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Where to go in Spain

Spain's hidden gems

What to do in Spain
 

Where to go in Spain

 

Hidden gems in Spain

All About Spain - Virtual Travel Guide

Few countries on the planet party as hard as Spain and the challenge for visitors is trying to keep up. But by carefully balancing your fiestas with siestas, you should have energy left to tell the extraordinary tale.

Spread over an area of 504,788 square kilometres, Spain is one of Europe's largest countries. It is a nation of 40 million people and five languages, its diverse regions possessing their own unique culture, history, architecture, cuisine and landscape.

Spain's north is characterized by rocky coast and rolling green farmland as well as the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees; the interior has the distinctive parched plains of the legendary Don Quixote, and the terrain of the south owes much to North Africa with dry rugged mountains and long sandy beaches. Add into the mix the beaches of the hedonistic Balearic Islands and the sub-tropical Canary Islands off the northwest coast of Africa and you have a remarkably varied country.

Spain's architectural wonders include the palatial Moorish creations of Seville, Cordoba and Granada; Cantabria's network of natural caves decorated with prehistoric wall paintings; Guadi's surreal erections in Barcelona, and the uber-modern titanium shell of the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao. Unfortunately however, much of Spain's southern and eastern coastlines have been debased by high-rise eyesores targeting Europe's package holiday market.

On any given day, Spain is eating, drinking, dancing and singing its way through an average of nine different festivals. Arriving in Bunol when La Tomatina is in full swing could find you pummeled with big juicy tomatoes in the world's largest tomato fight. Stumbling into La Rioja in the aftermath of a wine fighting festival could find you sloshing through puddles of vino tinto. Or if you turn up to Seville during the pre-Easter Semana Santa parade and see men donning conical white hats you could be forgiven for thinking the Klu Klux Klan had moved into town. Spaniards are forever dreaming up new excuses for a party, and the Benicàssim rock music festival held near Valencia every August has become one of the highlights of the European music festival calendar.

Some 40,000 bulls are killed in Spanish bullrings every year

Outside of Spain, Latin America and the United States are not the only places where the influence of Spanish culture is felt. The trendiest bars in the world's hippest cities now serve Spanish tapas (snack-sized meals), sangria (a red wine punch) and stage flamenco performances. Unsurprisingly, Spain's love of bullfighting (approximately 40,000 bulls are killed in bullrings every year) has yet to catch on beyond the Iberian Peninsula.

Some 40,000 bulls are killed in Spanish bullrings every year

Outside of Spain, Latin America and the United States are not the only places where the influence of Spanish culture is felt. The trendiest bars in the world's hippest cities now serve Spanish tapas (snack-sized meals), sangria (a red wine punch) and stage flamenco performances. Unsurprisingly, Spain's love of bullfighting (approximately 40,000 bulls are killed in bullrings every year) has yet to catch on beyond the Iberian Peninsula.



What to do in Spain

Travel Services

Barcelona


Gaudi defaces another building in Barcelona


Whichever way you look at it, San Sebastian is a stunner


Madrid's Plaza Mayor at night.

 The second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona attracts a never-ending stream of tourists. It is one of the few places in Spain where English is widely spoken.

Barcelona is home to the world's most photographed construction site – the La Sagrada Famíllia – a cathedral that sprang into existence in 1882 and is the legacy of art nouveau architect Antoni Gaudi. Many of Gaudi's surreal creations dot the city.

Stretching down to the waterfront and cutting through the city's atmospheric old centre is the pedestrian boulevard Las Ramblas. Hosting a melee of colourful markets, cafés and street performers, La Ramblas is a playground for tourists and pickpockets alike. Nearby, the Mercat de la Boqueria is a wonderful indoor marketplace where fresh produce and Spanish delicacies can be ogled and gobbled.

Barcelona is famous for its nightlife, with cosmopolitan restaurants and bars concentrated around the Port Olímpic and La Ribera areas, and party-'til-you drop nightclubs found in the stylish gay-friendly district of Sitges.

Barcelona's museums are also world-class. The Museu Picasso consists of four medieval mansions crammed with Pablo's famed scribbles, while the Fundació Joan Miró houses an extensive collection of the Catalan artist's work. Probably the most visited museum in the city is the Museu del Futbol Club Barcelona, a veritable shrine to one of Europe's top football clubs, located at their hallowed Camp Nou stadium.

