Spain Tours & Holidays
From towering cathedral spires to a shared jug of sangria, it’s passion that ties Spain together.
Passion is the constant across Spain’s diverse regions and cultures, from the twirling skirts of flamenco dancers in Seville to the tears of pilgrims arriving in Santiago de Compostela. Despite (or perhaps because of) its complicated history, Spain has produced some of the most moving art in the world – and we’re not just talking about Gaudi’s architecture and Dali’s melting clocks. Here, art isn’t just in the grand architecture and museums around the country. It’s in the jamón expertly cured by a family who has been making it for centuries, and vibrant festivals that bring whole cities together. Like its art, Spain offers something for everyone.
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Spain at a glance
Madrid (6.9 million)
(GMT+01:00) Madrid winter, (GMT+02:00) Madrid summer
Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
Learn more about Spain
Culture and customs
Spain today is made up of 17 distinct autonomous communities, a product of the region’s history as a land of diverse tribes, kingdoms and cultures. Each has their own traditions, cuisines and customs shaped by the extensive war, invasion, immigration and trade that the region has seen over the past few thousand years. From the Moors to the Romans, the British to the Portuguese, modern Spain is a product of both its geographic neighbours and the far-flung lands it conquered as a colonial superpower.
Spaniards are known, perhaps above all else, for their passion – for food, politics, partying and life in general. This is the home of vibrant fiestas, fierce independence movements, flashy flamenco, worker uprisings and the grand architectural remnants of a lavish and bloated empire.
Roman Catholicism is deeply entrenched in society, and as such Christian holidays like Easter and Christmas are widely observed. Additionally, different patron saints are honoured in regional areas throughout the year, with small cities and villages celebrating their saints with bonfires, feasts and parades.
From visionary architects to painters, controversial film directors to literary greats, Spain has a strong creative tradition evident in Gothic cathedrals, abstract art and surreal film.
History and government
There is evidence of human habitation in the area now known as Spain dating as far back as 32,000 years ago. Pre-historic cultures likely existed as disparate tribes across the region until the Iron Age, when emerging groups like Iberians, Celtiberians and Greeks began to exercise more formal control over certain areas.
The Romans arrived in 206 BC and spent hundreds of years systematically conquering the region before ruling uninterrupted for almost 500 years.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, various Muslim and Christian conquerors spent the next 700 years struggling for full control of the region. The last Muslim city, Granada, fell under the control of the Christian Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1492, ending the last period of Muslim rule in Spain to this day.
Spain as a global empire
The Kingdom of Spain was unified under Christian rule in 1512 and began expanding at a ferocious pace. The far-reaching colonisation that saw Spain conquer land on almost every continent earned it the title of the first ‘global empire’.
With access to the natural resources and human labour extracted from its colonies, Spain continued to balloon in power and influence until the 17th century. At this point, lavish construction and out-of-control spending, as well as the growing influence of other global powers, caused the empire to stall.
By the 18th century, the Kingdom of Spain was struggling. An invasion from Napoleon’s France, royal infighting and various successful independence movements among colonies were the final death blows delivered to the ailing empire.
The early 20th century was a tumultuous time for Spain. Between 1918 and 1920, influenza killed an estimated 250,000 people in Spain alone. The nation oscillated between monarchy and short-lived stints as a republic. Attempted coups were frequent as left-wing and right-wing struggled for power, with powerful anarchist and fascist movements emerging, often in reaction to each other.
In 1936 the right-wing Nationalists (led by military general Francisco Franco Bahamonde AKA Franco) overthrew the government in a coup. A three-year civil war began for control of the country. At least 350,000 Spaniards died during the war, which ended with Franco’s victory and ascension to the dual roles of Head of State and Commander-in-Chief. Franco controlled Spain through a rigid totalitarian regime until his death in 1975. His legacy today is mixed, notable for brutal repression of dissenters but also an improved economy.
After Franco’s death, Spain transitioned to a democracy, holding its first free elections in almost 40 years in 1979. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the government was controlled alternately by socialist, conservative and populist parties.
