What I Spent: Five Days in Madrid and Barcelona, Spain

Tourists at Park Guell, Barcelona, Spain
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The upfront costs of vacations are predictable. It’s the little things—airport snacks, cocktails before dinner, tipping a tour guide—that can throw even the most well-planned vacation budget off track. In this new series, we’ll look at the spending patterns of real travelers in popular destinations, so you can estimate what you’ll actually spend. (Thanks for the inspiration, Refinery29!)

For this installment, two friends travel to Spain for a five-day vacation.

Upfront Costs

  • Flights: JFK-MAD, MAD-BCN, BCN-MAD-JFK, $565.26 for four flights on Air Europa. This trip was completely spontaneous, booked merely a month before travel thanks to a great deal.
  • Accommodations: $258 through Airbnb. We chose to stay in central neighborhoods in both cities, where we would be close to transportation, good food, and tourist attractions.

*Note: All costs have been converted from Euros to U.S. Dollars.

01 of 05


Tio Pepe advertisement neon sign, Puerta del Sol square, Madrid, Comunidad de Madrid, Spain
Stefano Politi Markovina/Getty Images
  • 2:30 p.m. After a 3-hour delay (Thanks a lot, Winter Storm Stella), our flight finally departed from New York — we land in Madrid much later in the afternoon than we planned. We hitch a cab to our Airbnb rather than waste any more time with public transportation. Cost: $22
  • 4 p.m. We venture out into Puerta del Sol to make the most of the short day we have left. First thing's first: we both forgot to bring our plug adapters and our phones are dying. Whoops. Cost: $12.09
  • 6:30 p.m. After walking around for a while, hunger sets in, and paella is calling our names. Unfortunately, it's siesta time. Many restaurants are closed and the one we finally find is empty save for us and the workers. And they're not serving paella until 8:00 p.m. No hard feelings — we share a plate of grilled chorizos and skirt steak, accompanied by some papas fritas and a glass of sangria for me. Given the long day we had, we walk around a little more after dinner and called it an early night. Cost: $23.74
Continue to 2 of 5 below.
02 of 05


Madrid Palacio de Oriente
David Crespo/Getty Images
  • 9 a.m. It's our only full day in Madrid so we get an early start. One of my favorite things about traveling to Europe? Allowing myself to eat croissants (usually chocolate) for breakfast every day. Cost: $2.75
  • 9:30 a.m. Laure and I have traveled together a few times at this point, and we have developed a foolproof formula that works for us. It may seem silly, but buying city bus tour passes is the way to go. Hear me out: you get a ride to practically every spot in the city worth seeing and don’t have to worry about paying for transportation for the rest of the day; it’s scenic; you can learn about the places you’re visiting and the city itself (did you know that Madrid is home to the oldest restaurant in the world?); and it’s kind of fun to fully embrace being a tourist — especially coming from New York, where it’s borderline insulting to be mistaken for a tourist. Cost: $23.09
  • 10 a.m. Our first stop is the Reina Sofia Museum. Before the trip, I reached out to my high school Spanish teacher to get the low-down on all the must-see attractions. The Reina Sofia was at the top of my list for Madrid. Seeing Picasso’s Guernica in person is a major highlight. We're not allowed to take pictures, and unlike the time I defiantly snuck a photo of the Sistine Chapel, I'm too awed to care. Cost: $8.80
  • 2 p.m. Today, we're very careful to align our eating schedule around the siesta. And this time, we get our paella, even if it was only a small portion that came with another course. I choose what I thought was salmon, but clearly, I need to brush up more on my Spanish because what arrives is a plate of whole fried fish, eyes and all. Now, I’ll eat anything, so this doesn't phase me, but the second I try to cut into the fish, I realize it's all bones. Check, please. Cost: $16.50
  • 3:30 p.m. We hop on the bus to Palacio Real de Madrid. The palace easily becomes one of our favorite parts of the entire trip. I hate to say it, but I even loved it much more than the Palace of Versailles — Versailles is overrun with tourists, while Madrid’s Royal Palace is blissfully quiet. At Palacio Real, you can actually hear your footsteps echo in the vast marble hallways or creak on the old wooden floors in each room. It's ludicrously luxurious, and all my five-year-old dreams of being a real-life Disney princess flash before my eyes. Cost: $12.10
  • 7 p.m. The sun is setting on Puerta del Sol as we arrive back in the square. We need a little pick-me-up after a long day of walking, so naturally, we go straight for crêpes and gelato. On a bit of a renewed sugar high, and surrounded by cute little boutiques, we spend the next hour shopping. Cost: $4.40 for food, $53.97 for clothes and shoes
  • 8:30 p.m. We ask our Airbnb host to recommend a place for dinner, and she does not disappoint. She even calls and makes us a reservation, although she seems quite shocked when we suggest eating at 8:30 p.m. I thought her surprise was because it was so late, but it was actually because it was so early. I'm having a really hard time adjusting to the eating schedule. The restaurant's called El Imparcial, and we almost miss it because the entrance is actually a super chic storefront. The restaurant itself is at the top of a winding iron-wrought staircase. We're in for the best meal of our entire trip. We order oxtail croquettes and patatas bravas to start. For my main meal, I go with the grilled octopus and a side of pureed potatoes in a creamy, cheesy, garlicky sauce (all my favorite things). Even though we're too full to function, I do not allow myself to pass up dessert. They're out of churros, so crème brûlée it is. Cost: $53.89
  • 10 p.m. It's St. Patrick’s Day, and there are a surprising amount of people out and about all clad in green and fake Irish accents. Definitely tourists. We have an early flight to Barcelona to catch tomorrow morning, so we skip the beer and instead go for a quick stop at a late-night cafe to grab the churros we're craving before heading home to bed. Cost: $3.30
Continue to 3 of 5 below.
03 of 05