San Sebastian

Wrapped around a shell-shaped beach and backed by green hills, San Sebastian is an absolute stunner. Roughly 20 kilometres from the French border in lush northern Spain, after clapping eyes on San Sebastian you'll wonder why anyone bothers with the Costa del Sol for their beach vacation.

San Sebastian (known as Donostia in Basque) is the Basque region's crowning glory - a chic seaside town with a breezy, down-to-earth vibe, an idyllic island in the middle of the bay and a pedestrianized old town that crams in some of the best pintxos (Basque variation of tapas) bars and liveliest drinking holes in the country.

Hills rise up on either side of La Concha's sandy curve, offering a superb vantage for enviable holiday snaps. Monte Urgull is the most iconic of the hills, topped by a statue of an outstretched Christ, but save your best photographs for the panoramic vistas from the summit of Monte Igueldo.

East of the old town, the surfing beach Playa de la Zurriola is the perfect place to chill with the locals, take a sandy siesta or a twilight stroll.

Madrid

Madrid was Spain's coolest city long before Posh and Becks showed up. A frenetic city with a legendary nightlife that induces 4am traffic jams, Madrid is at its best when it is drinking, eating, shopping and partying.

It may not boast any world-famous monuments, but with its ornate cathedrals, stately government buildings, manicured parks, royal palace and sumptuous city squares spilling over with alfresco diners, Madrid arguably rivals Paris as Europe's most romantic capital city.

Culturally, its three big art museums – the Thyssen-Bornemisza, the Reina Sofia and the Prado – have collections that certainly give the Louvre a run for its masterpieces.



Toledo is stunningly situated above the Tajo river

Seville


The Alcazar in Seville

Beyond its orange tree-lined streets and searingly hot summers, there's enough flamenco and fiestas going on here to fulfill all your Spanish fantasies.

The city has Spain's highest unemployment rate, and the laid-back locals who lounge about in squares on balmy evenings – talking, laughing, dancing and singing - are always up for a party.

Seville is capital of the region of Andalucia and the physical centre of Moorish Spain (the country was under Moorish control for almost 700 years). Seville's Muslim influence lives on in its extravagant buildings such as the ornate Alcazar and the city's imposing cathedral – the world's largest - built on the site of a 12th century mosque.

The former Jewish quarter, the Barrio de Santa Cruz, is the city's medieval jewel, an atmospheric maze of narrow streets with flower-filled courtyards, quaint tapas bars and charming budget pensiones. Getting lost in its streets is all part of losing yourself in the romance of Seville.

Toledo

In a world gone awry, the medieval hilltop city of Toledo is a reminder of the potential for the world's three big religions to coexist.

From the Middle Ages onwards, Jews, Christians and Muslims lived here side by side in relative harmony until the Inquisition came and crashed the party in 1492.

Toledo still reflects its Middle Ages melting pot, with Arab-influenced architecture, a cavernous cathedral displaying the works of El Greco, Goya and Velázquez, and the old Jewish quarter with its two remaining synagogues. Toledo was once home to Spain's largest Jewish community and the Museo Sefardi in the 13th century Sinagoga del Transito offers a fascinating insight into this ancient culture.

Toledo is located roughly an hour's drive south of Madrid and is superbly situated above the Tajo river. You could easily kill a day or two here wandering the old city's tangle of narrow streets or browsing the quaint craft shops.



 



 



 

All About The Canary Islands

Playa de las Teresitas on Tenerife in the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are an archipelago of seven islands in the Atlantic Ocean that belong to Spain.

They are located close to the northwest of Africa so they are rich in both European and African influences.

The Canary Islands are a prime travel destination for sun-starved Europeans and are becoming increasingly popular with visitors from North and South America as well.

The northern islands in the chain are in subtropical latitudes so the weather is temperate. The southern islands are generally much drier and hotter.

Visitors are drawn to the Canary Islands for their dramatic volcanic scenery, beautiful sandy beaches and consistently warm weather . Of the four largest islands - Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Fuerteventura - Tenerife is probably the best-known vacation destination.

Tenerife has luxurious coastal resorts, glittering hotels and self-contained cottages. Its nightlife is legendary. The capital of Tenerife is Santa Cruz. There you will find art galleries, museums, historical sites and the Church of San Francisco.

