Table of Contents
- Things to See and Do in Spain
- Where to Go in Spain
- Spain Costs and Recommended Budget
- How to Get Around in Spain
- When to Go to Spain
- Staying Safe in Spain
- Top Resources for Traveling to Spain
- Recommended Readings
Things to See and Do in Spain
Planning a trip to Spain should not be a hassle. If all else fails, go wherever you feel takes you and you’d be surprised at the places you will see.
Whether you believe in the Divine or not, Spain has some of the world’s most beautiful churches. Seville and Barcelona churches such as the Mary of the See Cathedral and the Sagrada Familia impresses us with their unique and abstract architecture juxtapose its urban landscape.
Take a Ride at a Theme Park
Yes, Spain has incredibly creative theme parks that can definitely compare to Western ones. Their most commercial one, PortAventura, has country-themed sections and roller coasters that give you the experience of going through air and water. 12-hour tours are offered to tourists who are looking for an exciting ride in some of Spain’s best theme parks.
An event that Spain is known for, Bullfighting Season ranges from March to October and during this time, the country’s most experienced bullfighters go and lead bulls to an area filled with people and intensity. It is not an activity for the young or faint at heart but this is a tradition that has gone on since pre-Roman times. Should you choose to skip the bulls but would rather go and see the place, Bocairent is good to visit the vintage bull stadium where locals now use for movie screenings.
Virgin beaches make for an inexpensive and tranquil time. This is the opportunity to stare out at the gorgeous Mediterranean sea and appreciate the hues of blues. When the people have left and you find yourself all alone or with your travel companions, a free beach provides the perfect spot to sit down, stretch your mat or even have a picnic when the tide is low. Places such as Murcia, Andalusia, and Cabo de Gata can give you the backdrop for your simple escape.
Improve on Your Taste Palette
Authentic dishes are a MUST when you go to Spain and if you are not broke and have the time, Food Tours are the way to go. A word of advice: recipes vary from region to region so if you are looking for an acquired taste, a dish in Madrid would have a different rendition in Valencia. Without further ado, here we present our must gastro-list:
Try Authentic Spanish Paella
This is pretty obvious. Anyone outside of Spain would identify this as a cultural dish. The traditional form is the Paella Valencia that is cooked with rabbit and any kind of protein of your food; its most luxurious version is the one that has seafood in it. The crucial ingredient of this dish is rice (the short grain variety) and saffron that gives it an aromatic scent and an orange-yellow hue. In some versions, the rice is cooked until it is crispy and if available, black ink can also be used instead of saffron. Trip Savvy has offered to rate the best paellas in Spain.
Munch This On The Street: Jamón
This could be street food or a restaurant delicacy. Prepared in the streets of Madrid, jamon has two known varieties: Jamon Iberico and Jamon Serrano. Jamon Serrano is the general term for cured ham that is sold in most areas of Spain. This ham type comes from farm-bred white or commercial pigs and has a curing process of over two weeks before it is prepared and sold.
Jamon Iberico is on the more expensive end, made from Iberian-bred black pigs that is the European equivalent of wagyu. Find out why you should travel for this Spanish delicacy. Other types of ham are Jamon de Cebo, Guijuelo Jamon and Iberico de Bellota.
Jabugo, Sierra de Aracena, Trevelez, Extremadura and Los Pedroches Valley are places where the ham is produced while Madrid and Barcelona have distinct places of buying the best Jamon Iberico.
There are plenty of bars and nightclubs in Spain that have gotten rave reviews with locals and tourists alike. Cities like Madrid, Ibiza, Barcelona, Valencia and Benidorm are all known for letting your hair down and dancing the night away. Get a glimpse of the best nightclubs in Madrid as rated by travelers.
Madrid has some of the most famous night clubs with Kapital heading the pack of its young and thriving teen audience with drinks and techno music being served all night long. Known as Teatro Kapital, it has art dancing--if you haven’t noticed that it is the biggest club in the city.
The Salamanca district is trendy and full of high-fashion and refinement. Signature brands like Hermes and Chanel are located under the facade of restored antique buildings. And even if you don’t have the budget, window shopping is not so bad either. Malasaña is the cross between the university avenue and the pop-art alternative scene. At night, this location is perfect for those who want to listen to good music and have good food.
