Fiestas, tapas & playas: the full travel guide for backpacking Spain

Ah Spain, the land of sun, sea, flamenco and fiestas. From the sizzling beaches of the Med to cultural hotspots like Barcelona and Madrid, there’s nowhere you won’t find incredible food, vibrant parties and local people as warm as the weather. Its easy to explore thanks to its efficient public transport system and top-notch hostels (some of Europe’s finest!), so whether you’re a seasoned solo traveller or first timer, you don’t need to be nervous about going it alone. Read on to discover how to stretch your budget and live like a local on your solo Spanish adventure. Vamos!

  1. The best time to visit Spain
  2. Traditional Spanish celebrations
  3. Best music festivals in Spain
  4. Spain travel costs
  5. Travelling around Spain
  6. Where to go in Spain
  7. Easy day trips in Spain
  8. Food in Spain
  9. Spanish culture
  10. Is Spain safe for backpackers?
  11. Spain travel tips
  12. Spain packing list

1. The best time to visit Spain

As a solo traveller, it helps to think about the best time to travel. We want to see cities when they’re most popping, beaches when the weather is perfect and hostels when the vibe is the liveliest. Plus, if you time your trip right, you can hit up Spain’s best festivals and celebrations along the way! 

The best time to visit the northern region: Bilbao and San Sebastian

Best time to visit: April-June/September. Visit the north in late spring, early summer or early autumn. It still has a pleasant climate and you’ll be able to swim at almost empty beaches (if you’re happy to brave the somewhat chilly water). The maximum temperature rarely exceeds a perfect 26 degrees.

Backpacking Spain - surf

Playa Zurriola 📷:@gorkagurdi

The best time to visit central Spain: Madrid and around

The centre of the country has the most extreme temperatures, with a chilly climate in winter and scorching heat in summer. Locals usually leave cities like Madrid in August, in search of beautiful beaches and cooler climates.

Best time to visit: October-November. Spring or autumn is beautiful when the leaves and landscapes change to browns, reds and oranges. The climate is also milder, so you can sightsee in the cities without breaking a sweat.

Backpacking Spain - Street art

Street Art, Madrid 📷:@dorotheegmz

The best time to visit the south: Granada, Seville and Cordoba

If you want to experience winter sun, the best option is to head south to the sparkling shores of the Mediterranean Sea. If you’re a serious sun chaser, you could venture even further to the Canary Islands.

Best time to visit: September-November / March-June: During summer the south has high temperatures that could be overwhelming for some. During spring or autumn it’s still sunny and warm, but you don’t have to glue yourself to the air con.

Backpacking Spain - Gran Teatro Falla

Gran Teatro Falla, Cordoba 📷:@dorotheegmz

2. Traditional Spanish celebrations

One of the reasons Spain is SO great for solo travellers is the extensive schedule of festivals and events on offer every year. These more traditional ones are unlike anything you’ll experience outside of Spain, and they’re the best way to get to know locals and their customs. Cities and towns come alive when they’re hosting these celebrations, and hostels are more popping than ever – so make sure you book your bed well in advance to avoid FOMO!

La Semana Grande De Bilbao

One of the most famous festivals in the north of Spain is Semana Grande de Bilbao. This event is a celebration of Basque culture that includes nine days of parties, concerts and fireworks.

The Festival of Aquasella

Aquasella is celebrated every year in August, beginning in the Asturian village of Arriondas with an electronic music festival. It features live music and plenty of local cider, the traditional drink of Asturias.

Tamborrada De San Sebastian

Every January La Tamborrada takes place in San Sebastián and is one of the few festivals held in winter, come rain or shine. This festival pays tribute to the city, with over 15,000 drummers playing in unison.

Fiestas Del Pilar

Fiestas del Pilar is held every October in Zaragoza, paying tribute to the city’s patron saint. There’s a week of partying with lots of jota, a traditional regional dance.

Fallas De Valencia

Las Fallas is held in Valencia from the 15th to 19th of March. Throughout the year, art made of paper, wax and wood, often about political or satirical themes, is created to be burned at the festival.

La Tomatina

La Tomatina is the most famous food fight in the world, where thousands of people throw 160 tonnes of tomatoes at each other in Buñol, Valencia, on August 29th.

La Feria De Abril

La Feria de Abril, held in Seville, is a festival where flamenco and food are honoured. Held in April and marking the beginning of spring, it’s a colourful event with tents, horses and lots of Spanish guitars.

Los Carnivale

The carnivals in Tenerife are the most famous in Spain and celebrated every year around January or February. Travellers and locals wear bright clothes and dance non-stop from day to night.

Backpacking Spain - La feria

La Feria, Seville 📷@nika_buterfly

3. Music festivals in Spain

There’s not only the traditional festivals – Spain has it all! Some of Europe’s most iconic music festivals take place here every summer, with the biggest global artists headlining. Don’t be intimidated at the thought of going solo – it’s impossible not to make friends with vibes and music this good. Besides, if you stay in a hostel over festival weekend, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find people heading the same way.

Bilbao BBK LIVE

BBK Live takes place in mid-July at the top of Mount Kobetas, and has been headlined by artists such as Depeche Mode, Grimes, The Chemical Brothers, The XX and Gorillaz.

Primavera Sound

Barcelona hosts Primavera Sound every spring, a festival with the biggest names in pop, rock and indie music. It’s one of the most iconic music events in Europe, so if you’re a live music lover it must be on your bucket list.