A fruit vendor weighing produce in La Boqueria Market
Daniel Gioia / TripSavvy
  • 5 a.m. I do not do well without much sleep. Wearing one of the new shirts I bought yesterday helps ease the grumpiness a little. Our cab ride to the airport is quiet and sadly, coffee-less. Cost: $22
  • 9 a.m. The flight to Barcelona is fairly short. We take a bus from the airport to Las Ramblas, where our next Airbnb is located. Cost: $6.49
  • 10 a.m. I can already tell I'm going to love Barcelona. The walk to our Airbnb proves the main cobblestone streets are lively and bustling, but it's the winding, quiet side streets that give the city a slight air of mystery and charm that I love. Our actual Airbnb is located on one of these side streets next to an old, crumbling church adorned by palm trees and old men sitting outside playing checkers. We drop off our suitcases and head straight to a cafe for coffee and breakfast. You can guess what I get (a croissant). Cost: $2.03
  • 10:45 a.m. We discover it's cheaper to buy our bus tour tickets online rather than at the tourist office and purchase a 2-day pass. ​Cost: $37.85
  • 2 p.m. After spending the morning walking around the beach, we take the bus to Park Güell. The actual bus stop is a 15-minute walk from the park. Did I say walk? I meant an uphill hike. Out of breath in the hot sun, we discover that the Park is actually sold out for the rest of the day until 6:00 p.m. Disappointed but not defeated, we buy tickets for 1:00 p.m. the next day. Cost: $8.80
  • 2:15 p.m. Exhausted from our hike, we head to lunch at a nearby spot. I get a paella and a coke. I don’t drink soda at home, but just like croissants, I can’t resist Coca-Cola anytime I’m in Europe. Cost: $19.69
  • 3:45 p.m. We grab the bus back to Las Ramblas and head straight for La Boqueria. We're both immediately overwhelmed by the choices. There are about 15 different fruit stands with colorful arrays of fruit juices. You could crack open shellfish and enjoy a glass of wine, or browse a selection of raw seafood and meats for purchase — but not just your average steaks, I’m talking whole rabbits and goat heads. It's like New York's Chelsea Market, on steroids. Still full from lunch, we leave with two fruit juices — I had papaya-mango. Cost: $1.10
  • 7:45 p.m. We hail a cab to the other side of the city to a restaurant called Cal Pep for dinner. Cost: $7.09
  • 8 p.m. The space is very small and narrow; we wait in line behind the bar until it's our turn to eat. We were warned the wait could be as long as 2 hours but are seated after just 15 minutes. There's no menu. Instead, a very enthusiastic group of waiters suggests four to five different tapas for our meal. I say yes to everything. We are served Catalan tomato bread, clams in a lemony-garlic sauce, fried calamari, and grilled white fish with potatoes and grilled tomatoes. Cost: $44.58
  • 9:15 p.m. Still tired from our early flight this morning, we hail a cab home and call it a night. Cost: $7.20
Continue to 4 of 5 below.
04 of 05


