Land of the siesta, daily life in Spain moves slowly and runs late. Many travelers can get frustrated by the limited store hours and seemingly laid back pace of life. But it’s this Spanish perspective — move slowly, enjoy yourself, eat well, and relax — which gives the country so much character – and why I keep coming back, over and over again. Spain is a beautiful, interesting, and dynamic country with a lot of regional uniqueness and variety. Madrid and Barcelona are hip and energetic cities, Granada has a Moorish touch, Basque Country up north contrast itself to Southern living. The Spaniards love visitors, hosting strangers, drinking good wine, laughing at a good meal, and enjoying life. A fiery, passionate place, this country will stay withy you forever and, unlike other Western European countries, will be a lot kinder to your wallet.
Accommodation – Accommodation in Spain is pretty cheap when compared to other Western European countries. Dorm beds in hostels typically begin around 15 EUR per night and go as high as 30 EUR in major cities like Barcelona or Madrid. Hostel private rooms start around 40 EUR per night for a double. Free WiFi is standard, and it’s not uncommon to find hostels with free breakfast, either. Budget hotels begin around 45 EUR for a twin/double and go up from there. Prices will be slightly lower outside of the major cities and tourist areas. Airbnb is common in most major cities, with shared accommodation starting around 25 EUR per night. For a private home or apartment, expect to pay at least 80 EUR per night. There are also over 400 campsites across Spain offering basic facilities to those who travel with a tent. Campground prices start around 15 EUR per night.
Food – You can get cheap tapas and sandwiches meals for between 3-7 EUR. If you want wine included, expect to spend about 10-13 EUR per meal. A good restaurant meal will set you back around 13 EUR. If you go out for paella, drinks, or appetizers, then you should plan to spend around 22 EUR for a meal. Spain has a lot of expensive restaurants, and meals there begin around 27 EUR with a drink. Fast food like McDonalds and Maoz cost around 7 EUR. Groceries will cost around 25-30 EUR per week, especially if you stick to the copious local markets around the country. You’ll find the cheapest (and freshest!) produce and meat at the local markets.
Transportation – City metro and bus lines cost 1-3 EUR per trip. The train system (Renfe) can be expensive. High-speed trains can cost between 50-140 EUR, depending on distance and how popular the route is. Slower regional trains range between 15-45 EUR per trip. Overnight buses are the cheapest inter-city option and cost around 18 EUR. When it comes to flying, your cheapest options will likely come from Madrid or Barcelona. Both cities offer flights to most hubs around the world, making them the most convenient and budget-friendly choices for flight arrivals and departures.
Activities – Museums and attractions in Spain cost between 2-14 EUR. Diving on the islands will cost around 45 EUR per dive.
Suggested daily budget – 50-60 EUR / 52-62 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Get the menu of the day – Most restaurants have a cheap “menu of the day” during lunch around 7-9 EUR. They are a good way to save money on food and taste delicious Spanish food. Skip eating out for dinner — it’s too expensive!
- Take the bus – While the train system is fast, it’s expensive. If you have the time and want to save money, take the buses.
- Get city passes – Most travelers don’t get city passes, but if you plan to do a lot of city sightseeing, they are a good investment. All the major cities have multiple museums, attractions, and activities. Getting a city pass can save you up to 20% on these activities and get you free transport. If you are going on a sightseeing binge, get the pass!
- Couchsurf – Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation while also getting some insight from the locals. You’ll have better luck in the larger cities, but be sure to request early as the major cities also see the most requests.
- Camp – While Spain’s rugged terrain isn’t the best for camping, budget campgrounds with basic facilities can be found for as little as 15 EUR per night.
- Use BlaBlaCar – A growing trend is to share rides with people. Drivers are vetted and verified and it’s a much better way to get out of stuffy trains and buses, meet interesting characters, and take a mini-road trip. It’s one of my preferred methods of travel. The biggest player in this space is BlaBlaCar, which is huge for getting around Europe and a couple other parts of the world.
Top Things to See and Do in Spain
- Explore Madrid – The capital city is famous for its museums, tapas, and great nightlife. This is a city that doesn’t start until midnight. Make sure you see the Prado, one of the largest museums in the world, and the Royal Palace. You’ll also want to spend some time strolling through the main square, Plaza Mayor.
