Ah Spain: a country that never sleeps. Thinking back on my adventures in Spain, I fondly remember afternoon tapas and evening espressos followed by nightly fiestas. With just a few hours of sleep, I spent my days admiring the medieval and Moorish architecture, getting lost in narrow cobblestone alleyways, and eating and drinking to my heart’s content.
Although many people solely travel to Spain to visit its two impressive cities – Barcelona and Madrid – I highly recommend devoting at least 2 weeks for backpacking Spain and its dynamic and diverse regions!
This detailed travel guide will break down everything you need to know about traveling in Spain, including itinerary routes, helpful Spain travel tips, travel costs, and an overview of Spain’s best festivals and traditions.
Table of Contents
- Where to go Backpacking in Spain
- Best Travel Itineraries for Backpacking in Spain
- Places to Visit in Spain
- Backpacker Accommodation in Spain
- Top Things to do in Spain
- Spain Travel Tips
- Staying Safe in Spain
- What to Pack for Spain
- Spain Travel Guide to Getting Around
- Spain Backpacking Costs
- Must Try Experiences
Where to go Backpacking in Spain
Spain has beautiful islands and beaches, all night parties, and a fascinating history impacted by Medieval times, Moorish influence, the Catholic Church, and a 20th-century dictatorship. All of that being said, I think the best part about backpacking Spain is experiencing Spain’s uniquely different regions: the rebellious Basque Country, laid-back Andalucía, lush-green Galicia, and more.
Travel to the Basque Country, and then to Catalonia, and you will feel like you have visited two separate countries. (Perhaps this is because both of these regions want to be independent countries from Spain. Basques and Catalonians do not really identify with Spanish nationality.)
I have broken down each of these regions below with helpful routes and itinerary inspiration below.
I have broken down some of the best backpacking routes for Spain. While Spain has reliable transportation and plenty of airports, it’s still a large country in comparison to other European countries. The first itinerary is the perfect backpacking route if you have one month or more to travel through Spain. The other routes will cover different regions in Spain and are doable in 1-2 weeks. ¡Vamos!
Backpacking Spain 4 Week Itinerary #1: Ultimate Trip around Spain
4 Weeks: The Ultimate Trip around Spain
If you are flying into Spain, you will most likely start your trip in Madrid. Madrid is a great city to rest your head for a few days if you are interested in art and museums. If you have no interest in resting, it’s also one of the best places to party in Spain. The nightclub scene is awesome; just don’t expect to sleep much!
After Madrid, I recommend heading to the laid-back region of Andalucía in the South of Spain. You can explore Córdoba, Seville, and Granada, as well as the beaches along la Costa del Sol. Granada’s Alhambra and Córdoba’s Mezquita are two must-see attractions in Andalucía. This area is famous for its tapas, whitewashed villages, Moorish influence, Flamenco, and hot summers by the beach.
Next, you can make your way up the Eastern coast to charming Valencia. Be sure to sample the paella, which is served all over the country, but originates in Valencia! After a couple of days in Valencia, you can take a train or bus to the energetic and bustling city, Barcelona. Famous for Gaúdi’s architecture, nightly parties, and close proximity to beaches, you can easily spend weeks exploring Barcelona and the Catalonia region.
Note: If you want to take advantage of Spain’s Mediterranean Island life, Barcelona will have the cheapest flights to Spain’s most popular islands.
From Catalonia, you can travel West to the unique Basque Country: check out the medieval town of Bilbao, and surf in San Sebastían. This area has some of the best food in Spain.
You can end your Spain backpacking trip in the coastal regions of Asturias and Galicia: a stark contrast from the hot, dry Andalucía region. This area is visited much less than the other stops on this Spain itinerary, yet its scenery is more dramatic.
From Galicia, you can easily travel South to Portugal, or circle back to Madrid if you have an international flight. If you have an opportunity to stop in Salamanca on your way to Madrid, it’s a magical city with a great nightlife and vibe, thanks to the university!
Looking for a cool place to stay in Bilbao? Check out my guide to the 10 best hostels in Bilbao!
Backpacking Spain 2 Week Itinerary #2: Northern Spain
2 Weeks: The North of Spain
This is a great 2 week Spain travel itinerary. Whether you fly into Madrid or Barcelona, catch a ride to San Sebastián for some surf and fun in the sun. You could easily spend a week chilling and partying in the Basque Country. Every visitor should try the Basque cuisine: the pintxos (tapas), fish, the fancy restaurants and the cider houses.
If you are traveling in Spain for the museums, head inland to Bilbao to visit the famous Guggenheim museum. You can also take a day trip to La Rioja, Spain’s most famous wine region!
Afterward, make your way to the coastal region of Asturias, stop by Santillana del Mar in Cantabria- a medieval town that is perfectly preserved. Asturias is an excellent region to visit in Spain if you like to hike, and you are after a completely different side of the “traditional” Spain. Oviedo will have the most options for accommodation in Asturias.
Galicia looks more like Ireland; whereas, Central and Southern Spain are dry and hot. You can make your way along Galicia’s coastline through Coruña and Costa da Morts as well.
Spend your last couple nights in Santiago de Compostela, a Galician city with homemade cuisine and an iconic cathedral.
This is a great travel itinerary to couple with the epic El Camino de Santiago walk, an epic month-long pilgrimage, which I covered below in our trekking section! And if you are Backpacking Spain and Portugal, this trip will fit in nicely, as it is easy to cross into Portugal, just below Galicia.
Backpacking Spain 2 Week Itinerary #3: The South of Spain
2 Weeks: The South of Spain
Start your trip in Seville, which has an airport. You can also arrive via bus, train, or flight from Madrid (if you are flying into Spain internationally), or drive from Portugal with ease. This is a great itinerary route if you are backpacking Spain and Portugal.
After spending at least 4 days in Seville, I recommend heading to Córdoba for a day, and then Granada for a few more. There is so much to do and see in Granada, which I covered in the Granada section below. Get ready for beautiful views and free tapas!
Next head to Málaga, the white city by the Mediterranean Sea. Málaga has the biggest airport in the South of Spain, so this will most likely be the easiest city to fly out of. If your itinerary allows it, visit Ronda just a couple hours outside Málaga, and the other whitewashed villages in this area!
This Spain itinerary works nicely if you plan to visit Morocco on your backpacking trip. If you are continuing on to Morocco from Spain, you can fly from Málaga, Granada or Seville, or take the hourly ferry from Algeciras, Spain to Tangier, Morocco. I have taken this ferry, and it is easy to buy a last minute ticket.
If you decide to take the ferry, another well-worthy stop is the beautiful city of Cádiz, Spain. We spontaneously visited this city by the beach, and had a lovely time. Like the rest of the South of Spain, there are plenty of cafés and tapas bars, some beautiful plazas to enjoy an espresso, and cathedrals abound. Tarifa (the jump-off point to Morocco) is famous for its kite surfing.
If you are already visiting Málaga, I think you can choose to just visit Málaga or Cádiz. They have a similar feel being on the beach (although I doubt the locals would agree with me).
Backpacking Spain 10 Day Itinerary #4: Barcelona and Beaches
10 Days: Catalonia
I lived in Barcelona for 4 months; it quickly became one of my favorite cities. You could honestly spend weeks here, but this is also a great itinerary if you only have one week for backpacking Spain.
If you are into surrealism and one-of-a-kind art, Catalonia is a great place to visit, as it was the home of my two favorite artists: Salvador Dalí and the architect Antoni Gaudí.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you’ll know that there is a movement to ratify Catalonía from Spain; many Cataloníans would like to be independent of Spain, but Barcelona has one of Spain’s best economies. If you visit Catalonía, take note of the pride in their flag, language, and traditions.
