Siesta: the cultural icon of Spain (that stops commerce)

Have you ever heard or read that in Spain everything stops during la Siesta? If you did, let me confirm the notion. It is true to a large extent particularly when it comes to street commerce.

How to know their opening times

While in the USA you can count on places working 9AM-5PM and in Brazil 8AM-12PM and 2PM-6PM, In Spain there is no such rule; most commerce will open around 9 to 11 AM, close around 1 or 2 PM, reopen around 4 or 5 PM and close around 9 or 10 PM. How to know the exact times? Well, you have to either:

– check on-line – if the place has a website or at least a Facebook page it is a huge bonus; or
– check on their door – where often there is information about open times; or
– call them.

Not practical at all.

Moreover, it can change along the year. They close in the afternoon all year long, but for longer during summer, due to the very hot weather. I guess the reasoning is that most people would avoid going out under the scorching sun anyway, so there is no point keeping a shop open with air conditioning at max (electricity is expensive in Spain) and / or an employee melting inside without clients.

Take pictures of doors…

Once you have your favorite places around your home, take pictures of their opening times (on their front door). Quite a life hack. And keep in mind that if a place states that it opens at 5PM, it may take some 15 to 30 minutes after 5 for the seller to arrive and open shop de facto, so take your time and don’t make like me in the beginning, that assumed the places were closed for good because they were not open at the time stated on the door. Tsc tsc, such a beginner.

Do restaurants have siestas?

Funny enough, it applies even to restaurants, that may open “for lunch” at 4PM or just skip this meal completely – but work until midnight or so.  On the other hand it is amazing the amount of things you can do around 8PM. Need to take a document copy? Sure, the paper shop is open! Computer part? A last minute bikini? Groceries? Yes to all.

Banks have their own quite weird opening times, government has a more standardized time – though it doesn’t matter, because you always need an appointment anyway – and shopping centers standardize their times as well – and have websites with this essential information. As a rule of thumb, never try to buy anything before 10AM, and between 1 and 5PM, to avoid wasting the trip.

What the siesta really is

Before moving to Spain I thought that the Siesta tradition was more of an old times use or something that still existed only in tiny interior cities. No, it is not. It rules the street commerce everywhere. It is real. I also associated siesta with nap time in the afternoon, and I guess I was wrong as well on this one – I now believe it is more than that. It has a lot to do with high temperatures in the afternoon and energy saving; it is also a time for working parents to go take their kids from school and take them home and spend some quality family time.

But sleeping is a big part of it too. So much so, Spain has the absolute best in-built shades to guarantee total shadow in the afternoon, despite the sunny day outside. If you are planning to move to Spain, a good starting point would be to practice La Siesta. It’s healthy according to the sleep foundation 🙂 and you would be getting in synch with your future lifestyle. A siesta can improve cognitive function, boost productivity, and reduce the risk of heart disease. The siesta tradition, therefore, aligns perfectly with the Spanish commitment to live life to the fullest. Plus, if anyone asks why you are sleeping in the middle of the day, you can say you are culturally adjusting!

Despite the problem of inconsistent opening times, the siesta has its advantages: because the commerce closes in the afternoon, it stays open well into the night, which allows people that have standard working hours (office employees, for instance) to shop after work. Makes sense, right? Also, Spaniards know better than to leave home at very hot 2PM in the summer; it is way better to go out and see the vibrant city at 8PM, with a fresh breeze. Such a great place to be.


Now let us take a moment to close our eyes, breathe deeply, and embrace the time-honored legacy of the siesta, cherishing the life’s journey that brought you to Spain. The siesta tradition is a cultural icon of Spain and an inspiration to the world (despite making a mess in the commerce).

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