Spain is a country full of contrasts, with a diverse countryside and a vibrant
culture. The best way to learn about Spain is to visit the country and come to
know her history and her culture, not only in the monuments and museums you will
visit, but in the stories its people will tell you. Experience Spain’s own
special passion in the ritual of bullfights, the energy of Flamenco dances and
the powerful rhythmic sounds of the spoken language. Spain is this and much
more... Learn about the different facets of Spanish culture by conversing with a
local villager in a small fishing port or taking advantage of the cultural
opportunities in a large metropolitan city. Participate in the artistic and
intellectual life of a busy capital city. Or enjoy a relaxed style of life on
the southern coast. Sunny beaches, vineyards, beautiful countryside and forested
mountain ranges paint the background for an enjoyable learning experience.
Climate | Currency and
Money | Eating in Spain - Dining Customs |
Gastronomy | Festivals and Seasonal Events
Spain is famous for its number of sunny days per year. The country has four very
different seasons. Spring and Fall are the best times to visit Spain.
The weather varies a lot in Spain. Even though it is true that the sun shines
often, temperatures vary quite a bit from season to season. It is better to be
prepared with adequate clothing for the time period when you will take the
course. The following are some suggestions for choosing the clothing to bring
with you on the trip:
Summer. The sun is strong in all of Spain and it is very hot during the day.
However, in Alcalá and Salamanca it is a dry heat, and the temperature in the
shade is pleasant. Málaga has a humid but pleasant climate with occasional sea
breezes to cool you off. Since it is near the sea, you can enjoy the beach in
your free time. You will need light clothing such as T-shirts, shorts, skirts,
light dresses, light-weight slacks, and a jacket for some cooler evenings.
Temperatures range from 25-35ºC or 77-95ºF.
Autumn. In Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, the climate is variable. There are
still sunny days but mixed with cloudy days, also with occasional rain. You will
need a jacket, a raincoat, an umbrella, long sleeve shirts and some sweaters,
but also some T-shirts when the sun is out. Temperatures range from 5-19ºC or
Málaga has a sunny climate with warm temperatures. There may be an occasional
cloudy day, but most of the time it is sunny and it hardly ever rains. You can
bring T-shirts, long and short sleeve, and one or two sweaters or a light
jacket. Temperatures range from 15-19 ºC or 59-66ºF.
Winter. In Alcalá de Henares and in Salamanca, the winter season is cold and it
sometimes snows. You will need thick sweaters and a warm coat. Temperatures
range from 2-15ºC or 35-59ºF.
Málaga has a warm sunny climate. You will need Spring/Summer type clothing.
Bring a jacket or sweater for when it cools down at night. Temperatures range
from 12-15ºC or 54-59ºF.
Spring. In Alcalá de Henares and Salamanca, the weather varies a lot. When it
rains or if it is cloudy, it is relatively cold. But if the sun shines, it can
also be warm. You will need Winter/Spring type clothing. Temperatures range from
10-21ºC or 50-70ºF.
Malaga is warm and sunny in Spring. You will need Spring/Summer type clothing.
But don’t forget to bring a jacket or sweater for when it cools down at night.
Temperatures are the same as in autumn.
Currency and Money
The monetary unit is the
Euro. It is possible to cash traveler’s cheques at many banks. Credit cards
are widely accepted in the majority of the tourist establishments and stores.
Check your currencies exchange rate with the euro at
If this is the first time that you will travel to Spain, please read carefully
the following information about the cost of living and general prices. These
indications will help you to plan in advance for the amount of money you may
need for your stay.
We recommend that you bring some cash for the trip and the first few days, and
an international credit card, to be able to withdraw money during your stay. You
can also bring travelers’ checks to exchange money at the bank.
For example, you could bring about € 90,00 for use during the trip and the first
few days you are in Spain. The amount of money you will need during your program
will depend on the type of course, accommodations and meal plan you have chosen.
If you have chosen a Summer course, which includes the price of cultural
activities and excursions, and live in a host family with full board, you will
need less money overall than someone who has chosen to live in a shared student
apartment and has selected a course which does not include the cost of cultural
activities. We recommend that you plan for about € 60,00 per week.
