Introduction and History


Recently, I needed to get someone a present; a nice and original one. I didn’t want it to be too expensive because I didn’t want to seem ostentatious. However, I also didn’t want it to be too simple, being that I really wanted to express my gratitude. I often have a lot of difficulty deciding on a good present, and this time I definitely needed some help.


After thinking about it for a long time, I suddenly remembered the list of institutional presents that our King was given last year, which had recently been published on the Royal Family website. In fact, it is actually a list of the presents given to us Spaniards, being that our King decided to make them a national heritage, meaning that they now belong to all of us. So, what kinds of presents were on this list?


The first item was a solar clock. This particular clock was given by the National Commision for the Streamlining of Spanish Times (ARHOE), which recognizes that our current time zone situation is not sensible.


What does that mean? How could our times not be sensible? Well, one quick glance at a time zone map of Europe, and you’ll see why our situation is so strange. Spain is actually almost entirely to the west of Great Britain, yet we share our time zone with Central Europe instead. Consequences of this for Spaniards include not getting enough sleep, not eating our meals at healthy times and not being as productive as our European neighbours. So why is our time zone so odd? The answer is that we’ve been in this situation since 1942, when Franco agreed to share a time zone with Germany.


We could go ahead and change our time zone to better reflect the solar time, however, many other things would need to change as well, such as our old, long-established working times. There was a time after the Civil War when people needed to have more than one job to live on, which implied having long working hours in the morning, a reasonable rest after lunch, and another long working period in the evening. I’ve heard that this is why we have such strange lunch and dinner times.  


For this reason, the way we divide our days in the Spanish language is quite unusual. However, if we just look at the direct translations of the words themselves, we could say it’s quite similar to any other country:


  • La mañana: The morning
  • El mediodía: Noon
  • La tarde: The afternoon / The evening
  • La noche: Night


However, the big question is: when exactly do each of these time periods begin and when do they end?


Times in Spain


For us, la mañana (the morning), starts when we get up and lasts until we have lunch. This means that we can easily have a seven hour morning. Let’s suppose that we get up at 07:00 and we have lunch around 14:00. It is quite reasonable then to imagine that we would have a snack break (which we usually call el almuerzo in Spain) at about 11:00 am. We refer to this time as media mañana.


  • Hago una pausa y me tomo un café a media mañana. I take a break and have a coffee around 11:00 am.


However, translating this as “mid-morning” could cause some misunderstandings being that in Spain, this expression means that it is nearly noon (12:00 pm).  


After this, we continue to greet people using “Buenos días” (good morning) until we have had our lunch, regardless the time. Once we’ve eaten our lunch, we say “Buenas tardes” (good afternoon). This is the time we refer to as mediodía (the Spanish word for “noon”). While we do of course know that noon is actually at 12:00 pm, we typically use this word to refer to our lunchtime.


However, we still have a long day ahead. It is now that we use the term media tarde (late afternoon). At around 17:00, children finish school and it is time for another snack, known as la merienda. After that, kids start their afterschool activities, and continue until about 19:00, or until their parents finish their working day.


We usually have dinner around 21:00, and the main news programmes are broadcast at about the same time. It is after dinner that we start saying noche (night).


Prime time television in Spain is usually shown at 22:30, so people don’t usually go to bed earlier than 23:30. This does not include those who stay up late watching more TV series or writing an article for Italki ;)


Examples in Use


Therefore, if you happen to be in Spain, be careful when people tell you what time to be somewhere, being that “morning,” “afternoon,” “evening” and “night” might not work the way that you expect:


Example #1:


  • Nos vemos a mediodía y nos tomamos un café.


Incorrect: Let’s meet at noon (12:00 pm) for a coffee.

Correct: Let’s meet after lunch, probably around 15:00.


Example #2:


  • Quedamos esta noche para cenar.


Correct: We are meeting tonight for dinner.


However, don’t book a table earlier than 21:30 or 22:00 for example #2. Most people would not be ready before then.


So, take note of the following times in Spain (unless Spaniards finally get lucky and we change them!):




Name of the meal


In the morning

por la mañana


07:00 - 09:00  

In the late morning

a media mañana


10:30 - 11:30

In the afternoon

a mediodía


13:00 - 15:00

In the late afternoon

por la tarde


15:00 - 17:00

In the evening

a media tarde


17:00 - 18:00

At night

por la noche


21:00 and later


Welcome to Spain with its funny times!


Image Sources


Hero Image by Ales Krivec (CC0)