27 Things Spain is Known and Famous For

Are you wondering what Spain is famous for?

Spain is famous for its easy-going culture, delicious food and stunning scenery. Major cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia all offer unique traditions, languages and must-see sites! Vibrant festivals such as La Fallas and La Tomatina draw huge crowds of both locals and tourists.

Spain is also known for producing the most olive oil in the world, as well as many fine wines.

spanish flag

But there’s much more to Spain than that. Brush up on your Spain trivia by reading about the many things Spain is known and famous for!

1. Flag

spain flag

We’ll begin with the nation’s symbolic flag. Spain is known for its yellow and red flag, colloquially called “Rojigualda” in Spanish. The Spanish flag has changed many times over its tumultuous history, but the colors have more or less always stayed the same. 

It was under the reign of Isabella II (1843) that Spain gained a flag that represented the whole nation – the one we recognize today.  It was designed in 1785 and had origins as a Spanish naval signature.

Just because there’s one flag to symbolize Spanish unity, there are other regional flags too. They’re used to showcase national pride and significant celebrations in autonomous regions. They too bear the trademark colors.

And, if you’re wondering what that’s all about – some believe that the colors symbolize Spanish bloodshed and the sun, although other stories link them back to bullfighting. Either way, fiery colors for a blazing, gorgeous nation makes perfect sense to me!

2. Madrid

madrid streets

A good place to start exploring Spain is its capital. Madrid is one of the more understated and underrated capitals of Europe, although it’s actually the third-largest city in the European Union.

From a focal standpoint, Madrid’s streets are full of alleyways and balconies with overflowing beards of flowers. The locals know there’s plenty to be proud of and show off to tourists, you just need to know where to go!

Spain is famous for its glorious weather, and Madrid is favored in this regard. It’s the sunniest city in Europe, with almost 300 days of sunshine out of the year. Soak up the sun by strolling along the city’s (and the country’s) geographical center, Puerta Del Sol.

If you’re looking for greenery in Madrid, head to Retiro Park where you can laze after taking a trip to the Salamanca shopping district. You’ll also uncover a varied and fascinating history Madrid’s history, a highlight being the Ancient Egyptian Temple of Debod, gifted to the city in the 1970s.

Madrid is also home to the World’s Oldest Restaurant from 1725, called Sobrino de Botín. A remarkable fact about the restaurant, which specializes in roast pork, is the fire in the oven has never fully been put out. Lastly, If you’re a seafood lover, be sure to grab yourself a bocadillo de calamares, a calamari sandwich – it’s the city’s speciality.

3. Bullfighting

matadors

We mentioned earlier that bullfighting might have had something to do with Spain’s national colors. Chances are you’ve heard that Spain is famous for its controversial stance on bullfighting, and with good reason.

Spaniards have been bullfighting (“corrida de toros”) since the Roman era, and it’s popularity has extended beyond Europe to Latin America. 

Be that as it may, bullfighting has divided the nation. Some contend it’s part of the national fabric, while others protest against the animal cruelty involved. Bullfighting involves a matador who eventually stabs the bull with a sword to end the fight.

Bullfights in Spain occur between April and September, usually on Sundays. Most big cities will hold events involving bulls, although the numbers are steadily in decline. In 2018, events featuring bulls halved compared to previous years. 

The only province to ban bullfighting in Spain is Catalonia, where it was permanently banned it in 2015. Majorca also put a temporary ban in place, although it has since been reinstated.

4. History

La Valle de Los Caídos

Bullfighting isn’t the only controversial part of Spanish history and culture. It’s not discussed much these days, but less than 50 years ago Spain was a very different place to the one we know today.

Spain is famous for its modern history involving a civil war, dictatorship and return to monarchy and democracy. 

Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, Spain endured the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). During the three year war, Spaniards split into two groups: Republicans and Nationalists.

The Nationalists were headed by Francisco Franco, and after defeating the Republicans he became dictator of Spain for almost 40 years. The bloodshed and political and social upheaval was felt all over Spain, and even today older Spaniards are very divided on this era in the nation’s history.

As a result, one of Spain’s most famous monuments La Valle de Los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen) is mired in controversy. Located northwest of Madrid, the memorial and basilica was partially built by Republican prisoners following the war. It’s both exquisite and eerie, though well worth a visit for history buffs and culture connoisseurs alike.

Beneath the memorial lies the remains of 40,000 soldiers from both sides of the civil war, and Franco himself was buried there until 24 October 2019.

5. Lifestyle

love streetwalk

War and bullfighting aside, Spain is famous for being a nation of friendly and easygoing people. Forget about rushing through life and take your time to enjoy all of life’s pleasures big and small – it’s what the Spaniards do.

