Spanish Meals & Customs

Coffee dateHere's some advice that you are going to want to remember for your Spain trip: simply throw out your conception of proper meal times. Spaniards sit down for meals a few hours later than in most other countries, a practice which catches more than a few visitors by surprise. To keep your stomach from rumbling at inopportune times, follow the Spanish meal schedule. Trust us, there are few things more frustrating than being ready to sit down for dinner at 6:00 pm after a tourism-packed afternoon only to find that Spanish restaurants don't even think of opening their doors until at least 8:00!

Here's a brief run-down of Spanish meal times and customs to get you on schedule:

BreakfastEl desayuno (Breakfast)
-Before 10am.
-Breakfast in Spain, if eaten at all, is often a lone cup of caffeine-packed coffee. For those wanting to start off the day with a little something in their stomach, toast, croissants, or "pan tomaca"- a piece of toast with an oil and tomato spread- are common choices.
-On weekends or on holidays, churros- slightly crispy fried dough dunked in a mug of thick hot chocolate or topped with sugar- is a Spanish specialty. Don't know where to find them? There's sure to be a "churrería" nearby- simply head outside in the morning and follow the aroma of fried deliciousness!

CoffeeCafé (Coffee)
-Between 10:30am and noon.
-Spain, as you'll quickly see, practically celebrates its love of caffeine. Combine this with the contagiously social nature of Spaniards and you've got a country where coffee breaks are an integrated part of the workday. After a couple of grueling hours at work, it's totally normal for coworkers to hit up the nearest café for some caffeinated downtime. Don't know what to order?

  • Café solo- A simple shot of expresso.
  • Café cortado- A shot of expresso with just a splash of milk.
  • Café con leche- A shot of expresso and an equal amount of milk.
  • Café americano- A shot of expresso and lots of water- a watered down version perfect for Americans who think Spanish coffee is too strong!

La comida (Lunch)
-Between 2:00pm and 4:00pm.
-La comida is typically the main meal of the day in Spain.
-No, it's not a cultural myth- Spain's infamous siesta time does exist! While siesta (which means "nap") doesn't necessarily mean literally putting on your pajamas and spending the entire afternoon tucked into bed, stores and businesses do close down and many people go home to eat the mid-day meal with their families.
-Many restaurants offer their "menús del día" during la comida. From a set menu, you can choose one appetizer and one main course. These menú deals, which typically range between €5.00 and €12.00, almost always also include bread, a drink and dessert- not a bad deal!

La merienda (Late afternoon snack)
-Once you've finished your lunch, you may not sit down for another meal until as late as 11:00 at night! Many people have a light snack, also known as a "tentempié," during the afternoon to hold them over until dinner.
-Common merienda choices include a small sandwich, a piece of fruit, a pastry or even just a nice hot beverage (more coffee, anyone?).

La cena (Dinner)
-Dinner time in Spain typically doesn't start until between 9:00 and 10:30 in the evening.
-Restaurants don't even think of opening their doors and firing up their ovens until at least 8:00 in the evening, and that's considered early! During the summer months and on weekends, dinner time is pushed even later- in fact, don't be surprised if you see people sitting down for la cena as late as midnight!
-Dinner is traditionally quite a bit lighter than its mid-day counterpart, often consisting of something as light as a salad or sandwich.
-The evening hours are the ideal time for tapas, a Spanish phenomenon combining bar-hopping and snacking.