Typical small-town Spanish architecture

Backpacking Spain: Top experiences

 

  1. Weird-building-spotting in Barcelona
  2. Taking photos below the enormous aqueduct in Segovia
  3. Tasting a wide variety of foods at a tapas bar
  4. Learning Spanish history through art at the Prado Museum in Madrid
  5. Beach-bumming — anywhere you like

 

Jump to the list of posts from Spain, or read on for the destination overview.

 

My Trip

 

I spent three weeks backpacking Spain on my around-the-world. But I traveled very differently here. The focus of my trip was on spending time with my Spanish family. I was also traveling with a friend the whole time. We were on backpacking budgets, but it was easier to save money with two of us.

 

My itinerary:
Barcelona --> Madrid --> Day trips to Toledo and Segovia --> Capri for the boat to Morocco

 

We intented to travel more in Andalucia, but we were having such a great time with my family that we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave.

 

Know before you go

 

Budget

 

Backpacking Spain is affordable. If you plan in advance, you can spend less than $20/day.

 

Accommodation

 

My biggest lesson while backpacking Spain was you can’t show up in Barcelona in August without a hotel reservation and expect to find anything good.

 

I was traveling with my friend Adam, and it was impossible to find a Couchsurfing host who would take two people. We waited until the last minute and spent our first three hours in Barcelona sitting on the floor of the tourist information center, searching the Internet to no avail. Long story short, we let the tourist information folks book us a mediocre but central hotel for $30.

 

Hostels should run $15-$25 in summer, but low season discounts are readily available.

 

Food:

 

Spanish food is less well-known than its neighbors’, but equally good. It’s different from many Mediterranean cuisines in that there’s a lot of deep frying, a lot of heavy carbs — generally it’s not super healthy.

 

Small plates, or tapas, make a great intro to Spanish food. Seville is famous for them, but the Barceloneta neighborhood in Barcelona has authentic tapas bars too. Think seafood, croquettes, and grilled meats. A single order costs under 4 euro and is meant for sharing.

 

Paella is the national obsession. Try it with squid ink (it turns the rice black), with mixed seafood and meat, or with giant crayfish. It has to be cooked in large batches, so it’ll be most cost-effective if you go with a group.

 

Chelo, my Spanish mom, making paella
Chelo, my Spanish mom, making paella

 

Bocadillos (or sandwiches) are a common snack. You can pick them up from a cafe for a couple euro.

 

The usual self-catering options are available from open-air markets and large supermarkets.

 

I was extremely spoiled by my family in Spain. If you get a chance to enjoy a home-cooked meal, take it. You’ll never eat so much, or so well, again.

 

Activities:

 

Spain is well-known as a beach destination. The beaches are free and they are beautiful, but they can be quite crowded in summer.

 

Don't miss the beaches while backpacking Spain
The stunning beach in Cadiz

 

Madrid has a handful of good museums, running $15+ each. The Prado is the most famous and includes a good deal of 20th century artwork to balance out the religious stuff.

 

Barcelona’s architecture will surprise and delight the church-weary Europe backpacker. The famous architect Gaudi designed the world’s newest Gothic cathedral (it’s still being built) and Park Guell, among dozens of other buildings. Many of Gaudi’s buildings charge a fee to visit inside. One of my biggest travel regrets is not shelling out the 12 euro for La Sagrada Familia.

 

Smaller medieval cities like Toledo and Segovia have Roman ruins, castles, and a generally ancient vibe. They can be great fun to wander around for a day. Almost nothing costs money.

 

Segovia has ancient castles and Roman ruins
Segovia has ancient castles and Roman ruins

 

Transportation

 

There are trains in Spain, but the buses are much more convenient. They’re not cheap — Barcelona to Madrid is 30 euro.

 

Between big cities, you’ll have plenty of choices of departure time. Spain is a big country and driving distances are long, so consider traveling overnight. Just be forewarned that driving standards (namely driving speeds) may be different from what you’re used to.

 

The further south you go, the more informal the transportation becomes. The coast of Andalucia is served by beat-up old buses that don’t really seem to originate or terminate anywhere, they just keep running back and forth between towns. Ask your driver to let you know when you arrive at your stop — they’re not labeled.

 

Safety

 

Backpacking Spain is safe and hassle-free. Don’t leave valuables unattended on the beach.

 

The biggest danger while backpacking Spain is having your head bitten off by a dragon
The biggest danger in Spain is having your head bitten off by a dragon

 

For women alone

 

I didn’t travel alone while backpacking Spain. But my sense is that Spain suffers from the same machismo culture that’s common across the Mediterranean. It doesn’t extend much beyond street harassment and excessive flirtation, except in bars and clubs, where it can get a little more threatening.

 

Spanish women dress to the nines all the time. You’ll generally get more stares if you’re wearing rags than you will wearing skimpy clothes.

 

Gender roles are still pretty strictly defined in Spain. Women are meant to take care of the house, even if they have jobs. This is unlikely to affect you as a traveler.

 

Ready to get started?

 

Check out the posts from Spain.