Of course, modern life has changed the routines of many. The famous “siesta” where some Spanish farmers take an after lunch nap is slowly becoming less common. Don’t be fooled though – some stores and cafes are closed in the afternoon and early evening.

Habitually taking time to eat with family, hang out at a bar as early as 10am with a pal – well that’s allowed and even encouraged in Spain!

Spaniards are helpful and kindly hosts to visiting tourists. Pickpocketing is likely to be your greatest threat on a visit, and I advise you to keep your valuables safe either on your person or where you can see them. Locals are often keen to lend a helping hand or offer advice.

6. Barcelona

basilica de la sagrada familia in Barcelona

Rumor has it that Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona, is actually older than Rome. Some even say it was named by Hercules himself.

What is certain, however, is that Spain is known for its Catalonian capital, Barcelona. My last visit to this city had me entranced, and I don’t doubt you will feel the same way.

Ed Sheeran couldn’t resist singing about La Sagrada Familia, the world-famous work-in-progress cathedral that has taken 200 years to still be almost finished. It’s one of Gaudi’s major works of art, and it’s 984 meters (3228 feet) tall!

Barcelona is also home to the world’s largest metropolitan park, Parc de Collserola which is 22 times bigger than New York’s Central Park. 

The Gothic Quarter is home to Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s famous five avenues where more than 150,000 people pass through every day on a walk through the city.

The Barceloneta beaches are actually man-made, courtesy of the 1992 Olympics. The seafront is dotted with great bars and cycle paths so you can burn off some energy and relax afterward with a jug of Sangria (more on that later!).

Read about what Barcelona is famous for!

7. Painters

picasso painting

A visit to Barcelona will show you multiple glimpses of some of Spain’s most esteemed artists.

Spain is known for being the home country of many prestigious painters, from classical to baroque and modern. The two most renowned artists from Spain hail from Catalonia, and are none other than Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.

Pablo Picasso was born in 1881 in Andalusia, but grew up in Barcelona. His deep affection for the city can be seen in many of his paintings. For instance, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon is not as most people think, women from the French city Avignon, but the precinct in Barcelona with the same name. Learn more about Pablo by visiting Barcelona’s gothic quarter, where you’ll find Museu Picasso

The second most famous Spanish painter is another Catalan, Salvador Dalí. He was born in Figueres, Catalonia, and that’s also where you’ll find his theatrical museum. Dalí stated that anybody wanting to find out more about him after he died should do so in an environment as whimsical as his surrealist paintings. He got his dying wish – the website is even offering virtual tours if you want to know what you’re getting yourself into!

8. Dia de Sant Jordi

roses on pages

This is more of a fun aside, but if you happen to be in Catalonia on 23 April, you’ll notice a dreamy aura spreading over the province.

Catalonia’s answer to Valentine’s Day is somehow even more romantic and thoughtful than you might have imagined, and it occurs on St George’s Day.

St George’s Day (La Diada de Sant Jordi) is a Catalan holiday which also goes by the names “Diada de la Rosa” (day of the rose) and “Diada del Libro” (book day). 

This is because instead of exchanging chocolates and flowers to woo their sweethearts, Catalan men give roses and women give books to their lovers as symbols of never ending love. It’s not a Spanish public holiday, but a distinctly Catalan one.

Catalonia’s other national holiday is 11 September, and is celebrating by flying their flag dubbed “senyeras”.

9. Caga Tío

caga tios
Photo Credit : Greg Gladman

While we’re still in Catalonia, we can’t forget about Caga Tío, or “poop log” as he’s known in English. Spain is famous for having some unique traditions, and the best of all relating to Christmas has to be Catalan’s Christmas symbol, Caga Tío or Tío de Nadal (Christmas log).

He’s the pooping log equivalent of Santa in Catalonia. Kids “feed” Tío for weeks before Christmas, leaving him offerings of food scraps. On 24 December, mom or dad will put a blanket on Tío’s butt end, and the singing and smacking him with sticks begins. 

The song, translated from Catalan, goes: “poop log, Christmas log, don’t poop salted herrings, they are too salty, poop torrons (Spanish candy),  they are much better!”

And sure enough, candy begins to fall out the blanket end. Why Catalan people think that a pooping log is festive, nobody really knows. I think it’s kind of endearing – in a “what on earth is going on” sort of way.

10. Wine

spanish vineyard

If you like a tipple then you’re in for a treat in sunny Spain, especially if you’re a wine drinker. Spain is famous for being the world’s third largest exporter of wine – and they have more vineyards by area than anywhere else in the world.

