Spain is one of those places that everybody hates for their first three hours. You’re new in town, jetlagged to hell and back, and all you want to do is find someplace to eat. But it’s 4 PM. Every god damn restaurant in the city is closed down for siesta and the guy who’s supposed to check you in is off smoking cigarettes God knows where. But what’s even more frustrating is going home and realizing that you actually prefer it the Spanish way. They live a life based on living life, and if they have to sacrifice an afternoon of profits (or a generation’s worth of employment rates), so be it. I, being a travel blogger who hates the prospect of having a regular job, love Spain.
This budget guide is going to take place in Barcelona. Nothing against Ibiza – it’s just that spending hundreds on cocaine and boat cruises tends to skew the accounting. Barcelona may be the best capitol city in Europe, featuring all the charm of Gaudi architecture and pickpockets on every corner. Note that it’s skewed to be a bit more expensive than the rest of the country, but honestly, you’d be surprised by how small the difference is. Spain, obviously, uses the Euro, and current exchange rates are below.
€1 = $1.13 USD
€1 = £0.73 GBP
€1 = $1.56 AUD
€1 = $1.47 CAD
Let’s get started, shall we?
The Cheap Day
- When going cheap, I’m a huge advocate for Couchsurfing, especially in Barcelona. It’s a hugely vibrant town with a multicultural vibe, so you could easily wind up with, say, an Australian English teacher who gives you her apartment for an entire music festival, or a Spanish producer who introduces you to Cut Copy at 4 AM after a night on the town. Just as examples. But hey, if you prefer to just go on HostelBookers and find the cheapest, shittiest place you can, that works too. It’s €7.95 EUR/night, by the way.
- We’re gonna get more into Spanish cuisine soon, but since we’re being cheap, let’s assume this is one of those days you eat your breakfast slumped over on the couch without planning on going outside before noon. Spanish markets like La Boquería sell all the dried meats you could possibly want, and why would you eat anything else when it’s so cheap? You can get a small breakfast for around €4 EUR here.
- Barcelona has a pretty great public transportation system, but never buy single rides or you’ll be paying €2.15 for the privilege. Buy the T10 card, which, for €9.95 gives you ten rides on the metro, or €0.95 EUR/ride. Just don’t fall asleep drunk on it, because somebody will rob you.
- If you’re already over by La Boquería and don’t want to spend any money, you might as well go stroll through the Barri Gótic, the oldest part of the city. You’ll also find the Rambla over here, which is the central boulevard of the city where most tourists go. It’s crowded, and hard to resist spending money on all the shops, but if you wander around, you’ll get a good sense of the city.
- By now, it’s lunch time, but here’s the rub. You’re going to need to get used to siestas. True, they’re not as common in a big city like Barcelona, but most places in Spain shut down from 1 to 4 PM. This is great when you’re trying to save money, because unless the salesman has a store you can literally pick up and run away with, you’re not going to find anybody to take your money. So just move on.
- You could try a few more free sights if you want, but at this point, a lot of people will just head back home. Blame it on the hangover, blame it on being cheap, blame it on the fact that the cute Norwegian chick in the hostel isn’t doing much tonight either. It’s the cheap day, and you’re going to spend it taking another €0.95 EUR metro ride back to the hostel, plus around €5 EUR worth of groceries for a basic dinner, and you’re done, you cheapskate.
This sort of cheap day is standard no matter where you’re at in Spain. I guess it’s pretty standard no matter where you are in the world – cheap food and free sights. But there’s a reason this is called the cheap day.
Total: €19.85 EUR ($22.54 USD)
The Average Day
- I sing the praises of couchsurfing, but hostels really are better for meeting bigger groups of people. Kabul Hostel is a hugely popular party hostel in El Barri Gótic that only costs €10 EUR/night for one of the largest rooms. And if you’re in a party hostel, you always want the largest room.
- Now it’s time to eat, and here you’ll find the biggest scam in Spain. The Tapas Bar. Tapas bars are the Walmart of Spanish cuisine, the “5 easy payments of 9.95” of gastronomy. You’ll finish your meal and get your bill, only to find that you somehow spent €40 on breakfast. On the other hand, though, tapas are really fuckin’ good. A lot of people wind up wining and dining in the Gothic District, you’ve already explored that jazz, so I’m gonna go out on a limb and say you should hit up El Poblenou, the reclaimed industrial area of the city. The Rambla there has loads of restaurants, and you can eat for as little as €5-10 EUR with some bomb food (plus the €0.95 EUR metro ride to get there).