Barcelona may be known for its beach, but I think it’s mediocre compared to the rest of Costa Brava up North, and the Mediterranean islands. Within an hour of Barcelona, you can visit Tossa de Mar – a beautiful bay with a towering castle, and Tamariu – a quaint coastal village. Sitges is also a fun beach town just 30 minutes away from Barcelona!
You can also visit Girona, a city full of Gothic churches and cobblestone lanes. You can easily visit Girona as a day trip from Barcelona, but it would be nice to spend a couple of days here, and there is a good nightlife scene. Figueres is another great day trip for the Dalí Museum; this was Dalí’s home.
This is a great Spain itinerary if you only have 1 week to 10 days to visit Spain. If you have an extra week (or weekend), I highly suggest flying to one of Spain’s many islands! There are two chains: the Balearic Islands and the Canary Islands.
Quick Guide to Hopping Around Spain’s Balearic Islands
The Balearic chain of islands is comprised of 4 islands: Formentera, Ibiza, Menorca, and Mallorca. You can take local ferry between the islands or fly if you wish.
Mallorca: This is the largest island in the Balearic chain. South of Palma lies the infamous clubbing towns such as Magaluf and Palma Nova, and the northern coast of the island is much more laid-back. Mallorca is also renowned for its natural beauty, adventure sports, and holiday packages attracting lots of sun-hungry Germans.
Ibiza: Ibiza is internationally famous for its wild clubs, where world-class DJs have weekly residencies during the summer. Head away from this side of the island, however, and you’ll soon discover that Ibiza has miles of hidden sandy beaches, and yoga retreats. If you want to explore the entire island, you’ll need your own car to see it. (Public transportation is inefficient and taxis are expensive.)
Formentera: Only 6 kilometers from Ibiza, this island couldn’t be more different. It’s known for its white powdery beaches and turquoise blue waters. There is some great cliff jumping on Formentera as well!
Menorca: This is a quieter alternative to Mallorca or Ibiza. Think beaches and rolling hills.
Backpacking Spain 3 Week Itinerary #5: Cities of Spain
3 Weeks: Spain’s Cities
This itinerary can be comfortably covered in 3 weeks, which allows for plenty of day trips from the cities. That said, 2 weeks is fine too.
I suggest starting your trip in Barcelona. You can bus or train to San Sebastían and enjoy this other city known for its culinary and surfer scene. Then head to Madrid for a few days. From Madrid, you can take an overnight bus to Córdoba or go straight to Granada or Seville.
It is possible to end your trip in Seville or Granada. Both are easily reachable from Córdoba and each other. I suggest you choose which city you visit first based your flight plan.
Spain’s capital is a bustling city that requires a few days to appreciate. While Madrid doesn’t have the immediate grandeur of Paris and Rome, it does boast a fantastic art scene, nightlife, and some of Spain’s top restaurants.
Most of Spain’s best art museums are located in Madrid, including Museo del Prado and El Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. At Reina Sofia, you can check out masterpieces by Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
Tip: Reina Sofía offers free admission Monday to Saturday 7–9 pm and Sundays 1:30–7:30 pm.
El Rastro is Madrid’s famous Sunday flea market. Go if you are visiting Madrid on a weekend. El Retiro is a great park to spend a sunny afternoon. Watch out for rollerbladers!
Madrid’s nightlife doesn’t really start until 3 am. From live venues and wall-to-wall bars to multi-story clubs, there is always something going on. The best districts to party in Madrid are Huertas, Chueca and La Latina.
La Latina has restaurants and tapas bars! Malasaña is another neighborhood with great cafés. Mercado de San Miguel is a fun market to taste different Spanish dishes and wine! I just read an article on what to do in the neighborhood Lavapíes too.
By day, you can get lost amongst the cobblestone lanes of the Gothic quarter, and café hop the Gracía area.
By night, well, there are no shortage of bars and dance clubs in Barcelona. Razzmatazz is the biggest club; 5 stories tall with some great artists. La Terrazza is an open aired castle that becomes a club in the summer. Go if you like raves. There are a few famous beach clubs built underground. They can be kind of mainstream and drinks are overpriced, though the most famous DJs in Europe tend to frequent these clubs.
The most famous attraction in Barcelona is Antoni Gaudí’s La Sagrada Familia, and rightfully so. This cathedral is one of the most unique architectural masterpieces in the world… and it’s still being built. Make sure to reserve your tickets in advance! If you are backpacking Spain during summer, book your Sagrada Familia tickets weeks in advance. For more info on how to visit like a pro, check out my buddy Ash’s extensive post on all things Sagrada.
If you are interested in live/classical music, watch a concert at the Palau de la Música Catalana. The interior is beautiful!
The Picasso Museum in the Gothic Quarter is supposed to be lovely, but I never made it (lines were always too long). Situated on Mont Juic, don’t miss an FC Barcelona fútbol game at one of the biggest stadiums in the world, Camp Nou. You can also tour the FC Barcelona stadium during the day.
There are many awesome viewpoints to watch the sunset over Barcelona, including Mont Juíc. I highly recommend hiking up to the Bunkers. Make sure to bring food and wine, and get there early to grab a spot for the show! Park Guell is another one of Gaudí’s amazing creations, and has some great views of the city! Parc de la Ciutadella is another great park and a wonderful place to spend a sunny Sunday away from the crowds of the city.
As for places to eat, you can find some great restaurants in every neighborhood. If you’re backpacking Spain on a budget, I highly recommend Bo D Bi for amazing sandwiches. La Xampanyeria is an awesome local spot to taste cava, a dry sparkling wine (sort of like champagne) grown in Catalonia and local meats. Milk has awesome brunch.
My favorite neighborhoods in Barcelona are the Born and Gothic Quarters, and Gracía. Ravel can be rough around the edges but has some pretty cool bohemian vibes. While in Raval, check out the oldest bar in Spain, Bar Marsella, and drink Absinthe like Ernest Hemingway did.
As for places to stay, we wrote a whole post about the best hostels in Barcelona, and a neighborhood guide on where to stay in Barcelona, or our top things to do in Barcelona. I recommend staying away from the famous “La Ramblas” street. It’s too touristy, and the restaurants and bars around there are overpriced. Stay in the bohemian Gracía area, or beautiful Gothic/Born area.
Best Day Trips from Barcelona
There are plenty of day trips you can take from Barcelona. Montserrat is known for its “sacred mountain.” You may have seen photos on Instagram of the the stairway into heaven? Girona is a quaint medieval town with an interesting history. Tarragona has Roman ruins.
Costa Brava is lined with beaches, and reachable by bus or train. Sitges has some nice seaside parties. Tossa de Mar is a bay with a castle for a backdrop.
You can also make a trip to Figueres to see the Dalí Museum. (He’s my favorite artist, so I definitely think this is worth a trip if you’re into surrealism art!)
One building alone should give you enough reason to travel to Córdoba. The mesmerizing Mezquita Catedral is a church that became a mosque before reverting back to a church. This building fuses both Gothic and Islamic architecture – two religions, and two cultures under one roof.
Aside from visiting the Mezquita, the city of Córdoba itself is actually quite beautiful (and photogenic) with plenty of shops, cafés and winding foot streets. They even have a yearly festival in May where contestants compete for the prettiest courtyards.
Summers are scorching hot and crowded though, so I highly suggest planning a trip to Córdoba in the spring or fall time.
Seville encapsulates the essence of the South of Spain: narrow alleyways lined with small bars, large, open plazas and dramatic churches and palaces, and scorching hot summers… There are so many cafés and tapa bars to stop into. Did I say that already? Yeah, welcome to Spain. While most of the bars aren’t extraordinary, they’re always full of Spaniards enjoying life with a cafecito or cerveza. It’s a vibe. Be sure to stroll around Barrio (neighborhood) Santa Cruz, and for an authentic tapas experience, eat at the Feria Market in the Macarena neighborhood.