Fuerteventura is the biggest of the Canary Islands and is a popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. Windsurfing, scuba diving, sailing and snorkelling are all popular activities. The coast of Fuerteventura has a wealth of clean, beautiful beaches. There are also plenty of facilities for playing golf, tennis, riding horses or simply shopping until you drop.

Over on Lanzarote, the landscape is volcanic, offering great opportunities for hiking through forests and over the rugged terrain. When you venture up the rocky mountains, be sure to wear sturdy hiking boots and carry plenty of water. A unique alternative to exploring the volcanic areas by foot is to do so by camel. For those who prefer to expend a little less energy, Lanzarote has an interesting heritage to discover in the towns.

Gran Canaria is home to one of the liveliest cities in the Canary Islands – Las Palmas. The city is located in a scenic spot just between two bays. There are many memorable sights in Las Palmas, including the Cathedral of Santa Ana and the historic old town. Arts and culture thrive in Las Palmas with plenty of live music, dance and opera. There are also several museums in the city where visitors can view ancient artifacts.

Getting to the Canary Islands

The Canary Islands are very accessible by air, with regular international flights serving Tenerife, Gran Canaria and Lanzarote. Many cruise liners also stop in one or more ports of the Canary Islands.

All About Lanzarote


View from the top of Mirador del Rio in Lanzarote
The Spanish island of Lanzarote is the driest in the Canary Islands chain and lies about 80 miles off the coast of Africa.

It has a desert-like climate, long white and dark sand beaches and is a popular package holiday destination for British and German.

Unlike other islands in the Canary Islands chain, Lanzarote has encouraged tourism without allowing the island to lose its tranquility and relaxed ambiance.

Covered in dry volcanic ash, the landscape on Lanzarote is sometimes likened to the surface of the moon. It is not unusual to see camels moving around the island, carrying goods from place to place. They even carry tourists around as well.

Lanzarote has avoided becoming overdeveloped due to the efforts of Cesar Manrique, an artist who had political connections. No building on the island can be more than six stories high and houses with sea views must be painted white with blue woodwork, or green or brown if they face inland. Manrique's work is dotted throughout the island and is worth checking out.

The beaches of Lanzarote are among the most spectacular in the world. They are clean, pristine, and accessible. Water sports are popular along the coast, especially snorkelling, scuba diving, windsurfing and parasailing. Many boat tours also offered for those wanting to explore the waters around Lanzarote.

One of the island's key sites is Monte de la Corona volcano. It features four miles of underground grottos (or tunnels) formed several thousand years ago during a volcanic eruption. Visitors can explore the grottos which are illuminated to show off the unique shapes and colours of the lava flows.

Another site worth visiting is Timanfaya National Park, where you will find lava and rock formations caused by extraordinary geothermic and geological forces. You can stop for lunch in the park restaurant, where the heat from nearby steam geysers cooks the food.

Even though Lanzarote is relatively undeveloped, that does not mean there are no luxurious resorts or spas. At resorts such as Costa Teguise, Playa Blanca, Matagorda and Puerto del Carmen, holidaymakers can be pampered and spoiled. If you prefer something more economical, there are plenty of cottages, apartments and smaller hotels.

The weather in Lanzarote ranges from mild to hot. Pack lightweight clothing that can be worn in layers to adjust to changing conditions. Bring a sweater or light jacket for venturing down into the grottos and staying comfortable in heavily air conditioned buildings.

The main language spoken on Lanzarote is Castilian Spanish. Restaurant menus are usually also in English and German.

The airport is located to the west of Arrecife, Lanzarote's capital, and is serviced by charter flights from northern Europe as well as major airlines such as Air Berlin, Iberia and British Airways.

All About Tenerife

Connect with your inner beach bum on Tenerife

Tenerife is the largest of the Canary Islands and one of the most visited. It has exquisite beaches, rugged volcanic hills, modern resorts and relaxed and traditional villages.

Tenerife is lush and green in the north and dry and hot in the south.

The dry southern part of Tenerife is where most of the tourist haunts and high-rise developments are concentrated. The Playa de las Americas is the busiest and most famous tourist resort on the island, with a lively nightlife and lots of opportunities for shopping and eating out.

The busy port of Santa Cruz de la Tenerife is the second most populated city on the island. If you're after something more relaxing, head to one of rural towns and villages, such as La Orotaval which has historic buildings, stunning architecture and three excellent dark sand beaches – El Rincon, El Bollullo and Martin Alonso.

