20 Ways to Immerse Yourself in the Culture of Spain
By College Tourist Contributor of 06/10/15
Live like a local, explore like a traveler in Spain.
College Tourist Summer Team of Student Travel Bloggers.
Tapas, Tapas, Tapas! Mia Kavensky, University of Illinois
Tapas Bar Crawls are the perfect activity to dive right into Spanish delicacies – and culture of course. Tapas are small plates designed to encourage conversation. In Spain, whether you are in Madrid or Barcelona, travel companies such as Trip Advisor and Bus2alps have created ‘Tapas Bar Crawls’ where tourists can visit Spain’s finest tapas dives. Tours usually run for about three hours where a native Spaniard will tour you around cafés. Your taste buds explore a range of dishes from Chopitos (small toast topped with quail egg) to croquettes (lightly-breaded tapas delicious-ness). No tapa is truly enjoyed without washing down your food with authentic Spanish beer and wine. Tours include drinks at each stop along the way and fun ways to consume these drinks – get ready for the Spanish ‘dirty wine’ experience. Tip: order white wine.
Visit the Caves. Whitney Barnes, University of Central Florida
Spain is home to some of the most beautiful caves in the world. The Cave of Altamira, in northern Spain features paintings of wild mammals and human hands, while in Majorca the Cuevas del Drach contains lakes filled of water straight from the Mediterranean Sea. The Grotte Casteret in the north east of Spain is a limestone ice cave, located at one of the highest peeks in the Spanish Pyrenees. The scenery in these caves is breathtaking and definitely worth the hike it takes to get them. It’s a nature’s enthusiast’s wonderland.
The Other Religion: Soccer! Molly O’Connor, Southern Methodist University
GOOOOOAAALLLLLLL! Think you’ve experienced an exhilarating sports game before? Think again. Spain’s fútbol games are known for being an out-of-this-world experience and one of the most intense sports game experiences of your life. Fútbol is practically viewed as a religion in Spain; the massive Barcelona stadium holding 99,354 people has no problem filling up seats with rowdy fans. With some of the most dedicated and passionate fans in all of Europe, Spain has several teams to be proud of, such as both the Barcelona team who won the Champions’ League in 2006 and 2015 and the Sevilla team who won the UEFA cup. If you are hoping to catch a game while in Spain, it is recommended that you purchase tickets online before hand if it is a major game. If not, be prepared to wait in a line to buy a ticket. Remember to bring cash for an authentic fútbol game scarf and be prepared to join in with the crowd!
Learn to Flamenco, Jamie Coulson, Flagler College
Dance is a universal language, and a pretty fun one to learn if you’re up for the challenge. Flamenco dancing is a Spanish tradition. In Spain, Flamenco means “greater flamingo” and the bright costumes and the flowing skirts often capture this unique description. In fact, there are multiple Peñas or Flamenco clubs all around Spain! Though Spain is known for it’s dancing, Flamenco actually is a mix of multiple cultures celebrated through dance. It is a combination of steps made up from Andalusian folklore, folk songs, and instruments of Mozarabic origin. If you’re traveling around Spain, you can hear Flameco music being performed by a full orchestra in Seville, from a small club on a side road, or even from the younger generations riding around the streets. The best way to emerse yourself into Spanish culture, is through their passion for dance!
Party all night in Ibiza. Ben Rissler, American University
Lying on the beach drinking bottomless sangria, picking up parasailing for the first time, exploring the coastline by motorbike, and raving under the stars to the best DJ’s in the world all sounds too good to be true, right? Spain’s party island, Ibiza, is one of Europe’s top picks for young adults and students to blow off some steam under the blazing sun. Spaniards love to socialize, so what better way to experience the culture than to join them in the country’s largest fiesta! The best time to go is during the summer months. Opening parties of the major clubs start around the last week in May and go on until the closing parties in mid-September. These legendary events showcase some of the largest names in electronic music that play night after night for traveling partygoers. Check out Space, Pacha, Amnesia, and Ushuaïa, all ranked within the top 10 best clubs in the world, for an unforgettable night out! This pulsating island is nothing short of lively, and should not be overlooked by 20-year-olds looking to dance under the electric sky until the sun rises!
Lazy away the day on the Ibiza Beaches. Ashley Ulbrich, University of Central Florida
The feeling of the sand between each toe, the fresh breeze passing over ones body, and the smell of the ocean… Ibiza is known for some of the best beaches in the world! Ibiza is for young boho chic people, and is known as the party capital of the world! One way to immerse oneself into the culture would be to see how the residents of Ibiza have some fun. An amazing day at the beach drinking Piña Coladas, lying on the hot sand, and staring into the deep blue and green ocean can lead into the best vacation of ones life!
