Spain is a country that moves slow and runs late. The land of the siesta, it’s a place for foodies and night owls, history buffs, religious pilgrims, and anyone not in a rush to do just about anything!
It’s a huge country with a lot of variety.
Madrid and Barcelona are hip and energetic cities, Granada has a Moorish touch, Valencia has its own vibe, Catalonia has its own language and culture, and the Basque region (an autonomous community in northern Spain) feels like you’re in an entirely different country.
Spain is a foodie paradise featuring diverse and delicious cuisine. There’s music and dancing galore, heaps of art (classical and modern to suit all tastes) as well as beautiful architecture, landscapes, and weather. There’s a ton of history here too, dating all the way back to the Celts and the Roman Empire.
As an added bonus, Spain is affordable. I’ve been visiting the country for over a decade now and I never break the bank while I’m here. It’s really easy to get by on a budget — and you won’t feel like you’re missing out either.
This budget travel guide to Spain can help you plan your trip, save money, and make the most of your time in this vibrant country!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Spain
1. Enjoy Barcelona
Like Madrid, Barcelona is famous for its partying, late-night eating, and historic streets. Embrace the midnight meals and all-night partying and you’ll fit right in with the locals. Don’t miss the history museum — it’s one of the best in Europe! Other highlights include the Picasso Museum, the towering and iconic La Sagrada Familia (and Gaudi’s other works), and wandering the Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter).
2. Explore the history of Granada
Granada is one of my favorite cities in Spain. It’s a place where culture and ideas from North Africa and Europe collide in a unique way and no trip to the south of Spain is complete without a visit. Don’t miss the Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage palace and a fortress dating to the 13th century, and be sure to watch a Flamenco show while you’re here (they’re usually around 20 EUR).
3. Wander Madrid
Madrid, the capital of Spain, is famous for its museums, tapas, and nightlife. Like Barcelona, this is a city that doesn’t start until midnight. Make sure you see the Prado, one of the largest museums in the world (get skip-the-line tickets from Get Your Guide), are and the Royal Palace. Other highlights include the Temple of Debod (an Egyptian temple from the 2nd century BCE), El Retiro Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the 15th-century Plaza Mayor.
4. Revel in La Tomatina
La Tomatina is an epic hour-long tomato fight that draws upwards of 20,000 people to the small town of Buñol (only 10,000 people live in the town itself). Started in 1945, this festival is held on the last Wednesday of August, and over 360,000 pounds of tomatoes are used during the event. It’s the most amazing festival I’ve ever been to!
5. Wander Seville
Seville is an amazing city with gorgeous churches and historic palaces. I really liked the Jewish Quarter here and the monument dedicated to the different regions of Spain. It has tasty cuisine too and is also known for its Flamenco dancing. Be sure to check out the Royal Alcázar (also known as al-Qasr al-Muriq), the oldest residential palace in Europe still in use today (it dates to the 14th century). You can’t visit southern Spain without spending a couple of days here!
Other Things to See and Do in Spain
1. Lounge on the Costa Del Sol
Hang out on the beach and enjoy the laid-back life for which Spain is famous. Known as the Sun Coast, this slice of southern Spain is renowned for its beaches, nightlife…and tons of tourists. That said, it’s a fun place to eat great food in seaside restaurants, enjoy watersports in the clear waters, drink sunset cocktails, and relax on beautiful beaches. Malaga is one of the biggest destinations on the coast but I think there are better places further down. To beat the crowds, visit during the shoulder season. The weather is still warm and it won’t be as crowded.
2. See Valencia
Valencia is a pretty amazing town. Initially, I wasn’t attracted to Valencia for any reason in particular — I simply came for the tomato fight in nearby Buñol (most participants use Valencia as their base during the festival). However, Valencia grew on me as I explored the city. Originally a Roman colony and once the capital of Spain, it has delicious seafood, a unique local paella, and a popular soccer team. It’s a cool city that straddles the past and future with historic streets, futuristic museums, and an awesome seaside boardwalk.
3. Walk the Camino de Santiago
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 northwestern Spain. Stretching 800 kilometers (500 miles), you need around a month to complete the entire route. The Camino is best done May-June or September-October (July and August are both busy and very warm). If you have the time, it’s a really great way to see the country and some of the less-visited areas of Spain. Of course, you can also walk sections of it if you just want to see what it’s like for a day hike.
4. Tour the islands
Spain has some of the most beautiful islands in all of Europe. Unsurprisingly, during July and August they’re crowded 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). And if you’re coming to Spain to party, a stop at Ibiza is a must. It’s a non-stop rave so it’s not for everyone, but if you plan on partying the nights away, this is the island for you! Other islands worth checking out at Tenerife, Majorca, and La Palma.
