, or phone cards that can be bought from estancos (licensed outlets for tobacco/stamps).
To use your cell/mobile in Spain you should know that coverage here uses GSM technology, meaning that, unless your phone has the right technology, it is incompatible with some countries such as the USA or Japan. In this case you need a tri-band mobile in order to call.
If you have a compatible phone, you need to contact your phone company and make sure the international roaming service is activiated on your account. Once you have taken these steps at home, you will be able to use your mobile in Spain as if it were a Spanish phone (meaning you should dial 00 + the country code to make international calls, or the 9 digits with no prefix for local calls).
There are establishments in practically any city or town that offer Internet connections: telephone houses, cybercafés, etc. Good connections are also generally found in airports, major railway and bus stations, local libraries, etc. Generally, these services work with coins, or set rates for different usage times, but sometimes they are free of charge.
Electricity supply in Spain is AC 220 Volts, 50 Hertz. Sockets meet European regulations and use the round pin system. It is always a good idea to bring a set of adaptors, though, most hotels have them for different plugs. It is important to make sure that the electrical appliances you are going to use (computers, mobile phone chargers, shavers…) work at this voltage.
List of foreign embassies and consulates at the Spanish Tourism Board webpage
112 is the universal, free of charge emergency number in Spain. Service is given in Spanish, and also in English, French and German in some tourist areas.
Spain has a Socialized National Health System with a wide network of health centers and hospitals in every part of the country. If you are from the EU you can probably be attended there free of charge, provided you carry the right documents from your country of origin. It is generally good to go to a city hospital for emergency care. In rural areas and in small villages there are local health-care centers open on certain days with visits from specialized staff certain hours. You can check hospitals and health centers in Spain at the Ministry of Health website.
There is also a well-established network of Private Healthcare clinics and centers that you can turn to in case of need. This will probably be faster, though not free of charge. It is always recommendable for you to check what private health insurance companies will lend you their services abroad, before you leave your country.
Medication can be bought in Farmacias (pharmacies) found everywhere you go.
More info at the Spanish Tourism Board website.
Post boxes in Spain are tall and cylindrical shaped, and yellow! You can also bring your mail to the local post office, generally open from 08.30 to 14.30h., with main offices open all day until about 20.00h.
As you probably know, jet lag happens when you go quickly from one place to another, crossing various time zones at once. It happens to most everyone traveling either east or west for more than four hours (though flying west is generally easier on your system).
Symptoms of jet lag include insomnia, irritability, and altered bowel habits, so you probably want to follow some simple tips to avoid this phenomenon as much as possible:
- Try to start changing your sleeping habits before you leave home (get to bed earlier if you are travelling east and later if you are travelling west).
- Just before, and during your flight, avoid heavy meals.
- Change your watch to local time at your destination, as soon as you can.
- Try to excercise on the flight (walking, flex your feet, hands, neck).
- Drink plenty of fluids, preferably water, during the flight. Avoid coffee and tea (they are diuretics and contribute to dehydration, which is what you’re trying to stay away from).
- When youreach your destinations, try to adjut to local meal and sleep times as soon as possible.
Tipping is not mandatory in Spain, though a tip can be left if service was good, and this is generally the custom in restaurants and family bars (generally between 5- 7%, though there is no set percentage). Other tipping, for services in hotels, taxis, etc., is also customary and entirely up to each person to decide the amount to be left.