Where to Go
One of the most diverse places in Europe, it’s not easy to plan your trip to Spain as there is genuinely just so much choice. To make it a bit easier, we scoured and hunted for the absolute best places to go to experience all the best the country has to offer. You’re welcome.
The second-largest city in the country, Barcelona is one of the main tourist hotspots in Spain, with visitors travelling from all over the world to see the famous Barri Gotic architecture and try the unique Catalan fish dishes.
For the culture lovers there’s the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art with hundreds of exhibits from artists all over the world, as well as the Gothic cathedral in the heart of Barri Gotic, built right on top of a church first created when Edward the Confessor was on the English throne.
Arguably one of the best cities for food lovers, Barcelona is home to some fantastic food tours, where guides will lead travellers to small, family-owned businesses for a chance to try true, authentic Spanish cuisine.
The largest city in the county, and the capital of Spain, Madrid is one for the bucket list for sure. A fantastic blend between modern infrastructure and historic neighbourhoods and streets, it’s sprawling and exciting to explore.
Madrid is one of those European cities that starts late. As in, dinner will be at 9pm earliest typically, and nightclubs are open until the late hours of the morning. It’s also slow paced, and you’ll find yourself wandering through the tiny neighbourhoods and streets, discovering tapas restaurants and the best sangria in town.
The city includes the Prado Museum, known as one of the world’s best art galleries containing work by Goya, Raphael, and Bosch, as well as the El Retiro Park and the Palacio Real, otherwise known as the Royal Palace. For all the football fans, there’s also the Real Madrid football stadium, the best place in the country to catch a football match.
The capital of Andalusia, Seville is nicely tucked away in the south of Spain and is best known for its incredible flamenco culture. The fourth largest city in the country, it’s one of the most-loved in the whole of Europe – and it’s not hard to see why.
A city with undeniable personality, it’s home to Roman and Moorish architecture and artefacts, with a tremendous mix of different cultures influencing the architecture, food, and society. A veritable labyrinth of winding streets interspersed with tapas bars and architecturally exquisite cathedrals.
It’s here in Seville that travellers can discover the Casa de Pilatos, a palace first built in 1500 AD, as well as the historic Jewish Quarter, full of charming, winding streets.
Granada is a city absolutely teeming with history and unique architecture, much of which actually dates back to the time of the Moors and Romans who inhabited the area thousands of years ago. Still heavily influenced by its Moorish heritage, the city would perhaps be more at home in a Disney fairy-tale.
From the Alhambra Palace, to the Sierra Nevada (the highest mountain range in all of Europe) and the birthplace of flamenco dance and music, Granada will quickly become your favourite place to visit in Spain.
Plus, it’s home to a unique blend of different cultures, complete with incredible food, cobbled streets, snow-capped mountains along the horizon, and a friendly, bubbly atmosphere like nowhere else.
The beauty of Alicante is that mostly, holidaymakers will fly into the airport and then head off elsewhere – maybe Barcelona, or Madrid. That means it’s typically fairly quieter – although still heavily influenced by tourism – but that only adds to the beauty and serenity of the city.
A bustling port city, Alicante has everything: snorkelling at Tabarca, the Santa Bárbara Castle, the promenade along Playa del Postiguet, and the Basilica of Santa Maria, which is a stunning gothic church first built during the 16th century.
The city is home to fantastic seafood restaurants – given that it’s minutes from the sea, a lot of the menu is caught that same day – as well as a number of thriving nightclubs. Plus, the brightly coloured houses and sweeping views along the Mediterranean coast make it an amazing spot to get a great pic for your Instagram feed.
San Sebastian is one of those cities that looks like its stepped straight out of a movie, with golden beaches, lush rolling hillsides, art nouveau buildings, ornate bridges, and more. Packed full of character, it has an allure that simply can’t be ignored.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s one of the best places in the world for great food; whether your favourite is fresh oysters paired with sparkling white wine, or traditional tapas, or even Michelin-starred restaurants, you’ll find what you’re looking for in San Sebastian.
The city is also home to a coastline that stretches for miles, with Playa de la Concha proving the best for relaxing, while Playa de la Zurriola takes the medal for the best beach to go surfing. If that’s not enough, there’s also the International Film Festival in September which sees Hollywood stars descend on the city, as well as the Semana Grande festival in August.
What to Do
Spain is known for its great beaches undoubtedly, but it’s more than just a tourist hotspot for sunbathing. The country is full of culture, hiking opportunities, diving sites, museums, and more, all completely unique to this part of the world. And that’s what makes the backpacking experience exactly that, rather than just a holiday.
Visit the Alhambra
Pretty much the best spot in Granada, it’s practically impossible to avoid. A palace and fortress first built by the Moors over a thousand years ago, it looks just as beautiful up close as it does from afar – so you don’t have to hike all the way up if that’s not your thing.