Sónar

Sónar takes place every June in Barcelona. This electronic and experimental music festival has been going for more than 25 years.

Rototom Sunsplash

Located in Valencia, Rototom is a reggae festival which started in Italy in 1994, but moved to Spain in 2010.

backpacking Spain - Primavera Sound

Primavera Sound, Barcelona 📸 @caramelo_sky

 4. Spain travel costs

It’s easy to travel Spain on a budget as a solo traveller. Take advantage of cheap dorm beds in incredible hostels, wallet-friendly public transport and welcoming local eateries. Stick to this plan, and you’ll have spare cash to splurge on the occasional big night out or fancy meal with your new hostel mates!  

The currency in Spain is the euro (EUR). Here are the average prices of a few travel essentials:

  • A single metro or bus ticket costs around €1.50-2.50
  • A beer can vary between €2 (cheap bar) and €6 (trendy club).
  • A local breakfast, including coffee and juice, can vary between €2 – €6.
  • You can easily find dinner in a casual restaurant for around €10.

Most eateries in Spain include a service charge in your bill, however tipping is usual in bars and restaurants if you really like the service and enjoy the food.

backpacking Spain - Park Güell

Park Güell, Barcelona 📷: @abbybertram

5. Travelling around Spain

Public transport

Spain’s train and bus networks are extensive, affordable and easy to use, so public transport is ideal for solo travellers. All of Spain’s hotspots are very well connected. The high-speed train is essential for covering long distances, while Madrid and Barcelona have world-class city transport. Cities like Seville, Bilbao and Valencia all have convenient metro networks too, so it’s easy to get around without relying on pricey taxis.

Renting a car

For the ultimate solo traveller freedom, why not consider renting a car? You can of course lower the costs by picking up hostel mates along the way. Many car rental companies allow you to make a reservation by paying a small deposit, and cancellations are usually free if you cancel 48 hours before the trip.

Here’s what you need to know about renting a car in Spain:

  • A valid driver’s license, duh. Non-EU license holders may need an international driver’s license. Always check the rental requirements of the individual car hire company.
  • Credit or debit card. Many companies require customers to have a credit card, but Spain is one of the few countries where rental companies also accept other methods of payment, such as debit cards or even cash.
  • The speed limits are 120 km/h on highways and motorways, 100 km/h on conventional roads, 50 km/h in urban areas and 90 km/h everywhere else.
  • The legal driving age is 18, however most car rental agencies require a minimum age of 22. If you are younger, Sixt rental cars accepts drivers from 18 but you’ll have to pay € 9.99 more per day.
  • Many cars will have a manual transmission.
  • Be cautious: always lock your car and never leave anything on display. Criminals have been known to target rental cars in the top travel destinations.

Backpacking Spain - Cordoba

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba 📷 @merrow26

6. Where to go in Spain

Barcelona

This warm, accessible city makes the perfect starting point for solo travellers. It’s easy to navigate and there’s heaps to do, plus a large international crowd means you’ll never feel like an outsider. 

What to do: What makes Barcelona unique is its Gaudi architecture. Don’t miss the surreal and colourful Parc Güell, Monastery of Pedralbes, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo. Check out our favourite things to do for free in Barcelona.

Best kept secret: You don’t want to miss the iconic Sagrada Familia’s architecture, but you could skip the inside and therefore the hefty queue. Go to Hospital de Sant Pau instead, one of Barcelona’s modernist gems. Just follow the beautiful Avenida de Gaudí after Sagrada Familia to get there. Walking through its pavilions and gardens is like taking a trip back to the 1920s!

Local tip: It’s worth leaving the city centre and heading up to the El Carmel bunkers to get the best views of the city. Incredible at sunset and even better if you bring a bottle of cava! It’s relatively remote, but not too difficult to reach without a car. Buses 24, 92, 114, 119 and V17 all stop quite close.

Good to know: Primavera Sound is one of the most popular festivals in Spain. It takes place in June, and if you make it there you’ll have an unforgettable time in Barcelona!

Hostel rec: Bed & Bike Barcelona is super stylish and has a killer city centre location. They have bikes for rental and even offer bike tours for a fun way of seeing the city.

There’s plenty more where that came from. Check out our recommendations of the best hostels in Barcelona!

Backpacking Spain - Tibidabo

Parc d’Atraccions Tibidabo, Barcelona 📷@bru_no_reis

Valencia

What to do: Be sure to visit the stunning City of Arts and Sciences, the Valencian Institute of Modern Art, and the famous bell tower of Valencia Cathedral, the highest point from which to admire the whole city. Stroll over the centuries-old stones of the Castillo de Sagunto and stop to buy some chorizo at the market stalls. And if you want to eat paella, now is the time to do it! Valencia has the tastiest paella in the entire world – seriously. Just find any local restaurant and indulge!

Best kept secret: Gulliver Park in Jardines del Turia, inspired by the famous adventure book. There’s a gigantic figure of Gulliver, with tunnels, stairs, ramps and slides if you want to connect with your inner child!

Local tip: La Malvarrosa is a golden, sandy beach that plays host to loads of events during spring and summer. And if you have time, check out the Albufera Natural Park with its curious (but beautiful) birds!

Good to know: If you happen to be there in March you’ll witness Valencia come alive during Fallas: fire, fireworks and fiestas in the street!

