Oh, the weird schedule and eatinghours in Spain. The befuddled tourists. Where to start?
Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page as to what the schedule actually is in Spain. Spaniards tend to not be morning people, probably because their schedule and the time of day light hours makes this very difficult. That said, my abuelo and thousands like him, got up before 6:00 every morning to work for years on end, and many Spaniards still do. Generalizations, no bueno.
Spaniards usually eat a small breakfast, think a coffee and toast, or tostadas, or a pastry anytime between 8:00 and 10:00. Many people step out from work to have breakfast at one of the many neighborhood bars. It doesn’t matter where you work, there will be plenty of bars around in which to have breakfast.
Lunch, the big meal of the day called la comida, is any time between 2:00 and 4:00. Dinner is usually after 9:00 and tends to be smaller. Lunch can last several hours and dinner is usually a shorter affair. Dinner could be having tapas with a few beers with friends in the evening after work.
I absolutely recommend adjusting to the local hours and eating patterns. No question. You will have a better experience, eat better food, eat in better restaurants, and get a much better sense of the culture than if you stick to your own hours.
In big cities like Madrid and Barcelona, and probably Malaga and Valencia, you can find restaurants that cater to tourists that will be ready to serve lunch at 12:00 or 1:00 and dinner around 6:00 or 7:00. You do not want to eat in restaurants like that. They are tourist traps, the food is usually mediocre and, even if it’s not,
Why is it like this? What kind of crazy system has people take a two hour break in the middle of the afternoon? Isn’t that impossible for working people? So many things to say about this, but a lot of it has to do with the climate, the hours of sun, and the country’s history.
First, a few notes on Spain’s actual time zone and geographic location. Spain is at the far west of its time zone, the general time zone of Western Europe (France, Germany, Italy, etc.). The western parts of any time zone tend to stay light longer.
Perhaps most importantly, Spain should be in the same time zone as England and Portugal, so one hour before the rest of Western Europe, meaning that it would get light one hour earlier in the morning, and the sun would set one hour earlier in the evening. Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain for more than forty years, changed Spain’s time zone during the Second World War to be aligned with his Axis buddies, Hitler and Mussolini. Cool friends, huh. The hour has never been changed back.
Adjusting to the local hours and eating habits does not mean you have to go hungry! This is the big fear many people have when they ask this question; they seem unsure of how to not go hungry while adjusting to a schedule so different from their own.
Tapas and tomando-ing algo.
What’s that you say?
You can walk into a Spanish bar at almost any time of day an order a drink and a pincho, tapa, or a racion of something. A pincho is basically a tapa, or a small plate of something, and a racion is a larger portion, and it can be of almost anything — you could order a pincho de tortilla, a racion de jamon, croquetas as a tapa, and the list is endless.
The bar culture in Spain and how tapas work require at least their own post and explanation. The point is, you can eat throughout the day. Many Spaniards will have a drink, maybe a beer or glass of wine, before lunch with a tapa or pincho. Many will do the same thing in the early evening before dinner.
It is never inappropriate to walk into a bar, order a beer, and a pincho de tortilla, or a racion of something else, or whatever tapa on their menu floats your boat.
Adjust to Spanish hours, take your time with meals, and enjoy going into bars or sitting on terrazas with a drink in hand while you munch on a delicious snack.