Festival Fever. Tori Danforth, University of South Florida
Running with bulls, a massive tomato fight, Carnival, getting carried through the streets in a coffin, burning giant puppets: when it comes to festivals, Spain is the king! Home to some of the best (and sometimes bizarre) festivals in the world, you’re sure to experience these fun fiestas year-round. Have you ever wanted to participate in the world’s largest food fight? Well look no further and head to the small town of Buñol on the last Wednesday of August to join thousands of people from around the world in a giant tomato fight! Although the origins of this festival are unclear, it has developed into one of Spain’s largest events. However, if tomatoes aren’t your thing, head north to Haro for their yearly wine festival where hundreds of people gather to party, participate in contests, and have the ultimate “Batalla de Vino” or wine battle. It’s like a water fight but with wine! For adrenaline junkies and some seriously brave souls, there’s the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona where people can participate in the world famous running of the bulls. Lesser known but still incredibly interesting is the Galician festival, La Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme, in which people that have survived near-death experiences in the past year are carried in coffins throughout the town in a procession dedicated to the saint of resurrection. Ultimately, no matter where you go in Spain you’re bound to come across some type of festival, and what better way to experience a country’s history, food, or culture than to celebrate with the locals?
Explore Antoni Gaudi’s artwork. Nicole Darian, University of Iowa
Looking for an artistic experience on your weekend trip to Barcelona? Experience Antoni Gaudi’s artwork firsthand as he is one of the most famous Spanish artists. His style is very contemporary and colorful despite being at artist of the 1800s and his influence comes from his passions in life: architecture, nature, and religion. You won’t miss his artwork just walking down the street because of the bright and bold ceramics and stained glass that he uses. Take a tour of his former home in downtown Barcelona. It’s filled with his art and architecture and great for some photo opportunities. Next is the Sagrada Familia, a massive cathedral in Barcelona. It started construction in 1882 and won’t even be finished until 2025. Though it is still 10 years away from completion, the Sagrada is one of the most visually appealing cathedrals in the world because of the geometric shapes and colors in the ceilings and walls. You can even climb to the top of the cathedral for a stunning view of the city. Last is Parc Guell, a park that you can hike and walk around for an afternoon outing. The park boasts beautiful stone and tile benches overlooking the city, as well as tunnels and walkways that are also artistically appealing. You will never go wrong finding something beautiful to photograph in Barcelona because of Gaudi’s artistic influence in the area.
Shop to you Drop. Sydney Alonso, University of Central Florida
For many, shopping isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when planning a trip to Barcelona. While the city certainly offers a ton of cultural and architectural wonders, it is worth spending at least half a day roaming through some of the most famous and world-renowned shopping districts. Las Ramblas is often heralded as the city’s best area for shopping and definitely warrants a visit, but since it predominantly features chain and brand name stores, it’s worth vising lesser-known areas for an authentic shopping experience. Two great areas are La Ribera, which was originally Barcelona’s textile district, and Gràcia, La Ribera is home to shops that hand-make all of their wares in an upstairs loft, mimicking practices used years ago. Gràcia is known for its chic, independently owned boutiques for men, women, and the home. Regardless of where you decide to go in Barcelona, shopping opportunities will be close by!
Don’t forget to EAT! Hannah McIntyre, Spring Hill College
Meal times in Spain are pretty set in stone. Breakfast is bright and early, between 6 and 8 and you won’t find any eggs or bacon around. Bread and fruit will be in abundance. Lunch for locals isn’t around 2 p.m., but usually there is a snack mid morning. Dinner is late as well, usually around 9. But again, don’t fret, because merienda is a mid afternoon snack rounding out their 5 “meals” a day. It is important to try to adhere to the local customs and even more importantly, try the local food. Paella is a rice and seafood dish that you won’t want to stop eating. Other local delicacies include croquettes, gazpacho (cold soup, usually tomato), pisto (Spanish ratatouille), meats and cheese and octopus is common on menus. Leche frita, or fried milk, or crema catalan are both wonderful, unique options for dessert. And of course, don’t forget the sangria!
Para-sail for an amazing view of the beach. Marilyn La Jeunesse, New York University
Spain has some of the world’s most gorgeous beaches. Take advantage of the stunning blue water by booking a day cruise or parasailing adventure. Both options will give you great views of the city skyline. Look ahead of time to make sure the tickets you are buying are worth the price. Anything less that 100 Euros is a steal, anything more is a rip-off. The guides are often locals who have been sailing the waters for years and are happy and willing to share fun facts and tidbits about their city. Bring a water-proof go-pro to capture your adventure in the sky or on the water for an added memory.
Time Travel in Toledo, Emily Poklar, University of Wisconsin.
