5 things you need to know about Spain

5 things you need to know about Spain

When you travel to a foreign country it’s easy to make mistakes because we don’t know how things work over there. It’s easy to assume that everybody does things the same way we do and this can lead to difficult or embarrassing situations.

So, what are the things you need to know about Spain? There are more, but let’s start with these 5:

1. It’s not siesta time!

I read a lot of comments about siesta in Camino forums: 

“Everything was closed because it was siesta time” 

“There were no people on the streets because it was siesta time” 

It’s almost like anything unfamiliar you experience gets blamed on the siesta. Sorry to burst your stereotypes but… siesta is not really a thing in Spain. At least not the way you think it is. If you go to a shop at 3:00 or 4:00pm and it’s closed it is not because it’s siesta time. It’s because it’s lunch time. 

Yes. Lunch time. But that’s way more than the usual one hour lunch break, you may say. Well, lunch in Spain is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. So, one hour is not enough. Also, traditionally, people would go home for lunch. Not everybody can do that these days, especially in the bigger cities, but many people still do. For more details about eating times, go to nº2.

And if you go for a walk around town at 6:00 or 7:00pm in the summertime and the place is deserted, it’s not siesta time. People could be either at the beach or pool or simply at home, staying away from el calor (the heat).

We don’t put our pyjamas on, get into bed and sleep for 2 or 3 hours in the middle of the day, as many foreigners seem to think. Most of us don’t even take siestas at all. Those who do, it’s mostly a 10-15 minute nap on the sofa. So, por favor, if you find shops closed or streets empty, don’t blame it on the siesta. 

2. Don’t criticise our meal times. Try to adapt to them instead.

As I already mentioned, lunch is the main meal of the day, quite often a 3-course meal. It is usually served between 1:30 and 3:30 or 4:00pm.

You’ll have trouble finding dinner  before 8:30pm. 

The picture shows average kitchen hours, although they may very from place to place.

Instead of complaining because dinner is too late, why don’t you try the Spanish way? Have lunch when you get to your destination for the day; shower, rest and and then you can have something light for dinner, like a drink and a tapa or two.

3. Avoid criticising Spanish customs, even those that we, Spaniards, criticise. 

This is like family: you may complain about them but when an outsider criticises them, you feel compelled to defend them. Same thing here: I may disagree with that particular custom but if you, an outsider, criticise it, I may feel forced to defend it. How would you feel if we went to your country and started criticising what you do?

“Why do you not have a proper 3-course meal for lunch?”

“Oh, so you don’t eat tortilla de patatas? That’s weird!”

“Shops close at 6:00pm? Ridiculous!”

Not nice, right? For me, one of the beauties of travelling is to get to see and experience different things, eat different foods… Embrace the difference and enjoy it!


4. Manners, please!

Don’t go over the top with your gracias and por favor. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t use those words, but we don’t use them half as much as in other cultures. Once or twice per conversation is fine. More than that is too much and you’re going to make the other person uncomfortable. This doesn’t mean we’re rude or don’t have manners. We just express it in different ways.

5. Yes, I’m greeting you.

We might not say please and thank you as much as you do, but we probably greet each other more, even total strangers: you go into a shop, you greet the shop assistant; go into a doctor’s waiting room, you greet the people who are already there; get into a lift with strangers, you greet them.

A simple hola is fine or, depending on the time of the day, you can also add buenos días (in the morning, until lunch time -Spanish lunch time), buenas tardes (in the evening) or buenas noches (later in the evening, from 9:00pm roughly).


These are just 5 basic things you need to know before you travel to Spain. There are more, especially around food, but they would make this post too long and we’ll leave them for another occasion. If, on the other hand, you would like to know whether it’s OK or not to tip and how much is appropriate, you can check this post.



Today’s words

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¡Buen Camino!

Tipping etiquette on the Camino

Tipping etiquette on the Camino

What is the tipping etiquette on the Camino, and in Spain in general?

I see this question come up regularly in Camino-related forums. The answers given can vary a lot depending on people’s personal experiences. Some will tell you they got strange looks when they tipped while some others felt their tip was welcome and appreciated. And I’ve even read one or two stories about bar owners chasing people in order to return their tip.


So, should you tip or not?

One of the stereotypes about Galicians is that we answer questions with another question, we don’t give straight answers and so you never know whether we’re coming or going. So, as the good Galician that I am, my answer to “should you tip or not?” is… it depends.