Hostel rec: If free dinner and free sangria sound like your kind of thing, then look no further than Home Youth Hostel Valencia by Feetup Hostels. It’s totally gorgeous and perfectly located next to the city’s central market.

Take a look at all of the best hostels in Valencia!

How to get from Barcelona to Valencia:

By car – around 3.5 hours. If you’re not renting a car, it’s a common ride in BlaBlaCar.
By train – around 3.5 hours. Search for tickets with Renfe.
By bus – around 4.5 hours. Search for tickets with Alsa.

Backpacking Spain - Alicante
Stunning view of Alicante 📸 @irinanikitina84

Alicante

What to do: Must sees include Santa Barbara Castle, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA), Explanada de España, Plaza de Luceros and Casa de Brujas. For a real main character moment on your solo trip, take the tram just for the ride to enjoy the beautiful Costa Blanca coastline. If you fancy a beach day, stop at San Juan.

Best kept secret: Barrio de Santa Cruz is a local favourite neighbourhood. It’s worth walking through its narrow, steep streets, admiring the colourful houses with flowers adorning their facades.

Local tip: Practice what the locals call a “tardeo”. This consists of going out for a snack, then another one and another one, before dancing in bars and pubs near the Central Market area, passing through pedestrian Castaños St, Montanyeta Square and the Town Hall.

Good to know: If you’re around in June, you can experience the popular Hogueras de San Juan festivity!

Hostel rec: Vad Hostel is the top choice for solo travellers, thanks to its fun social events like bbq nights on the terrace. It’s just a few blocks from the Central Market, with Alicante’s best attractions right on the doorstep.

How to get from Valencia to Alicante:

By car – around 2 hours. If you’re not renting a car, it’s a common ride in BlaBlaCar.
By train – around 2 hours. Search for tickets with Renfe.
By bus – around 2-3 hours. Search for tickets with Alsa.

Backpacking Spain - Granada

 Beautiful Alhambra, Granada 📷 @sohaychtioui

Granada

What to do: A visit to the magnificent Alhambra Castle and Palace is a must. Try to book ahead – if you can’t find tickets before going, you’ll have to wake up super early to get in line, without guaranteed entry. You should also visit Granada Cathedral, the old silk markets and Plaza Bib Rambla.

Did somebody say tapas crawl? Forget everything you know about tapas, Granada takes it up a level. Don’t pay for your tapas, just order a few drinks and fill up on the free side dishes. If you’re the type of solo traveller who gets nervous about eating alone, that’s all about to change. These local restaurants are so friendly that you’ll always have somebody to chat to – and besides, sangria has a funny way of squashing shyness!  

You can also enjoy getting lost in the ancient Arabic neighbourhood ‘Albayzín’ and taking pictures from the Miradores (lookouts). The most famous is the Mirador de San Nicolas.

Best kept secret: Treat yourself to a bit of R&R at the Hammam Arab Baths – you deserve it! Relax, listen to Arabic music, have some tea, try out all the rooms and if you’re feeling especially bougie, book a massage.

Local tip: Stroll through Carrera del Darro, one of the most charming and romantic streets in the city. Listen to the flow of the river Darro that runs alongside it.

Good to know: Come in May to experience the vibrant festivity of Las Cruces!

Hostel rec Right in the city centre, Hostel Nut is clean and cosy, with a 24-hour co-working space that’s perfect for digital nomads.

How to get from Alicante to Granada:

By car – around 3.5 hours

By bus – around 5 hours. Search for tickets with Alsa.

By train – there’s no direct train route, so save your time and money by taking the bus or driving.

Backpacking Spain - shops in Granada @dorotheegmz

Local shops in Granada 📷 @dorotheegmz

Malaga

What to do: The Alcazaba, Gibralfaro Castle and Roman Theatre are the most important archaeological sites in the city. Also not to be missed are La Farola (for spectacular views), Malaga Cathedral, Parque de Malaga, and CAC Malaga (Contemporary Art Centre).

Take a walk along Pedregalejo Promenade to soak up the sun. Try a typical Andalusian dish in a chiringuito (casual beach bar) – expect fresh anchovies, spinach, fried malagueña. Any of the buses on lines 11 or 34 will take you to the Pedregalejo beaches.

Best kept secret: Malageños have an aperitivo before lunch, so make sure you do too! Antigua Casa de Guardia is found in every guidebook, but make like a local and try the sweet wines at La Odisea Vinos de Malaga instead. The decor is like entering your grandmothers’ house – pure vintage vibes! The wooden barrels contain different wines from Malaga. If you’re not sure what to order, ask the waiters. They’re mostly relatives of the grandmother who owns the house and are always willing to help!

Local tip: Montes de Málaga is a chain of hills about five kilometres from the city that offers a stunning location for hiking!

Hostel rec: Gorgeous Urban Jungle is THE spot for solo travellers in Malaga. Mingle over happy hour mojitos every evening, and join social events like yoga, beach volleyball, tapas nights and walking tours.

How to get from Granada to Malaga:

By car – around 1.5 hours.

By bus – 2-3 hours. Search for tickets with Alsa.

Backpacking Spain - Beach in Malaga

Main beach in Malaga 📷 @tunckiymaz

Cadiz

What to do: Must visits in Cadiz include Plaza de las Flores, Central Market, San Sebastian Castle, Santa Catalina Castle and Museo de Cadiz (free). Playa de la Caleta is the spot for a romantic sunset – several movies were filmed here, such as ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’. Who says solo travellers can’t appreciate some romance?

