How to See Spain on a Backpacker’s Budget
Spain is diverse, with large bustling cities and small remote towns. These are all worth exploring, and it’s easy to spend a few weeks backpacking around to get a true feel for Spanish culture. But while Spain is cheaper than some of its western European neighbors, if you’re not careful you could spend more money than you mean to! Here are some tips for seeing Spain on a budget and making your money go further.
Spain on a budget
1. Travel in the shoulder or off season
Spain is famous for its beautiful beaches, and during the warm summer months tourists flock to coastal cities in their numbers. This often means that accommodation fills up and prices spike. If you have the luxury of choosing when to travel, head to Spain in the shoulder season (April to mid-June, and September to October), or even in winter – you’ll find milder temperatures, fewer crowds, and better prices.
2. Skip the glitzy resort destinations
You may have heard all about the likes of Marbella and Mallorca. But honestly, you can find more authentic Spanish experiences that are cheaper and less overrun by tourists. Quaint, intriguing towns abound throughout the country, but if you’re looking for that authentic southern Spain experience, skip the kitsch resorts and look to the likes of Ronda, Cadiz, or Jerez – all are fascinating, less touristy, and offer easy access to the coastal regions.
3. Go big at lunch time
Lunch is the main meal of the day in Spain. During the week, most restaurants offer a menu of the day. You’ll find this posted outside the restaurant, so you’ll know exactly what to expect. The meal of the day usually costs a little more than you would ordinarily spend on lunch, but if you follow the local trend and stock up during the day, you can save big on dinner.
Pro tip: That bread your waiter delivered to your table usually isn’t free. Some restaurants charge up to €2 for each piece of bread. Check first and feel free to politely decline – after all, you’re seeing Spain on a budget!
4. Go small at dinner
Tapas reigns supreme throughout Spain, and in Basque Country pintxos will be your ultimate friend. It’s the perfect dinner if you’re looking to save money and sample local delicacies. Prices vary according to the restaurant and region, but high quality dishes rarely cost more than a few euros.
Pro tip: If you’re in Barcelona, head to Calle Blai. You’ll find a range of vibrant tapas bars, where beer and food are just €1 each.
5. Time your museum visits
Spain has dozens of fascinating museums that are worthy of your time and money. If you want to dive into the world of Picasso and Dalí then you’re in luck. But visiting the top museums in each city can add up quickly – most charge between €5 and €10 per entry. Fortunately, many museums across the country also have regular free entry times. Some, such as the Reina Sofía National Museum and Museo Del Prado in Madrid, have free entrance most evenings.
Pro tip: If you can’t visit during the free entrance times, pack a student card. Most museums offer big discounts to people studying locally and abroad.
6. Join free walking tours
Like most European countries, walking Spain’s bigger cities is one of the best ways to see the sights and learn about the history and culture. There are free walking tours throughout the country. These are an excellent way to get to know the city from a passionate guide, without paying a fortune for a guided tour.
7. Purchase bundled public transport tickets
Taxis in Spain are expensive. Fortunately, most cities have an excellent public transport network. If you’re around for a few days, purchase multi-ride tickets from airport or train station vending machines. Barcelona’s T10 ticket costs about €10 and gives you 10 rides on public transport in and around the city.
8. Get to the club early
Many Spanish cities have legendary nightlife scenes with opulent clubs that stay open well into the early hours. If you’re comfortable with being one of the first to arrive, then get to the clubs shortly after they open – many offer free entry before a certain time.
9. Use a rail pass
Spain has a fantastic rail network with dozens of high-speed trains running between major centers. There are also hundreds of regional trains to get you to the more distant corners. But if you’re not careful, point-to-point tickets can add up, particularly on popular high-speed routes. Fix the prices by purchasing a Eurail Spain Pass. It’ll give you the freedom to travel a specific number of days over a fixed period, and save you the hassle of looking for the best fares and cheapest routes.
Pro tip: Eurail Pass holders are eligible for several discounts, including domestic and international ferries, access to train station lounges, and special tourist railway journeys. Visit the Eurail Benefits in Spain page for more.
Spain’s diversity and comprehensive rail network makes it one of the best countries to explore by train. And while the bigger cities can be on the expensive side, you can still explore the best the country has to offer without spending a fortune. Go ahead and travel Spain on a budget.
If you liked “Spain on a budget”:
Your guide to train travel in Spain
5 overlooked cities in Spain you should make time for
Cheap travel in Europe – 13 tips for your next trip