19 Surprising Facts to Strike up a Conversation about Spain


BY Ana

August 16, 2017

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Surprising Facts About Spain

Awkward silences--the slow, painful death of a conversation. Those moments can feel like an eternity as you rack your brain for something to say. What better way to revive a conversation than by filling that uncomfortable lull with fun, little-known facts? Everyone loves trivia, right?

Well to save you some time, we’ve gone ahead and done the research part for you. Read on for 19 surprising facts about Spain.

1. During the height of the Crisis, the unemployment rate in Spain was higher than that in the United States during the Great Depression.

In the early 1930s, the unemployment rate in the United States reached an all-time high at 22%. In 2012 in Spain, the unemployment rate passed 24%. During this time, the youth unemployment rate (adults under the age of 25) reached an unprecedented 55%. Thankfully, in recent years there has been some turn around and the economy seems to be doing better.

2. Pass the Olive Oil!

olive oil

When talking about olive oil, most people immediately think of places like Italy and Greece. While both of these Mediterranean countries produce some high-quality, delicious oils, Spain greatly surpasses both in terms of production. Around 45% of the world’s olive oil comes from this western Mediterranean country. Italy accounts for roughly 17% and Greece produces around 11% of the world’s olive oil.

3. Spanish isn’t the only language spoken in Spain

There are many different varieties of Spanish spoken in Spain, all with different accents, vocabulary, and slang expressions. In addition to this, though, there are three other officially recognized languages. Galician is spoken in Galicia, the north-western region located just above Portugal. Basque (Euskara) is spoken in the Basque Country, and is reported to be one of the oldest languages in the world (its origins still remain unknown). And, in Catalonia (home of the world-famous Barcelona) Catalán can be heard anywhere you go.

4. Spain’s national anthem has no words

Spanish flag

It is called the “Marcha Real” (Royal March) and is one of only a handful of national anthems that do not have lyrics. The melody has been used for centuries, and at different points in time did actually have words to go along with it. In 1978, the lyrical version used during the reign of Franco was abandoned, and the solo instrumental version was once again put in place.

5. There’s a zip line connecting Spain and Portugal

Reaching speeds of up to 50mph, this adrenaline-pumping way of crossing from one country into the next is definitely unique. It will transport you from Spain to Portugal in only 60 seconds.

6. There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are in Spain

It’s estimated that roughly 45 million people in the United States speak Spanish as their native language. In Spain, 41 million inhabitants (out of the population of 47 million) speak Spanish as their native language.

7. Spain has the highest number of bars per inhabitant of any country in the European Union.

Spanish bar

Maybe there’s a reason Spain is known for its “fiesta.” It’s nearly impossible to be anywhere in the country that isn’t within walking distance to a bar. Even in the smallest pueblos (villages) there is always at least one bar or pub frequented regularly by locals.

8. Have a mop in your house? Thank the Spanish!

The Spanish aren’t known for their inventions, but this is one that they are very proud of--the mop. In addition, the Spanish are credited with inventing the chupachups (candy suckers), foosball tables, and the beret.

9. It is legal to grow and smoke marijuana in Spain

marijuana leaf

Although, it’s all still somewhat of a “grey area”, you can buy marijuana seeds, but not plants. You can grow them in your home, but if a neighbor complains, you may still face charges. A judge will decide if the number of plants in your home is “too much” (meaning it’s probably used for more than just personal use). This is still complicated, though, because there is no official set limit of how much is too much.

10. Real Madrid is the richest football club in the world.

Generating a revenue close to 550 million euros, it surpasses any other football club in the entire world. Second is Manchester United, with a revenue around 518 million euros.

11. Latin isn’t the only language that left its mark on Spanish

Mezquita Córdoba

The Iberian Peninsula was a hotspot in ancient times. It seems like everyone wanted to move in and claim it for their own due to its rich, fertile lands and great port cities. The most famous group to rule in Spain were the Romans. They left behind not only their industry and architecture, but their language as well. Spanish is, after all, a Romantic language.

