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From the thumping beats of nightclubs to the intoxicating rhythms of the flamenco, Spain is a land with a rich tradition and a sharp eye for the future. Fine art, revolutionary architecture, inspiring fashion and world class music - Spain is a lesson in diversity. From the official capital at Madrid to the cultural capital at Barcelona and the beach capital at Valencia, Spain has something for everyone, whether you're after beaches or sweeping plains, lively clubs or impressive cathedrals.
Spain is a strategically located nation, a fact which has led to it being conquered by many empires throughout history. The Celts, Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Greeks all had a hand in the region in ancient times, but the Roman Empire was the first major empire to extend into the Iberian peninsula. Rome was part of Spain from the 2nd century BC through to its demise in the 5th century, when the Visigoths displaced them. Two centuries after that, the Moors stormed across from North Africa into Spain, extending their Islamic Empire.
The reconquest of Spain was a priority for the Christian kingdoms of Europe, who were gradually able to fight their way back into and across parts of Iberia. In the 15th century, Fernando of Aragón and Isabel of Castile married, leading to a unified Spain. It was around this time that Christopher Columbus sailed out to discover the New World, setting off a process of Spanish conquest in the American continent. Colonization created wealth for Spain. Wealth which was, in turn, used to fight wars in Europe and continue the very bloody inquisition in Spain and beyond its borders.
Spain mined so much gold and silver in the New World that it actually devalued the world price gold. Since its entire economy was valued on gold and silver, this hit its economy extremely hard. Whenever Spain entered into war with another European power, the gold and silver ships were also their main weakness, as their opponents would simply attack the slower and weaker gold and silver ships, sinking countless numbers of them. Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th century Spain's power declined even more rapidly, to the point where almost all of its New World colonial possessions were independent by 1811 and most of Spain was under the rule of Napoleon during a couple of years in the early 19th century. The humiliation continued in 1898, when Spain lost Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Micronesia, Palau and the Philippines to the United States in the Spanish-American War.
The 20th century was an unstable period in Spain's history. Anarchy and fascism were both gaining prominence in the Spanish political landscape at the turn of the century. In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was established - only to be destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, which ran from 1936-39. Francisco Franco took control of the country. He would rule Spain with an iron fist for close to four decades.
After Franco's death in 1975, it didn't take long for Spain to move towards democracy. Since 1978, Spain has been a democratic state, a process helped greatly by the attitude of the present King, Juan Carlos. Echoes of Franco's dictatorship rang through during the failed coup of 1981, a coup of which the physical bullet holes can still be seen in the ceiling of the congress building in Madrid. In 1986 Spain became a member of the European Union, and introduced the Euro (€) in 2002, replacing the peseta.
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Spain shares international borders with France, Portugal, Andorra, and the United Kingdom, because of Gibraltar. It also shares borders with Morocco because of the North African exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla.
Spain has three of Europe's five deserts, the continent's highest capital city and is also its third most mountainous country (surpassed only by Switzerland and Austria). The tall peaks of the Pyrenees line the northeast corner, where Spain borders Andorra. Further west, the snow-capped Picos de Europa afford beautiful scenery in Asturias, Castile and León and Cantabria.
Spain has both a Mediterranean and an Atlantic coastline, and cities such as Valencia and San Sebastián are popular beach destinations. The Balearic Islands and Canary Islands are two off-shore regions of Spain. Inland Spain is at times arid, at other times lush. Madrid is situated on a high plateau in the centre of the country, while further south are the plains of La Mancha. The desert of Almería is located near the southern coast, in Andalusia.
Spain is divided into 17 autonomous communities, which are further divided into 50 provinces. Ceuta and Melilla are two Africa-based autonomous cities that are also a part of Spain. Below are the autonomous communities as well as the main cities located within these communities which are of importance to travellers. You'll find the article links to some of the provinces under the autonomous region links. The autonomous regions and some example cities of Spain are:
|Andalusia||Seville, Córdoba, Málaga and Granada|
|Asturias||Oviedo, Gijón and Avilés|
|Balearic Islands||Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza Town|
|Basque Country||San Sebastián, Vitoria and Bilbao|
|Canary Islands||Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife|
|Castile-La Mancha||Toledo and Albacete|
|Castile and León||Valladolid and Salamanca|
|Catalonia||Barcelona and Girona|
|Extremadura||Mérida and Cáceres|
|Galicia||Santiago de Compostela, Vigo and A Coruña|
|Community of Madrid||Madrid|
|Region of Murcia||Murcia and Cartagena|
|Valencian Community||Valencia and Alicante|
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Madrid is the Spanish capital and largest city. Set in the heart of the country, Madrid doesn't have beautiful beaches to lure travellers; instead, the esteemed city has a vibrant beating heart, especially at night. Madrileños are fashionable and proud, rallying behind major football teams Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid. For those inclined towards quieter modes of expression, the Prado Museum and the Reina Sofia are amongst the world's best art museums - and just two of a handful of rewarding museums in Madrid.