From afar, the best viewing point is at the Mirador de San Nicolas in the large square here, or head to El Huerto de Juan Ranas for dinner if you want to watch the sun set over the palace.
Lounge on the Costa del Sol
With so many amazing beaches to choose from, you can’t go to Spain and not spend at least an afternoon sunbathing or splashing in the ocean. In fact, the laid-back lifestyle for Spain is famous, so make sure you get your fill.
Head to Malaga for great beaches coupled with nightclubs and bars, or Playa de la Zurriola if you want to go surfing.
Hike in the Sierra Nevada
One of the best hiking spots in Spain, the Sierra Nevada is great whether you’re visiting in the summer, winter, or anytime in between. With plenty of trails to choose from, and small towns dotted along the way, beginners and experienced hikers will enjoy this outdoor activity.
Great Cathedral and Mosque
The Mezquita de Cordoba is exquisitely beautiful, with giant arches, jasper columns, Byzantine mosaics decorating the walls, and marble floors. Known as one of the greatest works of Islamic architecture in the world, it was first created when Cordoba was still under Muslim influence over a thousand years ago.
Visit the Guggenheim Museum
Arguably one of the most famous art museums in the world, the Guggenheim museum can be found in Bilbao and it specialises in modern art exhibits. Designed exclusively by Frank Gehry, one of the most famous architects in the world, the building alone is an exceptional sight.
Hike the Pyrenees
One of the greatest mountain ranges in all of Europe, the Pyrenees mountains consists of a string of snow-capped peaks along the border between Spain and France. During the winter they’re perfect for hitting the ski slopes, while the spring and summer provide endless opportunities to go hiking along the numerous walking trails, discovering tiny, medieval French villages on the way.
Go on a Rooftop Crawl in Madrid
Rooftop bars are popular in Madrid, perhaps because of the famous Madrid saying: “De Madrid al cielo” which means “from Madrid to the sky”. There are countless bars to make that saying a reality, from some well-known bars to some off the beaten track, some with amazing views of the sunset over Gran Via, and some even with swimming pools.
Read More About Spain
Best Time to Visit Spain
Spain is subject to a Mediterranean climate, which means really nice, hot, dry summers coupled with cool and wet winters. Typically, the weather can vary whether you’re travelling to the north or the south – with places like Andalusia in the south suffering from very warm weather in the summer.
As a backpacker, the best time to visit is spring or autumn, with bright blue skies, warm weather, and a cool breeze preventing it from becoming too stifling. Plus, it’s out of European school holiday times, so there will be fewer families travelling.
Luckily, spring is also great for festivals: Las Fallas takes place every March in Valencia, celebrating the commemoration of St. Joseph. A festival of fire, expect to see a number of large puppets burnt on bonfires.
If you brave the high temperatures of summer, you’ll be rewarded with the Running with the Bulls festival in Pamplona in July, as well as La Tomatina in August which sees people from all over the world throwing tomatoes at each other.
How Much Does it Cost
Like any country, Spain could be really expensive or really cheap – depending on what style of trip you’re looking for. The hostel rooms and food is where you can easily save money, but if you’re looking to go diving or check out all of the museums, these can be up to €10 a time.
The cheapest part of Western Europe, a daily budget in this part of the Iberian Peninsula would be between €45 and €60 a day, which will cover staying in a hostel, cooking most of your meals, public transport, a few attractions, and a couple nights out.
Typical costs while backpacking across Spain:
It can actually be fairly easy to save the pennies when travelling through Spain, if you’re eating in local restaurants and staying in hostels.
Travel during the summer if you want to couch surf – which will save you money on accommodation – and try and buy groceries where you can rather than eating out every night. Also, try and stay in smaller towns and villages and travel in to see the main attractions.
If you do feel like eating out, then ask for the “menu of the day” that most of the local restaurants will offer, and take the bus wherever you can because the train system is quite expensive.
What to Pack
You’ve booked your flights, you know where you’re staying, and your itinerary has been planned down to the wire – but what do you need to bring with you to ensure your trip is going to fulfil all your expectations?
The warm weather means you need shorts, a swimsuit of some sort, t-shirts, and sun cream. Trust us. Plus, you’ll want to invest in bug spray, and make sure you have at least one pair of jeans, a long sleeve t-shirt, and a jumper – just in case.
A pair of flip flops is essential, especially if you’re in a hostel with shared shower facilities, as is shampoo, toothpaste, soap, a towel, and deodorant. You’re also going to need a first aid kit (just in case), a universal adapter, hand sanitizer and, of course, your passport.
If you have the space, a travel guide will never go amiss, and a pair of walking shoes if you fancy a little hike here and there.
Tourism is the main industry in Spain, which means no matter where you’re visiting, you’ll be able to find somewhere to stay – typically at affordable prices as well. If you fancy staying in a hotel then take note that large city hotels will typically offer discounted weekend rates.
