Tips for Planning a Budget-Friendly Trip to Spain
Make Your Dream Trip a Reality
Planning a trip to Spain but want to do so on a budget? Europe certainly has a reputation as one of the most expensive parts of the world to travel. However, if you’d like to visit Spain, you don’t necessarily have to break the bank to do so. Keep reading to find our top tips for planning cheap holidays to Spain.
Shop Around for Flights
Book your flights early. Even though you can occasionally find good last-minute deals, the most reliable way to find the best prices on flights is to book three or so months in advance. Many flight search engines will give you recommendations as to whether you should book now or wait based on historical price data.
You can also consider flying into a major European hub city like London, Paris or Munich and then booking a budget airline such as Ryanair into Spain. It certainly pays off to shop around.
If you are traveling to several cities in Spain, it may save you money overall to book a flight into one city and then out of another city rather than traveling in a loop. Sometimes you can get really lucky and find cheaper rates on these open-jaw tickets than you can on round trip tickets.
If you are flying from the United States or Canada, Madrid is a popular option, but be sure to also check Barcelona as it can sometimes be cheaper. Norwegian Airlines often has the best deals.
Think about Alternative Accommodations
A huge part of our travel budget usually goes toward hotel rooms. However, if you are flexible, and willing to try something new, then you can save a lot of money by thinking outside the box. Hostels aren’t just for college kids anymore; these days there are plenty of family-friendly hostels and tourists of all ages are choosing to stay at them.
There are also websites that offer the option to couchsurf for free or house- or pet-sit in exchange for a free stay. Everyone knows about Airbnb these days, but these can also be great options for finding a cheaper stay than in a standard hotel. Plus, many Airbnbs have kitchens, which can greatly cut down on the cost of food since you won’t have to eat out for every meal.
Even though many tourists choose to travel from city to city in Spain by train, the bus is usually much more affordable. Even though it may take a bit more energy to figure out, it’s not impossible and is sometimes even faster. Check out Sagales for bus tickets — you’ll find they even go places the train doesn’t, so they can be quite convenient.
If you do decide to travel by train, a rail pass can be a great money-saving option. However, this isn’t always true. Depending on your specific itinerary, it may be cheaper to book individual train tickets than book a pass, so be sure to do your research before blindly purchasing a pass. During busy seasons, book your train tickets in advance on the Renfe website as tourist tickets can often sell out and the first-class tickets aren’t worth the extra cost.
Inside large cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, Spain has very affordable underground or metro systems that will help you get from place to place for a low cost. The systems have easy to understand maps and pricing systems.
Eat Like a Local
In Spain, most locals have their largest meal of the day at lunch and have smaller meals for breakfast or dinner. In this case you should certainly do as the locals do as it is much cheaper to eat out for lunch than it is for dinner. Restaurants usually offer a “menu del dia” that is a great deal for lunchtime.
Another of our favorite ways to save money on food in Spain is to enjoy free tapas. Many bars will offer a generous portion of the tapas that are so famous in Spain for free when you order a drink. You’ll find this all around the country, but it’s especially true in Granada.
Keep your costs down by drinking like a local too — Spanish wine and beers like Mahou and Estrella are quite affordable and easy to find anywhere.
Think Twice before Purchasing a Discount Card
You’ll find vendors in every city offering tourist discount cards that include cheap or free entry into museums around town and can be a great deal if you are planning to see many sights in one city. However, sometimes the cost of the card isn’t worth it if you aren’t planning to visit very many of the included attractions.
Take a bit of time to consider what you plan to do and whether a discount card is a good option for your itinerary. If you do your research, you’ll also find that many museums in Spain offer free days at certain times, so if you happen to be able to plan your visit for one of those days, you’ll be even better off!
Travel Like a Minimalist
If you can manage to travel with carry-on luggage only, you’ll save a lot of money on fees when taking budget flights within Europe or within Spain. You will be a lot more comfortable when traveling by train or bus as you won’t have as much “stuff” to worry about.
When to Visit
The best time of year to score a deal depends greatly on what parts of Spain you plan to visit. The big cities clear out in August as many locals are on vacation and tourists can find great deals on hotels in the cities during this time. However, beach destinations can be more expensive.
Alternatively, traveling in winter will offer the best deals on accommodations (as long as you avoid Christmas and New Year’s). The shoulder seasons of late fall and early spring offer what many believe is the best combination of lower prices and decent weather.
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Where to Visit: The Cheapest Cities in Spain
While our money saving tips above will save you a bit of cash no matter what part of Spain you plan to visit, there are certainly places that are cheaper than others. Many of the tourist hot spots will be far more expensive than more off-the-beaten-path destinations.
According to a 2018 study by Kelisto, the most expensive city in Spain is the Catalan capital of Barcelona. In addition, the popular cities of Madrid, San Sabastian, Palma de Mallorca and Valencia all rank quite high in cost.
