Eating times and customs in Spain & on the different Caminos de Santiago

One of the man difference you will find with your home country when traveling in Spain and on the Camino de Santiago is the extreme mealtimes that are followed and this is a concern for many of our clients. Spaniards are among those who eat lunch and dinner the latest in the world so we created this blog post to detail the different eating times customs you will encounter in Spain as well as the shop opening times.

The Timezones explanation

To understand, why Spaniards eat so late, you must know Spain goes by Central European Time (CET), putting it in sync with the Serbian capital Belgrade, more than 2,500 km East of Madrid, while it should be in Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) like the UK and Portugal. So Galicia, which is the most Western region in continental Spain, is about 2h away from its normal sun time. This means the sun rises later and sets later, bestowing Spain with gloriously long summer evenings and 10 pm sunsets.

Consequences on the typical work-day in Spain

The typical Spanish work day begins at 9am and ends around 8 pm with a 2 to 3h lunch break (the vast majority of workers go home for lunch and enjoy a large meal with their family and rest for a while). Prime-time television doesn’t start until 10:30pm. Most people do not go to bed until midnight.

When pilgrims are walking the Camino and staying in municipal Albergues, they tend to get up very early (between 4 and 6 am) and go to bed early (by 9 pm). They do this to ensure they reach the next town and bed before the rest of the crowds but this means walking most of the distance in the dark. 

Your room is booked and is not going anywhere so no need to rush. Just make sure your luggage is at the reception by 8:30 am for the luggage transfer.

Mealtimes along the Camino de Santiago

DESAYUNO (BREAKFAST): 7 AM TO 9:30 AM

Spaniards are not early risers and el desayuno at home is generally the smallest meal of the day, rather light and more like a continental breakfast than anything else. We believe you need a lot of energy to complete your Camino so we always order a larger breakfast for our clients.

Coffee shops start opening for breakfast from 7 am, sometimes even later. Many hotels won’t even start serving breakfast until 8:30 am so if you want to take an early start on the Camino, make sure to ask your host in advance to prepare breakfast early or ask for breakfast to go.

Typical Spanish breakfast include café con leche (espresso with milk) or Colacao (hot chocolate) and a glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice: 

Pan con Tomate: a toasted half baguette with crushed tomato and olive oil

Bollería / pastries: croissants (plain or grilled a la plancha with jam), napolitana (chocolate or cream-filled puff pastry – much like the French pain au chocolate), churros and porras (thin sticks of fried dough often dipped in thick hot chocolate) 

Expect to find in your hotels on top of the above: different types of cheese and hams, fruits, cornflakes, yogurts, toast with jam, cakes, tortilla (Spanish potato omelet), plus eggs and bacon in some hotels.

ALMUERZO (MID-MORNING SNACK): 10 AM TO 11:30 AM

It is very common in Spain to have a mid morning snack another coffee and toast / tortilla / small sandwich, and we highly recommend you have one while you are walking the Camino to boost your energy.  You will find bars every few kilometers along the Camino serving this second breakfast.

LA COMIDA (LUNCH): 1 PM TO 4 PM

The most important meal of the day for Spaniards, where the family gathers together to enjoy a delicious home-made Lunch. Restaurants serve lunch from 1 pm to 4 pm. On the Camino, some places might be open before but remember they are only aimed at pilgrims so not always the best options around. 

You will see “menu del dia” / menu of the day and “menu del peregrino” / pilgrim menu (you will need to show your Pilgrim Passport to get it). The day menu is usually only available lunch and more elaborate & more expensive than the pilgrim menu, which will set you back for €8 to €15. 

These excellent value menus include bread, a drink (usually wine, beer or a soda), dessert or coffee and a choice of 3 to 6 options for a first course and either meat or fish for the second course. 

MERIENDA (MID-AFTERNOON SNACK): 5 PM TO 7:30 PM

Children are usually fed a sugary snack in the afternoon but this time is not a popular eating time in Spain. You will see friends gathering for a coffee but no tapas or meal will be served. In fact, most kitchens at completely closed until 8 pm.

EL APERITIVO (TAPAS HOUR): 8 PM TO 10 PM

This is when tapas bars begin to open and fill up. It is very common in Spain to meet friends for a drink after work at 8 pm and grab something small to eat. Bars in Santiago, Lugo, Jaen, Granada, and Madrid will offer free tapas with a drink from 8 pm to 11 pm (careful this tradition is not followed in all of Spain). The free tapas can range from potato chips to paella to even crabs / pulpo or other elaborate preparation in certain places (check out of list of recommended tapas places in Santiago). In the Basque Country, San Sebastian for example, you will be offered to purchase amazing “pintxos” from the counter 

LA CENA (DINNER): 8:30 PM TO 11 PM

Dinner in Spanish families is usually late and light. But on the Camino, you will find restaurants will serve very generous quantities. Most of your set meals will be similar to the Menu del Día and include wine / beer / water / coffee but this depends on the restaurant.

If you are not booked into a set meal, we recommend ordering a variety of raciónes, or large plates, to share at a nearby bar. The general rule is to order one ración per person. The waiter will set it in the middle of the table and everyone will dish a few spoonfuls or forkfuls onto their own plate. 

SHOPS OPENING HOURS

Shops usually start opening between 9 am and 10 am and close between 8 and 10 pm. Almost everything close between 1:30 pm and 5 pm. This includes most retail shop / pharmacy / post office / bank / office / police station. The only places that will stay open during lunch time are bars, restaurants, bakeries and larger supermarkets (usually open from 9 am to 9 or 10 pm) as well as retail chains (Zara for example will stay open from 10 am to 8:30 pm). 

Most shops will not open on Sundays or on Bank Holidays.

COMPARING EATING & SHOPPING TIMES CHART

Country
Breakfast
Lunch
Dinner
Shops, public services opening times
USA
6 to 8 am
11:30 to 1 pm
5:30 to 7 pm
10 am to 7 or 9 pm
France
7 to 9 am
12 to 1:30 pm
7:30 to 9 pm
9 am to 12 pm
2 pm to 7 pm (9 pm for convenient stores)
Closed Sundays
Portugal
7 to 9 am
1 to 2 pm
7:30 to 9 pm
9 am to 1 pm
3 pm to 7 pm 
Closed Saturdays after 1pm & Sunday
Spain
7 to 9:30 am
1 to 4 pm
8:30 to 11 pm
10 am to 1:30 pm
4:30 pm to 8 pm (10 pm for convenient stores)
Closed Sundays
Italy

7 to 9:30 am
12:30 to 2 pm
7:30 to 9:30 pm
9 am to 1 pm
3:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Closed Sundays

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Ultreya Tours

Ultreya Tours is a incoming Tour Operator specialized in organizing comprehensive and highly personalized walking tours for groups and solo travelers on the Camino de Santiago. Founded and based in Santiago de Compostela, we know the region of Galicia and the secrets of the Camino by heart. Let us introduce you to our vision of the Camino.

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