We’ve compiled a list of the cost of some items and services, so that you can
compare them with prices in your country. (click
here to see price list)
Eating in Spain - Dining Customs
Breakfast - el desayuno
This meal is often eaten in a bar or café at mid-morning and many people have
little more than a coffee and a sweet roll or croissant for breakfast. Freshly
squeezed orange juice is also popular and widely available and don’t be
surprised when they serve it with a packet of sugar. In family homes breakfast
consists of coffee, or chocolate milk or milk for children, accompanied by
cookies, Magdalena, toast or rolls. Many students take advantage of the morning
break to have a “second breakfast” in a nearby cafeteria, as lunch is served
quite late in comparison to other countries. Possibly the most traditional
Spanish breakfast is “churros” or “porras” with thick hot chocolate. Have these
fried donut-like goodies freshly deep fried in the early morning. If you prefer
a more substantial breakfast you can try a “pincho de tortilla”, a “Sandwich
mixto” or a “mixto con huevo”
Lunch - la comida
Eaten between 13:30 and 16:00, it may be more appropriate to call this meal
“dinner”, as it is the principal meal of the day for many Spaniards. Virtually
all restaurants offer a lunch time “menu” which is usually a much better value
than an a la carte selection and they can include excellent dishes. A “menu” is
usually a three course meal, with 2 or 3 choices for each course. And generally
includes bread and an inexpensive wine or other beverage.
The first course can be as light as a bowl of soup or a salad, or as hearty as a
bowl of lentils with chorizo. The second course will probably be selection
between fish and meat or poultry. Desert will often be a choice of fruit or some
sort of pudding or cake. The wine included with the price of the meal will
almost never be of the finer variety, and it is often mixed with 'casera' or 'gaseosa',
a sweet, carbonated drink. Of course it is possible to pay more and get a better
quality bottle. It is not uncommon to follow lunch by a siesta.
Evening Meal - la cena
Spaniards eat the evening meal quite late in comparison to other countries -
anywhere from 9.00 to 11.00 is reasonable, particularly in the summer and on
weekends. While some people have a full meal at dinner many have a only light
meal, which might consist of a few tapas, or just a salad with soup or a
sandwich or “bocadillo”.
Eat well, inexpensively
Spain has a lot to offer for those wishing to eat well without spending a lot of
money. There are a few tips to follow. Try and eat 'typical' food. As mentioned
before, it's best to have a more filling meal at lunch, choosing from the
variety of small restaurants offering the lunch time 'menu'. Seafood is less
expensive, and often fresher than in other European countries, in fact, Spain is
the second biggest per capita seafood eating country, after Japan. Sit-down
meals are usually more expensive at supper than at lunch. It may be more
economical to eat tapas for dinner, which are usually accompanied by a glass of
wine or a caña (glass of beer). Tapas also offer you a means of trying a large
variety of Spanish foods and flavors, without spending a fortune. Just about any
type of Spanish food comes in the form of tapas, and as such it's a very good
way to go about trying the huge variety of Spanish dishes. Don't worry if you
don't understand the menu, most tapas bars have the items on display at the bar
so you can simply point at what looks appealing to you.
Spanish cuisine is known and valued throughout the world for the quality and
variety of products and the wide range of dishes. Differences in climate and
lifestyle make for distinct types of foods and dishes in each region. Spanish
dishes reinterpreted by chefs today make Spanish cuisine one of the most
interesting among international cuisine. Of special note is the Arabian influence
in use of fruits and vegetables, use of olive oils, and certain deserts of the
southern region. Students should make sure they try the large variety of
regional dishes; the Cocido Madrileño, the roast lamb and pork of Castilla y
Leon, Valencian Paella and Andalusian Gazpacho are a must.
Without a doubt, the most typical dish in Madrid is "El Cocido". The
meal comes in many varieties but is basically a wholesome stew, predominantly
consisting of chick peas, cabbage, chorizo, blood sausage or pudding and
vegetables, stewed in broth accompanied by chicken, beef or pork. Usually, a
bowl of the broth with small
fideos pasta is first eaten as a soup appetizer, followed by the
chickpeas with the cabbage and the meats and chicken last.