There’s more than one million hectares of vineyards, and even more astonishingly, 400 grape varieties grown in Spain today. The variety of wine exported from Spain ranges enormously.

Cava, the Spanish equivalent of champagne, was first made in Spain in 1872 after Josep Raventós came back from France after learning the method behind making sparkling wine. Another fun fact is the name “Cava” comes from the caves where the wine is aged before being sold.

Spain is also celebrated for its red wines, in particular Rioja which is easily recognizable by its deep crimson color and flavor. It’s also the wine most commonly used to make Sangria, which we’ll talk about next!

11. Bars and Sangria

sangria jug

There are few things more quintessentially Spanish than Sangria, and as you might be able to tell, I am a huge fan.

Luckily for us, Spain is known for having the most bars per person in the world, so there’s plenty of options when it comes to ordering your Sangria or Cerveza (beer).

Spanish culture dictates that taking time out to enjoy yourself with loved ones is the key to a happy life – and I have to say, I agree!

Sangria is a punch made from red wine, fruit juices, fruit and occasionally other spirits. In south Spain, Sangria is occasionally called Zurra, and the only real difference is that it’s made with peach or nectarine juice rather than orange – just as delicious!

Tapas is often served alongside drinks in Spain, so be sure to grab some nibbles while you make your way around the nation’s many bars.

Drinks come cheap in Spain, although watch out for tourist traps as they are likely to charge more. A glass of wine or a beer will usually come in around €2-3 ($2-4), so if it’s vastly higher than that – move on to the next place!

12. Olive oil

olive oil

Speaking of Tapas, one of the most vital ingredients in Spanish cooking is olive oil.

The abundance of countryside and the humid climate is perfect for growing olives, which explains why olive oil is one of the nation’s largest exports. Spain is famous for producing even more olive oil than Greece or Italy, if you can believe that!

Olive oil is used both as a cooking oil and as a dressing. The Spanish diet is so reliant on the stuff that you’d be hard pressed to find a dish that doesn’t contain it! It’s estimated that Spaniards consume 12kg of the stuff every year. For comparison, the worldwide average is 0.4kg.

With the world flickering its eyes towards the nutritious Mediterranean diet, global sales of olive oil have skyrocketed in the last ten years. The region which grows the most olives for pressing into oil is Andalucía, and it’s estimated a massive 40% of the world’s global olive oil supply comes from there.

13. Health

vegetables market

It’s not just olive oil that makes Spain among the healthiest nations in the world.

Spain is known for being a world leader when it comes to overall health. It’s predicted that by 2040, Spain will even eclipse Japan as having the longest life expectancy!

One in four Spaniards walk for more than an hour at a time, making them the Europeans who take the longest walks.

You might be shocked that the usual time for eating dinner in Spain is between 9pm and 11pm – but when you consider how small the meal is, it makes sense. Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain, and can last anywhere from one hour to two hours. 

Around half of Spanish men and women consume fresh fruits and veggies every day. For comparison, those figures are just 9% in the U.S. According to the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index, Spain ranks as 6th in the world.

14. Cuisine: Paella, Gazpacho & Tapas

paella

The Spanish diet leaves a lot of room for envy. Fresh ingredients and huge regional varieties allow for indulgent and delicious feasting! Cuisine in Spain is famous for its intense flavor and variety, and culinary delights are so easy to come by you’ll be rushing to try them all!

People often think that paella is the national dish of Spain, but Spaniards associate it with Valencia – even calling the dish Paella Valenciana. This rice dish is typically served with several varieties of meat tossed in, sometimes rabbit and even occasionally snails!

Rice (Arroz) features heavily in Spanish cuisine, as do Mediterranean ingredients such as tomatoes and seafood. A few dishes that you’ll find all over Spain are Gazpacho, a cold, thick soup and Tapas, small side dishes served together at the same time.

15. Valencia

valencia city

Which leads us to talk about Spain’s third largest city, Valencia! It’s a booming metropolis with both a historic and modern feel. Valencians are extremely proud of their city and heritage, and around every corner there’s a new hidden gem to discover.

Valencia feels like an eclectic collection of architecture. The ivory colored walls of the towering buildings contrast with the orange and red tiled roofs in charming harmony. 

Perfect for a weekend break or short holiday, there’s a huge variety of culture and history available. Valencian eateries and markets are also to die for – the fresh locally produced oranges are sweeter than any I’ve tasted elsewhere.

It’s hard not to fall in love with Valencia when you amble through the central market, and partiers can enjoy plenty of festivals and nightlife.

Las Fallas, is the most famous festival hailing from Valencia. This two-week extravaganza of parades, drinking and partying in the street transforms the city. Huge wooden puppets are put up all over the city, and at the festival’s close, they burn them to the ground!