Seville has tons to see during the day as well. In terms of sights, Seville has an impressive cathedral, but nothing compares to Seville’s Alcázar, which was built in the 1300s. Game of Thrones shoots the Dorne palace scenes here!
Seville is the place to watch an authentic flamenco performance, and one can’t go backpacking in Spain without seeing a flamenco show. La Carbonería is a local favorite and a popular spot to watch an authentic flamenco show.
Like most of the cities in the South of Spain, the top things to do in Málaga are eating and drinking, hanging out in the plaza central (central plaza), and exploring the historic cathedrals. I also love the fact that Málaga is right on the beach.
Definitely buy food and shop around Mercado Merced. There are a few nice museums in Málaga, like the Picasso Museum, but overall, my favorite part about Málaga was simply hanging out at the beach and cafés and restaurants in the plaza.
The majestic mountaintop town of Ronda is a great day trip from Málaga (or Seville). Here you’ll see the photogenic Puente Nuevo bridge with views of the Ronda Mountains above a deep gorge. This bridge separates the new town from the Moorish old town.
Find out where the best places to stay in Malaga are so you can be as close as possible to the attractions (or parties for that matter).
This is probably my favorite city in the South of Spain, though you have to peel back its layers to truly experience its charm. Luckily, my sister studied in Granada for a year and took me to all of her favorite spots.
You can’t visit Granada without visiting Alhambra palace. This is one of the most impressive places to visit in all of Spain. By the time I arrived in Granada I was sick of looking at churches, but the Granada Catedral and Grand Chapel were nice from the outside! Every time I walked by the Granada Catedral there was a new musician playing beautiful music that echoed across the courtyard: truly magical.
For breakfast, order a tostada like a local. This is toasted french roll smothered in olive oil with tomatoes, salt, cheese, mermeladas, and jamón (optional). You can’t visit Granada without getting lost among the ascending streets of el Barrio Albayzín, which is one of Granada’s prettiest neighborhoods. Barrio Sacromonte next door is great as well. While in Albayzín, go to Abaco Té for tea and an amazing view, and good smoothies and tea.
Granada is the only place left in Spain with free tapas. Essentially, you get free food with every drink you purchase. The more drinks you order, the bigger the dishes get. It’s pretty common to bar crawl in search of the best tapas, and eat free dinner by drinking more beers. Check out Calle Navas and Calle de Elvira for the best tapa bar hopping. Elvira specifically had some great cafés and bars that I thoroughly enjoyed. The bars around the bullring have good tapas as well.
For great views of Granada, hike up to San Nicolás Mirador and Miguel. There are a lot of great parks sprinkled throughout the city as well. Take a stroll down the romantic street, Carrera del Darro, and treat yourself to some gelato. For more in-depth info on things to do in fascinating Granada, check out this post.
If you are itching to spend some time outdoors, and work off all of Andalucía’s tapas, the Sierra Nevada Mountains are right next door. There are ample hiking opportunities for most of the year, although the height of summer will be scorching. And you can ski (quite affordably) during winter!
Additional reading – Check out Granada’s 5 best neighborhoods to stay in!
Visit Valencia for the paella and beaches. Grab desayuno (breakfast) at Plaza de la Virgen. Visit the Ancient Valencia Central Market for fresh fruit and produce; it’s a great way to immerse with with the locals. Rent a bike and cruise around on the promenade by the beach in-between sunbathing.
Go ahead and try their local drink of choice, Agua de Valencia (Valencia water). It’s anything but water: orange juice, cava, gin, and vodka… The best place to enjoy Valencia water is Café Madrid de Valencia, where the drink was invented!
If you are backpacking Spain in March, make sure to visit Valencia for Las Falles Festival! Each neighborhood creates huge statues to parade around the streets before being set on fire. This is a week-long party paired with the beautiful costumes and fireworks, and it’s one of Spain’s best events. Make sure to book your stay well in advance if you are visiting Valencia for Las Falles Festival. Check out our best hostels in Valencia.
Backpacking San Sebastián
San Sebastián is a surfer town with a gorgeous >crescent-shaped beach and lively nightlife. This is also a food lover paradise thanks to Basque ‘Pinxos’ the local specialty similar to tapas in the South.
Spend some time shopping in Gros, a barrio lined with trees, and stores stocked with creative local goods. In between bar hopping, take a stroll on the promenade along Zurriola Beach, or jump in the water with your surfboard. La Playa de la Concha beach is great for sunbathing. If you only have 36 hours in San Sebastián, here’s a great itinerary.
Live like a local and know where the best places to stay in San Sebastian are!
Backpacking the Asturias Region
With hundreds of miles of forested trails, a dramatic coastline, white powdery beaches, and the Picos de Europea (Peaks of Europe), this region of Spain is a paradise… and yet, no one is visiting!
Asturias is one of the least visited regions in Spain, yet boasts some of the best food, kindest people, and most beautiful scenery. Its wild Atlantic coastline is lined with powdery white beaches, and its rolling green hills and mountains are crowdless. Moreover, because there are plenty of secluded fishing villages to visit with the turquoise sea as a backdrop.
Asturias also has a huge hard cider culture. Seriously. Cider bars are a thing? And you’re a seafood fan, this is the region of Spain to visit.
The small city, Oviedo, is your best bet for accommodation and basing yourself for day trips in the region. (This is the same town Vicky and Javier Bardem in the movie Vicky, Christina, Barcelona and Javier Bardem go for a spontaneous weekend. Woody Allen certainly has good taste.)
Asturias is its beautiful, cultural, and affordable.
The region of Galicia is located on the far western end of Spain’s northern coastline. Mystical Celtic religion and a rugged coastline reveal its connections with the the likes of Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Almost all the local people speak Castillian, which we know as Spanish, as well as the regional language, Galician (Gallego).
The best place to stay in Galicia if you are interested in seeing the northern coast is A Coruña. For more of a city vibe, check out Santiago de Compostela, which is most famous for its Catedral de Santiago, the end-point of the Camino de Santiago. Along with admiring the architecture and art, be sure to walk around Rua del Franco (Franco Street) right off the main square, which is bursting with seafood restaurants and bars.
Come to Salamanca to gawk at its impressive cathedrals and the refined university, and enjoy the student bars and nightlife scene. The streets around Plaza Mayor are packed with terraces, which are great for starting the night out. Plaza de San Juan Bautista is renowned for its cheap drinks, and Gran Vía is popular with foreign students and tourists.
Visiting the Game of Thrones Locations in Spain
Alright, as a hardcore Game of Thrones fan, I had to add this into our backpacking Spain guide. Seasons 5 and 6 had some Game of Thrones epic filming locations in Spain, and they’re worth visiting if you are traveling to these areas!
Peñíscola: This is a cobbled street town near Valencia with whitewashed house along the sea. While a bit touristy, it’s a beautiful town.
Girona: A medieval town just a short train from Barcelona. This is a beautiful city to explore for a couple days!
Seville’s Alcázar: This is one of the best Game of Thrones Locations to visit.You can spend hours within this castle’s walls admiring the architecture and sitting in the gardens, like Lady Tyrell.
Granada’s Alhambra: This is one of my favorite buildings in the world. Make sure to visit this Moorish palace while visiting Granada!
Off the Beaten Path in Spain
Spain is one of the most popular countries to visit in Europe, and if you go backpacking Spain in summer, it’ll be hard to get away from the crowds. That being said, you can visit some of Spain’s lesser-known regions, full of culture and beauty, like Galicia and Cantabria & Asturias.
Both of these regions offer sandy coves and beaches, emerald-green coastlines, and a stark, rugged contrast to the rest of Spain, and they are best to visit in summer due to unpredictable rain and weather off-season. Picos de Europa offers some of Spain’s best hiking and most dramatic scenery, as well as Spain’s best seafood, cheese, and arguably best food.