The northern part of Tenerife is quieter and less developed. Visitors who travel to this charming area will find the picturesque village of Masca which is perched on a precipice.

Puerto de la Cruz is the main visitor centre in northern Tenerife. More traditional and tranquil than than some of the newer resorts in the south, the city has excellent hotels. One of the most exotic attractions in Puerto de la Cruz is Lago Martianez. This series of seawater pools was designed by famed artist Cesar Manrique and is a favourite destination for splashing, swimming and soaking up the sun. The city also boasts the volcanic beaches of Martianez and Playa Jardin and the botanical garden Loro Park, full of entertaining parrots.

Survival guide

Among the Canary Islands, Tenerife is often called the “island of eternal spring” thanks to its consistently warm and pleasant climate. The northern part of the island is a bit cooler than the southern side, thanks to the Passat winds. The island experiences its hottest weather in July.

There is one international airport on Tenerife (Reina Sofia International Airport). Flights to and from Tenerife are plentiful, especially if you catch a connection out of Madrid. The island is a major tourist destination for Europeans, so several international carriers out of Europe (such as KLM and British Airways) offer direct flight to Tenerife.

Accommodation in Tenerife is plentiful and varied. Choose from luxurious resorts and large hotels or spend your holiday in a self-catering apartment or villa.

Castilian Spanish is the main language spoken and the Euro is the currency.

 

Stroll the promenade near Alicante's beachfront
There's a good reason why much of Europe's homeless population migrate here every winter - this lively, sun-soaked city on Spain's east coast has one of the mildest climates on the continent, and mid-winter it is one of the few places you can comfortably parade around in a T-shirt.

Only a decade ago, Alicante was dismissed by most travellers as a scruffy port and a mere pit-stop on the way north to high-rise hells on the Costa Blanca.

With its long sandy beaches, accessibility to scuba diving off Tabarca Island and charming old quarter that parties as hard as any large Spanish city, Alicante has become a prime summer holiday destination.

Come winter however, the crowds disappear and Alicante oozes relaxed Spanish charm. Depending on your tolerance levels, the Mediterranean Sea is warm enough for swimming. The temperature drops low enough for a vigorous climb to the 16th century fortress that overlooks the city or for long lazy afternoons wandering the narrow back streets. Enjoy a beer with the locals or just relish having the excellent bars and restaurants to yourself.

 

Drive over lemons in Las Alpujarras
You'll have buns of steel after exploring the steep old mule paths and olive-grove terraces in the valleys of Las Alpujarras. Located just south of the snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains in Andalucia, Las Alpujarras is a 70km-long series of fertile valleys characterized by Berber-style whitewashed villages, bubbling streams and arid hillsides dotted with cacti and lemon trees.

The region was one of the last Moorish strongholds and until recently it was also one of Spain's most impoverished areas. However, internationals with a penchant for organic farming are moving into the area, bringing a trail of curious tourists in their wake.

On a clear day, the views from Las Alpujarras stretch as far as the Rif Mountains in Morocco.

The town of Lanjarón is the gateway to Las Alpujarras and the water bottled here is sold throughout southern Spain. Behind the town, challenging walking tracks lead off into the mountains. Orgiva is the main town in Las Alpujarras and while it's not much to look at, its craft and produce market on Thursday mornings is worth a visit. Further on, the picturesque villages of Pampaneira, Bubión and Capileria teeter on the side of a gorge, and have plenty of accommodation options and eateries to satisfy travellers.

 

A Spanish man gives the Asturian bagpipes a blow on a remote cliff near Llanes
The fishing port of Llanes is located on Spain's north Costa Verde (green coast) in the Bay of Biscay.

Llanes has a lively medieval centre and a glut of gorgeous sandy beaches within walking distance. A 2.5km cliff-top walk shoots off from the west of the town, winding past protected coves and freshly-fertilized cow paddocks to the tiny village of Poo. To the east, another coastal path leads to long sandy beaches, one stretch being a popular nudist hangout.

At night, Llanes' pedestrianized and walled old quarter is astonishingly lively for a town of only 5,000 people. Marisquerias (seafood restaurants) invite you to tuck into the catch of the day while sidrerias (cider houses) are staffed by men with questionable hand-eye coordination pouring locally-brewed apple cider from bottles held high above their heads.