Though power has continued to swing between conservative and socialist governance, Spain today is relatively politically stable and home to a thriving democracy.
Remarkably, centuries of Catholic supremacy and enforced cultural hegemony under Franco’s dictatorship haven’t been able to stamp out a spirit of counterculture and rebellion. In general, public engagement in social and political issues is high, and public protest is common.
Eating and drinking
Intrepid believes that one of the best ways to experience a country is by eating! Whether you’re sampling street food, savouring a cheap eat or indulging in a banquet, there are endless options to choose from in every part of the world.
An abundance of fresh seafood and produce, a long wine-making tradition and diverse culinary influences from the former colonies make for a vibrant food culture. You can find delicious delicacies everywhere from bars to restaurants, cafes, street fiestas and markets across the country.
Plant-based dining in Spain
Vegetarians certainly won’t go hungry in Spain. And while vegans might need to do a little detective work, there’s still a lot on offer if you know where to look.
Vegetarian options can be found in the vast majority of bars, restaurants, cafes and markets. Vegan travellers will find major cities like Madrid and Barcelona are packed with vegan-friendly (and just straight-up vegan) restaurants. Outside of the big cities, it starts to get a little trickier. The safest option is to make the local market your first port of call in each destination to stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables and bread. In eateries, vegans should keep an eye out for gazpacho (tomato soup), crema de verduras (vegetable soup) and basic ensaladas (salads) which are likely to be vegan. To be sure they won’t come served with meat on top (which can happen even when it isn’t listed as an ingredient) order them ‘sin jamon y sin huevo’ – no ham or eggs.
If you’re travelling with Intrepid, your local leader will be able to help you navigate the menu and find plant-based dining options.
Must-try dishes and drinks in Spain
This delectable rice dish is served throughout Spain and comes in many different ways. The mixed version (with chorizo, mussels and prawns) is the most popular internationally, but if we have to recommend just one it’s got to be the original Valencian version – with rabbit, chicken and butter beans.
This tapas staple of meatballs swimming in a spicy tomato sauce is a classic. Typically made from a combination of veal and pork mince, the dish is simple to make and even easier to eat, particularly when washed down with a glass of tempranillo.
Another tapas favourite, this time one that vegetarians can easily get behind. These delightful little balls of fried bechamel come with a number of fillings, from beef and ham to broccoli and goat’s cheese.
Jugs filled with chunks of apple, lemon and orange in chilled red wine are the perfect accompaniment to a golden Spanish sunset. Sangria is a well-known ticket to extended late-night revelry, so don’t say we didn’t warn you.
- Calamares a la Romana
This dish of crispy, deep-fried calamari is popular in coastal regions like Barcelona. Eat a plate of it at a beachside restaurant or head to a bar and include it in your tapas mix.
For a sugar hit, try Spain’s version of the doughnut. Churros are sticks of deep-fried dough, dipped in chocolate for good measure! Find them at open-air food stalls and cafes.
Spain is famous for its cured ham, the legendary jamon. You’ll find salty jamon hanging in shop windows, on display at markets and featured on menus throughout Spain.
For a fresh and healthy Spanish dish, you can’t go past gazpacho. The raw, chilled tomato soup is a cool answer to Spain’s summer heat.
- Tortilla de Patatas
Potato tortilla (or Spanish omelette) is a slice of authentic Spanish culinary tradition. A simple dish that’s often served as part of a tapas spread, it’s a great option for vegetarians wanting something hearty.
- Vino tinto
We know what you’re thinking. Isn’t it a bit of a cop-out to call ‘red wine’ a must-try? Not when the diversity and quality of the drop are this good. There are so many must-sip varieties in Spain it’s hard to go wrong, but here’s a little list to get you started – tempranillo, rioja, priorat and toro. Go!
Read more about what to eat in Spain
Geography and environment
Located in southwestern Europe, Spain occupies most of the Iberian Peninsula and shares borders with France, Andorra, Portugal, Morocco and Gibraltar, as well as the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The region’s topography is a blend of mountains, low-lying plains and a long coastline.