Climb the Tavira Tower, the highest point of Cadiz, and visit the Camera Obscura experience for a bit of history. The old neighbourhood of Barrio del Pópulo is also just a few steps away. Walk through the cobblestone streets where you’ll find plenty of good tapas to devour!

Best kept secret: Cadiz has a blooming craft beer scene, and you should start your journey at The Cabin Beer Bar. Enjoy some local brews alongside delicious street food.

Local tip: Visit the “Piojito” a street market where you’ll hear a Spanish dialect like no other.

Good to know: Visit in February for the start of Cadiz’s festival season!

Hostel tip: Casa Caracol is a chill hostel with free breakfast and a rooftop terrace full of hammocks. It’s the simple things that make us happy! They organise daily excursions such as surfing, sand-boarding and cheap bike rentals.

How to get from Malaga to Cadiz:

By car – around 2.5 hours

By bus – around 4 hours

Backpacking Spain - Seville

 Metropol Parasol, Seville 📷 @globusliebe

Seville

What to do: Plaza España is one of the prettiest squares you’ll ever see, Sevilla Cathedral and the Giralda bell tower are magnificent, and Real Alcázar is the castle is used in many Hollywood movies and the little known show called Game of Thrones.

When in Seville, watch flamenco performances for free! In many of Seville’s flamenco bars, there is no entry charge, however you should buy one or two drinks. La Carbonería, La Taberna, or Lola de los Reyes are some of our faves. Watch the sunset at the Setas, AKA the Metropol Parasol. This modern building looks completely different at sunset.

Best kept secret: Triana neighbourhood doesn’t have the big attractions, but its charm is the uniquely Sevillian atmosphere at the lively Calle Betis. It’s the ideal place for bar hopping, and also great for just strolling and appreciating the city.

Local tip: Mercadillo El Jueves is the oldest outdoor market in Seville, taking place every Thursday. You can find all kinds of antiquities and vintage goodies, such as clothes, vinyls, pins and books. Even if you’re on a strict budget, it’s worth a visit.

Good to know: Many travellers are attracted by the famous Feria de Abril, but what some don’t know is that you MUST know somebody to be able to enter the “casetas” (basically, where the party is). There are few public ones, but the privates are the most buzzing. Find yourself a way in though, and you’re in for a seriously unforgettable time. One of the best things about travelling solo is never knowing where a night like this will take you!  

Hostel rec: The incredible rooftop hangout La Banda offers stunning views of the cathedral and big family dinner parties every night. Their concept is simple: La Banda means the gang of friends, and this is the vibe they strive to create. Come solo, leave with new BFFs.

How to get from Cadiz to Seville:

By car – around 1.5 hours. If you’re not driving, find a ride share on BlaBlaCar.

By train – around 1.5 hours. Search for tickets with Renfe.

By bus – around 2 hours. Search for tickets with Comes

Madrid

What to do: Finish your solo Spanish adventure in Madrid, and check out the Plaza Mayor and world famous museums Prado, Reina Sofia or Thyssen. The Royal Palace is majestic, the curious Rastro flea market is the place to be on Sundays, and be sure to soak up the sun in refreshing Retiro Park. Have an outdoor dinner with cañas in the lively Plaza Santa Ana, or visit the trendy social hubs like Matadero, Casa Encendida or Tabacalera.

Best kept secret: Discover the best local bars – strictly no chains and steer clear of spots near Puerta del Sol. Instead, immerse yourself in the bars of Malasaña, a hipster neighbourhood with each bar authentic and original. Check out the best bars in Madrid for a fiesta on a budget.

Local tip: Capricho Park is one of the most beautiful parks and one of the least known. Three stunning gardens are connected here: the English Garden, French Garden and Giardino Italian Garden. It’s only open saturdays, sundays and national holidays.

Hostel rec: Ok Hostel Madrid is not just ok, it’s superb! Everybody agrees that the staff are friendly and helpful. It’s located in the bohemian Barrio La Latina (a weekend hotspot) and only a few steps away from the metro line to all major attractions. You can get fed and meet people during the 10 euro hostel dinners – a 3 course meal plus unlimited drinks that’s an absolute must for solo travellers after a social vibe.

How to get from Seville to Madrid:

By car – around 5.5 hours.

By train – around 2.5 hours. Search for tickets with Renfe.

By bus – around 6.5 hours. Search for tickets Socibus.

Backpacking Spain - Pompidou centrePompidou Centre, Malaga 📷 @katewhiteyoga

7. Easy day trips in Spain

Our favourite thing about solo travel? Being able to go wherever, whenever, without running it by anybody else. If you feel like getting out of the city at any point, you can hop on public transport and explore one of Spain’s lesser known gems on a day trip. Choose your own adventure! If you fancy a day trip from one of Spain’s hotspots to a lesser known gem, try out one of these beauties:

Day trips from Madrid

Just half an hour from the capital you can find Toledo, AKA the ‘city of three cultures’. It’s named as such because of its mix of religions, home to Muslim, Jewish and Christian communities, with impressive monuments and architecture from all three. The best way to get here is by high-speed train that leaves from Atocha station. For a cheaper but slightly longer option, take the bus from Estación de la Plaza Elíptica. If you come by car, leave it in the free Safont car park, which you’ll find at the first entrance of the city.

One of the best things for solo travellers to do in Toledo is to take a guided walking tour. You’ll be taken around the city’s most significant religious places, such as Santo Tomé church, the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, The Cathedral of Toledo and the mosque of Cristo de la Luz. Plus, you’ll get to do it with a group of like-minded travellers!

