Despite being one of Western Europe’s cheapest tourist hotspots, travelling around Spain on a tight budget can still be a pain in the culo. With a little local know-how, though, you can save your hard-earned Euros and stretch your budget (and your holiday).
1. Learn the lingo
No, we aren’t saying that you need to speak fluent Spanish before you get there, but knowing a few words will have the dual advantage of allowing you to ask around for the best prices AND not necessarily be lumped in with all of the other foreigners. Aim to be able to order in a restaurant and say something nice about the local football team. If you learn enough to flirt with the waiter, even better. We recommend BBC languages, Memrise and Notes in Spanish as good places to get started.
2. Head off the beaten track
Walking even a few streets away from the main tourist trail is a great way to get a real taste of your holiday destination (or the place you ended up by accident when you misread one of the infinitely complicated bus/metro/train maps). Prices fall steadily the further you get from the area’s main attractions. For example, Barcelona’s Ramblas are a must-see for any tourist in the city, but you would save at least 50% wandering a few streets away into the Gothic Quarter or the Raval.
3. Look out for Menu del Dia
Many restaurants in Spain offer a Menu del Dia – a fixed price menu (usually at lunchtime) offering incredible value for money. A typical deal would be 3 course meal with bread and beer or wine (a whole bottle if you are lucky) from about €8 and up. This is a great way to fill up for small money.
4. Take advantage of free tapas
In some areas of Spain – most notably the beautiful city of Granada in Andalucia – it is traditional to provide a client with a free tapa (small plate of food) with each drink. And yes, this applies even to small beers and Coca-Colas. And they keep bringing them on even on your 10th half-pint.
If your funds can’t stretch to even the low, low price of drinking out in Spain, why not take up drinking like a Spanish teenager? Many Spaniards, not least in part thanks to the balmy weather of much of the country, buy their booze in the supermarket, find a nice square or a happening bit of beach and make their own fun. A 330ml can of beer in a corner shop can cost as little as around 50cents, and you get the added bonus of an open air party atmosphere in some of the world’s most beautiful cities.
6. Watch your travel costs
Travel infrastructure is generally very good in Spain (especially in the big cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Seville) although can be a little confusing for travellers. For long-distance travel, try to buy your tickets well in advance for the cheapest seats – Spanish national train operator RENFE’s website allows you to buy online. Trains come in several different flavours in Spain, with the high-speed AVE being the fastest but most expensive by far – opt for the cheaper, local trains for a budget-friendly alternative. Coach travel is cheaper still.
7. Free museum entry
If you plan ahead, you may be able to take advantage of free entry to a number of museums across Spain – many offer free visiting to locals and tourists alike on certain days of the week – often a Sunday afternoon. Madrid’s spectacular El Prado offers free entry for the last two hours of visiting every single day.
8. Rock-bottom hotels
In Spain the tradition of the Pension is still going strong. These hotels – that often fall into the one-star category – range from the grungy to the glorious. Check online reviews of likely candidates in your holiday destination as there are some real gems out there, especially in rural areas where rustic hotels tend to be family-run and have excellent, hearty restaurants.
9. The Chino
Forgotten something? Don’t be conned into forking out at El Corte Ingles. If you have chance, sniff out a Chino – a peculiarly Spanish brand of shop, so named because it is often run by a Chinese proprietor. These stores are an Alladin’s cave of, well, everything. Tablecloths, hairdryers, fancy dress outfits – you name it, you will find it in a Chino, and for far cheaper than anywhere else in town.