Asking for directions – Just the basics

Technology has changed travel.

Thanks to smart phones and apps, you could go through all South America without asking for directions once. But you’d be missing out on a great opportunity to hone your Spanish skills!

This class is part of Aurora’s Basic Spanish course, which aims to take you from absolute no-hoper beginner to basic competence in a few, painless steps. 

If you’re one of those get-up-and-go types then you might also be interested in our section on Spanish for travellers

Do you know where you are?

If you’re looking for a specific place, like a museum or the train station, you should use ¿Dónde está…?

  • ¿Dónde está el Museo de Arte Moderno?
    Where is the Modern Art Museum?
  • ¿Dónde está la estación de tren Paseo de Gracia?
    Where is the train station “Paseo de Gracia”?

But if what you’re looking for is a place in general, like any store, supermarket or bus stop, then the question changes. It becomes ¿Dónde hay…?

  • ¿Dónde hay una tienda de libros?
  • ¿Dónde hay un supermercado?                                             
  • ¿Dónde hay una parada de autobús?

You’re probably wondering if Dónde está and Dónde hay don’t mean the same thing. In a way, yes, but the character of the information you need is different. If you’re asking about a specific place, you’ll use Dónde está.

  • ¿Dónde está el Museo Picasso?
    Where is the Picasso Museum?

If you’re asking about, say a pharmacy –any pharmacy-, you need ¿Dónde hay?

  • ¿Dónde hay una farmacia?

Literally, this phrase means Where is there a pharmacy? It might not sound right in English, but that’s the way it’s done in Spanish!

Getting to where you want to go

You’ve stopped somebody in the street and managed to ask them how to get to where you want to go. They even understood your question! Now you need to understand their directions…

  • Sigue todo recto – Go straight on
  • Gira/Dobla a la derecha – Turn right
  • Gira/Dobla a la izquierda – Turn left

Some examples from social media:

These directions are pretty straightforward. In real life, you might hear something more like this:

  • Sigue todo recto por esta calle hasta la calle Manzanares.
    Go straight along this street until Manzanares Street.
  • Toma el puente y gira a la derecha en la siguiente calle.
    Take the bridge and turn right on the next street.

Some tricky words…

Spanish is spoken in 20 different countries. This means there are 20 different varieties of the same language spoken around the world. Of course, it’s the same language and a speaker from Venezuela can understand somebody from Spain and vice versa. But there are some words and expressions which might mean one thing in one country and something different in another.

If you’re in Spain, it’s quite possible that you’ll hear expressions such as

  • Coge el puente.
    Take the bridge.

  • Coge la calle de la izquierda.
    Take the street on the right.

  • Coge la derecha.
    Take a right.

Lost in translation

In Spanish, the verb coger means “take” and it’s used in that sense in Spain. But in many Spanish-speaking countries it’s a very colloquial and informal way of saying “to have sex”. So depending on the country where you are, you might want to pay attention to the words you use.

There’s another way of asking where a place. Instead of ¿Dónde está…?, you can use ¿Dónde queda…?. It means the same and is used in the same way.

A prize for anyone who can name the team which plays in this stadium:

Can you follow these directions?

Here’s a newspaper article from Galicia, Spain, with directions to the beautiful waterfall, Vilagocende. Read it and draw a map of how to get there.

Ready to go?

Asking for directions and following them can seem daunting. But it’s a great way to practice conversation and discover a wide variety of accents and expressions. It doesn’t matter if you get lost along the way. You might discover exactly what you were looking for in the end.

Travel Spanish

We have a whole course dedicated to Travel Spanish, including articles on Spanish for restaurants and how to start a conversation in Spanish.