Nestled on the Mediterranean coast in north east Spain, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and Spain's second largest city. But where the city might be slighted in size and population by Madrid, Barcelona stands tall as a distinct and beautiful city with a rich cultural heritage. Among its most famous attractions is the Sagrada Familia, a cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi which is still being completed (construction started in 1882).
Málaga is the capital of the "Costa del Sol," a hospitable, cheerful city that is one of the country's most popular destinations. Málaga is known for beautiful beaches, espetos of sardines, white wine, and some famous buildings, including a cathedral, museum and fort. Málaga has a mild to hot climate year-round and is also the birthplace of Picasso.
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Valencia is a popular sea-side city on the Mediterranean coast, and Spain's third largest city. While the beach is an obvious drawcard, Valencia's charm is its emblematic combination of the old and new: traditional Baroque, Gothic and Neo-Classical architecture is contrasted with the ultra-modern City of Arts and Sciences.
Besides the cities listed above, Spain also has many smaller towns with their own charming appeal. By heading away from the cities, you can find anything from walled towns with vibrant historic centres to classy beach resorts.
The Alhambra is without doubt the most important tourist attraction in Granada, if not in Spain. It is a complex of buildings and gardens, consisting of an Alcazar (castle) and several Moorish and Catholic palaces. It also includes the gardens of the Generalife. The most famous of all the palaces is the Palacio Nazaries. With its beautiful decorations and water features, it is the absolute highlight of a visit to the Alhambra.
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The Balearic Islands are an autonomous community in Spain and the islands are wonderful. Although the most famous island of Ibiza is known for its crazy nightlife and constant party atmosphere there is much more to these islands than the dance parties. Wonderful hikes can be enjoyed around the island of Mallorca. The culture of Menorca is not to be missed with a fusion of many different European cultures, and on Formentera you find the peace that seems so far away on Ibiza. All four islands have stunning beaches and beautiful coastlines.
Barcelona is listed number one in the top 10 list of beach cities, according to National Geographic. Barcelona has no less than seven beaches, totalling 4.5 kilometres. Sant Sebastià and Barceloneta beaches are the most popular ones and also the biggest at around 1,100 metres in length. These two beaches are separated by The Olympic Port from the five other city beaches: Nova Icària, Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and Llevant. These beaches average around 500 metres and were opened as a result of the city restructuring to host the 1992 Summer Olympics. Barceloneta Beach was voted in 2005 as the best urban beach in the world and the third best beach overall, according to the docu-film "Worlds Best Beaches" by Discovery Channel. It's located in the Barceloneta neighbourhood, also famous for its many restaurants and nightclubs along the boardwalk.
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Although the Basque Country can be a bit more dicey in Spain than in France, Basque culture is amazing. The Basque take great pride in their unique language, food and culture, all of which are completely different from the neighbouring Romance cultures. Their pride has been bolstered by their resistance to assimilation into France and Spain. Today the Basque areas in Spain enjoy extensive autonomy and are worth a visit for the off the beaten track traveller.
The main reason for a lot of Europeans to go to Spain, is the sunshine, the beaches and the nightlife that you can find in the several beach resorts along the Costas. From the north of Spain on the Costa Brava to the south on the Costa del Luz, you can find many places that are invaded in summer by thousands of mainly young tourists looking for a good time. Towns like Salou and Benidorm are just two of the many famous resorts.