Day trips from Barcelona

Fancy a chilled-out beach day? We adore Barcelona, but its beaches are often crowded and not as clean as those a bit further out, like Ocata, Montgat or Badalona. If you don’t have your own car, the R1 train is efficient and quick, with tickets from €2.

Day trips from Malaga

The pretty fishing town of Nerja is worth a visit, and is only an hour from Malaga. Solo travellers can join a group tour, stopping in Frigiliana and Nerja Caves (with the world’s largest known stalactite) before enjoying peaceful Nerja itself. You can go by bus (return tickets from Alsa start at €10), or of course you can go in your own car at your own pace to enjoy the Costa del Sol.

Don’t miss Balcon de Europa, which is a natural viewpoint offering impressive vistas of the coast. Be sure to explore the quaint back streets packed with charm or catch some rays at the excellent beaches.

As you can tell, there’s a lot to do in and around Nerja. If a day trip sounds too exhausting, we have some homely hostels in Nerja to rest your head for a night or two!

8. Food in Spain

When someone mentions Spanish food, paella or tapas are usually the first things that spring to mind. But Spain has very different climates and cultures, and it often feels like several small culinary countries rolled into one!

This variety is reflected in Spanish cuisine. You can find anything from fresh summer soup ‘Gazpacho’ on the Mediterranean coast, to the traditional ‘pintxos’ in the Basque Country.

Don’t be intimidated by visiting a Spanish restaurant as a solo traveller. Spanish people are passionate about their cuisine, and will relish the opportunity to introduce it to you! With that said, there’s something extra beautiful about sharing a big bowl of paella with friends, so be sure to head out to eat with your hostel roomies when you get the chance!  

Here’s your guide to the traditional dishes and recommended restaurants that you should visit in Spain.

 

Backpacking Spain - churros

BRB, melting 😍 Jardines del real, Madrid 📸 @hamiltonbarkley

Churros con chocolate

To start the day full of energy (read: sugar), go for a sweet plate of churros . If you’ve never heard of churros (where have you been?) they’re made of long and thin fried dough that’s crispy on the outside, spongy on the inside. They are usually served with a hot chocolate cup, and enjoyed at any time of the year. When in Madrid, check out the ‘Chocolatería San Gines‘ for the best churros in town. This spot is open 24 hours, always ready to feed hungry solo travellers on the go!

Try it at:

  • Chocolatería San Gines: Pasadizo de San Gines 5, Madrid

Tortilla

If you’ve been to Spain, or have a Spanish friend, then you’ve probably already tried this classic. Ingredients are simple, as it was a popular meal during war times, being easy to cook and very nutritious – potatoes, eggs, onion and oil are the main ingredients. You can choose to eat this delicious dish caramelised or not.

Try it at:

  • Flash Flash in Barcelona: La Granada del Penedes 25
  • Jose Luis in Madrid: Rafael Salgado 11

Backpacking Spain - paella

We can’t resist a good paella! @beatripolo

Paella

It’s known as a typical dish from Spain, but paella initially comes from Valencia. This area has many rice fields, making for the best conditions to cook this traditional dish. The main ingredients are rice, chicken, vegetables and seafood. A yellow saffron is added so it gets its beautiful colour. You simply must try it, particularly if you’re in Valencia.

Try it at:

  • Duna has an astonishing location, immersed in the Natural Park of La Albufera, right next to the sea. Quality ingredients and more than 50 varieties of rice! Address: Paseo Pintor Francisco Lozano, modulo 3, Valencia
  • La Riuá has around 15 traditional Valencian  paellas, plus all the local meat and fish. Address: Carrer del Mar 27, Valencia

 

Backpacking Spain - salmojero

A proper Salmojero in Seville 📷 @lessouriresdeceline

Gazpacho VS Salmorejo

Classic cold soups – healthy, fresh and delicious. They’re especially well done in Andalucia and perfect to have in summer!

You probably know gazpacho, but there’s another similar dish called salmorejo. They both contain the perfect mix of vegetables such as cucumber, pepper and tomato, mixed together with garlic, olive oil and sometimes enjoyed with bread. Salmorejo has added boiled eggs and ham. Both of them are delightful!

Try it at:

  • Eslava. Located in the popular Seville neighbourhood of San Lorenzo, Eslava offers the perfect balance between traditional and creative gastronomy, plus it has great service. Their gazpacho uses fresh vegetables from their own garden. Address: Eslava Street 3, Seville.

Pintxos

Pintxos are an invention from the north of Spain, particularly the Basque Country. A small bar snack made with the most common produce of the region, such as hake, cod, mussels, anchovies or onions. There are thousand of varieties, but some classics are: prawn skewers, eels prepared with garlic and olive oil, or marmitako (tuna stew with tomatoes and potatoes).

When in Bilbao, you should check out Santa María street and its vibrant bars. You can find trendy bars like Irrintzi, or more classic ones like Txiriboga, which is famous for its divine croquettes and rabas.

Try it at:

  • Bar Irrintzi – Santa Maria Street 8, Bilbao
  • Bar Txiriboga – Santa Maria Street 13, Bilbao

Pa amb tomaquet

Literally meaning ‘bread with tomato’ in Catalan. This is a traditional dish from the Mediterranean region (Valencia, Murcia and Balearic Islands) but it stands out especially within Catalan cuisine. It’s not complicated to prepare, consisting of toast with aged tomato, olive oil and salt. It’s perfect to eat for breakfast or as a dish accompanied by a slice of serrano ham. Simple and delicious!