This is the land of the grape and olive, olive oils are produced here and
particular grapes with a distinct flavor make the genuine
jerez (sherry) of the region. There is an exotic Arab influence to the
cuisine, especially the desserts that use almonds, figs, and egg yolks, like the
tocino de cielo, a toffee caramel-rich custard.
Tapas are a tradition in Andalusia, and frequently a dish of olives is
served with your wine or beer.
With the discovery of America many new products arrived to Spain that were
quickly incorporated into the Spanish and Andalusian cuisine. Tomatos and
peppers are two of these ingredients which today are the base for many
Andalusian dishes such as the well known gazpacho.
Gazpacho is a classic cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, garlic,
salt and extra virgin olive oil. There are endless other variations.
Andalusian cuisine includes a large variety of fish and sea food. Boquerones
are anchovies, small silvery fish, and are delicious eaten fresh with lemon, or
marinated in vinegar, or also floured and fried boquerones.
Paellas, Valencian in origin
Although Valencian in origin, paella is often thought of as the most
typical Spanish dish and no visit to Spain is complete without tasting it. The
origin of paella, as any popular dish of any region, is nothing more than the
combination of elements readily available in those surroundings. In the area of
Valencia there are rich fields with fresh vegetables, as well as chickens and
rabbit as well as rice fields. Add to this the nearby coast with seafood and
fish as well as the olive oil typical in this region, you have the sum of all
the ingredients included in the typical paella. There are two types of
which are the most popular. The first, paella valenciana, is a
combination of rice, chicken, rabbit, tomato, green beans, and saffron. La
paella de marisco is made with rice combined with seafoods such as sepia,
calamar, mussles, shrimp, cigalas, langosta, and clams, with garlic, olive oil,
tomato, sweet red peppers and saffron. Other rice-based dishes are simply called
Arroz (rice) followed by the main ingredient such as chicken - Arroz con pollo -
or flavored with squid ink - Arroz negro. Paella is cooked in a wide, flat pan
called a paellera, and is usually prepared for two or more people.
Cantabria and Asturias
Apple cider many years ago became the preferred drink in this region. Drinking
Sidra, a natural fermented cider, becomes almost a ritual. Small groups gather
in chiges, the cider-making equivalent to a bodega, to share a glass. The
escanciador, is the master in charge of the pouring, who must pour from the
bottle held high above his head into a large glass held near his knees. Only
enough for a good swallow is poured and the first person drinks this leaving
just enough to swill over the rim of the glass to rinse it before handing it
back to be refilled and passed on.
It is also a dairy area, because of the unique milk that comes from the cows
that are fattened on the grassy areas of the Picos de Europa. There are famous
desserts such as arroz con leche, a cream-rich milk rice pudding, Spain's best
butter -mantequilla , and queso de Cabrales made with a mixture of cow, sheep
and goat milk, creating a soft creamy cheese which is wrapped in chestnut leaves
and stored in humid caves.
Fabada is the most important dish in Asturias.
Beans and sausage are popular in this area, and both are in the fabada,
large dried white butter beans cooked with
chorizo, tocino, bacon and morcilla.
If you prefer something lighter like fish, the rocky, coastline of Asturias is
abundant with tuna, hake, shrimp and prawns.
Caldereta is a hodgepodge of shellfish and fish, a soup-stew mixture of
wonderful aromas, textures and flavors.
Fabes con almejas is a delicious stew of beans with clams.
Castilla and León
The area of Old Castilla, up to Madrid, is countryside with massive castles,
majestic cathedrals and ancient fortifications dating to Roman times. It is
known as the
zona de los asados, an area known for roast lamb and pork. Baby lambs
and suckling pigs are split lengthwise and roasted in a big brick oven, and
served with white potatoes, and crusty white bread. The best place is in
Segovia, in the village of Sepúlveda, but is also well prepared in Salamanca.
There is also famous, the cheese from the North, the morcilla from León
(blood sausage with onions), or from Burgos (blood sausage with rice), the
Chorizo de Salamanca, good jamón serrano (cured ham).