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In the mountains to the west of Madrid, lies the little town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. The town houses a huge Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de Escorial, built by Felipe II is the 16th century. As it is easily reachable by cercanias from Madrid it makes a nice day trip for tourists and Madrileños alike. The huge complex was built between 1563 and 1584 by Juan Buatista de Toledo and later Juan de Herrera. During the building period, the King himself closely watched the progress of the project, and invited the best artists of that time to contribute to the complex. Besides being a monastery and a palace, it is also a mausoleum. It holds the remains of most of the Spanish royals that ruled Spain during the last 5 centuries.
The Mezquita, which means mosque in Spanish, is a present day Roman Catholic Cathedral located in Córdoba. This religious site has undergone many transformations over the centuries. Originally, it was a Roman temple and today you can still see over a thousand columns made of jasper, onyx and marble which date back to the original Roman temple and several other Roman buildings in the area.
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A new church was built on the foundation of the temple in 600 AD by the Visigoths. But when Moorish forces occupied the city in 711 they started to turn it into a mosque. As the different rulers controlled the structure they left different designs with them. Today the Mezquita is the most important church in Córdoba.
At the western end of Madrid lies the Palacio Real. This palace is located on the spot where the city was founded in the 10th century. After the old palace burned down on Christmas Eve 1734, construction on the new place began 4 years later and was finally completed in 1755. Today the palace is only used for official ceremonies and no one currently lives in it.
The Real Alcázares (Royal Castle) of Seville is one of the highlights of the Mudejar building style. The Palace was build in the 14th century, but there are also older parts, as it was built on the site of a Moorish palace. Highlights are the Patio del Léon (Lions courtyard) at the entrance of the building, the Palacio de Pedro I and the Patio de las Doncellas, the Patio de la Monteria, and the beautiful gardens.
Located in Barcelona the La Sagrada Família started in 1882. This modernist cathedral is not expected to be completed until 2026. The main architect Antoni Gaudí may be long dead yet his vision is carried on. Millions of travellers visit this unfinished piece of work every year and are still awed by it. The construction of the La Sagrada Família gives a unique chance for travellers to see a work-in-progress.
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The Tabernas Desert is one of only five deserts in Europe. It is located in the southeast of Spain, in the province of Almeria. The Tabernas Desert is situated between the Sierra de los Filabres to the north and the Sierra de Alhamilla to the south and southeast. It is a protected wilderness area with fantastic desert landscapes and as a desert is receives just less of the maximum of 250 mm a year in an area known as Levante. It is isolated from the humid winds of the Mediterranean Sea. On top of that, evaporation is much higher than that, especially during the long and hot summers when months without a single drop of rain and 12 hours of sunshine a day occur. This is when temperatures can exceed 40 °C in the shade (if you can find any!). It has been the setting of many Spaghetti westerns and an Indian Jones movie as well.
The Old City of Toledo is nicknamed the city of the three religions, as once Catholics, Jewish and Islamic people coexisted here without many troubles. It is also the former capital of Spain, until Felipe II, moved the seat of power to the new capital Madrid, where he could get away from the powerful catholic church, which in his eyes had become too powerful. The Old City is a maze of small streets, and a couple of squares, including the central Plaza de Zocodover. In the old city there are numerous sights one can visit, including the cathedral, The Synagogue del Transito and many old churches.
The Torre del Oro (Golden Tower) in Seville was originally built by the Moors in the 13th century for defensive purposes. It was later used to store the gold from Spain's conquest of South America and the Caribbean. Today it houses a very good naval museum.
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Without a doubt, this is the loudest festival in Spain for its Tamborrada, costumed drummers who wind through San Sebastian. Held every January in the historic town, it’s a two-part event beginning at midnight with an all-night and all-day parade, coupled with unofficial public drumming supplemented by street parties, food and drink, ensuring no-one gets any sleep.
This lively fiesta kicks off in Granada every February with an hour-long pilgrimage to a monastery at the crown of the hill. Thousands of people climb the slopes and give thanks, and the fun begins after mass with food, drinks, traditional music, dancing, horses and stunning flamenco performances among blossoming trees. Huge vats of paella feed the masses and a great time is had by all.
March in Valencia sees the Las Fallas Festival, centered around huge paper mache sculptures called ninots crafted to mock popular politicians and celebrities. It’s a five-day fiesta of light, fire and color, ending in huge nighttime bonfires when all the Fallas figures are burned except one voted by the people to be the best of the bunch. Fireworks, bands, flamenco and gunpowder explosions are all part of this unmissable celebration. The winning ninot is preserved in the Fallero Museum.
