By Jackson Zeiler
There’s a reason that Spain consistently tops the charts for tourism. The country sports several of the greatest cities in the world, with Barcelona and Madrid frequently making the shortlist, while the mild climate makes it an outdoor paradise. Spain is one of the most popular places that Ed Abroad sends students, and with good reason. We offer programs across the country, each city presenting its own features and flairs. From major cities like Barcelona to lesser-known locales like Granada, Alicante, and Salamanca; there is a huge range of ways to immerse yourself in Spanish culture. Want to get the most out of your Spanish experience? Read on for tips and tricks to maximize your time and minimize the cost!
Travel by Bus
Forget what you know about Greyhound buses in the US. Buses in Spain (and much of Europe, for that matter) are top of the line, safe, and comfortable for travel near and far. Bus companies like ALSA have it figured out. Riders are able to buy tickets ahead of time, and even choose their seats. Entertainment is usually top-notch Spanish fare–and if sleeping is your thing you’ll be glad to know the seats recline way back.
As an added bonus you’ll get a free countryside tour, something you don’t get on a plane. Kick back, save some cash, and see where the bus can take you.
A Mountain of Things to Do
Can’t bear the thought of a semester away from the Rockies? Give “Picos de Europe” a quick Google. Check out Mulhacen. Gawk at some pictures of the Pyranees. You’ll find that Spain is one of the most mountainous regions of Europe. Hiking isn’t the only outdoor activity that Spaniards enjoy, either. Camping, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and the legendary Camino de Santiago are all in the playbook. Do some research, get out of the city, and hit some trails.
‘Tis the Season
If you study in Spain during the spring semester, expect to have a healthy amount of time off during your term. The Spanish relish their breaks and take their long weekends extremely seriously. The late winter and spring are chock full of holidays. I remember a two week stretch where every other day was a commemorative regional holiday, religious observance, or outright national holiday. The Spanish will go so far as to declare puentes (bridges) between holidays that fall two or three days apart; the logic being that if another holiday is coming up soon, might as well take the days in between off!
The biggest and most important observance in the Spanish year by far is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which occurs during the last week of Lent right before Easter. Everything is closed for ten days and, yes, that means class is canceled too. I highly recommend staying in your city to observe some of the traditions, parades, and ceremonies that occur during this week. It will be like nothing you’ve ever seen.
Food for Thought
If you even marginally enjoy eating, I have good news for you. Each of Spain’s seventeen Autonomous Communities sport their own cuisine and they don’t mess around. Try out the varied seafoods of Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque Country. The Roman and Arab influences in Andalusia give Sevilla and Granada a flash of wild flavor. Pastries are particularly good in Catalunya. Paella should only be consumed in Valencia, full stop. Sate your cheese-craving in Castilla-La Mancha. Try the pintxos (tapas) in Navarra and caracoles (snails) in Madrid. And jamón, commonly known as ham. Jamón is everywhere (luckily).
A Tried and True Culinary Tradition
Yeah, we’re not done with food yet. Tapas are quintessentially Spanish, and no one takes them more seriously than the people of Spain’s southern region of Andalusia. Tapas are small plates, similar to appetizers, of traditional or experimental food, usually served in bars. They pair great with conversation, drinks, and outdoor terraces. In Granada, any bar or restaurant of repute will supply a free tapa to any customer who orders a drink. This tradition made its way to Sevilla, the capital of the region, and from there to the surrounding areas where it is now ubiquitous. Tapas increase in size and quality as more drinks are ordered, so expect the waiter to really spoil you after a few rounds. That, or move from place and place and sample your way through an entire neighborhood!
The World’s Sport
A stay in Spain would be incomplete without seeing a football match between two teams in the world’s toughest soccer league. Players worldwide aspire to be picked up by any team in La Liga, meaning even the teams at the bottom of the division will give teams from another league a show. Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico de Madrid are Spain’s top winners, and it’s definitely worth seeing one of these teams play. El Clásico is going to absolutely destroy your budget, though—luckily La Liga is rife with other heated rivalries. Arguably deeper than the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the Seville Derby between the city’s two teams, Real Betis and Sevilla FC. The matchup divides the city. Sevilla FC has had more European League appearances, giving it a wider fanbase across Spain and Europe, while Betis is historically the people’s team, especially emblematic of the working class. Whichever team you pick, you can be sure you’ll learn some colorful language from the many chants each team has for the other.
Need an affordable weekend art fix? Look no further than Madrid! With over forty art museums, ranging from trendy galleries to world-class locales rivaling the Louvre, Madrid will surpass the expectations of even the most hardened critic. Hit the mains first, starting with the Prado. Peep at Goya and Velázquez before heading over to the Reina Sofia to see Guernica and other Picasso works, as well as famous cubism by artists like Juan Gris.
If you are an art and architecture guru, make sure to check out the City of Arts complex in Valencia and of course Barcelona for Gaudi.
Know the Way
A great way to start or end a semester in Spain is with the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route that sees thousands of visitors a year. While walking for several weeks doesn’t appeal to everyone, there is no better way to experience the Spanish countryside. The path is actually significantly longer than the chunk that runs through Spain, continuing on through much of Europe—sounds like the beginnings of a unique trip idea to me…
Island Hopping East and West
Turns out Ibiza isn’t the only island in the Balearics. Palma de Mallorca has everything that the other islands (and mainland) have, but with the benefit of more space, more beaches, more natural parks, and more things to do. Want to go further? The Canary Islands, off the southwest coast of Morocco, offer tons to do, with access to Spain’s highest mountain, Teide, and the national park that contains it. Even better, it’s only a quick hop to Agadir to start a new journey through Morocco!