Spain is one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Packed with famous landmarks, stunning scenery, rich history and a vibrant culture – why wouldn’t you want to visit? Well, you’re not alone. With more than 82 million visitors a year, tourism in Spain is big business – and if you’re not careful, you can easily find yourself trapped with the crowds, eating in overpriced restaurants with little more than tacky souvenirs to remind you of your trip – a far cry from the real Spain. If you really want to escape the tourist traps, keep these tips in mind.
Listen to those who know
Very often, simply talking to someone who has been somewhere many times and knows it intimately is the best way to find out what to avoid. Seasoned travellers and expats often have a lots of great recommendations. And don’t forget to ask your hotel concierge or taxi driver – they generally avoid tourist places when they go out, so it’s a perfect way to get great advice from experienced locals who really know their town.
Of course, when you’re next enjoying your café con leche in the one of the street cafes, why not strike up conversation? Even if you don’t speak Spanish, arm yourself with a few useful phrases and you’ll be surprised just how much a friendly local will help you. People love giving their opinions and this has worked for me on many occasions.
Steer away from the obvious locations
While Spain’s famous landmarks are stunning, you can often find similarly amazing places just round the corner and far away from the tourist hubbub. The extremely popular Las Ramblas in Barcelona is just a few minutes away from the much more local-friendly Rambla del Poblenou, and while the Plaza Mayor in Madrid is wonderful, you’ll soak up just as much of the amazing Madridian atmosphere at the far less busy market El Rastro.
Similarly, make time for smaller museums such as the Sorolla house museum in Madrid and you’ll have a far more relaxed experience. Indeed, why not avoid the tourist trap completely and visit some of the many equally historic and picturesque smaller cities such as Cáceres and Girona, where you’ll often find the Spanish taking their weekend breaks? The magnificent Segovia and stunning Córdoba are packed with history and offer a real alternative to the traditional tourist-thronged major cities.
Follow the history, art and food
Dig into Spain’s vast history and you’ll be leaving the hordes of tourists behind. Visit the region of Extremadura for the country’s finest Roman ruins and mysterious medieval cities, while also enjoying its amazing scenery, food and wine practically tourist-free! Experience Dali first hand without the crowds by visiting the lesser-known Pubol Castle in Girona, while Colonia Guell brings you closer to Gaudí without the bustle of Barcelona.
Wherever you are however, find the best street for traditional tapas and pintxos and enjoy a piece of Spanish life without the queues. You’ll also notice there are plenty of so-called authentic flamenco shows, but these are typically just for tourists. To experience the true flamenco spirit, go to dances in crowded local bars or old gypsy caves.
Take your time
Finally, rather than sticking to a rigid agenda and whizzing from one place to the next, explore at your own pace. Going late in the day after the crowds have left or getting up early is an ideal way to avoid the busy tourists. Arrive just after sunrise and a familiar tourist trap won’t feel half as busy.
It’s also worth taking a tip from the locals and relax in the plazas or take a paseo (a slow walk around town). You couldn’t find a less touristy thing to do – it’s quite simply how the Spanish wind down. In fact, follow what they do and eat when they do and you’ll soon wonder where all the tourists are. A large vermouth before lunch or some churros in the late afternoon may seem strange, but you won’t see tourists doing this and it must mean something for the Spanish to enjoy it so much. So go ahead and order one!
There is so much this country has to offer. Get away from the traditional tourist traps and your holiday will be filled with wonderful memories of the real magic of Spain.