Common Spanish phrases you’ll need to get by on your travels


If you’re visiting a Spanish speaking country, why not try to understand a few basic Spanish phrases before you go?

Whether you’re travelling to Spain, Argentina, Colombia or another Spanish speaking country, you’ll need a handful of useful phrases under your belt to live your best life on your travels.

Plus, locals always appreciate travellers who’ve made an effort to learn Spanish.

Remember: you don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to get by. Learning even just a couple of basic Spanish phrases will go a long way. 

So, whether you want to learn how to ask for directions or order a delectable meal, we’ve put together a list of the common Spanish phrases you’ll need to have a relaxing, enjoyable and thoroughly unforgettable trip!

Spanish greetings

A good first impression always starts with an opener – a small gesture, if you will, to show some willing. So if you only learn one phrase before your trip, make sure it’s one of these.

Here are a few conversation openers:

  • ¡Hola! – Hello!
  • Buenos días – good morning
  • Buenas tardes – good afternoon
  • ¡Buenas! – Hi there! (a more informal and laidback approach; use it with friends or family, at any time of day)

And here’s a couple more to say goodbye in Spanish:

  • Adiós – goodbye 
  • ¡Hasta luego! – See you later!

Being polite in Spanish

“Please” and “thank you” are two magical words that go a long way in English speaking countries. 

Especially in the UK: day to day, you end up saying “sorry” here and another “sorry” there – sometimes, you say even it when you don’t actually mean it, or when it’s not really your fault. 

But Spanish speakers don’t tend to overdo politeness by constantly repeating niceties like por favor or gracias. Use them half as much as you would in English, and you’ll sound a smidge more like a local!

  • Gracias – thank you
  • Muchas gracias – thank you so much
  • De nada – you’re welcome
  • Por favor – please
  • Disculpe – excuse me
  • Lo siento – I’m sorry

Essential Spanish phrases (for when you get stuck!)

It’ll be an inevitable eventuality on your trip. You’ll start off the conversation with a common Spanish phrase (nice work in advance, by the way!).

You’ll then get a response that’s either delivered so fast that you didn’t quite catch it, or that uses structures and vocab that are currently a little too advanced for your liking.

It’s normal to feel overwhelmed. But it’s okay not to understand everything you hear.  

Here’s how to ask you can ask someone to repeat what they said, or say it slower. I’ve also tossed in one when you have no clue what to say. All bases = covered.

  • No entiendo – I don’t understand
  • Más despacio, por favor – slower, please
  • ¿Puede repetir? – Can you repeat?
  • ¿Qué significa…? – What does … mean? 
  • No sé – I don’t know

And failing these suggestions, there’s no shame in telling them that you don’t speak Spanish, and ask them if they speak English:

  • No hablo español – I don’t speak Spanish
  • ¿Habla inglés? – Do you speak English?

Want more than just a few common Spanish phrases so you can live like a local on your travels? 

Learn Spanish with Busuu’s travel course today.

Asking for directions in Spanish

Let’s get to exploring your surroundings. 

With so much to take in and so little time to do it in, at some point or another during your trip you’re going to get lost – and you’re going to need to ask for directions.

To ask where something is just say, ¿Dónde está…?, followed by the word for what you’re trying to find. 

Use this question when you’re looking for something specific.

For example:

  • ¿Dónde está el baño? – Where is the bathroom?
  • ¿Dónde está el restaurante? – Where is the restaurant?
  • ¿Dónde está la calle…? – Where is … street?

If you’re looking for a more general place – anything from a restaurant to a metro station – all you have to do is change está (“it is”) for hay (“there is/there are”).

For example:

  • ¿Dónde hay un restaurante? – Where can I find a restaurant?
  • ¿Dónde hay una estación de metro? – Where can I find a metro station? 

Of course, you won’t find these questions useful unless you understand the sorts of common Spanish phrases people will offer in response.

Here’s a few phrases locals will use when trying to point you in the right direction:

  • A la derecha – on the right
  • A la izquierda – on the left
  • Al final – at the end
  • En la esquina – in the corner
  • Aquí – here
  • Allí – there 

At the restaurant

Food, glorious food. Eating out and trying local delicacies are precious moments worth savouring.

From ordering food and drink to asking for the bill, here are some of the most useful phrases you will need in any bar or restaurant:

  • Quiero – I want

The simplest way of ordering at the bar or restaurant is by using “quiero” (I want). I know what you’re thinking: you’ve got your English hat on and you’re wondering, “But isn’t that terribly rude?”. But it’s not as rude as it sounds. 

Spanish speakers use it all the time when ordering food and drink, or even when they’re buying something in a shop.

If you’d rather stick to the more formal version of this verb, you can say quisiera (“I’d like”).

For example:

  • Quiero un café, – I’d like a coffee.
  • Quisiera un billete de ida y vuelta. – I’d like a return ticket.

There’s also an even easier option: you can simply say what you’d like, followed by a por favor.

For example:

  • Un café con leche, por favor. –A latte, please.
  • Una caña, por favor. – A beer, please.

Top tip for jetsetters who’re off to Spain:
Forget about una cerveza. Una caña is what locals actually say when they’re ordering a pint in Spain. It’s a draft beer, generally half a pint. 

But the size of a caña varies from one bar to another.

Hold your horses, we’re not done: I’ve got a few more common Spanish phrases for you to cover:

  • ¿Me pone…? – Can I have…?

Here’s a language tip:
Finish the question ¿Me pone…? by adding the drink or tapa you’d like at the end. If you’re really going out of your way to impress locals, try this out next time you are in a bar or cafe.

For example:

¿Me pone un café?
 – Can I have a cup of coffee?

 ¿Me pone una caña? – Can I have a beer?

  • La cuenta, por favor. – I’ll have the bill, please.
  • ¿Cuánto es? – How much is it?

One final insider’s tip:
At the end of a meal in a restaurant, you ask for la cuenta. But if you’re in a bar and you’re paying for your drinks or food at the bar, just ask the waiter ¿Cuánto es?. Or to sound even more authentic,¿Me cobra?. 

I now pronounce you officially ready for your trip! Pack up these common Spanish phrases, and we at Busuu wish you a wonderful trip.

Or, as any Spanish speaker would say:

¡Buen viaje! (Safe trip!)

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