How to choose the best accommodation in Spain?

best accommodation in spain

Choosing your hotels for your trip to Spain is, along with the purchase of plane tickets, the most critical decision of your trip. You should search thoroughly to pick the lodging options that best suit your needs – and your wallet!

In Spain Traveller, my main goal is to help you offering objective suggestions and tons of detailed information about how to choose your hotels in Spain. Read carefully the following guide and you won’t have any trouble in finding the true standouts.

This is what you will be learning about.

1. Learn how accommodation works in Spain
2. Bypass the rate structure and look for great opportunities
3. Pick your dates carefully
4. Is there a difference between a weekday and a weekend?
5. Research your location thoroughly
6. Read other guests’ reviews and opinions
7. Establish how much you want to pay
8. Where and how you should book
9. What if I am looking for an apartment?
10. And now what?

A quick note before you begin

Before you continue reading, I am fully aware that suggesting a hotel for a friend or a relative is not always easy, not to mention for someone I’ve never met before.

You, as any other traveler, are unique and thus have different expectations and needs. That’s why there are no magic formulas. Some solutions may suit a person while not satisfying another one at all. That’s why this guide is only a list of tips, and does not provide universal choices.

You may be among those travelers that simply use their hotel as a place to sleep at the end of the day. On the contrary, you may believe that the hotels you pick are going to be an important part of your trip.

And then, there is the budget issue. Are you a rather frugal traveler or do you prefer to spend a little bit more on lodging rather than museum tickets or eating?

As you can see, it really depends. What some of you consider a luxury might be a basic and non-negotiable need for others.

Keeping this in mind, take these tips as general orientations and decide if they suit your travel philosophy.

1. Learn how accommodation works in Spain

Spain is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and offers a wide lodging range that expands constantly. According to DBK, a Spanish consulting firm, Spain has almost 17,000 hotels and around 1,755,000 beds.

The enormous travel success of Spain grants high hotel occupancy rates, reaching an average of 75% throughout the year.

What does that imply to you?

First, that you have an incredibly wide range of possibilities to choose from, from the most luxurious hotel to a backpackers’ hostel.

Second, it won’t be easy to find promotional rates, particularly at some high season peaks such as Easter, summertime and some specific holidays.

Hotels in Spain are classified according to the following categories (starting with the most luxurious):

  • H 5* GL (GL means Grand Luxury)
  • H 5*
  • H 4* S (S means Superior)
  • H 4*
  • H 3*
  • H 2*
  • H 1*

Even though you may consider the star classification as a good indicator, don’t rely too much on it. You will often see that the difference between a 2* and 3* hotel, or a 4* and a 5* hotel is just a matter of technical criteria.

There are also pensiones or hostales. Don’t get mixed up between a hostal (with an A) and a hostel (with an E). A hostal would be the equivalent to a guest house, whereas a hostel would be a youth or backpackers hostel, known as albergues de juventud in Spanish.

The albergues de juventud, or hostels, are the cheapest lodging option available in Spain.

In recent years, the accommodation choices have followed three main trends:

  • The emergence and consolidations of luxury hotels and boutique or design hotels. While generally offering higher rates than the average, these are clearly below those of other European countries such as Italy or France. These type of hotels are somewhere chic, contemporary and ultra-stylish; they’re usually small in size and rely on a jaw-dropping design either on extremely modern premises or in an old refurbished historic building.
  • A dramatic increase in the number of budget accommodations, specifically albergues (hostels).
  • A hike in the offer of tourist apartments and private houses, through specialized companies (local or worldwide known such as Booking or Airbnb).

2. Bypass the rate structure and look for great opportunities

Depending on your destination in Spain, you will notice that rates for the same type of accommodation varies from one destination to another. It has happened to me many times: for the exact same date, I’ve found better rates for a boutique hotel than for far more basic lodging options.

Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to find a pensión or hostal with higher rates than those of a 4-star hotel. Don’t assume that because pensión or hostal are modest accommodations, their prices will be considerably lower. Actually, the opposite can happen. Many pensiones, hostales and 1, 2, or even 3-star hotels’ rates are absurdly out of the market.

Don’t obsess over stars or the hotel’s category. Always compare prices and look for illogical rates that could mean an unexpected upgrade compared to what you were initially looking for!

3. Pick your dates carefully

Lodging prices in Spain can suffer important variations throughout the year. Depending on the type of accommodation (urban or resort hotels) and the season you can find a wide range of rates.