The Hornazo is a round bread with cured ham, chorizo and salchichón
baked inside, typically made around Easter time in Salamanca.
There is also a special cocido from this region, called cocido
maragato, similar to Madrid, but served in a different way.
Galicia, in Spain's northwest has a spectacular coastline that provides a
secluded habitat for a variety of delectable crustaceans, fish and shellfish.
The fan-shaped sea scallop, called
vieira, or the pilgrim's shell, are sweet and plump; they may be eaten
straight from the water with a squeeze of lemon, or baked on their shells in a
splash of local
Albariño wine, from the Rías Baixas, or with a coating of crumbs
and spices. The fabulous
percebes and oysters are prized too.
Pulpo a la gallega, is octopus, beaten and boiled to tenderize, sliced and
dressed with oil and paprika. Served with
cachelos, galician potatoes.
Lacon con grelos, cured pork shoulder -lacón- slow cooked with
grelos -the bitter greens of young turnip plants.
Empanada gallega is a pastry pie. The pastry is a yeast-risen dough that
wraps around layers of sliced meat, peppers and tomato.
Because of the hard cold winters, galician food is warm comfort food, served in
the pot in such dishes as
pote gallego, a chunky stew of chorizo and morcilla, root
vegetable, white beans and tangy greens.
At the end of a meal, you move from wines to aguardiente, a potent grape
liqueur that at times is flamed in a pottery bowl and called
queimada or "witch's brew".
Festivals and Seasonal Events
January 1. New Years Day. Family celebration to welcome the new
January 2: Fiesta de la reconquista en Granada. Festival to commemorate
the reconquest of Granada.
January 6: Epiphany or Three Kings Day is Spanish children's' Christmas.
Kids leave their shoes out to be filled with gifts by the three wise men, or
Three Kings. In towns throughout the country the Kings arrive by car or by camel
in parades the night of January 5th.
January 17: San Antón. Madrileños bring their pets to this church to be
Festival de Teatro de Málaga. Theater festival which takes place in
January and February every year in Malaga.
Carnaval. Although the most flamboyant parades take place in Tenerife,
Cadiz or Sitges (Barcelona) almost all cities celebrate in costume and
festivities in some way.
First week of March. Rally Internacional de Coches de Época.
International antique car Rally. Sitges (Barcelona)
March 19: Las Fallas in Valencia. Paper maché figures up to 30 feet tall are
torched this night lighting up the sky of Valencia. The constructions of wood
and paper usually represent political and social criticism.
Semana Santa. Spain’s most pious and spectacular fiesta. Easter religious
processions through Spain, the most famous taking place in Seville, Valladolid,
Toledo Murcia and Cuenca.
El Lunes de Aguas. In Salamanca the second Monday after Resurrection
Sunday. A traditional festival which repeats the custom of the students at the
University of Salamanca that, after Lent and Holy week, the possibility to
return to enjoying good food in good company. It is customary to have a picnic
and eat "hornazo"
Festival of the Moors and the Christians in Alcoy (Alicante). This
reenactment of the battle of 1275 in which the Catholic knights aided by St.
George ousted the infidel invaders brings history alive.
April 23. Dïa del Libro. C On the date of the death of writer
Miguel de Cervantes, Spain celebrate Books. Book shops are open all day long and
offer discounts on books of all kinds. In Cataluña is is customary to give a
book and a rose to close friends. In Alcalá de Henares you can enjoy a
book fair and the presentation of the Cervantes Award for Literature by the King
April 23 - May 4. Feria del libro antiguo y de ocasión. Antique book
fair on Paseo de Recoletos in Madrid
April 23. Fiesta de la Comunidad de Castilla y León. They celebrate
the battle of Villalar which occurred on April 23, 1521 during the reign of
The April Fair (Sevilla) brings out the best of Andalusian hospitality.
Horse parades and men and women in traditional Andalusian dress mixed with
sevillanas and flamenco music make this quite a picturesque fiesta.
April 23 to May 1. Festival of Spanish Cinema in Málaga. One of the most
important and recognized film festivals in Spain.
