Spain, composed of the mainland plus the Balearic Isles and Canaries, is one of the sunniest places in Europe. Boasting around 5000 km of coastlines and huge expanses of mountain ranges, Spain is the ideal place for guaranteed great weather plus all the hiking, climbing and water sports you can dream off. From relaxing on a beach with a pitcher of sangria to trekking the rivers and canyoning in the mountains, Spain’s great range of adventures suite all types of travelers.
Spain is probably one of our favorite places on earth. We love immersing ourselves in the relaxed culture, using the language and trying all kinds of delicious new food! That’s what led us to coming out here for two months to work and live. Although we haven’t been out here for that long yet, staying in a non-tourist location has really made us live like a local and observe how different life is here. Hopefully, this quick guide on traveling to and around Spain will equip you with the knowledge you need to get around confidently and most importantly how to do it cheaply!
Visas in Spain: What you need to know
As Spain is a part of the European Union, citizens from other EU countries or the European Economic Area (Iceland, Norway and Switzerland) can gain access for travel visa free! Citizens of most American and Oceanian countries can also travel visa-free for up to 90 days. On the other hand, many Asian citizens including the Philippines and Thailand will require a visa, obtained from the Spanish consulate. Visas take at least 4 weeks to process and 2 weeks to be issued so apply in plenty of time.
Insider Tip: If traveling for more than 2 weeks, I’d consider getting a pre-paid traveling debit card! We loaded up a card with the majority of our Euros and carried just enough cash to use if certain places had a minimum spend or if a machine charged us to withdraw. All shops and restaurants we have been to so far have accepted card so we only tend to carry enough cash for transport or if a card machine is broken. For longer stays or even a Euro trip we’d also recommend international money transfers. We have seen that Spain is not particularly accommodating to travelers cheques so money straight in your bank is the best way to go!
Is Travel Insurance Necessary?
In short, absolutely. Although European citizens have basic medical cover with their European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) this DOES NOT replace travel insurance. A travel insurance policy covers significant extra health costs that the EHIC can’t as well as lost baggage, flight rearrangements and valuables insurance. My insurance for 2 months only cost £20, so to me that’s quite cheap for peace of mind.
Where to Go in Spain
Popular Routes and What to See
Probably Spain’s most famous city and one of the best that Europe has to offer, Barcelona is a perfect cultural and adventure hot spot. From its famous Art Nouveau architecture and museums, internationally acclaimed Football club and traditional tapas and vermouth bars to it’s bustling night life, there is something for everyone in this great city that will make you fall head over heels. Barcelona is our next travel destination and I can’t wait! There is so much to see and do! With all the beach, water sports and extreme activities in the local mountains, I’m worried a week won’t be enough!
Known as The Forum, Spain’s capital city sits proudly on the banks of the Manzanares River in the heart of the country. Home to the Spanish government and monarchy, the city overflows with architecture, sculpture and green spaces so you can take things easily, the Spanish way. Madrid is also a great city for adventure, where you can cycle around to see the sites or travel slightly further out for outdoor activities like paddle boarding, climbing and paragliding. Madrid is a city not to be missed which is why we are heading there after Barcelona to kick off our ‘Spanish experience’ with a good old tapas and flamenco evenings woo!
Update: Check out what I got up to and read my guide to 48 Hours in Madrid.
Other Popular Cities to Check Out
While the aforementioned duo are the creme de la creme (or whatever that is in Spanish), there are many other cities to enjoy too.
- Salamanca is a beautiful historic town with huge amounts of character, perfect for a slow paced visit to soak up the true Spanish culture.
- Valencia on the Costa Blanca is a beautiful city full of greenery and with an amazing coastline, not to mention the incredible Albufera National Park right on its doorstep.
- Bilbao on Spain’s northern coast offers a quaint old town set between two stunning mountain ranges. It’s Basque heritage offers something a little unique, not seen in Spain’s other major locations.
This region, encompassing the entirety of southern Spain deserves a mention in its own right for a couple of reasons. With nearly year round sun, this is the place to be for guaranteed good weather. With more stunning cities like Malaga, Seville and Cordoba, all with fascinating Moorish heritage and great little towns with activities like river walking, cave tours, paragliding and all the water sports you need. It also makes a great party destination with high quality, alcohol fueled resorts like Marbella and Puerto Banus.
Although it does contain very tourist-filled places, Andalusia has plenty of untouched and sleepy towns that are typically Spanish. We are currently staying at Torre Del Mar which is incredibly sleepy but picturesque town. Although it might just be the time that we are here as it’s not the typical holiday months yet but we are enjoying it while we can. Located just a bus ride away from Malaga and smaller beautiful towns like Nerja and Maro, it is an ideal location to have the best of both worlds.
Created by the world’s 3rd largest volcano, Tenerife is the most popular of the Canaries. With Mt. Teide at its center Tenerife offers mountaineering and other extreme sports in its volcanic national park with spectacular landscapes and the silhouettes of the neighboring canaries from the highest point in Spain. As the deserts of the South are more popular tourist destinations for traditional holidaymakers, plenty of coastal activities and excursions to the neighboring islands of Gran Canaria and La Gomera are available. When we traveled to Tenerife, Atlantic island hopping was our favorite adventure. If you also travel a bit further north or away from the most popular towns you’ll find an array of hidden villages. Our favorite find was Icod, a small village where everyone spoke hardly any English. We loved chatting (or attempting to chat) with the locals and finding traditional Canarian delicacies and souvenirs.
Getting Around Spain
Obviously it is going to be different in the major cities but the cheapest way to travel around the South of Spain is definitely by bus! It is seriously dirt cheap! At home in the UK, it would cost me a minimum of €10 ($11) to take roughly an hour journey into town. Here,we have been taking an hour bus to the next town or into Malaga and it has cost us €2 ($2.2) for a return! Train journeys can be cheap but only short journeys to smaller stations. Flying is also a reasonable option if you’re traveling long distance. We paid €50 ($56) for our domestic flights from Malaga to Barcelona and then Madrid and that was only because we left it a bit late. In the city,they obviously have their own efficient transit systems so we will let you know how cost effective they are in our city break guides!
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Budget Traveling Around Spain
Spain isn’t the cheapest place in the world but it is one of the cheapest in Western Europe. As we were staying here for an extended period, we opted for AirBnb which definitely wasn’t the cheapest option but still cheaper than our rent was back home. There are countless hostels all around Spain ranging from €10 a night up to hotel prices and there are so many people couch surfing to give you even more options to save money. Eating has been incredibly cheap (again it might just be the sleepy town we are in so check out our city guides), where our weekly shop is €35 ($40) between us and whenever we have eaten out,we could eat from anywhere between €6-10. Definitely opt to eat at chiringuitos (beach restaurants) and taperias as they do three-course menus including bread and a drink for €9! That will be it for the day trust me! Lastly, expect to pay €1-2 for a beer in local places and €5-7 for cocktails (it might seem expensive but they are huge!).
So there you have it! Whether you’re planning a trip to Spain simply to enjoy its many sights and sounds of if you’re planning to go there just eat, drink, and be merry (like me), I hope this quick guide was able to give you a rough overview of the country and how to plan your trip there accordingly. So what are you waiting for? Your plate of tapas and pitchers of sangria are waiting!
Do you have any more advice on planning a trip around Spain?