But before we go into details, do you know how do you say tip in Spanish? The word we’re looking for here is propina. BUT! Propina means tip in this context only. If you’re talking about the tip of your tongue or a piece of advice, just to name some other tips, there are different words in Spanish for those. We’ll leave those for another day.

And now, let me elaborate on that “it depends”. First of all, a couple of general things you should know about propinas in Spain:

  • They are not mandatory. Bar/restaurant staff are paid a living wage; they don’t depend on tips to survive. A tip is usually a way to say that you were very pleased with the food and/or service.


  • All tips go into a common pot. At the end of the week or month, this money is split between all staff. So your tip does not go straight to your server.


  • Using a credit card to pay? You can’t add a tip. In theory, you could ask them to increase the amount you have to pay to reflect the tip you want to leave. But chances are that money will go to the owner of the establishment, not your server. So, use your card to pay la cuenta (the bill) and then leave the tip in cash… if you’re planning to leave a tip at all.

*Update: due to the pandemic, some establishments now have the option of adding a tip when you’re paying by card. But this is not widely available. 


There’s no tipping in Europe.

I read this a lot, but it’s not true.

First of all, Europa is a diverse continent and every country has different customs. In this post, I’ll try to clarify the tipping etiquette in Spain. I’m Spanish and I live in Spain, so that’s what I know best. I can’t guarantee that this will work for Francia (France), Portugal or any other European country.

So, what’s the tipping etiquette on the Camino (and in Spain in general)?



Tipping in bars and cafés

No tipping is the norm in bars and cafés. What we sometimes do is just round up to the next euro. Let’s say you stop for a second desayuno (breakfast) of café con leche and tortilla, and you must pay a total of €3.80. You can pay 4 euros and not collect your change of 20 céntimos (cent).

And that’s if you feel you must leave a tip. As I said before, it is not mandatory and it’s not generally expected (unless maybe you are in a very touristy area full of foreigners who regularly tip).


Tipping in restaurants

As a general rule, the more informal the place is, the less common tips are. So propinas would be more expected in high-end restaurants, but not so much in basic establishments serving menú del peregrino. It’s also more common to leave a tip if you’re part of a large group.

How much should you tip? You can just leave the change or, if that’s too little, around 5% of your bill. And that’s if you’re happy with the food and service.


Tipping in taxis

Again, propinas are not expected. But if your driver was very nice and extra helpful you can round up to the next euro or leave a €1 tip.


Today’s Spanish words

Does that clarify your doubts about tipping etiquette on the Camino?

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¡Buen Camino!



This time of the year is the end of the harvest season; the days start getting shorter, the weather gets colder… In short, the end of octubre (October)-beginning of noviembre (November) marks the transition into otoño (autumn) and invierno (winter). It’s time for Samaín and other celebrations.

 We don’t celebrate Halloween as such in Spain, although in recent years it’s common to see both kids and adults dressing up on October 31 and Halloween parties being advertised. This is not a traditional celebration, though; but I guess any excuse is good to party! There are, however, some traditional celebrations:



Día de Todos los Santos (All Saints Day) & Día de Difuntos (Day of the Dead)- 1 & 2 de noviembre

These two days are all about remembering those who passed away. Most of the activity takes place on November 1, which is a national festivo (public holiday). On this day, people visit their loved ones in cemeteries and take flowers to them. Christianity has been honouring the dead on these dates from the 9th century, but there are older traditions…

Samaín (from the Irish Samhain)

It’s an old Celtic celebration marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter. It was a time when the limits between this world and the next one got blurred, meaning that spirits could cross over to this world more easily. In Galicia there was a tradition of carving calabazas (pumpkins) and leaving them on the roads in order to scare passers by. People would also leave fires on all night, as well as food, for the spirits. Since 1990 there have been attempts to recover this old tradition.

Samaín pumpkin carving workshop

Pumpkin carving workshop.

Magosto (chestnut party)

Linked to the end of the harvest season, magosto is celebrated mostly in northern Spain, as well as Portugal. The main elements of a magosto are castañas (chestnuts) and fire to roast them. People would gather around a bonfire, roast castañas (other foods too, but chestnuts are essential), sing and dance. It was also the perfect opportunity to taste the new vino (wine). There is not fixed date to hold a magosto. It could be any time between mid-October and mid-November. Usually, the last day to celebrate a magosto is November 11, festivity of St. Martin. Magostos apart, it’s common to see chestnut sellers on the streets once autumn starts. So, when you are out for a walk you can just buy a cone full of warm, freshly-roasted chestnuts. Delicious and a great way to warm your hands on cold days!


