A mix of flavors, churches, wine, and history.
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Very Good. Santiago de Compostella is as touristy as it is spiritual. You can just feel this beautiful energy of the Pilgrims ending their journey even if you, yourself, have not done that journey. Spend some time in the church with a notebook – you can attend a Mass or just sit and enjoy the energy as tourists mill about. The challenge with self discovery can be the distraction of so many beautiful sites to see, and amazing food to eat. However, if you’re a foodie, Spain should be on your list! You can certainly discover parts of yourself in the food you love to eat. 🙂 Spain also offers some great hiking and gorgous views so if you’re willing to get out of the main cities, try a place like Picos de Europa.
Excellent. Spain is very safe for a female solo traveler. Of course, like any other cities you visit, be mindul of walking alone at night on quiet streets, and being out alone too late. This can be challenging because people tend to start eating dinner in Spain around 10pm and it’s hard to leave wine out of the dining equation. Using accommodation that’s well located, close to main streets with restaurants can be a good idea if you do want to partake in the amazing food culture.
Moderate. There are a lot of tourists in Spain. It’s a beautiful country. On the one hand, you may have a hard time finding larger cities that are not overflowing with tourists. On the other, it feels like the culture of Spain has not been sabotaged by the tourists, and what you will see day-to-day is real life, not something created for tourists. If you’re trying to find yourself in the peace and quiet, you’re best off going to smaller towns or hiking.
Car or trains. You can drive in Spain though keep in mind, as with most of Europe, stick shift/manual cars are a lot less expensive than driving an automatic transmission. The prices of the automatic rentals (should that be the only kind you can drive) may put you off renting a car. If so, the national rail system is excellent. You can book tickets right from the Renfe website.
Moderately expensive. Though rumored to be less expensive than many other Western European cities, I found Spain to be expensive for budget living. You’ll want to stay in youth hostels or pensions where possible. You may not be able to dine on tapas every night on a smaller budget, and you may have to limit entering some tourist monuments if you want to avoid paying $15+ entry fees. That being said, there are plenty of free things to do and see – simply Google “Free things to do and see in xxxxx” and enter the name of the city you’re in and you’ll get a very ample listing as well as dates that major museums are free.
Required but often included. Most of the time your bill will include a service fee, but you should always check. If you’re from the US you may automatically want to leave a tip, but remember it may already be charged! If not, leaving between 10 – 20% tip is good. Even if the service is included, you may still want to leave a few extra euros if the service was fantastic.
Excellent. All toilets are Western, clean, have toilet paper and soap. 🙂
Insects, Rodents and Reptiles
Not many. At least in larger towns, you’re unlikely to encounter a lot of bugs or vermin.
Passport, Visa and Entry/Exit Rules
Easy. It’s always a good idea to check the US government website (or your country’s local government if not the US) for in-depth information as well as the embassy of Spain website. Spain follows typical Schengen country rules – a US citizen does not need a Visa and can stay up to 90 days within 180. If you’re from another country, here is a list of countries that do need visas. The stamp in your passport acts as your Visa and if you travel within the Schengen area, you’ll find immigration very diligent about checking how long you’ve been there.
Health, Water, etc.
Excellent. It’s safe to drink water throughout Spain. No vaccinations are required if you’re from the US but it’s always a good idea to Check the CDC website for recommended precautions.
Four Seasons. Spain has four seasons. Because it’s farther South. summers can be very hot and humid. Winter can be windy in certain places. The seasons are the same as the northern hemisphere. Think about your timing as you figure out what to pack!
Essentials to Pack
Depending on your travel plans, sunglasses are always a good idea. Be mindful of pickpockets – a wallet that stays clipped to your bag can be helpful.
How to Make Friends
If you stay in a hostel you’ll probably meet people, and tours are also an excellent way to make new friends in Spain. If you’re really outgoing, honestly you’ll meet people in museums, cafes, anyplace.
What to Do and See
It would be a shame to go to Spain and not see SOMEthing by Gaudi. The Sagrada Familia is absolutely amazing. Make sure to try Spanish delicacies like tapas and Gazpacho, try some wine – when you drink it with tapas it’s lovely because they give you smaller portions so you can drink several different kinds as you progress through your meal and not get drunk. To try something more unusual for Spain head to Ourense where you’ll find some Hot Springs – I really liked Termas Outariz.
Where to Stay
Here are a few of the places I liked:
Hotel Capital de Galicia – In Santiago de Compostella. It’s about 1 kilometer from the center which means it’s less crowded. It’s right near a huge shopping mall in case you forgot anything, and the owners are lovely!
Apartamento Estacion Tren Ourense – In Ourense. What a lovely apartment! The owners will give you a tour, you’ll have separate bedrooms to choose from and you can cook a wonderful dinner there. And it’s an easy walk to/from the train station.