If you’ve been dreaming of tapas-hopping in Madrid, seeing Barcelona’s Gaudí masterpieces, and strolling the white-sand beaches of Costa del Sol, the wait is over. As of June 7, Spain opened its borders to fully vaccinated travelers from most countries, including the United States, without the need for quarantine.
It’s welcome news for a country that is highly dependent on tourism, which accounts for $200 billion, or 14.3 percent of the national GDP, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Company. With curfews ended, dining and nightlife restrictions eased, and museums and popular attractions largely reopened, Spain is gradually returning to normalcy. So, can visitors to Spain pasarlo bien (have a good time)? We’ve got the lowdown on everything you need to know to decide whether now’s the time to book your Spain vacation.
Is Spain ready to welcome tourists?
When Spain’s nationwide state of alarm ended on May 9, following one of the world’s toughest lockdowns and nearly 15 months of ever-changing curfews and restrictions, it was a welcome relief. Finally, Spanish residents were able to travel within their own country, enjoy an evening meal at a restaurant, and gather freely with people outside their social bubble.
In Barcelona, it was a particularly dramatic shift, as the regional Catalan government had imposed far more severe rules than those in Madrid. While EU travelers were pouring into the Spanish capital since the beginning of the year, taking advantage of relaxed curfews and late-night dining, in Catalonia, restaurants and bars were required to close by 5 p.m., there was a 10 p.m. nightly curfew, and tourism slowed to a trickle. Save for the Christmas and Easter holidays, travel in the province of Catalonia was prohibited outside the comarcas (districts), a truly frustrating time when we were unable to visit neighboring mountain towns or coveted seaside destinations on the Costa Brava.
The loss of tourism (both domestic and international) due to the pandemic was a huge blow to the Spanish economy. Fewer than 20 million foreign visitors came to Spain in 2020, compared to 83.5 million in 2019, and tourism revenues fell more than 75 percent, according to El Pais. The collapse in demand can still be felt—most acutely in the tourist-heavy zones of popular cities like Barcelona. Along the winding medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter and El Born, disponible (for rent) signs paper shuttered storefronts, a sad reminder of the many shops and restaurants that were unable to survive.
Yet even with the multitude of closures—an estimated 85,000 bars and restaurants across Spain fell victim to the pandemic—it’s not all bad news. “People are under the misconception that Spain is a wasteland, that none of bars and restaurants are open, that all the great mom-and-pop places have closed—but it’s simply not the case,” says James Blick, co-owner of Madrid-based Devour Tours, which conducts food tours in major Spanish cities as well as in Portugal. “It’s true that in cities like Madrid the tapas bars now have fewer people, and it’s far easier to get a table, but it’s wonderful—and surreal—to be here without all the tourists.”
On a recent trip to Madrid from my home in Barcelona, that was indeed the case, with the normally packed terraces around the Plaza Mayor virtually empty on a beautiful summer evening. Lines for the Prado Museum were nonexistent—just think of having those Goyas all to yourself—and it was easy to navigate the Gran Via, the popular city center that is usually crowded with shoppers.
And while visitors to Spain will benefit from fewer crowds, they should also be prepared for more restrictions than in the United States—especially with regard to masks. Nationwide, only around 25 percent of the population had been fully vaccinated at press time, according to Johns Hopkins. And masks are still compulsory for those age six and older on public streets, public transport, in taxis, and in all indoor and outdoor spaces, except when actively eating and drinking. Basically, unless you’re seated at a table, practicing sports, on the beach, or in a swimming pool, you’re wearing a mask. However, it’s possible that by late June, according to Spain’s health emergency chief Fernando Simon, the outdoor mask mandate could be lifted as vaccinations increase.
So, what can visitors expect to see and do in Spain?
Museums, concert halls, cinemas, and major attractions have largely reopened across the country, but capacity and hours may still be limited, so visitors should be prepared to book timed tickets at the most popular sites. For example, in Barcelona, the iconic Sagrada Familia, which reopened on May 29 after a seven-month closure, is currently only open on weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and tickets must be purchased online.
Restaurants, bars, and cafés across Spain are open both indoors and out, with closing times and capacity restrictions varying by region, though most are staying open until 1 a.m. with capacity limited to 50 percent. Social distancing measures are required between tables, which must be at least 6.5 feet apart inside (it varies outside); the maximum number of diners per table is six, unless they belong to the same household. And if you’re into the club scene, which had largely shut down during the pandemic, it was just announced that nightclubs in Catalonia can stay open until 3:30 a.m.
Beaches throughout the country are being monitored for crowd conditions and beachgoers are required to keep six feet apart. In Barcelona, where city beaches are always packed on weekends, color-coded information posts have been set up at access points to inform visitors of occupancy levels. If it’s at a high “orange” or maximum “red” level, information officers may advise beachgoers to go to another beach.
