Spain is one of the best value and most rewarding countries for solo travel in Europe. It’s one of the larger countries in the region and is second only to Italy in the number of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The classic backpacker destinations in Spain are the big cities – Madrid, Barcelona, and Valencia – as well as the southern region of Andalucia which combines amazing historic sites with a unique culture and Moorish architecture.
There’s also the Balearic islands – home to some of the best beaches in Spain, and its best nightlife. Or the northern cities which are gaining a reputation for some of the best food in Europe.
The range of hostels available has improved dramatically in the last decade, and most cities now sport flashpacker hostels with impeccable design credentials that you can combine with tapas tours for unbeatable city breaks. Some hostels will require HI membership for guests over 30.
The major cities in Spain are well-connected by rail, with Madrid the central hub, although delays are frequent and long-distance routes require compulsory advance booking. Buses offer a cheaper alternative. Just be sure to allow plenty of time in your itinerary given the distances.
No surprises that Barcelona is number one on this list – the Catalan capital is one of Europe’s most popular cities to visit. And for good reason.
The top thing to do in Barcelona is to check out those crazy unique landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudi whose architecture defines the city – the Sagrada Familia (pictured above) and Park Güell are the most famous, but there are others to hunt out. Art and design figure strongly in this city and you’ll also find museums dedicated to Picasso and Joan Miro.
Barcelona is also one of Europe’s great beach cities, and heaven for foodies. If your budget allows you can take in one of the city’s numerous Michelin starred restaurants.
Don’t miss day trips to charming nearby city Girona and to the monastery of Monserrat with its dramatic rock formations.
There’s no shortage of good hostels to lay your head in Barcelona – the difficulty is deciding where to stay.
Some of the hostel highlights include:
- Generator and St Christopher’s Inn Barcelona are two of the big party hostels in town
- TOC Hostel has a small plunge pool on its rooftop terrace.
- Bed & Bike gets rave reviews for its central location, free morning bike tours, and amiable atmosphere
- Amistat Beach Hostel is close to the beach and has regular social events and free pasta
The Spanish capital is one of the most stylish, cosmopolitan, and entertaining cities you’ll visit. Its residents are known for enjoying life – it has the highest number of bars per person of any European city, and the nightlife here starts and runs late.
This is partially on account of the climate. Most of Spain’s tourist destinations are on its coast but Madrid is in central Spain, far inland. Madrid is dry and can be extremely hot in summer, and surprisingly cold in winter.
Madrid’s centre is packed full of royal palaces, extravagant art collections and museums, elegant gardens, and buzzing avenues.
The Hat Hostel has a great central location, hip minimalist decor and organises free walking tours and social events.
Safestay Madrid is a little bit further out but has huge airy dorms and an amazing rooftop terrace for meeting fellow travellers.
And Mola Hostel describes itself as a ‘poshtel’ and has plenty of social activities, a great location, and pod-style beds.
Foodies and beach lovers will both be content in Spain’s city of gastronomy, San Sebastian. Also known as Donostia, this city in the Basque Country has more Michelin stars per square metre than anywhere else in the world.
But you don’t need a bulging wallet to eat well here, thanks to its tradition of pintxos (small snacks on sticks served with drinks) and incredible seafood.
Plus it’s a short train ride to nearby Bilbao and the wine region of Rioja.
You can stay at design hostel A Room in the City in San Sebastian, which has pod beds and an excellent communal courtyard for evening socialising. Or if you’re in town for the surf rather than the food then check out Surfing Etxea hostel.
Valencia is Spain’s third city, and probably the most underrated as a travel destination. Here is a vibrant and creative coastal city where you can find charming old streets alongside innovative futuristic architecture.
Highlights include the glistening modern City of Arts and Science buildings (and its amazing aquarium, planetarium, and gardens), the old Barri del Carme neighbourhood, the cathedral and the UNESCO-listed Silk Exchange building, and the golden sands of Malvarrosa beach.
It’s also the home of the famous rice dish paella so don’t forget to tuck into a portion – or take a cooking class – before you go.
There are plenty of hostels in Valencia but the best blend of design and sociability can be found at Cantagua Hostel.
One of Spain’s undisputed highlights is the southern city of Seville, the capital of Andalucia. If you’re visiting the south then a trip to Seville is a must.
The Cathedral and the UNESCO-listed Alcazar palace are two of the best blockbuster buildings in the country (and the latter was used as a filming location for Game of Thrones), but Seville’s real appeal lies in its spirited culture. Seville is the home of flamenco, bullfighting, tapas, fiestas, colourful ceramic tiles, and the Holy Week processions (Semana Santa).
There’s also some fine modern architecture to admire such as the Metropol Parasol.