5. Visit Gibraltar
Bordering Spain on the Iberian peninsula, Gibraltar has actually been an overseas territory of the United Kingdom since 1713. It’s known as “The Rock,” owing to the 426-meter-high (1,397-foot) limestone ridge that dominates the island. There’s an interesting mix of cultures here too, with influences from Britain, Spain, and North Africa. With sunny days year-round, views of two continents, wildlife galore (including monkeys and dolphins), and lots of beaches and caves to explore, it’s a small swatch of land with enough to see and do to make a short visit worthwhile.
6. Hike in the Sierra Nevada
This mountain range, located in southeastern Spain near the Mediterranean, is the perfect place for summer hiking, winter skiing, and exploring small towns. It’s one of the prettiest and most rugged regions in Spain and one of the better areas for outdoor activities in the country. There are plenty of trails ranging in length and difficulty, as well as the possibility for guided tours. Popular hikes include Mulhacen (6 hours), El Chullo (4-5 hours), and Pico de Veleta (4-5 hours). Lift passes for skiing in the winter cost around 50 EUR per day.
7. Visit San Sebastián
Also known as Donostia in Basque, San Sebastián is at the center of the Basque area of Spain. This place has a killer nightlife and beach as well as loads of history to explore. Moreover, the architecture makes it one of the most beautiful and unique cities in all of Spain. It sees a fraction of the visitors that cities like Madrid and Barcelona get too so it’s much less crowded (and it’s cheaper too). The regional cuisine here is delicious so if you’re a foodie be sure to take a food tour while you’re here.
8. Admire the Great Cathedral and Mosque
The Mezquita de Córdoba (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) is by far the most exquisite example of Muslim influence in Spain. Located in Córdoba just east of Seville, 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 in the 12th century. Admission is 11 EUR and skip-the-line guided tours are 24 EUR.
9. Unwind in Salamanca
Salamanca seems to be in the middle of nowhere (it’s 2.5 hours northeast of Madrid by car), yet it’s a city with a rich history (it dates back to the Celtic era) and its historical center has been recognized as a UNESCO Site. This is a university town, but it’s not huge, so you can expect a mix of small-town atmosphere, great nightlife, and plenty of backpackers. The main square is one of the largest in Spain and is great for soaking up the city and the nearby cathedral is gorgeous.
10. 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. You can hike through the Pyrenees on one of three established routes but it takes most people almost two months to complete the entire trek. Of course, you can also just hop on the Camino for a single-day hike or weekend hiking trip. If you don’t want to go solo, you can take a full-day hiking tour of the Pyrenees from Barcelona with Get Your Guide.
11. Visit the Guggenheim Museum
One of the most famous museums in the world, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (a port city in northern Spain) always has some interesting exhibits on modern art (some of which have spanned more than 100 meters long!). Even if you’re not a modern art fan (I personally don’t love it), you should stop by just to check it out. The world-class exhibitions are unique and the architecture of this museum is something to marvel at. Frank Gehry, arguably one of the most famous architects alive, designed it to have n eye-catching undulating style. Admission is 16 EUR.
12. Explore Basque Country
Basque Country is an autonomous region in Spain, a place with its own unique culture and heritage. Located in the northeast corner of the country, you’ll notice the cultural and linguistic differences as soon as you step foot in the region. If you’re into off-the-beaten-path locations, be sure to tour Basque Country. Don’t miss the La Bretxa market in San Sebastian, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Bayonne, and Le Grand Stroll in Biarritz while you’re here (the start of the Camino passes through here as well).
For more information on other cities in Spain, check out these guides:
Spain Travel Costs
Accommodation – Accommodation in Spain relatively pretty cheap when compared to other Western European countries. Dorm beds in hostels typically begin around 15 EUR per night in the low-season and go as high as 30 EUR in major cities like Barcelona or Madrid during the summer. Hostel private rooms start at 45-60 EUR per night for a double. Free Wi-Fi is standard and it’s not uncommon to find hostels with free breakfast either.
Budget hotels begin around 55 EUR for a twin or double and go up from there. Prices are slightly lower outside of the major cities and tourist areas but can be higher in peak season.
Airbnb is common in most major cities, with a private room starting around 30 EUR per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 70 EUR per night (often double that in the big cities or in peak season).
For those traveling with a tent, there are hundreds of campsites across Spain. Campground costs around 10-20 EUR per night. They can be as low as 5 EUR for a basic tent plot without electricity while other costlier sites (up to 40 EUR per site) often include extra luxuries like a pool, electricity, and Wi-Fi.
Food – Spain has a strong food culture, where meals can last hours and dinner often isn’t served until after 8pm. Each region in the country has its own local dishes and food culture. Common favorites include paella, gazpacho, churros, jámon ibérico (cured pork), patatas bravas (fried potatoes with sauce), and tortilla (Spanish omelet).