- Enjoy Barcelona – Like Madrid, Barcelona is famous for its partying, late-night eating, and amazing historic streets. You’ll find a lot of history here, learn to sleep until 10 pm, and eat dinner at midnight just like the locals do. I highly suggest a visit to the history museum — it is one of the best in Europe. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I don’t doubt it’s already on your list of places to see.
- Revel in La Tomatina – Held the last Wednesday in August in Buñol, tens of thousands of people descend on this small town in the morning to throw tons and tons of tomatoes at each other. It was the messiest, most fun hour of traveling I’ve ever had. Here is a taste:
- Join the Running of the Bulls – Held in July in Pamplona, the Running of the Bulls attracts both the brave and the stupid. While I’d never do the actual running, the multi-day celebration is still a good place to go drink sangria, eat good food, wear a red scarf, and celebrate the way only Spain can.
- Explore the history of Granada – This ancient Moorish city is one of my favorite in Spain. I love wandering the ancient streets in the center and relaxing in the old palace, the Alhambra. No trip to southern Spain is complete without a visit here.
- Lounge on the Costa Del Sol – Come hang out on the beach and enjoy the laid-back life for which Spain is famous. The sun coast in southern Spain is famous for its beautiful beaches, great nightlife (and tons of tourists). Malaga is one of the biggest places on the coast but I think there are better places further down.
- Go to Valencia – Valencia is a pretty amazing town. Initially, I wasn’t attracted to Valencia for any reason in particular — I came for the tomato fight in the nearby town of Bunol, which attracts thousands of people each August, most of whom use Valencia as their home base. However, Valencia grew on me. It has great seafood, paella, history, and a good soccer team. I would go back in a second. It’s a wonderful city!
- Walk The Camino – El Camino de Santiago, or The Way of Saint James, is a popular pilgrimage route stretching from the border of France all the way to Santiago de Compostela in North-Western Spain. Stretching 800km, this month-long walk takes a lot of dedication. Nevertheless, it’s a great way to see the country and some of the less-visited areas of Spain.
- Wander through Seville – An amazing city with great churches, palaces, and historic sites. They also have good shopping here. I really like the Jewish Quarter here and the monument dedicated to the different regions of Spain. This is also a big student town.
- Visit Gibraltar – Bordering Spain on the Iberian peninsula, Gibraltar is actually an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Here you’ll encounter an interesting mix of cultures, with influences from Britain, Spain, and North Africa all colliding.
- Explore the islands – Whether you go to Ibiza to party or to the Canaries to relax, Spain has some of the most beautiful islands in all of Europe. Because of that, during the months of July and August, they are full and expensive so try to avoid peak season. If you love beaches, surfing, hiking, or cycling then be sure to hit up the islands (especially Gran Canaria). You won’t be disappointed!
- Hike in the Sierra Nevada – This mountain area is a great place for summer hiking, winter skiing, and exploring small towns. This area is one of the prettiest and most rugged in Spain and one of the better areas for outdoor activities in Spain. There are plenty of trails ranging in length and difficulty, as well as the possibility for guided tours.
- Visit San Sebastián – The center of the Basque area of Spain, this place has a killer nightlife and beach. Moreover, the architecture makes it one of the most beautiful and unique cities in all of Spain.
- Hike the Pyrenees – The majestic mountain chain that walls off France is laced with medieval villages, high mountain walking trails, and great skiing. It’s also the traditional start of The Camino.
- Visit the Great Cathedral and Mosque – The Mezquita de Cordoba is by far the most exquisite example of the Muslim fabric in Spain. Its giant arches, jasper columns, marble floors, richly gilded prayer niches, and the awe-inspiring domed shrine of Byzantine mosaics take you back to when Córdoba was under Muslim influence.
- Unwind in Salamanca – Salamanca seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s got a huge amount of life to it. This is a university city, but it’s not huge, so you can expect a mix of small-town atmosphere, great nightlife, and many backpackers.
- Visit the Guggenheim Museum – One of the most famous museums in the world, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao always has some interesting exhibits on modern art. Even if you’re not a modern art fan, you should stop by just to check it out. The architecture of this museum is something to marvel at. Frank Gehry, arguably one of the most famous living architects of today, designed it to have a very unique undulating style.
- Explore Basque Country – Basque Country is an autonomous region is Spain, a place with its own unique culture and heritage. Located in the north-east corner of Spain, you’ll notice the difference as soon as you step foot in the region. If you’re into off-the-beaten-path locations, be sure to visit Basque Country.