Everyone loves a bargain or, better still, getting something for free. And nobody wants to waste valuable holiday hours. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways the savvy visitor to the Costa del Sol can save money and time on eating, drinking, getting around and sightseeing. Here are some of my top tips.
Eating and drinking
- Spaniards eat late compared to northern Europeans. Lunchtime is 1.30pm-4pm. If eating dinner out, most people will try and book a table at 10pm. Do the same if you want a livelier atmosphere; or earlier if you want to be guaranteed a good table.
- If you can, eat at the bar at lunchtime. It will usually be up to 20 per cent cheaper and you’ll be served quicker.
- At lunchtime, in the summer months, it will probably get too hot to eat on the terrace comfortably so head inside like the locals.
- Most restaurants will have a menu del dia, a three-course meal for less than 10 euros, and it often includes wine.
- You won’t be expected to leave more than 10 per cent tip - ever. Most local Spaniards would just round up to the nearest five euros, whatever the bill.
- Most bakeries and supermarkets do a range of freshly-made sandwiches and filled croissants that you can take to the beach so you don’t have to eat in a restaurant – or leave your sun bed!
- Hotel breakfasts are often not included in the rate and can be pricey. Why not try out a nearby café instead? It’ll certainly be more varied and more authentically Malagueño .
- There’s no shame in asking for a jug of tap water with your meal, in fact it’s quite the thing to do.
- If you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t each fish, explain this in advance to your waiter as they will probably assume “tuna doesn’t count.”
- "Soy vegetariano/a" is "I’m a vegetarian".
- Most bars will serve free olives, nuts or tapas with a beer or glass of wine.
- Local beers such as San Miguel will be 50 per cent cheaper than imported ones.
- Eating in venues in inland villages tends to be about 25 per cent cheaper.
- The quaint grocery store will be cheaper than the supermarket for fresh fruit, vegetables and bread and more expensive for tinned and packet products.
- "La cuenta, por favor’" is Spanish for "The bill, please".
- Taxi drivers don’t expect a large tip, if any.
- Ask the taxi driver how much the fare will be before you set off – they can check in their booklet – and agree a fixed price. Read more about taxis on my How to get around Costa del Sol page.
- Buying bus tickets online will save you a third of the price. Go to www.avanzabus.com to book.
- Roads, motorways and dual carriageways tend to be well-lit and well-surfaced in the towns and on main routes. In the country, there will be little street lighting, more pot holes and lots of hairpin bends. Take care – especially at night.
- Small, independent car hire firms in the resorts will be cheaper and more flexible than those at the airport. Read more on my Costa del Sol car hire page.
- Use car parks as parking bays have confusing timetables, and they often randomly close the street if there’s to be a procession or some such!
- "Autovia’"or "autopista" means motorway/highway.
- "Peaje" means toll.
- "Calle" means street.
- "Izquierda" means left and "derecha" means right.
- "Salida" means exit.
Sights and attractions
- Use the discount vouchers from the tourist buses for local museums and galleries.
- Strolling around the picturesque white villages and/or historic quarters of the towns is free. So put down that guide book and lose yourself in the local culture and experience it all first hand.
- Most kids will be just as happy with a day on the beach (free) as opposed to expensive zoos and theme parks. Buy them a bat and ball/rubber ring/bucket and spade/Frisbee from the beach shops for 2 euros – and they’ll be content. Right?
- All churches, no matter how grand, are free to enter, except the Cathedral (Calle Molina Lario, Malaga; +34 952 215 917) in Malaga, which is 3 euros.
- For free, and unrivalled views over Malaga city climb to the top of the Alcazaba Fortress using the cobbled steps.
- Entrance to the Gibralfaro Castle is free on Sundays after 2pm. This is often the case with historical attractions.
- The Picasso Museum is free on the last Sunday of each month.
- The best way to experience the soul of Spain, in my opinion, is at a feria and/or procession. And they’re completely free. Read more on my When to go to Costa del Sol page.
- The Costa del Sol has many large, wonderful and free landscaped gardens and parks. My favourites include Paseo del Parque in Malaga, Parque Paloma in Benalmadena and Parque de la Consititución in Marbella.
- Take the flyers you’re handed by PRs in the evenings, they’re probably giving you free access to clubs and bars. And you’ll almost certainly get at least a free shot too.
- Check local newspapers, such as SUR in English (www.surinenglish.com), for free concerts and shows, especially the open-air ones in the summer.
Other useful tips
- You are obliged by law to carry photographic ID at all times. Do not even think of driving without your licence and/or passport.
- Police road blocks are increasingly common so don’t think Spain’s drink driving laws are relaxed; they’re not.
- Pickpockets target tourists at street markets, so keep an eye on your bags and wallets.
- Most Spaniards working in the hospitability industry speak some English and want to practice it, but trying to speak a little Spanish will win you lots of brownie points (which could mean cheaper drinks!).