You can get usually find tapas and sandwiches for 5-10 EUR. Cheap fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 8 EUR for a combo meal. Chinese food is around 10 EUR for a main dish while pizza costs 9-12 EUR.
Beer is 3-4 EUR while a latte/cappuccino is around 2 EUR. Bottled water is less than 1 EUR.
A decent casual restaurant meal costs around 20 EUR with a drink. If you go out for paella, drinks, or appetizers, plan to spend around 30 EUR for a meal.
Spain has a lot of expensive restaurants if you want to splash out. Meals at finer establishments begin around 40 EUR with a drink.
If you plan on cooking your own food, groceries cost around 35-55 EUR per week. This gets you basic staples like pasta, rice, seasonal produce, and some meat or seafood. You can find the cheapest (and freshest) produce and meat at the local markets.
Backpacking Spain Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 50 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook all of your meals, take public transportation to get around, limit your drinking, and do mostly free activities like relaxing at the beach and doing free walking tours.
On a mid-range budget of 130 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, cook some meals and eat cheap fast food, enjoy a couple drinks, take the occasional taxi to get around, uses buses to travel between cities, and do some paid activities such as visiting museums or taking a food tour.
A “luxury” budget of 240 EUR or more per day covers staying in a hotel, eating out anywhere you want, drinking more, renting a car to get around or taking high-speed trains, and doing whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
Spain Travel Guide: Money-Saving Tips
While our individual city guides have more specific information for each city, here are some general ways to save money when you travel around Spain:
- Get the menu of the day – Most restaurants have a cheap “menu of the day” during lunch for around 10-15 EUR. They are a good way to save money while enjoying some delicious Spanish food. Skip eating out for dinner — it’s too expensive!
- Eat tapas – In some cities (like Granada) you can find bars where free tapas are given out when you order drinks. Bounce around the bars to eat cheap while enjoying a few drinks.
- Stay with a local – Couchsurfing is a great way to save money on accommodation while also getting some insight from the locals. You might have better luck in the larger cities, but be sure to request early as the major cities also see the most requests.
- 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 to get around the country.
- Get a city pass – Most of the major cities have multiple museums, attractions, and activities. Getting a city pass can save you money on these activities and also get you free transportation. If you are going on a sightseeing binge, consider a tourism pass!
- Camp – While Spain’s rugged terrain isn’t the best for camping, budget campgrounds with basic facilities can be found for under 10 EUR per night.
- Use BlaBlaCar – This app connects you with drivers who have room in the cars for passengers. Drivers are vetted and verified so it’s a cool 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 for medium and long-distance trips.
- Bring a water bottle – The tap water here is safe to drink so bring a reusable water bottle to save money and reduce your plastic use. LifeStraw is my go-to brand as their bottles have built-in filters to ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Spain
Spain has plenty of budget-friendly hostels all around the country. Here are some of my recommended places to stay:
How to Get Around Spain
Public transportation – Madrid and Barcelona have extensive metro systems, while Valencia, Zaragoza, Bilbao, and Seville have limited but practical metro systems (or light rail). Most big cities have a comprehensive bus system as well. Single rides usually cost between 1-2 EUR. You can often buy day passes that save you money overall if you plan on using the metro system quite a bit. These usually cost around 8-15 EUR.
Bus – The bus is the cheapest option for getting between cities in Spain. FlixBus has tickets starting as low as 5 EUR. Most buses come with outlets and free Wi-Fi. A 9-hour trip from Madrid to Barcelona starts from about 30 EUR while the 4-hour trip between Seville and Granada costs around 20 EUR. Alsa is another popular bus company, mostly for travel in the south.
Trains – RENFE is the national rail line in Spain, and the country has both high-speed trains and regular trains. High-speed trains are more expensive but you can travel between Madrid and Barcelona in just 2.5 hours, which might be worth it depending on how much time you have. Even on the more expensive high-speed train, however, you can find tickets from Madrid to Barcelona for as low as 58 EUR. The trip from Madrid to Seville is around 2.5 hours and costs 30 EUR while Madrid to Valencia is just under 2 hours and costs 25 EUR.
A Eurail Pass, which allows travelers to explore Europe by providing a set number of stops in a specific time period, might also be a good option depending on your plans. For more information, here’s a detailed breakdown of how Eurail passes work and can save you money.
Flying – If you’re pressed for time and are looking to hop from one city to the next, a budget airline like Ryanair might be the way to go. Book in advance to keep costs down.
However, be aware that you have to pay for all the extras on these cheap flights (such as checked baggage, picking your own seat, etc.) So, while flights are cheap (Madrid to Barcelona can be found for as little as 65 EUR round trip), the little expenses add up. And when you factor in getting to/from the airport, most flights aren’t really much faster than the train.