If you really want to travel Spain on the cheap, think about avoiding the major cities and the coast and spending most of your time in the relatively less populated Castilla y Leon region in North-Central Spain. There, you’ll find amazing scenery, deep history and a relaxed, slow-paced life with plenty of friendly locals.
If you’d like a quieter place to spend a few days or weeks, experience everyday Spanish life, and save some money on your travels, then this area is a great option.
Palencia, Castilla y Leon
Ranked by Kelisto as the cheapest city in all of Spain, Palencia is a historic city with amazing architecture and a cost of living more than 30% below the country’s average. It can be a good place to camp out for a bit of time, but you’ll want to understand that it’s far from the coast, has a largely elderly population and extremely cold winters.
This hidden gem of a Galician city is in the north, but is still relatively close to the coast, and a bit more upbeat and culturally vibrant than Palencia. You’ll find you’ll easily be able to balance saving a bit of money while still having a great experience.
There’s lots of rain, but that means the surrounding countryside is incredibly lush and green. You can reach the coast in approximately an hour and will find a decent bar scene for the city’s size. There are plenty of brilliant, low-cost tapas joints, and the cost of accommodation is among the lowest in Spain.
Logrono, La Rioja
Want to visit the Spanish wine country without spending a fortune? The small, tidy city of Lagrono is becoming popular among foodie travelers, but doesn’t come with as much of a cost as some of the more well-known cities in the wine country.
While the history and architecture here aren’t as impressive as many of the other cities in Spain, you’ll be right in the center of the La Rioja wine country and will find an amazing food and drink scene. So, if your tummy leads your travel plans, this might be one to consider!
This city in Western Spain is a wonderfully preserved UNESCO World Heritage Site and a perfect fit for history buffs who wish to visit Spain on a budget. You’ll find many examples of Roman architecture here and tons of interesting buildings. However, it is far from the coast and is incredibly hot in the summer, making it a good place to visit in the spring or fall.
Avila, Castilla y Leon
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a fairy tale when you visit the fortified city of Avila, especially when it’s lit up at night. The history and architecture are top notch and a stay here will give you a great look into old Spain. Avila is also relatively close to Madrid (about one-and-a-half hours away) so it’s not a bad option if you are looking to stay somewhere more affordable and still explore the Spanish city.
Visiting Madrid on a Budget
It’s not the cheapest city on our list by any means, but since you’ll at least want to experience a bit of urban Spanish life, visiting Madrid may be in order. While there, you can save money on attractions by visiting a couple of free museums. The Reina Sofia museum is free in the evenings and on Sunday afternoons, as well on a few select free days throughout the year.
The main collection at the Prado museum is also free each evening. Additionally, if you happen to be a student traveling with an International Student ID card, the museums are free. Other museums offer free days or free hours, so check out the website of any museums you plan to visit and see if you can visit for free!
There are also loads of green spaces and nice public parks around town, including the glorious Parque del Retiro, where you can spend a few hours without spending a penny. Another way to save is by purchasing a public transportation pass. Depending on how much you plan to hop around the city, the pass can be a great deal. You can travel a full day within Zone A for just over 8 euros (Zone A also includes the airport).
As mentioned above, the menu del dia (menu of the day) lunch options are a great way to eat a nice two- or three-course meal for a great price. In Madrid, you can find tons of restaurants offering this type of menu. However, Restaurante Momo on Calle Libertad 8 remains one of our favorite places to lunch in Madrid.
Visiting Barcelona on a Budget
While it may be Spain’s most expensive city, the incredible city of Barcelona is a must-see for many travelers and with some careful planning you can save a lot of money on your visit. For instance, when you arrive, instead of booking a taxi to the city center, take the metro for about a third of the cost.
Eating like a local will save you lots of cash here. Avoid the popular La Rambla and Passeig de Garcia streets and instead look for grub in more local neighborhoods and markets. For instance, along Blai Street you’ll find lots of tapas bars offering a small bite for prices as low as 1 Euro.
As in Madrid, you’ll find many of the world-class museums in Barcelona offer free days (usually the first Sunday of the month). So, if you plan to visit the Picasso Museum, the Barcelona History Museum or the Palau Guell, you’ll save some money by planning in advance to visit when the museums are free.
There are often free events going on around the city, especially during the summer when you’ll find free outdoor cinemas, street party festivals, live music and more. The festivals of La Merced in September, Las Festas de Santa Eulalia in February, and San Joan in the summer often include a number of events such as concerts, dancing and fireworks that are free and open to the public.
While there are plenty of paid tours in Barcelona, some companies offer free walking or biking tours. For instance, you can explore the Gothic Quarter and some of the famous works of Gaudi with a guide for no charge; however, tipping your guide is considered a good practice.