The country’s biggest festival, April’s Semana Santa is celebrated all over Spain, with Seville, Málaga and Zamora (Castile and León) hosting the biggest events. Beginning on Palm Sunday and lasting through Easter Sunday (Domingo de Resurrección), processions of religious images depart from local churches to Seville’s cathedral, with a second wave starting at midnight on Good Friday. Saturday is quieter, and joyous Easter Sunday is a blur of celebration, Catholic mass and street parties. A few days or weeks later, "Feria de Abril" takes place in Seville, which celebrates the Andalusian tradition of Flamenco through song, dance and horse parades.
Jerez in Andalusia is as famous for its annual Feria de Caballo horse fair as it is for its sherry. Thousands of visitors arrive every May for the diverse spectacle in the town’s huge park. From riding contests, classical cowboy attire, polo, carriage rides, flamenco displays, and a bullfight to over 200 marquees crammed with food and sherry stalls, this feast of horsemanship is a unique glimpse of traditional Spain.
Famous the world over, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona takes place every July as part of the St Fermin Festival, and sees hundreds of thousands of spectators and participants. The festivities begin at midday, as they have since the 13th century, although the bull-running is a more recent addition that takes place every day for a week. Traditional music, flamenco dancing and fireworks are all part of the fun.
Mystery plays have been part of Europe’s religious history for centuries, mostly in the more northerly countries. The Elche Mystery Play is Spain’s oldest and most glorious cultural event, held every August at the town’s basilica. It’s a complex, powerful production involving modern stagecraft for its effects, and its final minutes see the Virgin and her angels raised to the heavens against a background of breathtaking choral music. The performance is the culmination of a week of partying, parades of Moors and Christians, candle-lit processionals and fireworks, and the legend of the libretto and music tells the story of it being washed up on a nearby beach in the 13th century along with an image of the Virgin Mary.
One of Spain’s most famous festivals for its sheer craziness, La Tomatina is held every August in Buñol in Valencia, which culminates in a huge tomato fight involving 30,000 people and 40 tons of ripe fruit. The battle of the tomatoes is the climax of a week of festivities including street parades, fireworks and parties, that begins with adventurers trying to scale a slippery soap-covered pole to reach a dangling ham as they get pelted with water and tomatoes from rowdy onlookers. Don’t dress up for this one, and remember to wear goggles and gloves!
The Festes de la Merce is Barcelona’s major event, held in September to celebrate the birthday of the Vergin de la Merce, the city’s patron saint. Highlights include the Parade of the Giants, huge wooden figures and the Human Tower contest. Locals in traditional costume climb onto each others’ shoulders, with eight levels the norm before collapsing. Musical performances, sports, fabulous fireworks displays, endless glasses of cava (Catalonia’s champagne-style wine), and parties make this a fiesta not to miss.
Because of Spain's location and mountainous arid environment, the climate varies depending on where you are.
The inland areas, such as the city of Madrid, have a continental Mediterranean climate. Summers can be incredibly hot, especially around the months of July and August when temperatures frequently hit 40 °C or more.
A Mediterranean climate reaches from the Andalusian plain on the southern and eastern coasts all the way to the Pyrenees Mountains, and also on the seaward side of mountain ranges that are near the coast, including cities like Barcelona. In summer, temperatures are around 30 °C with nights mostly around 20 °C. Winters are mild but wetter with daytime temperatures generally around 15 °C.
Finally there is an oceanic climate in Galicia and also along the coast near the Bay of Biscay until Basque Country. Sometimes this area is called Green Spain or Costa Verde (Green coast). Unlike other parts of Spain, rain is really common in this area, and temperatures are lower, resulting in snowfall in the winter, especially more inland in the mountains. Along the coast it rarely gets really cold though, but summers rarely get very hot.
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The major airports receiving international flights are Madrid Barajas Airport, Barcelona Airport, Palma de Mallorca Airport, Malaga Airport, and Valencia Airport, Ibiza Airport and several other places around the country. Madrid Barajas Airport and Barcelona Airport receive by far the most (international) passengers and are both in the top 25 of busiest airports in the world. Palma de Mallorca Airport is a good third busiest overall, but is one of the busiest airports during the summer anywhere in Europe.