Try it at:

  • La Bodegueta del Poble Sec, Barcelona. Open since 1990 in an area full of bars where you can create your own foodie route. Address: Blai Street 47, Barcelona
  • Can Vallés, Barcelona. A charming place with creative fusion cuisine. Expect Catalan food with innovative flavours. Address: Carrer de Aragó 95, Barcelona

Cocido madrileño

When in Madrid, you must try a local food called cocido. It’s warming and perfect to eat in winter. The first dish consists of a noodle soup with a tasty stock. The second course is chickpeas with chorizo and cabbage. Some people like to eat everything together in one dish, but one way or another, it’s always empty plates all round.

Try it at:

  • La Cruz Blanca: Carlos Martín Álvarez Street 58, Madrid

Backpacking Spain - cocido

We’re hungry! @fernandodeseta

Mojo picón

It might not be as well-known, but mojo picón is a perfect representation of the Canary Islands’ cuisine! It’s a sauce that features in many dishes of the region. There are several varieties, but it mainly contains breadcrumbs, vinegar, olive oil, garlic and pepper (it doesn’t sound very appealing, but it’s super addictive). You can choose your spice level.

Try it at:

  • Otelo Restaurant, Tenerife. Big portions and stunning scenery. Some people swear it has the best mojo picón on the island. Address: Molinos Street 44, Adeje, Tenerife.
  • Las Lagunetas Restaurant, Gran Canaria. The menu changes every day, but traditional produce is always used. Churros de pescado and the Russian salad are firm favourites.  Address: Calle Sagasta 48, Las Palmas, Gran Canaria

Backpacking Spain - grilled octopus

The famous Grilled Octopus, San Sebastian 📷 @daniel_chaim18

Seafood

Mussels, prawns, crabs, squid, lobster, clams – Spain has no shortage of sea, so as you can imagine there’s a beloved seafood culture wherever you go. But Galicia has a special reputation. Here, each clam or mussel must be the perfect size and quality. The result is the most delicious canned seafood in the world.

Try it at:

  • Bar El Muelle, A Coruña. It may look like a simple snack joint, but don’t miss the quality of their clams, steamed mussels, or incredible octopus. The owner Diego will help you with anything you need. Address: Avenida José Graña 35, Aldán, A Coruña
  • Filiberto Taberna Singular, A Coruña. Hake pie, beef jerky croquettes and grilled octopus with potatoes are the top picks in this cosy restaurant. Featuring live music on Saturday nights and backpacker-friendly prices. Address: Avenida de Santa Minia, 76. Brión, A Coruña

Sangria

Obviously we cannot skip the most famous drink in Spain! Sangria has a uniquely Spanish charm and a simple recipe: red wine, a soft mixer and fruits. It can vary as you can add more wine or fruit, meaning there is always a version to suit you. It’s not just a local favourite – free flowing sangria has been known to bring solo travellers together at many a Spanish hostel bar!

Backpacking Spain - tostadas

Mouth. Watering. 📸 @pixbystep

Tostadas con tomate

The traditional breakfast in Spain. You need proper Spanish round bread, toasted with pure olive oil on top, fresh tomato puree, see salt and jamon iberico. Delicious!

Tapas

This wonderful custom involves having small plates of food like olives, patatas bravas, croquettes, cheese, or serrano ham during the ‘aperitivo.’ There are many types of tapas and sometimes you’ll get them for free with your drink, especially in Andalucía.

Try it at:

  • The ‘Mercado de San Miguel’ in Madrid is an iconic spot to get your tapas fix, plus other traditional food. Address: San Miguel Square (next to Plaza Mayor)
  • Also in Madrid, don’t miss the popular squid baguettes on Postas Street. They usually cost €3 and you can get them anywhere on this street.

Sweets

If you have a sweet tooth, you need to visit the oldest bakery in Madrid, called La Mallorquina. Founded in 1894, it’s lived through the history of the capital. On the outside it looks like a normal bakery, but one bite into their delicious pastries such as the ‘napolitanas’ or ‘palmeras de chocolate’ and you’ll see what the fuss is all about.

Try it at:

Backpacking Spain - menorca

Crystal clear water in Menorca 📷@handluggageonly 

 

9. Spanish Culture

Eat, sleep, drink like a local

Breakfast in Spain is usually from 8-10:00, but there are food chains serving breakfast deals until 12 or 1 (like 100 Montaditos, Rodilla, Vips). Lunch in restaurants will usually start from 1-3:30. It’s very rare to find someone eating lunch before 1, but not unusual to see people seating after 3:30.

Dinner in Spain is served late, from 8:30-11. Of course, you can find dinner at an earlier time in busy areas (and many restaurants have continuous service throughout the day), but don’t expect to find any Spanish people sharing their raciones at 7:00!

We’re sure you’re quite familiar with siesta. So, don’t be alarmed if you want to go to a particular shop between 2-5:00 and find it closed. That’s because the owners are taking a siesta! This is more likely to happen in small towns, not in supermarkets or fashion chains in the city centre.

Nightlife in Spain is taken very seriously, especially from Thursday to Sunday. Pubs, cocktail bars and nightclubs usually remain open until 3-4am and in large cities, they dance until dawn.