The two main styles of accommodation for backpackers looking to save money are the hostal (guest house) and pension, both providing private rooms that come with or without a bathroom. Typically, they’re run by families, and they’re generally 1 or 2 stars.
A niche style accommodation found in Spain is the casa rural, which are essentially rural houses scattered throughout the countryside in a number of different regions across Spain. They’re normally very comfortable, and come with breakfast, all while set amongst a beautiful natural setting.
Food and Drink
Spain is famous for its paella and tapas, but the local food you’ll find will actually vary a lot depending on what region you’re visiting.
Local dishes you have to try include churros con chocolate, which are traditional for breakfast, as well as Gazpacho – a chilled tomato and vegetable soup – and pintxos, an invention from the north of Spain that can involve prawn skewers, gulas prepared with garlic and olive oil, or tuna stew with tomatoes and potatoes.
If you have a bit of a sweet tooth, then make sure you check out the deliciously Spanish pastries, such as napolitanas, or palmeras de chocolate.
The legal age for drinking in Spain is 18, but if you’re old enough then make sure to get a jug – yes, a jug – of sangria at least once. It’s just red wine, a soft mixer, and fruit, but it’s incredible. Kind of like the Spanish version of Pimm’s, but better.
Spain is one of the most welcoming countries you’ll ever visit, and although its fairly diverse with a number of regional identities, each with their own characteristics, a lot of the local clichés remain the same.
A few things to bear in mind when backpacking through Spain:
- If you’re invited to someone’s house for dinner, take a small; gift for any children, chocolates, a bottle of wine, or flowers
- Drinking a lot isn’t common – bars are for socialising more than heavy drinking
- Tipping is common but not expected, and locals are small tippers just dropping 20 cents or 5%
- Cover up in a church; shorts and sleeveless tops should be avoided
- When meeting someone for the first time, shake their hand
Although you will find that most people in Spain speak English, it’s never a bad idea to pick up a few local phrases to use while you’re there. Not only will this really help you out in an emergency, but it’s also a good way to get friendly with the locals.
- Buenos dias / tardes / noches
- Como estás?
- Una cerveza y una tapa
- Por favor
- Sin bolsa de plastic
- No entiendo
- Me puedes ayudar, por favour?
- Good day / evening / night
- How are you?
- One beer with a tapa
- No plastic bag
- Excuse me
- I don’t understand
- Can you help me, please?
The public transport system in Spain varies, with an extensive metro system across Madrid and Barcelona, while Valencia, Zaragoza, Bilbao, and Seville have limited but ultimately very practical systems in place. This is the same for buses, although travellers will be able to find taxis wherever they go in major cities.
If you’re really stuck for time, there is also the option of flying. Mainland Spain has approximately 40 different airports connected to each other, and if you book in advance it won’t be too pricey.
Travellers from EU countries do not need a tourist visa to visit Spain, but you do need a passport valid for three months after your visit, and visitors from Australia, Canada or the USA also don’t need a visa if their trip is under 90 days long.
Is It Safe?
Spain is one of the safest countries to visit in Europe, if not the world. The second most visited country, every year it averages over 80 million tourists, and tourism is the third biggest sector in the country. Essentially, that means pretty much every part of Spanish travel culture is designed with tourists – and their safety – in mind.
One key thing to note is that, since Spain is one of the major European powers, it is a target for terrorist activity – but no more so than any other Western country. This should definitely not be a deterrent from visiting/
If you want to ensure that you and your belongings stay safe, then just exercise caution. Pickpocketing is an issue in the cities, just as it is in any major cities, and stay away from various political gatherings that may be taking place – especially with regards to the Catalonian battle for independence.
A Brief History
Spain has been inhabited since the prehistoric times, with the earliest evidence of human activity stretching back as far as 800,000 years ago. Roughly 4000 BC was when the Iberians inhabited – hence the region is known as the Iberian Peninsula – before it was occupied by Rome from roughly 200 BC until 400 AD.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, Moors from northern Africa launched an invasion across Gibraltar, occupying most of the peninsula within a few years- an occupation that lasted for 700 years.
The most famous part of Spanish history is undoubtedly the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus, with treasure from this discovery pushing the country to the forefront of European power.
Recently, Spain has been divided between conservatives and liberals, with the abdication of King Alfonso XIII in 1931 ending the monarchy in favour of a republic. This sparked the Spanish Civil War, and following the death of Franco in 1975 the kingdom returned with King Juan Carlos I, who led the country towards democracy.
- It’s the world’s largest producer of olive oil, producing 44% of the world’s supply
- It has the most bars of any country in Europe
- It’s home to the world’s oldest restaurant: Botin, opened in 1725
- Smoking cannabis is completely legal – but not in public spaces
- There is no law against public nudity
- The national anthem of Spain has no words
If you really want to make the most of your time in Spain, then check out these useful resources. When you’re backpacking, it’s always better to be safe and prepared than winging it.
- Links incoming