Ten colourful characters you’re likely to spot at Spain’s popular beaches

Anyone who's spent time in Spain in summer will know that when you hit the main tourist beaches there are certain interesting characters you'll always come across, from the kitted-out Spanish families to the sunburnt foreign holidaymakers.

Ten colourful characters you're likely to spot at Spain's popular beaches
How many or these colourful characters have you spotted at popular beaches in Spain? (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

The kitted-out familia

Let’s face it, there are always some who know how to do a beach day properly. While you’re there with your one measly baguette wrapped in foil, this family has brought slices of homemade tortilla, glasses of gazpacho, platters of perfectly-chilled cheese and ham, oh and abuela’s famous almond biscuits. And they’re not just sitting on a towel, no, they have brought fold-away tables and chairs, a cool box filled with ice-cold drinks and a stereo for that all-important summer soundtrack. Perhaps they have a mini tent to shade everyone from the sun too.

Deckchair? Check. Radio and headphones so I can listen to el fútbol? Check. Tortilla in tupperwear? Of course. (Photo by JOSE LUIS ROCA / AFP)

The local sun worshippers

One character that you’re sure to see all over Spain are the leathery-skinned locals who turn their bodies to face the sun, rather than the sea. They never burn and ensure they continuously flip themselves over like burgers so that they’re ‘well done’ on all sides. Spritzing themselves with oil occasionally to speed up the tan, they’ve come to the beach for one reason only. You’ll rarely see them swimming, playing beach paddle or building sandcastles. 

Many Spaniards love to roast in the sun. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP 

The lobster-hued tourists who forget their sun cream

You can spot them a mile off, and you just know that they’re not locals. Yes, it’s the scarlet-skinned visitors, who will most likely hail from the UK or Germany. Naturally, they don’t have a parasol and have forgotten that all-important sun cream. They may have gone out partying the night before and have fallen into a hangover-fuelled sleep under the blisteringly hot Spanish sun.

You don’t need infrared to spot the northern European tourists in Spain, as many are already ultra-red. (Photo by JOSE JORDAN / AFP)

The paddle boarders who keep everyone entertained 

Stand-up paddle boards have become a big craze in Spain over the past five years or so and inevitably there will always be someone in the water who is trying it out for the first time. Everyone along the beach watches in anticipation as they climb up and wobble on the board before spectacularly splashing into the sea. As they try again and again, it becomes a bit of a joke for the spectators until the paddleboarder finally manages to get going, amid cheers from the shoreline.

Standup paddleboarding (SUP) is becoming increasingly popular at beaches in Spain. (Photo by LLUIS GENE / AFP)

The manteros 

No matter how many beach blankets or towels you come laden with, you will always be persuaded to buy another from the manteros, the name Spaniards have given those who sell mantels or cloths to sit on, on the beach. The manteros are often immigrants or refugees from West Africa and their colourful billowing pareos or beach blankets can be seen gently floating across the sand throughout the country. Even if you have one yourself, the exotic prints and elephant motifs make for a great gift to take back home, costing between €10 and €15.

A visit to some of the most touristy beaches in Spain can feel almost like being at a street market. Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

The roller skaters along the boardwalk 

Whether you’re on Valencia’s Las Arenas or Mallorca’s Playa de Palma Nova you’ll find locals roller skating along the boardwalks just like in Miami or Los Angeles. Zipping in and out of the crowds with ease, they expertly navigate the chaos of the Spanish beach in summer.

Although e-scooter riders have taken over Spanish cities, skaters are still the stars of beach boardwalks. (Photo by JAIME REINA / AFP)

The enthusiastic beach volleyball players 

Before you reach the lines of sunbathers, on many beaches in Spain, you’ll pass the beach volleyball courts, where young, tanned locals and foreign residents alike are showing off their ball skills. Not matter how hot the weather or the time of day, you’re sure to find them passing and spiking across the net and occasionally elegantly face-planting themselves in the sand. Want to join in? They’ll often be more than happy to let visitors join their games when the teams are uneven.

