Backpacking Spain: Your Essential Budget Guide
One of the things that I wish I knew before I moved to Spain was just how diverse the country was!
I was blissfully ignorant of the cultural and geographical differences of Spain. This just goes to show that most assumptions are wrong!
A trip to Spain is essential while backpacking Europe, as the country is absolutely beautiful and full of interesting places to see.
You can go surfing in the Basque Country, hiking in Galicia, catch the sun on the Mediterranean coast and experience mountains and desert in Andalucia! It’s so diverse!
Best of all, travelling Spain is cheap! The country is not as expensive as you would imagine! It’s not too difficult to survive on less than €50 a day!
So without further ado, let’s get into my Spain travel guide!
- Capital city: Madrid
- Language: Spanish
- Currency: Euro (€)
- Plug: Type F Get a worldwide travel adapter here!
- Population: 46.5 million
- International dialing code: +34
Spanish Travel Visa
Spain is part of the European Union, so if you’re from one of the 28 countries in the union, you can travel and work in Spain without a visa.
If you’re not from an EU country, then you will need to get a Schengen visa. These cost about €60 and allow you to travel in Schengen countries in Europe of 90 days.
It’s always best to check what your country’s immigration department says about getting a visa before you go. As these things can vary from country to country!
Getting to Spain
If you’re in Europe then travelling to Spain is relatively straightforward. There are numerous land borders with France, Italy and Portugal to a name a few countries. Spain is also linked to most of Europe through their high-speed rail network.
The most common way of getting to Spain is by flying. The number of cheap flights to Spain is ridiculous! This is especially true if you’re coming from the UK.
Ryanair and Easyjet fly into a number of destinations on the Iberian Peninsula such as Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga. If you book well in advance you can get flights for as cheap as €22 without check-in luggage!
If you’re flying to Spain from outside of Europe then you will be paying more. You will also have to fly into one of the main cities such as Barcelona or Madrid. It’s best to book your flights in advance to avoid paying over the odds!
Best time to visit Spain?
When most people think of going to Spain it’s for the sun that the country is so readily associated with. Well, the truth is, the weather in Spain does not exactly fit this stereotype. The weather can vary markedly depending on where you go in Spain!
Certainly, the best time to visit Spain weather-wise is during the summer. Temperatures regularly reach over 30 degrees and rain is a rarity in most parts of the country, with the exception of the North.
Bear in mind, that the temperatures in most parts of Spain at this time can get very hot, especially in Andalucia. It’s not unusual for temperatures to exceed 40 degrees from June to August, so it may best to visit during April/May and September/October if you want cooler weather.
The temperature decreases sharply during winter. In most places, temperatures can reach below 10 degrees and there can be a fair bit of rain as well.
As a big country, Spain has a diverse climate, so it’s best to check the climate and weather of the region you’re going to before you leave!
Why you should visit Spain
There are an absolute plethora of reasons to visit Spain! These range from simply getting some sun, which is why a lot of people from northern Europe head there during the summer, to the rich cultural history of the country!
Spain as a destination is a lot more diverse than you would first think. Almost everyone has the image of golden beaches and tapas in their minds when they go to Spain, I was no different!
Well, the reality is a little more nuanced!
There certainly are great beaches and a lot of tapas should you want to do these things. However, there are plenty of other points of interest in Spain as well! An overlooked fact about Spain is that it’s the second-most mountainous country in Europe after Switzerland!
That makes Spain a great destination for skiers, hikers and people who love beautiful scenery!
Spain has a rich culture and history, which means that no matter where you go, you’re going to find places that have plenty of great sights. Andalucia is a case in point.
The number of historical buildings in the region is incredible. The Alhambra and La Mezquita are among some of the most popular tourist spots in Spain. The country is teeming with these type of places!
When I first travelled to Spain I thought the whole country was more or less the same culturally and even geographically.
I could not have been more wrong!
Living in Barcelona, I realised this rather quickly. The majority of the people there don’t consider themselves to be Spanish, rather they consider themselves Catalan.
Further travels across the country only confirmed this further. The people in the Basque Country identified as Basque predominately rather than Spanish. Even in Valencia, there were more flags of the regional community than Spanish ones!
This makes a visit to Spain more interesting as you learn more about the fascinating history of the country and why the regional differences are so profound. I was actually quite shocked that I wasn’t more aware of this fact!
A great book on this subject is Ghosts of Spain, which delves into the topic and explains some of the cultural peculiarities that baffled me while I was in Spain!
Learning more about a country’s past and culture is one of my favourite things to when visiting a new place. So you’ll have a great time in Spain if you’re like me!