May 1. Día de trabajo. Labor Day
May 2. Fiestas del Dos de mayo. Celebration of the Comunidad de
The Jerez Horse Fair. Equestrian events and bullfighting, flamenco music
May 15: San Isidro: 2 weeks of bullfighting in honor of the patron saint
of Madrid. Also concerts, cultural activities, and special museums.
May 20. Romería del Rocío en Almonte (Huelva). The Romería is an
Andalusian procession, on horseback or in horse drawn carriages, which leads to
the Ermita de la Viergen del Rocío in Almonte, Huelva.
Cruces de Mayo. Contest of May Crosses: crosses of large dimensions made
of flowers which adorn the streets, plazas, peñas and cultural institutions. The
most important ones are in Cordoba and Granada, although they begin to appear in
Malaga also. After the crosses, there is similar decoration in the Patios in
Cordoba, also decorated with flowers and plants of exuberant colors which leads
up to the Cordoba Fair. More...
Finales de mayo. Feria de Córdoba. An unforgettable fair in Cordoba
with impressive night illumination and beautiful casetas.
Beginning of June. Book Fair in Retiro Park, Madrid.
Mid-June to Mid July: International Festival of Music and Dance in Granada
brings symphony orchestras, opera companies, and ballet corps from around the
world to perform on the grounds of the Alhambra.
Mid-June to Mid August: Classical Theater Festival uses the beautifully
preserved 1st century BC Roman Theater in Mérida (Badajoz) to present Greek and
Roman dramas in Spanish.
June 12o. San Juan de Sahagún. Patron Saint of Salamanca.
June 13, San Antonio de la Florida (Madrid). Local festival in the
Moncloa neighborhood of Madrid.
June 18. Festival of the Patron Saints of Málaga. San Ciriaco and
Santa Paula. Local fair activities. More...
June 24. La Noche de San Juan. In many places in Spain they still
light large bonfires to celebrate the Simmer Solstice.
June 25: Corpus Christi is celebrated with magnificent processions in
Toledo and Sitges (Barcelona).
June 29: The wine war in Haro (La Rioja) wastes thousands of gallons of
delicious Rioja wine. You can see people using the bota bag as a squirt gun
instead of a canteen.
July 7. San Fermines (Pamplona). The running of the bulls through the
streets of Pamplona (Navarra). A week of nonstop wine, merrymaking and bravado.
The Sunday following July 16. Procesión Marítima de las
Fiestas del Carmen. Málaga. Takes place in many locations along the coast,
and in El Palo.
July 25. Patrón de Santiago. Patron Saint of Spain.
Many Fiestas y Verbenas locales throughout the country, this month and
into September. Concerts, fireworks, small fairgrounds and rides for kids, music
and dance in many main plazas.
- Malaga: Ferias in Malaga around the 19th of August. Festive
atmosphere with music, bull fights, open air concerts and foods.
- Alcalá de Henares: Fiestas de San Bartolomé around the 24th of
August. Open air concerts, a temporary amusement park, street theater and
fireworks. Special events held by each of the Peñas.
August 15. Día de la Asunción. National festival celebrated in many
El Místeri of Elche (Alicante) is Europe’s oldest Christian mystery
Mid-August: Big Week parades, fireworks, sporting events, and
cardboard-bull running in San Sebastián.
August 28: Tomato Battle turns the entire town of Buñol (Valencia) red.
First week of September: Motin de Aranjuez. Representation, with
traditional dress of the period, of Matin de Aranjuz, a historic event during
the War of Independence.
September 8. Salamanca: The Ferias de Virgen de la Vega start on
September 8th with activities for children, traditional dances, a temporary
amusement park, theater, open air concerts and fireworks.
September 24: La Merced is celebrated in Barcelona with concerts,
fireworks, and parades featuring Cabezudos (people wearing costumes with giant
paper maché heads).
Week of October 9: Jornadas Culturales Cervantinas (Alcalá de Heanres)
medieval marketplace and theater, music
October 12: Fiesta del Pilar (Zaragoza): Children of Zaragoza dress in
regional costumes for parades and jota dance contests.
November 1. Todos los Santos. Spaniards visit cemeteries to remember lost
December 6: día de la Constitución.