While many people visit the popular and beautiful town of Salamanca, most of the backpackers head to other villages in Castilla and León. This Northwest region is rich in history and cathedrals. Aragón, just west of Catalonia, offers plenty of quaint villages amongst the Pyrenees Mountains.
If you are into Roman history, check out Emerita August near Portugal for Spain’s best Roman site, and some of Spain’s finest cured ham.
There are plenty of hostels in Spain’s cities, tourist towns, and the villages along the Camino de Santiago walk, but you may need to book ahead in the summertime. In my experience, accommodations prices increase dramatically from June to August. During the summer, Couchsurfing is the best way to save money and meet local Spaniards, though it can get competitive.
If you are backpacking Spain as a couple or group, consider booking a hotel or AirBnB instead. Last time I was in Barcelona in June, three of us scored an Airbnb room for the same price as one dorm bed in the same area. Follow this link for $35 free credit to Airbnb.
|Location:||Hostel||Why Do We like it?!|
|Madrid||Sungate One||Central location; awesome staff and vibes; good activities.|
|Barcelona||Sant Jordi Hostel||Clean, great atmosphere, and good neighborhood/location|
|Seville||Hostel One Catedral||Free dinner and tours, rooftop bar, and central location!|
|Granada||Old Town Hostel Granada||Free breakfast and fully equipped kitchen; close to old town.|
|Valencia||Home Youth Hostel||Nightly dinners with good atmosphere; good staff; nice location|
|Málaga||The Lights Hostel||Clean and social with a nice atmosphere; central location.|
|San Sebastían||Surfing Extea||As the name suggests, this is a great hostel for surfers and close to the beach; has a good vibe.|
|Santiago de Compostela||A Casa de Dora||Quaint family hostel with wonderful hosts; relaxing; nice kitchen|
|Salamanca||Revolutum Hostel||Free Breakfast, clean, and near plaza.|
Want to escape the mainland? Check out my guide to the 10 best hostels in Tenerife!
Top Things to do in Spain
Below I have listed 8 amazing things you have to do when backpacking Spain.
1. Go to a Fútbol Game
Spain is home to two of the most famous teams (and rivals) in the world: Réal Madrid and FC Barcelona. Even if you just manage to score cheap(ish) nosebleeds, the energy in these massive stadiums is a must-do when backpacking Spain. I went to a game at Camp Nou to watch FC Barcelona, and had a blast.
El Clásico is the name given to any match between these two teams. Tickets are quite expensive, but even if you just watch the game at a bar, be prepared for a crazy night out.
Budget Tip: While most people will aim to watch a Real Madrid football match, half of the locals support Madrid’s other team, Atlético Madrid. Watching Atlético is another great cultural football experience for half the cost!
2. Hike El Camino de Santiago
Follow in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of pilgrims and travels on this epic 500+ mile hike. El Camino has many different starting points. The Pyrenees bordering France is the most popular one, but many people also start this trek in Portugal. No matter where you begin the walk, everyone ends at the Cathedral in Santiago de Compostela.
While I haven’t hiked El Camino (yet), all of my friends who have walked say it is one of the best experiences of their lives. Essentially, you walk from town to town, staying at hostels, and meeting wonderful characters along the way. Everyone hikes El Camino for their own personal reasons, and everyone finishes with a newfound self-discovery. For inspiration, watch the movie “The Way.”
3. Eat Tapas and Pintxos under the Sun
If you want the real tapas experience, you have to go to the South of Spain and visit Andalucía. The other regions of Europe serve “tapas” for tourists. You can still get free tapas in Granada, Spain every time you order a drink! The tapas tend to get bigger with every round you order!
Pintxos are a bar snack turned art form, only found in the Basque Country.
4. Admire Gaudi’s architecture while visiting Barcelona, Spain
Home to cutting-edge architecture and a buzzing nightlife, you can spend a lifetime in Barcelona. Be sure to admire Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell!
5. Sunbathe, party, or get away from it all on one of Spain’s many islands
Spain has two chains of islands in the Mediterranean Sea: the and Canary Islands. Ibiza is known for its monster clubs and 24 hour parties. Gran Canaria has great outdoor activities, and Mallorca is simply paradise.
6. Marvel at the Alhambra
This palace in Granada is perhaps the coolest Islamic building in the world! You can spend an entire day marveling at the fortress and gardens. The view of Granada from the palace isn’t half bad either.
7. Go to a Flamenco Show
Flamenco is traditionally found in the South of Spain: preferably Seville or Cádiz. Flamenco shows are passionate, and full of culture. I highly recommend checking a few out while visiting Spain.
8. Party until the sun comes up
Whether you’re in Ibiza, Madrid, Barcelona, or San Sebastián, you can find a party anywhere in Spain. From wall-to-wall bars to megaclubs, there is something for everyone… pretty much anywhere.
Below I have assembled an in-depth guide to everything you need to know before travelling to Spain, including budget and costs, a quick guide to the food and festivals, and information on how to travel around Spain.
Books to Read before Travelling to Spain
The Backpacker Bible – Get it for free! Learn how to ditch your desk and travel the world on just $10 a day whilst building a life of long-term travel with an online income. To inspire and help the next generation of Broke Backpackers, you can now grab ‘How to Travel the World on $10 a Day’ for free! Get your copy here.
Lonely Planet: Spain – Comprehensive travel guide book for travelling in Spain
Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past – Francisco Franco, the dictator who ruled Spain until his death in 1975, is long gone. But the ghosts of the Fascist era still haunt the country.
The Alchemist – The story of how universe can help you to achieve goals that you really want to fight for. The main character is a young shepherd from Spain who decides travel to Egypt.
Don Quixote – I have to admit this is a long, sometimes dry, story with sentences longer than a page. However, Don Quixote is the foundation works of literature in Spain. It’s a series of tragic-comic episodes of a slightly deranged knight names Don Quixote.
For Whom the Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway covered the Spanish Civil War as a journalist, and turned his ac count into a fiction story.
Learning Spanish phrases whilst Travelling in Spain
Before I list some essential Spanish (Castillan) phrases you should learn, I will preface this list by saying most of the North of Spain doesn’t actually speak Spanish as their first language.
There are 5 languages spoken in Spain: Castillan (Spanish), Catalan, Basque, Galician, and Occitan. While most of the schools teach both their regional language and Spanish, many older people – especially in smaller towns and remote areas – may not speak Spanish in Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia, or the Pyrenees.
That being said, you can get by pretty much anywhere if you know Spanish, and you won’t have any trouble getting around Barcelona, Madrid, or other touristic areas only knowing English. Moreover, most young Spaniards people can speak Spanish and English.
Staying Safe in Spain
Spain is a very safe country to visit. What you really need to be careful of is pick-pocketing. Madrid and Barcelona are notorious for mischievous pickpockets. If you leave your purse or bag unzipped, I can guarantee your phone and wallet will get stolen.
To avoid pick-pocketing, be aware of your surroundings, and don’t carry a wallet in your back pocket. Watch out for strangers coming up to you with petitions and signs; this is usually just a distraction to steal your stuff, especially if you’re sitting at a café with your phone out, or walking around a touristy area.
Use a backpack or purse that is hard to get into. If you are renting a car, keep valuables out of sight!
Pick yourself up a backpacker security belt to keep your cash safe from pickpockets, and check out Backpacker Safety 101 for tips and tricks to stay safe whilst backpacking Spain. If you’re really concerned about your safety in Spain, then check our dedicated security guide here.
This post for plenty of ideas on ingenious ways to hide your money when travelling.
Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll in Spain
You can find an all-night party pretty much anywhere in Spain, but the best nightclubs and large venues are in Madrid, Barcelona, and Ibiza.
