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LIFE IN SPAIN

Why is everything in Spain closed on Sundays?

Anyone who's lived or holidayed in Spain will have noticed that many shops and businesses close on Sundays. But is that just a reflection of the laid-back lifestyle, as many assume, or are there other reasons? And what impact does this have on the Spanish economy and society?

Why is everything in Spain closed on Sundays?
Many foreigners in Spain find it incovenient that most shops close on a Sunday. But what's behind this tradition? (Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP)

Take a stroll through any small or medium-sized Spanish town on a Sunday, and you’ll notice that the majority of its high-street shops and businesses are shuttered up. Even in bigger cities, many still close on Sunday.

Often people assume that the Sunday closures are a reflection of Spain’s laidback lifestyle, and that Spaniards still see Sundays as a day of rest. While it is true that most Spaniards do still use Sundays to relax, eat, and spend time with family, it’s not entirely that simple.

Others assume it’s a legacy of Spain’s Catholic culture, and that everyone’s at mass, but that’s become less and less true in recent decades, and the reality is that Spain’s Sunday trading laws are often the reason behind the closures, depending on where you are.

READ MORE: Spanish habits that foreigners just don’t get 

Sunday Trading

Sunday trading laws are not unique to Spain. Many countries around the world place limits on which, how, for how long, and how often shops and businesses can open on Sundays.

But many countries across Europe, like Portugal, Italy, and the U.K, have more liberal trading hours legislation. In fact, the European Commission ranked Spain as the country with the second highest number of restrictions on commercial trade in the EU.

A map of which countries where large supermarkets are generally open on non-holiday Sundays. Green: Large supermarkets and shopping centers are generally open on Sundays. Blue: Large supermarkets are allowed to be open for 6 hours or less on Sundays. Red: Large supermarkets are generally closed on Sundays. Map: Imre Kristoffer Eilertsen/Wikipedia (CC BY 4.0)

Spain’s law

First things first, as with many policies in Spain, Sunday trading legislation is delegated to the autonomous communities. Article 1 of Law 1/2004, which outlines rules on business hours more broadly, gives businesses the liberty to determine the days and times of their commercial activity, however it must work within the framework of the law and the rules of the autonomous community.

That is to say, each regional government has the final say on its Sunday opening hours, and in many parts of Spain Sunday opening is allowed once a month – normally at the beginning of the month – and on Sundays during special shopping seasons like Christmas and Easter, but also during sales periods.

This means that many businesses aren’t able to open on Sundays, even if they wanted to. Certain sectors, however, like hospitality, can open without restrictions, as can pharmacies. According to the law, the businesses free to open as and when they please are: 

  •  Hospitality establishments and bakeries
  •  Petrol stations
  •  Florists
  • Shops at transport stations
  • Smaller convenience stores, provided that they meet the criteria set out in the law

In a strange quirk on Spanish legislation, commercial establishments smaller than 300 square metres have total freedom of trading schedules across Spain, regardless of what is says on their regional statute book.

Tourist areas

Tourist areas are often given exceptions to deal with demand. Shops in towns and areas declared as tourist-based are allowed to open every Sunday. That grouping, as of a few years ago, includes:

  • Downtown Madrid
  • Valencia municipality 
  • Zaragoza 
  • Downtown Palma de Mallorca 
  • Most of the Catalan coastal with the exception of Barcelona
  • Most of the Murcia’s coastal area
  • The Andalusian and Valencian coastal areas

Equally, any area with a World Heritage Site or property of cultural or national interest is allowed to open, as are shops close to ports on tourist cruise routes, and areas whose main attraction is shopping tourism.

A woman walks past a closed shop in Madrid. Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

READ MORE: Are Spaniards really that bad at queueing? 

Community rules

Businesses that are not included in the exempted sectors outlined in national law, as above, must abide by the trading calendar outlined every year by their regional government. This means there’s quite a bit of variation in Sunday trading laws around Spain. In Madrid, for example, all businesses have been able to open, if they wish, for 24 hours a day, 365 days a week, since 2021.

Compare that with the stricter restrictions in Basque Country, for example, where no big business can open on Sundays, nor holidays, and are often closed on Saturday afternoons too.

Generally speaking, the number of Sundays autonomous communities can play with is sixteen spread throughout the calendar years. However, based on each region’s unique economic circumstances, the number of authorised Sunday openings can be tinkered with, whether by increasing or decreasing it. You can usually find your region’s Sunday opening scheduled for the whole year online.

The economic impact

The COVID-19 pandemic shutdown sparked debate about the economic consequences of Spain’s Sunday trading laws. Business groups called on the government to relax some of the restrictions when faced with financial annihilation, and requested freedom to open when they please, as was allowed in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. 

With many businesses having closed their doors for the last time during the pandemic, allowing more economic freedom to trade on Sundays is seen as a way of recouping the significant losses many endured during the lockdown.

It would also perhaps be a way to boost employment, although many smaller businesses claim they can’t open on Sundays because they can’t afford to hire new staff or pay their existing workers more money. Smaller businesses and self-employed unions are often at loggerheads over Sunday trading laws with bigger companies and corporations, represented by The National Association of Large Distribution Companies (Anged), with regards to competition and the pros and cons of more liberal trading hours.

Member comments

  1. I don’t understand why any restrictions should be placed on Sunday openings & this article doesn’t provide the reasons. It only explains that it’s a regulation and nothing about the reasoning behind it.
    Surely it should be a decision for the business owners whether or not they want to open on Sun. It’s not harming anyone & nobody is being forced to open if it doesn’t suit. I’d love to see more shops open on Sundays same as other countries.

