Looking for some fun facts about Spain and cultural facts about Spain? From the sparkling sea of the Balearic Islands to the mayhem of inner Madrid and a plump supply of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, here's a collection of interesting and weird facts about Spain that will make you want to visit her even more...
49 Interesting Facts About Spain For Visitors
Did you know that..?
1 - It rains...
But even in the south, in Europe's hottest city, Seville, you can expect rainfall. It just comes in a different style to the rain in the UK. Expect a dry, scorching heat all summer in Andalusia. But torrential rain in short bursts in the spring and autumn.
2 - There's Snow, Too...
In fact, you can ski in the Pyrenees in the north and also take to the slopes down south in the Sierra Nevada near Granada. And if you just like to look at snow, rather than ski or snowboard through it, then check out the volcanic peaks in the Canary Islands. Time it right and you'll find snow there too.
3 - Not everyone eats paella...
Let's have a quick chat about paella. It's just not that widespread in Spain. It's a Valencia based dish that, properly done, takes all day to make in an enormous pan with rice from a specific area.
But whereas, say, fish and chips stay much the same across England, Wales and Scotland, food varies hugely by region in Spain.
It's virtually impossible to find paella in the south or north, aside from the tourist spots, and that's not a snobby finding.
It's simply a signal of how powerful regional identity is in Spain - and how it is expressed through food.
4 - And you'll find the world's best restaurants here...
While, yes, you'll find many a Spaniard who believes that their food is the best in the world, you'll also find stats and awards to back that up.
In Catalunya, Ferran Adria ran El Bulli at the top spot for years. And then the Roca brothers reinvented wine, desert and foreign travel through food at El Celler de Can Roca near Girona.
5 - Even good sherry takes over 100 years to create...
One of the best parts of any southern Spain itinerary involves a visit to the sherry bodegas in Jerez. Not only is the town itself postcard pretty in white and yellow trim, but the story of sherry is fascinating.
Fortified wine, oak barrels and years of tradition combine alongside slices of jamon and cheese to line the stomach. The technique involves creating a blend from a series of barrels and replenishing the fluid in each one. Thus, the original product began life over 100 years ago.
6 - While Nearby, White Horses Dance
The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art takes horsemanship to a new level, with a regular horse ballet that visitors can watch. A combination of tradition, art and practicality meet in the sand strewn arena. It's a spectacular experience - and one hard to find anywhere else.
7 - No one speaks Spanish
Within Spain, no-one speaks Spanish. Instead, several different languages live side by side, with Castellano being the one that most of the rest of the world knows as Spanish. However, there are five other main languages, from Catalan to Basque, with handfuls of regional dialects thrown in after that.
While most people can spot some similarities between Castellano and Catalan, the Basque language appears completely different, with its love of the letter x at the beginning and middle of words.
8 - There's no word for deadline...
Having said all that, it's fun to learn that there is no direct translation for the word "deadline" in Castilian Spanish. However, there are several words and phrases telling you to relax, not to worry and how to take it easy.
9 - Children don't get their presents on Christmas Day...
While things have flexed to popular American culture lately, traditionally children get their presents on January 6th. The night before, families lines the streets to watch the Reyes Magos or Three Kings parade through town. Then children leave their shoes by the fireplace for presents the next morning.
Naughty children receive lumps of black coal...But don't worry. It's a sugary treat called carbon dulcé.
10 - People wear pointed hoods - but it's nothing to do with the KKK
In traditions stretching back centuries, people wear ceremonial gowns in the run up to Easter, particularly in Seville. These gowns are slightly different according to the brotherhood in question, but most involve pointed hats and only slits for eyes. To the uninitiated, it looks like a terrifying reconstruction of the Ku Klux Klan but, thankfully, it's nothing of the sort.
It's a sign of religious devotion and it's common to see during holy week or Semana Santa in Seville.
11 - The cool kids spurn sangria
No one but a tourist drinks sangria in Spain. Instead, the most common equivalent is tinto de verano: a mix of red wine, ice and orange juice or carbonated water. The translation means the red of summer and it's a refreshing drink on those long, hot summer evenings.
12 - But love grapes...
The annual New Year's tradition involves eating twelve grapes as midnight sounds on 31st December. The aim is to eat them all before the bells stop chiming.
Does that sound easy? Try it and see. It's harder than it sounds.