In Barcelona, for instance, you could be very well paying 30€ per night in a 3* hotel, 40€ per night in a boutique hotel, and 50€ per night in a 4* hotel, always during low season. Obviously, these tariffs skyrocket during high season.

Do your research and find out the dates of the most important holidays and when is the high season expected to be. This information will help you realize which are the critical dates in a particular city or region.

As a rule of thumb, most big cities and the majority of the country reach the bottom of the low season between November and February. You will find low rates and great deals during that period. Except for Madrid (especially in New Year’s Eve), Christmas is not particularly busy so you can still find good opportunities then. In addition to this, July and August are also very quiet months for urban tourism (coastline cities are an exception) as most foreigners and nationals go to the coast instead.

If you plan a coast/beach vacation, high season goes from June to September. Prices during that period of time can be very high depending on the type of accommodation, the month (the peak goes from July 15th to August 15th) and the destination you choose.

In general, try to book as early as possible and your chances to get a better deal will be higher.

4. Is there a difference between a weekday and a weekend?

Rates do not vary much between weekdays and weekends.

Urban hotels usually have a low occupancy rate during weekends, and offer lower rates during the weekend to attract a larger number of guests. On the contrary, leisure hotels and beach resorts tend to be crowded on weekends, offering higher prices for those days.

Nevertheless, don’t forget that these prices depend on the time of the year. This is the variable that will affect the rates you can get.

5. Research your location thoroughly

Selecting the location of your accommodation, regardless of your destination, is always crucial. Spain is not different in that regard.

You should always keep in mind several factors:

  • Neighborhood. In certain cities, neighborhoods vary considerably and it will make all the difference to your visit if you ensure the lodging you choose is in the right location. First, check out the location on a map so you know how convenient – or inconvenient, it is. Then, identify what’s near the hotel or apartment (Are there any tourist highlights? Will you find places to eat? Is this a popular area?). Finally, if you plan on driving, find out about parking.
  • Transport. The Golden Rule in every big city, and this is particularly true for Madrid and Barcelona, is to be close to a subway (metro) station. The tourist attractions are located in a relatively compact area of the city but having a subway station nearby will make your life much more easier. While the metro rule is not so important in medium-sized cities, don’t forget to have a look at the transport options from the airport, train or bus station to your hotel.
  • Noise. Be careful because some locations can be very noisy, especially in very popular areas. Noised provoked by traffic, pedestrians or even bars and terrazas (tables outside the café or restaurant) during the summertime can be particularly annoying. A central location is not necessarily noisy, some hotels provide an excellent isolation. Nevertheless, always take you time to read other guests’ reviews and opinions.

5.1. Barcelona

If you are the type of traveler who looks for a location allowing you to go through the hotel doors and start exploring Barcelona on foot, right where the action is, then search an accommodation in the Barri Gòtic (historical), in the Eixample (classy), in Las Ramblas (crowded), in El Born and the rest of Cidade Vella (nice atmosphere) or at El Raval (Mediterranean flair).

On the contrary, if you don’t mind staying at a place relatively far away, you can choose among several areas very well linked to the rest of the city, allowing you to get to the tourist attractions in a 20-minute subway ride. That option would mean saving quite a bit of money or choosing a higher-end hotel at a better rate. In this case, you should have book a room in Sants – Montjuïc or Diagonal Mar i Front Marítim.

Don’t forget that the hotel or apartment should be relatively close to a subway station. And ignore those travelers implying that these locations are really far away. If you are not interested in being at the city center, you are not interested in nightlife and you don’t mind talking a short subway ride, then this is the best value for money.

5.2. Madrid

In terms of location my main recommendation is to choose a hotel next to a subway station.

Preferably, you should book an accommodation located inside an imaginary rectangle with the following limits:

  • to the north, a border going from the Parque del Oeste and continuing along Alberto Aguilera, Sagasta and Génova ending in Príncipe de Vergara.
  • to the west, a border going from the Palacio Real to the Ronda de Segovia.
  • to the south, a border going from the Ronda de Toledo, the Ronda de Atocha and the Paseo de la Reina Cristina getting to the east side of the Parque del Retiro.
  • to the east, a border going from the east side of the Parque del Retiro to Príncipe de Vergara.

Since Madrid is a quite extensive city, let’s have a look at the suggested neighborhoods where you should look for an accommodation.

