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Spanish Customs and Traditions

Find out about some of Spain's most famous customs and traditions


Many Spanish traditions have become legendary around the globe. But a lot of tourists only have a hazy idea of what flamenco is, how to spot a good paella, how to go about eating tapas, etc. These tips should help you.

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1. Going for Tapas

Barcelona - Tapas Bar  Barcelona - Market of la Boqueria   One of the Tapas Bars sprinkled across the market...
Adam Wyles @the-travelling-bum flickr.com Creative Commons License

Every tourist who comes to Spain wants to try tapas, one of the most famous of Spanish traditions. But many don't understand it. A 'tapa' is not a type of food, it's a way of eating it. Tapas are small portions, but they can be of anything. And to 'go for tapas' (tapear in Spanish) does not mean ordering a lot of dishes in one restaurant (though, of course, you can), but to bar-hop, eating a different tapa in each bar.

Read more about Tapas in Spain.

2. Flamenco in Spain

Hernan Herrero

Probably the most famous Spanish tradition - but so often misunderstood.

Firstly, flamenco is not a dance. It sometimes has dancing in it. What flamenco actually is is a musical style, with far more emphasis on the guitar, vocals and rhythm than the dancing. In fact, the whole idea of flamenco dancing is a little paradoxical. True flamenco is spontaneous; true flamenco dancing requires the pretty dress: but if you're being spontaneous, you won't have the pretty dress on!

If you want to see Flamenco dancing in Spain, you need to go to a show at a tablao. Read more about Flamenco in Spain.

3. The Siesta

Image: (c) Alexa Van Slageren

One of the puzzling aspects of Spain to outsiders is the siesta. Why do all the stores close in the afternoon. Do people really go to sleep? How long should your siesta be? The idea of the siesta is evolving and with everyone's busier lifestyles, it's not so easy to catch 40 winks anymore - but people still do.

Read more about Siesta in Spain.

4. To Tip or Not to Tip?

Every guide book says something different on tipping. One blog post I wrote once provoked some harsh criticisms from a few sheltered middle-class Spaniards who live in a different world to the majority of people in Spain. I investigated the subject with this survey on tipping in Spain to get to the bottom of precisely when to tip and how much.

Read more about Tipping in Spain.

5. Bullfighting in Spain

Image: (c) Damian Corrigan

Bullfighting, the most controversial of Spanish traditions, is a mixed blessing for Spain. Many tourists are very curious to see it and view it as a fascinating insight into Spanish culture, but it is also a stain on the country's reputation for others. Bullfighting is nowhere near as popular as it used to be, but it still features prominently in the country's self-image.

Read more about Bullfighting in Spain.

6. Nightlife in Spain

Going out and partying is in the Spanish blood. Spanish nightlife, especially in Madrid, is legendary. What's more, it isn't a preserve of the young - there is a part of town for every age group and every taste. Just remember one thing - you have to go out very late - if you're in the bars before 10pm, you'll be drinking alone.

Read more about Madrid Nightlife.

7. When to Eat in Spain

Many a tourist has been undone by Spain's rigid eating times. Miss the narrow windows for each and you end up eating on your own or in a substandard touristy restaurant that caters precisely for those who haven't gotten in sync with the Spanish way of eating.

Read more about When to Eat in Spain.

8. Festivals in Spain

The Spanish eating, drinking and dancing culture steps up a gear (if that's possible), when there's a festival on. Every town or village has a local fiesta, at which point the locals don't just eat and drink because it's fun, they do so because it would be un-Spanish not to.

Read more about Festivals in Spain.

9. Sangria and Paella

Most tourists who visit Spain want to eat paella and drink sangria - what could be more Spanish? But crafty bars and restaurants know how much tourists want to sample these symbols of Spanish life and will exploit you accordingly.

Read more about Paella and Sangria in Spain before you get caught out.

10. Soccer in Spain

Bullfighting as a pastime may be dying, but soccer most certainly is not. Soccer takes on quasi-religious significance in the lives of Spanish males from the age of five to 100. And with two of the most successful teams in European soccer, any sports fan should check out Spain's futbol heritage.

Read more about Soccer in Spain.

Related Video
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10 Common Phrases in Spanish
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