Wild dives to reach far-flung balls hurt a lot less if you fall on the sand, that’s for sure. Photo: Josep LAGO / AFP

The keepy-uppy crew

We’re sure you’ve often noticed the group of Spanish teens along the shorefront, all trying to keep a ball in the air – and if you haven’t, you’re bound to have heard them. Screaming and laughter ensue as they like to show off to other beach goers, doing scissor kicks and back flips into the sea.

Keepy-uppy, scissor kicks and nutmegs: the beach shore is a chance for teens to show off their footy skills in Spain. (Photo by JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The drink hawkers

Coca-cola, cerveza, agua, water, beer is the familiar sing-song like tune you’ll hear being shouted across beaches from Barcelona to Malaga. They’re often sold by immigrants from the likes of India and Pakistan, who will ensure that even if you’ve forgotten your own, you can always enjoy a cold drink on the sand. But with several dozen hawkers trawling the sand from morning to dusk, you’ll find the phrase quite repetitive and will often be harassed to buy a drink, even if you have one already. Be aware that while drinks in sealed cans and bottles are ok, don’t be tempted by the hawkers trying to sell you cocktails in open cups. Barcelona City Council once analysed the mojitos sold on their beaches and they were found to contain fecal matter.

Don’t be tempted by the mojitos on Barcelona’s beaches. Photo: LLUIS GENE / AFP

The beach masseuses

If the beach wasn’t quite relaxing enough, you can always unwind further by enjoying a massage right on the sand. Often hailing from the likes of the Philippines, Thailand and China, countries known for their excellent massages, these masseuses will deftly get the knots out of your shoulders in no time. Be aware, some of them will just come up to you and start the massage without you ever having agreed to one. If you’re not interested just politely decline and they’ll leave, but if you’re happy and are willing to pay, just lie back and relax.  

Although not as prevalent as at beaches in South East Asia, masseuses do offer their services at Spain’s most touristy beaches. (Photo by INDRANIL MUKHERJEE / AFP)

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The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in Spain as many places have already switched on their festive lights. Some Spanish cities go all out, covering their streets with lots of sparkle and magic. Here are some of the best displays to see.

The cities in Spain with the best Christmas lights

Spain puts on a great show during the festive time of year and many of its cities look especially Christmassy covered in twinkly lights and pops of colour. Here are some of the cities to visit if you want to see the best displays. 

Due to the current energy and climate crisis, many cities in Spain have said that they would shorten the number of hours their Christmas lights are switched on for this year, while others have swapped over to LEDs instead. Some of the best cities for Christmas lights, such as Madrid and Vigo have insisted that they will not cut back on decorations, however, and will still look as magical as ever. 


The Andalusian city of Málaga is one of the best when it comes to festive atmosphere in Spain, giving a spectacular display of light and colour. The city’s main shopping street – Calle Larios has for the last few years become one of the most famous Christmassy streets in Spain with an incredible show of light and music and decorative elements forming arches over the top of the road.

Over 500 streets around the city are decked in lights and there are also themed video mapping displays shown on the cathedral.

Calle Larios in Málaga is one of the most Christmassy streets in Spain. Photo: Thomas COEX / AFP


Being the capital of Spain, it’s not surprising that Madrid is one of the best places to see the Christmas lights. The city uses no less than 7 million LED lights to light up the streets in the centre, as well as some of its most iconic buildings.

Some of the best places to see the lights include Puerta de San Vicente, Puerta De Alcalá and Puerta de Toledo. More than 40,000 12-meter Christmas lights are also strung up every year between Gran Vía and Calle Alcalá. Madrid’s plazas are decked out in Christmas joy too, with not only lights but lots of sparkly trees. The Plaza Mayor is particularly one of the most festive because of its Christmas market. 

Don’t miss one of the city’s most unique Christmas scenes at the Naturaleza Encendida show in the Royal Botanical Gardens. 