Although Barcelona and Madrid have more going on in the summer, there is no wrong time to visit Barcelona and Madrid if you are trying to party. I actually prefer visiting Madrid outside of summer because it’s just too hot in the middle of Spain.
Barcelona has some pretty great music festivals, like Sonar, in June. The entire city turns into a party for Primavera Sound. There are a few clubs and bars that are only open in summer, like Terraza.
Any of the university towns: Granada, Seville, Salamanca, Cadíz, San Sebastián, etc. will have a fun, lively nightlife during the school year, but summers may be more relaxed depending on where you are.
Cadíz and Salamanca have an awesome dancing scene! Just as a local where the party is (donde está la fiesta)!
Partying in Ibiza
If you are visiting Ibiza to party, keep in mind all of the big nightclubs have different events each night. One of the most popular parties, for example, is “We Love Sunday’s” at Space Ibiza. While this club is popping on Sunday morning, it will be dead on other nights. Plan accordingly!
All of the clubs on Ibiza pretty much shut down after Labor Day Weekend, and stay closed until Memorial Day Weekend! The best time to visit Ibiza is definitely between May and September. I will warn you: Ibiza can be more expensive than Vegas (minus the gambling). Drinks and covers are ridiculously expensive, and the clubs literally put salt in the bathroom sinks’ water, so you have to buy a EUR 10 12 oz bottle of water.
Get Insured before Backpacking Spain
Get insurance! Even if you are only going on a short trip, you should always travel with insurance. Have fun on your Spain backpacking adventure, but take it from someone who has racked up thousands of bucks on an insurance claim before, you need it.
As a wise man once said, if you can’t afford travel insurance, you shouldn’t be travelling – so be sure to get your backpacker insurance sorted before you head off on an adventure! I highly recommend World Nomads.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.
What to Pack for Spain
On every adventure, there are six things I never go traveling without:
1. Security Belt with Hidden Pocket: I never hit the road without my security belt. This is a regular looking belt with a concealed pocket on the inside – you can hide up to twenty notes inside and wear it through airport scanners without it setting them off. This is hands down the best way to hide your cash.
2.Travel Water Bottle: Always travel with a water bottle – it’ll save you money and reduce your plastic footprint on our planet. AR bottle are tough, lightweight and maintain the temperature of your beverage – so you can enjoy a cold red bull, or a hot coffee, no matter where you are. For every AR bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an initiative to reduce plastic in our oceans!
3. Microfibre Towel: It’s always worth packing a proper towel. Hostel towels are scummy and take forever to dry. Microfibre towels dry quickly, are compact, lightweight and can be used as a blanket or yoga mat if need be.
4. Headtorch: I would never travel without a headtorch. Even if you only end up using it once, a decent head torch could save your life. If you want to explore caves, unlit temples or simply find your way to the bathroom during a blackout, a headtorch is a must. Currently, I’m using the Petzl LED headlamp with red light (which insects can’t see).
5.Hammock: Taking a tent backpacking is not always practical but hammocks are lightweight, cheap, strong, sexy (chicks dig hammocks) and allow you to pitch up for the night pretty much anywhere. Right now, I’m rocking an Active Roots parachute hammock – it’s light, colourful and tough.
6. Toiletry Bag: I always travel with a hanging toiletry bag as it’s a super efficient way to organise your bathroom stuff. Well worth having, whether you are hanging it from a tree whilst camping, or a hook in a wall, it helps to have quick access to all your stuff.
For plenty more inspiration on what to pack, check out my full backpacking packing list.
Best Time to Travel to Spain
The best time for backpacking Spain on a budget is shoulder season – March-May and September-November. Spain is more expensive during the summer and holiday season, and you will definitely have to book ahead and find creative ways to save some cash.
Plus, Central and Southern Spain are unbearably hot in the summer, and the crowds hit their all-time high. Many of the cities with thriving universities, like Granada, Seville, Cadíz, and Salamanca, have more parties during the school year as well. That being said, if you are trying to travel to Spain during the height of the parties on the beaches, like Barcelona and Ibiza, then June and July are a good time to visit Spain. Galicia and Asturias region are also best visited in the summer when the days are warmer and sunnier.
I think the best time to visit Barcelona is in September. The heatwave has died off, but it’s still beach weather. The parties are throwing their end of summer bashes, and September 11th is their “Independence” Day, where millions take to the street to celebrate. There are a ton of fun parties on this day, as well as political protests, so be cautious for riots. The best time to visit Madrid is spring and fall time when prices are lower and the weather is more temperate.
Spain is one of the best countries to visit for festivals and cultural events. They are so awesome and unique that I think it is wise to plan your trip around a festival that interests you most. There is something going on pretty much every month, so check out my section on the festivals in Spain below!
Apps to download before travelling to Spain
Maps.Me – Prone to getting lost or taking that ‘shortcut’ that adds another few hours onto a simple walk? This app is definitely for you. My favourite offline maps app! Download your map, and route before your Spain adventure to keep you on track while backpacking Spain.
XE Currency – I used this a lot when backpacking Spain. It is a great help while calculating expenses.
HIDE.ME – I always have a VPN ready to go on both my phone and laptop, I personally use Hide Me which is one of the fastest and most reliable options out there. This particular VPN allows for up to five connections which is handy for keeping all your devices connected without having to purchase multiple VPN packages.
Bla Bla Car – This is a great ride sharing app that is popular in Europe. Use it to score cheap rides, and meet some awesome local while backpacking Spain!
Spain Travel Guide to Getting Around
There are two main international airports with flights arriving from all over Europe, North America, and Asia. You can fly into Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas Airport, which will mostly likely have the cheapest flights into Spain.
El Prat Airport is in Barcelona. You can take a EUR 6 bus to the city center. If you are arriving into Spain by from other European countries, there are several airports where you can connect: Sevilla, Málaga, Granada, and Alicante are just a few of them.
If you use budget airlines, like Ryan Air, make sure you check which airport they fly into! For example, Girona, 90 minutes from Barcelona, has a small airport that airlines often list as “Barcelona.”
Entry Requirements for Spain
EU citizens will only need their passport to enter Spain. Citizens of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, Switzerland, and the US do not need to pre-apply for a visa; their valid passport will be stamped on arrival. Other nationalities will need to apply for a Schengen Visa beforehand to visit all Schengen zoned countries.
As a non-European traveler, you can only travel in Spain, and other Schengen zone countries for 3 months out of every 6 months. Once 6 months have passed from your original arrival date, the visa resets.
The UK, Ireland, and most Eastern European and Baltic countries are not part of the Schengen zone, even though they are part of the EU. Theoretically, you can backpack Spain for 3 months, and then hop over to a non-Schengen country – like Croatia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina – for 3 months, and then travel back to Spain with a fresh 3 month visa.
A lot of long-term travellers plan their travels around the Schengen visa accordingly. For more information, and the official Schengen country list, check out this website.
How to Travel in Spain
While trains are always a fun experience, they can be expensive, especially if you book a train ticket on the Renfe rail network last minute. That said, sometimes the Eurail Pass is a great option for travelling around Europe! (UK and European residents: make sure to use Interrail.) I wrote an entire post on how to use train travel in Europe cheaply and efficiently.
I also suggest using Spain’s long-distance buses, which are clean, comfortable, and come with reclining seats! Book with ALSA to get the best bargains.
While backpacking Spain last year, I used BlaBlaCar as my main mode of transportation. This is a popular car sharing app that is often cheaper than taking a bus. Plus, it’s easy to book a seat last minute.
If you are staying in a city for a while, consider a travel card. Weekly travel passes can save you quite a bit of money and also mean you won’t be scrabbling for change every time you take the metro or bus. Do not take taxis. Uber is cheaper.