Samaín - roasted chestnuts

You can buy roasted chestnuts on the street.

Today’s Spanish words

Would you like to know about other Spanish celebrations? Check these posts:

El Carnaval, about the Carnival celebrations that usually take place around the end of February or beginning of March.

Feliz Navidad, about the celebration of Christmas in Spain.

Semana Santa, about the Easter celebrations.


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¡Buen Camino!

O Camiño de Santiago

O Camiño de Santiago

O Camiño de Santiago |

Imagine you are on the Camino Francés… or on the Camino del Norte, or the Primitivo or even on the Vía de la Plata. It doesn’t really matter.


The thing is, you are walking across Spain. Maybe you’ve prepared before your trip and learned a bit of Spanish. Or you’ve been picking up a few words along the way. And then you enter Galicia and you get the impression that people sound different.


What’s worse: things start getting confusing. Now you see Fisterra… later you see Finisterre… Are they different places? Is it the same place?


 The good news is that you are not going crazy. Let me explain


Spain has not always been Spain as we know it today. A few centuries ago, there were several smaller kingdoms, ruled by different kings and queens. One of these kingdoms was the Kingdom of Galicia, which included the north of modern day Portugal as well as part of Asturias and León.


Latin was the language generally spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, but at some stage it started developing differently in different areas until it became several different languages. Some of them have survived until our days and they are co-official, together with Spanish, in their respective territories.


Such is the case of gallego (Galician), or galego in the Galician language. And that’s what you are hearing!


So, instead of teaching you Spanish, today I decided to teach you a few Galician words. After all, no matter what Camino you choose, the last 100km will always be in Galicia.


But let me give you a bit of background info first


  • The first written documents in gallego date back to the 12th century and during the Middle Ages, gallego was the language of poetry in all of Spain.


  • Gallego and portugués were initially the same language, but by the 14th century, that language had already split into the two separate languages we have today. This means that gallego and portugués have a lot in common. So, knowing a bit of gallego will help you in Portugal too!


  • Towards the end of the Middle Ages, gallego ceased to be used by the higher classes, due to political circumstances. It survived till our days thanks to peasants and fishermen, who kept it alive even if it was only orally.


  • In the 18th century, a group of intellectuals started becoming interested in the Galician language. One of them was Padre Sarmiento, whose pilgrimage to Santiago inspired the Variante Espiritual route.


  • One of the first and most popular authors to write in galego was Rosalía de Castro, who lived in Padrón, on the Camino Portugués.


  • We Galician people like to add the diminutive -iño/-iña to almost any word! It adds proximity, familiarity and even affection. So grazas (thank you) becomes graciñas and ata logo (see you later) becomes ata loguiño!


And here are the words… 

Today’s (not Spanish) words


If you’d like to increase your Galician vocabulary, check Galician on the Camino.

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¡Buen Camino!

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela

Santiago de Compostela |

Maybe you’ve been walking for weeks. Or days.

Maybe you’ve walked 800km to get to Santiago de Compostela. Or 100.

Maybe you’ve done your Camino in one go. Or you’ve done it over a few years, a section at a time.


It doesn’t really matter. Arriving in Santiago, entering the Plaza del Obradoiro and finally seeing the catedral is always a very special moment.

There are several rituals and traditions that pilgrims generally follow, such as greeting fellow pilgrims with ¡Buen Camino! or Ultreia; getting your credencial stamped at least once a day; drinking Rioja from the wine fountain outside Estella or leaving a stone at Cruz de Ferro, on the Camino Francés, to name just a few.

So, of course, Santiago and its catedral have their own rituals too. The Cathedral’s webiste lists them: http://catedraldesantiago.es/en/pilgrimage/#rites


El Pórtico de la Gloria 

As you access the catedral from Plaza del Obradoiro, the first thing you see is the wonderful Pórtico de la Gloria, built by Maestro Mateo in the 12th century. Well, that’s the way it used to be. The Pórtico de la Gloria was closed for almost 10 years for restoration. It has reopened now and it can be visited, but you can no longer enter the cathedral through here.

So, if you’ve already done a Camino in the past 10 years, you missed it and you need an excuse to come back, this is it! The Pórtico de la Gloria was beautiful before, but it’s just amazing now.

There used to be a couple of rituals attached to the Pórtico de la Gloria, but they were causing damage to this work of art, so it’s not possible to do these anymore. One of them, which you can see in the movie The Way, was to place your hand on the centre pillar, under the statue of St. James.

