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13 mistakes tourists in Spain are bound to make

Esme Fox
Esme Fox - [email protected]
13 mistakes tourists in Spain are bound to make
13 mistakes tourists make in Spain. Photo: Rachel Moore / Unsplash

If you're planning a holiday in Spain, there are a few faux pas you should be aware of. These are some of the most common mistakes tourists make when visiting Spain.

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Eating too early 
Spaniards have very specific meal times and if you try to eat too early, you'll find that many places are not serving yet or aren't even open. The Spanish don't eat lunch until at least 2pm and don't even think about finding a restaurant for dinner before 8pm, as it won't be open. Most locals will eat dinner even later than this. The further south you go, the later they eat it seems. 

Ordering paella for dinner
In Spain, paella is a lunch dish and should not be ordered in the evening. Typically the main meal of the day is eaten at lunchtime, while smaller and lighter meals such as tapas are eaten in the evening. 
 
 
Not knowing that different regions have different languages
Whatever region you're visiting, you'll want to be aware of what the local language is - hint: it's not always Spanish. There are actually five official languages in Spain including Castilian Spanish, Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese. However, there are also other languages spoken, such as Valencian in the Valencia region, which has similarities with Catalan. 
 
Walking around with no shirt on 
In countries such as the UK and Australia, when it gets hot, the shirts come off (typically for men), everywhere from public parks to the streets and even supermarkets. In Spain, this is a no-no. Going shirtless is only for the beach and is actually considered illegal in some places. You may be refused entry if you try to shop half-naked. 
 

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Falling for tourist traps
This applies particularly to eating and drinking around famous tourist sites. You'll find that if you don't stray far enough, normal meals will be almost double the price and half the quality, you may also find that you're charged for the most expensive bottle of wine possible, even if you had wanted the house wine.
 
Not buying tickets in advance
Some of the most popular tourist attractions can get incredibly busy and may be booked up days, if not weeks (and sometimes months) in advance. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation Spain was the third most visited country in the world with 83 million visitors in 2022, this means that you definitely need to buy tickets well in advance for sites such as Granada's Alhambra and Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.
 
Going shopping after lunch
Hoping to fit in a spot of shopping after lunch? Forget it, shops in most places in Spain close between 2pm and 5pm. There may be exceptions in the centres of big cities and tourist souvenir stores will often stay open. 
 

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Trying to do errands or food shopping on a Sunday
Sunday is a strict rest day in Spain. Everything closes, from shops and supermarkets to banks and post offices. Make sure you're not trying to send a postcard or exchange money on a Sunday as it will be a waste of time. Tourist attractions and museums will generally stay open. 
 
Overtipping 
Unlike in countries such as the US, wait staff in Spain are paid a salary, so it's not necessary to tip 15-20 percent on top of your meal. If the restaurant is particularly nice or you feel you had exceptional service, you can tip 10 percent, but otherwise just leaving your change is perfectly acceptable. 
 
Ordering sangria 
You know someone is a tourist in Spain when they order a sangria. This fruity wine-based concoction is rarely consumed by local Spaniards. They will instead order a tinto de verano - wine mixed with a fizzy lemonade-like drink or just a wine on its own. 
 

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Expecting locals will always speak English 
Many tourists will come to Spain expecting to not have to speak much Spanish at all and assume that locals will speak English. While many Spaniards working in hospitality do speak basic English, if you head away from the tourist centres, try to do anything out of the ordinary or visit more rural areas, you'll find that it's not that great. Maybe try learning some basic Spanish to help you get by. 
 
 
Being too careless with your belongings 
Unfortunately, pickpockets are common in Spain's most popular tourist cities, including Barcelona, Madrid and Seville. Don't make the mistake of putting your phone in your back pocket or leaving your camera on the table while you eat as you'll find it won't be there for long. 
 
Thinking that tapas are always cheap 
Many tourists assume that tapas is a cheap meal. However, the reality is that going out for tapas can get pretty expensive - particularly if there are only two of you. Each small plate typically ranges in price from €4 - €10, depending on where you are in Spain, but it can go up to €12 - €15 in nicer restaurants. Ordering just 4 different dishes for the table can soon rack up. You'll also find that sometimes you don't want a huge plate of jamón (ham) just for the two of you, but are unable to order less. 

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