Sometimes the best way to understand a country’s culture is to step back in time. While we may not be able to time travel (yet), Toledo, Spain is the perfect way to experience a medieval Spanish city. A quick bus ride south of Madrid, Toledo is a religiously diverse city explored best on foot. On every narrow road, you’ll find churches, synagogues, and mosques- the perfect testament to Spain’s diversity. Toledo’s skyline and neighboring countryside is most famous for inspiring El Greco’s paintings, some of which are displayed throughout the city. Bring your camera and walking shoes and enjoy Toledo!
Embrace your inner Bookworm. Amanda Tempesta, Hofstra University
Spain has something for everyone, including literature lovers. After you’ve crossed off the must see parks, churches, beaches, and cafes give the book lover in you a chance to explore. La Cuesta De Moyano is a unique section of Madrid where crowds of locals and tourists walk through daily. It connects Paseo del Prado, near Atocha station, with El Retiro, but few stop to admire it. At one end, there is a monument dedicated to Pío Baroja, the Spanish writer from the movement known as the Generation of ’98. At the other end, stands a statue of Claudio Moyano, the 19th century Spanish politician, whom the hill is named after. However, what lies in between monuments deserves recognition as well. Dozens of small bookstalls bunch together as if they might slide downhill at any moment. Browsing through the shelves you’ll encounter books from the latest titles to the out-of-prints you thought you’d never find. So whether you’re scouting out the best book deals or admiring the longboarders cruising down the hill, La Cuesta De Moyano has a certain charm that can only be experienced first hand.
Make your own Paella. Timpani Woodson, Northern Arizona University
If there’s one food item you must try when visiting Spain its paella. Seen by many as the country’s national dish, paella began as famers’ and farm laborers’ food in Valencia, Spain. The original recipe usually called for rice, beans, an assortment of vegetables, and sometimes rabbit or duck. Over the years, chefs all across Spain and other parts of the world have adapted the dish adding seafood and different herbs and spices to create unique meal. If you are looking for a fun way to try the dish, check out a paella cooking class. Marta’s Famous Paella Cooking class in Barcelona has great reviews, and is regarded as some of the best paella in town. Feel free to bring a bottle of wine or any other refreshment, as you learn more of the history and how to make paella.
Madrid for the History Buffs. Karla Dimatulac, Rutgers University
¡Bienvenido a Madrid! Eat in the oldest restaurant in the world Botin, even recognized as such in the Guinness World Book of Records. A traditional Mediterranean cuisine restaurant dating back to 1725, Ernest Hemingway was said to be a frequent visitor when he was in Madrid. Visit the Rastro, the city’s weekly flea market where you can find the best souvenirs under the Spanish sun. Visit The Prado, one of continental Europe’s premier art museums! El Greco and Modern Painting exhibition is definitely something worth seeing. The Reina Sofia museum also features Picasso and Guernica masterpieces. Afterwards, located about an hour and a half by speed train from Madrid, Cordoba is a town filled with so much Spanish history. La Mezquita is over a thousand years old, and was once the second largest mosque of Islam.
The “New” Bridge on Ronda. Angela Serednicki, Ryerson University Canada.
Beyond the sights of Madrid, Barcelona and Seville, be sure to make your way to the city of Ronda. Just a quick one-hour flight from Madrid, Ronda is known for The Peunte Nuveo, which means “new bridge” in English. Built in 1793, the bridge is hardly new, but offers an unforgettable view that should be on the top of every bucket list. When you go, just remember to wear your best walking shoes – the local hiking trails can’t be missed.
Bull Fight! Elena Metzner, University of Connecticut
If there is one truly authentic thing that Spain has to offer its a bull fight! The biggest event in Spain occurs in July at the Pamplona Running of the Bulls at the San Fermin festival! Here you can see actual bullfights as well as bull runs.
However, during the summer season of April to September, bull fighting can be found in every major Spanish city weekly. Usually on Sundays, locals and tourists alike pack into their local arenas for a day of good fun and excitement. So, be sure to bring your running shoes and check out this historical Spanish tradition!
The April Fair. Zoe Radner, Vanderbilt University
Book your visit during the Feria de Abril! (April Fair) This week long festival takes place in Seville in the region of Andalucia, and truly embodies the pride and culture of Spain. The size of this fair is impressive alone, but you‘ll be even further awed by the sights, sounds and spirit of this weeklong celebration. You’ll have the opportunity to watch traditional Flamenco dancers, indulge in delicious Spanish cuisine, and cheer on matadors at bullfights. You’ll never be bored when surrounded by daily parades, endless glasses of Sherry and delicious tapas. The Feria de Abril is an event that brings together locals and travelers alike, and the streets are constantly abuzz with friendly conversation among friends and strangers. Whether you stay for one day, or the whole week, the Feria de Abril is sure to be a memorable experience that captures the authentic Spanish spirit.