Other important cities and tourist areas can be reached by plane. The main other airports in the country (mainland Spain), with quite a few international connections and which can be a good alternative are:
Most of the islands have an airport as well, including most of the Canary Islands (like Gran Canaria Airport, Fuerteventura Airport,Lanzarote Airport, Tenerife North Airport and Tenerife South Airport) and the Balearic Islands. Detailed information about the airports can be found on the website of aena and Spain Then and Now
The major airline in Spain is Iberia, but over the last couple of years a lot of budget airlines have started to fly on different routes. The best known of these budget airlines are Vueling and Air Europa. The Canary Islands are connected by a smaller airline called Binter Canarias, which also has a flight to Marrakech from a couple of the main islands like Gran Canaria and Tenerife.
From Europe there are numerous flights to several destinations in Spain, especially in the tourist season. Low-cost airlines that have flights to and from Spain include Ryanair, Easyjet, Air Berlin, and of course all the Spain based airlines mentioned above.
The main rail crossing into Spain cross the French-Spanish border along the Mediterranean coast and via the Basque Country. Another minor rail route runs inland across the Pyrenees from Latour-de-Carol to Barcelona. From Portugal, the main line runs from Lisbon across Extremadura to Madrid.
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Most cars will enter Spain from France, though you can cross borders with Portugal and Andorra as well. There are two main routes to enter Spain from France, located on either side of the Pyrenees. On the west side is the A63 (in France) which becomes the A8 when you cross the border. The first big city this route passes is San Sebastián (Donostia) and from there you can head further west, or south. The other main route is the one that runs from Montpellier and Perpignan to Girona and Barcelona, which is the A9 in France, the AP-7 in Spain. If you want to enter Spain from France there are also a couple of routes through the mountains. From Portugal there are numerous crossing into Spain, and as both countries are within the Schengen Zone, entering Spain should be easy.
As mentioned below, you can also enter Spain with your car on one of the many ferryboats coming from different countries. If the country you are coming from is not a part of the Schengen Zone, it's wise to consult on what you can and can't take with you (and how much).
In Spain you will find motorways marked in two different ways. Sometimes you see an A- followed by a number, and sometimes an AP- followed by a number. The AP stands for Autopista, which are toll roads, while the A stands for Autovia which are free to use. In most cases you will find a Autovia covering the same route as the Autopista, and often you will find them side by side. On the website of ASETA you can calculate the rates by clicking on the stretch of road you plan on using.
Eurolines has connections to and from big and small European cities, and has stops in Spain in: A Coruña, Alcalá de Chivert, Algeciras, Alicante, Almeria, A Rua, Astorga, Badajoz, Bailen, Barcelona Norte, Barcelona Sants, Behobia (on the border with France), Béjar, Benavente, Benidorm, Bilbao, Burgos, Cáceres, Castellón, Córdoba, Estepona, Figueras, Fuengirola, Girona, Granada, Guadix, Irún, Jaén, La Cañiza, La Gudiña, Lalin, Leon, Llanes, Lleida, Lloret de Mar, Madrid, Malaga, Marbella, Mérida, Monforte, Murcia, Navalmoral, Orense, Oviedo, Palencia, Plasencia, Ponferrada, Pontevedra, Porriño, Puebla de Sanabria, Puenteareas, Ribadavia, Sahagun, Salamanca, Salou, San Sebastián, Santander, Santiago de Compostela, Seville, Tarragona, Tordesillas, Torrelavega, Torremolinos, Trujillo, Valencia, Valladolid, Verin, Vigo, Villaderrey, Vitoria, Xinzo, Zafra and Zaragoza.
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Spain has a large number of airports available for commercial use. The large number of budget airlines makes flying a cheap alternative to train travel. Most smaller airports have connections to Madrid Barajas Airport and Barcelona El Prat Airport, which makes it easy to connect to airports in the rest of Europe or even further.
The major domestic carriers include Iberia, Vueling, Clickair, Air Europa, Binter and Spanair with connections in mainland Spain and to the Balearic and Canary Islands and even the North African exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta.
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RENFE is Spain's national railway company. They operate all passenger trains on the network (except those in Basque country), which serves most larger cities. Unfortunately, the net has a radial architecture which often means making considerable detours to get from A to B (this problem presents itself especially south of Madrid). For most typical tourist itineraries, this will not be a problem though.