Surprisingly enough, however, the second most influential language to leave its mark on Spanish is Arabic. For over 700 years, Spain formed part of the Arabic Empire. The traces left behind from this time go much deeper than the ornate architecture--the language was impacted as well. Words such as azúcar (sugar), aceite (oil), hasta (until), and barrio (neighborhood) all came to Spanish through Arabic.

12. Tomatoes, Potatoes, Avocados, Cacao, and Tobacco came to Europe because of Spain

All of these products were originally produced in the Americas and never before cultivated in Europe. Spanish explorers were the ones who brought them back across the Atlantic after their epic, and often tragic conquistas.

13. Speaking of tobacco…


Via Visualhunt

Nearly 30% of Spaniards smoke, and around 40% of youths (aged 17-24) light up regularly. It’s not overly uncommon to see junior-high or high-school aged children smoking, and walking down the street without getting overwhelmed by the occasional cloud of second-hand smoke is a difficult feat.

14. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for nearly 130 years!

Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is the icon of one of Spain’s most world-renowned cities, Barcelona. What’s interesting is that it’s not even finished yet! It’s a large, Roman Catholic church designed by architect Antoni Gaudí. Construction began in 1882. And it’s not projected to be finished until 2026.

15. The world’s oldest functioning lighthouse is located in Spain.

The Torre de Hercules is located in the Galician city of A Coruña on the northwestern edge of the country, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It’s an ancient Roman lighthouse, and is over 1900 years old! It’s still working, and you can even take a tour of it, traveling all the way up to the top for some simply breathtaking views.

16. The first novel came from Spain

Don Quijote

Via Pixabay

Although it has been disputed by some, it is commonly believed that the first novel was written by world-renowned Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes. His work, Don Quixote de la Mancha was published in 1605, with a second volume published in 1615. It’s a comical, satirical, somewhat romantic story that follows the adventures of the good-intentioned (although not always sane) Don Quixote and his lovable side-kick Sancho Panza.

17. Bullfighting isn’t as “national” of a pastime as you may think.


Via Pixabay

Yes, bullfights still take place throughout Spain. But, the impression that many people have that it is the “national” sport of the country, with fights taking place regularly and fans flooding the stadiums, is completely inaccurate. Generally speaking, bullfights only take place during major festivals. In addition, it should noted that bullfighting is illegal in parts of Spain, for example, in Catalonia, where Barcelona is located.

18. Spain remained neutral in both of the World Wars

Although it didn’t directly participate in either of the World Wars, the country still had an interesting role in the buildup to WWII. From the years 1936-1939, Spain was locked in a tragic civil war. During those years, major world powers flooded into the Iberian Peninsula. The Nazi Germans came along with the Fascist Italians to support Nationalist General Franco (who would become Spain’s dictator, ruling from 1939 until his death in 1975).

The Russians also participated in the Spanish Civil War, sending soldiers and equipment to aid the Republic, the leftist (and predominantly Communist) side.

19. The Eiffel Tower was meant for Barcelona

Eiffel Tower

It’s hard to imagine this French symbol anywhere but France. But, initially the design was presented to the city of Barcelona. Funny as it may seem, the construction was rejected because people thought it wasn’t “pretty enough.”  When it was denied, creator Gustave Eiffel was forced to find somewhere else for his now iconic, world-renowned piece of architecture. In 1889, the Eiffel tower served as the archway entrance to the International Exposition in Paris.


In this article we’ve given you a list of some of the most surprising facts about Spain. These things are great for sparking up conversations and sprinkling in some fun trivia along the way. Can you think of anything else we should add to the list? Have you heard any fun facts about Spain that you want to share? Don’t forget to share it in the comments!

About the author 

Anastasia is a Chicago, Illinois native. She began studying Spanish over 10 years ago, and hasn’t stopped since. Living in Spain since 2012, she loves Spanish tortilla, vino tinto, and anything that contains jamón ibérico.

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