Essential Facts About Spain

Basic information about Spain and its geography

Desert and coast in Almeria, Andalusia.

Kevin Pacheco/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

There's a lot to know about Spain, so get started with these facts about Spain's population, people, language and culture.

Essential Facts About Spain

Where Is Spain? Spain can be found on the Iberian peninsula in Europe, a piece of land it shares with Portugal and Gibraltar. It also has a border to the north-east with France and Andorra.

How Big Is Spain? Spain measures 505,992 square kilometers, making it the 51st biggest country in the world and the third biggest in Europe (after France and Ukraine). It is slightly smaller than Thailand and a little bigger than Sweden. Spain has a larger area than California but less than Texas. You could fit Spain into the United States 18 times!

Country Code: +34

Timezone: Spain's timezone is Central European Time (GMT+1), which many believe to be the wrong time zone for the country. Neighboring Portugal is in GMT, as is the United Kingdom, which is geographically in line with Spain. This means that the sun rises later in Spain than in most other countries in Europe, and sets later, which probably partially accounts for Spain's vibrant late-night culture. Spain changed its timezone before World War II in order to align itself with Nazi Germany.

Capital: Madrid.

Population: Spain has nearly 45 million people, making it the 30th most populated country in the world and the fourth most populated country in the EU (after Germany, France, and Italy). It has the lowest population density in Western Europe (excluding Scandinavia).

Religion: The majority of Spaniards are Catholic, though Spain is a secular state. For over 300 years, most of Spain was Muslim. Parts of Spain were under Muslim rule until 1492 when the last Moorish king fell (in Granada).

Biggest Cities (by population):

  1. Madrid
  2. Barcelona
  3. Valencia
  4. Seville
  5. Zaragoza

Currency: The currency in Spain is the Euro and it's the only currency accepted in the country. The currency until 2002 was the peseta, which in turn had replaced the escudo in 1869.

Official Language: Spanish, often referred to as Castellano in Spain, or Castillian Spanish, is the official language of Spain. Many of Spain's autonomous communities have other official languages.

Government: Spain is a monarchy; the present king since 2014 is Felipe VI. He was preceded by his father Juan Carlos I, who inherited the position from General Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain from 1939 until 1975.

Spain's Autonomous Regions 

Spain is divided into 19 autonomous regions: 15 mainland regions, two collections of islands and two city enclaves in North Africa. The biggest region is Castilla y Leon, followed by Andalusia. At 94,000 square kilometers, it is roughly the size of Hungary. The smallest mainland region is La Rioja.

The full list is as follows (each region's capital is listed in brackets):

  • Madrid (Madrid)
  • Catalonia (Barcelona)
  • Valencia (Valencia)
  • Andalusia (Seville)
  • Murcia (Murcia)
  • Castilla-La Mancha (Toledo)
  • Castilla y Leon (Valladolid)
  • Extremadura (Merida)
  • Navarra (Pamplona)
  • Galicia (Santiago de Compostela)
  • Asturias (Oviedo)
  • Cantabria (Santander)
  • Basque Country (Vitoria)
  • La Rioja (Logroño)
  • Aragon (Zaragoza)
  • Balearic Islands (Palma de Mallorca)
  • Canary Islands (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria/Santa Cruz de Tenerife)
The Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain
Ian.CuiYi/Getty Images 

Famous Things About Spain

Famous Buildings & Monuments: Spain is the home to La Sagrada Familia, the Alhambra, and the Prado and Reina Sofia museums in Madrid.

Famous Spaniards: Spain is the birthplace of artists Salvador, Dali Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez, and Pablo Picasso, opera singers Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras, architect Antoni Gaudi, Formula 1 World Champion Fernando Alonso, pop singers Julio Iglesias and Enrique Iglesias, actors Antonio Banderas and Penelope Cruz, flamenco-pop act The Gypsy Kings, film director Pedro Almodovar, rally driver Carlos Sainz, poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, author Miguel de Cervantes, historical leader El Cid, golfers Sergio Garcia and Seve Ballesteros, cyclist Miguel Indurain and tennis players Rafa Nadal, Carlos Moya, David Ferrer, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Arantxa Sánchez Vicario.

What Else Is Spain Famous For? Spain invented paella and sangria (though the Spanish don't drink Sangria as much as people believe) and is home to the Camino de Santiago. Christopher Columbus, though probably not Spanish (no-one's quite sure), was funded by the Spanish monarchy.

Despite the beret being associated with France, the Basques in north-east Spain invented the beret. The Spanish also eat a lot of snails. Only the French eat frogs' legs, though!

Tirvia, Pallars Sobira, Province of Pallars Sobira, Catalonia, Spain
Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Getty Images

Spanish Geography

Spain is one of the most mountainous countries in Europe. Three-quarters of the country is over 500m above sea level, and a quarter of it is over a kilometer above sea level. The most famous mountain ranges in Spain are the Pyrenees and the Sierra Nevada. The Sierra Nevada can be visited as a day trip from Granada.

Spain has one of the most diverse ecosystems in Europe. The region of Almeria in the south-east resembles a desert in places, while the north-west in winter can expect rain 20 days out of every month.

Spain has over 8,000km of beaches. Beaches on the south and east coast are great for sunbathing, but some of the most beautiful are on the north coast. The north is also good for surfing.

Spain has Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines. The border between the Med and the Atlantic can be found in Tarifa.

Spain has more land covered by vineyards than any other country in the world. However, due to the arid soil, the actual grape yield is lower than in other countries.

Disputed Territories: Spain claims sovereignty over Gibraltar, a British enclave on the Iberian peninsula.

At the same time, Morocco claims sovereignty over the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla in North Africa and the islands of Vélez, Alhucemas, Chafarinas, and Perejil. The Spanish attempt to reconcile the difference between Gibraltar and these territories in a generally confused manner.

Portugal claims sovereignty over Olivenza, a town on the border between Spain and Portugal.

Spain relinquished control of the Spanish Sahara (now known as Western Sahara) in 1975.