Trains are cheap, except for the fast AVE and Talgo train, and generally reliable both time-wise and safety-wise. Spain participates in EUrail and Interrail.
In the last couple of years the number of high speed connections has grown, and will continue to grow during the coming years. Most of these routes are serviced by AVE or Talgo trains. Madrid to Sevilla, Madrid to Barcelona, Madrid to Segovia and Valladolid and Cordoba to Malaga are the main high speed train lines and in 2010 Madrid will be connected to Valencia as well.
Spain has an excellent highway network and also an extensive network of secondary roads. You can bring your own car or rent one from most international companies at airports, resort areas or downtown offices in most cities. You have to be 21 years old and have a national driver's license. Sufficient insurance (green card) is recommended. Car rental companies like Hertz can be found in many cities, and at most of the airports.
On many itineraries in Spain, going by bus will be more attractive (i.e. cheaper or quicker) than taking a train. Movelia bundles route information and ticket purchase for most national bus companies. Note that booking through their website involves a surcharge that you can usually avoid by contacting the company operating the line directly.
Acciona Trasmediterránea is the main ferry operator in Spain. Routes include Algeciras to Ceuta (North African exclave), Malaga and Almeria to Melilla (North African exclave), Barcelona, Valencia and Alicante to the Balearic Islands, and Cadiz to the Canary Islands.
Visa wise, Spain is part of the Schengen zone, which includes 25 countries. If you are a citizen or resident of one of the countries who signed the convention, you will not be required to obtain a visa for a trip to Spain. If you stay over 90 days however, you need to register with the Spanish police.
Citizens of many other countries are also able to travel to Spain for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa first.
See http://extranjeros.mtas.es/es/InformacionInteres/FolletosInformativos/index.html for more (official) information on Spanish visa and immigration policy (Spanish only; page links to brochures in English)
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See also: Money Matters
Spain has adopted the Euro (ISO code: EUR, symbol: €) as its official currency. One Euro is divided into 100 (euro)cents, which are sometimes referred to as eurocents, especially when distinguishing them from the US cents.
Euro banknotes come in denominations of €5, €10, €20, €50, €100, €200 and €500. The highest three denominations are rarely used in everyday transactions. All Euro banknotes have a common design for each denomination on both sides throughout the Eurozone. The Euro coins are 1 cent, 2 cents, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents, 50 cents, €1 and €2. Some countries in the Eurozone have laws which require cash transactions to be rounded to the nearest 5 cents. All Euro coins have a common design on the denomination (value) side, while the opposite side may have a different image from one country to another. Although the image side may be different, all Euro coins remain legal tender throughout the Eurozone.
The €1 and €2 coins issued in Spain have the portrait of King Juan Carlos on the image side, the 10, 20 and 50 eurocent coins depict the famous writer Cervantes, the 1, 2 and 5 eurocent coins carry the image on the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. There are also €2 coins, to commemorate the Treaty of Rome, and the celebration of 400 years since the publishing of the story of Don Quixote in 1605, which depicts Don Quixote on the coin.
Spain has one of the highest unemployment rates within the E.U. The number of unemployed people is around 20%, so finding a job is not as easy as it might seem. For foreigners there are possibilities in regard to specific skills, like speaking other languages. There are a couple of centralised centres that are always looking for native speaking people, with some degree of education. If you want to have any chance of getting a regular job, it is necessary to speak and understand Spanish.
In most cases the easiest way to search for jobs is on websites. A whole number or agencies are active in Spain, and publish their add on several websites. The best known are:
You can also find job offers on a website like Loquo, which also happens to be good for buying second hand stuff.
Of course the agencies also have their own websites:
To be able to work in Spain (as a foreigner) you need to have a couple of things: A N.I.E. (explained below), a social security number and a bank account.
The first thing is to get a N.I.E. (Número de Identidad de Extranjero). This number is the number for your ID, and with it comes a piece of paper, which replaced a card that was issued until recently. This sometimes still leads to some confusion with people who don't know that the card is no longer issued. To get a N.I.E. you need to go to the local police.
