Spain holiday savings: how to cut costs
Annie Bennett continues our series with advice on how to cut costs on a Spanish holiday.
Spain holiday savings: how to cut costs
By Annie Bennett
I had lunch under the trees in one of Madrid’s most historic squares today. A big bowl of gazpacho, followed by strips of tender Ibérico pork with a salad, then chocolate ice cream. That little lot, along with a glass of chilled white wine, and an iced coffee, came to €13 (£11.50
The set lunch, menú del dia, has always been a great bargain in Spain, but never more so than now, when prices generally have risen and both locals and visitors are feeling the pinch. Here are some more ideas on how to save money this summer.
When looking for a menú del dia, even if you are in a major resort, explore a block or two beyond the main strip and you should come across a cheaper place full of locals rather than tourists. In cities, some high-end places offer a set lunch too, usually priced between €18 (£16) and €28 (£24.50). Although the meal will be simpler than on the à la carte menus, it’s an opportunity to try the restaurant for less than half the normal price.
Once you have blunted your appetite with lunch, a few tapas should be enough for dinner. Bars in Granada province – which includes the beaches along the Costa Tropical – have the wonderful custom of giving free tapas with drinks, as do many places in Almería and Jaén provinces. Elsewhere, you need to keep an eye on the prices.
Don’t let the waiter talk you into ordering jamón, seafood or cheese if you don’t want it, as these things can be surprisingly expensive, particularly if you are given a ración rather than a tapa. Locals only ever order two or three dishes at a time at most, then see how they feel. Picnics are the best value of all, of course: grocery shops are usually happy to make up a rudimentary bocadillo roll for you – ham, chorizo or cheese – just don’t expect any butter or fancy fillings.
All restaurants serve wine by the glass, even though this is not always stated on the menu. If you only want a glass each, just ask for una copa de vino tinto or vino blanco. If you’re going to have two each, however, it is probably cheaper to get a bottle. Make one bar your local during your holiday and you are more than likely to get an extra drink free when you come to pay the bill. This has long been normal practice, but is becoming even more widespread in the present grim economic climate, when bar owners are keen to hang on to your custom.
There is usually a 15-25 per cent surcharge for food and drinks at outdoor tables, but it may be worth paying a bit extra to sit down comfortably and indulge in some people-watching for a while.
There is no problem with ordering a glass or a jug of tap water – un vaso or una jarra de agua del grifo – in a bar or restaurant, which over a fortnight would probably save you enough to pay for a nice pair of shoes. Tap water is safe to drink, but does not always taste great; it is fine in Madrid, not so nice in Barcelona.
If breakfast is not included in your hotel deal, it is much cheaper to nip out to a bar for a coffee and pastry, and you experience a great Spanish tradition too – it is normal practice to eat breakfast out in Spain.
Most places charge a set price, usually between €2.50 (£2.20) and €4 (£3.50). Fresh orange juice – in the land of oranges – is rarely cheap, for some reason, and often doubles your breakfast bill. There is no need to leave big tips in restaurants. Just rounding up to the next euro is fine for coffees, beers, taxis and bills under €10 (£9) – but a lot of locals give nothing.
There are festivals all over Spain in the summer. You can barely walk for five minutes anywhere without running into some procession or other. These spectacles are, of course, free, but there is often some local speciality being doled out free, too, whether food, wine or some lethal concoction. Just queue up and take your chances.
Phones and internet access
If you are going to be making a lot of calls, it might be worth buying a pay-as-you-go (prepago) sim card, which you can obtain from any of the main providers: Movistar (http://www.movistar.es), Vodafone (http://www.vodafone.es) and Orange (http://www.orange.es). Although deals change all the time, Orange, for example, is currently selling prepago sim cards for €3 (£2.60), which you can stick in an unlocked smartphone with unlimited data for a flat €3.50 (£3) a week, with a reasonable rate for calls. You need to give an address, but this can be your hotel.
If you are going to spend a lot of time online on your laptop, and your hotel is charging for internet access, then a prepago dongle might work out cheaper over a fortnight or even a week. A Vodafone dongle currently costs €49 (£43) including two weeks’ access. Orange has a pay-as-you-go iPad 3G microsim for €20 (£17.50), which amazingly includes €20 of credit. Usage is charged at a flat €3.50 a day, so that would cover you for five days.
Many museums are free at least once a week, usually on Sunday afternoons. In Madrid, the Prado is free after 6pm from Tuesday to Saturday, and after 5pm on Sundays. If you are planning to go to a lot of museums and other sights in any of the major cities – at least three a day – then it might be worth buying one of the tourist cards that cover admission charges and offer other discounts. The Barcelona one includes public transport, too, but that costs extra in Madrid. Unless you are on a real cultural marathon, I doubt you’d get your money’s worth out it. Ask at tourist offices about guided walks around cities or rural areas, which are usually cheap, or free.
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