Spain is a country located in south-western Europe, bordered by France to the north-east, Portugal to the west, and the small British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar towards the southern tip. Its area is just over 505,000 square kilometers, positioning it as 52nd largest country in the world, and second in the European Union, which Spain forms part of. The country’s government system is a parliamentary constitutional monarchy, with a democratic approach to leadership. The Spanish capital city is Madrid, located in the exact centre of the country.
The territory of Spain is comprised of its mainland, around a fith of the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands archipelago, located in the Mediterranean Sea off the mainland’s east coast; the Canary Islands archipelago, located in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of southern Morocco; and the seaside exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, located in northern Morocco.
The country has a population of about 46 million, concentrated mainly in the cities of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville. The coastal regions of Malaga, Alicante Valencia and Catalonia also have a higher density of population per square kilometre.
Spain is of course the holiday destination of millions of tourist and visitors each year. Its fantastic climate is the envy of the rest of Europe and offers more than 5,000 miles of beautiful coastline; most of this is adorned by equally beautiful beaches. Some of these rank among the greatest in the world. By definition, a great beach is one that gets you hooked and makes you hate the idea of leaving when your holiday is over the kind of beach that elicits constant dreams and makes you plan to revisit even before the holiday tan is gone.
Politically Spain is divided into autonomous communities, which are further divided into provinces, then smaller areas known as comarcas and finally municipalities, which are the individual villages, towns and cities. In total, there are 17 communities plus Ceuta and Melilla, and 50 provinces.
Spain lies between latitudes 26º and 44º north, and longitudes 5º east and 19º west. As a whole, the country is quite mountainous, hosting several great mountain ranges (from north to south): the Pyrenees, which form the natural border between Spain and France, the Cordillera Cantabrica, the Sistema Iberico, the Sistema central, Sierra Morena and the Sistema Penibetico. This averages Spain as the second highest country in Europe, after Switzerland. Inland Spain is dominated by a high central plateau. The tallest mountain in the Iberian Peninsula is the Mulhacen, in Sierra Nevada in Andalusia (the site of Europe’s southernmost ski resort). The highest peak in Spain is the Teide at 3,718 meters, a dormant volcano located in the Canary Island of Tenerife.
Spain is home to hundreds of rivers and notable streams, the longest and largest of which runs over 1,000 kilometers, and are (in order): the Tajus, the Ebro, the Duero, the Guadiana, and the Guadalquivir. All but one of these flow westward from the Spanish highlands into Portugal, and drain into the Atlantic Ocean; the exception is the Ebro, which flows eastwards, draining into the Mediterranean Sea. The most voluminous river is the Ebro, located in north-eastern Spain. The Guadalquivir, located in the southerly community of Andalusia, is the only river navigable by larger cargo ships; this makes Seville, the largest city on its banks and fourth in Spain, the country’s only inland river port. The western coast of Galicia is peppered with many large and little rias, sea inlets similar to river estuaries or fjords.
The climate of Spain varies depending mainly on location and altitude. The mountainous regions named before all experience alpine climates, with considerable snow in winter and little to no snow in summer (except for the Pyrenees, which remains more densely snowed all year round).The northern coastal provinces of Galicia, Cantabria, Asturias, Pais Vasco (Basque Country), Navarra, as well as eastern Catalonia, northern Aragon and nortwestern Castilla y Leon, all experience an oceanic climate due to their close or adjacent proximity to the Atlantic Ocean; this is characterised by mild wintersand cool summers, with high rainfall all year round; this area is sometimes called Green Spain.
The northern inland regions of Castilla y Leon, La Rioja, southern Aragon, Madrid, and northern Castilla-La Mancha all have a continental Mediterranean climate, featuring cold, usually snowy winters, and hot, dry summers. The southern inland regions of Extremadura, southern Castilla-La Mancha and northernmost Andalusia have a very similar climate, with cold to cool winters with no or very little snow, and scorching dry summers.
The Mediterranean region of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, as well as the south-western part of Andalusia, have a climate characterised by mild winters with moderate rainfall, and warm to slightly hot, dry summers. The eastern and south-eastern Mediterranean regions of Comunidad Valenciana, Murcia and eastern Andalusia have a semi-arid climate, featuring mild to warm winters and very hot summers, and very little rainfall throughout the year. Southern Andalusia has a Mediterranean subtropical climate, very similar to the one described above, only with a little more rainfall.
Finally, the special climate of the Canary Islands, which is an oceanic subtropical climate, with very warm winters and slightly hot, but never scorching, summers, and little to moderate rainfall all year round. This is probably the best and most comforting climate in the whole of Spain.
Spain has a variety of regional dialects and different languages. Those of notable significance are Castilian Spanish (the typical Spanish, spoken throughout the entire country), Basque (originating in the Basque Country), Catalan (originating in Catalonia and also spoken in the Comunidad Valenciana and the Balearic Islands), Aragonese (originating in Aragon) and Gallego (originating in Galicia).
Spain is renowned for its excellent, world-class transport facilities and links. The Spanish highway system is the fourth longest in the world at 15,152 kilometers, only behind the huge countries of USA, China and Canada. Madrid has six motorways radiating out to each of the corners of the country, and many other toll roads and freeways connect the main cities and towns in the country. They are always maintained in prime condition and operate with strict standards; many of the newer highways receive very little use and, as a whole, they rarely experience traffic incidents and overcrowding. Highways in Spain are denoted by the letter A (for autopista or autovia). Their speed limit is usually set at 120 km/h. In addition, there are hundreds of second degree national roads, the longest one, the N-340, running over 1,000 kilometers from Girona to Cadiz.
The rail system is also highly extensive and sophisticated. Spain operates the longest high-speed rail network in Europe at over 15,000 kilometers, and the second longest in the world, behind China. High-speed rail is named AVE (Alta Velocidad Española). AVE began service in 1992 for the Seville Expo, connecting Madrid and Seville in less than two hours. Now, AVE connects the main cities and provincial capitals, with a trip from Malaga to Madrid lasting only two and half hours. The main AVE terminal is that of Madrid, which operates to Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga, Seville, Cordoba and Valladolid in record times. There are plans to extend AVE services to France and Portugal. Beside AVE, RENFE (the national railway administrator) operates suburban and inter-provincial lines in areas of high tourist and population density, or where many towns lie beside each other in a chain. Spain is also proud to run urban lines in its main cities, with 18 cities possessing either a ground-level tram system or an underground metro system, such as Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Seville. Madrid Metro is the oldest and most extensive in Spain, and sixth in the world at 293 kilometers, inaugurating back in 1919 and expanding ever since. Its annual ridership is over 635 million!
Spain has a huge number of airports in relation to its size and population, the number being a staggering 96 airports, one in every provincial capital. The busiest are Madrid-Barajas, Barcelona, Palma de Mallorca, Malaga, Gran Canaria, Alicante and Tenerife Sur. The first two operate flights to almost every continent in the world, while the rest focus more on European air traffic and budget deals with low-cost airlines.