In the case of Madrid this is the police station at Plaza del Campillo Mundo Nuevo 3. But showing up there will not help you, as you need to phone first to make an appointment by telephone (902565701) between 9:00am and 2:00pm. You will be told that you have an appointment a couple of months later (3 to 5 months is normal). But it is likely that they call you before this date, to ask you if you can come in earlier. When you have made the appointment you can make a print at the website called: cita previa. This print is something you need if you want to go ahead with the bureaucracy. It's the easiest if you go to the police station at the Plaza del Campillo Mundo Nuevo 3, a day (or a few days) before you appointment to pick up the form that you need. You will need one paper to fill in for the police (most likely marked EX-16 or EX-14), and a so called 790 form, with which you need to go to bank and transfer €10. With the filled in form, the copy of the payment form, and a copy of your passport (of course you need to present the original as well) you can go to the appointment, were you will be issued your N.I.E.
Citizens of the European Union, can work in Spain, without the N.I.E. but the taxrate than is 25%, which is higher than the normal rate (between 10-12%). Most companies want to have a proof that you have applied for the N.I.E. and will change the taxrate they withdraw from your salary at the day you receive your N.I.E.
For workers from outside the EU, it is also necesary to obtain a visum. For people with relatives in Spain there is another procedure. If you own two passports and one of them is Spanish you need to go for a D.N.I. and not a N.I.E.
The second thing you need is a social security number. With the print out (or if you have a N.I.E. already) and your passport, you can head to a Tesorería General de la Seguridad Social where you can apply for a social security number, which you need for all work related taxes, and rights. With this and your contract you can also go for the medical card, as Spain has a health care system that provides care for everyone who is working in Spain.
Your employer needs to pay your salary to a Spanish bank account. Again with the print out, you should be able to open a bank account. The contradiction in this all is that you can't officially open a bank account without a N.I.E. but you need to pay the leges for the N.I.E. through a bank account. Most banks want to see (a copy of) your signed contract, and the print out of your appointment for the N.I.E. before they will open an account. When you receive your N.I.E. after you opened the account, you need to let you bank know that you have received you N.I.E.-number. They will then change the registration from your passport number to your N.I.E.-number, and also remove a monthly fee, that you were paying as a foreigner, without a N.I.E.
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Studying in Spain is very popular. Countless cities have private language schools and most universities offer Spanish language programs for foreigners. Many of the universities have programs for people not interested in studying Spanish. These include programs in art history, anthropology, religious studies, studio art and music. Just remember part of the fun of studying in Spain is the distractions that Spain has to offer.
Related article: Spanish: Grammar, pronunciation and useful phrases
Spanish (or better: Castillian) is the national language of Spain. There are however four more official regional languages that are spoken within Spain: Catalan, Galician, El Euskera (or the Basque language) and Aranese. Besides these languages, there are also a couple of other languages and dialects spoken in Spain especially in the islands.
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Enthusiasm for food approaches obsession, as each region waxes lyrical about the perfection of their dishes and produce. Causing particularly hot debate are jamon (ham), most famously the Serrano and Iberico varieties, and Olive Oil. There's also a tremendous variety of regional sausages, the best-known being spicy Chorizo. Spanish dishes are often spiced with Saffron or Paprika.
One famous Spanish dish is Paella, typical of Valencia, a rice stew usually involving a mix of meat (rabbit, chicken and/or sausage) and/or seafood, flavoured and coloured with Saffron.
Tapas (or Pintxos in the Basque country) are small portions of food served to go with drinks. In Asturias, another region in the North of Spain, this Tapas are served totally free when your "sidra" (sider) or vine, or beer. A very wide variety of dishes may be served, however typical dishes include Patatas Bravas (fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce), Bacalao (salt cod), Calamares (squid rings), Pimientos (slightly spicy peppers), Albóndigas (meatballs) and Gambarones (prawns - often with garlic). In Spain, dinner is usually eaten between 9:00pm and 11:00pm, so tapas serve as a way to stave off hunger in the meanwhile.
Spain is also home to some of the world's top restaurants including El Bulli on the Costa Brava, which is regularly voted 'best restaurant in the world'.
For places to stay you can go to the city pages to check the list of hostels and hotels mentioned in the accommodation database here on Travellerspoint.
Generally Spain has a wide variety of accommodations, ranging from very good camping grounds to deluxe 5-star hotels in the big cities and along the coastline of both the mainland and the islands like Mallorca and Ibiza, and the Canary Islands. Outside of the main cities and crowded coast, you will find really great and charming smaller hotels and houses.