13 – You can find papier maché models the size of houses in Barcelona’s Festival de Gracia...
Well, technically it's in Gracia, a neighbourhood of Barcelona, and technically it's about the music and neighbourhood spirit as much as the statues... But. It's true.
Every year at the Feria de Gracia, residents create huge papier maché statues and hang them from the balconies. Bodegas do what bodegas do, musicians fill the air with laid back vibes and crowds party from around 2pm onwards.
14 – And aerial rotten tomatoes at the flamboyant Tomatina...
I always thought this sounded fun until I went there. On reflection, I should have given it more thought.
The annual Tomatina festival invites people from around the world to come and stand in a beautiful, small town square... and be pelted with rancid tomatoes.
In my mind, tomatoes were red, squishy and fun. A relic of the good natured Comic Relief Red Nose Day appeal, perhaps.
In reality, they hurt!
Still, I have a day of memories and some blurred photos of me covered in tomatoes and wearing a snorkel. And really, does life get more meaningful than that?!
15 – The world’s "first true novel" hails from Spain...
...through Don Quixote written by Cervantes. At around the time that Shakespeare was penning Romeo and Juliet, a literary revolution was taking place in Madrid's Literary Quarter.
Don Quixote tells an epic, though doomed quest, and you can travel around the key spots in Castilla La Mancha and find costumed Don Quixotes to this day.
It makes a great to trip to add on to a city break in Toledo.
16 - And the world's first large scale civilian bombing hails from Spain, too...
Immortalised by the painting Guernica from Malaga born artist Pablo Picasso, the event took place as a joint project between military dictator Franco and Nazi Germany in 1937.
The painting has a poignant story, as if the historical events weren't enough, and I would highly recommend you to see it for yourself in Madrid's Golden Triangle of Art. And learn about the backstory.
17 – Hot chocolate comes thick enough to support a standing spoon.
...in certain places, particularly in the north.
Across the county, you'll also find freshly made, piping hot churros y chocolate, a better version than I've found anywhere else.
Some people have it for breakfast; for others, it's a late night snack on the way home after clubbing.
18 - Instead of an Eiffel Tower, there's an Eiffel Bridge
Way before Gustav Eiffel created a certain tower in Paris, he spent time designing a bridge in Girona. You can walk across it on foot in between pastel pink and ochre houses that tumble down the hillside.
19 - And an ex-boxer has created the world's most creative pizzeria...
In the tiny town of Llívia in Cerdanya, northern Spain, Fabian Martin has completely redesigned the idea of pizza.
For an extra twist and another interesting fact about Spain, Cerdanya itself is Spanish but is completely surrounded by France. The residents voted on the matter centuries ago and the borders have stayed the same.
20 - Frog spotting can bring you good luck...
In the gorgeous University town of Salamanca, students and visitors try to spot the frog on a grand facade in order to win good luck in exams.
Just around the corner, you can also play a different game. Hunting the astronaut in the ornate carvings of another grand facade.
21 - And there's a special skill to pouring cider...
In a land blessed with apples, restaurants sit diners inside giant barrels and waiters teach visitors the tricks of the trade.
22 - Tenerife has black sand and mysterious stone pyramids...
The black sand is self-explanatory - but it gives the beaches an other-worldly feel. As for the pyramids, a series of stone formations in Chacona have stirred up controversy. Do they represent the legacy of a voyage between the Canary Islands and South America long before Columbus? Or do they have a less glamorous explanation?
The question is just another great example of unusual things to do in Tenerife.
23 - And the world's largest olive oil region still gathers its produce by hand...
As the world's largest producer of olive oil, the hills and mountains of Andalusia see olive trees ripple over the land in ordered lines of green on rust.
Yet despite the big business, the olive oil industry remains entwined with the land. Many families still own small plots and olive oil tasting here is on a par with wine tasting in France.
And the olive harvest itself takes place mainly by hand. From there, olives are pressed by machines and bottled in a plant but the very first step still involves someone standing in an olive grove, shaking down a tree.
24 - Spain has more festivals than there are days in the year....
Did someone say fiesta?! While it's true that Spain has a reputation for some of the kookiest festivals in the world, like the Tomatina and the rumours of the goat throwing, it's something else that keeps the festival count high.
As a Catholic country, Spain celebrates a lot of saints days. And other religious days. And non religious days.
Ach. In fact, Spain just loves a good party. And doesn't that sound like a good thing?
