Spain is on GMT +1, but the Canary Islands are on GMT. Remember that most people take siestas in Spain and businesses will be shut during the middle of the day. Whatever you plan to do, early morning and late afternoon are the times to do it.
Water is safe to drink in Spain and no vaccinations are necessary. Your biggest enemy could be the summer sun. It gets extremely hot so always carry water, sun cream and protection in the form of a hat and t-shirt.
The amount of holidays ruined by overzealous Europeans spending too much time on sun beds are too numerous to mention. Rental cars should be booked with air conditioning. Conversely it can get very cold in winter so take some appropriate clothing.
Pharmacies have a green cross. EU citizens with a European health card can use the medical system in Spain.
Take care late at night as crime is a prevalent as anywhere else in Europe. Never leave your belongings unattended. Watch out for people trying to snatch your bag in drive bys on motorbikes. Also don't let gypsies read your fortune as you may be pick-pocketed. Report any crime to the police. On the whole Spanish people are very friendly.
The Holy Week of Semana Santa is a great time to visit in Easter. In July Pamplona hosts the Running of the Bulls. At the end of August you can join one of the world's biggest food fights - La Tomatina.
All taxis should be on the meter. RENFE is the national train carrier. Buses are widely available. Boats are a good way to see the coast and the Balearic Islands. Use a map if you plan to try and make sure to park properly as fines are steep. Information on driving in Spain can be found at ***http://www.rhinocarhire.com/Drive-Smart-Blog/Drive-Smart-Spain.aspx***
Places to stay
For a cheap accommodation option check out the Casa Rural. These guest houses can be found in most regions but quality varies.
Hotels Barcelo and Sol Melia are two of the main Spanish hotel chains. For an experience stay in a Parador, an old Spanish building of historic significance. These state owned hotels have a three to five star rating and sometimes have discounts for young or old guests.
Spain is a large country on the Iberian Peninsula which is well known for its hot climate and the fiery passion of the inhabitants. Recognisable by their intensity, Spanish people are paradoxically laid-back and outgoing at the same time. This is a nationality that never sleeps. Dinner starts at 10pm or later and most locals stay up late to enjoy the cool night air.
Food in Spain is like a religion with only one thing being more important than eating – religion. Spain gave the world tapas, the handy bar snacks which make drinking a pleasurable experience as well as paella, a wonderful mix of rice, seafood and vegetables. Delicacies such as these can be washed down with Sangria or one of the many fantastic Spanish wines such as Rioja. Spain is a predominantly catholic country and the Easter processions in certain cities are a magnificent sight to behold.
The Spanish language is supremely lyrical and the country has produced many great writers. There was Federico García Lorca whose elegant poetry could not save him from an untimely death during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. One famous writer fell in love with Spain, so much so that even though he is not Spanish his work defines much of how we see Spain today. Ernest Hemmingway loved the machismo of the Spanish and his novel The Sun Also Rises should be required reading for anyone who wants to learn about Spain. Spain also gave the world the Cubist art of Pablo Picasso and the weird skeletal structures of Antoni Gaudí.
Spanish culture is totally unique in Europe and includes strangely compelling pastimes like bullfighting as well as a variety of exciting festivals such as the Tomatina, a massive food fight involving ripe tomatoes. Not to be missed is the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, you won't see anything like it anywhere else in the world.
While much of the interior of Spain is quite barren and dusty, the country has many miles of spectacular coastline, known as the Costas which are very popular for European holiday makers. Much of the terrain of Spain is rugged with the Pyrenees Mountains in the north, which divide it from France, providing excellent skiing. The Sierra Nevada is another mountain range which is also the most southerly skiing range in Europe.
Spain has two of the world's most impressive cities, Madrid and Barcelona which are known as much for their innovative art and architecture as they are for the intense rivalry of their high achieving football teams. Barcelona is part of the Catalonia region of Spain which has its own language and has long fought to be independent from the country. Also in the north, the Basque country is another autonomous region of Spain which includes the beautiful city of Bilbao.
Just as interesting to visit with amazing old buildings and fascinating histories are the cities of Valencia, Seville, Malaga and Zaragoza. In cities such as Granada you can see the Moorish and Muslim influence on Spain and the stunning decoration of the Alhambra Palace is a must-see.
Spain stretches to the Balearic Islands off its east coast in the Mediterranean Sea and they include Ibiza, one of the most popular party destinations on the planet. Another Spanish-owned set of islands are the Canary Islands which lie to the other side of Spain in the Atlantic Ocean. The Canaries have a rugged volcanic landscape, vibrant cities and beautiful beaches as well as the advantage of duty-free shopping.
Although it is easy to come up with clichéd images of Spain, this is a diverse country which never fails to surprise the more you explore it. There is a tendency to think of Spain as backward, but the country has hauled itself forward with rapid pace since the dark days of General Franco's dictatorship ended in the 1970s.
Tolerance is on the rise here and homosexuals will find many parts of the capital city Madrid and the Canary Islands to be welcoming. As a member of the European Union Spain is gradually conforming to many of the accepted behaviours of European countries, though at times this threatens to extinguish its own culture.
Spain has the largest number of cities with World Heritage status and is second only to Italy in terms of actual UNESCO World Heritage sites. Any trip through Europe should definitely include it.