Travel Tips For Spain
By templedf on Apr 23, 2005
Since I promised to, I need to get these posted before I forget them.
Book tickets to the Alhambra in advance. If you've never been to the Alhambra before, or if your guide book doesn't explain it, ticketing at the Alhanbra can be a mystery. Let me shed some light on it.
First off, there is a free admission part and a paid admission part. The free admission is really just the main grounds and the palace of Charles V. The paid admission includes the Nasrid palace, the Generalife gardens, and the old castle. They allow around 7000 people into the paid admission part a day. Of those, around 1500 are sold at the walk-up ticket counter. The rest are booked in advance, either over the Internet or through BBVA. If you're already in Spain or Portugal, just go to any BBVA. If you're still home, use the Internet. Do not attempt to buy tickets when you get there. There's a chance you'll succeed, but if you don't, you'll be very sorry. Trust me. I know from experience. This is why Granada showed up twice on our itinerary.
What you're actually reserving when you buy tickets is your time to view the Nasrid palace. You will be assigned a 30 minute window, during which you must show up at the palace entrance. If you miss your timeslot, you're out of luck. Once you get in, you can take as long as you want. If your timeslot is in the morning, you also get admission to the Generalife and castle until 2pm. If your timeslot is in the evening, you get admission to the Generalife and castle after 2pm.
When driving in Spain, think USA, not Europe. I found that the roads and drivers in Spain had much more in common with those in the US than what I'm used to in Europe. The cities are relatively far apart with next to nothing between them. The roads a decent, but the speed limit is 120kph (~70mph). That's OK, though, because everyone ignores the speed limits.
The city steets are also more like the city streets in the USA than in the rest of Europe. At first we thought we were just incompetent. Then we finally proved in Sevilla that city streets in Spain are simply impossible to navigate, even with a complete and accurate map. Even with several. If you're ever tried to bypass the Chicago tollway by detouring through downtown Chicago while the roads are under construction, you're ready for driving in cities in Spain. My advice is to pick a hotel on the edge of the city and take the bus to the center. We did that in Granada and Sevilla, and it worked beautifully.
Eat on the road. We loved absolutely every roadside greasy spoon we stopped at. Each one has character. They all have good food. Plus, with tapas (snack sized portions), you can get enough variety that you're sure to find something you like.
Ask the hotel staff for restaurant recommendations. We had a 100% success rate with that, even in Faro where there is little to recommend that isn't hopelessly touristy. The folks working in the hotels will usually tell you where they would eat.
My personal opinion is that you should not plan a trip to Spain for a beach vacation. They problem is not the Spanish beaches. They're great. The problem is the ridiculous quantity of tourists that flood the place as soon as it gets warm enough. We were there before the tourist rush, which by definition was before it was warm enough for a proper beach vacation. We had a great time exploring Spain, but we spent less than an hour in the course of 9 days on the beach.