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 its own language and culture and the Basque region in the north feels like you’re in an entirely different country.
It’s a foodie paradise featuring some diverse and delicious food, 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 back to the Celts and the Roman Empire.
As an added bonus, Spain is pretty cheap. 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
Click Here for City Guides
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Spain
1. Enjoy Barcelona
2. Explore the history of Granada
3. Wander Madrid
4. Revel in La Tomatina
5. Tour the islands
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 800km (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. 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. You can’t visit southern Spain without spending a couple of days here!
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 426m-high 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 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. Lift passes for skiing 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.
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.
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.
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.
11. 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 architects alive, designed it to have a unique undulating style.
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 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 at 35 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 45 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 20 EUR per night. For an entire home or apartment, expect to pay at least 60 EUR per night (often much more in the big cities or in peak season).
For those traveling with a tent, there are hundreds of campsites across Spain. Campground prices cost around 15 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 3-10 EUR. Cheap fast food (think McDonald’s) costs around 8 EUR for a combo meal. Chinese food is around 8-9 EUR for a main dish while pizza costs 8-10 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 40-50 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.
Activities – Museums and attractions in Spain generally cost between 5-20 EUR. Diving on the islands costs around 45 EUR per dive while lift passes for skiing start around 50 EUR. Food tours typically cost 50-100 EUR. Most major cities have free walking tours and numerous parks to help you enjoy the country on a budget.
Backpacking Spain Suggested Budgets
On a backpacking budget of 50 EUR per day, you can stay in a hostel dorm, cook most 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 120 EUR per day, you can stay in a private hostel room or Airbnb, cook some meals and eat cheap fast food, have 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, and doing whatever tours and activities you want. This is just the ground floor for luxury though. The sky is the limit!
You can use the chart below to get an idea of how much you need to budget daily. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you spend more, some days you spend less (you might spend less every day). We just want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in EUR.
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 7-11 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 city passes – Most of the major cities have multiple museums, attractions, and activities. Getting a city pass can save you up to 20% off these activities and get you free transportation. If you are going on a sightseeing binge, get a tourism pass!
- Camp – While Spain’s rugged terrain isn’t the best for camping, budget campgrounds with basic facilities can be found for as little as 5 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 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 4.5-hour trip between Seville and Granada costs around 25 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 high-speed train, however, you can find tickets from Madrid to Barcelona from 60 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. For more information, here’s a detailed breakdown of how Eurail passes work and can save you money.
Budget Airlines – If you’re pressed for time and are looking to hop from one city to the next, a budget airline 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 50 EUR round trip), the little expenses add up. 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 20 EUR per day. Renters will need an International Driving Permit prior to booking.
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 info.
When to Go to Spain
Spain is lovely year-round, but 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 really 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 and solo traveling. 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.
You can read about common travel scams to avoid here if you’re concerned.
If you go out to the bar, only take the money you need for the night. Additionally, always keep an eye on your drink and never walk home alone at night while intoxicated.
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.
If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it in Spain.
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 around Spain. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points 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.
- Momondo – This is my other favorite flight search engine because they search such a wide variety of sites and airlines. I never book a flight without checking here too.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments. The big cities have tons of listings!
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or in their spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can share the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all-around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- 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.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Europe, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you get a discount when you click the link!
- 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 in the best and cheapest way possible. It gives you all the bus, train, plane, and boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- FlixBus – German based FlixBus has routes between 20 European countries with prices starting as low 5 EUR! Their buses include Wi-Fi and electrical outlets too.
- 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 travel than by bus or train!
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
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, large 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: Suggested Reading
Don Quixote, by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra
Don Quixote became so enamored with reading tales of chivalry that he decided to become a knight himself. With his faithful squire, Sancho Panza, they roam the world together in a series of adventures and misadventures — including mistaking windmills for giants. Is Don Quixote a wise fool, or simply a madman? This book by Cervantes is considered the world’s first true novel and it has been delighting people for 400 years.
For Whom the Bell Tolls, by Ernest Hemingway
In 1937, Ernest Hemingway went to Spain to cover the civil war for an American newspaper. This novel is the result of his experiences there. It’s about Robert Jordan, an American in the International Brigades tied to an antifascist guerrilla movement in the mountains. It’s part love story, part war story, and is considered one of Hemingway’s best novels. It’s the best literature to come out of the war. It’s a must-read.
Winter in Madrid, by C. J. Sansom
Winter in Madrid is an international bestseller that illuminates life in post-Civil War Spain. It’s a witty spy noir thriller that brings to life the stakes in Spain after the violent Civil War came to an end. While it is a novel, the book brings the era to life and sheds light on this dark, challenging period in Spain’s history.
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past, by Giles Tremlett
After the Spanish Civil War ended, Spaniards kept quiet about the whole affair, calling it “the pact of forgetting.” But then a discovery of mass graves filled with victims of Francisco Franco’s death squad came to light and the pact was broken. In this beautiful book, Tremlett sets out on a journey around Spain and through its history to better understand what kept the Spaniards quiet for so long. It’ll give you some sobering insight into the country and its violent past.
Driving Over Lemons: An Optimist in Spain, by Chris Stewart
Here’s your comedic relief to all that Civil War literature. Chris Stewart had set his eyes on El Valero for maybe two minutes before handing over a check. Then all he had to do was explain to his wife that they were now the happy owners of a remote sheep farm in Southern Spain. Despite being overrun with olive, lemon, and almond groves, the farm is clearly lacking in other areas — there’s no running water or electricity. Thankfully, Stewart’s eternal optimism pushes them through, and along the way, he’s enchanted by the gorgeous landscape of the mountain range and the people he meets along the way.
Spain Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on Spain travel and continue planning your trip: