12 Things to Know Traveling in Spain

The seafood display at Vinitus, Barcelona, Spain.
  1. The afternoon siesta is not in Spain’s history yet. Shops and businesses in most of the smaller cities and villages, and even some in the bigger cities, close for 2-4 hours starting between 1:00 and 2:00 p.m. The hours vary from shop to shop. The staff is out to lunch or running personal errands. Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. The shops re-open between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., and they stay open until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m.
  2. Restaurants and bars in Spain are closed or don’t serve food in the late afternoon and early evening. Most restaurants and bars close or stop serving meals between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m., and they don’t reopen until 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. At 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. the locals go out for strolls and socializing, and then end the evening with drinks, tapas, and maybe a light meal. It is best if you get on the locals eating schedule because you may not find a place open or serving food when you are hungry.
  3. Watch out for pickpockets in Barcelona. We speak from personal experiences that the warnings about pickpockets in Barcelona are warranted. We know someone who was picked in Barcelona, and Rick caught a guy trying to pick his pocket. As Rick was stepping onto a Metro car, the guy was holding the zipper on the rear pocket of Rick’s pants, trying to let Rick’s forward momentum unzip the pocket. Luckily, Rick sensed the tugs, checked his pocket, and then realized what was happening. The two rode the Metro next to each other in an uncomfortable silence, Rick giving the pickpocket the famous Anderson glare. The pickpocket got off the Metro at the next stop.
  4. The Barcelona subway (Metro or TMB) is cheap, easy to navigate and within walking distance of most of the sites in the city. Buy a multi-trip TMB ticket and share it by passing the ticket back over the gate after you’ve used it. The Metro also connects to trains that take you to surrounding cities and sites, like the airport, Montserrat and Girona.
  5. In Barcelona, consider staying in one of the less touristy neighbourhoods, like El Poblenou. El Poblenou is undergoing a gentrification. It has its own Rambla del Poblenou (pedestrian street), which is much smaller than the more famous La Rambla, and which goes from the Glories shopping area to the beaches on the Mediterranean. The restaurants and hotels in the area are highly rated, less expensive and more authentic than many in the trendy, tourist areas. Restaurant La Forquilla is a fabulous little French restaurant that we dined at twice, including Valentines Day. We joked that the duck manicotti appetizer was sex-on-a-plate, but it was devine. Full warning though; there is construction going on in El Poblenou at this time.
  6. The two best tapas bars we found in Barcelona were in the heart of the city. El Xampanyet is a small bar with a lively, authentic, old-time atmosphere in the El Born quarter. It is closest to the Barceloneta Metro station. The other, Vinitus, is much larger and it has a lively, modern atmosphere, but the food is just as authentic. Ask the bartender at Vinitus to put you on the waiting list for seats at the bar, rather than asking the maitre’d for a table. The bar has a more authentic feel. Vinitus is near Passeig de Gracia Metro station. Both bars are very popular, so a weeknight is your best chance.
  7. Smoke detectors are not mandatory in Spain. We rented in an old apartment building in Barcelona for a month, and it had no smoke detectors. The bars on the windows limit your escape routes in a fire, so early detection could mean life or death. We chose to buy a smoke detector from a hardware store, but they had none in stock. They had to special order it, and looked at us like we were crazy.
  8. Cell phones don’t stay charged very long when you use apps like Trip Advisor and Google Maps for navigation purposes. So be sure to carry the cable(s) and a portable power pack/bank, that is fully charged, so you can charge your phone during a day of sightseeing. Also, consider bringing a car lighter USB adapter so you can charge your phone in the rental car.
  9. Wait staff in restaurants don’t bring the cheque until you ask for it, so “La quinta por favor” is a handy Spanish phrase to remember. Other useful Spanish phrases are “Donde es el banõ, por favor?” and “Cervesa por favor”. (:
  10. The coastal highway (N-340/N-340a) between Malaga and Motril is very scenic. It is probably more scenic than the freeway (A7), and you can stop at seaside towns and restaurants along the way. But we suggest you avoid the coastal highway between Motril and Almeria. The landscape along this stretch of the highway is covered with large greenhouses that are made of tattered cloth and plastic, poorly maintained, and rather unsightly. This is the prime area for growing tomatoes in Spain. Then from Almeria to Valencia the highway is further inland than the freeway, so the highway may not be any more scenic than the freeway; just slower.
  11. We were fortunate to stop for lunch at a nice, seaside restaurant called La Mirador de Guilche. The food was very good and the view of the Mediterranean Sea was spectacular. The restaurant is on the N-340 highway, just west of the town of Nerja.
  12. Calahonda is a lovely, little beach-town we visited on the N-340 highway, just east of Motril. The views were lovely all around the town, but the surrounding area had the greenhouses mentioned above. Most of the restaurants and shops were still closed in April, at least on that weekday, but there was work going on to prepare for spring openings. It seemed like it would be a very nice place in the summer.

Bonus Tip:

“Woah! There’s no acceleration lane!” Some on-ramps to Spain’s freeways don’t have acceleration/merge lanes. These on-ramps end abruptly at the freeway, dumping you onto a freeway lane. You are expected to stop on the on-ramp and wait until it is clear to merge and accelerate to the speed limit. For more tips on driving in Spain, please see our Top 12 Crucial Driving Tips For Spain.

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