Spain produces some great wines, including the ubiquitous Rioja which comes in Crianza (aged 2 years), Reserva (aged 3 years) and Gran Reserva (aged 5 years) varieties. The fortified wine known as Sherry is widely celebrated and many types are available, including light, dry Fino and deep, rich Oloroso. Spain is also famous for the production of the sparkling wine known as Cava.
Spain is also home to a number of major breweries, the most famous internationally being San Miguel. Other popular local brews include Cruzcampo, Mahou and the range produced by the Alhambra brewery of Andalucia.
See also: Travel Health
There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to Spain. Possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS. In summer, temperatures in most of the country can exceed 40 °C. Drinking a lot of water is something to keep in mind during that time of year, as is the use of sunscreen.
The health system in Spain is good. It's not exceptional, but certainly not bad. People who work in Spain are insured through a social security plan, which covers most of their needs. The only thing that is not included are dental treatments. There is also the possibility for a private insurance.
Pharmacies can be found in every town, and in bigger cities almost every street has one. Even at night it should not take you a long time to find a pharmacy that is open. Remember that more drugs are prescribed in Spain than any other country.
See also: Travel Safety
In Spain the emergency number for the Police, Fire Brigade and Ambulance is 112.
Spain is a much safer country than it was back in the 1970s and 1980s. Remember that many areas of Spain still have lots of crime and scams. Pickpockets are active in most of the major cities, and in general have no hard time to find victims that keep their guard down. Take the normal precaution, like you would do in other European countries.
The latest scam seems to be people that are pretending to be collecting money for charity. No matter how nice the people seem to be, ask for an ID to make sure they are who they are pretending to be. If you still don't trust it just walk away.
Internet is widely available within Spain. Most airports have wifi-zones and in most towns there are internet cafés or shops where you can use internet for a fixed price. Wi-Fi points in bars and cafeterias are available after ordering, and most hotels offer Wi-Fi connection in common areas for their guests.
See also: International Telephone Calls
The international access code for Spain is +34. The emergency number for police, ambulance and the fire brigade is 112.
In cities you can find plenty of public phones, and 'locutorios'. The latter are small shops where you can use the phone and use internet. Most of them also sell prepaid cards for mobile telephones. These shops are used a lot by foreigners to call to their mother country.
The main mobile network operators in Spain are Yoigo, Vodafone, Movistar and Orange, as in most of Europe voice and data coverage is generally good in urban areas however it can be patchy in rural locations. Cheap mobile phones (less than €50) with some pre-paid minutes are sold at FNAC or any phone operator's shop (Vodafone, Movistar, Orange). Topping-up is then done by buying scratch cards from the small stores, supermarkets, vending points (often found in tobacco shops) or kiosks.
If you want to post a card, you can head to the post office (Correos). The Spanish post is not yet as efficient as colleagues in other countries so receiving a card can take a bit longer than the number of days that it should take. On the website of Correos, you can find the locations of nearby post offices.
Post offices are generally open from 8:30am to 2:00pm, although times will vary according to the size of the city/town and the main post offices might be open until the early evening. Most will also open again on Saturday mornings, but in the smaller towns will close as early as 12 noon. When posting a letter, look for a yellow box and, if possible, post at the post office itself where there will also be divisions for local, national and international mail. Be prepared for long queues at the post office. This is why tobacco shops sell stamps and many will also have the facility to weigh packages. Standard letters/postcards of up to 20 grams sent within Spain are €0.34. However, non-standard letters/postcards of up to 20g are €0.39. Letters/postcards of 20 to 50 grams are €0.45. In the case of international shipping, the price is €0.64 to most countries within Europe for standard envelopes (letters/postcards) up to 20g, for a few European countries and outside Europe it is €0.78. If you want to send a package you are probably better off with a private courier company like TNT, DHL or UPS, as they offer quick and reliable services against competitive prices.
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I lived in the south-east of the Netherlands. A lot of questions on the forum are about Amsterdam, but if you want to explore the Netherlands, beyond Amsterdam, and you run into questions, I am willing to help you answer them. I have lived in Madrid for almost 5 years, and 1 year in Bratislava,
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Basque Country. I live in Donostia-San Sebastian. Contact me if you have any question about it.
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Have travelled independently to various parts of Spain.
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Giving advises about Barcelona and Catalonia in general
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