Tapas: Best Guide for Beginners

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Do you sometimes wish you had a tapas guide for beginners?

Eating tapas in Spain isn’t different from ordering an appetizer before dinner. Or so you thought.

Because, actually, it is different. There are specific ways to approach an evening of tapas that can make the experience more authentic and enjoyable.

This beginner tapas guide is here to prepare you for your delightful cultural adventure in Spain.

We’ve included a link to our favorite food tours in some Spanish cities.

Take a tour on your first night in each city to get a feel for the area, learn some local culture, and most importantly have a lot of fun!

If you would like to jump right in without a tour, just keep on reading.

*Some links in this post may be affiliate links, meaning I may earn a commission when you make a purchase at no extra cost to you. I only link to products I use or really like and would personally recommend to a friend. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.

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What Are Tapas?

Tapas are a small bite of food or a little dish that comes along with a drink. It could be as simple as some olives or cheese. It could be larger dishes made to share.

Tapas were originally given with a drink so that people had some food in their stomachs while consuming alcohol.

The origin of the word tapas is debated. Tapa, meaning lid, refers to the lid of the wine barrel that people place their glass on while they eat the snack that comes with the drink.

Another theory was that a slice of ham was placed over each wine glass years ago to keep out dust and flies. So, that was referred to as the lid or the tapa.

Either way, drinking and tapas are intertwined experiences. 

Barcelona Tapas
Amazing Tapas Created to Order- Barcelona

Aren’t Tapas Just Appetizers?

Spanish tapas are not appetizers. Appetizers are ordered before a meal and eaten as their own course.

Sharing Spanish tapas is more like an activity that goes along with having a drink with a friend or family. 

It is just as much a social activity as it is a culinary one.

Although, a night of tapas may have a similar feel to eating cichetti in Venice, tapas feels more like lingering.

Where Do I Find Tapas?

Tapas are prevalent everywhere in Spain, but they are especially integrated into the culture of the southern region of Andalusia.

Large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona serve tapas as well.

The northern Basque region is known for pintxos, a tapas on bread.

Tapas are served all over Spain in many restaurants and bars.

In popular tourist areas, you’ll find them everywhere.

Some restaurants are entirely dedicated to doing nothing but tapas. 

Salmorejo and Jamon in Seville
Salmorejo, Croquette, and Jamon in Seville

When Do People Eat Tapas?

Traditionally, Spanish people will meet up with friends or family for a drink, and a tapa will accompany it.

This might be at lunchtime, typically between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

The next typical time would be in the evening between 6 and 8 p.m. This could be on the way home from work, which is an excellent time to stop and visit with a friend. 

Are you noticing the pattern of socializing?

Dinner is served very late in Spain. Anytime from 9 p.m. till midnight.

Sometimes, before dinner, groups of friends or family wander from location to location, having a drink and a tapa at each stop.

There is a verb for this called tapear.

This can be a pre-dinner activity or may serve as the meal itself.

Beer and Tapa in Granada

Beginner’s Guide to Ordering

As a beginner ordering tapas, you may feel intimidated by the process. Particularly if you are not fluent in Spanish. 

In a crowded tavern, don’t be shy. It will be hectic and loud. The hustle and bustle is part of the atmosphere. The bartenders will seem like they don’t stop moving.  

Look confident. Smile. Wiggle in and speak up if you wish to be heard. 

Remember, if you find yourself in a bustling place, that’s great because that means you’re most likely in an excellent establishment.

The tapas may be displayed on the bar or in a glass case. There will likely be a menu on a blackboard or laminated card. 

If you don’t speak the language, there is nothing wrong with just pointing to what you want.  

When it’s not too busy, go ahead and try out your Spanish. Pronounce from the menu as best you can. Most often, people appreciate it when you try to learn their language. 

What Do Tapas Cost?

Well, that depends on where in Spain you are.

Generally, a small tapa is a few Euros, and a plateful of tapas is a few more. 

Many places will bring you a small tapa for free when you order a drink at a tavern or bar.

With each drink you order, you will receive another tapa.

This cultural practice holds true in southern regions of Spain, such as Andalusia. 

The cost can add up quickly, but it can be a relatively inexpensive meal divided up between friends.

tapas in Seville Spain
Bacalao and Sherry in Seville

How Many Dishes Should I Order?

It’s best to start out with two or three. You could always order more.

Plates are sent out when ready and in no particular order.

It’s fun to try a couple and then try a couple more.

You can order certain dishes besides the one they bring with your drink.

Especially if you’re with a large group.

A larger tapas dish is called media or ración, half or whole portions respectively. 

People will often have a drink and a tapa in one bar and then move on to the next place. Filling their evening by repeating the process. 

Cava and Tapa in Granada

What Do I Order?

Each different place you go to will have its own best dish. So, if you are adventurous, ask about the house’s specialty. 

I created a list of personal favorites below.

The Jamon and vermouth (a fortified wine) are at the top of my must-haves.

Many places I visited in Spain have their own homemade recipe for vermouth, which is outstanding.

tapas guide for beginners list of food and drink


Pintxos are a different style of tapa found in abundance in the northern Spain Basque Region.

This is where they originated and where they are wildly popular.

Pintxos are typically small bites placed on bread and speared with a toothpick. 

The counter will be filled with platters of self-serve tapas.

Just fill your plate, and then they will count the toothpicks at the end of the meal to tally your bill.

sign Guide to eating pintxos
How to Eat Pintxos Sign
Pintxos display
pintxos in glass case
More Pintxos!

Heading to Spain soon?

I hope you enjoy some tapas and that you found this beginner’s guide helpful.

Here is the link to Spain’s official tourism site for more trip planning information.

Sharing drinks and Tapas are one of the most memorable experiences you can have while visiting Spain.

So don’t forget to bring home some food souvenirs with you when you leave. 


If you have never traveled internationally check out this guide for first timers traveling abroad.


“Tapas.” Wikipedia, 27 Nov. 2022. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Tapas&oldid=1124167193.

 “What Tapas to Order in Spain? 20 Popular and Tasty Ones.” Spain.Info, https://www.spain.info/en/top/recommended-popular-spanish-tapas/. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

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