European Campus


 Study in Spain
a ABOUT Spain



Social Scene     |    Customs and Culture    |    Transportation

Accommodation    |     Health Care    |    Emergency Contacts

Social Scene

Social Conventions

Spanish life has undergone rapid change in recent years and many of the stricter religious customs are giving way to more modern ways, particularly in the cities and among women. Nonetheless, many old customs, manners and traditions have not faded and hospitality, chivalry and courtesy remain important. Handshaking is the customary form of greeting. Normal social courtesies should be observed when visiting someone’s home. If invited to a private home, a small gift is appreciated. Flowers are only sent for special celebrations. Conservative casual wear is widely acceptable. Some hotels and restaurants encourage men to wear jackets. A black tie is only necessary for very formal occasions and is usually specified if required. Outside resorts, scanty beachwear should be confined to beach or poolside. Smoking is widely accepted. The evening meal is taken late, generally 2100-2200. The Spanish have two family names; in conversation only the first should be used. Tipping: Service charges and taxes are usually included in hotel bills, however in addition, a tip should be left for the chambermaid and porters should be tipped per bag. It is also customary to leave a tip for the waiter. Restaurants often include service in the bill so a tip is discretionary. In cafes and bars it is 10 to 15 per cent. Tip taxis 10 to 15 per cent when metered.

Local Customs & Culture

Food & Drink

Eating out in Spain is often cheap and meals are substantial rather than gourmet. One of the best ways to sample Spanish food is to try tapas, or snacks, which are served at any time of day in local bars. These range from cheese and olives to squid or meat delicacies and are priced accordingly. Many of the specialities of Spanish cuisine are based on seafood, although regional specialities are easier to find inland than along the coast. In the northern Basque provinces, there is cod vizcaina or cod pil-pil; angulas, the tasty baby eels from Aguinaga; bream and squid. Asturias has its bean soup, fabada, cheeses and the best cider in Spain, and in Galicia there is shellfish, especially good in casseroles, and a number of regional seafood dishes such as hake à la Gallega.

In the eastern regions the paella has a well-deserved reputation. It can be prepared in many ways, based on meat or seafood. Catalonia offers, among its outstanding specialities, lobster Catalan, butifarra sausage stewed with beans, and partridge with cabbage. Pan amb tomaquet, bread rubbed with olive oil and tomato, is a delicious accompaniment to local ham and cheese.

The Castile area specialises in roast meats, mainly lamb, beef, veal and suckling pig, but there are also stews, sausages, country ham and partridges. Andalucía is noted for its cooking (which shows a strong Arab influence), especially gazpacho, a delicious cold vegetable soup, a variety of fried fish including fresh anchovies, jabugo ham from Huelva and many dishes based on the fish which the coast provides in such abundance. Restaurants are classified by the Government and many offer tourist menus (menu del día). Restaurants and cafes have table service.

Spain is essentially a wine-drinking country, with sherry being one of the principal export products. Its English name is the anglicised version of the producing town Jerez (pronounced khereth), from which the wine was first shipped to England. Today, Britain buys about 75 per cent of all sherry exports. There are four main types: fino (very pale and very dry), amontillado (dry, richer in body and darker in colour), oloroso (medium, full-bodied, fragrant and golden) and dulce (sweet). Sanlúcar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa María are other towns famous for their sherry and well worth visiting. Tourists are able to visit one of the bodegas (above-ground wine stores) in Jerez. In the Basque Country a favourite is chacolí, a ‘green’ wine, slightly sparkling and a little sour, rather than dry.