  Llanes is located in Spain's rainy Asturias region, and while the town is popular with Spanish holidaymakers, you won't find any British or German tourists here picking fights over sun lounges. Asturias shares more than just erratic weather with Ireland, its distant northern neighbour. With its sheer cliffs, rugged coastline and mountainous backdrop, the terrain around Llanes is a dead ringer for southern Ireland. Before the Romans showed up, Asturias (along with neighbouring Galicia) was under Celtic control and the Celtic influence is still manifest in the local music, which you're likely to hear blaring from Asturian bagpipes in the most unlikely of places.
 

what to do in spain

The bulls get their own back in Pamplona . Picture: Tourist Department of the Government of Navarra

Run with the bulls at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona

With little more than a death wish, a spare pair of underwear and veins pumped with alcohol, hundreds of thousands of thrill-seekers descend on Pamplona in northern Spanish every July for the Fiesta de San Fermin (Running of the Bulls festival). Made famous by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises and more recently by Billy Crystal in City Slickers, adrenalin hits don't come better than running through the streets while being pursued by a herd of angry, stampeding, 500-kilogram bulls. For those with no desire to be gored or trampled, the spectacle can be safely viewed from overhanging balconies. Each encierros (bull run) ends with the confused animals being rounded into a ring where a bullfight ensures them a bloody end. More recently, the festival has been upstaged by the Running of the Nudes, a racy protest procession held a day before San Fermin providing naked proof that Pamplona “doesn't need to torture animals for tourism”.

 


Flamenco oozes pure sex and passion.

Be seduced by flamenco

The curve of a raised arm, the furrow of a brow, the dramatic strum of a guitar, a singer's lamenting wail and the sudden hush of a crowd - flamenco has come to represent all that is fiery and passionate about Spanish culture. Flamenco fuses music, song and dance and oozes pure sex. Men in tight pants pace around brooding, castanet-clacking women dressed in frilly layered get-ups. Musicians egg the dancers on with syncopated hand claps, foot stomps and shouts of ''ole!'' Flamenco stems from the Roma dances of 18th century Andalucía and it has never been more popular than it is today. Its spiritual home is Andalucia, but you are just as likely to see it performed at a street party in La Caruna or at an intimate tablao in Madrid as you are at a cavernous bar in Seville's old quarter. Numerous schools around Spain also offer flamenco dancing courses to foreigners

 

Learn Spanish quickly, easily and effectively

Whether you're looking to pick up a few useful phrases before you go on holiday or want to become more than just another tourist. To get more out of your travel it helps to know a few phrases.

But doesn't everyone speaks English?

No! Especailly if you're going off the beaten track. A winning smile and hand gestures will usually get you by, but if you were never very good at charades it always helps to be prepared.

Language Course Reviews

Everyone is different. Our number one tip is to find a good teacher or a good comprehensive course which suits you. Our favourite was Rocket Spanish which gets you speaking confident Spanish as quickly and easily. 

 

Rocket Spanish offers a free six part trial introducting you to basic Spanish. We've tried it, and love this program because it has been designed to be effective and easy-to-follow. It's interactive and useful for complete beginners and those who want to improve their existing skills. It's completely free, all you need to do is register your email address!

There really is no catch, you won't get spammed nor will your information be passed on to any third parties. If you find that the Rocket Spanish free trial has worked for you and want to learn more, then you can always upgrade to the complete course. >> Go to Rocket Spanish

 

Rosetta Stone

A well-known name in the the world of language learning. The main difference with this product is that it immerses you in the language, no explanations and no definitions. We found jumping at the deep end a little disconcerting but got used to the style after a few tries.

This is not a quick vacation fix, and should probably be for someone who is serious about spending both time and money on learning a language. This is reflected in the very expensive price tag. >> Go to Rosetta Stone

 

Here's what one of their users said:

Vacation Essentials
Hello Hola
Goodbye Adiós 
Please Por favor
Thank you Gracias
Where is? ¿Dónde está?
My name is... Me llamo...
Excuse me Perdón
How much ¿Cuánto cuesta?
Yes
No No
Leave me alone dejame solo
Do you speak English? Habla Inglés?
I don't understand no entiendo

"What a wonderful product. I'm loving doing your Spanish lessons! I've only had the course for a month and I am already quite confident talking about a lot of things in Spanish. I've been practicing on one of my Spanish friends and she has been so impressed!" Jason Austin (USA)  

Michel Thomas

We also like Michel Thomas for his unconventional teaching style, no books or homework and hypnotic voice. Listen to him teaching other people and pick it up from there. Michel Thomas believes "there's no such thing as a bad student--just a bad teacher" (So take that, Mr Lawson!).

