Granada’s mayor stirs debate by calling for end of free tapas

Bars in the Andalusian city are famed for offering generous free servings of food with most drink orders, but Granada’s mayor has caused concern among locals after suggesting customers “should pay for tapas”.  

Granada's mayor stirs debate by calling for end of free tapas
Could Granada's free tapas traditions soon be coming to an end? Photo: Hiki Liu/Unsplash

Anyone who’s been to the enthralling city of Granada will no doubt have experienced its unique bar scene, where huge, often high-quality tapas are dished up at no extra cost with every round of cañas (small beers) or wine that is ordered. 

All over Spain, you’re likely to be offered some nuts, olives or crisps to accompany your drinks, but this generosity is taken to another level in Graná, an allure which keeps customers ordering.

So it’s no surprise that among Spaniards, Granada is as synonymous with La Alhambra as with its tapas gratis (free tapas).

But this tradition may now be under threat after the mayor of the city of Granada Paco Cuenca recently said his government “will never again promote free tapas”. 

“Tapas have to be paid for because they are haute cuisine,” Cuenca said during the Saborea Sin Prisa Granada (Take your time tasting Granada) gastronomic contest.

Granada’s mayor admitted his administration had deliberately omitted the word “tapas” from the competition’s name in a bid to move away from the association the city has with free food.

Granada’s tapas tradition dates back to the early 1900s when local bar owners would take an ad out in the newspaper to promote their free “tapadera” of salchichón meat or snails with their wine or coffee. Source: National Library of Spain

“We want people to sit down at the table and enjoy small bites of food à la carte which they pay for, this is what is profitable and creates stable work,” Cuenca said to contestants. 

“We have unique food products, magnificent establishments and professionals. We have to believe in what we have and position ourselves where we deserve”.

Neither the city of Granada nor the whole province which goes by the same name have a single Michelin-starred restaurant.

READ ALSO: Six great reasons to visit Granada (besides the Alhambra)

Cuenca’s comments have stirred debate among granadinos over whether Granada is selling itself short by focusing more on quantity over quality and not promoting itself as a high-end gastronomic destination. 

Some say the free-food-with-drink model is ingrained in the local lifestyle and offers people a cheap option to eat out, whilst voices in the hospitality sector argue that rising food costs and inflation mean the model is no longer as sustainable. 

Then there are those that point out that it’s perfectly possible for haute cuisine and free tapas to co-exist in the city – as is currently the case – whilst finding ways for Granada to be seen as a more exclusive gastronomic destination. 

With the debate still raging, Cuenca has since sought to clarify that he meant that “Granada is much more than its tapas”, but his detractors say “there is no Granada without free tapas”.

What seems clear is that there will be no municipal bylaw which outright bans one of Granada’s biggest attractions, but rather a push to be recognised as more than just a land of cheap eats; and instead a gastronomic hub that knows its own worth.


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Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Not everywhere will offer you free tapas in Spain, but there are some cities where the tradition lives on. Read on to find out where they are, how you can get a free 'tapa' and the slight differences between each place.

Where can you get free tapas in Spain?

Tapas are an important part of Spanish culture, not only because of the gastronomical aspect but because of the social aspect of sharing dishes too. 

The word ‘tapa’ – meaning ‘lid’ – is thought to derive from a 13th-century law passed by a Castilian king requiring taverns to serve food with alcohol, perhaps in a bid to avoid inebriation of the serfs.

A ‘tapa’ was a small plate of ham or olives used as a lid to keep insects and dust away from a drink and usually came free. 

The tradition of free tapas has died out across much of Spain, but there are still some cities where it is alive and well. Most of these cities can be found in three regions – the eastern part of Andalusia, Castilla y León and Galicia. 

READ ALSO: Fourteen classic Spanish dishes to celebrate World Tapas Day


Granada is the undisputed king of free tapas in Spain, famed for its offerings which can be anything from a piece of Spanish tortilla to almost a whole meal, such as a mini burger and fries or small fried fish. It works like this – each time you buy a drink, you will be given a free tapas dish. If you order consecutive drinks in the same bar, each of the tapa dishes you get will be different. Free tapa will come with everything from beer and wine to soft drinks and sparkling water, but not with coffee or tea. Keep in mind that the price of drinks in Granada is slightly higher than in some Spanish cities, which helps to cover the cost of the food.

