Spain and Portugal Travel Tips
Spain operates on GMT + 1
Portugal operates on GMT
Spain's official language is Spanish, which is descended from Latin. In three regions of Spain there are also local official languages.In Galicia, in the Northwest, it is Gallego (similar to Portuguese);in the Basque Country it is Euskera (which has no relationship with any other language in Europe);in Catalonia, which is where Barcelona is, they speak Catalan (a Latin language that lies roughly between Spanish and French). But Spanish is universally spoken or at least understood in these regions. Many people who come into regular contact with visitors from overseas speak English to some degree, but as a general rule English is much less understood than in countries in Northern and Central Europe.
Modern Portuguese, the official language of Portugal, is the result of many linguistic forces: rooted in Latin, influenced by Germanic and Arab invaders, and flavoured by the languages of Portugal's one-time colonies in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Today,Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken Western languages in the world.
Religion & Etiquette
Photography: Etiquette requires that you ask permission before photographing local people, unless you are shooting a crowded public scene. This applies especially to small children. Please be considerate of a desire not to be photographed. Photography is not permitted at some designated locations, which may include some museums and private houses, for example. These areas are usually clearly marked. In general, avoid taking photographs of airports, government buildings and installations, bridges and military or police personnel. If in doubt, please ask—and avoid having your film or camera confiscated. Some churches and museums in Spain & Portugal charge a fee for photography or video-recording. Your local guide will advise when a fee is required.
Smoking etiquette: There is a smoking ban in all public places such as restaurants, bars, shops.
Clothing: Authorities in Spain & Portugal will not allow visitors in bathing suits or revealing clothing to enter archaeological sites or churches.
The Euro is the official currency of both Spain and Portugal.
Traveller's cheques are difficult to exchange in Spain and Portugal; and are not recommended. Major credit cards (Visa and MasterCard) are widely accepted; Diner's Club and American Express much less so.
There is easy access to ATM outlets in Spain and Portugal. Keep in mind most international ATM machines only accept four-digit PINs. If yours is longer than that, contact your local bank in plenty of time before leaving home to have it changed. Additionally, all merchants in Spain and Portugal who are accepting any form of credit card payment are now requiring cardholders to enter their PIN instead of signing a receipt for sale transactions.
Foreign Exchange: Exchange currency only at authorised outlets such as banks and hotels, and exchange only what you think you will spend in-country. Coins cannot be reconverted on departure. Save all receipts from any currency exchange transaction. You may be asked to produce them when you exit the country, and they are required if you intend to reconvert local currency.
An amount equivalent to approximately EUR 40 per full day of sightseeing is suggested as a tip for your local guide(s) in Spain and in Portugal, with EUR 20 suitable for your driver in Spain and EUR 30 in Portugal. For half-day excursions, equivalents of EUR 30 and EUR 15 are appropriate for guide and driver in Spain and EUR 20 and EUR 15 respectively in Portugal. Transfer drivers should be tipped at a rate of about EUR 15 per service in Spain and EUR 10 in Portugal. Driver-guides should be tipped EUR 40 for a full day and EUR 20 for a half day in Portugal.
Transfer assistance is at your discretion but if a Guardian Angel performs a special service for you, it would be appropriate to tip him or her at the same rate you would tip a hotel concierge for similar assistance.
Taxi drivers would appreciate a gratuity of rounding up the fare.
Restaurant Service: A charge for service is often added to restaurant checks but if not, a typical gratuity would be equal to 10-15% of the total.
Best time to go to Spain and Portugal
Spain is a large landmass influenced by the Atlantic in the north and the Mediterranean in the south, with a vast central interior. Spain is best visited in the springtime, when the temperatures are generally warm and comfortable, the landscapes are in full bloom and the best of the fiestas take place. Autumn is equally comfortable, though less green and the landscapes are drier. July and August are very hot, particularly in central Spain where temperatures can soar. Full-day sightseeing sometimes need to be taken at a slower pace as temperatures can reach up to 37°C/100°F. August is especially busy as international visitors line the beach resorts and the Spanish take their annual holidays. The winter climate varies from freezing in the central regions, where temperatures can get as low as 0°C/32°F, to pleasant on the southern coast and in the Balearic Islands, which are still perfect for sightseeing tours.