Tour operators, one of the most impacted sectors, is where customers will see many changes. Currently in Barcelona, there are no sightseeing bus tours (it’s unclear when they will resume), fewer bicycle taxis, and virtually no large groups of cyclists—making navigating the city streets far more pleasurable.
Alex Villar, co-owner of the Paella Club, which conducts hands-on paella workshops and leads tapas tours of the city, took time during the pandemic to re-envision its tours to make them more appealing. “For our taste of Spain walking tour, we used to just do four tapas bars in the Gothic [Quarter, the historic center of old Barcelona]. We sat down and analyzed it and made it better, less generic, with an improved path where people can take great photos and more stops that include artisan food shops.”
Barcelona Design Tours, which focuses on modern architecture and design in the city, has dramatically altered its offerings. “Barcelona has amazing building interiors, especially its hotels, but we can’t go inside them anymore, since there’s no longer an open-door policy,” says the company’s cofounder Suzanne Wales. “So, we’ve shifted much of our focus to exteriors instead.” And with the closure of many specialty design shops in the Old Town, “we’re now branching out and heading to interesting, off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods like Gràcia and Poblenou.”
Requirements for coming to Spain
International visitors to Spain must present a vaccination certificate showing they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 more than 14 days before the flight to Spain (up to one year after the date of vaccination) with one of the vaccines approved by the European Medicines Agency or the WHO; the three vaccines approved for use in the United States (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson) have all been approved for use in Europe. Children under six will not be required to show a negative COVID test. There are no quarantine requirements.
In addition, visitors must fill out a health questionnaire prior to entering Spain on Spain’s Travel Health website or by downloading the SpTH app in Google Play or the App Store and showing their generated QR code upon arrival.
Requirements for returning to the United States
All international arrivals to the United States—including returning U.S. citizens—must provide proof of a laboratory-generated negative COVID-19 test, and the result must be procured no more than 72 hours prior to departure to the U.S. The test must be either a viral antigen test or a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT), such as a polymerase chain (PCR) test. There is currently no exception for those who have been vaccinated for COVID-19.
Getting a COVID test in Spain is somewhat easy but appointments should be booked in advance, depending on the site and the region. Unlike France, where tests are offered for free, in Spain you must pay for a test—and it’s pricey, averaging around 120 euros (US$145). Results are generally guaranteed in 24 to 36 hours. You can find a variety of private testing sites throughout Spain on the U.S. Embassy in Madrid’s COVID testing locations list. You may need to bring your passport or identification you use for travel to the appointment.
What airlines have flights to Spain right now?
Several airlines are operating flights from various U.S. cities—including Delta, American, Air Europa, Iberia, United, and TAP Portugal. Roundtrip fares are a bargain, starting at about $450 roundtrip for nonstop flights from New York to Madrid and $350 roundtrip for flights from New York to Barcelona with one stop.
Where to stay in Spain
In spite of the pandemic, several new properties recently opened in Madrid, including the April unveiling of the Mandarin Oriental Ritz, Madrid following a three-year, multi-million-euro renovation. Opened in 1910 as the city’s first luxury hotel, with a top-notch location next to the Prado Museum, it was restored by Spanish architect Rafael de La-Hoz, who preserved the beautiful Belle Époque character of the original building, while French design duo Gilles & Boissier added 21st-century flair. Another newcomer on the luxury scene is the Four Seasons Hotel Madrid, which opened last October. Set in the heart of the city, it’s part of the new Centro Canalejas complex—seven combined historical buildings that also include private residences, a high-end shopping arcade, and a gourmet food market.
Barcelona, which suspended nearly all construction projects and closed most hotels during the pandemic, has only recently seen its hotels reopening. Originally unveiled in September 2019, Seventy Barcelona is set in a sleek, contemporary building just a stone’s throw from the artsy Gràcia neighborhood. Along with 152 stylish rooms, a spa, and a rooftop pool and terrace, it recently unveiled outdoor dining in its courtyard patio, a tranquil spot surrounded by olive trees.
Just north of Barcelona, in the medieval town of Girona, is Casa Cacao, the first hotel project from Michelin-starred chefs the Roca brothers, the trio behind the famed restaurant El Celler de Can Roca. Opened last summer in a historic building in the heart of the city, Casa Cacao features 15 modern rooms, a rooftop terrace serving hotel guests a “tasting breakfast” of local seasonal products prepared by Joan Roca, and in the lobby, a chocolate factory producing and selling Jordi Roca’s famous chocolate.
>> Next: The Dreamiest Hidden Villages in Spain
Products we write about are independently vetted and recommended by our editors. AFAR may earn a commission if you buy through our links, which helps support our independent publication.
Originally Appeared On: https://www.afar.com/magazine/spain-has-reopened-to-travelers-what-you-need-to-know-need-to-know