25 - And specialises in innovative architecture...
Travel through any region of Spain and you will find magnificent, medieval architecture, Gothic architecture and Moorish architecture. From cathedrals to palaces to Arabic Baths and UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Spain is an architecture lover's dream.
But the country didn't stop there.
Both 20th and 21st century greats keep on growing. In particular, look for the Lollipop in Aviles, the Guggenheim in Bilbao and the Arts and Sciences building in Valencia.
26 - It's easy to sleep in a castle...
With all that historic architecture going around, it seems a shame to leave it all to museums... And so the Spanish government set up the Paradores system, whereby historic buildings now function as inexpensive yet high quality restaurants and hotels.
You can sleep in a castle. You can sleep in a monastery. Take a look at the Zafra Parador...
27 - Although the history can be harsh...
When the Christians defeated the Moors at the Alhambra, the defeated Sultan's mother responded with the words “Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend as a man.” Ouch.
28 - A deserted Wild West film set lives in the sands of Andalucia...
Head south to Almeria to discover a mini Hollywood for Wild West Films. The Tabernas Desert even has the old sets in place: you can stride through saloons, fake duels on the dust and watch horses race by with whooping galore.
29 - And elsewhere, you'll find a Bandit Museum...
The tiny town of Ronda in Andalucia is more famous for its deep, vertigo inducing gorge than anything else. But the town also has a Bandit Museum, a throwback to the time when these scorched lands hid gangs of fugitives from the law. And when compromise was in short supply.
30 - And the story of the opera Carmen
Speaking of lack of compromise, the famous opera Carmen also hails from these parts. While composer Georges Bizet was French, his visit to Seville made a lasting impression.
Not only is the flamenco, the sevillana, the polka dot dresses, the matador and the history of bandits real... But so is the cigar factory where Carmen and her friends worked at the start. You can visit the outside today. It's a beautiful, grand affair next to one of the best hotels in Seville.
If you're really lucky, you can catch an open air performance of Carmen in one of the neighbouring parks and gardens. Divine.
31 – In Spain, it's traditional to rub garlic and tomato on bread in the morning instead of butter or margarine
32 - And eat seafood that looks like a dinosaur's foot...
For sure, some of the most fun facts about Spain involve her food. Take the gooseneck barnacle, or percebes, that are so popular in Galicia. Despite the unusual appearance, they're surprisingly tasty and easy to eat. Go on... Try one!
33 - Food is even used as a form of rebellion...
San Sebastian is known the world over for its fabulous pintxos and unique way of serving food: platters sit on the bar and you make your choice and pay by the toothpick or small plate.
But one in particular, La Gilda, fought against censorship during Franco's military rule. Check out this article for the full pintxos story.
34 - With even simple dishes turned into something else...
Venture onto the Canary Islands off the coast of Africa, to discover a different way of cooking potatoes. Wrinklier than Mick Jagger, patatas arrugadas show that with a little imagination, everything can be made into something more exciting.
35 - And riverbeds, now you mention it...
In the eastern city of Valencia, the riverbed kept flooding. So the city decided to reroute it and turn the riverbed into a park instead.
Now you can walk, cycle, skate or Segway through the leafy green snake that carves its way through the city.
But make sure not to miss the spectacular complex of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Sciencias.
36 - The City of Seville has a Secret Code
No8Do. You see it everywhere, from letterheads to statues to drain covers. All across the southern city of Seville, you'll find the combination NO8DO.
But what does it mean? Here's how to crack the secret NO8DO code.
37 - Vinotherapy is a Thing
Spain has many famous drinks and many famous wine regions. From fino sherry in the south to cava in the north, you won't be left thirsty.
But it's in the region of Rioja that you can experience vinotherapy and check yourself into a bona fide wine spa.
38 - And gin has a fascinating history in Menorca...
Imagine a world of pirates, of secluded islands, historic architecture and, well, gin. The Xoriguer Gin Distillery in Menorca manages to make the tipple even seem cultural. He's how and why.
39 - You can visit the windmills of don Quixote...
Don Quixote, the world's first modern novel, takes places in Spain, in Castilla La Mancha. Author Cervantes, a contemporary of Shakespeare's lived out in the countryside as well as within Madrid's Literary Quarter.
But while he had an amazing imagination, the windmills from the book are real. You can visit them as a day trip from Madrid and may just run into Don Quixote himself...