Renting a car is a great way to see Spain at your own pace. You can sort your car rental here in just a few minutes. Booking in advance is the best way to ensure you score the lowest price and your choice of vehicle. Often, you can find the best car rental prices when you pick up the rental from the airport.
Make sure you also purchase a RentalCover.com policy to cover your rental vehicle against any common damages such as tires, windscreens, theft, and more at a fraction of the price you would pay at the rental desk.
Campervan Hire in Spain
Traveling in Spain by campervan is a fantastic option. Renting a campervan will certainly open doors to your Spain backpacking adventure. I can’t think of a better way to spend a few weeks cruising around Spain than in a campervan!
Hitchhiking in Spain
Hitchhiking is totally doable in Spain, though it’s not as common as other European countries, like Germany or France, so don’t plan on covering more than 200-300km a day. Try to stick to service stations and know some phrases in Spanish!
Try to avoid hitchhiking during the “the siesta” (from 14:00 to 17:00) when there tends to be less traffic. In the summer, this time of day is way too hot to be waiting around anyway!
For more hitchhiking tips, check out Will’s hitchhiking 101 post.
Onwards travels from Spain
While you can easily spend a month backpacking Spain alone, it makes a great addition to a backpacking trip in Portugal. You can cross via land, or cheap flights. You can also cross in France in the Pyrenees, or from the Atlantic Coast. A lovely addition to a trip to San Sebastián would be a trip to France’s surf town, Biarritz.
You can also fly from multiple cities to pretty much anywhere in Europe. If you want to visit other countries in Europe, flights are going to be the fastest, and often cheapest ways to get there.
Lastly, you can easily travel onwards to Morocco via flight or ferry from Algeciras, Spain. There are plenty of budget flights under $50, however, so unless you are going to Northern Morocco first, a flight makes the most sense.
The Iberia peninsula is the cheapest part of Western Europe, but accommodation prices do increase significantly in the summer months, and around festivals. Summer is a great time to Couch Surf, if possible.
You can easily backpack Spain for less than 50 EUR a day, but if you want to spend half that, I suggest sticking to groceries, and ordering the meal of the day at lunchtime, which is often around 5 EUR for a three course meal. I have found Barcelona to be the most expensive city in Spain, followed closely by Madrid.
The other tourist towns aren’t that expensive if you stay away from the areas near main attractions. University towns, like Cádiz, Granada, Seville, etc. are affordable for students!
Money in Spain
Spain’s currency is the Euro. The current exchange rate is 1 Euro: 1.24 USD (March 2018).
ATMs are widely available everywhere in Spain, but you can expect a withdrawal fee for international bank cards, which is why I travel with a debit card that refunds me for transaction fees. (Americans, I recommend checking out Charles Schwab!)
Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in Spain. Always have cash on you when backpacking Spain and visiting smaller, family -run places!
Top Tips for Broke Backpackers
If you are backpacking Spain on a budget, here are my top tips:
Visit off-season: Aside from holidays like Las Fallas and Semana Santa, backpacking Spain during spring and fall are the best times to save money on accommodation and transportation.
Camp: Spain can be a great place to camp in the rural areas. While wild camping is totally illegal in Spain, you can still find some pretty remote places to camp for free. You can also camp in Spain’s national parks! Check out this post for a breakdown of the best tents to take backpacking. Or, if you’re feeling real adventurous and want to save some cash, consider picking up a backpacking hammock. If you are camping a lot, it could be worth bringing a portable backpacking stove.
Buy groceries and eat free tapas: Buying and cooking your own food is an obvious money saver, but sometimes eating out can save you even more money. This is mainly in Granada, where tapas come free with your drinks.
Eat the meal of the day: If you eat out get the meal of the day for the best deal. Lunch is always cheaper than dinner too!
Hit happy hour: Many bars have a happy hour in the late afternoon!
Book your transportation early: Both plane and train tickets are much cheaper if you purchase them in advance.
Take the bus: Buses are always cheaper than trains. Sometimes they’re faster too!
Use Bla-Bla Car: This ridesharing app is even more affordable than the bus, and it’s easy to book a seat last minute.
Couch Surf: Spaniards are awesome, and I am so grateful I was able to explore its cities with local friends. Check out Couch Surfing to make some real friendships and see this country from the perspective of locals.
Only visit a few Cathedrals and Palaces: If you tried to see every palace and cathedral in Spain, you would literally spend hundreds, if not thousands of euros on entry fees! There are so many spectacular and historical attractions to visit, but you can’t see them all on a budget. If I had to pick 3, I would go for the most impressive ones: La Mezquita in Córdoba, La Alhambra in Granada, and La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.
Visit Museums during free days/times: Most museums have a free day, or discounted price at the end of the day. La Reina in Madrid is free to visit the last two hours before closing time.
Pack a travel water bottle and save money every day!
To learn how to travel the world on $10 a day, check out the backpacker’s bible.
Joining an Organized Tour in Spain
For most countries, Spain included, solo travel is the name of the game. That said, if you are short on time, energy, or just want to be part of an awesome group of travelers you can opt to join an organized tour. Joining a tour is a great way to see a majority of the country quickly and without the effort that goes into planning a backpacking trip. However—not all tour operators are created equal—that is for sure.
G Adventures is a solid down-to-earth tour company catering to backpackers just like you, and their prices and itineraries reflect the interests of the backpacker crowd. You can score some pretty sweet deals on epic trips in Spain for a fraction of the price of what other tour operators charge.
Check out some of their awesome itineraries for Spain here…
Volunteering in Spain
Long term travel is awesome. Giving back is awesome too. For backpackers looking to travel long-term on a budget in Spain whilst making a real impact on local communities, look no further than World Packers. World Packers is an excellent platform connecting travelers with meaningful volunteer positions throughout the world.
In exchange for a few hours of work each day, your room and board are covered.
Backpackers can spend long periods of time volunteering in an awesome place without spending any money. Meaningful life and travel experiences are rooted in stepping out of your comfort zone and into the world of a purposeful project.
Worldpackers opens the doors for work opportunities in hostels, homestays, NGOs, and eco-projects around the world. We’ve tried and approved them ourselves – check out our Worldpackers in-depth review here.
If you’re ready to create a life-changing travel experience and give back to the community, join the Worldpacker community now. As a Broke Backpacker reader, you’ll get a special discount of $20. Just use the discount code BROKEBACKPACKER and your membership is discounted from $49 a year to only $29.
Live in Spain for Free
Are you a native English speaker looking to earn cash whilst traveling the world? Teaching English online is a great way to earn a consistent income—from anywhere in the world with a good internet connection. Depending on your qualifications (or your motivation to obtain qualifications like a TEFL certificate) you can teach English remotely from your laptop, save some cash for your next adventure, and make a positive impact on the world by improving another person’s language skills! It’s a win-win! Check out this detailed article for everything you need to know to start teaching English online.
In addition to giving you the qualifications to teach English online, TEFL courses open up a huge range of opportunities and you can find teaching work all over the world. To find out more about TEFL courses and how you can teach English around the world, read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Broke Backpacker readers get a 35% discount on TEFL courses with MyTEFL (simply enter the code BACKPKR), to find out more, please read my in-depth report on teaching English abroad.
Whether you are keen to teach English online or looking to take your teaching game a step further by finding a job teaching English in a foreign country, getting your TEFL certificate is absolutely a step in the right direction.
Internet in Spain
This is a Western European country, so you can expect the wi-fi to be reliable and free. Most cafés and hostels offer free wi-fi.
Must Try Experiences
Meet the People
Spaniards are full of passionate and full of energy. Just go to a flamenco show or a fútbol game to find out for yourself. Generally, Spaniards go to sleep quite late, eating dinner around 10pm to midnight. The party doesn’t really start until after midnight, and most clubs don’t get going until 3-4am. For Spaniards, it’s pretty common to go to work the next day with just a couple hours of sleep.
