The country of Spain doesn’t get much action on this blog or in my books because while it’s a good value, it’s not one of the cheapest countries in Europe. Despite high unemployment still, it’s way too developed for Spain prices for travelers to be in the basement. Bargain-hunters have long headed to neighboring Portugal instead for similar weather but lower daily costs.
I just spent 11 days traveling around Andalucia in the south, however, in the busy early summer season, and was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a budget backpacker destination, but for mid-range travelers going on vacation in Spain, the sting is not bad at all.
Is Spain Expensive for Travelers?
Your answer to this question will depend a lot on your budget, the time of year, how you travel, and where you’re going. Apart from a brief stay in Madrid, this was my first time traveling in the country and I was only in Andalucia. So keep that in mind. Spain travel prices will be a bit higher in Madrid and Barcelona than what I’m quoting in this post.
In general, a lot of things were priced at a level similar to the USA. This includes the very best high-end hotels, a lot of staples in the grocery store, and dinner at a gourmet restaurant. A whole long list of other items and services were noticeably less though, including taxis (despite gas costing far more), trains, alcoholic beverages, good cheese, and simple meals. By U.S. standards, admission prices to museums and attractions aren’t outrageous.
The prices here are going to be limited by my experience traveling in just Andalucia, Spain, so understand that this is a bit subjective. Do your own research before making a solid budget, especially if you’re going to stay far longer than I did and/or are moving around more of the country.
Transportation in Spain: Getting There and Getting Around
Spain is well-served by legacy and budget airlines, so there are plenty of options to get there for a reasonable price when there’s not a massive demand. This is especially true if you’re already in Europe because there are loads of budget airlines serving the country–and not just the main cities.
I flew Gatwick to Malaga direct on my last leg to get there on Vueling, then flew Ryanair from Malaga to Sofia, Bulgaria direct on Ryanair. At the Malaga airport I also saw planes from Easyjet, Wizzair, and others. I was on a food tour with someone who had flown there direct from Bergen, Norway and someone who had flown direct from Manchester. Both paid less than 100 euros one-way.
Spain is also connected to the rest of Europe by rail and you can find good prices on train tickets as well. Plus you have Eurail options if you’re coming from the USA. A train from Lisbon to Seville runs €42 to €65. One from Barcelona to Paris is a breeze, taking just under seven hours and costing between €85 and €120. When comparing this to flight costs, keep in mind that this is city center to city center, not way on the outskirts and needing a long taxi ride to even get to the actual city.
Within the country, the Spanish train system just might be the best in the world. Spain has the largest high-speed rail network of any country–yes more extensive than Japan’s or China’s–with around 2,000 miles of track for fast trains. I was not on one of the super-fast AVE lines hitting close to 200 mph, but the train was still moving quite fast on every trip I took, with no delays to wait for freight trains to move. Compare the sleekness of this train to your average Amtrak sloth.
I traveled from Granada to Cordoba, Cordoba to Sevilla, then Sevilla to Malaga. The most expensive ticket was €35, the cheapest was €13. The price doesn’t correlate to distance because it can depend on how far ahead you buy it, the demand for that time of day, and other factors. Many agencies sell tickets online, or in Spain you can go direct to the Renfe site for advance purchase. You’ll get a seat assignment. If there’s availability, you can also buy them that day from a ticket window or machine.
The train system in Spain is a pure joy, with gleaming stations that have nice bathrooms, real restaurants, coffee shops, and stores. The train itself is clean and comfortable, with plenty of legroom, luggage storage areas, and outlets on some cars. No WiFi though, so bring something to read. Here’s what you’ll see passing by outside the window (Instagram reel).
Once in the cities, I found taxi and Uber costs — I used both — to be quite reasonable. The only time I paid more than €12 was when I had a long ride at 4:00 a.m. from the east end of Malaga to the airport far away. From the Alhambra to the center of Granada is 5 euros. It helps that almost all of the taxis are hybrid or electric. Instead of whining about high gas prices, Europeans compensate instead.
Cities have extensive bus, electric light rail, and/or metro systems that people of all stripes really use since parking in historic centers is hard to come by. Tickets are often less than a euro for the bus, €1.20 to €1.75 for the metro or tram. There are 2-day, 5-day, and other long-term cards that can make it cheaper per ride if you’re moving around a lot.
Since many of the cities in Andalucia are more than 1,000 years old, they were built on a human scale and not for cars. So you can get most places you need to go on foot for free. In Cordoba it was an easy walk from the train station to my hotel. In Seville it wasn’t: I really needed a backpack instead of a wheeled suitcase. So I took a taxi back when it was time to leave.
Some cities have a municipal bike-share system in place where you pick up at one station and drop off at another. A 7-day plan starts at a shade more than 13 euros in Sevilla. There are scooter rental schemes as well, in both cases requiring signup via your phone.
Spain Prices for Food and Drink
One of the great joys of traveling in Spain is the culture of eating and drinking well on a regular basis. If you are a drinker and a carnivore, you’ll be especially happy here. Spain prices for beer and wine are often the same or cheaper than bottled water or soda in a store or on a restaurant menu. (See above from a park kiosk sign.)
You can find box wine and inexpensive bottles for a euro or less in the supermarkets, the same for half liters of beer. On the Malaga food tour I went on, you could fill up your own container with the local dessert wines vermut, Pedro Jimenez, or moscatel for €8 to €11.50 per liter. That’s for fortified wine that’s like port or sherry, keep in mind.