Calle Navas, Calle Virgen del Rosario and the area around the Cathedral offer some of the best tapas in the city. Remember that if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, ask for una tapa vegetariana o tapa vegana. While most bars in the city should have a suitable alternative, some of the more rough and ready ones might not, or you may just get something simple like bread and cheese. One of Granada’s best-loved vegetarian tapas dishes is berenjena con miel (deep fried aubergine drizzled with treacle). 

READ ALSO: What to order at a restaurant in each region of Spain


Just southeast of Granada on the coast, Almería is another of Spain’s great free-tapas cities. The tradition is a little different here than in other Spanish cities because you get to choose your tapa instead of just getting a surprise. Many of the tapas menus here are vast and you’ll be spoilt for choice. It could be anything from a goat’s cheese and caramelised onion montadito (small sandwich) to paté on toast. Almeríans love their toast, so don’t be surprised if you find many different variations of topped toasts on the menu.

You’ll also have to speak up here, waiters will often come over to ask for your drink order, but not come back and ask for your tapa order. It’s best to tell your waiter what you want when your drinks arrive.

You may be able to get a free pulpo (octopus) tapa in Galicia. Photo: MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP


The city and province of the same name to the north of Granada is also known for its tapa gratis when ordering a drink. Like in Granada, here you’ll be given the tapa of the house and generally won’t be given a choice in what you get. The prices of beers here are not as high as in Almería, but tapas portions are generally pretty generous, meaning you can easily have enough for dinner by going to just a few places.

Dishes here may include a plate of migas (fried breadcrumbs or flour with pieces of meat and fried peppers) or morcilla (blood sausage or black pudding). You can try asking for a vegetarian or vegan tapa here too, but the bars may not be as accommodating as the ones in Granada and may not have so many options, although they will try with what they have. 


It’s not just the eastern provinces of Andalusia where you can get free tapas. One of the best foodie cities in northern Spain that has carried on this tradition is León. Some of the most typical tapas dishes you may be served here include patatas leonesas (León-style potatoes), or morcilla de León (blood sausage or black pudding from León).

During the pandemic, a few bars in León started charging around €0.30 to €0.50 for tapas, but you’ll be happy to know that the majority of them still offer it for free. Bars will generally charge less for the wine, beers and other drinks here than in Granada too. The best places to go are around the famed Barrio del Húmedo or the Barrio Romántico. There are even some bars that will offer free tapas with your coffee order for breakfast here, which is unheard of elsewhere. 


In almost every bar in Ávila you will be served a free tapa along with your drink. You’re unlikely to be served a simple piece of bread with a topping, here the dishes are almost like mini meals. Much of the cuisine here is based on meat, so you might expect a small plate of stewed wild boar or kidney with potatoes.

You will also find that they’re pretty big compared to free tapas in some other cities and filling too, but along with that, you will be paying slightly above average for your drink. The best street to head to for free tapas here is Calle San Segundo.

Alcalá de Henares

There may only be some bars left in Madrid that will offer you a free tapa with your drink, but head just east to the student town of Alcalá de Henares and you’ll find that they’re given out freely. Lots of places here will let you choose what you want too. You’ll pay above average for a caña here, around 3, but for that you’ll get a fairly decent tapa which could include patatas bravas, burgers or scrambled eggs with potatoes.

READ ALSO: Top ten Madrid bars serving free tapas, one for each barrio

Santiago de Compostela

When you’ve finally completed the Camino, what could be better than sitting down to a nice cold beer and plate of free tapas? The majority of bars here offer simple tapa such as a piece of bread with some type of meat on top, such as jamón or sausage or a small slice of tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette).

Another Galician place, known for offering free tapas is the walled city of Lugo. Here you’ll be given a free snack with your glass of Albariño wine or beer. Lugo’s tapas scene works differently from elsewhere too, here a waiter will come around with a tray of various types of dishes and you’ll select the one you like the look of best. These may include anything from pulpo (octopus) to empanadas (Galician-style pies), tortilla rellena (filled omelette) or anchoas (anchovies).