The northern Pyrenees and the Picos de Europa are two northern mountain ranges that draw travellers from the continent and around the world in search of active adventure. The Picos de Europa is smaller and popular with hikers, while the powdery slopes of the Pyrenees attract hordes of skiers during an impressively long snow season.
Spain’s coastline and islands are world-renowned. The Mediterranean Coast, in particular, is incredibly long and beautiful, featuring a mix of sandy beaches, rocky cliffs and protected bays. Islands like Tenerife, Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca are among the most popular with tourists chasing sunshine and good times.
While many know its beaches, fewer travellers are aware that southern Spain is home to the only real desert in Europe – the Tabernas. The barren badlands were the setting for a number of Western films in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, most of the countryside in Spain’s central and northern regions offers green valleys, olive groves, rolling farmland and rivers.
Home of cult fast fashion brand ZARA, Camper shoes, Lladro porcelain, Mango clothing and some of the best wine and olive oil in the world, Spain’s consumer goods may not be cheap but the quality is high if you stick to authentic brands and hand-made goods. If you are chasing a bargain, flea markets are abundant in Spain and make for a great way to mingle with locals while you look for a souvenir. If you’re spending a few days in a city, ask a local (or if you’re travelling with Intrepid, ask your leader) where and when you can find the local second-hand market.
It's a good idea to check with your local customs officials to ensure that you are able to bring certain items back into your home country. Australia and New Zealand, in particular, have strict quarantine laws.
Things to buy in Spain
Spain is known for excellent leather products, which generally offer good value for money. Bags, belts and boots are the best picks and can potentially last a lifetime.
- Moorish mementos
Catholicism has been the dominant religion in Spain for over 500 years, but before that, the Iberian Peninsula was the site of a prolonged struggle between Muslim and Christian forces attempting to gain control of the region. In certain areas such as Seville, Toledo, Cordoba and Granada you can buy decorated tiles, jewellery and scarves that celebrate the unique artistry of formerly Moorish Spain.
- A pooping figurine
This popular figurine of a boy pulling his pants down and popping a squat in a universally recognised gesture first began showing up in Catalan nativity scenes over a hundred years ago. While there isn’t consensus on why he’s pooping or what it means, these ‘caganer’ (literal translation: pooper) have become iconic. Go classic and grab one with a white shirt and red cap or get a celebrity spin-off caganer to confuse (and delight) your friends back home.
- Vintage fan
You can get a standard printed fan at pretty much every tourist shop in Spain, and we’re not knocking them! You’ll see locals and foreigners alike swatting the dollar-store kind around their faces in summer because they really are a simple (and cheap) way to cool down. But if you get the chance, try to find a vintage fan in one of the flea markets in Barcelona or Madrid for a really special souvenir.
Festivals and events
Valencia’s Las Fallas is a sizzling cacophony of colourful firecrackers, smoky bonfires, roaring rockets and massive effigies. Celebrated each year in honour of Valencia’s patron saint, this is a week of fiery fun and extensive late-night partying.
Every summer the Spanish town of Haro explodes into a ‘Wine War’, known to locals as Batalla del Vino. Unforgiving residents pump red wine out of water pistols, hoses and other vessels in this grand example of wine warfare. Be warned: no one is spared – this is not a spectator sport!
A relative newcomer to the Spanish festival scene, La Tomatina draws in travellers, tourists and the world’s media who come to see ripened tomatoes splattered across the city of Bunol. Thousands of people cram into the narrow town plaza to smash tomatoes into each other – a chaotic, strange and super fun experience.
The Holy Week
As a predominantly Catholic country, Easter is a huge deal in Spain. But even if you’re not a believer, the Holy Week (Semana Santa) is a fascinating event to experience. Each region has its own unique traditions, but all involve lavish processions, incredible outfits and torrijas (fried sweet bread).
Fiesta de San Isidro
Fiesta de San Isidro is Madrid’s largest festival to honour San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of Madrid who was believed to be a miracle worker in the 12th century. Over the years, the festival has evolved into an all-encompassing celebration of Madrid’s traditions and modern culture, from folk music and dancing to delicious street food.