The principal table wines are the riojas and valdepeñas, named after the regions in which they are produced. In general, rioja, from the region around Logroño in the northeast, resembles the French Bordeaux, though it is less delicate. Valdepeñas is a rougher wine, but pleasant and hearty. It will be found at its best in the region where it is grown, midway between Madrid and Cordóba. In Catalonia the ampurdán and perelada wines tend to be heavy and those that are not rather sweet are harsh, with the exception of the magnificent full-bodied Burgundy-type penedés wines. Alicante wine, dry and strong, is really a light aperitif. Nearby, the Murcia region produces excellent wine. Often it makes a pleasant change to try the unbottled wines of the house (vino de la casa). It is much cheaper than the bottled wines and even in small places is usually good. Similarly, inexpensive supermarket wine is very acceptable. Among the many brands of sparkling wines known locally as cava, the most popular are Codorniú and Freixenet, dry or semi-dry. The majority of Spanish sparkling wines are sweet and fruity.

Spanish brandy is as different from French as Scotch whisky is from Irish. It is relatively cheap and pleasant, although most brandy drinkers find it a little sweet.

Spain has several good mineral waters. A popular brand is Lanjarón which comes from the town of the same name. It can be still or sparkling. Vichy Catalan is almost exactly like French Vichy. Malavella is slightly effervescent and Font Vella is still. Cocktail lounges have table and/or counter service. There are no licensing hours.



Spaniards often start the evening with el paseo, a leisurely stroll through the main streets. A cafe terrace is an excellent vantage point to observe this tradition, or enjoy street theatre in the larger cities. The atmosphere is especially vibrant at fiesta time, or when the local football team has won, when celebrations are marked by a cacophony of car horns, firecrackers and a sea of flags and team regalia.

Tapas bars offer delicious snacks in a relaxed, enjoyable setting and it is fun to try out several bars in one night. The nightclubs of Ibiza, Barcelona and Madrid have attracted the attention of the international media, but the variety on offer caters for most tastes. Things work up to la marcha (good fun) relatively late and it is possible to dance literally until dawn. Flamenco or other regional dancing displays provide an alternative for those who prefer to watch dancing.


In Spain the shopper can find items of high quality at a fair price, not only in the cities, but in the small towns as well. In Madrid the Rastro Market is recommended, particularly on Sundays. Half of the market takes place in the open air and half in more permanent galleries, and it has a character all of its own.

Catalonian textiles are internationally famous and there are mills throughout the region. Spanish leather goods are prized throughout the world, offering high-fashion originals at reasonable prices. Of note are the suede coats and jackets. In general, all leather goods, particularly those from Andalucía, combine excellent craftmanship with high-quality design. Fine, handcrafted wooden furniture is one of the outstanding products; Valencia is especially important in this field, and has a yearly international furniture fair. Alicante is an important centre for toy manufacturing. Shoe manufacturing is also of an especially high quality; the production centres are in Alicante and the Balearics.

Fine rugs and carpets are made in Cáceres, Granada and Murcia. The numerous excellent sherries, wines and spirits produced in Spain make good souvenirs to take home. Shopping hours: Mon-Sat 0900-1300 and 1630-2000. However, most commercial stores and malls stay open from 1000-2200.

Special Events

Throughout Spain, folklore is very much alive and there is always some form of folk festival occurring. It is almost impossible for a visitor to be anywhere in the country for more than a fortnight without something taking place.

The Ministry of Tourism produces a booklet listing and describing Spain’s many national and regional feasts and festivals, of which there are over 3000 each year. Fiestas, Saints’ Days, Romerías (picnics to religious shrines) and Verbenas (night festivals on the eve of religious holidays) are all celebrated with great spirit and energy. Holy Week is probably the best time of year to visit for celebrations and it is then that the individuality of each region’s style of pageantry is best revealed.

For further information contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact Addresses section). The following is a selection of special events occurring in Spain in 2004:

Jan Tamborrada, San Sebastian. Jan 5 12th Night Children’s Parade, Madrid. Feb 2-4 Moors and Christians (traditional festival), Bocairente. Feb 19-25 Carnival in Sitges (gay carnival). Feb 22-24 Pero Palo, Villanueve de La Vera. Feb 24 Carnival Tuesday, nationwide. Feb 29-Mar 4 Madrid International Fashion Week. Mar 16-19 Las Fallas, Valencia. Mar 21 Barcelona Marathon. Apr 4-11 Holy Week (religious celebrations), nationwide. Apr 27-May 2 Sevilla Fair. May Festival of the Courtyards and May Fair, Cordoba; Formula One Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona. May 2-3 Cruces de Mayo, Granada. May 5-12 Feria del Caballo (horse market), Jerez. May 8-18 Fiestas de San Isidro, Madrid. May 29-31 El Rocio. Jun San Bernabe Fair, Marbella; San Juán Festival, Javea. Jun 12-14 SONAR: International Festival of Advanced Music and Multimedia, Barcelona. Jul 6-14 San Fermín (Running of the Bulls), Pamplona. Jul 16 Sea Festival, Fuengirola. Jul 29 Fiesta of Near Death Experience, As Neves. Aug 8 San Beneitino de Leire (traditional festival), Pontevedra. Aug 21-29 Aste Nagusia, Bilbao. Aug 25 La Tomatina, Buñol. Sep 24 La Merced, Barcelona. Oct Fuengirola Fair. Oct 2-3 Moors and Christians, Benidorm. Oct 29-31 Saffron Festival, Consuegra. Nov Benidorm Festival. Nov 13-16 Olive Festival, Baena. Dec 28 The Verdiales (popular music festival), Malaga. Dec 31 Festa de L'Estendard, Palma de Mallorca.

Note: Carnival celebrations start around Feb 20 and last for up to 2 weeks. Although Carnival is celebrated nationwide, the most famous carnival celebrations are held in the capitals of the Canary Islands - Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. For a full list of Carnival events and dates, contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact Addresses section).



The state-owned company RENFE (website: operates a railway network connecting all the regions on the Iberian peninsula. It is mainly a radial network, with connections between Madrid and all the major cities. There are also some transversal services connecting the northwest coast with the Mediterranean coast, as well as services from the French border down the Mediterranean coast. Principal trains are air-conditioned, and many have restaurant or buffet service. Reservations for passenger services in Spain may be made in the UK through the Spanish Rail service (see above), European Rail Travel (tel: (020) 7387 0444; fax: (020) 7387 0888), Freedom Rail (tel: (0870) 757 9898; fax: (01253) 595 151) and Ultima Travel (tel: (0151) 339 6171; fax: (0151) 339 9199).

Discount Rail Travel

The Spanish rail system is one of the cheapest in Europe and various discounts are available. Travellers under 26 can purchase a RENFE Tarjeta Explorerail, which allows unlimited travel on all but some regionales and fast trains. It can be bought in Spain, or in the UK from selected travel agents, and is available for 7-, 15- and 30-day periods. Travellers can also enjoy savings by using any one of the European passes available, such as the Euro Domino Freedom Pass, which enables holders to make flexible travel arrangements. The pass is available in 19 European countries, but must be bought in the country of residence for which a valid passport or other form of ID has to be shown. In the UK, this pass is available from Rail Europe 179 Picadilly, London, W1, UK (tel: (0870) 584 8848; website: The tickets are valid for 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 days within 1 month. Also available from Rail Europe, the Inter-Rail Pass (website: allows up to 50 per cent reductions for 2nd class rail travel in 28 countries; the pass is now also available for those aged over 26 (at a higher cost). The Rail Senior Plus card entitles senior citizens to 30 per cent discount on rail travel into and out of Spain, even during peak hours. This discount does not apply when only travelling internally. The card is available from most British Rail stations.

Note: Seat reservations are required on all intercity trains. This ruling applies to the passes and cards mentioned above.

High-Speed Trains

The Ave service averages 300kph and connects Madrid and Seville in 2 hours 15 minutes, with 12 services each way via Córdoba. Some services also stop at Ciudad Real and Puerto Llano (La Mancha). The stretch from Madrid to Lleida has been in operation for several years. Planned completion of the Madrid to Barcelona leg is due in 2006; and the high-speed border connection with France in 2010. Also in 2010, the stretches from Cordoba to Malaga, Madrid to Valencia and Madrid to Valladolid should be ready. The Talgo 200 connects Madrid and Malaga thrice daily in 4 hours 35 minutes. Holders of most of the cards and passes mentioned above qualify for discounts, albeit less substantial than the rates quoted above.