December 8: La Inmaculada concepción
December 28. Día de los Santos Inocentes. People usually play tricks
on friends (similar to April Fools Day). In Malaga it coincides with Fiesta
Mayor de Verdiales. Groups go around the city singing and playing music. The
Verdial is supposedly the historic predecessor to flamenco.
December 24 and 25. Fiestas Navideñas. Christmas celebration of Christmas
eve and Christmas day.
December 31: Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve), people gather at Madrid’s
Puerta del Sol, to eat 12 grapes, one on each stroke of midnight.
Facts About Spain
Full country name: Kingdom of Spain
Area: 504,784 sq km
Population: 40.5 million (growth rate 0.1%)
Capital city: Madrid (pop 3 million)
Regions: Spain is made up of 17 autonomous regions.
People: Spaniards (though Catalans and Basques display a fierce
Languages: Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%,
Time Zone: GMT/UTC plus 1 hour in winter, or two hours in summer (from
the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in September)
Religion: 90% Roman Catholic
Government: Parliamentary monarchy
Prime Minister: José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero
GDP: $720.8 billion
GDP per head: $18,000
Annual growth: 4%
Major industries: textiles & apparel, food & beverages, metals,
chemicals, shipbuilding, tourism
Major trading partners: EU (esp. France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, UK,
Member of EU: yes
Euro zone participant: yes
Flag description: three horizontal bands of red (top), yellow (double
width), and red with the national coat of arms on the hoist side of the yellow
band; the coat of arms includes the royal seal framed by the Pillars of
Hercules, which are the two promontories (Gibraltar and Ceuta) on either side of
the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar
Facts for the Traveler
Visas: Spain, along with Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Italy,
Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Sweden and Portugal,
forms part of the border-free travel zone subject to the Schengen Agreement. US,
Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, Israeli and Japanese citizens are among those
who may enter Spain as tourists without a visa and stay up to 90 days. EU
passport holders can come and go as they please.
Electricity: 220V, 50 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 51 million visitors
Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula, a vaguely square-shaped area at
the far southwestern edge of Europe. Spain occupies some 80% of this peninsula
and spreads over nearly 505,000 sq km, making it the biggest country in Western
Europe after France. More than half of the country is made up of vast, elevated
tablelands - the mesetas - and five major mountain ranges stretch across the
country. In fact, with an average altitude of 650m, it's the highest European
country after Switzerland. Landscapes range from the deserts of Andalucía to the
green wetlands of Galicia; from the sun baked plains of Castilla-La Mancha to the
rugged snowcapped Picos de Europa and Pyrenees. Highest Point: Pico de Teide
(Tenerife), 3,719 m. The Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, west
of Morocco, is an autonomous community belonging to Spain.
When to Go
The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in
the south). At these times you can rely on good weather, yet avoid the sometimes
extreme heat - and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists. That said,
there's decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year-round. Winter along
the southern and southeastern Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height
of summer you can retreat to the northwest, or to beaches or high mountains
anywhere, if you need to get away from excessive heat. If you want to make sure
you hit some parties, check the list of festivals.
Shops: The opening hours for most shops throughout the country are from
9:30 h. to 14 h. and from 17 h. to 20 h., Monday to Saturday. From 14 h. to 17
h. shops are closed for the famous Spanish "siesta". On Saturdays many small
shops (i.e. the majority of "Estancos") are only open to 14 h. Major shopping
malls, department stores and supermarkets stay open without a break from 10 h.
to 21 h. or in some cases until 22 h. Restaurants Restaurants start serving
lunch from 13 h. to 16 h. and dinner from 20 h. to 23 h. In small restaurants
and bars it is normally possible to get served a fixed number of menus at any
time of the day. Banks Banks are open from 8.30 h. to 14.30 h. Monday to Friday,
exempt from October to April where banks also are open Saturday from 9 to 13 h.
Public Services The majority of public services (i.e. the city hall, health
centers) are open from 9 h. to 14 h. Monday to Friday.
"Escuela Internacional allows you
to experience an interesting and diverse world. In the classes you learn quickly in a nice atmosphere
that explains Spanish culture,
the food, the pace of life, and
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16 years old, Student