Spain offers a rich, diverse cultural experience. The country is home to renowned art, architecture, literature, cuisine, and history, and it’s easy to find something to enjoy in the street culture of Spanish cities—neighbors strolling their blocks or playing checkers on the sidewalks; teenagers hanging out in plazas at night; and food vendors selling tapas from carts.
Spain is one of the largest and most populous countries in Europe, with a population of around 47 million people. Despite its size, the country is relatively compact and the public transport system is well-developed. You can easily get around by train, bus, and car, although cars are not particularly necessary unless you plan on travelling to remote areas. Car-sharing services like BlaBla Car are popular and a great way to meet locals while exploring the country.
The Kingdom of Spain is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system and dual-party government. The king is head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces, and the highest legislative body is the parliament, the Cortes Generales (Lower House).
In addition to being an important regional player within the European Union, Spain has been at the forefront of the development of many major European policies, including common agricultural and fisheries policies; energy and transport policies; and industrial, cultural, and educational policies. It has also been active in regional initiatives, such as the Mediterranean Union.
Spanish people prize family life and a healthy work-life balance, and the country has traditionally maintained a strong social safety net for its citizens. However, as the recession has pushed wages down and increased the cost of living, many Spaniards are working longer hours in order to make ends meet. This is contributing to a wider trend of long-term unemployment, especially among younger workers.
While the southern regions of Spain are home to many beautiful and historical towns and cities, the interior is vast and largely sparsely populated. Travel across the country and you’ll discover the medieval emirate of Granada; the pilgrimage trails of Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain; the broad vineyards of La Rioja and Ribera del Duero; the hilly white villages of Don Quijote Country in central Spain; and the rugged mountain ranges of Andalucia.
While there are many things to see and do in Spain, it’s also important to leave enough time to relax. Start the day with breakfast at Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid, and then visit the main national art museum, Prado Museum—a must-see for any art lover. In the evening, catch a flamenco performance at Casa del Flamenco. Then, end the night with dinner at Michelin-starred restaurant Martin Berasategui—the only three-star eatery in Spain that isn’t located in a big city—where traditional cooking techniques are combined with science to create dishes like grilled sole with liquid chili.