Where to Go in Spain
Spain’s capital has some hidden historical sites that should be high up a traveler’s list. A little more understated than Paris, Madrid is its most populous city with immense natural parks that promote natural surroundings. There are several important parks around the city due to its green area density. The local government strongly considers and promotes the amalgam of urbanity and nature.
The recommended parks for travelers are some of the largest parks in Spain: El Retiro, located in the Almendra Central municipality that lies adjacent to the Royal Botanical Garden in Madrid; Casa de Campo that is next to the Madrid Zoo, and Monte de El Pardo that is a preserved forest within the city.
Notable locations in Madrid are The Royal Palace, Plaza Mayor, Gran Via and The Golden Triangle of Art Galleries: The Prado, Reina Sofia and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. This list is for the culture and artistic-savvy where you can appreciate history and modern art. Pair trips to these places with a visit to an elegant restaurant or visit one of the food fairs and stalls around the city.
Located in Southern Spain, Seville has a Moor and Castillian influence, which accounts for their Arab-inspired architecture and Islamic art. It is home to 15 museums that hold the nation’s several art exhibits. Outside of the Medieval buildings, The Mary of the See Cathedral is a Gothic marvel with the historic city center as its background. We visited Seville for the culture, more than anything else.
During Holy Week (that happens in March or April), festivals and celebrations emerge throughout the city that recounts the Passion of Christ. Moreover, the Bienal de Flamenco is a bi-annual celebration of the flamenco: its history and its music. Within Spain, there are packages for 3 cities ranging from 5 days to 8 days. In this case, tours have local guides (English-speaking) who can expound more on the sites chosen for the trip and accommodations maybe near the city for convenience.
A city that is part of Andalusia, it merges Spain’s Arabian roots and the Mediterranean with some of the best architectures in the country, next to Barcelona. Traveling to Granada feels like you are traveling to Italy, Portugal and Arabia at the same time. You will find streets lined with stone pavements and colorful roofs. Tours in this part of Spain are often cultural and romantic, with itineraries that include dinner on a balcony.
Granada is included in this itinerary since Andalusia is Spain’s exotic peninsula. Apart from the castles and churches that prove Spain’s autonomy in the world, Granada is a short ride from the neighboring cities of Cordoba, Seville and Malaga that gives it access to resorts and beaches. 9 to 15-day tours allow you to immerse yourself in the city and wallow in its charm. See the Puerto Real (Royal Gate), the Granada City Hall, Alhambra through day tours over the region. Other tours include Granada to Southern Spain, even Barcelona.
Spain Costs & Suggested Budget
Spain is known for its great hotels at three of its price points: backpack (low-budget), medium budget and high budget. Let us walk you through possible options:
Spanish hotels are plenty; the most known being NH (Navarra Hoteles) Hotel Group and Melia. NH Hotel Group has an upper end to luxury status and the brand has 350 hotels located throughout Europe and Latin America.
As Spain has smaller hotel rooms in the capital where NH has its headquarters, the hotel provides a sizable room that allows for the client to feel comfortable. This is due to the company catering to the business market and NH Hoteles is referred to as a business hotel. Nevertheless, regular amenities are fully available such as free Wi-Fi, room services and a treat to spectacular views.
Hotels near the city center cost higher than those in the outskirts. NH Madrid, for example, charges a minimum $180 for a superior room and this range can go up.
Formerly named Sol Melia or simply Melia is a company that established modern resort hotels. It has locations in Torremolinos, Benidorm, and Palma de Mallorca among others. If you prefer other more familiar hotel chains, Barcelo Hotels and Resorts, Sercotel and Catalonia Hoteles are also reputable. The typical price points of these hotels are for mid-range to luxury values, which is about 65€ to 100€ ($70 to $108) per night.
Another luxury brand is the “Paradores of Spain”. It is not a line of hotels but more of a type of hotel. These hotels are created from castles, monasteries and old city and rural residences to give it a traditional feel. While the exterior could be reminiscent of more colonial times, the interiors are cozy, romantic and fresh and perfect for those who want a quick getaway. There are around 90 Paradores famed in Spain and parts of Portugal; one night of a stay costs 120€ and above. A search engine dedicated to finding one that is perfect for your trip can be accessed here.