One time, after spending a night out, my friend and I were waiting for a bus or some sort of transportation around 6am. Everyone else was chatting on the steps, so we figured they were waiting too. We eventually realized they were just hanging out and waiting for the next party to start. Welcome to Spain!
And speaking of sleep, many Spaniards don’t really like the siesta connotation. Yes, businesses close down between 13-16:00, so plan your lunch and shopping accordingly, but this is mostly because lunch is the biggest meal of the day, and Spanish people enjoy eating lunch at home with their families.
Spaniards are very family oriented, and it’s common for kids (or young adults) to live with their parents well into their 20s, and even until marriage.
Spanish people work to live, not live to work. They are all about enjoying the simple things in life. They like to celebrate life, eat, drink, and be merry, as they say. And speaking of work, the unemployment rate in Spain is quite high. Many young Spaniards cannot find work in Spain, or cannot lock down enough hours to make a livable wage.
In general, I wouldn’t say Spaniards are all that health conscious. Most Spaniards smoke cigarettes, drink often, and eat at irregular patters of the day.
Food in Spain
Across Spain, don’t be surprised to see pig legs hanging in shops, grocery stores, and even gas stations. Spaniards love their jamón (ham).
While it is possible to survive on jamón, olives, and tortillas bravas (tortillas with egg and potato), there are many more culinary delights… if you know how to look.
While backpacking Spain, what you eat is almost as important as when you eat. Breakfast is eaten late and generally consists of a quick coffee and snack, tostada, or maybe even a churro with chocolate. Lunch is eaten between 2pm and 3pm, and dinner from 10pm onward.
Between 2pm and 4pm, most shops in Spain shut down. While most foreigners assume it’s for a siesta, it’s actually more likely so that people can have lunch at home with their families. Plus, most of Spain is unbearably hot at this time, and who wants to work in the heat!? Most people will stay up late into the night – even children. It’s common to have dinner at midnight, especially on weekends.
Regional Specialties in Spain
Paella – Often – These are deep fried cooked in a large shallow pan, paella is a rice dish cooked with saffron and various meats and seafood. It can also be prepared vegetarian. There are many versions of paella, and from my understanding the meats and order you introduce them into the dish are what make the best paellas. While you can find paella all over Spain, it originates in Valencia.
Tapas – Regional type of dish in the South of Spain. Traditionally, you get tapas as a free side dish with your drink. Only Granada carries on the “free” tradition part, but you can find some great tapas bars all over the South of Spain.
Pinxtos – Like tapas, but only served in Basque Country. They are known for being much more creative and (frankly) delicious than Tapas, which can be a bit bland in the South.
Patatas Bravas – fried cut potatoes with sauce. A common Tapa.
Croquettas – Breaded and deep fried, often with jamón or bacalao (cod fish) with a creamy cheese. The quality definitely depends on the bar.
Cured meats (jamón, chorizo, salchichón) – Jamón is ubiquitous in Spain, carved thinly off cured legs of pork that you will see hanging in most bars and restaurants. Jamón ibérico de bellota is the top category. Another Spanish favourite is chorizo, also popular in Portugal, which is a cured sausage with sweet and spicy flavours.
Pulpo A La Gallega – While found throughout Spain, it’s most popular in Galicia. Boiled octopus served on wooden plates with either bread or boiled potatoes.
Churros con Chocolate – Spain invented this deep fried treat, sometimes dipped in sugar, and always consumed with a cup of thick, hot chocolate for dipping.
Tinto de Verano – “Summer Wine” or red wine with lemon soda
Rebujito – White wine mixed with lemonade and fresh mint
Note for Vegetarians/Vegans: It is possible to eat in Spain as a vegetarian or vegan, despite most famous dishes revolving around meat. The cities have plenty of options, however, once you get into the smaller towns you may have to stick to a lot of rice and potatoes. I had the hardest time finding vegetarian dishes in the South of Spain. Often “vegetarian” tapas just comes with tuna.
Festivals in Spain
There are so many incredible festivals in Spain ranging from religious holidays, cultural events, all-night parties, and internationally acclaimed music festivals. If you happen to cross one of these while backpacking Spain, GO!
Carnaval: Always in February, this festival takes place 47 days before Easter Sunday, and involves parades and festivities. The best places to celebrate Carnaval are Cádiz in the South of Spain, and Sitges near Barcelona.
Las Fallas de San José: This incredible festival takes place in Valencia, Spain. Las Fallas consists of several days of dancing and drinking. Each neighborhood in Valencia builds fallas – huge sculptures of paper maché on wood – which are later burned in the streets.
Semana Santa: This is the week leading up to Easter Sunday. While celebrated all over Spain, Seville, Málaga, Lorca, and Zamora have some of the best celebrations. Make sure to book far in advance if you are backpacking Spain during this week.
Feria de Abril: This is a week-long party in Seville where locals dress up in their traditional finery and ride around the city. There are massive parties late into the night.
Fiesta de San Isidro: This fiesta takes place in Madrid in May. There are parades, concerts, and parties. Locals dress up in traditional costumes and celebrate with bullfights all month (though I do not approve of the animal treatment during these bullfights, they are still a large part of Spain’s traditional culture).
Sonar: One of Europe’s best electronic music festivals, this 2-day extravaganza takes place in Barcelona in June. There are plenty of after parties throughout the city.
Batalla del Vino (Wine Battle): This festival takes place in Spain’s best wine town, La Rioja. On the 29 of June, participants squirt wine all over the place, while drinking the wine, of course.
Primavera Sound: This is Spain’s biggest music festival. It takes place in Barcelona over three days in late May/early June.
Running of the Bulls: This is week-long nonstop festival and party in Pamplona in the Basque country. There is a daily running of the bulls. The anti-bullfighting event, the Running of the Nudes, takes place two days earlier.
Fiestas del Apóstol Santiago: On the 25 of July, Santiago celebrates Spain’s national saint (St. James). This is the same cathedral thousands walk to (El Camino de Santiago).
La Rioja’s Grape Harvest: In September the same town that celebrates the wine battle also kicks off grape harvest with a feast day and grape-crushing ceremonies! Naturally, there are endless opportunities to sample the wine.
San Sebastián Film Festival: This is a two-week film festival held in the second half of September!
Christmas Markets: Although not quite as extravagant as Northern Europe’s markets, there are still large markets in the big cities: Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, and Granada. The entire country will be quite festive during Christmas time, and you can expect to see traditional, large-scale nativity sets in public squares and window shops.
Trekking in Spain
With two main mountain ranges, there are plenty of hiking opportunities in Spain, often overshadowed by the grander Alps mountain range, but if you want to go trekking in Spain, I suggest walking the Camino de Santiago instead for a unique and life changing experience.
How to Walk El Camino de Santiago
What began as a pilgrimage trail hundreds of years ago is now also journeyed by travelers all over the world. This is one of the world’s most famous walks in the world. If you have the time, I highly suggest walking El Camino while backpacking Spain.
The best times to hike El Camino are May and September. July and August are crowded and hot.
There’s very little technical walking on the main Camino routes—you’ll mostly be on well-maintained tracks or pavement—so you don’t need much. The most important thing to bring is broken in shoes, a full water bottle, and layers, especially if you are hiking during shoulder season. Otherwise rain is rare. Aim to pack light, as you will stay and eat in towns along the way.
El Camino Routes
Camino Francés (the French Way): The Camino Francés is the most popular option due to the varied scenery and good infrastructure. It officially starts in St Jean Pied-du-Port.
