When you tally up your weekends, you might be surprised to know that you get about 104 free days every year on top of any annual holiday. There are so many exciting places to visit in Spain so why not maximise your free time and plan some short breaks and cheap weekend getaways. If you are living in Spain travel by train and make the most of the fast services and fantastic online deals if you book in advance. We pick a few of our favourite cities and show you how eat, drink and sleep in them for less.
Can’t decide between city breaks and beach holidays in Spain? Barcelona promises the best of both worlds. With all the cultural attractions and exciting nightlife of a major city, you can also break up your trip with a few hours spent on Barceloneta beach each day. This way you can really make the most of the sunny Barcelona weather in the summer months.
Wandering around Barcelona, you might think this city belongs to Gaudi; he certainly put his stamp on the place. Head to Park Güell for some stunning and colourful examples of his architectural work as well as spectacular views of Barcelona from the hillside. MACBA, Museu Picasso and the Fundació Joan Miró might be the first Barcelona galleries to spring to mind, but with free entrance, the CaixaForum will far exceed your expectations and its exhibitions usually pack a good punch.
Where to Drink
In the bustling Plaça Reial, who would have thought that a little piece of Victorian England would survive? Ring the doorbell - with the distinct pipe symbol above it – and head upstairs. Inside the little bar is a glowing tribute to all things Sherlock Holmes. Pleasantly bizarre, they mix a mean mojito too. Alternatively, there are plenty of bars along the beach for a drink at sunset, if you can’t quite drag yourself away from the sea and sand. Watch out, they don’t know the meaning of single measures!
Where to Eat
For picnic ingredients, head to La Boqueria, an exciting and colourful market. If your appetite gets the better of you there are pizza stalls and some decent tapas vendors around. Barcelona is fantastic for seafood lovers, but the good stuff is hard to come by at a bargain. La Paradeta (C/Comercial 7) does it old fashioned style; pick your glistening fish or shellfish from a mountainous pile, choose your sauce and how you want it cooked, then let them weigh the lot. It will cost much less than you think! This place has a great local feel in low-key surroundings.
Where to Stay
You can find a Barcelona hostel close to the beach, nightlife and the popular shopping districts.
Central Garden Hostel One is housed in a charming 19th-century building near Plaza Catalunia. They emphasize that they are not a big party hostel, but they do organise social nights and informal dinners.
Sant Jordi Alberg feels more like a large homely apartment than a large sprawling hostel. They have a nice chill out room with books, DVDs and guitars. There is always the opportunity to head out with staff to local restaurants, bars and clubs.
When to Go
With the beach on your doorstep, the summer heat is much more bearable but a few places do shut down for August. Instead, visit late September when the temperatures are still balmy and the whole city comes out to celebrate the festival of La Mercé. There are fireworks, giant figures paraded through the street, fairs, concerts and a wonderful celebratory atmosphere.
If you have visited Madrid before, it might be time for another visit. There are new pedestrian zones and extensions added to museums including the Reina Sofia.
The Matadero Madrid (Paseo de la Chopera, 14) was once the city’s slaughterhouse but the vast space with ten buildings now hosts art exhibitions, theatre and general creative goings-on. Even without tickets to see anything in particular, the place is a great spot for people-watching from the bar area. A worthwhile deal is the €15 combi-pass which offers access to the city’s finest art galleries; the Prado, the Thyssen and the Reina Sofia. Sunday is best spent wandering the Rastro flea market.
Where to drink
Drinking the favourite local tipple is often a good budget option. In Madrid vermouth – or el vermut – is available on tap! It is white wine that has been blended with herbs, seeds and fruit peel, a perfect aperitif. If you want atmosphere try La Ardosa (Calle Colon, 13). It’s a cluttered place crammed with historic paraphernalia and the drinks list is rambling. They also serve tasty tapas too.
Where to eat
To eat cheaply and like a Madrileños head to Bar Melos (Calle de Ave Mária).
Here you can order big sharing platters so it is ideal for groups of friends. Make your main meal of the day lunch; by law, Spanish restaurants must offer a menu del dia at this time and it is an affordable three-course set menu. Otherwise, head to La Latina or Lavapiés, old town neighbourhoods brimming with pleasant pavement cafes.
Where to stay
If you are looking for hostels Madrid has some stylish properties, especially around the picturesque old town.
The chic Hostal Gala offers private rooms with balconies, air-conditioning and they also provide a free city tour.
Cat’s hostel is housed in a stunning building complete with tiled courtyard and with a fountain centre piece. There is a great bar downstairs serving cheap drinks or guests can relax in the chill-out area.
When to go
The Fiesta de San Isidro in May heralds the start of bullfighting season, but even if you are not a fan of the sport, there is a lively atmosphere on the streets with parades and entertainment.
It is Spain’s third largest city and lures many with its wild nightlife, particularly around Las Fallas, a spring fire festival. New and impressive buildings are popping up all over the city, lending Valencia a new cool appeal, but you can still visit the Cabanyal district, a protected historical zone of Art Nouveau architecture.
The Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias might offer a glimpse into the space-age with Santiago Calatrava’s exciting and playful architecture but a combined ticket into the park will set you back €30. A cheaper alternative is the Museo Nacional de Cerámica with its fascinating Baroque facade. You can view the ceramic collection for free on Saturdays and Sundays or pay a meagre €2.4 midweek. Attend mass at the Catedral and you will skip not just the entrance fee but also the tourist hordes. The view at the top of the cathedral tower is well worth the climb. Playa de la Malvarrosa and Playa de las Arenas are the city’s two main beaches and a swim in the sea or a spot of sunbathing on the sand won’t cost you a penny.
Where to Drink
In the warmer months, swap your coffee for a horchata at the Horchateria Santa Catalina in Plaza Santa Catalina. The tiger nuts, sugar and crushed ice make a perfect pick-me-up. In the evening, take your pick along the bar-lined Calle Caballeros or enjoy a drink in the square outside at Café Negrito (Plaza del Negrito).
Where to Eat
At Mercado Central, the largest market in Europe, you are bound to be able to pick up some tasty picnic ingredients with over a thousand stalls to pick and choose from. Enjoy your purchases in the romantic Jardines de Montforte, considered one of the most beautiful parks in Valencia.
Where to Stay
You can find plenty of stylish hostels in Valencia.
Home Youth Hostel is in the heart of historical district close to La Lonja and the central market. It boasts no bunk beds and dorms sleep up to 4 people.
The Feetup Hostel – Hilux Hostel is also in Barrio El Carmen and has dorms, twins or doubles. They have a fully equipped kitchen for guests to use and they offer a free breakfast.
When to Go
The exciting Fallas festival takes place in March and if you want to join the Valencianos in full celebratory swing, there’s no bigger or better time to do it.