Top places to visit in Spain
1. Santiago de Compostela
Even if you don’t follow the Camino, or Way of Saint James, to get there, it’s hard not to be moved by the flocks of faithful who arrive in the courtyard of the city’s eponymous cathedral at the end of their pilgrimage. Soak up the cathedral's holy atmosphere, marvel at the impressive stone facades and soaring towers, or explore the labyrinth of cobbled streets, lively squares and perfectly manicured gardens.
Northern Spain Real Food Adventure
Welcome to the capital of Spain’s famous La Rioja wine region. Logrono is home to the must-visit Calle de Laurel – an ancient medieval street where you'll discover some of Spain's best pintxos, small bites of food served on a skewer or piece of bread. The city is also the gateway to countless wineries, ancient castles and stunning Spanish countryside.
The capital of Andalucia, Seville is famous for its flamenco dancing, oranges, tapas and the world's largest Gothic cathedral. Explore the city's elaborate Moorish architecture – a product of over 400 years of caliphate rule in the Middle Ages, watch a lively flamenco performance at local tapas bars, or enjoy a refreshing rebujitos cocktail in the bustling main street of the Triana quarter.
Sun-drenched Valencia has clean beaches, picturesque parks and a mixture of medieval architecture and creative modern design. Be sure to take a walk through the Jardin del Turia – a riverbed that was turned into a park that snakes through the city, pick up some local goodies at the market in Old Town, or try Valencian paella made with rabbit, chicken and butter beans.
Surreal Gothic architecture, superb dining and non-stop nightlife make Barcelona an unmissable spot. Wander the labyrinthine streets of the Old Quarter, grab fresh juice at the colourful La Boqueria market, sample Catalan dishes on a tapas crawl through the funky El Born neighbourhood, or discover Gaudi's architectural masterpieces. Since over-tourism is a concern in this popular city, consider visiting in quieter months like October or April.
Premium Portugal and Spain in Depth
Come for the sprawling beauty of the 11th-century Alhambra Palace, stay for the small flamenco taverns and some of the best tapas in Spain. Whether you want to do a local produce tasting at a family-run delicatessen, explore the Moorish Albaicin quarter and traditional tea houses or marvel at the beautiful tombs at the Royal Chapel, it's impossible not to fall in love with Granada's charm.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Spain adventure, check out these books:
- The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
- Don Quixote – Miguel de Cervantes
- Imperial Spain: 1469–1716 – John Elliott
- The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain – Maria Rosa Menocal
- Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
- The Back Room – Carmen Martin Gaite
- Iberia – James A Michener
Spain travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
Due to its size, Spain has a varied climate, but for the most part, you can expect Mediterranean temperatures along the coast, with hot, sunny summers (and peak tourism!) and colder, rainy winters.
On the east coast of Spain, major cities like Barcelona can be very busy during summer, so if you’d prefer to share the streets with more locals and fewer tourists you might find the ‘low season’ of November to February is the best time to visit this region.
Citizens of the European Union and Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are not required to obtain a visa but must abide by local residency requirements if they plan to stay for more than 90 days.
Travellers from Australia, the USA, New Zealand, Brazil, Japan and more can visit Spain for 90 days in a six-month period with no visa, as long as they have no plans to work.
Travellers visiting from Cambodia, Ecuador, India, Nepal and other countries must obtain a visa from the Spanish consulate or embassy in their region – allow at least two weeks for it to be issued.
Tipping in Spain is entirely optional. If you would like to tip, rounding up the bill or leaving spare change in restaurants should be sufficient. Feel free to tip more for good service, but it isn’t expected of you.
Internet access is good in Spain. Internet cafes and wi-fi hotspots are easily found in most cities and major towns. In some very remote and rural areas, access can be patchy, but this is improving.
Mobile phone coverage is generally very good in Spain. If you want to use your mobile phone, purchase a local sim or ensure global roaming is activated before you arrive (but be aware of the fees this may incur). Travellers from countries not part of a Global Mobile Systems network, like Japan, will not be able to use their mobile phones in Spain.