Camino Primitivo (the Original Route): The Camino Primitivo is the most direct route from Oveido to Santiago (passing through Lugo), and it rejoins the Camino Francés about 40 miles from Santiago. The walk is about 180 miles long and is quite challenging, as it includes a fair amount of hill climbing and the weather can be very erratic.
Camino del Norte (the Northern Way): The 510 miles of pathway will take about 35 days to complete, and though the distances between towns are reasonable, accommodation is sparse. You may have to book ahead. This route starts in Irún on the border with France and travels west through Bilbao, Santander and Oveido.
Camino Portugués (the Portuguese Way): This route is becoming very popular, often starting in Lisbon and passing through Porto and Poneverdra. It is 380 miles long, and reasonably flat; however, you will walk alongside motorways pretty often.
Camino de Finisterre (the Finisterre Way): Instead of finishing their walk in Santiago, many pilgrims continue on to one of the westernmost points in Europe: Finisterre, whose name literally translates to “end of the world.” The route from Santiago to Finisterre adds on 55 miles with an optional extra 18-mile walk to Muxia afterwards.
Hiking in the Pyrenees of Spain
This mountain range is close to Barcelona and borders France. There are plenty of hiking and skiing opportunities here. Parque Nacional de Ordesa y Monte Perdido is full of limestone peaks, and deep valleys.
Hiking in the Picos de Europa
Picos de Europa translates to Peaks of Europe. This national park is located in the Asturias region, so you can expect lush green scenery.
Hiking in the Sierra Nevadas in the South of Spain
No, I’m not talking about the American pale ale beer. The original Sierra Nevada mountain range is located in the South of Spain. On a clear day, you can see this snow-capped mountain range from Granada. This is Spain’s largest national park, with plenty of hiking and climbing options.
During winter you can also ski in the Sierra Nevadas for ridiculously affordable prices.
A Brief History of Spain
While backpacking Spain, I think it is important to be aware of Spain’s complex history. Spain has been invaded and conquered by various groups throughout its history. This country is shaped by ancient (and not-so-ancient) civilisations, who have swept through the Iberian Peninsula, and ideological battles between Muslims and Christians. The 20th century is marked by Spain’s first democratic government to rise from the ashes of a Civil War and dictatorship.
The first to appear were Iberians, a Libyan people. The Phoenician Empire was known for ruling the sea. Later came the Celts (think Galicia).
Ancient Rome rule conquered Spain at its peak, and left four powerful social elements: the Latin language, Roman law, the municipality, and the Christian religion. After the fall of the Roman Empire, many other group occupied the Peninsula. At the beginning of the 8th century, the Arabs entered from the south, and ruled Spain for large periods of time over eight centuries.
There’s no way to miss the imprint of Muslim rule while backpacking Spain. The Alhambra in Granada and Mezquita in Córdoba are the stars, but there are thousands of other buildings in the South of Spain that date back to Moorish times.
Córdoba went through a golden age that would end with a civil war, and like many large empires, it was eventually broken up into fractioned kingdoms. The Christian Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula ended with the fall of Granada in 1492.
Christian Revival, the Spanish Inquisition, and the Decline
1469 marks one of the most important periods of Spanish history when the marriage of two Catholic Monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon marks the beginning of Catholic growing success over Spain. Over their reign they conquered the last stronghold of the Arabs, and in 1492 sent Christopher Columbus to conquer America.
Over the next two centuries, the Spanish Empire became a world power.
The Spanish Inquisition made it quite clear that Islam’s policies and region was a thing of the past. The Spanish Inquisition focused on converting Jews to Christianity as well. This is why pork and jamón have such a strong cultural connection in Spain. Hanging pig legs in your shop or house showed the Inquisition you were not a Muslim or Jewish traitor (both cultures do not consume pig).
During this time period, 100,000 trials sent 2,000 people to burn at the stake. Fernando and Isabel eventually issued their Edict of Expulsion, which exiled all Jews who refused to convert.
Spain was divided between liberals who wanted democratic reclaims and conservatives (the Church, nobility, etc.) for much of the 19th century. Both sides teetered between powers, and with so much focus on internal struggles, they were not able to maintain their few remaining colonies. For a country with one of the greatest empires of its aged, the end of the 18th century was a less than graceful fall from power.
20th Century: Civil War, a Dictatorship, and Democracy
A never-ending power struggle between liberal and conservative forces, and a climate of growing violence and social conflicts eventually led to a military rising and civil war. Both sides committed massacres and reprisals. On 1936, General Franco took over as Commander-in-Chief and President with a Nationalist victory.
Despite Franco’s support of Hitler, Spain remained on the sidelines during WWII. His forty year dictatorship marks a time of oppression and conflict in Spain.
Franco’s death in 1975 brings an end to the era of this dictatorship and the return of a monarchy system. The King of Spain, Juan Carlos I de Borbon y Borbon established a western-style democracy with free elections in 1977. Their new constitution established a democracy with no official religion.
Between 1980 and 1982, the Catalonia, Basque Country, Galicia and Andalucía regions approved statuses for their own self-government.
In 1986, Spain joined what is now the EU. The 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games put Spain in the international spotlight.
The last couple decades have not been easy for Spain. Unemployment rates have soared since 2008. By 2012 more than 50% of young Spaniards are out of work, and many regions of Spain still consider themselves separate from Spain.
Being a Responsible Backpacker in Spain
Reduce your plastic footprint: Perhaps the best thing you can do for our planet is to make sure you do NOT add to the plastic problem all over the world. Don’t buy one-use water bottles, the plastic ends up in landfill or in the ocean. Instead, pack a tough travel water bottle.
Go and watch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix – it’ll change how you view the plastic problem in the world; you need to understand what we are up against. If you think it doesn’t matter, get off my fucking site.
Don’t pick up single use plastic bags, you’re a backpacker – take your daypack if you need to go to the shop or run errands.
Bear in mind, that many animal products in countries you travel through will not be ethically farmed and won’t be of the highest quality. I’m a carnivore but when I’m on the road, I only eat chicken. Mass-farming of cows etc leads to the rainforest being cut down – which is obviously a huge problem.
Recently, my gear-venture, Active Roots has started to sell water bottles. For every Active Roots water bottle sold, we donate 10% to PlasticOceans.org – an awesome initiative aimed at educating people on the risk of single use plastic and helping to clean up our oceans. Help save the planet, whether you take an Active Roots bottle or not – TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for your plastic footprint, don’t be a dick.
Need more guidance? – Check out our post on how to be a responsible backpacker.
After a few weeks of backpacking Spain, you’ll soon realize that this country has a laid-back attitude towards drinking and staying out late. Do enjoy a few drinks, but don’t be a drunk idiot. Spaniards are big social drinkers, but they know how to handle their liquor. Don’t be the guy who can’t.
Each region of Spain has its own sub-culture with different languages and traditions. Be respectful of this. I don’t think anyone is going to expect foreigners to speak Basque or Catalán, but it’s worth being respectful of the regions that do.
Much of Spain is Catholic, and while most people are laidback, you should still be respectful when visiting the cathedrals. Don’t try to visit during Mass!
Final Thoughts on Backpacking Spain
It’s easy to understand why backpacking Spain allures anyone who appreciates history and rich culture, a laid-back food and drinking scene, and the internationally acclaimed late night party scene.
I urge anyone who plans to travel in Spain to make an effort to visit more than one region, time permitting, to experience contrasting regions of culture.
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Need More Inspiration?
- The Ultimate Backpacking Portugal Travel Guide
- Is Barcelona Safe?
- The Best Hostels to Stay in Barcelona
- Barcelona City Guide
- Barcelona Neighborhood Guide
- 20 Best Hostels in Seville
- Backpacking Europe Travel Guide
- 20 Amazing Places to Visit in Spain
- Where to Stay in Ibiza
- Where to Stay in Palma de Mallorca
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