Car rental – Car rentals can be found for as little as 25 EUR per day when booked in advance. Renters will need an International Driving Permit prior to booking. The minimum age for renting a car is 21. For the best rental car deals, use Discover Cars
Ridesharing – If your schedule is flexible, use a ridesharing service and catch rides with locals between cities. Drivers are verified and it’s perfectly safe. BlaBlaCar is the biggest company. While not necessarily cheaper than the bus, it’s usually faster and more interesting.
Hitchhiking – Hitchhiking in Spain is very safe, but it’s not for everyone as rides can be few and far between. HitchWiki is the best website for additional hitchhiking tips and info.
When to Go to Spain
Spain is lovely year-round, but the peak season is in the summer from June to August. Popular destinations like Barcelona and Ibiza experience a massive influx of tourism — so much so that Barcelona’s residents have started clamping down on overtourism. The weather is fabulous this time of year with high temperatures well into the 30s°C (90s°F)
The temperature in Spain doesn’t often drop too low, with winter temps between 4-10°C (40-50°F) country-wide. However, Northern Spain does sometimes experience snowfall — especially in the mountainous areas. While I wouldn’t aim to visit in the winter, if you’re already in Europe, this is going to be one of the warmer destinations on the continent.
The shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) are great times to visit. Tourism is much less congested and prices are a bit cheaper. Temperatures are pleasant, although it’s not exactly beach season. Beach destinations like Ibiza and Mallorca tend to get very quiet during this time but there is still plenty to see and do around the rest of the country.
How to Stay Safe in Spain
Spain is very safe for backpacking — even if you’re traveling solo and even if you’re a solo female traveler. Violent attacks are uncommon; however, petty crime can occur and pickpocketing is very common in the larger cities. Always keep your valuables secure and out of sight when on public transportation and when out and about. The thieves here are incredibly quick!
Be extra careful in Barcelona where people may try to snatch your phone on the street or grab your stuff in crowded subways (it’s not as bad elsewhere in Spain). Also, never leave your backpack or laptop out and unsecured when at a cafe or restaurant. They can disappear in the blink of an eye.
Scams here aren’t super common, but they can occur. Keep an eye out for kids in groups who might try to distract you before lifting your wallet as well as people who might offer to “help” carry your luggage only to expect a hefty tip as thanks.
If you’re worried about getting ripped off you can read about common travel scams to avoid here.
Solo female travelers should generally feel safe here, however, the standard precautions apply (always keep an eye on your drink at the bar, never walk home alone at night while intoxicated, etc.).
If you experience an emergency, dial 122 for assistance.
Always trust your gut instinct. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance protects you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. You can use the widget below to find the policy right for you:
Spain Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel. They consistently have the best deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the companies I use the most and are always the starting point in my search for travel deals.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is my favorite flight search engine. They search small websites and budget airlines that larger search sites tend to miss. They are hands down the number one place to start.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- HostelPass – This new card gives you up to 20% off hostels throughout Europe. It’s a great way to save money. They’re constantly adding new hostels too. I’ve always wanted something like this and glad it finallt exists.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do group tours, go with Intrepid. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get exclusive discounts with them too!
- Get Your Guide – Get Your Guide is a huge online marketplace for tours and excursions. They have tons of tour options available in cities all around the world, including everything from cooking classes, walking tours, street art lessons, and more!
- Eurail – If you are going to Europe and taking a lot of high speed or long distance trains, get a rail pass. I’ve used a rail pass three times and saved hundreds of dollars each time. The math just works.
- The Man in Seat 61 – This website is the ultimate guide to train travel anywhere in the world. They have the most comprehensive information on routes, times, prices, and train conditions. If you are planning a long train journey or some epic train trip, consult this site.
- Rome2Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – Flixbus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include WiFi, electrical outlets, a free checked bag.
- SafetyWing – Safety Wing offers convenient and affordable plans tailored to digital nomads and long-term travelers. They have cheap monthly plans, great customer service, and an easy-to-use claims process that makes it perfect for those on the road.
- BlaBlaCar – BlaBlaCar is a ridesharing website that lets you share rides with vetted local drivers by pitching in for gas. You simply request a seat, they approve, and off you go! It’s a cheaper and more interesting way to travel than by bus or train!
- Take Walks – This walking tour company provides inside access to attractions and places you can’t get elsewhere. Their guides rock and they have some of the best and most insightful tours in all of Spain.
- Fat Tire Tours – For bike tours, use this company! They have fun, interactive tours led by expert local guides. You’ll get to see all the main sights without breaking the bank!
Spain Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Spain Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Spain travel and continue planning your trip: