Travel tips for Spain (while driving)

We had a wonderful time traveling in Southern Spain, but we also learned something that we want to share with you. We limit our tips to the South, as we haven’t been traveling in the North yet, maybe they stay the same, maybe not. We will update accordingly.

Update, we’ve now been a few weeks driving around in Northern Spain and will add some text in blue where appropriate.

– Although many of them do, do not expect gas station attendant, restaurant attendant, hotel attendant or even souvenir shop attendant to speak English (as Spain is a highly visited country).

This still does actually amaze me as Spain has been a popular tourist destination for many decades. Almost daily we came across people in “service jobs” that spoke very little to no English.

In same breath I will mention that it also amazes me that so many tourist attraction has only information in Spanish, sometimes with their local “language”/dialect too, and in the north sometimes French. What about English and German? Not so often I’m afraid.

– If you travel by car, don’t book hotels in advance if you are not sure that they have a parking, or there is some parking available nearby where you are staying. Some hotels are just a door in the street with no parking, or are tucked away in a backstreet where you actually can’t drive.

This time we used extensively and filtered by “parking available” or “free parking” that helped us to find places to stay for the night. We also used google maps and street view to scout out the area. This worked out to be a good solution.

– Parking in the cities is always a pain and pay attention of the color of the curb of the sidewalk. Yellow, white or red paint either on the curb stone or on the road itself means no parking. Blue means you may stop but not park. Even though Spaniards are often very creative in their parking, don’t try to compete with their behavior, as seen in the photos under. Best bet for parking are parking houses/garages, but even those may be full. Alternatively find a parking early in the morning.

The same apply to the north, actually in one city, I won’t reveal the name, we walk by at least a 15-20 questionable parking’s (read, highly illegal) in just a few minutes stroll one late afternoon.

– Speed signs can be a bit confusing, especially in residential areas where it may lack speed signs at all for longer distances. Try to follow the traffic and not always rely on the GPS (ours showed 90 km/h several places where the actual speed limit was way lower). Pay also attention to the blue speed signs, where the round ones indicate minimum speed and the square ones indicate recommended speed.

– Coming from the country of twisted curves and dark, long and wet tunnels, it was a bit surprising to see all the warning signs for relatively moderate curves and good lit tunnels. In fact it looked like most drivers respected those warnings. Drive safe!

– Road conditions in Southern Spain are from good to very good, although we found some not so good roads of course, but those are far between. Roads in the cities though, can be extremely narrow and not always one way drive either (although hardly wide enough for one car). If you drive a medium sized car or bigger, you might actually get stuck in some places because it’s too narrow.

I dear say that the road conditions in the North were a bit down from what we experienced in the South. A handful of pot holes and some very uneven pavement in many of the roads.

– If you are doing a road trip and using hotels just to sleep and continuing next morning, try to keep it cheap with 2 or 3 star hotels. Higher ratings adds fast to the price, but doesn’t add much in the rooms them self, but has more convenience around like a pool, exercise rooms, and so on. Not something you normally need if you are just staying for the night.

– Dual carriageways are awesome to get fast from A to B, but if you want to see and experience more of what Spain has to offer, get your car off of them and find some smaller roads. There is a huge amount of gorgeous scenic roads just waiting to be explored. The A397 from the coast and up to Ronda springs to mind as an example in Southern Spain.

Speaking of roads in Spain, it seems like they have a massive amount of invisible road workers. Almost no matter where we were driving, there were signs of work along the road with repeatedly signs of work and reduced speed, and sometimes even reduced number of lanes. After some time there came a sign that it was over, but surprise, surprise, no people or even equipment to be seen. I dare say that out of all the cases there must have been over 80% (maybe even closer to 90%, I didn’t count) where there were nobody there and apparently no reason to have the signs there either. And not surprisingly, nobody cared about slowing down too, as the chance of somebody being there was low. A pity really as they were crying wolf so often for no reason that nobody cared. We see this in Norway as well, but not to the same length as in Spain.

– Spain has many hours of daylight even in the winter, so try to spend it wisely. Sunset in January is about 18:00 and sunrise is about 08:30 (and adds about an hour in both ends in March). Try to get out at sunrise and find a place to stay before sunset, thereby you can have a calm evening on a restaurant or walking about in the city and ready for a fresh start next morning.

– If you are traveling in the winter, the temperature may vary vastly. Along the Mediterranean coast the temperature stays mostly the same and you may expect between 15 and 25 °C, but more inland you might experience close to zero in the morning, although quite decent 20 °C during the day. Add some wind and it gets really cold! Make sure to pack some hot or at least windproof clothing if you are going in the coldest time of the year.

– On a more general note, dinner time. Dinner time in Spain is usually quite late in the evening, as they start serving at 19:00 or 20:00 at hotels and restaurants. I don’t blame anyone as it’s probably just as awkward for the Spaniards eating dinner early as its for “us” to have dinner late in the evening, just keep it in mind. One solution could be for “us” to have dinner at what suppose to be lunch time. In more touristy places though, its more common to find restaurants serving dinner earlier in the evening too.

What is your experience traveling in Spain?


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