Where to stay in Spain
There is a lot of accommodation in Spain and it can be a little daunting at times to try and sift through it. There’s a plethora of hotels, hostels and other options in the country, primarily as tourism in Spain is one of the biggest contributors to the economy!
When I went backpacking in Spain, I mostly stayed in hostels, as I’m a budget, conscious traveller. Virtually every notable tourist destination in Spain has a lot of hostels and hotels in it, so you’re normally spoilt for choice.
This can be good and bad. Good, because you will find some great deals, bad because there are a lot of choices and it can be overwhelming at times.
Downtown River Hostel – A lovely little hostel in San Sebastian close to the city centre and bus station that has a kitchen and friendly vibe!
HelloBCN – A cool hostel located of Avinguda Parallel in Barcelona. Friendly staff and great facilities and close to Las Ramblas and Barceloneta.
Pil Pil Hostel – A nice hostel in Bilbao which is ideally located near the city centre. Great staff and facilities!
River Hostel – Great hostel in Valencia that is really cheap with rooms under €10 a night! Great social area and bar downstairs!
Urbany Hostel – Big hostel located near Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Great staff and lots of events happening throughout the week.
If you want a more comprehensive option of hostels in Spain, then click here to check out the latest deals!
For those of you that would like to stay in hotels in Spain, click here for the latest deals at Agoda.
Backpacking routes in Spain
As one of the biggest countries in Europe, there are plenty of self-driving routes in Spain that you can do. I firmly believe that road trips are the best way to see a country. Driving in Australia is quite similar to Spain due to the distances involved. The only difference is that the interior of Spain is more populated!
With plenty of places to visit in Spain throughout the country, it’s the perfect place for road trips! There are plenty of driving routes in Spain, below are a few that I think you should include on your Spain travelling itinerary.
Travelling to Andalucia is something that should definitely do when visiting Spain! I was set to do this, unfortunately, I had to cancel my trip due to unforeseen circumstances. Luckily, flights to Spain are cheap, so I will be heading back soonish to explore this beautiful region of Spain!
Andalucia is arguably the most beautiful and culturally rich place in all of Spain. Cities such as Cordoba, Granada and Sevilla are rich in history. This is where the Moors ruled Spain and they left behind numerous beautiful buildings such as the Alhambra!
There are also lesser-known spots such as Cadiz, which is the oldest settled place in the Iberian Peninsula and Ronda, where a spectacular bridge can be found spanning a gorge.
Andalucia is an interesting and beautiful region and one that shouldn’t be overlooked when you visit Spain!
The East Coast is the most popular destination in Spain. This is where the country meets the Mediterranean, with cities such as Almeria, Barcelona and Valencia dotted along the coast.
This would be one of the spots for a Spanish road trip, as there are lots of great places to visit on the Costa Brava, Dorada and further south. Lesser heralded places such as Murcia and Tarragona are well worth a visit!
If you’re looking for a dose of sun, sea and sand, then this is the place to go, as there are miles of beautiful coastline. This is an ideal place for a road trip in Spain, as there are lots of places to see and you can swing down into Andalucia and go along the Costa del Sol or inland afterwards if you wish!
A visit to Northern Spain is often overlooked by most people when backpacking Spain, which I find a little odd. This is one of the best parts of Spain, as the nature and the culture here is just incredible!
You have the Basque Country, where green hills meet golden beaches, and that’s without mentioning the quirky Basque culture. Visiting Bilbao and San Sebastian will expose to some of the most interesting places in Spain. Further west, you can visit Cantabria, which has great destinations like Santander.
Even further, is Galicia, which like the Basque Country has beautiful nature and intriguing cultural delights. You could do a trip to Galicia all on its own, with the number of places you can see there!
Places such as Santiago, A Coruna and Vigo are must visits while travelling the region! You also have to check the amazing local cuisine which focuses on seafood!
There’s also the chance to extend this trip and drive down the Iberian Peninsula into Portugal if you wish! A North of Spain road trip is one you should do if you want to do a different side to the country than widely publicised Spain of sun and beaches!
Lap of Spain
This one is for ambitious travellers and those with a lot of time. Spain is a country that’s made for a road trip. As I’ve mentioned above, there are plenty of great places to visit in Spain, so you’re not short of choice!
The layout of the country lends itself to a road trip in a lap format. You can essentially start from any destination and then drive around in one big lap until you return to your starting point.
One potential problem is that Madrid, the capital, is in the centre of the country. So, you might have to make a slight detour to see it if you want to!