It's a little on the pricey side and there's no free trial to see if this type of learning style suits you. He does however, have cheaper introductory courses, but if you want to go any further you're going to have to shell out. >>Go to Michel Thomas at Amazon.com

 

Walk the Camino de Santiago

What started as a 750-kilometre pilgrimage for devout medieval Christians has become one of Europe's top long-distance hiking trails. The Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of Saint James, traverses green northern Spain. It starts in the Pyrenees, winding its way through Pamplona,

The cathedral at the end of a long walk

Burgos and Leon, past orchards and vineyards, thatched-roof houses, historic churches and castles. The journey ends at the extravagant cathedral in the Galician city of Santiago de Compostela, the supposed burial site of the apostle Saint James. The Camino de Santiago still attracts a religious element, as Christian lore has it that those who complete the pilgrimage are absolved of their sins. These days you're just as likely to see super-fit outdoor types tackling the route on bicycles as you are white-bearded old men shuffling along with wooden canes. Accommodation en route is at special pilgrims' hostels known as a refugio which cost well under 10 Euro per night. You don't need to undertake the entire 750km journey to be mentioned at the pilgrims' mass at the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela or to receive a certificate at the pilgrims' office – that honour is available to anyone who has completed the last 100km on foot or final 200km by bicycle.

 

Survival guide

Don't expect anything to be done in a hurry in Spain. If one word summed up the national mindset, it would be 'mañana', which translated literally means 'tomorrow' or 'morning', but could just as well mean "maybe I'll get around to doing it sometime if I can be bothered". With a work ethic like that, it's a miracle Spain was ever invited to join the European Union. While Spain is a devoutly Catholic nation and is still shaking off the baggage from its bloody civil war and years under a stifling dictatorship, the country's conservatism is slowly waning. Significantly, in 2005 Spain went against the Vatican to become the third country in the EU to legalize gay marriage.

Food

Hams dangle from above in a bar in Santander

Spaniards rarely have lunch before 2pm (when many businesses close for a three-hour siesta) nor eat dinner before 9pm. Food is often soaked in olive oil and garlic. The sight of pigs' legs and chorizo (sausage) hanging from ceilings in restaurants and bars can be a little confronting for vegetarians. Cuisine differs according to region. Andalucia is the spiritual home of tapas, but these snack-sized meals are devoured all over the country as an accompaniment to pre-dinner drinks - try mushrooms in garlic sauce, the classic Spanish omelet or octopus in paprika. The northern Galicia and Basque regions are known for fresh seafood, Valencia is famous for its paella, while everything in Asturias is washed down with apple cider. For a sweet treat, nothing hits the spot like churros (donut-like pastries) dipped in thick hot chocolate.

Sleeping in Spain

Accommodation in Spain includes a thousand or so camping grounds, refugios (basic mountain shelters for hikers), more than 200 youth hostels, pensiones (one to two-star hotels), hostales (one to three-star hotels) and hoteles (higher-end hotels).

 
Bravado-fuelled revellers at the San Fermin festival in Pamplona. Picture: Tourist Department of the Government of Navarra

Getting there and getting around Spain

Most long-haul international flights touch down at Madrid's Barajas airport, while European airlines service numerous Spanish cities, including Vitoria, Bilbao, Barcelona, Malaga, Alicante, Almeria, Granada, Seville and Palma de Mallorca. Spain's official airline is Iberia.

 
 
   Long-distance bus services within Spain are surprisingly cheap, reliable and comfortable, while the extensive train network provides services that vary dramatically in price and speed. The high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Andalucia is the most expensive option, but whizzes passengers to Seville in just two-and-a-half hours.
 

Why we recommend Kayak

Kayak is simply an amazing travel search engine. User-friendly and efficient, it strives to deliver the cheapest and most relevant travel deals at the click of a mouse. Kayak is a meta-search engine which trawls hundreds of websites in real time for the best travel deals available looking at a full range of airlines, hotels and car rental agencies. Forbes handed it the prestigious Best Of The Web award in 2006 for its straightforward design and ease of use. We love Kayak and so will you.