  • Puerta del Sol and Gran Vía. It is the most central area of the city, with lots of tourist attractions, shops and restaurants. This is usually a very crowded area that offers endless accommodations, from cheap hostels to top-notch hotels.
  • El Retiro and El Prado. This incredibly beautiful part of Madrid, full of green areas and including the best museums in the city, lacks hotels. You could still stay here if you can afford the most luxurious ones: The Ritz and the Palace. Are you ready to indulge yourself?
  • Madrid de los Austrias. This neighborhood has the highest concentration of Madrid highlights. This is a good neighborhood to rent a holiday apartment or look for a low budget hotel.
  • Barrio de las Letras. Relatively close to the Puerta del Sol, this neighborhood has been recently revamped. The area is full of cozy shops, small restaurants and has a never ending nightlife. This area can be rather noisy and is ideal for an apartment rental but you can also find many mid-range hotels.
  • Barrio de Salamanca. This classy neighborhood starts at the Parque del Retiro and continues further north. The Calle Serrano and its surroundings are a shopping heaven in Madrid. Lodging here is excellent, very well located but considerably more expensive than in other areas.
  • Chueca. This fashionista neighborhood is also the main Gay area in Madrid. Hotels and holiday apartments here are scarce. Chueca is great for shopping, for eating and for wandering around, but not for lodging.
  • Moncloa and Argüelles. This area is very popular among students due to its proximity to the Universidad Complutense and the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. It is far away from the attractions and the main action.
  • IFEMA. It is the Trade Fair Institution of Madrid. Located in the north of the city, it is pretty far away from the tourist attractions. The area has many hotels for a business profile guest, though the rates are interesting when there are no conventions.

5.3. Seville

As Seville is quite a compact city, if you choose well the location of your hotel you will probably be able to reach all the tourist sights on  foot. Therefore, my most important piece of advice is for you to choose a hotel in the city center. That is, inside the area along the edge of the City Walls, the Ronda and the Guadalquivir River.

Lodging in the city center has two important advantages:

  • first, most highlights are located at a reasonable walking distance.
  • second, you won’t need to take any public transportation.

The downside of staying in the center of town is that some hotels are hard, or even impossible, to reach by taxi or bus, as they are located in narrow streets or alleys.

To give you more detail about the area, the historic center of Seville can be divided into 5 neighborhoods. Imagine a circle with 4 quarters and a center:

  • The top right is Macarena, which is less touristy though possibly today the most authentic neighborhood of Seville.
  • The lower right is Barrio de Santa Cruz, famous for its picturesque squares and narrow streets, with the Alcázar Royal Palace and the Cathedral on the doorstep.
  • The lower left is El Arenal, home to the iconic Maestranza bullring which gives its name to the neighborhood, as it refers to the yellow sand in the arena.
  • The top left is San Vicente, the residential neighborhood between the Guadalquivir River and the Alameda de Hércules, which includes many monasteries, convents and the famous Basílica del Gran Poder.
  • In the middle of the circle is El Centro, or the Center – including the City Hall, Fine Arts Museum, and the famous pedestrianized main shopping streets Sierpes and Tetuán. Here you’ll find the commercial heart of the historic center of the city.

In addition to this and outside the historic center, is the neighborhood of Triana, on the left side of the river. Triana is the traditional home of ceramics and flamenco in the city.

All in all, the choice of neighborhood is more a question of personal preference as to the kind of surroundings you would like to enjoy during your stay.

6. Read other guests’ reviews and opinions

You surely know already the big booking sites. These websites can provide a wealth of information about the types of hotels available and the range of prices. And one very valuable piece of information is the opinions previous guests write there.

It may seem obvious but not every review may be helpful or resonate with your way of traveling. Unfortunately, what other travelers consider to be important might not match your criteria. The approach I follow is to read 3-4 very positive reviews and then 3-4 very negative ones of a certain hotel. That way I can test if people are exaggerating or not (according to my tastes, of course).

In addition to this, read reviews from other travelers and check other sites. Generally the more individual reviews a place has, the more reliable the information. But don’t trust everything you read.

7. Establish how much you want to pay

Generally speaking, a good estimate for your accommodation expenses would be establishing

  • 20€ per night to stay in a basic albergue (hostel).
  • a minimum of 50€ per night to stay in a budget hotel.
  • between 50€ and 100€ to stay in a 3* or 4* hotel.
  • no limits on a luxury hotel.

You should also note that the prices of the apartments fluctuate strongly, even more than hotel rates, as those are fixed by the owners. These owners do not rely on a price structure and their criteria can be odd sometimes. However, it is still a very good option is you are traveling with your family or in a group of more than 2 people.