This is a big undertaking and would require about 2 months to complete and see everything properly. However, if you have the time, then why not do it! This way it certainly the question of where to go in Spain!
Places to visit in Spain
As one of the biggest countries in Europe, there are plenty of places to see in Spain. In fact, there are so many that it would be some feat to see them all in one trip!
Don’t forget that as well as mainland Spain there is also the Balearic and Canary Islands! Both of these island chains are beautiful destinations and in the case of the Balearics could be added as an extension to your travelling Spain itinerary!
I really could list about twenty places, such is the wealth of destinations in Spain! However, I have narrowed the list down to five that I think everyone should make the effort to travel to when they visit Spain!
Galicia is one of the underrated destinations in Spain. This probably isn’t helped by its location in the Northwest of the country above Portugal and away from the tourist hubs of the South and East.
However, that plays into Galicia’s hands as there are fewer tourists and you’re free to explore its incredible natural beauty.
Places such as A Coruna, Santiago de Compostela and Vigo are unheralded cities in Spain and are definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. Galicia has an interesting culture and they even have their own language Gallego!
Galicia is very different to the rest of Spain and is definitely worth a visit if you want to get away from the crowds on the Meditteranean! I would include it as part of any Spain travel itinerary!
Girona may not be the most well-known place in Spain, however, it’s one that you should definitely visit. It’s become more popular recently due to the city featuring in Game of Thrones, which is all the more reason to visit Girona!
Girona is a beautiful city, and the main attraction is the church, which towers into the sky. It’s a striking building and one that you literally can’t miss while you’re in Girona.
The city has a charming medieval feel to it and exploring the old streets is a joy. It’s also worth heading to the nearby river to view the picturesque houses located next to it!
I went to Girona in the winter, but it was still beautiful and if you’re visiting Barcelona, it makes a great day trip from there!
It’s safe to say, that I was pleasantly surprised by my trip to San Sebastian! Let me explain:
Quite simply, San Sebastian is beautiful! I didn’t know an awful lot about this place in the Basque Country before I visited, but perhaps that was to my benefit. I certainly appreciated the city while I was there.
San Sebastian is a mix of stunning nature and beautiful buildings. La Concha Bay and Monte Igeldo are incredible spots and the old town or Parte Vieja in Spanish is a hive of activity!
This is one place to visit in Spain that you cannot miss while you’re in the country!
Sevilla is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, which is some claim, as the country is full of great cities! As one of the economic centres of the old Spanish Empire, Sevilla is awash with spectacular and ornate buildings!
There are plenty more reasons to visit Sevilla apart from the buildings. The culture here is amazing, especially around Semana Santa, when there are week-long festivities. They like a party down here in Andalucia!
There are many great buildings to see in Sevilla, such as the Alcázar, Giralda, Metropol Parasol and Plaza de Espana. If you’re an architecture buff, then visiting Sevilla will be a dream come true for you!
Another reason to visit Sevilla is that it can be used as the gateway to Andalucia, which is arguably the most interesting region to visit in Spain! You can easily travel to Cordoba, Granada and Malaga from there!
What’s not so great about Spain
Spain is an interesting country to visit there’s no doubt about that. However, as with every place, there are a few things which are a bit annoying and not as great as you might you think.
I’m a big believer that only by living in a country do truly get under its skin and find out the nitty gritty details you otherwise never would! This section of my Spain travel blog is a result of living in the country for 2 years, and are a few of things that weren’t so great!
This might come as heresy to some people, as nearly everyone adores Barcelona. Well, it’s safe to say that I am not one of those people. I lived there for 2 years and didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about!
Sure, there’s no getting away from the fact that parts of the city are beautiful. Passeig de Gracia, Montjuic and Parc Guell are great. However, that was about it for me, I felt like the city was a bit bland. The endless rows of identikit apartment buildings in Eixample are mind-numbing after a while!
I really struggled to my everyone wants to visit Barcelona. Sure, it has its beautiful spots, but I feel that there are more beautiful and culturally interesting places to go in Spain.
This is a controversial opinion, but I just don’t see what the attraction of Barcelona is. Maybe, the fact that I didn’t like living there impeded my judgement, and I might change my mind if I went back solely as a tourist.
However, I doubt I’ll be heading back anytime soon!
For a lot of people, living in Spain is a dream!
Whenever I told somebody that I had moved to Spain, they almost always said how lucky I was, and that they would love to do it!
Well, moving to Spain isn’t as glamourous and amazing as it sounds. It’s certainly, not all sun, sea and sangria. As with living in any foreign country, there can be a lot of difficulties. Especially, when the culture is quite different to your home country!
