There is much to be said about taking a trip to a new place with a primary focus of finding authenticity in everything you see and do. We now live in a world where selfie sticks and Starbucks overrun many a street corner. It’s not hard to understand why seeing the real country hidden behind these things is something many of us crave.
One country where an authentic experience should what you are searching for is Spain. It has a rich culture, incredible architecture, delicious food and passionate locals. How could you want anything less?
Here is a guide to planning and executing an authentic trip to Spain.
Do the big cities and the small cities
When you visit England, you want to see London. When you visit Japan, you want to see Tokyo. When you visit Spain? You want to see the capital city there too, that being Madrid, of course.
Seeing a countries capital is a fantastic lesson in history and politics and many other things to boot. While capital cities are not always the prettiest of destinations, they tend to be cultural hubs. You’ll find a wide variety of people there and multiple trades.
Outside of Madrid, Spain has many other incredible big cities on offer. Take Barcelona, for example. It is the second biggest city in Spain, after Madrid, of course. Whether you’re an architecture fan or not, you’ll be blown away by the buildings on offer here. There is Gaudi’s famous Parc Guell and the towering La Sagrada Familia to name just two. You could spend a weekend looking at the architecture and nothing else.
So that’s two of Spain’s biggest cities. But what about the smaller cities? The ones that don’t attract hordes and hordes of tourists. They are still busy in the summer months, of course. You’ll struggle to find many places worth visiting in Spain that aren’t. But they offer an air of authenticity that is rarer in the bigger cities. Take Salamanca, for example. In northwestern Spain, the Old City of Salamanca is a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. They don’t hand those titles out for nothing. Here you’ll find tiny streets alongside cathedrals. You’ll feel the buzz of a University town alongside Spaniards who have lived in the area for many generations. As for the cultural influences, the variety is vast. Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and Romanesque monuments all stand side by side. It just goes to show that Spain’s biggest cities and small cities are worthy of your time.
Eat like the locals
If there is one word that springs to mind when you think of Spanish food, it is, of course, tapas! Consisting of a huge variety of small plates that can be mixed and match, you can create the perfect meal for you every single time. Go for potato croquettes – croquetas, and fried potatoes in a spicy tomato sauce – patatas bravas. Paella is another must-have accompaniment to tapas, and prawns are a popular choice. That’s not even mentioning the meats! Cured meats are a staple of most Tapas spreads in Spain.
Want to eat like a true local? Ditch the restaurants frozen cheesecake and go for a leche frita. It is a milk pudding dusted with sugar and cinnamon; delicious!
Of course, we couldn’t mention food without mentioning drink. Sangria is the alcoholic beverage of choice for the majority of Spaniards, and for good reason. With a unique taste, it may take some getting used to if you’ve never tried it before. However, a well-made glass of sangria served over ice and packed with oranges, lemons and limes, will fast become your new favourite.
Ditch hotels, and stay in homestays
It’s unquestionable that Spain has some truly stunning hotels. However, if it’s authenticity that you’re after, plug for a homestay instead. First of all, you’re likely to find them far more affordable. But more importantly than that, they put you in direct contact with the real, Spanish way of life. You can ask your hosts if you can help them put together dinner one night, so you can see how it is really done. You can swap language skills; spend one hour teaching them your language, followed by an hour of learning Spanish.
Alternatively, if you want to ditch the hotels but don’t want to do a homestay, rent an apartment. This means you will have you own space, and also, your own kitchen to cook food you pick up at the local markets! AirBnB is growing in popularity for this kind of thing, and for good reason.
Learn the language
What better way to integrate into local society than to speak the language? Spanish is a beautiful language, and knowing more than just the basics will get you a long way. Do a short course in your home town before leaving for your trip to start to get comfortable. Alternatively, if you’re staying in Spain for a while, sign up for a course there. You can find some that offer an intensive two or more weeks of training. The intensity of these course means you will be fast tracked to being a linguistic genius in no time at all!
Live and work
Rather than just making a short trip to Spain, how about sticking around for a few months to work? Surely there is no better way to experience life as a local than by becoming one. Living abroad has its challenges, and so does working abroad. But the rewards are many.
Live their way of life
Each country has its own quirks and traits they are well known for. In Spain, one of these is their siestas. Most shops, restaurants, and other businesses shut down in the afternoon, usually between the hours of 2 pm and 4 pm. Everybody goes home to have a nap, and then goes back to work again afterwards! Get the authentic Spanish experience by joining in with this tradition. It will certainly make you feel more a part of the local culture. Plus, in many cities, there isn’t much to do even if you are awake during these times!
The Spanish also love their festivals or fiestas! Try and organize your trip to Spain to sync with one or more of these. They are a riot of color, music, and dancing. You’ll even be able to see traditional Flamenco dancers in the traditional costumes.
Have you ever been to Spain? Let me know by leaving a comment.
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