Visiting Spain is a dream for many wanting to experience its historic Mediterranean culture. Like other western European destinations, Spain isn’t always the most budget-friendly. That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the sights and sounds of Picasso, flamenco, tapas, and the siesta.
Madrid or Barcelona are the starting points for many visitors. It doesn’t matter if you spend all your time in one of these cities or you plan on seeing as much of the country as possible. There are many ways to whittle down your travel expenses and turn your dream of a holiday in Spain into a reality. So, read on to discover how to visit Spain on a budget.
Getting to Spain
Flying legacy U.S. carriers like United, Delta, or American help you avoid fuel surcharges that European-based carriers tend to charge. These surcharges can add several hundred dollars to your ticket cost.
If you are paying for at least part of your journey with travel rewards points, focus first on award flights. Airline miles tend to be more valuable than hotel points or redeeming points for rental cars and excursions.
Most large cities offer a “City Pass” that bundles museum admission and public transit at a reduced price. You can find these passes at airports and major tourist centers. Before arriving, compare the a la carte sightseeing costs to the upfront city pass cost to compare your potential savings.
The Madrid Travel City Pass gives you unlimited rides on the metro, bus, and local train networks. The Barcelona Card offers complimentary public transit and local museum access.
If time allows, try taking a mini excursion to a smaller town. From these major cities, you can take a short-haul flight or ride the high-speed AVE train to the best Spanish towns. For instance, intra-Spain award flights on Iberia cost 5,000 Avios plus fees and taxes.
Because Madrid is the geographic center of Spain, you will have more transit options. Although making Barcelona your basecamp can still let you easily reach other northern Spanish cities.
Northern towns like Santander and Bilbao are easily accessible and offer lush, green scenery. If you prefer the desert climate, Moorish towns like Seville or Granada are quite popular. Coastal towns like Malaga and Valencia can also be worth a visit if you want to enjoy history and still relax on the beach.
Visit in Off-Peak Season
The cheapest months for visiting Spain tend to be September through November, during the fall and February through May in the spring. Except for major holidays like Christmas or Easter and local festivals, fewer tourists visit during these months.
November through mid-March are the cheapest travel months. While Spain doesn’t have harsh winters, you will need to bring a warm jacket as daytime temps may only reach the upper 50s in northern and southern Spain.
The number of tourists increases between late March and May, especially during Holy Week (Semana Santa) when locals and tourists alike come out for daily processions in the downtown districts. Daily temperatures also increase which can make late April or early May the best time to visit for weather and price.
Avoid July and August
July and August are the hottest months of the year to visit Spain, especially the southern Andalusian province when daytime highs easily reach the upper 90s. Locals also tend to flock to the coastal towns to escape the heat. As a result, it’s common for businesses, restaurants, and exhibits in the inland cities to either have reduced hours or even close if the family is travelling.
The summer months also happen to be peak tourist season which means your flight and hotel prices are higher. This might be your only option if traveling as a family. If so, there are still ways you can save money while playing tourist.
Unless you can redeem hotel loyalty points, avoiding chain hotel brands is an easy way to cut your travel costs. Look on Airbnb, hostels, or boutique hotels to save some cash. Be sure to use this Airbnb referral link to receive up to £34 off your first booking!
You don’t always have to share a room with a stranger to find a good deal. But if you’re ok with staying with a local, websites like Airbnb can be the cheapest way to put a roof above your head for the night. Your host may also be able to tell you some of the best-kept local secrets and free activities.
Free Things to Do in Spain
Make sure you pack your most comfortable pair of walking shoes. Staying in a central location means you can walk to most places. Public buses and subways are also affordable when you need to give your feet a rest.
Many museums offer free admission during the late afternoon hours or on certain weekdays. Each museum is different and visiting their website is the best way to find the most current policy.
In Madrid, the Prado fine art museum is free from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday. You can also visit the Reina Sofia modern art museum for free on Sunday mornings and between 7 and 9 p.m. during the week. These free hours can be a great way to catch the highlights if a two-hour visit is sufficient.
Barcelona’s more popular museums tend to be free on the first Sunday of each month and select weekday hours. Of course, smaller museums can always be free but a donation is appreciated.
Free Walking Tours
Many Spanish cities date back to the Roman Empire. It’s not uncommon to see remnants of the Roman aqueduct system plus historic plazas and buildings. You can bring a guidebook and conduct your own self-guided tour. When you need a rest, try stepping into one of the many churches which are usually free to visit.
However, plan on spending between five and eight euros to visit a town’s cathedral. These cathedrals can be more ornate than smaller chapels. Some even have former Spanish monarchs buried on site like Granada where Ferdinand II and Isabella I rest. The most expensive is Barcelona’s Basilica de La Sagrada Familia which charges 17 euros for a basic tour but is also one of the most memorable spots in Barcelona.
Looking online or asking the local tourist office can be the quickest way to find free walking tours. Local tour guides conduct these tours in multiple languages. These tours can last up to three hours depending on the city, and it is expected to tip the tour guide at the end of the tour.
One way to minimize food costs is to visit tapas bars instead of a typical sit-down restaurant. This local pastime serves as a snack or light meal and a perfect chance to socialize with locals and other tourists. Granada and Leon are the best-known cities for getting free tapas when you buy a drink.
Although there is really never a bad time to visit Spain, you will find the best deals and travel weather during the fall and spring. There are plenty of ways to find free things to do or enjoy steep discounts in most cities.
About the author
Today’s post comes from the lovely Josh Patoka. Josh has been to six different countries and most of the continental United States. These days, he enjoys travelling with his growing family in his free time. You can find Josh writing about travel hacking on Johnny Jet.