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A hugely popular European getaway, the sum of Spain is more than its stunning beaches, agreeable climate, and fancy food. We're counting down the 9 things every tourist or aspiring traveler should know about Spain before visiting!

1. Independence Day?

Catalonia's incredibly controversial "banned" bid for independence from Spain captured the world's attention in October last year, and the dust still hasn't settled.

The Catalonia region (home of cities such as Barcelona) is situated in Northeastern Spain. It's one of Spain's wealthiest and most historically significant provinces. Boasting a population almost the same size as Switzerland's, Catalonia has its own culture and language. The people of this region pride themselves on their unique heritage, and moves to throw off the yoke of Spanish suzerainty have been suggested before.

A referendum (which was later deemed to have been illegal) was held last October. Over 90% of voters supported Catalan independence. However, because the vote was ruled unconstitutional by Spanish authorities, the police ultimately had to be pressed into restoring order, and the controversy became a worldwide headline.

As of now, there are many who still hope to see Catalonia claim independent one day. But due to the difficulties of forming a solid Catalan coalition government, it's unlikely to happen for a long time.

Visitors would do well to bear this contentious subject in mind; the best policy is probably to avoid discussing it with strangers.

Shoreline of Barcelona, Spain.
Barcelona, Spain.

2. Drilling For Oil

Spain is responsible for producing a massive amount of olive oil, exporting it to the rest of the world and ultimately into your spice cabinet. Look out, Greece: Spain presses 43% of the world's olive oil, much of it from the province of Andalusia.

Italy is actually one of the largest importers of olive oil from Spain. So, next time you see "Italian" olive oil at your local store, there's a chance it was actually produced in Spain!

Due to this surplus, Spain also accounts for 20% of the world's entire consumption of olive oil. In fact, the average Spaniard is thought to consume an unbelievable 14 liters (3.7 gallons) of the stuff every year.

3. The Highest Mountain In Spain Isn't In Spain

Well, technically it is, but it's not on the Iberian peninsula.

The highest Spanish mountain is Mount Teide, at a towering 3,718 meters (12,198 feet) above sea level. Though you would assume this peak is near Barcelona or Madrid since it's known as "the highest mountain in Spain", it's actually located on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands.

Although they're autonomous, the Canary Islands are in fact part of Spain. So, if you want to explore the highest Spanish mountain, make sure you win by the Canaries!

4. Being Naked In Public Is Legal

Spaniards are noted for their relaxed, casual approach to nudity (and much else besides). Given that being naked in public is actually legal here, it's not hard to imagine why!

Given that Spain experiences an average 3,000 hours of sunlight every single year, combined with the often dry heat of its Mediterranean climate, some say this law actually helps natives and tourists to better cope with the heat.

Mount Teide at sunset with clouds.
Mount Tiede, Spain's highest mountain.

5. One Of Spain's Most Famous Buildings Is Still Under Construction

Ground broke on Barcelona's Sagrada Família Church (sometimes known by its official name of Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família) in 1882. Since then, it has remained under construction for a remarkable 136 years.

Despite this incredibly long period of construction, the Sagrada Família completion date isn't estimated to be until 2026 - and many think even that's too soon for all the remaining intricate work to be done.

However, even though this extravagant building is technically still being built, it's still open to the public. You'll just have to try your best to keep the cranes out of photos!

6. Spain Is The Least Densely-Populated European Country.

There's plenty of room to move around in Spain (with the exception of major cities like Madrid). Thanks to its low population density, tourists can enjoy a bounteous amount of open space and breathtaking views.

If metropolitan hustle-and-bustle or the intense heat of packed-out summer beaches aren't really your style, you can still find plenty of tranquility in this country, especially if you hire a car and take the time to explore it yourself.

Spires of Sagrada Família Church with cranes.
Sagrada Família Church, still under construction.

7. The Eiffel Tower Was Meant To Be Built In Barcelona.

The Eiffel Tower is perhaps the most famous French landmark of all, and one of the most iconic wonders of the modern world. But most people don't know that it wasalmost built in Barcelona.

When plans to build the Eiffel Tower were revealed to the public in 1887, there was a local uproar. Barcelonans thought it would be an unattractive eyesore, and refused to stand for it. Gustave Eiffel was therefore forced to pitch his idea elsewhere.

The Spaniards got their wish, and the tower was eventually erected in Paris in 1889. Surprisingly, it wasn't a terribly popular endeavor there either, with many Parisians disliking its appearance and yearning for it to be taken down!

8. Spain Has The Oldest-Known Restaurant In The World

Located in the Spanish capital of Madrid, Restaurante Botín is the oldest operating restaurant in the whole world!

Originally opened in 1725, Botín offers traditional cuisine guaranteed to give visitors a truly authentic taste of what Spanish food is really like. With specialties including roast lamb and suckling pig, Restaurante Botín is showing no sign of closing down and giving up its coveted title anytime soon.

9. Spain Is Actually A Kingdom

We call it "Spain" around the world (or España to Spanish speakers), but the country's official name is "The Kingdom of Spain."

Spain was originally formed out of a number of separate kingdoms with an array of different languages. It was only through the marriage of two Catholic monarchs in the 15th century that the country actually became unified and was 'reconquered' from the Muslim Taifa states which had long dominated the peninsula.

The more you know!

Want to know more? Read 17 Things To Do And See (And Eat!) In Spain.
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