- There are more free things to do in Barcelona than paid. To be honest, I struggle to think of non-Gaudi attractions that do cost money. Since you’re already in El Poblenou, you could check out the Parc Diagonal Mar or any of the amazing beaches that line the waterfront. Catch a tan and see how long it takes before you’re completely desensitized to topless ladies. Once you see your first old woman with skin like the bark of a pine tree, it’s hard to really admire the heavily tanned younger ones.
- Your average eating habits may be different than mine. Personally, I handled Spain with a late brunch just before Siesta time, with just occasional snacks between that and a late dinner. If you’re into early dinners, you may need to adjust your habits, since Spanish people often eat as late as 9-11:30 PM. Of course, a liquid lunch is always okay – beer is cheaper than water in Spain, so grab a couple of cheap Estrellas for €2 EUR each.
- Hopefully you’ve got a few friends with you by now, because hands down the best way to do dinner in Barcelona is to gather around a table on a patio and order a shitload of beers and tapas, with everybody reaching around and grabbing whatever they can before anybody can stop them. The best places for this sort of thing are in Ciutat Vella, the old city of Barcelona that includes the Gothic District. The main boulevard, La Rambla Catalunya, is touristy and overpriced, so unless you’re into that sort of thing, look elsewhere. This sort of dinner will round out to €12-15 EUR per person, depending on how many drinks you get each.
- You may not plan on going out. Maybe that’s not an average night for you. But you’re already eating on a patio in the best area for nightlife in Barcelona, watching everybody walking past, so let’s just skip the pretenses and admit you’re going out. Drinks in this area are still pretty cheap, but it’s easy to imagine spending at least €20 EUR before the night is through. Opium is a very popular club, while London Bar is closer to a pub scene.
- So here’s the problem as you head back from being out. If it’s a weekday and you call it after midnight, which is basically guaranteed in this city, then you’ve missed the last train. Count it a blessing, man. Being drunk on the train is a great way to get your pocket picked. However, you’ll need to take a taxi back. Luckily, this is still pretty cheap, running around €6 EUR to go halfway across the city.
So obviously, there are a few variables to be had here. And when it comes down to it, certain cities will look quite different from this outline. Towns in the Basque Country, for example, will be much closer to the cheap day on average than this, simply because everything is so close together and cheaper in general. But still, as far as plans go, don’t consider this day an outlier.
Total: €30.90 – 63.95 EUR ($35.11 – $72.70 USD)
The Splurge Day
- So let’s say it’s the end of the weekend, somebody in your hostel pissed the bed above you, and you need your own room to relax. It’s a splurge day, but I’m not gonna assume you can afford to stay in the friggin’ W. You can find some cheap solo places in the city – a place like Pensión Alamar has solos for €22 EUR/night – but at this point, you might as well start looking into AirBNBs, which can be even cheaper if you split with another person.
- Take the metro (€0.95 EUR) to a real breakfast place this time. Tapas are great, but swear to God, after yet another slice of bread with mayo and seafood on it, you’re gonna wanna die. A place like Brunch & Cake has eggs and everything else to get the day started for around €12 EUR a head.
- Get your new Facebook profile picture faces ready, because today’s the day you’re gonna go see some of those world famous Antoni Gaudi designs! La Sagrada Família may be the most famous unfinished building in the world, and they’ll be charging you €15 EUR to explore the thing without a guide. Parc Güell, meanwhile, will cost €7 EUR to enter. It seems steep for what is essentially a life-size Doctor Seuss illustration, but hey, it’s what you do.
- We’ve skipped lunch just about every day, but we’re splurging. Hell, throw a pitcher of Sangria in there too. You’ve earned it. If you split the pitcher (usually around €8 on its own) and get a light lunch, you’ll wind up spending in the ballpark of of €12 EUR.