Here are some tips for getting the best deal online:

  • Sunday nights can be shockingly cheap.
  • The rates for a particular room for a specific date can change from day to day or week to week (like airline tickets), making it difficult to know when to book.
  • If you are visiting a certain hotel’s website, go to the online reservation form and fill in the dates you’re considering to see what the going rate is.
  • Look for special offers. Sometimes subscribing to booking sites newsletters can be a good idea to find deals or get warned about them.
  • For the best deals, book at least three weeks in advance, prepay in full, and hope you don’t have to change your plans (since promotional rates are often non-refundable).

8. Where and how you should book

Booking a hotel seems pretty straightforward, right? And most times it is: pick a destination, choose your dates, enter payment info and there you go, happy travels!

Unfortunately, it’s not as simple. Nowadays, you can experiment what I call the “information overload syndrome”. In other words, there is so much information today on the internet regarding hotels and apartments that you can be easily overwhelmed after 5 minutes of research.

Here is the method that I use when I look for a hotel (I’ll explain the system I implement when searching for an apartment later on). It’s not an established formula but it can serve you as a starting point.

8.1. Go to

After years traveling around the world (so far I’ve been to 35+ countries!) and looking for dozens of accommodations, I have come to the conclusion that Booking is the best online booking site.

I have tried other websites, generic travel agencies, and even resellers but no one beats Booking because:

  • It has an incredibly wide range of hotels.
  • It is very easy to navigate through the map and it displays other accommodations simultaneously.
  • It generally offers very good rates.
  • I usually agree with their rating system and other guests’ opinions. (Unlike TripAdvisor, Booking only publishes reviews by genuine guests who have stayed at the hotel they are viewing.)

8.2. Select the destination and the dates of your stay

Enter an arrival and a departure date, even if you are still unsure about the final ones. Booking will provide more accurate results and you will easily know if this period is high season and if the destination is already expected to be busy.

8.3. Reduce the scope of your search

You can do so using two tools.

The first one is the filters column located in the left hand side of the screen. If you know in advance how much you want to spend or are looking for a hotel who offers parking services, tick the options and reduce the list of results.

The second one, and this is something I always do, use the map to display all the results in one place. You can find it below the filters section.

Once you have the map in front of you, you can zoom in and out, and move around to select an area or neighborhood that may interest you. Then, click on the icons and check the hotels’ name, number of stars and, of course, the rate. If stumble upon a hotel that looks like a good fit, right-click with you mouse on the name of the hotel and open the link in a new tab. That way you won’t lose the refine search.

Go to the new tab and analyze the hotel. You already know its location and its tariff so have a look at the pictures and the services it provides. Then, read 3-4 very positive reviews and then 3-4 very negative ones as I suggested before.

If you are happy with what you’ve read and seen. Bingo! You have a match.

However, it wouldn’t harm you to look for another 2-3 more options. You could find a more interesting deal, a better hotel according to your preferences, or determine a backup hotel in case the one you selected is fully booked by the time you plan to carry on the final reservation.

If you are not happy with what you’ve read and seen, go back to the map and click on another icon.

Continue repeating until you find what you need (remember 3-4 options in case something happens to your preferred hotel).

8.4. Go to the individual websites of each hotel

Now that you have your 3-4 best hotel alternatives, open a new tab (don’t close the Booking tab yet!), do a Google search and go to each hotel’s own website. This is something a lot of people skip and in doing so miss the chance of getting a better rate.

At the hotel’s own website you can get additional information, view more photos, and check prices. Yes, check the rates again. Some hotels (especially chain or business hotels) offer discounts only if you book on their website. Now, compare these rates with the ones you got on Booking.

8.5. Book your preferred one!

Once you’ve done that for every hotel on your list, pick your final choice and proceed to book, either on Booking or on the hotel’s own website depending on which one offered the cheapest rate.

9. What if I am looking for an apartment?

Many travelers enjoy accommodations that offer a different experience from standard hotels. If you are like me, and prefer an apartment over a hotel, keep reading. Otherwise, skip to the next section.

So why an apartment?

You probably want a slow and relaxed start. You can do so having a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, without getting dressed or leaving the room.

It’s also nice to have extra space, like a living room, and a dining table. You can easily get claustrophobic when cooped up for a whole week in a hotel — especially in our tiny European rooms.

While eating at good restaurants is an essential part of travel, it can be more memorable, pleasurable (and definitely cheaper!) to cook at home.