The culture in Spain can take a bit of getting used to. The pace of life is slower here, people don’t seem to fussed about getting things done and are quite laid-back about most things.
Also, if you plan on working in Spain, then the bureaucracy here is a nightmare! Trying to get a NIE (which is the national insurance number) was an experience I would like to forget! The number of forms you have to fill out and waiting around is beyond belief!
Spain is a beautiful country and a great destination for a holiday, but living there can be a challenge at times! I would think long and hard before moving to Spain, as it can be stressful. If you can deal with the above then go for it!
Wait a minute!? The weather in Spain? Are you mad!? Well, a little bit, but that’s beside the point!
This might seem like a strange thing to mention as a negative about Spain but bear with me. Summers in Spain can get hot, I mean really hot! Depending on where you are, you could be looking at temperatures of over 40 degrees!
Let me tell you that is simply too hot! If you’re planning on visiting Andalucia during the summer then I would definitely advise against it, as the heat is incredible! You’re better off going during the Spring, or in September and October when it’s a bit cooler!
It’s absolutely vital to take the best time to visit Spain into consideration when travelling there. It’s a big country and the weather can vary a lot. The Basque Country and Northern Spain, have a very climate to Catalunya. While the centre of Spain can be blisteringly hot in the summer, and piercingly cold in the winter!
You see, there is a downside to weather in Spain, but it does depend on when and where you go!
How much does it cost to travel in Spain?
When I first decided to visit Spain, I was expecting the country to be quite expensive. So, I was quite shocked to find that is certainly not the case at all. If you look in the right places, Spain can be very cheap indeed!
The big cities such as Barcelona and Madrid will be more expensive than places such as Bilbao and Sevilla. However, even in these cities, you can still travel cheaply if you look in the right places!
Getting to Spain is relatively cheap from most places in Europe. Flights to Spain can cost as little as £18 at times to destinations such as Barcelona and Malaga. Once you get to Spain, it’s a bit more expensive to get around, but you can still do it cheaply.
Travelling by bus is definitely the cheapest method, although it’s a lot slower than by train. If you book in advance, the RENFE, which is the Spanish train service, can be cheap and it’s also very fast between certain destinations.
One method of travelling in Spain I would avoid is flying. Internal flights are not cheap and you would need to book well in advance to get the cheapest flights. Try and travel by train or bus if you can to keep costs down!
Eating out in Spain and buying groceries can be cheap if you’re careful. You can easily get two dishes at most cafes for around €8.90, even in big cities such as Barcelona. These are known as the ‘menu del dia’ which translates to Menu of the day, be sure to take up these offers if you’re peckish!
Likewise, food shopping can be relatively cheap. I was pleasantly surprised at what I could buy for €30 a week. It was certainly easy living on a budget in Spain!
Tips for saving money while travelling Spain
It’s actually surprising easily to save money during a trip to Spain. There are lots of ways you can do this and below are a few of my most useful Spain travel tips!
- Stay in hostels that have kitchens if you can. Most of the hostels in Spain have kitchens, although there are a few that don’t. This is easily the best way to save money while backpacking Spain, as eating out every day will slowly drain your budget. Cooking a meal that will last you a few days is another great way to save money!
- When travelling around Spain, try to book your transport as far in advance as you can. I found this out to my cost, especially with trains. The prices do steadily increase the closer to your date of departure. The bus is almost always cheaper than the trains as well, but they do take longer.
- If you’re staying in Granada or Leon, then you’re in luck, as these cities are famous for their free tapas. Simply order a drink and you’ll get a plate of tapas with it for free! You might this in other places such as Almeria, Jaen and Madrid, but it’s much rarer.
- A good way to see cities is to do a walking tour. A lot of the hostels in Spain offer free walking tour which you can join. They are a great way to learn more about the history of the cities and save money too!
Backpacking Spain is a must on any trip to Europe in my opinion. The diversity and beauty of the country make it one of the best places to go. There is everything you could imagine in one country and with so many places to see, you could keep coming back for years and discover new places in Spain!
It certainly is an interesting destination and the more that you scratch away at the surface, the more you discover about the country. Perhaps, the best thing about Spain is there are a lot of hidden gems waiting to be discovered!
There’s certainly more to the country than the big over-commercialised tourist cities! Do you agree with my assessment of backpacking Spain? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Need travel insurance? Don’t visit Spain without it! I use World Nomads to keep me protected while I travel, and recommend you do too!
Want more info on travelling to Spain? Get the Lonely Planet guide to Spain here!
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