• 12 September 2021

Spain is the land of fiestas, flamenco, tapas and passion! This endlessly popular travel destination draws visitors from across the globe, who flock to enjoy the golden coastlines, vibrant cities, world-famous cuisine and rich cultural scene. It’s a diverse country that boasts a fascinating history, beautiful landscapes and often quirky traditions. To celebrate Spain’s National Day on 12 October, Expat Explore has put together a list of 15 facts about Spain that may surprise you!  

Whether you are enjoying the world-famous islands, experiencing the high-spirited atmosphere of Las Ramblas, exploring the charming towns steeped in history or tucking into a plate of tasty paella, you’re sure to encounter Spain’s unique flair!   

Here are 15 surprising facts about Spain:

1. Spain is home to the fourth-highest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Spain boasts the fourth-highest number, just behind China and Italy. As of August 2021, there are 49 World Heritage Sites in the country. Visit Spain and you’ll have the chance to experience incredible additions to the list like the Alhambra, the works of Antoni Gaudí’s including La Sagrada Família and the Camino de Santiago.

View of Alhambra in Granada, Spain, at sunset
The Alhambra in Granada is one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.
2. La Sagrada Família has been under construction for 130+ years!

Despite not being completely built, La Sagrada Família is one of the most iconic buildings in Spain. Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece is an unfinished Roman Catholic basilica located in Barcelona. The church is a shining example of Gaudí’s fantastical architectural style which began construction in 1882 and continues today. It’s hoped that it will be complete by 2026 (on the centenary of Gaudí’s passing), however construction has been delayed by Covid-19. 

View of La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona Spain
Take in Gaudi’s breathtaking masterpiece when in Barcelona!

Related: See La Sagrada Família and more of Gaudí’s designs in Barcelona on the Taste of Spain tour

3. Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

Spanish is spoken by more than 45 million people around the world! The language is second to Mandarin Chinese and one spot above English. Due to its colonial past, Spain still holds a cultural influence in many countries around the world. Spanish is the official language of 18 countries including Mexico, Argentina, Costa Rica and Peru.

While Spanish is the official language of Spain, there are several “co-official languages” and different dialects are spoken across different regions. As you travel, you’ll encounter Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranese Spanish! 

Two female tourists pose for a photo in Spain
Learn a few Spanish phrases and practice them on your next trip!
4. The world’s first “modern novel” was written by a Spanish author.

Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes was first published in 1605. Many consider it to be the world’s first modern novel and it has been translated into 145 languages! After 400 years, the novel still boasts a major influence in modern western literature.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza statues in, Madrid, Spain
See the Don Quixote and Sancho Panza statues in, Madrid, Spain
5. Madrid is home to the world’s oldest restaurant.

Take a look at the Guinness Book of Records and you’ll find that Madrid is home to the world’s oldest restaurant! Sobrino de Botín is a cosy Spanish eatery that opened in 1725 and still operates today! Pay a visit and try Sobrino de Botín’s speciality cochinillo asado (roast suckling pig). 

View of entrance to Sobrino de Botín in Madrid Spain
Visit Sobrino de Botín in Madrid for a memorable Spanish food experience.
6. Spain hosts a number of famous (and quirky!) festivals.

Spain hosts a number of festivals, from the well known to the quirky! Two of the most well known are San Fermin (Pamplona Bull Run) held in July and La Tomatina, held in August, which is basically the world’s biggest food fight and sees thousands of locals and tourists gather to throw tomatoes at each other! Las Fallas de Valencia (Festival of Fire) is a dazzling few days of celebration filled with pyrotechnics and firework displays. Less of a festival and more of a tradition is Concurs de Castells which takes place in Tarragona, Spain. This event involves men, women and children of all ages coming together to compete by building human towers! 

Human tower created for Concurs de Castells in Spain
Concurs de Castells is an impressive feat!

Related: Time your trip to Spain and experience one of these fun festivals first hand! Why not include a trip to Portugal on your Spain tour

7. When celebrating New Year’s Eve in Spain be prepared to eat a dozen grapes! 

Las doce uvas de la suerte (the twelve grapes of luck) is a Spanish New Year’s Eve tradition (and superstition). As the clock strikes midnight on the new year, it is tradition to eat a dozen grapes. If you can eat one grape for each chime of the clock, it is said that you will have good luck for the new year!   