At the back of this, there’s another little statue known as Santo dos Croques (literally the saint of the bumps). This is not really the image of a saint, but that of Maestro Mateo. According to tradition, you had to bump your head against the head of this “saint” in order to get wisdom and intelligence.


La cripta

Once inside the catedral, you should visit the cripta (crypt). There is a one-way system to access it, with stairs going down at one side of the main altar and going up the other way. The cripta is where the sepulchre of St. James is kept. On your way up, you can also embrace the image of the Apostle.


El Botafumeiro

Botafumeiro Santiago de Compostela

 El Botafumeiro, I’m sure you already know, is this big censer that gets used during special occasions. It weighs over 50kg (over 100 pounds) and measures around 1.5 metres in height (5ft). It hangs from the main dome of the cathedral and it takes 8 men to swing it.

When can you see it? It has some fixed dates you can check in advance: https://oficinadelperegrino.com/en/ufaqs/when-is-the-botafumeiro-used/ You can also request it by contacting the Cathedral (and paying around €400). Groups do this all the time, so you might be lucky and be able to see the Botafumeiro in action outside of those fixed dates.


During Holy Years, the Botafumeiro is swung daily during the Pilgrim’s Mass or Misa del Peregrino.

La Puerta Santa

You can only enter the cathedral through the Puerta Santa (Holy Door) during Año Santo or Holy Year (it can also be referred to as Xacobeo, in Galician), i.e. those years when July 25 falls on a Sunday.

The day before an Año Santo begins,  the Puerta Santa is opened in a ceremony performed by the Archbishop. At the end of the year, this door will be closed again and remain so until the next Año Santo. Access to the Puerta Santa is from Plaza de la Quintana.

Puerta Santa in Santiago, opens during Holy years.

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa

La Semana Santa (Holy Week) is one of the main religious celebrations in Spain. Unlike la Navidad (or other holidays, religious or not), it doesn’t have fixed dates. Instead, la Semana Santa is celebrated on the Sunday after the first full moon of spring (between 22 de marzo (March 22) and 25 de abril (April 25)).

Each Spanish region, or even town, has its own particular Easter customs. But they all have some elements in common:

  • One of the most characteristic features of la Semana Santa is procesiones (processions).


  • Cofradías (brotherhoods) are religious groups devoted to Jesus Christ or Mary. Among other things, they carry out charity work throughout the year. During Easter, they take their pasos out in a procesión. 


  • Pasos are large floats with religious statues of Jesus or Mary, lavishly decorated with flowers and candles. The members of the cofradía carry these pasos on their shoulders.

Many cofradías date back to the Middle Ages and they have owned and cared for their pasos for centuries.


The best known and intense Easter celebration in Spain takes place in Sevilla, starting point for the Vía de la Plata. There are more than 70 cofradías in Sevilla. This schedule of all the processions for 2018 will you give an idea of the extent of it: https://www.semana-santa.org/itinerario-oficial-semana-santa-de-sevilla/


On the Camino Francés, we can highlight El Encuentro, in León, the solemn moment when the pasos of Saint John and La Dolorosa meet in Plaza Mayor.


So, what happens during Semana Santa? 


  • Celebrations begin on Domingo de Ramos (Palm Sunday). There’s a procesión reenacting the arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem. People carry a palm or olive branch to be blessed.


  • Although there are procesiones all week, the most important ones take place on Jueves Santo (Maundy Thursday) and Viernes Santo (Good Friday).

Both jueves and viernes santo are festivos (public holidays), so make sure you plan your shopping ahead.


  • Domingo de Resurrección (Easter Sunday). The procesiones on this day are less solemn and more festive than those on Thursday and Friday, as people celebrate Jesus’ resurrection.


  • Lunes de Pascua (Easter Monday) is the last day of Easter. It is a public holiday in some regions, including Navarra, on the Camino Francés. So keep it in mind if you are in that area.

Semana Santa in Ferrol


What else?

But not all is about procesiones. Most Spanish people get at least a few days off work, so many use this opportunity to travel and enjoy their holidays. And, of course, food is part of the enjoyment.

There are several Easter treats that may tempt you; they vary from one region to another, but there is one you will find everywhere during Semana Santa:  torrijas.

Torrijas are similar to French toast. They were traditionally made with leftover stale bread. You slice the bread, soak it in milk and egg and fry it in olive oil. You then sprinkle it with sugar and cinnamon.

So, if you are in Spain doing your Camino during Semana Santa, I would advise you to take some time off and enjoy the celebrations. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the culture, the art, the music… all that Easter involves.


Today’s Spanish words


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¡Buen Camino!