Tourist Trains

The Transcantábrico and Andalus Express offer a pleasant way of discovering their respective regions. There are also a number of privately-run narrow-gauge railways in Spain, located mainly in the north of Spain as well as the Mediterranean coast and the Balearic Islands, which run at a leisurely pace through picturesque scenery. For more information on tourist trains, contact the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact Addresses section).


There are more than 150,000km (95,000 miles) of roads. Motorways are well-maintained and connect Spain north–south. Tolls are in operation on some sections and have to be paid in Euros. Trunk roads between major cities are generally fast and well-maintained. Rural roads are of differing quality.


There are bus lines which are efficient and cheap, operating between cities and towns. Departures are generally from a central terminal at which the operators will have individual booths selling tickets. Most places have a bus link of some kind, even the more remote villages.

Car hire

All major car hire companies are represented in major cities. Motorcycles: No person under 18 may hire or ride a vehicle over 75cc. Crash helmets must be worn. Regulations: Traffic drives on the right. Side lights must be used at night in built-up areas. Spare bulbs and red hazard triangles must be kept in all vehicles.

Traffic lights: two red lights mean ‘No Entry’. Parking laws are rigorously enforced. The speed limit for motorways is 120kph (80mph) in general, but for buses and lorries the limit is 100kph (60mph); in built-up areas the limit is 50kph (30mph); for other roads it is 90kph (56mph). Documentation: Most foreign licences including Canadian, EU and US are accepted. Third Party insurance is required, or a Green Card if bringing your own car (available from insurance company).



A variety of hotel-type accommodation is available including apartment-hotels, hotel-residencias and motels. The term residencia denotes an establishment where dining-room facilities are not provided, although there must be provisions for the serving of breakfast and a cafeteria. Further information on accommodation in Barcelona and Madrid can be obtained free of charge online (website: or Grading: Most accommodation in Spain is provided in hotels, classified from 1 to 5 stars (the few exceptions have a Gran Lujo, Grande De Luxe category); or hostels and pensiones, classified from 1 to 3 stars. The following is an outline of the facilities available in the hotel and hostel categories.

5-star hotels

Air conditioning in all public rooms and bedrooms, central heating, two or more lifts, lounges, bar, garage (within towns), hairdressers, all bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and telephone, some suites with sitting rooms, and laundry and ironing service; 4-star hotels: Air conditioning in every room, unless climatic conditions require central heating or cooling only, a minimum of two hotel lounges, 75 per cent of the bedrooms with en-suite bathroom and the rest with shower, washbasin, WC and hot and cold running water, laundry and ironing service, telephone in every room, garage parking (in towns), lift and bar; 3-star hotels: Permanently installed heating or air-conditioning according to climate, lounge, lift, bar, 50 per cent of the bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms, 50 per cent with shower, washbasin, WC and hot and cold running water, laundry and ironing service, telephone in every room; 2-star hotels: Permanently installed heating or air conditioning according to climate, lounge, lift in buildings of two or more storeys, bar, 15 per cent of rooms with en-suite bathrooms, 45 per cent with shower, washbasin and WC and the rest with shower, washbasin and hot and cold running water, one common bathroom to every six rooms, laundry and ironing service, telephone in every room; 1-star hotels: Permanently installed heating, lift in buildings of more than four storeys, lounge, 25 per cent of bedrooms with shower, washbasin and WC, 25 per cent with shower and washbasin, the rest have washbasin and hot and cold running water, one common bathroom every seven rooms, laundry and ironing service, telephone on every floor.