Portugal's climate is also influenced by the sea and is temperate in general. Spring and autumn are the most pleasant times to visit. July and August can be very hot (up to 35°C/95°F), especially in the sheltered bays of the Algarve in the south and the Douro Valley in the north, though the Algarve is especially pleasant and mild during the winter months when it is popular with Europeans taking second holidays and short breaks. Autumn temperatures can still reach as high as 22°C/70°F and winters are generally mild, though they can be interspersed with wind and rain, and some risk of snow in the mountains in the north.
Conservative "smart casual" clothing will be most useful for daytime touring. Day wear in Spain & Portugal is considered to be somewhat formal (especially in larger cities). Therefore shorts are worn only for sporting activities.
For Spain and Portugal, cotton and other light fabrics are comfortable choices for summertime. Pack a sweater or lightweight jacket for evenings and air-conditioned interiors. Spring and autumn temperatures dictate medium-weight clothing selections. Winters can be considerably colder and warm layers are recommended.
We also recommend you bring comfortable walking shoes with low or no heels, a small umbrella or light raincoat and a swimsuit as some hotels have pools. Authorities in Spain & Portugal will not allow visitors in bathing suits or revealing clothing to enter archaeological sites or churches.
When dining at night it may be appropriate for gentlemen to wear a jacket, with an equivalent standard of evening wear for ladies.
Laundry Service is generally available at your hotels. Prices can vary widely though, so please note price lists (and return timing) before using this service.
Avoiding the Baggage Blues: Baggage allowances vary according to airline –check your airline for details. Do NOT pack or bring prohibited items to the airport–check the airports relevant to your trip. Make sure there is contact information inside your bags as well as outside. In case your luggage is delayed make sure you pack essential supplies such as medication, contact lenses, toiletries, etc. in your carry-on bag.
It is important that you check with a qualified health professional for the most current information concerning your travel itinerary and personal health history.
Tap water is generally considered safe to drink in Europe but we recommend you stick to bottled water.
We suggest you carry a simple travellers' first-aid kit containing remedies for headache, minor stomach complaints, motion sickness and colds, as well as band-aids, antiseptics and/or other items as you and your doctor feel may be required.
Some of the places you'll visit in Europe are not easily accessible by vehicle. Sightseeing on your itinerary may require, at minimum, the ability to walk at a moderate pace for a mile or two, and the balance and agility necessary to climb stairs, enter and exit trains and buses, and navigate uneven or cobble-stoned streets. Some sightseeing stops do not have elevators or wheelchair access. These circumstances can make this European journey more strenuous than an itinerary that visits a developing country in Asia or Africa, where most sightseeing takes place from a vehicle.
We do recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance to cover you in the event of a medical emergency.
For up to date information on latest health and vaccination recommendations, please contact your doctor.
Electrical service in Spain and Portugal is supplied at 220-240 volts/50 hertz
Etiquette requires that you ask permission before photographing local people, unless you are shooting a crowded public scene. This applies especially to small children. Please be considerate of a desire not to be photographed. Photography is not permitted at some designated locations, which may include some museums and private houses, for example. These areas are usually clearly marked. In general, avoid taking photographs of airports, government buildings and installations, bridges and military or police personnel. If in doubt, please ask—and avoid having your film or camera confiscated. Some churches and museums in Europe charge a fee for photography or video-recording. Your local guide will advise when a fee is required.
Arrival and Departure Formalities
On arrival in Spain and Portugal, you will be asked to show your passport and complete a simple Immigration Form, requesting basic personal and passport information.