If you order a glass of wine in a restaurant, it’ll cost one-third or less what you would typically pay in the USA. For a beer it’s about half — though a craft beer pint tends to be in the 4-5 euros range if you find one of the rare brewpubs.
You can drink the water in Spain, so although every restaurant will try to foist a bottled water order on you, tap water is fine, no purifier needed. There are public drinking fountains in many locations. Coffee is generally good and inexpensive, topping out at €3 for a fresh-made cappuccino or latte unless you go to Starbucks and pay more.
Tapas are a big deal in Andalucia and it’s what a lot of Spaniards are ordering unless they’re out for a (very late) real dinner. Small plates with croquettes, sausages, sardines, cheeses, or other items will be €1 to €5 for a small plate, the latter usually for a paella serving or the very best Iberian ham. One of the most popular items to eat for lunch or even breakfast is a bocadillo with Serrano ham (the lesser cousin of Iberian), usually around €2.50 to €5. Other sandwiches, burgers, and salads are often €5 or less.
A real sit-down restaurant meal with plata fuerte main courses can set you back as much as it would in the USA, including the delicious seafood on the coast, so save that for a splurge if you’re not on a full-blown vacation budget. If you have a place with a kitchen, you can go out for a big lunch and then dine at your own place for dinner so you’re not going out at the normal Spanish time: starting between 9:30 and 11:00.
Southern Spain Prices for Admissions and Activities
I’ve talked often before about how slow travel is better on your budget than moving around quickly, but I wasn’t really taking my own advice on this trip. My daily budget was rather high because I was on the move a lot and seeing at least one major site every day for the last stretch. If you’re not in a hurry, you can space out the big spends instead to keep the budget in check. Hit the beach for a while on the coast and ratchet back the outlay.
The first activity I did in Spain was the Caminito del Rey, a cool suspended hiking trail along cliffs that’s inland from Marbella and Malaga. Admission is €16, which seems fair, but you’ve got to get yourself there if you’re not with a group like I was. Check Viator for excursions with transportation included.
After that I visited the greatest hits of Andalucia, all but one requiring an admission charge. That one I didn’t pay was because of the day and time I arrived, an early free period before groups are allowed in at Cordoba’s Mezquita. Originally a mosque built by the Moors, then part of it converted to a church but the rest left intact. The €11 charge is certainly worth it though. Check out this place!
You have to pay to go to church in Sevilla as the massive cathedral is mainly just used as a museum now: It costs €11 online, €12 in person, though again well worth it. It’s the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the 4th-largest period.
The fantastic Alhambra in Granada costs €14 for a regular ticket for the palace and gardens, more with add-ons. It sells out a lot of days at this price so feel fortunate that they aren’t charging more. Here’s a peek inside that place:
The Real Alcazar palace in Seville is €13.50. In Malaga I only went to the Picasso Museum, which is €12. Many smaller sites and museums in Andalucia are €3 to €10. All of these sites have a discount for students with ID and seniors 65 or older.
Southern Spain Hotel Prices
In the cities of Andalucia, you’ll usually find a few hotels under €40 per night, quite a few under €50 per night, and dozens to choose from under €80. Bump the budget up to 100 and you’ll have at least half the lodging in the city to pick from.
If you add Airbnb and Vrbo to the mix because you’ll be staying in one place for a while, the selection triples and you are more likely to have some kind of a kitchen. There are a few hostels, but they’re a poor value unless you’re traveling solo and don’t have another choice: they’re generally €18 to €35 for a dorm bed.
I was at a conference and then on a press trip for part of my travels, then on my own for three cities after that. To give you an idea of what you can get for your money, the place where I stayed in Cordoba was a nice elevator hotel in a terrific location with a rooftop honor bar. My room had a big private bath, A/C, fridge, fast WiFi, blackout curtains, and a comfy bed for €44 per night.
I scored an even greater value in Sevilla at Apartamentos Hom Sevilla. I was right around the corner from the cathedral and for €49.50 per night I got a large junior suite with a kitchenette, king bed, sofa, desk, crisp air-con, fast WiFi, and a TV.
In Granada, I was on a hosted trip with the tourism board. They put us up in a hotel that could cost you hundreds of dollars in other western European cities, but at Eurostars Puerto Real, rates start at less than €95 per night double including a great breakfast buffet spread in the rates and a rooftop bar with reasonable prices.
I made my Spain hotel reservations on Booking.com because I like their ability to sort by price and reviews to see which places are the best value. That strategy served me well on this trip and they usually have a wider selection than the other hotel sites.
Budgeting When Planning a Trip to Spain
I can’t presume enough to tell you how much it will cost you for a vacation in Spain without knowing you personally. When planning a trip to Spain, the costs above can help some, but a lot depends on the kind of hotel you stay in and how fast you’re moving around upon arrival. Also, locations matter within the country. Marbella is a jet-set beach destination that’s rather expensive, but small towns and villages only get a spillover crowd except for day-trippers, so they can be cheaper.
To give you an idea though, G Adventures charges $1,600 per person double for an 8-day guided trip in the region, so $400 per day for two plus most of your meals. I didn’t spend anything close to that and if you were on a backpacker budget, you could probably scrape by for $120 per person on a similar itinerary, or $200 for a couple if picking your inexpensive hotels carefully.
I’d guess $300 per day for a couple would probably be enough for a mid-range Spain travel budget with going out to eat at least once a day at a nice cafe/restaurant and seeing all the sights. Days where you take a tour or excursion will be more, days where you hang out at the beach and drink beer from a store will be less, so it should average out. For $400 a day per couple, you’ll be staying at nicer hotels and eating very well indeed.