Spanish Customs and Traditions

Find out about some of Spain's most famous customs and traditions

Fallas festival
••• The Fallas festival in Valencia. Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images

Many Spanish traditions have become legendary around the globe. But a lot of tourists only have a hazy idea of what flamenco is, how to spot a good paella, how to go about eating tapas, etc. These tips should help you.

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  • 01 of 10

    Going for Tapas

    People eating tapas at outdoor restaurant
    ••• Thomas Larsen/Getty Images

    Every tourist who comes to Spain wants to try tapas, one of the most famous of Spanish traditions. But many don't understand it. A 'tapa' is not a type of food, it's a way of eating it. Tapas are small portions, but they can be of anything. And to 'go for tapas' (tapear in Spanish) does not mean ordering a lot of dishes in one restaurant (though, of course, you can), but to bar-hop, eating a different tapa in each bar.

    Read more about Spain's 9 Best Tapas Cities

  • 02 of 10

    Flamenco in Spain

    Flamenco dancer in Seville
    ••• A flamenco dancer in Seville. Thomas Roche/Getty Images

    Probably the most famous Spanish tradition - but so often misunderstood.

    Firstly, flamenco is not a dance. It sometimes has dancing in it. What flamenco actually is is a musical style, with far more emphasis on the guitar, vocals and rhythm than the dancing. In fact, the whole idea of flamenco dancing is a little paradoxical. True flamenco is spontaneous; true flamenco dancing requires the pretty dress: but if you're being spontaneous, you won't have the pretty dress on!

    See also: Where to See Flamenco in Spain

  • 03 of 10

    The Siesta

    Woman Relaxing In Hammock, Spain
    ••• Ken Welsh/Getty Images

    One of the puzzling aspects of Spain to outsiders is the siesta. Why do all the stores close in the afternoon. Do people really go to sleep? How long should your siesta be? The idea of the siesta is evolving and with everyone's busier lifestyles, it's not so easy to catch 40 winks anymore - but people still do.

    Read more about Siesta in Spain.

  • 04 of 10

    To Tip or Not to Tip?

    People at street cafes in the old town of Palma, Mallorca, Spain
    ••• People dine at street cafés in the old town of Palma, Mallorca. Konrad Wothe/LOOK-foto/Getty Images

    Every guide book says something different on tipping. One blog post I wrote once provoked some harsh criticisms from a few sheltered middle-class Spaniards who live in a different world to the majority of people in Spain. I investigated the subject with this survey on tipping in Spain to get to the bottom of precisely when to tip and how much.

    Read more about Tipping in Spain.

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  • 05 of 10

    Bullfighting in Spain

    A bullfighter with blurred motion of a black bull rushing past
    ••• Juan Pelegrén/Getty Images

    Bullfighting, the most controversial of Spanish traditions, is a mixed blessing for Spain. Many tourists are very curious to see it and view it as a fascinating insight into Spanish culture, but it is also a stain on the country's reputation for others. Bullfighting is nowhere near as popular as it used to be, but it still features prominently in the country's self-image.

    Read more about Bullfighting in Spain.

  • 06 of 10

    Nightlife in Spain

    Palacio Gaviria nightclub in Madrid, Spain
    ••• Palacio Gaviria nightclub in Madrid. Lonely Planet/Getty Images

    Going out and partying is in the Spanish blood. Spanish nightlife, especially in Madrid, is legendary. What's more, it isn't a preserve of the young - there is a part of town for every age group and every taste. Just remember one thing - you have to go out very late - if you're in the bars before 10pm, you'll be drinking alone.

    Read more about Madrid Nightlife.

  • 07 of 10

    When to Eat in Spain

    Spain, Cataluna, Barcelona, Ciutat Vella, Chef in the kitchen of the Los Caracoles restaurant in Barcelona.
    ••• Chefs in the kitchen at Los Caracoles restaurant in Barcelona. Cahir Davitt/Getty Images

    Many a tourist has been undone by Spain's rigid eating times. Miss the narrow windows for each and you end up eating on your own or in a substandard touristy restaurant that caters precisely for those who haven't gotten in sync with the Spanish way of eating.

    More: Guide to Eating and Drinking in Spain 

  • 08 of 10

    Festivals in Spain

    Fallas festival
    ••• The Fallas festival in Valencia. Gonzalo Azumendi/Getty Images

    The Spanish eating, drinking and dancing culture steps up a gear (if that's possible), when there's a festival on. Every town or village has a local fiesta, at which point the locals don't just eat and drink because it's fun, they do so because it would be un-Spanish not to.

    Read more about Festivals in Spain.

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  • 09 of 10

    Sangria and Paella

    Paella, Gran Canaria, Canary Islands, Spain.
    ••• Freshly-made paella served in Gran Canaria. Heritage Images/Getty Images/Getty Images

    Most tourists who visit Spain want to eat paella and drink sangria - what could be more Spanish? But crafty bars and restaurants know how much tourists want to sample these symbols of Spanish life and will exploit you accordingly.

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  • 10 of 10

    Soccer in Spain

    Real Madrid Football Supporters
    ••• Real Madrid football fans outside of Santiago Bernabeu stadium. Francis Tsang/Getty Images

    Bullfighting as a pastime may be dying, but soccer most certainly is not. Soccer takes on quasi-religious significance in the lives of Spanish males from the age of five to 100. And with two of the most successful teams in European soccer, any sports fan should check out Spain's futbol heritage.

    Read more about Soccer in Spain.