Guest Hotels and Hostels
Guest hotels or pensiones is a combination hotel and restaurant that are found in remote towns and villages in Spain. These rooms/spaces are found above commercial areas where it is convenient for travelers to do errands nearby. Pensiones are smart apartments for rent that are smaller than posadas. They can include common areas to dine, cook and mingle. They offer bargain rates for as low as 15€ a night.
Hostales refer to accommodations that qualify as a hotel that is suited for groups. They are small hotels for backpackers with amenities that are the equivalent of a one to two-star. We have to debunk the myth, however, that these places are inconvenient. In fact, they could just be the preferred lodgings for hitchhiking travelers who want a decent communal stay for the night. Prices range from 15€ for a single stay to 30€ for a double room.
Independent hotels are hotels that are established not by a company but by either a family or an individual. These are popular throughout Europe and some are self-served. Standards of independent hotels are not far off from commercial hotels. In fact, some may be treated as a villa.
From our visit, these hotels are sometimes better than commercial hotels since they follow a certain ambiance which does not feel too modern and uniformed unlike hotels in the city. They serve food that is local to the area and often have fantastic views near the side of a mountain or by the sea.
An independent hotel is perfect if you want to experience adventures like a local but immerse in Spanish culture like a tourist. By comparison, independent hotels are just as expensive as those run commercially and can range from $90 to $140 per night. Feel free to browse a list of quality Spanish independent hotels and search for more independent hotels here.
Other Accommodation Types
In between guest hotels and independents are posadas or a Spanish equivalent of a country inn or a bread and breakfast house. These are often found off the beaten path, in remote areas and in some main roads. Posadas is a style of home that fits into the qualification of AirBNBs that is often accompanied by an open space or occupied by a patio or a swimming pool. Rates for posadas range from 50 to 100 euros.
A more traditional type of posadas is the Casas Rurales and is often referred to as a cottage. They are vacation homes on the edge of major cities; they have areas of recreation (e.g., lawns and even tennis courts. These residences are perfect for families who are staying for a couple of days in a single place to have a home away from home.
Updated 2020 prices see stays costing around $400 for 2 nights sleeping 10 to 12 people for a typical casa. Values increase when Spring and Autumn comes. Booking.com has a sample of these seasonal homes.
Food Costs in Spain
Let’s talk about food prices. While the streets do not fall short of cheap food to it, Spain has prized restaurants that you won’t regret splurging a bit. Market food prices range from $1 to $2 (the high end )on a kilogram of fruit, vegetable or poultry. Beef can cost around $15 a kilo while beer and wine cost $1 to $2 and $7 respectively.
The estimated market prices for food and beverage are for hostel, cottages and holiday home users who are interested in cooking at their own place. Preparing food for a large group of people can prove to be more economical than dining outside. On average, a tourist can cook a $10 to $15 dollar meal for one.
Inexpensive dining restaurants cost $12 to $18 while fast food joints cost $6 to $8.30 each person. Local restaurants with mid-range costs go for $25 to $50 while fine dining starts $170 and up. European food often comes with the ambiance and the experience so before you feel bad for spending a lot, these restaurants often come with appetizers or the serving size is more hearty than usual. Not to mention that the Spanish love to take their time eating meals. In the discussion of Spanish food, there’s the food that you need to try and the cost of the food.
How to Get Around in Spain
The main transport system in Spain is via the Metro and bus. Airplanes, ferries, and cars are all equally accessible.
Public Transport System
More than airplanes, Spain’s trains have become the dependent transport of the country including those in rural areas. Spanish trains travel through the cities of Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, Bilbao, Seville and Malaga and are rooted by their underground railway system. Trains vary for the different travel lengths: long-distance, medium and local.
High-speed trains are referred to as AVE while regular train services are named Talgo. With long travels are reclining seats with movies, air conditioning, trolley, bar and restaurant services. Overnight trips on trains have bunk beds known as sleeping berths for an added cost. Apart from the speed, train type and seat class (first, business or tourist) determine the fares.