16. La Tomatina

la tomatina festival
Photo Credit: Łukasz Lech

If you stray outside of Valencia’s borders, you might find yourself in the town where the world’s largest tomato food fight takes place every year.

The tradition began in the 1940s near the end of August. A spectator watching an “ordinary” parade of dancing, drinking and partying thought the party was lackluster. Abandoning the usual methods of livening up an atmosphere, the allusive someone threw tomatoes into the crowd and soon everyone had joined in!

The town enjoyed themselves so much that it became a tradition, now known as La Tomatina – the world’s largest tomato food fight. The town’s population booms from 9,000 to 40,000 as people turn up to join in!

Naturally, the authorities didn’t like La Tomatina much to begin with. They tried to put a stop to it, but the tomato throwers won (well, ammunition was on their side!). Eventually, they saw the funny side too and now La Tomatina is celebrated with fireworks, paella cooking contests and festivities.

17. Baby jumping festivals

las fallas
Photo Credit: Ben K

If you don’t want to get your clothes wrecked, then there are plenty of other Spanish festivals to get involved in. Spain is famous for being a nation of party lovers, and most fiestas don’t involve anything as crazy as tomato pelting. 

Or do they? The word “Fiesta” refers mostly to ongoing annual festivals. Every region in Spain has its own unique way of celebrating significant cultural events and some celebrations are just as unique by definition as La Tomatina, though perhaps less messy.

Take El Colacho (Baby Jumping Festival) for instance. It’s celebrated in Castrillo de Murcia every year and is exactly what it says it is.

Babies born that year are laid down on mattresses outside their homes and a man dressed as the devil jumps over them to cleanse them of sin. Afterwards, the babies are showered in rose petals and blessed by priests. At least it’s not tomatoes!

18. Soccer

barcelona football

Something that brings out Spain’s competitive side is without a doubt their national sport: soccer. Spain is famous for its world-leading soccer players and teams, and it’s taken pretty seriously wherever you are in the country!

The question that divides Spaniards when it comes to soccer is usually “Real Madrid or Barcelona?” Many split into either camp, usually supporting either Messi or Ronaldo as their sporting hero. David Villa is, to date, the best goal scorer to come from Spain with 59 goals to his name. 

Spain is one of the eight countries to have won the FIFA World Cup. Their win was secured in 2010 during the tournament in South Africa. The Spanish national team has made it to the quarter finals four times.

19. Inventions

guys playing guitar

Spain is known for giving us great food, drinks and soccer fans a reason to scream, but for some reason people gloss over awesome Spanish inventions. Some of them are so integral to our lives today that we couldn’t live without them – take eyeglasses, for instance.

Eyeglasses were invented by the Muslim poet Abbas ibn Firnas, who lived in Andalusía in the 9th century. Back then, they were referred to as “reading stones” and were made to improve poor sight. Impressive, right?

But that’s not all. The Spanish gave us the mop in 1956, and the cable car in 1887. Stationery lovers can thank Spaniards for the pencil sharpener, stapler and digital calculator too.

Perhaps the most loved Spanish invention is the guitar, which developed between the 13th and 18th centuries to turn the “vihuela” into a classical guitar.

20. Dance like Flamenco

flamenco dance

It makes sense that the nation to produce the classical guitar are also excellent movers and groovers! Spain is famous for its regional dances, steeped in history and culture. Put your right foot forward and grab a partner, it’s time to learn about Spanish dancing!

Many of us mistake Flamenco for a dance, but it’s actually a music genre that provides the soundtrack for the iconic moves.

Flamenco dancing is most prominent in the province of Andalusia and can be traced back to the gypsy communities who lived there centuries ago. Today it’s recognized as a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. 

Other regional dances include the Sardana, from Catalonia, which involves holding hands in a group circle and a lot of rhythmic swaying to traditional music. The Muinera of Galicia and the Jota of Aragon are also popular dances that are still practiced to this day.

21. Music

music concert

And as if we’ve gone full circle, those dances come with a pretty fabulous array of music. Spain is famous for producing some great forms of music and musicians!

Spanish pop music has dominated global party scenes several times over the years. The Macarena is one of those iconic songs which has saved many a party from ending early – who can’t resist getting up to dance when they hear it?

Many of us also remember Enrique Iglesias as being the winner of our hearts when he sang Hero back in the early 2000s. Aw. 

22. Ibiza

ibiza coast

It’s almost become a rite of passage for European teenagers graduating high school to head to Mediterranean party islands to celebrate, and Ibiza is on everyone’s list. Spain is famous for its party-centric Balearic Islands, and the most sought-after is Ibiza!