3-star hostels

Permanently installed heating, lift in buildings of more than four storeys, lounge, 5 per cent of bedrooms with en-suite bathroom, 10 per cent with shower, washbasin and WC, 85 per cent with shower and washbasin and hot and cold running water, one common bathroom to every eight rooms, laundry and ironing service, telephone in every room; 2-star hostels: Permanently installed heating, lift in buildings of five storeys or more, lounge or comfortable lobby, one common bathroom to every ten rooms, all bedrooms with washbasin and hot and cold water, general telephone; 1-star hostels: All rooms with washbasins and cold running water; one bathroom for every 12 rooms; general telephone.

It is always advisable to book accommodation well in advance, particularly during festivals or at popular resorts on the coast from late spring to October. Reservations may be made by writing directly to the hotels, lists of which may be obtained from the Spanish National Tourist Office (see Contact Addresses section), or through travel agents or certain hotel booking services. Further information may be obtainable from the Spanish Hotel Federation (Federación Espanola de Hoteles) Calle Orense 32, 28020 Madrid (tel: (91) 556 7112; fax: (91) 556 7361; e-mail: Letters to 5-, 4- or 3-star hotels may be written in English, but it is advisable to write in Spanish to lower categories.


A chain of lodging places has been set up by the Ministry of Tourism in places of special interest or remote locations. These include attractive modern buildings and ancient monuments of historic interest, such as monasteries, convents, old palaces and castles. Standards are uniformly high, but not at the expense of individual charm and character. Below is a brief description of each type of lodging:


National Tourist Inns, Paradores, are hotels with all modern amenities including rooms with private bathroom, hot and cold running water, central heating, telephone in every room, public sitting rooms, garages and complementary services. Advance booking is advised. For further information, contact Paradores de Turismo, Calle Requena 3, Madrid 28013 (tel: (91) 516 6666; fax: (91) 516 6657/8; e-mail:; website: Alternatively, contact the UK representative, Keytel International, 402 Edgware Road, London W2 1ED (tel: (020) 7616 0300; fax: (020) 7616 0317; e-mail:


These are traditional restaurants, decorated in the style of the region in which they are situated and serving excellent meals.


Pensiones are common throughout Spain and vary in quality from austere to relatively luxurious. They are usually run by the family on the premises and provide bed and board only.


There are around 350 campsites throughout the country, again covering a wide quality and price range. Permission from the local police and landowner is essential for off-site camping and there may be no more than three tents/caravans or 10 campers in any one place. Regulations demand that off-site camping is in isolated areas only. For further information, contact ANCE (Federación Espanola de Empresarios de Cámpings y Ciudades de Vacaciones), San Bernardo 97-99, 28015 Madrid (tel: (91) 448 1234; fax: (91) 448 1267.


The Spanish Youth Hostel Network (REAJ) (e-mail:; website: is the representative in Spain for the International Youth Hostel Federation and there are currently over 200 registered youth hostels throughout the whole of Spain. Most must be booked in Spain, but a couple can be booked from the UK. For further information, contact the REAJ central booking network in Barcelona, Turisme Juvenil de Catalunya, C/Rocafort 116-122, 08015 Barcelona (tel: (934) 838 363; fax: (934) 838 347); or in Madrid, Direccion General de Juventud, C/Gran Via 10, 28013 Madrid (tel: (91) 720 1165; fax: (91) 720 1164), there is a booking and cancellation charge. The YHA international booking office in England (tel: (01629) 592 709; website: can offer further advice if required.

Health Care

There is a reciprocal health agreement with the UK. Medical treatment provided by state scheme doctors at state scheme hospitals and health centres (ambulatorios) is free to UK citizens if in possession of form E111. Health insurance is required for private medical care. Prescribed medicines and dental treatment must be paid for by all visitors.

Emergency Contacts
All emergencies in Spain: 112
Ambulance (ambulancía) and health emergencies 061 or 112
Fire brigade (cuerpo de bomberos) 080 or 112 
Local police (policía municipal) 092
Civil Guard (guardia vivil) 062
National Spanish police (policía nacional) 091 

Red Cross (ambulance, emergencies, intoxications)

 24/7 Helpline 900 100 333

 902 222 292

Tourist helpline and emergency number:

(in English, French, German and Italian)

902 102 112

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