Medium-distance routes have drink and snack services while local trains offer a class seat that can journey for one to two hours.
Madrid has 13 train lines and 300 stations in the city that opens from 6AM until 1AM. The fare is €2.00 per trip (sometimes €1.50 for other lines) while a 10-day journey ticket costs 18.30 and can be used across the Metro Network and Metro Ligero (including the metrobus). Monthly tickets (called annual season tickets) start at 20€ to 9,30€ for seniors. Click here for more information on other ticket rates.
Trains every five to eight minutes except on Sundays and after 1:30 AM; transfers between trains are faster during rush hour. Maps that contain train routes are available on the train stations for easy navigation when travelling.
Barcelona Metro Trains cost a little higher but this fare is valid for 10 journeys including buses. The tickets can also be used in the Tibidabo (blue tramway), the Montjuic funicular railway and Catalan railway Generalitat. Monthly unlimited passes are also used that costs €54 for one zone and can be used for up to 70 journeys or for under 25 unlimited travel (valid for 90 days). One to five day passes can also be purchased.
The Barcelona Metro incurs a €50 on-the-spot fine so keep passes and tickets safe at all times. This Metro is open from 5 AM to 12 AM on Mondays to Thursdays; 6 AM to 12 AM on Fridays and 5 AM to 2 AM on Fridays, Saturdays and the day before public holidays.
More than their trains, Spain’s buses work around efficiency. They drive around major cities and to major cities while remote towns depend on buses to get them to the nearest city. Services for luggage (consignas) are easily attained so you wouldn’t have to carry your belongings all the time.
The typical bus route starts from 6AM to 11PM (or midnight). Over the summer, expect that buses will be crowded and air-conditioned may be overused and standing room is preferred more than sitting.
Rural and coastline area buses are run by the local municipality, which explains for irregular service hours depending if there are people. Schedules will usually be announced through a website and free publications (magazines and newspapers) and are known daily to the public.
Long Distance Bus Rides
The common bus operator is ALSA. Of its routes, Alsa-Enatcar is the cheapest and fastest. Linebus, Comes, Damas and Lycar are other known bus lines. Ticket prices start from €5 onwards. Return fares can range from €45 to €50 and would vary from each journey. The complete list of coach types and stops can be seen on ALSA’s official website.
Services on the buses, like trains, depend on the length of the journey and class type; Generally speaking, refreshments and snacks are offered along with other forms of past time and entertainment. Coach types are Premium, Super Economy and Eurobus.
Free Wi-Fi is available in all buses. Different perks are offered alongside each class. Premium class amenities have special sections for USB plugs, spaces for babies and animals, assistance for children, elderly and PWD, door-to-door pick-ups for belongings. Economy rates have equal travel security. free drinks or bottled water and music.
When to Go to Spain
Traveling to Spain will depend on the peak months and places that you choose to go. Its terrain is second only to Switzerland, which makes it an unexpected hiker’s paradise while its parties are grand and colorful. Your mood and what you want to experience on your holidays are some of what you need to consider when thinking of when to go.
At this time of year, the country is going through a festive transition of snow. Christmas is savored in low temperatures with Granada, Zaragoza and Pyrenees are possible vacation spots should you wish to spend the holidays. Sierra Nevada opens from late November to May and it features to be the highest ski activity site in Spain. Masella, Andorra, and La Molina are all sought-after winter areas. Along with their restaurants and holiday itineraries, families gather and socialize.
Winter includes January to February in Spain and during this transition, the crowds tone down and you are left with the tranquility of holiday week to the Feast of the Three Kings. Festivals are starting to come by towards the end of winter as it finishes with the Flamenco Festival that lasts for 14 days.
Barcelona, Malaga and Seville have the same chilly weather with less snowflakes. Malaga is located at the edge of Spain - with its winter referred to as “Winter Sun”. Spend the holidays in the walled city where you are able to walk and tour alongside its shops that are open season-round. Imagine being at the beach on Christmas and getting a tan.