Flushable, Western-style toilets are the standard in Spain. Be aware that public toilets aren’t as common in Spain as they are in some other countries and you often have to pay to use them. Be sure to carry change to avoid being caught short.
Spain's unit of currency is the euro. Here's what you can expect to pay for a:
- Half-litre of beer = EUR€ 0.50-2
- Basic cafe meal = EUR€ 10-15
- Simple tapas plate = EUR€ 6-8
- Metro ticket = EUR€ 1.60
Drinking water from taps is safe in Spain unless otherwise marked. For environmental reasons, try to use a refillable water bottle rather than buying bottled water.
Major credit cards are widely accepted by stores and hotels in Spain. Smaller cafes and shops may not accept credit cards, so ensure you carry enough cash to cover small purchases.
ATMs are very common in Spain, so finding one won't be a problem in most towns and cities.
- 1 January New Year’s Day
- 6 January Epiphany
- April or May Maundy Thursday
- April or May Good Friday
- 1 May Labour Day
- 15 August Assumption of Mary
- 12 October Fiesta Nacional de Espana
- 1 November All Saints’ Day
- 6 December Constitution Day
- 8 December Immaculate Conception
- 25 December Christmas Day
See a current list of public holidays in Spain, including those with movable dates.
Overall, Spain is a welcoming and safe destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers. Same-sex marriage is legal, and laws exist to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ individuals to live free from of discrimination (though employment discrimination laws do not yet protect transgender individuals).
Public opinion on LGBTQIA+ individuals is relatively positive. Though LGBTQIA+ travellers may encounter more conservative views in rural areas and small towns, the risk of experiencing overt discrimination in Spain is very low for travellers.
Transgender individuals and gender non-conforming folks are widely accepted in Spain, though gender identity-based discrimination still occurs.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at the time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Spain is a mixed bag when it comes to access for travellers with disabilities. While some regions like Catalonia are proactively working to meet the needs of travellers with disabilities, others may prove challenging for travellers with mobility and/or visual impairments.
Barcelona is notable as one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities in Europe. All of Barcelona’s major sights are accessible for wheelchair users, and some beaches have all-terrain wheelchairs for free hire as well as boardwalks that extend to the water. The vast majority of metro stations and all buses are accessible to folks with reduced mobility. Many train stations in Barcelona have tactile strips to direct folks with vision impairments to platforms, ticket machines and elevators. Ticket machines and elevators have speech options in a variety of languages.
Madrid is also a city committed to accessible travel, with metro and bus systems that can be used by people with mobility and visual impairments and many accessible monuments.
Spain’s national parks are somewhat accessible, as they are commonly outfitted with accessible interpretation centres and viewpoints. The trails of the Picos de Europa are well-maintained and non-reflective, so may be accessible to people with visual impairments (depending on the severity of the impairment).
Travellers who use battery-operated hearing aids should familiarise themselves with the Spanish equivalent of the batteries their devices need.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
You don’t need to spend hours trying to learn Spanish before your trip... unless you want to, that is! The following phrases should help you get by:
- Hi – Hola
- Good morning – Buenos días
- Good afternoon – Buenas tardes
- Good evening – Buenas noches
- How are you? – ¿Cómo está usted? (formal)
- How are you? – ¿Cómo estás? (informal)
- What are you doing? – ¿Qué haces?
- Thank you – ¡Gracias!
- Nice to meet you – Mucho gusto
- Please – Por favor
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information.
Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or you’re about to embark on your first trip, travelling can be as intimidating as it is exciting. That's the beauty of a small group tour. From handling the logistics and organising amazing cultural activities to local leaders who know each destination like the back of their hand (like which street has the best markets and where to get the most authentic food), travelling on a small group tour with Intrepid will give you unforgettable travel experiences without the hassle that comes with exploring a new place. Plus, you'll have ready-made friends to share the journey with. All you have to do is turn up with a healthy sense of adventure and we’ll take care of the rest.