- You can see a few more sights (make sure to factor in another metro ride for €0.95, we’ve got another few left on the T10 card) and then head to another late dinner. At this point, it’s basically a repeat of the night before. Since you’re splurging, allow yourself a slightly better meal (€20 EUR). A few more beers. Hell, throw some cocktails in there. Just don’t buy any drugs off the people selling. If they have to approach you, it’s bunk. If you don’t drop at least €25 EUR and stay out until morning in Barcelona at least one night, you haven’t truly seen the city. At least by morning the metro will be running again.
You’ll probably want to spread the paid attractions out between the average days, but this gives you a decent sense of what’s going on. The prices are pretty similar to anything else you’d want to do in other cities – the Ciúdad de Artes y Ciéncias in Valencia, the Alhambra in Granada, tours in San Sebastián, etc. Buckle up your wallet, because this one bucks.
Total: €114.90 EUR ($130.63 USD)
Weekly & Monthly Budgeting
- Rent: €300-500 EUR/month for an apartment, or 60-80 EUR/week at a hostel, will get you a pretty nice place no matter where you are. Spain is great for short term rentals, so if you will be there for a month or more, you should look into finding a “permanent” base.
- Groceries: €40 EUR/week will get you more than enough basics at the grocery store. Honestly, since many restaurants offer prices for tapas not entirely unlike markets charge for food, I only bought groceries for snacks and impulse fruits.
- Phone: €5-15 EUR/month, depending on the network. Vodafone is more expensive, but offers more coverage. Movistar is a cheaper option.
- Travel: €100 EUR/month is a decent estimate if you’re only taking buses. This can give you anywhere between 3-8 intercity hops, plus some money for intracity fare when in the larger towns.
- Drinking: €200 EUR/month may even be pushing it, considering just how cheap beer is in Spain. During Pintxo Pote in San Sebastián, for example, you’ll get a beer and a tapas (pintxo) for €2 EUR. You could have a great night on as little as €12 EUR here. But, of course, you’ll probably wind up drinking other things as well, so budget out €20-€30 EUR/drinking night, just in case.
- Restaurants: Spanish cuisine is one of my favorites, but damn are Tapas misleadingly expensive. But dried meats… If you eat out two large-ish meals a day, you’re gonna be spending €600 EUR a month. That’s actually high compared to what I spent (so many small meals), so plan on closer to €500 EUR/month.
- Attractions: Again, there aren’t very many attractions in Spain that cost money to see. A cool €50 EUR/month will be more than enough.
- Tours: Here’s where you’ll wind up spending a lot of money. Spain has a lot of great events and tours to see, be it La Tomatina, Primavera Sound, Sónar, the Running of the Bulls, and more. Give yourself at least €100 EUR/month, which leaves you room to do one big event a month, or, more likely, a bigger event one month (like Primavera) and a cheaper event the next (like Running of the Bulls).
- Important note: there are a lot of companies (like Stoke Travel) that sell big packages to events. I’m not saying you won’t have a good time with these guys, but you can book everything yourself – same campsites, same buses, everything but the t-shirt – yourself for literally a fraction of the price. It’s really not worth it.
- Assorted Buffer: As always, I give myself another €100 EUR/month buffer just in case things go wrong. In a town with a thieving problem as bad as Barcelona’s, something’s going to go wrong.
Total: €1355 – 1675 EUR/month ($1535 – 1900 USD)
Cost of Transportation
- Intracity Tram: Spain has a great intracity public transportation system of buses and trains. Each one is €2.15/single ride. T10 card for €9.95 brings that down to €0.95/ride.
- Intracity Taxi: €2.15 base + €1.07/km. Usually around €6-7 to get around the city.
- Intercity Bus: ALSA is the main bus operator in Spain and can get you around the country for as little as €11. These buses stop in just about every town and have comfortable seats and occasionally free water and snacks, so it’s not necessary to think about trains. Megabus has a stop in Barcelona, so if you’re moving on to France or further, Megabus can take you out of Barcelona for as little as €4.
- Rental Car: Renting a car in Spain is prohibitively expensive and I really dont’ recommend it at all for backpackers.
- Intercity Flight: Budget airlines like Ryanair can get you across the country for as little as €17 (before fees), but with all the hassles of airports and extra fees tacked on, I don’t think it’s worth it unless the bus journey would be more than 24 hours.