Facts about Spain

  • The Kingdom of Spain is the second largest country in the EU
  • Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world
  • Spain has the fourth highest life expectancy of all the OECD countries
  • The Spanish love to chill out (siesta anyone?)
  • Nudity is legal in Spain
  • The United Nations predicts that Spain will be the world’s oldest country by 2050
  • Spain has 44 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
  • Spain produces over half of the world’s olive oil
  • There’s no tooth fairy in Spain
  • You can enjoy a meal in the oldest restaurant in the world in Spain’s capital, Madrid
  • Spain is the country of fiestas, with hundreds of festivals taking place throughout the year

Language in Spain

As a solo traveller, it’s always a good idea to pick up some local phrases. Nobody’s expecting you to be fluent, but a few basics will help to ensure your trip runs extra smoothly!  The vast majority of the population speaks Spanish, the national and official language of the country. There are a few other languages spoken only in certain regions, such as Catalan, Basque, Galician and Aranès.

In terms of foreign languages, English and French are the most commonly spoken.

10. Is Spain safe for backpackers?

Overall, Spain in a safe country with similar safety levels to the rest of Western Europe. Violent crimes against travellers are very rare, but unfortunately pickpocketing is common in cities. Thieves are fast and you probably won’t notice what’s happened until it’s too late. There are measures you can take to prevent this, such as wearing a cross-body bag, instead of one on your shoulder that’s easy to snatch. When riding the metro, make sure to keep your eyes on your belongings, and try not to look too lost when using your phone for navigation – moped criminals could snatch it out of your hand in a second. Stay vigilant towards pickpockets and you’ll be unlikely to come into any trouble when backpacking Spain.  

Is Spain safe for women travellers?  

Solo female travellers in Spain should take the same precautions we would in any new destination, but generally Spain is pretty safe. Keep an eye on your drinks in nightclubs and avoid walking home alone late at night. Keep your hostel’s address in your wallet in case you ever get stuck getting back, and be sure to only use licensed taxis – booking through an app such as Cabify is best. If you’re worried about heading out alone, take advantage of your hostel’s social events to find new friends to party with. And if you’re hostelling for the first time, plenty of Spanish hostels have female-only dorms, so there’s no need to be nervous.    

Is Spain safe for BAME travellers? 

Spain isn’t considered a dangerous country for BAME travellers, but unfortunately you might face ignorance, particularly in less diverse rural areas. Some BAME travellers have reported being pointed or stared at, and even denied entry to clubs. At traditional festivals you may see examples of blackface, an offensive, outdated custom that campaigners have been trying to ban.  

In this blog post, Sojourner White gives a balanced perspective of her experience as a black woman living and travelling in Spain.  

Is Spain safe for solo travellers?  

Spain isn’t just safe for solo travellers, it’s perfect! Keep your wits about you regarding the potential problems mentioned above, and your solo trip to Spain will be epic. Countrywide public transport is clean and secure, so you can be assured that you’ll get around with no major issues. There are awesome hostels in every city, offering not only a safe space to rest your head, but a wealth of local knowledge from their expert staff who’ll keep you informed on how best to explore their area. And the warm welcome from Spanish people, plus the countless festivals and social events on offer, means you won’t really stay solo for long. What are you waiting for?   

Scams in Spain  

In Madrid or Barcelona you might encounter scammers who want to try their luck with you, particularly in areas with lots of attractions. Solo travellers especially should be aware of the following:  

  • Fake petitions: Somebody approaches you to sign a fake petition for their made-up charity, while their accomplices pick your pockets. Give them a firm no, keep it moving, and as always, pay close attention to your bags and pockets. 
  • The map trip: Distracting you with a map is another technique to empty your pockets. Don’t leave your phone on the table while you’re dining outside – scammers can place the map right on top of it and they just need a second to make it disappear. 
  • Lucky rosemary: The trick here is for women to offer you a sprig of rosemary for good luck with apparently no cost, but then they’ll try to read your fortune from the palm of your hand, charging you around 10 euros for this service you didn’t ask for. There are cases of people going to an ATM with these ladies to avoid a curse… 

Backpacking Spain - Alcazar Cordoba

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Cordoba 📸 @gscenes

11. Spain travel tips for solo travellers

Feed yourself with free tapas

If you know anything about Spain then you know tapas, the small plates served in bars to accompany your drink. Serious budgeters can save money by going for lunch or dinner to places where the tapas is included with the price of a drink. These are very popular in Andalusia, but it’s also common to find them in other cities such as Madrid.

Useful apps for solo travellers

Any solo traveller worth their salt knows that the Hostelworld app is THE place to book accommodation, but did you know that you can also make friends here? With our chat feature, you can check out who’s staying in your hostel, and get to know them before you even arrive! Whether you want local tips, sightseeing buddies or just somebody to cook dinner with, even the most introverted solo travellers will be able to find some new amigos with our app. 

Although Uber exists in Spain, the locals use Cabify because it’s cheaper (also, free bottles of water included!) You can find some discounts online for your first ride. You won’t have to worry about getting back to your hostel late at night when you know you’ve got a cheap, trustworthy ride on call.

The Spanish app Fever is known around Europe. If you’ve never used it, it’s about to become your go-to for searching for the hottest places with bargain prices and exclusive discounts. It features restaurants, bars, festivals, cinemas, museums… all sorts! Locals of Madrid, Barcelona, Seville, Malaga, Bilbao and Valencia swear by Fever and it’s handy for solo travellers who want to explore beyond the guidebooks.