Barcelona's weather is perfect for the outdoors and can go from 12C to 5C at its coldest. Attractions throughout at this time are similar in the summer like ancient town walks, special concerts and boat rides. Seville winter is a combination of sunshine and rain and you might find yourself reaching for an umbrella when it comes along. The cloudy weather suggests that it is nearly romantic time to go out and visit some of Spain’s resonate churches in an ambiance that reminds you of South America.
Spain’s peak season is during Spring (March to May) and Summer (June to August) at which tourists enjoy seasonal activities and food served during that time. Experience the Las Fallas Festivals in Valencia where fireworks storm the city with parades donning floats and mascots.
Northern Spain’s places such as Bilbao thrive in the summer as the city braces itself for its Semana Grande, where music and people come together for fun and celebration.
Beaches expected to be overcrowded and regional towns are fully booked. Moreover, rates are sure to be expensive due to the surge in tourists. Lazy Trips has given us access to a checklist on what to expect every month in Spain.
Staying Safe in Spain
Spain has had a bad rep of maddening crowds and riots, but as travelers, we guarantee that is safer than what it is shown to be. As we have discussed, Madrid and Barcelona are the two most visited cities and as any cosmopolitan city, there have been reports of petty theft.
We have not experienced petty theft ourselves but it is true that you have to be wary of people who stand too close to you and keep your belongings even closer. Try not to pack unnecessary belongings especially if you are traveling from place to place. In Madrid, hotel services are professional but still have the responsibility to check whether your room is locked and where you place the key.
Be wary of big crowds since the surge of people can make you less aware. Documentation is also necessary. Always bring your passport and visas (if necessary) should you be asked to present them.
Introduction to Spain
Lonely Planet's Introductory Video to Spain
Walking Distance: Madrid Video Travel Guide
Madrid: Travel Guide
New York Times: What to Do in Spain
Rick Steves' Europe: The Majesty of Madrid
South of Spain
Rick Steves’ Andalucia: The Best of Southern Spain
Cinematic Tour of Andalucia
Valencia: City Tour
Panoramic Tour: Valencia
Food Tour of Valencia
Rick Steves' Sevilla
Joan Kim: A Week in Madrid, Cordoba and Seville
Top Resources for Traveling to Spain
- Tourism in Spain - Spain’s official tourism website that includes a recent overview of sights most visited by tourists, a list of their metropolitan cities, beaches and rural villages. There is also a section for certain demographics and activities that they can do.
- The Blonde Abroad - a charming blog on personal Spain’s adventures from a solo traveler’s point of view. Check it out for secret get-aways, beautiful pictures and practical information on what to expect and what to enjoy.
- Rick Steve’s Europe: Spain and Portugal Tours - These are mid to high-range luxury tours that offer a lot of sightseeing and stops at different areas in a city. The pros and reservations of the trip are listed as well as full itineraries.
- Adventure in You Travel Guide: Spain - An online guide to the necessary items and requirements you might want to take note of when going to the country.
- About Spain - Extremely useful on full descriptions for Spain’s many tourist towns and attractions including their churches and culture. There are also several Spanish travel tips from how to drive, food, accommodation, and transportation.
- World Travel Guide: Spain - Important travel tips to Spain including what to anticipate and what you can enjoy. It summarizes the must-see destinations and activities that you should consider doing in Europe’s biggest country.
- Secret Places: Spain - A website that categorizes accommodations in Spain by region and itinerary. This can prove handy for those who have plans in mind but are still searching for that perfect place to stay.
Thanks for reading our guide, make sure to follow our blog or check out some of our other travel guides. Here are some readings about tourism activities in Spain that you just might be interested in:
Spain has developed a low-cost transportation system that costs 60% off its original prices for the travel between Barcelona and Madrid. This is considered to be Spain’s busiest route and the train line AVLO offers reasonably priced tickets to make the journey more accessible. Read here to learn more.
Spain is aware of its reputation as for outdoor concerts. It has generated over 300,000 people in crowds and has been a festival mecca since 2017. It gives opportunities for independent bands and musicians to showcase their talents, help them collaborate with brands/companies and engage with their supporters.
It gives you a roster of articles on preparations should you want to visit Spain over the holidays and summer days. Remote places, cultural sites and unusual appetites await you!