Bunch of grapes and champagne to celebrate the new year in Spain
Celebrate the new year with a Spanish tradition!
8. Spain has a tooth mouse instead of a tooth fairy.  

Instead of leaving their teeth for a tooth fairy, Spanish children leave their lost teeth for a tooth mouse named Ratoncito Pérez. In 1894, author Luis Coloma was asked to craft a tale for Alfonso XIII, the eight-year-old King of Spain. Alfonso had just lost his first tooth. According to the story, the small Rataoncito Pérez comes to collect the tooth from underneath your pillow while you sleep and leaves a small gift of money. 

Mother and daughter smile in Park Guell, Barcelona Spain
Rataoncito Pérez is a delightful children’s tale with Spanish origins!
9. There are no words in the Spanish National anthem.

If you are in Spain and attend an international sports match and can’t wait to sing along, you’ll be waiting a while! There are no lyrics for “La Marcha Real”, only a sweeping tune. The song is also one of the world’s oldest anthems as it was written in 1761. 

View of Cibeles fountain in Madrid Spain
Cibeles Fountain and Madrid City Hall proudly display the Spanish flag.
10. Siestas are taken seriously in Spain!

A siesta is a short nap taken in the afternoon, usually after the midday meal. In Spain, siestas are part of everyday life and it is common to find that many stores close during siesta time, usually between 2pm and 5pm. In the warmer Mediterranean climate, this midday nap allows people to rest, enjoy a break from work and take it easy during the hottest part of the day. These midday breaks could be why Spaniards have one of the highest life expectancies in the world! 

Woman relaxes on beach in Spain
Siestas are a Spanish tradition promoting rest and relaxation.
11. Some of the world’s greatest artists were Spanish.

Spain has produced some of the world’s greatest artistic talents. Great artists like Diego Veláques, Francisco Goya, El Greco and Joan Miró all hailed from Spain. Modern masters Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí were also Spanish.

You can visit the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Catalonia. Fans of Picasso can visit the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.  

Interior of Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain.
Explore the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres, Spain.
12. There is a town in Spain with a unique Japanese legacy.

In Coria del Río, about 700 of the 24,000 locals have the surname “Japón”. This surname is a legacy of the first official Japanese envoy to Spain, including six samurai, in 1617! The delegation settled in the town near Seville and the residents took on the surname Hasekura de Japón (eventually becoming Japón over the years).   

Man waves Spain flag against blue sky
Spain is an exciting mix of cultural influences!
13. On Christmas, people celebrate with “Tio de Nadal”.

Visit Spain at Christmas time and you’ll most likely encounter this cheerful little chap! Tió de Nadal loosely translates to “Christmas log” and is a Catalonian Christmas tradition. A hollow log is decorated with a smiling face and is slowly “fed” (filled with treats) until Christmas Eve. Then, family members take turns beating the wooden log until it “defecates” into the fireplace and releases all the treats. Now the nickname “Caga Tio” (poo log) makes a bit more sense! 

Pile of logs decorated as Tió de Nadal at Christmas in Spain
Tió de Nadal is a unique Christmas tradition in Spain.
14. It’s customary to have two surnames in Spanish culture.

In Spanish culture, people have two surnames instead of one. You’ll receive the first surname from your father and the second from your mother. When addressing them in everyday life, you’ll usually only use one surname (usually the first). 

Couple sightseeing in Spain
It’s custom for Spaniards to have two surnames.
15. Interestingly, nudity is legal in Spain but driving barefoot is against the law. 

While public nudity may be outlawed across most of the world, there are no laws against it in Spain. Although, it is frowned upon and regional laws prohibit it in cities like Barcelona, so be careful where you choose to disrobe. However, be warned that if you decide to drive barefoot or while wearing flip flops you may feel the cool hand of the law as these two acts are illegal. Who’d have thought? 

Coastal beach in Spain in summer
Explore the beauty of Spain – and its quirky customs!

Have these fun facts about Spain inspired you to visit this fascinating country? Are you excited to behold La Sagrada Família with your own eyes or eat a meal at the world’s oldest restaurant? Unless you’re about to have a siesta, there is no time like now to start planning your next trip to Spain

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