It’s hard to beat the Oasis Backpackers Seville for accommodation – it has a rooftop terrace with a swimming pool, chilled vibes and social events. TOC Hostel Seville is a worthy boutique hostel contender.
Granada is definitely one of the best small cities for backpackers and solo travellers in Spain. It certainly packs a punch when it comes to historic and cultural attractions.
The crowd-pleaser here is the Alhambra, a hilltop Moorish palace that overlooks the city and is the most visited attraction in Spain. Ticketing was introduced in xxxx
But beyond the Alhambra is a fascinating university town where. It’s one of the few remaining cities where you’ll still receive free tapas with your drinks, making it a great place for those on a budget. The Alhambra forms a UNESCO World Heritage site alongside the unique neighbourhoods of Albaicín (the old Muslim quarter) and Sacromonte (the old Roma quarter known for its cave dwellings and flamenco shoes).
You can find excellent hiking and skiing nearby in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada.
Stay at Lemon Rock Granada, a hostel with some beautiful design features, a central location, and a sociable bar.
The Balearic island of Ibiza is synonymous with partying – the nightlife here is legendary. It’s also a summer beach destination par excellence, with some of the best sandy beaches in Europe. Most of the island’s visitors come for this intoxicating combination.
Bring plenty of euros because going out in Ibiza is eye-wateringly expensive, for both admission and drinks prices.
Ibiza Town is the island’s beautiful historic capital and home to the more upmarket clubs and bars. This is the place to see and be seen. The streets are packed with equally expensive designer boutiques and chic bars.
The coastal town of San Antonio is more raucous and budget-friendly, catering to a boozy package tourism crowd as well as the islands LGBT scene. Head to the far end of the beach for Cafe Del Mar and its blissed-out sunset soundtracks.
There are a few hostels in Ibiza these days. Amistat Island Hostel was the first – it has a decent-sized pool, a bar, and modern facilities however it’s worth noting that it uses fingerprint access.
The small and charming town is a perfect getaway if you’ve mainly been hitting up big cities on your solo trip. Tarifa is on the south coast, not far from Gibraltar and Cadiz, and has long been popular with the kitesurfing community thanks to its consistent conditions. This has attracted a bohemian crowd who come for its pretty whitewashed streets, lively bars, and excellent restaurants.
It’s a great place to chill out and regroup for a while – being the kind of place where you’ll find yoga and smoothies in abundance. There is an excellent sandy beach – but be prepared to be blasted by winds.
Lay your head at the highly-rated Kite Hostel, for chilled-out vibes with minimalist white decor and excellent communal areas.
Spain’s Canary Islands offer a completely different experience to mainland Spain with their volcanic landscapes and Latin-influenced culture.
Located out in the Atlantic Ocean, closer to Africa than Europe, they are known as the Islands of Eternal Spring for their year-round climate. This makes them a great choice for a warm winter break.
Of the islands, Gran Canaria is arguably the best for solo travellers, just avoid the mass tourism resorts on the south coast. Capital city Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is well served by international flights and is one of the biggest cities in Spain. Thanks to its growing surf and digital nomad scene it now has a handful of great hostels, making it more accessible for solo travel.
It’s the best base for exploring the rest of the island. Gran Canaria is often referred to as being a mini continent for its diversity of landscapes, making it a great place for active travellers. Don’t miss hiking in the island’s spectacular interior, surfing, diving, or exploring pretty historic towns like Tejeda and Teror.
PALMA DE MALLORCA
One of the most popular summer destinations in Europe, the Balearic island of Mallorca is truly the island that has it all – impeccable sandy beaches, the majestic Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, and countless beautiful stone villages with arty vibes.
And to top it all off is the compelling capital city Palma de Mallorca. Palma has bags of cultural appeal with its historic old town, gothic cathedral, Moorish palaces, and excellent food and art scenes. Food-lovers shouldn’t miss Tapas Tuesday or the San Juan Mercado Gastronomico.
And of course, it’s not far to the beach. Palma makes a wonderful city break or base for exploring the island. A highlight is taking the wooden train to pretty Soller in the north-west of the island.
Hostel Fleming is a modern boutique hostel with classy design and a central location in Palma. It’s worth noting that there’s no AC though – in the hot summer months you’re better off heading for somewhere by a beach anyway.
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Casa Batllo facade: © Luciano Mortula-LGM
Barcelona Sagrada Familia: Mapics / Shutterstock
Madrid: © Sonia / Adobe Stock
San Sebastian: © Alan Kraft / Shutterstock
Valencia: © lunamarina / Shutterstock
Seville: © emperorcosar/ Shutterstock
Granada: © Madrugada Verde / Shutterstock
Ibiza: © lunamarina / Shutterstock
Tarifa: © Juanamari Gonzalez / Shutterstock
Malaga: © Valery Bareta / Shutterstock
Palma de Mallorca: © Allard One / Shutterstock