Top 10 Tips

Scoring the best flight deal depends on when you fly, where you plan to go and how far in advance you book. Take our top 10 tips and grab some of the best deals around.

 
 
1. Book early. The further in advance you book the better off you are. This is especially the case with budget airlines whose prices increase closer to the flight date.

2. Avoid popular destinations in peak summer months.

3. Try to fly mid-week and at anti-social times of the day when airlines have the most trouble filling their seats.

 

 

 

4. Compare, compare and then compare some more. Use meta search engines like Kayak who trawl through hundreds of websites to find you the best deal.

5. Don't mind where you go? Try last minute deals - you will usually find a bargain if you are flexible on times, dates and destinations.

6. Avoid holiday periods such as the run-up to Christmas when flights are in demand.

Did you know ...

If you aren't going anywhere in a hurry, volunteer to get "bumped" from an overbooked flight. You usually get a free flight to use within a year and some spending money for your trouble.

Check out Seatguru.com for specific seat maps so you can work out where the best (and worst) places are for leg room, reclining and that all-important view of the TV screen. Airlines such as British Airways are also allowing customers to print their own boarding passes and choose their seats online, so sit back, stretch out your legs and enjoy the in-flight entertainment!

If you're flying within the United States check out Farecast.com, an airfare prediction website advising you to buy now or wait until later. The website is still being tested, but watch out as it's going to be the next big thing for researching flights.

7. Research your destination. Flights will be more expensive if there are public holidays. January 21 may not mean much in Western countries, but try flying to Dubai when everything has shut down for Eid al-Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice) which lasts up to 10 days.

8. Avoid flying during school holidays. Not only will you have to pay more, you may also end up on a flight surrounded by a gaggle of hyperactive children kicking your seat and vomiting at the slightest hint of turbulence.

9. Check out the latest deals on airlines' websites as they may have special offers. Also try the low-budget airlines that agents don't search.

10. Go standby - be aware this option is only for those who don't mind waiting for extended periods of time on clamshell plastic chairs

Discounts

If you are a full-time student or under 26 there is a huge selection of discounted airfares to choose from. The Student Air Travel Association (SATA) have done the hard work for you and negotiated cheap tickets between air carriers and SATA member travel agencies. You will however, need a student or youth card to be eligible for these tickets.

Airlines also offer senior discounts, usually around 10%. You may find however, that discounted senior fares are not the lowest fares the airlines are offering. There are advantages though: senior fares may not be as restrictive, can be used for last-minute travel and are refundable if you need to cancel your flight.

Feeling Green?

And we don't mean because of the turbulence. Check out the climate calculator to see how much of a 'carbon footprint' your flight is leaving behind and help support low-carbon technologies.

Travelling with kids?

Going on vacation with your little bundles of joy may seem daunting, but there are a few steps you can take to make it easier. Research the airline and their policies about flying with children. What you find (or don't find) will tell you a lot about how helpful they will be when you fly. Virgin offer the kiddies a mini-backpack full of freebies and Air France give children an activity pack to keep them entertained. Ask about children's play areas at the airport. You may also spot fast-track lanes at customs and immigration for people travelling with children. Find out about child discounts; on international flights children aged from two to 11 usually receive 20 to 40% off.

>> Round the world flights

 

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Why do I need travel insurance?

Buying Travel Insurance

Travel insurance is there as a safety net in case your dream holiday turns pear-shaped. It should pick up the bill if you have an accident, die, lose your luggage or travel documents, cancel your trip, suffer delays, are affected by a natural disaster or incur hefty legal expenses.

For domestic travel, most people are adequately covered by their existing insurance. If you're heading overseas, check to see if the country you are visiting has a reciprocal medical agreement with your own. For all international travel however, you should always take out some sort of travel insurance. To put it bluntly, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel.

While you may not be planning to spend your holiday ice climbing up frozen waterfalls, it doesn't mean you won't find yourself with a hefty hospital bill after slipping on a banana peel, or needing to replace all your belongings after losing them to a sticky-fingered passenger on a crowded train or wanting to cancel your trip after a romantic honeymoon destination morphs into a war zone overnight.

Top Tips

  • Leave a photocopy of your insurance policy with someone at home. Also email yourself all the details so you can access the information anywhere around the world.
  • If you need to cut short your holiday make sure you tell your insurer before rescheduling the flights home.
  • Check your home insurance policy - some items you're taking on vacation may already be covered.