I’d be lying to you if I said that most people didn’t head to Ibiza for its iconic party scene. “Nightlife” is a bit of a misnomer in Ibiza. Around the clock, DJ’s will keep your feet moving in some of the world’s most famous nightclubs such as Amnesia and Pacha. 

But there’s another side to Ibiza. The crystal clear waters along the coastline offer plenty of escapism from tourists and crowds if you need a place to chill out and rest. You can swim with dolphins, explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ibiza Old Town or take a ferry ride to Formentera.

From Ibiza Town to each corner of the coast, there are plenty of places to stay in Ibiza so give the location a thought before you book.

23. Languages

You might have read somewhere that Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, but that’s only half true. Did you know that Spain is famous for having four official languages?

Castilian is the variant of Spanish that is most commonly spoken, but Catalan, Basque and Galician are also recognized as official languages of Spain. There are also regional dialects that are unofficial variants of Spanish. 

The differences reflect the heritage and history of the provinces where the languages are spoken. In Catalonia, for instance, you’ll hear both Catalan and Aranese spoken. Catalan is in some ways closer to French than Castilian, and Basque is unique to its region – it bears no similarities to other European languages.

24. Funny phrases

Regardless of dialect or language, phrases in the local lingo will get you acquainted with the locals in no time.

Spain is known for being a passionate and expressive country – and what better way to channel your inner Spaniard than with some phrases? I can’t promise these will be useful, but they may make you laugh.

In Catalonia, if you see someone acting shady and you’ve sussed them out, you can happily tell them: “S’ha acabat el bròquil!” The meaning behind this Catalan phrase is along the lines of “the game is up!”, but what you’ve actually said is “there’s no more broccoli!”. That’ll show ‘em. 

If you need to describe a cocky, arrogant individual, try it the Castilian way. “To think of oneself as the last Coca Cola in the desert” (Creerse la última Coca-Cola del desierto) is probably the most humorous way of telling someone to knock it off.

25. Málaga

malaga during sunset

Málaga, on the southern tip of Spain, is famous for its vast coastline and dazzling beaches. Located in the province of Andalusia, Málaga is also Pablo Picasso’s birthplace and is steeped in culture and history.

Prove you’re Picasso’s biggest fan by visiting the Picasso Museum, where you’ll find extremely rare pieces and all you could hope to know about the acclaimed artist. There’s also an impressive cathedral called La Manquita, which was built between 1528 and 1782. 

In the 1950s, a Roman amphitheater was discovered in the city which dates as far back as the 1st century ad. Everything from rock concerts to operas are performed there, making it one of the musts on your list of things to do in Málaga. Want to feel some sand between your toes? Make way to the famous Malagueta beach for sun and surf. 

26. Fashion

zara store
Photo Credit: Leif Harboe

From high fashion to high street stores, Spain is famous for giving us some pretty iconic clothing brands. Stores such as Zara, Pull & Bear, and Mango have gone global – you’ll probably find many of them at your local mall (or your closet). 

These companies are owned by the global company Inditex, and Zara has been going since 1977. Inditex recently pledged a move towards sustainability in the fashion world, eliminating single-use plastics by 2023. 

But that’s not all. Esteemed Spanish shoe designer Manolo Blahnik has given the world some of the swankiest stilettos on the market. If they’re good enough for Madonna, Beyonce and Carrie Bradshaw from Sex & The City, they’re good enough for us. He’s no fan of platform shoes, but lives with his enormous shoe collection in my hometown of Bath, England.

27. Superstitions

notebook beside bed

If you want to know what a nation likes and dislikes, an easy way to get an insider’s view is to take a look at their superstitions. Lucky for us, Spain is famous for having some hilarious (and oftentimes peculiar) superstitions!

I’ll be the first to admit that the “break a leg” phrase in English is a bit odd. But wishing lots of poop on someone? Some would say that’s too far, but not Spaniards! If you want to wish someone good luck in Spain, all you need to say is “mucha mierda!” (“much poop!”). 

If you’re moving house in Spain, leave your old broom behind and get a new one. They believe that bringing one with you transfers old bad luck to the new home.

Mind you don’t put your hat on the bed or your purse on the floor, both of these are believed to bring about misfortune. In the case of your handbag, putting it on the ground could encourage losing all your money.

Barceloneta beach in Barcelona

We want to hear from you! Let us know what you learned about Spain in this article or even better, teach us something new. If you’ve got a favorite Spanish bar or beach, we wanna know about it in the comments below!

Interested in heading to the Med? Read more about neighboring countries France, Italy and Portugal.

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