Visit the Royal Botanical Garden of Madrid for its magical Christmas displays. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP


Christmas lights in the Catalan capital extend 100km throughout the centre, but you’ll find twinkly displays in all of its neighbourhoods too. One of the most impressive areas is the grand Passeig de Gràcia which is typically covered in sparkling spirals as well as reflective metallic-coloured butterflies, which make them twinkle in the daytime too. Emblematic buildings such as Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and the Hotel Majestic also create fantastic displays with candles. 

Plaza de Catalunya is another spot where lights abound, particularly around El Corte Inglés and down onto La Rambla. Don’t forget to check out the Christmas video mapping on the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, the city’s UNESCO Modernist old hospital.

Barcelona’s La Rambla transforms into a winter wonderland. Photo: JOSEP LAGO / AFP


Vigo may be one of the smallest cities on our list, but it’s definitely big when it comes to Christmas. It’s said that the mayor of the city Abel Caballero loves this time of year and goes all out when it comes to decorations. Vigo dedicates one of the biggest budgets to its Christmas décor and has installed a system for more than 11 million LED lights for this purpose. Think coloured garlands, luminous figures, bright angels and curtains of glitter.

One of the best places to see them is the city’s Porta do Sol, which also hosts Vigo’s huge Christmas tree. In the past, there has been a 10-metre-high Christmas bauble, a giant present between Gran Vía and Urzáiz, a huge snowman and the bright star of Bethlehem in García Borbón and a magical luminous castle on Calle Policarpo Sanz. 

The mayor of Vigo is a big fan of Christmas. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP


For the past couple of years, Zaragoza has dedicated a budget of some €700,000 to decorate its streets for Christmas to give more colour and Christmas twinkle to its streets. Alfonso I is one of the best streets, where over 100,000 LED lights make a multi-coloured ceiling across the top of the road. There’s also a 22-metre-high tree located on La Plaza de Basilio, decorated with even more glowing lights.

Zaragoza’s Christmas displays don’t disappoint. Photo: Iramonf / Wikimedia Commons


The Basque industrial city of art and design is no exception when it comes to holiday lighting. The city streets are illuminated by around 500,000 LED lights ranging from around 8 metres to 18 metres high. It’s particularly attractive around the Casco Viejo and its Siete Calles.

Look out for statues of Olentzero, the Basque version of Santa Claus, who is a charcoal maker and comes to bring gifts to the children on Christmas eve.

Bilbao’s Christmas lights form a display of pictures. Photo: RAFA RIVAS / AFP

Santa Cruz de Tenerife

The largest city in Tenerife is known for its vibrant nightlife, so it’s not surprising that it puts on a good show at Christmas too. Around 140 of its streets and squares are lit in preparation for the season with around 3 million LED lights. 

Typically its decor is made up of 176 arches, 26,334 meters of colourful garlands and 686 Christmas symbols arranged on its lamp posts. One year the city even had a 90-metre-long tunnel made up of cascading coloured lights. 

Kids love looking at the Christmas lights in Santa Cruz de Tenerife. Photo: DESIREE MARTIN / AFP


Like the capital of Andalusia itself, Seville’s lights are both classy and romantic and it’s a special place to enjoy this time of year. It may not have as many lights as nearby Malaga, but what it does do, it does well.

Some of the best places to see them include Plaza de San Francisco, Avenida de la Constitución, Sierpes e Imagen, Tetúan, Laraña, Campana, Plaza del Salvador, Asunción and Alfonso XII. 

Head to Seville to see its elegant Christmas lights. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP


Valencia is another great city to spend the holidays in Spain and puts on a great show with its Christmas lights. One of the most iconic parts of Valencia’s holiday season is the video mapping projected onto its town hall. 

Plaza de la Reina will have three-meter structures that are made to look like almond trees and there will be other festive elements like ice skating rinks and Christmas concerts. 

Head to Valencia this year to see its impressive displays. Photo: Valencia Igor Ferreira / Unsplash