While many insurance policies only cover medical expenses and trip cancellation/interruption, the safest option is to purchase a comprehensive package with the broadest possible coverage. Read the fine print: always make sure the insurance covers you for a pre-existing medical condition and for 'dangerous' activities, such as skiing or surfing. Keep in mind that the type and cost of coverage also depends on the part of the world you are visiting; the cost of medical care is more expensive in some countries, most notably the United States.

Where can I buy travel insurance?

Travel insurance is available from a range of sources and you can expect it to cost between 3% and 8% of your total trip. Some of the best insurance deals can be found online, but note that budget policies sometimes offer only the bare minimum. It is important to decipher the insurance gobbledygook to make sure you are covered for every possible scenario. Check out our World Nomads insurance page for some example prices and to get a quote online.

Types of travel insurance

Single trip: If you've finally convinced the boss to give you two weeks off work for your big trip, buying single trip insurance is probably the best way forward.

Annual multi-trip: If you make several trips each year, annual multi-trip insurance may be the best option.

Winter Sports: Skiing and snowboarding insurance is more expensive. This is because it covers piste closures, avalanches and your equipment. Not to mention those individuals who attempt a frontside 1080 and end up getting carted off to hospital along with the guy they accidentally ploughed into.

Over 65's: Insurance companies are recognising more and more older people are enjoying their retirement by going abroad and have come up with specialist packages.

Backpackers or extended trip cover: Destinations and length of your stay determines the price. Some tailor-made packages include worldwide cover, worldwide excluding the USA, Australia and New Zealand only and Europe only.

Watch out for...

Excess is the amount you have to pay if you make a claim. For instance, if your policy has $50 excess on medical expenses, you have to pay the first $50 before your insurer picks up the tab for the rest. Make sure to read the conditions and exclusions. Most policies WILL NOT COVER: drink/drug related incidents, mopeds over 50CC and scuba diving past 30 metres.

 

 

 

 

Looking after your health on holiday

>>While You're Away

Before you go

If you are travelling overseas see your doctor a few months before you go. The immunisations you may need depends on where you plan to travel. You may need to have a course of injections for rabies or hepatitis B, or start a course of anti-malaria tablets before you leave.

Declare any pre-existing medical conditions to your travel insurance company. If you are on any medication make sure you have enough to last the duration of your trip, and always carry medicine in a correctly labelled container. If you suffer from severe allergies (eg penicillin, nuts etc), it may be worth getting medic alert identification, especially if you are traveling alone.

If you're going away for an extended period make sure to get a dental check up.

Getting there

If you're traveling long distances, poor circulation on long distance flights can sometimes lead to deep vein thrombosis (DVT) - a blood clot in one of the deep veins in the body, usually the leg. Make sure to walk around on the plane, drink lots of water, consider wearing flight socks and ask the cabin crew for exercises you can do. Talk to your doctor if you have any concerns.

Check out the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) or Department of State websites for country specific, up-to-date travel advice before you go.
 

Why you should never mix alcohol with sleeping pills

Peter Buck, guitarist in the rock band REM, was aboard a flight from Seattle to London when witnesses say he started acting strangely. This included attempting to insert a CD into a drinks trolley after mistaking it for a CD player and a scuffle involving British Airways stewards and an exploding yoghurt pot. Buck was later cleared of one charge of being drunk on a plane, two charges of common assault on British Airways staff and one charge of damaging British Airways cutlery, claiming the combination of taking a sleeping pill and drinking "small amounts" of wine had caused the reaction.

Dehydration - Try to drink plenty of fluids on the flight. It may be tempting to take advantage of those courtesy tipples, but try to avoid alcohol as it dehydrates you and has more effect at higher altitudes.

Motion sickness - Take motion sickness tablets a few hours before you plan to travel. Alternatively, ginger tablets are said to help with motion sickness and some people swear by wrist-bands that work on acupressure points.

Jet lag - Avoid alochol on flights and drink plenty of water. Change your watch to local time and try to follow the local routine. If it's daytime, try to stay up, if it's night time, go to bed and try to get some sleep, even if you're not tired. For fans of Die Hard why not try "taking off your shoes and make fists with your toes" the jury's still out on this one, but hey, if it's good enough for Bruce...

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