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 kilometres, 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.
Spain is comprised of its mainland, occupying about four fifths 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. In all, the country has a population of about 47 million, concentrated mainly in the coastal provinces of Malaga, Valencia, Barcelona, Vizcaya, Mallorca and Alicante, in the slightly inner Seville and Zaragoza, and in the centrally-located community of Madrid, in which roughly 6.5 million people reside.
Spain is divided politically into autonomous communities, which in turn are further divided into provinces, then comarcas (somewhat like the English counties) and finally municipalities, which are the individual villages, towns and cities. In total, there are 17 communities plus Ceuta and Melilla, and 50 provinces. It is definitely worth familiarising yourself with the location of these before you come and visit.
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 metres, 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 kilometres, 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).
One of Spain's greatest draws is undeniably its beaches although with infinitely more variety than you would be led to believe from the sun-and-sand holiday brochures. Long tracts of coastline - along the Costa del Sol , in particular - have been developed into many hotel and villa complexes but delightful pockets remain even on the big tourist costas. On the Costa Brava , the string of coves between Palamos and Begur are often overlooked, while in the south there are superb windsurfing waters around Tarifa and some decidedly low-key resorts along the Costa de la Luz . In the north, the cooler Atlantic coastline boasts the surfing sands of Cantabria and the unspoilt coves of Galicia's estuaries. Offshore, the Balearic islands have some superb sands and, if you're up for it, Ibiza also offers one of the most hedonistic backdrops to beachlife in the Mediterranean.
Wherever you are in Spain, you can't help but notice the Spaniards' infectious enthusiasm for life. In the cities there is always something happening - in bars and clubs, on the streets, and especially at fiesta times. Even in out of the way places there's a surprising range of nightlife and entertainment, not to mention the daily pleasures of a round of tapas, moving from bar to bar, having a beer, a glass of wine or a fino (dry sherry) and a bite of the house speciality.