Brunch at Caravelle
Emily Manchester
  • 10:30 a.m. We take advantage of a chance to sleep in and then head off to brunch at Caravelle. The spot is super trendy, and everyone that works there seems to be British. It's got that Brooklyn feel. I go with huevos rancheros and a delightfully spicy bloody Mary. Cost: $20.27
  • 12:15 p.m. We leave brunch and head straight for the bus in order to get to Park Güell in time for our 1 p.m. time slot. Before ascending up into the park, we grab a gelato to make the climb a little more enjoyable. The section of the park that requires a ticket upon entry is beautiful no doubt — the Gaudí architecture is a stunning display of blue and green mosaics — but it's actually the section outside the ticketed area that's the most breathtaking. I wish we had the foresight to wear sneakers since the rest of the park is a maze of steep stone staircases and winding uphill climbs. The reward? An awe-inspiring view of Barcelona and the Mediterranean Sea beyond.  Cost: $3.85
  • 3:45 p.m. We return to Las Ramblas with intentions to go back to La Boqueria for lunch. Turns out its Father’s Day in Spain, and the market's closed. On our hunt to find an alternative lunch spot, we're tempted by the irresistible smell of bread. Into the bakery we go. I skip my usual chocolate croissant and grab the cutest little mason jar filled with tiramisu. It's the best tiramisu I’ve ever had. Cost: $4.40
  • 4 p.m. We end up finding a lunch spot and while Laure orders paella, I go with pasta with clams, shrimp, and calamari. Cost: $19.18
  • 5:15 p.m. I swear my sweet tooth is never satisfied. We can't help ourselves; we stop for churros. I get mine with a side of hot chocolate, which is basically melted chocolate rather than the drink, and perfect for dunking my churros in. Heaven. Cost: $5.50
  • 9:15 p.m. Given that we had such a late lunch, we're finally in line with real Spanish dinner time. We decide to take a cab to the W Bar, where we can grab a bite downstairs and then head up to the rooftop bar after dinner for a drink. Cost: $9.78
  • 9:30 p.m. The W Bar is right on the Mediterranean, so we're able to enjoy a beautiful view while we eat. I start dinner with a jalepeño margarita and finish with fish tacos. Cost: $28.68
  • 11 p.m. The upstairs bar is fun and a great way to end the trip. I try one of their signature cocktails and we dance the rest of the night away. Cost: $15.39
  • 2 a.m. We take a cab home and go straight to bed, already dreading the impending 5 a.m. wake up call. Cost: $8.63
Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05


Spain, Catalonia, Barcelona, Park Guell with city skyline at sunset
Stefano Politi Markovina/Getty Images
  • 5:30 a.m. Not yet fully awake, we sneak quietly out of our Airbnb and take the bus to the airport, where I'm pleased to find a Starbucks. I order a venti (and a croissant) and wait to board the flight back to JFK via Madrid. Cost: $6.48 bus fare, $8.08 for Starbucks


  • Food & Drinks: $277.33
  • Activities: $29.70
  • Transportation: $150.61
  • Miscellaneous: $66.06
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