And while renting a whole apartment, instead of a tiny hotel room, may sound extravagant, the reality is that short-term apartment rentals are often less expensive than a decent hotel.

Obviously, your biggest concerns may be that the property does not match the description, or that the host is unresponsive to your needs as a guest. So to make sure none of this happens, here’s the method I always use to local for an apartment in a travel destination. It’s does not come with a 100% success rate guarantee but it will help you find what you need.

9.1. My favorite short-term rental apartment website

My first choice is always Booking it also has a specialized holiday apartments service.

To be honest, I can’t overlook that Airbnb is currently the market leader and offers an incredibly wide range of properties all over Spain. Their website and services are is awesome. They’ve got great property inventory, gorgeous photos, and a beautiful user interface.

However, being this awesome has brought Airbnb a lot of press and, consequently, renters. Therein lies the problem: Airbnb is now the number 1 option for many travelers.

While they have plenty of supply for most occasions, demand surges for holiday weekends and special events. So if you don’t book way in advance, you might be left scrambling to find a reasonably-priced place to stay.

That’s why I always use other sites, and you should too.

9.2. Ready to start the hunting?

Go to your preferred vacation rental website (I suggest you go to Booking).

You first step is to select the destination and the dates of your stay. Regarding the dates, try to be as precise as possible so that the searching engine can deliver the most accurate results.

The most important part of your research can be summarized in one word: location.

Certainly, knowing the exact area or neighborhood where you will be staying is crucial. Picking the right one can make your life much easier and your trip much better.

To do so, here’s my advice.

1. Read in a guidebook or online (websites, blogs and forums) about the different areas or neighborhoods where other travelers and experts suggest looking for an accommodation. You don’t need to look for a detailed description, a quick summary will be enough.

Think about the practicalities such as safety, distance from the main highlights, transport options (e.g. Does the apartment have a subway station or bus stop nearby?) and available services such as supermarkets.

2. Every holiday apartment rental website has a map tool. Use it.

Your search results will be displayed in a map to help you start making some choices discarding some and selecting others.

3. Once you have a few picks, continue narrowing down your selection according to the following criteria:

  • Price. State your budget!
  • Size. Sometimes some of the apartments shown are larger than what you really need, thus costing you more money.
  • Previous guests’ reviews and ratings. Despite this is the most boring task, you should read at least the most recent reviews. It will give you an idea of the pros and cons of the property.

To be honest, it will take you a while to come up with a final pick. But think about it, it’s your holiday, you’ve been waiting a long time for it, and you certainly don’t want to ruin it because you book a crappy apartment after a 15-minute search.

The idea behind all this time invested in that once you get there, you start enjoying your time from the first minute!

9.3. Booking a vacation rental

You have finally found the perfect apartment for your holidays. Nice job!

Now it’s time to make a reservation and go carefully through the process.

When you make a booking, you’ll probably have to pay a deposit, which can be between 10-50% of the rental cost. Many places require you to pay the entire balance before your trip (such as 30 days prior to your stay), or upon arrival.

As soon as you have provided both your personal and payment details, most places will provide you with a rental agreement, which usually includes the house rules and the cancellation policy. Read the document carefully and solve any questions you have with the owner or agency. Holiday apartment rentals usually have much more rigid cancellation policies than hotels (30 days is common, but it can be longer).

If you believe your travel plans might change while on the road, my recommendation is to stay in a hotel, where you can usually cancel just a few days beforehand without paying a penalty.

9.4. Before your arrival

Apartments, especially those in big cities such as Madrid and Barcelona, can be tricky to find. Unlike hotels, you can’t expect taxi drivers and people on the street to be able to point you in the right direction. Make sure you carry with you a map and the right directions to the rental before you get to the city or town.

You’ll also need to arrange a time to meet the property owner and pick up the keys. Ask that person to give you tips about the neighborhood (grocery stores, pharmacies, and good places to eat) because once they leave, you probably won’t see them again.

Before leaving the apartment, you will be generally expected to leave the place clean and in good condition. If you don’t, you may lose some or all of your security deposit. Some places may ask you to do minimal cleaning before you leave such as stripping off bed linens or emptying the fridge. Don’t forget to mention this to the property owner when you meet him (or her).

10. And now what?

Now it’s time to start your search!

Decide between a hotel or an apartment and follow the guidelines provided above. Then, use the search box below to find what you are looking for.

Start planning your upcoming trip to Spain

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