40 - Madrid was not always the capital...
Want another fun fact about Spain? Madrid was not always the capital. The majestic city of Toledo reigned as capital from its rocky outcrop until 1561 when Charles I of Spain made everyone move to Madrid.
But Toledo remains a great place to visit. And some may say that it still believes itself to be the capital...
41 - Spain's a great place for birdspotting...
One of the most interesting facts about Spain involves its surprise location for some cracking birdspotting. The Tablas de Daimiel near Madrid is one great location. And at Doñana National Park in Andalucia, you can see flamingoes flock to the watery surroundings.
42 - If you Like riding horses, Stay on For Your Beer...
Riding horses is a key part of tradition in Andalucia in the south. Caballeros, the name also used for guys and men's toilets, refers to a kind of cowboy. At the very least, a man who knows how to ride.
In the pilgrimage town of El Rocio near Doñana National Park, the bodegas and cervezerias know how to cater for their guests. Sawdust lines the floor and the bar is served at drinking level - if you're on a horse. No need to dismount. Caballeros, all is good.
43 - Salvador Dali built his own museum
Local genius Salvador Dalí never suffered from shyness during his lifetime. He built a resplendent fantasy castle in Figueres to showcase his work and his eccentric taste. Expect hanging cars, golden statuettes and, of course, those signature melting clocks.
44 - There is a secret code around bull fights...
Bull fighting is both popular and detested, with few views in between. But if you see a bull's head on the wall, then take a look at the ears. If one is missing, the matador was said to have had a good fight. He earned the right to slice it off and present it to his sweetheart in the crowd as a sign of his love.
Sometimes, a bunch of flowers will do, right?
45 - Before Marriage, the Groom Must...
In something of a sweet tradition, the groom should serenade his bride at her window after sunset. In ones I've seen, he then was hoisted up by the crowds and climbed up for a kiss. Not quite sure that this is the universal idea...
46 – Marzipan is a big deal in Toledo
Spain's former capital, Toledo, is famous for many things. Conflict and religious harmony, great architecture, stunning art collections and... marzipan.
The Santo Tomé brand is the best known - and you can join marzipan cooking classes in a nunnery. This is all for real.
47 – And tapas comes for free in the bars around Granada...
That's right! Bite-size food to share may be popular across the country, from the pintxos in San Sebastian to the best tapas in Seville. But in Granada, a beautiful student town near the Alhambra, the hospitality goes one step further.
Order a drink in a bar and the chances are... it will come with free tapas. Salud!
Look out for
Sargadelos ceramics, in deep blue and white. They are popular in northern Galicia.
48 – A river of gold flows through Andalucia...
In the Alpujarras mountains near Granada, a small brook babbles in gold. Well, technically it's bronze, but if you don't look too closely, the effect is the same.
The Alpujarras Mountains provide scented hikes and hair-raising drives through hairpin turns, a fertile part of the Sierra Nevada. They are a fundamental part of any driving itinerary through southern Spain.
49 - Party Island Tenerife has 3 UNESCO Approved Sites
While most of the UK may know Tenerife as an island for budget-friendly sun, sea and sand escapes, the island has so much more than that on offer.
Anaga Natural Park is a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, cataloguing ancient plants amid its sought after trekking routes.
Then it's on to the city of La Laguna, itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Marvel at the architecture and history while tasting the tapas and testing out the bodegas. This is a real, living place, even if it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
And finally, drive across a lunar landscape on the volcanic ground of El Teide, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk through the snow and hike past movie sets. You'll find a whole host of unusual things to do in Tenerife.
In fact, each of the Canary Islands have their own fun facts about Spain to spill.
Looking for some more Spain facts?
As you can probably tell by now, we love Spain. I wrote these 49 interesting and fun facts about Spain as some lighthearted entertainment. But the truth is, I could turn around and write another 49 more without any bother at all.
Thirsting for more about Spain and Spanish culture? Try these articles out for size:
And then delve into our more specific features. Our countries in the spotlight series:
- Semana Santa and the truth behind those shocking hoods
- The oldest chocolatería in Madrid
- Gin, Sin and the Xoriguer Distillery in Menorca
I’ve visited Spain many times and lived there for years as well. Some of my time there was hosted, most of it was not. Either way, it really doesn’t matter when it came to writing this list. I write what I like here. As ever, as always. Even when it comes to interesting facts about Spain*