Avoid tourists traps in Spain

Skip on these inauthentic experiences and opt for one of our recommendations instead. You won’t regret it!

  • Overrated: Plaza Mayor, Madrid. Don’t bother sitting at one of their tables for a coffee, you’ll only get to sip an overpriced drink whilst listening to non-traditional music. Did you know that those mariachis are not actually Spanish?
  • Underrated: Bocadillo de calamares to take away. Plaza Mayor has many spots selling calamari sandwiches, and they are out of this world. Even if you have to queue, they’re worth the wait. But you don’t have to eat it on this crowded street – pick one up and head to a quieter spot to enjoy it in peace.

 

  • Overrated: Cave flamenco shows, Granada. Many of Granada’s flamenco clubs are located in the old gypsy district of Sacromonte, up in the hills. The caves are thought to have been excavated by Jews and Moors, so they hold a lot of historic and cultural significance. Unfortunately the drinks are expensive, the music mediocre and the bougie audience is not so fun.
  • Underrated: Peña La Platería in Granada, the oldest flamenco club in Spain with shows every Thursday night.

 

  • Overrated: Mercado de La Boqueria – Barcelona. It really was once the best market in Barcelona, number one for exotic fruits, the freshest fish and seafood and the wildest assortment of mushrooms. Today it’s the number one attraction. The authentic Spanish food is no longer there  – not that you can see through the selfie-sticks.
  • Underrated: Mercado de Santa Caterina, which stands out for the quality and variety of its products and welcomes far less visitors than La Boqueria.

Try to speak basic Spanish

You probably can’t hide the fact that you’re a guiri (this is how Spanish people refer to foreign tourists) but you can make use of your charm and speak some basic español to get a larger tapas portion or a local’s price – solo travel win! Learn a simple “Hola ¿qué tal?” – it works for everyone!

Spanish can be tricky, with its informal/formal and  feminine/masculine forms. A simple “nice to meet you” could be said in four different ways. But don’t give up! Let’s keep it simple – when being introduced to someone, just say “encantado” if you identify as male, or “encantada” if you identify as female.

A little goes a long way. You’re obviously not gonna get fluent before your trip, but knowing the basics will help you a lot as a solo traveller. Plus it’ll endear you to locals. Download an app like Duolingo and start practicing right away!

Here are some interesting local phrases you might encounter:

  • Cadiz: ‘Pisha’ is the most well-known expression in Cádiz, widely used in conversations to support or agree with your friend’s ideas, or to express happiness.
  • Seville: If someone says ‘miarma’, it’s meant to show affection (coming from “mi alma” – my soul).
  • Malaga: If you’re referred to as ‘quillo‘ (shortened from ‘chiquillo‘), it’s like ‘dude’. You can hear it in other parts of Andalucia too.
  • Granada: The most famous beer here is Reserva 1925 from the brand Cervezas Alhambra, but locals call it Milnos, La 25 or La Verde (the green one, as the bottle is green). 

Stretch your euros at hostel bars

It’s true that the Spanish party till late, but they also start the party pretty late too. Makes sense when you remember that groups of friends meet for dinner at 10:30! That’s why hostel bars are the perfect place to start the party – get a head start with the cheapest drinks. You’re guaranteed to meet other solo travellers in Spain’s insane party hostels. Here are a few of our favourites!

Cats Hostel – While you give the madrileños time to get ready, start your night at the Cave Bar at Cats Hostel. Sample their very own craft beer, before their staff take you on a pub crawl to meet new friends and experience Madrid’s nightlife. Every week they also offer tapas and shopping tours, plus free in-house flamenco and salsa dance classes. Not forgetting our guest’s favourite –  the saturday night paella party!

Kabul Party Hostel – Considered one of the best party hostels in Europe, KPH was Barcelona’s very first hostel and is still going strong! If you’re travelling alone and want to meet great people to party hard with in Barcelona, then look no further than Kabul. With free walking tours every day and BBQs on the rooftop terrace overlooking Plaza Real, you can enjoy some wholesome fun before heading out to a different club every night.

Oasis Backpackers Seville – This centrally located hostel has a bar, daily BBQs and home-cooked dinners, plus a rooftop terrace with a pool. What’s better than spending happy hour sipping with views of Metropol Parasol? Their mojitos are highly recommended – after a few of these, even the most introverted solo travellers will be ready for the pub crawl!

12. Spain packing list

  • In Spain the power sockets are type F. Check if you need a power plug adaptor or voltage converter.
  • Summer is hot and winter is dry. Northern Spain is always cooler than southern Spain, so pack accordingly.
  • People are expected to dress up for bars and nightclubs – no flip flops or beachwear, and no sportswear in some clubs.
  • When visiting churches, dress appropriately. It’s not mandatory to cover your arms and knees, but use your discretion.
  • Spain is the sunniest country in Europe. Bring your sunglasses and sunscreen no matter what time of year you go!

 

Need more reasons to go backpacking in Spain? 👇

📷 Check out the highlights of northern Spain and southern Spain right now

🌞 Your home in paradise: The best hostels in Spain

 

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About The Author

Maya Hawes

Maya is our London-born Junior Copywriter with a love for all things extreme. When she’s not climbing rocks, she’s diving under them; always on the lookout for something new to get her blood pumping. She has a long-standing obsession with Japan, despite the fact she’s yet to go there.

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