Land of the siesta, daily life in Spain moves slowly and runs until late. Many travelers can get frustrated at 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. Spain is a beautiful, interesting, and dynamic country. Madrid and Barcelona are hip and energetic cities. Visit Granada for a Moorish touch. Visit the beautiful Basque Country in the north and get off the beaten track. Valencia is a great port town that heaves with crowds during the August tomato throwing festival in Bunol. Take a quick jaunt to the Canary Islands or Ibiza. The list goes on. Spain is a lovely and diverse country and, unlike other Western European countries, will be a lot kinder to your budget.
Destination Guides for Spain
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. Budget hotels begin at that price and go up from there. In some small towns, you can find accommodation for less.
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 6 EUR. Groceries will cost around 30 EUR per week, especially if you stick to the copious local markets around the country.
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.
Activities – Museums and attractions in Spain cost between 2-14 EUR. Diving on the islands will cost around 45 EUR per dive.
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 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.
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.
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 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 throwing 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, 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 Moorish 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.
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.
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 Europe. During the months of July and August, they are the most full and the most expensive.
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.
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.
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 out the building’s amazing, world-famous design, which was created by Frank Gehry.