Most tourists come to Spain's coastal strip during July and August, when the sun is at its strongest. Madrid is unbearable at this time of year and is almost deserted by Spaniards. In the north, and on the Balearic Islands, summer temperatures of around 30°C are standard. In winter, the rain never seems to stop in the north, except in the backlands of Galicia and the Pyrenees, where they turn into snow. Generally the north is best during summer, Andalucía is best in spring, the centre is best in autumn, and the south is best in winter.
Spain and Portugal share the Iberian Peninsula, a vaguely square-shaped realm at the far southwestern edge of Europe. Spain occupies some 80% of this peninsula and spreads over nearly 505,000 sq km, making it the biggest country in Western Europe after France. More than half of the country is made up of vast, elevated tablelands - the mesetas - and five major mountain ranges stretch across the country. In fact, with an average altitude of 650m, it's the highest European country after Switzerland. Landscapes range from the deserts of Andalucía to the green wetlands of Galicia; from the sunbaked plains of Castilla-La Mancha to the rugged snowcapped Picos de Europa and Pyrenees.
Native flora is prolific, especially in the alpine regions.
The prevalence of an 'if you see it, shoot it' philosophy has destroyed much of Spain's wildlife. Critters that you may still come across include red squirrels, chamois, deer, ibex, genet and a wide range of reptiles. Spain has around 25 breeding species of birds of prey, and it is a haven for water birds thanks to its large wetland areas. Gibraltar is famous for its Barbary macaques, the only wild monkeys in Europe.
The ideal months to visit are May, June and September (plus April and October in the south). At these times you can rely on good weather, yet avoid the sometimes extreme heat - and the main crush of Spanish and foreign tourists. That said, there's decent weather in some parts of Spain virtually year-round. Winter along the southern and southeastern Mediterranean coasts is mild, while in the height of summer you can retreat to the northwest, or to beaches or high mountains anywhere, if you need to get away from excessive heat.
The Canary Islands archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, west of Morocco, is an autonomous community belonging to Spain.
A British tourist visiting Madrid, Spain on 13 December has been revealed as the symbolic face of the one billion international tourists travelling in 2012. The tourist was welcomed by the Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism of Spain, José Manuel Soria, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai, and the Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella, at an event in Madrid’s Museo del Prado, held to celebrate a record one billion international tourists in 2012. The event, part of the UNWTO One Billion Tourists: One Billion Opportunities campaign, recalled how tourism can create billions of opportunities for growth and development around the world (Madrid, Spain, 13 December 2012).
“Today, we welcome the symbolic arrival of the one-billionth tourist,” said Mr Rifai. “The one-billionth tourist, Mrs. Dale Sheppard-Floyd from the United Kingdom, is visiting Spain for three days. During that time she will experience a new culture, meet new people, support the local economy and help to sustain the jobs of waiters, tour guides and many more working in tourism, as well as of all those whose jobs are indirectly linked to tourism such as taxi drivers, food producers or shop attendees. If we multiply this impact by one billion, we begin to understand the enormous significance of reaching this milestone.”
The celebration was held in Madrid’s Museo del Prado, the city’s most visited tourism attraction, in the presence of UNWTO representatives and Spanish tourism and private sector officials, as well as many of the museum’s daily visitors from around the world. As it is impossible to know exactly where the one-billionth tourist arrived, many countries celebrated the occasion by also welcoming tourists arriving on 13 December.
The Minister of Industry, Energy and Tourism of Spain, José Manuel Soria, thanked UNWTO for choosing Spain to celebrate the official celebrations of the international campaign and stressed that “Spain is one of the world’s leading tourism destinations, where the sector represents 11% of the country’s economy.” The Minister further highlighted the importance of tourism in economic development and job creation.
Minister José Manuel Soria noted that Spain was expected to reach a record 58 million international tourist arrivals in 2012, alongside an increase in tourist receipts. The Minister recalled Spain’s intention to increase and retain its large number of tourists who visit the country to experience its diverse tourism attractions.
“Madrid City Council is happy to be hosting this symbolic act, since it strengthens the reputation of the city as one of the world’s great tourism destinations. Tourism is one of the principal drivers of Madrid’s economy. Indeed, in its current strategic plan, the Madrid Visitors & Convention Bureau aims to transform tourism into a pillar of wealth and employment creation for the city,” said the Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella.
The event was held as part of the UNWTO campaign, One Billion Tourists: One Billion Opportunities, calling on tourists to make a difference when traveling abroad and recalling the positive impact that even the smallest actions can have if multiplied by one billion.
Outside the Prado, as well as in Madrid’s famous Plaza Mayor, tourists visiting the city became Faces of the One Billion by adding their photos to a giant mural, reminding tourists that they are part of the one billion and that all their actions count.