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WHAT CHANGES IN SPAIN

KEY POINTS: What changes in Spain in July 2022?

July sees the start of the summer holidays in Spain and brings with it new crisis handouts, VAT cuts on energy bills, travel chaos and a possible deal on UK driving licences. Join The Local Spain as a member to find out about this and plenty more.

KEY POINTS: What changes in Spain in July 2022?

€200 crisis payment available in July 

As part of their new draft of measures to help those struggling with the rising cost of living, the Spanish government announced they would give a one-off €200 handout to the most vulnerable individuals.

The payment plan is set to be activated this month and you can find out who is eligible and how to apply for it here.

According to Spain’s Tax Minister María Jesús Montero, approximately 2.7 million people in Spain will be able to benefit from the scheme. Individuals can request the €200 payment, as can families, but only one payment per household is allowed.

VAT on electricity bills cut by half 

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez recently announced that the government would apply a further reduction in VAT on electricity bills, which has now been approved by the cabinet. This means that a VAT reduction, from 10 to five percent, will be applied to electricity bills from July onwards.  

Find out how much you could save on your electricity bill with the new VAT discount here

Travel chaos continues

In the lead-up to the summer holidays, there has been travel chaos across Europe, including in Spain, due to flight cancellations, staff shortages and strikes. Unfortunately, the travel misery is only set to continue into July as several Spain-based cabin crew, including those from easyJet, Ryanair and Lufthansa have announced strikes.

EasyJet staff are scheduled to go on a nine-day strike on July 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 15th, 16th, 17th, 29th, 30th and 31st. Meanwhile, the Ryanair strike, which started on June 24th will continue on July 1st and 2nd. Over 54 flights have already been cancelled by the low-cost airline and more than 300 have been delayed.

German carrier Lufthansa and its budget airline brand, Eurowings are also planning to cancel more than 3,000 flights this summer due to both staff shortages and strikes. This is expected to affect flights from the hubs of Frankfurt and Munich to Spain, among others. 

Could there finally be a deal on UK driving licences?

The British Ambassador to Spain Hugh Elliott recently shared his latest update on the driving licence negotiations between the UK and Spain, indicating a possible agreement to have affected drivers back on the road by the end of July 2022.

“The UK and Spain are now in agreement on the core issues that have been problematic and we’re now very close to finalising the actual text of the agreement,” he explained.

This will be a great relief for many British residents in Spain who were unable to exchange their licence for a Spanish one and haven’t been allowed on the roads since May 1st 2022.

Scorching weather returns to Spain in July

After a brief respite from the mid-June heatwaves, the hot weather is set to return in July. According to the weather site Meteored, the first week of July will see storms and unpredictable weather in the north of the country, while temperatures could reach over 40°C in the south of the country around Córdoba and Seville.

The middle of the month from July 11th to 17th is set to see temperatures rise again. It’s likely that much of Extremadura and Andalusia will experience temperatures around 40°C, while it could also reach 38°C in Bilbao and Madrid.

The last two weeks of July will get even hotter with Meteored predicting the hottest temperatures of the whole year. Temperatures are expected to be above normal in all regions apart from along the Cantabrian coast and in the Canary Islands.

Summer sales go into full throttle

July 1st sees the official start of the summer sales throughout much of Spain, although many stores have started even earlier. With rising costs due to inflation, this is the time of year to benefit from some of the biggest discounts.

Amazon has two days scheduled for its sales from July 12th-13th, while H&M and all the retail stores belonging to Spanish clothing giant Inditex (Zara, Massimo Dutti, Bershka, Pull & Bear and Stradivarius) are also due to have their sales this month.

After the start of the sales, you’ll see signs for “segundas rebajas” (second sales), then “terceras rebajas” and finally “remate final” (final push), where discounts progressively go from 30 percent to 40, then 50 and finally down to an incredible 70 percent price reduction. 

Imserso holiday scheme for pensioners kicks off 

Imserso is a social scheme offering holidays to the elderly, which aim to offer subsidised trips to pensioners. Applications for the vacation scheme this year are open from June 27th to July 19th and usually run during the low season from October. Find out how to apply here.

Depending on the dates you go and the type of accommodation you stay in, you will usually have to pay between €115 and €405 for the trip.

Vehicles in Spain need to have Intelligent Speed Assistance

New cars sold in Spain and across the EU must have automatic Intelligent Speed Assistance technology from July 6th as part of the General Safety Regulation.

All newly launched models will need to have Intelligent Speed Assistance systems installed as standard. The idea is to limit speeds and warn drivers to slow down if they’re over the legal speed limit.

Festivals in Spain in July

July sees a whole host of festivals and celebrations across the country. Most famous are the San Fermín Running of the Bulls, held in Pamplona from July 6th – 14th and the Fiestas de Santiago Apóstol, held in the Galician city on July 25th.

Other festivities taking place in July include Bilbao’s BBK music festival from the 7th to the 9th and the Moors and Christians parades in Villajoyosa from the 23rd to 24th, commemorating the battle of 1538.

Pride celebrations are also set to return in July. Madrid’s LGBTIQ+ festival will take place from July 1st to 10th throughout many areas of the city but concentrated around Chueca.

New law to improve rights of domestic workers

A new law could be approved this month to improve the rights of domestic workers so that they have the same rights as other workers, such as the right to unemployment benefits and proper wages.

A third of the 536,100 domestics (mostly women) who work in Spain are not signed up to Spain’s social security system, according to the country’s Labour Force Survey. Two out of every three have earnings around the minimum wage bracket.

Early last year the Spanish government sent out letters to Spanish households who employ workers to warn them of their obligations.

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