Here, you'll find our complete budget-friendly itinerary for a five-day trip to Barcelona and Madrid. It includes where we stayed and what we did along the way.
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I traveled to Spain with a group of 3 female friends during May 2019. I had recently finished medical school and was looking for a reasonably priced international destination to celebrate the end of my studies.
Day 1: Arrival to Madrid; Train to Barcelona
We flew from Boston to Madrid on Norwegian Airlines, one of the best low-cost fare airlines for international flights that I have come across. When I lived in Boston, I was able to find low-cost flights to Europe for generally ~$350.00 USD roundtrip. We arrived late morning into Adolfo Suarez Airport. From there we took a taxi into Puerta del Sol, one of the most renowned Plazas in Madrid.
Menu del Dia in Puerta del Sol
We walked around Puerta del Sol, which is a bustling square with several restaurants. After finding a restaurant that looked appetizing (which was not difficult at all!), we discovered the wonderful phenomenon of Menu del Dia. In Spain, lunch is one of the largest meals of the day. Around lunch time, which is typically the early afternoon, restaurants will offer 3 course meals for a very affordable price, usually around 8-12 Euros, the equivalent of $10-13 USD. For $12 USD, my meal consisted of salad, paella, dessert, and my choice of tinto verano or red wine. Tinto verano is similar to a sangria, and is typically a red wine mixed with a fruity soft drink. After indulging in the menu del dia, we traveled to Atocha Station.
Atocha Station to Barcelona
We took a taxi from Puerta del Sol to Atocha Station. From there, we took a 2.5 hour Rail Europe train from Puerta de Atocha to Barcelona Sants. The roundtrip train ride from Madrid to Barcelona was ~$200.00 USD.
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In Barcelona, we stayed at the 360 Hostel. 360 Hostel has a 4.0+ star review on Google and is very close to Plaza Catalunya and the Borne neighborhood. We were a group of 4 female travelers, so we stayed in a private room with 4 single beds. The rooms were standard and clean with our very own balcony and a street view. There was no free breakfast at this hostel, but the location offered a kitchen with basic amenities. Typically, this hostel would also offer free dinner at around 9pm each night if you participated in helping to cook the meal. This was a nice bonding activity between the guests, and afterward, the staff would accompany guests out to visit the city's restaurants and bars.
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The hostel was a short walking distance to many restaurants in the area. For dinner, we hopped from restaurant to restaurant for tapas. Tapas are small, shareable finger foods that are usually meant for small plates. Patatas bravas are generally a crowd favorite in Spain. Other examples of tapas include a variety of cheeses, an assortment of meats, croquettes, or mussels. You will also typically order a bottle of red wine or pitcher of tinto verano to share amongst friends. In some places, tapas are brought to you for free as long as you order wine.
Opium Night Club
After a dinner of tapas and red wine, we headed back to our hostel, changed clothes, and headed to Opium night club. Opium is one of the most well known night clubs in Barcelona, Spain and the world. It attracts travelers from all over the globe and has a capacity of about 2,000 people. It is set on a beach, and serves as a restaurant during the day time. This is also one of the only clubs that stays open until 6 am!
Day 2: Walking Tour & Barceloneta Beach
Free Walking Tour
We started off day 2 with a free walking tour of Barcelona. The walking tour departs every day at 11 am from Placa de Catalunya and is approximately 2.5 hours. During our tour, we had an opportunity to visit the Gothic Quarter, a number of cathedrals, and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi. We had an incredible time learning about Spanish traditions and details about the unique architecture of the area. After our walking tour, we headed to Barceloneta Beach for some fun in the sun.
If you have time after your tour of the Gothic Quarter, also check out the Picasso Museum if you are interested in learning more about the artist and his work!
Barceloneta Beach is a 9 minute drive (or about a 30 minute walk) from Hostel 360. Before heading to the beach, we stopped for a lunch of paella at one of the many restaurants close to the beach. Barceloneta is one of the best places to try paella in Barcelona given its close proximity to fresh fish!
The weather on the beach in May was a sunny 70 degrees F! The beach can get crowded, so be sure to claim a spot early. We brought our beach towels, portable speakers, and relaxed for a solid 2 hours before heading back to the hostel.
Day 3: La Boqueria and La Sangrada Familia
Arc de Triomf
After breakfast, a group of us decided to trek to the Arc de Triomf. This triumphal arc is down the street from Hostel 360 and is only about a 10 minute walk. There are similar arcs in Paris, New York, and London. This Arc was built as the main access point for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. It's also a great spot in your itinerary to take memorable photographs.
La Boqueria Market
At noon, we headed to Boqueria Market on Las Ramblas. This is the most famous open market in Barcelona and is bustling with activity! The market is huge and hosts a variety of vendors selling fruits, smoothies, an array of foods, and small trinkets and souvenirs. I suggest spending at least 2 hours here because there's simply so much to see. We spent most of our time wandering between vendors and sampling delicious foods and smoothies. Sometimes, we even went back for seconds! La Boqueria Market was truly a highlight of the trip and gives you the full experience of sights, smells, and tastes of Barcelona.
La Sangrada Familia
After heading back to our hostel for a siesta, we journeyed to La Sangrada Familia for our evening tour. Be prepared to spend hours here, as it is easily a favorite destination for many tourists to Spain. It was certainly my favorite! La Sangrada Familia at its simplest is a Basilica. At its most complex, it is a genius work of art. La Sangrada Familia was conceptualized and designed by Antoni Gaudi, one of Spain's most famous artists and architects. He was known for his unique designs, ceramics, and stained glass, which is also reflected in Barcelona destinations such as Park Guell and Casa Mila. La Sangrada Familia began construction in the 1880s and will not see completion until 2026 (projected)! It serves as a representation of the life of Jesus Christ and is truly an ethereal experience. I found myself sitting quietly, gazing at the incredibly high ceilings and stained glass, simply reflecting and being appreciative for the ability to witness such artistry and genius. Make this a priority for your next trip to Barcelona! You will not be disappointed!
Day 4: Train to Madrid; Hop On, Hop Off Tour
The next day, we headed back to Madrid via train. After arriving into Madrid, we checked into our second hostel of the trip, Mola! Hostel. Mola! was one of the cleanest hostels I had ever stayed in, and was very modern. We stayed in a hostel room for 4 females. Another plus for Mola Hostel was the en-suite toilet and shower.
Hop On, Hop Off
After setting down our luggage, we convened at the meeting spot for our Hop On, Hop Off Tour of Madrid. If you've read my blog on my trip to the UK, you're aware of how much I love Hop On, Hop Off Tours. They are a very convenient way to quickly see the high points in any city. Since we were only going to be in Madrid for one full day, we decided to try this option. Our bus tour experience was through Madrid City Tour. On the Historical Madrid Tour, we had the opportunity to tour the Botanical Gardens, the Palacio Real (The Royal Palace and home of the Spanish monarchy), and the rest of Puerta del Sol.
Following the bus tour, we had our final Menu del Dia, and called it a day.
Day 5: Departure rom Madrid
After a mid-morning breakfast, we set off back to the States.
If you're looking for an affordable way to travel abroad, look no further than Spain. It offers a variety of activities that are perfect for anyone wanting to experience the culture and cuisine of Europe. Whether it's Madrid or Barcelona...enjoy what each city has to offer without worries about money constraints or time limitations. Exploring Spain is not only enjoyable but also cost-effective.
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