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FOOD & DRINK

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.

tapas in Spain
Where to get free tapas in Spain? Photo: GERARD JULIEN / AFP)

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

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

Almería

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

Jaén

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. 

León

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. 

Ávila

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).

Lugo
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).

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FOOD & DRINK

Menú del día map: Where has Spain’s staple meal become most expensive?

With inflation putting up the price of everything from olive oil to electricity bills, now a Spanish custom renowned for its value for money is also being affected: the menú del día.

Menú del día map: Where has Spain's staple meal become most expensive?

Spain’s much-loved menús del día (menus of the day) are sacred to many Spaniards and can be found in pretty much every city, town and village across the country.

They are typically three-course menus served at lunchtime for a fixed price and include a drink, which may be beer or wine, as well as bread.

READ ALSO – The secrets of El Menú del Día: The surprising story behind Spain’s fixed-price lunch menu

The menús del día date back to the 1960s during the Franco regime, when they were called menús túristicos and were introduced so that tourists would be able to pay a fixed price to enjoy Spanish cuisine.

In the 1970s, they changed their name to menús del día as they became even more popular with the local population. In most cases, you can select between several dishes for each course and depending on what you order, menús del día can be great value for money.

Between 3 and 4 million people regularly enjoy the menú del día offer in Spain.

Inflation on the menu

But like a lot of the world in 2022, Spain has been gripped by a cost-of-living crisis and it now seems that the much-loved menú del día is becoming the latest victim of inflation. 

According to a survey conducted by Hostelería de España, between November 2021 and April 2022, four in ten restaurants in Spain have put up the price of their daily menu offer by 5 percent, a third have raised it by 10 percent, and 7 percent of restaurants raised the prices by 15 percent.

In cash terms, a 5 percent increase is roughly 70 cents, a 10 percent rise is around €1.40, and restaurants that have raised the price by 15 percent have put up prices by around €2. 

READ MORE: Huge debate roars over vague hint that ‘menús del día’ should drop beer and wine

According to the survey, the average price of the menú del día across Spain is now around €12.80.

The hospitality sector in Spain, though enjoying the return of post-pandemic tourism, is struggling to cope with the surge in energy prices and raw materials.

Spain’s National Institute of Statistics, the INE, reported in mid-July that the country’s 10.2 inflation rate was the highest level the country had experienced since 1985

For many restaurants and bars, simply paying the gas and electricity bills or buying basic food stuffs have become an existential cost. As a result, many have decided – or been forced – to raise their prices, and the affordable menú del día is no exception. 

The menú del día cost a little over €4 on average 20 years ago, around 700 pesetas. Nowadays, fixed menus can range from €8 to €14.

Most expensive menús del día in Spain in 2022

But where are the most expensive cities in Spain for a menú del día?

It is worth noting that the following figures are very much focused on major cities, and are not reflective of prices in smaller towns and villages. Often, it will be possible to find much more affordable menú del día offers in small-town bars and restaurants, although even there the inflationary pressures have likely passed on price increases to the customer. 

According to the figures from Hostelería de España, Barcelona is the priciest place in Spain, with an average price of €14. Not far behind in second place is Madrid, where the average price is now €13.90.

Coming in third is Palma de Mallorca, where the price has risen to €13.60 on average, and Bilbao comes in at fourth, with an average menú del día price of €13.50.

Rather surprisingly compared to the cost of living in Murcia more generally, the average price in the southern region has risen to €13, and Zaragoza is shortly behind at €12.80, with Valencia at €12.60.

As is often the case in Spain, the further south you go the cheaper things get. In Andalusia, a menú del día now costs €12.50 on average in Málaga, and €12 in Seville.

Las Palmas de Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands reportedly has the cheapest menú del día at an average price of €11.50, although it’s worth noting that this data only encompasses Spain’s ten most populous cities (More on regional menú del día data further down). 

Here is a breakdown of the average menú de día price in 2022 in Spain’s biggest cities:

  1. Barcelona €14
  2. Madrid €13.90
  3. Palma de Mallorca €13.60
  4. Bilbao €13.50
  5. Murcia €13
  6. Zaragoza €12.80
  7. Valencia €12.60
  8. Malaga €12.50
  9. Sevilla €12
  10. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria €11.50

Hostelería de España has also collected data on what the average price of the menu del día is across Spain’s regions.

We’ve compiled their data into the following map, and below that you’ll find a breakdown of how much menú del día prices have increased across Spain’s regions from 2016 to 2022.

Price increase of the ménu del día across Spain's regions from 2016 to 2022

Galicia: +16.4 percent
La Rioja: +15.7 percent
Basque Country: +12.5 percent
Extremadura: +11.3 percent
Catalonia: +10.8 percent
Madrid: +10.4 percent
Asturias: +9.8 percent
Andalusia: +9.7 percent
Cantabria: +9.6 percent
Castilla y León: +9.1 percent
Aragón: +8.8 percent
Valencia region: +8.3 percent
Navarre: +6.5 percent
Balearic Islands: +4.6 percent
Castilla-La Mancha: +4.4 percent
Canary Islands: +2.7 percent
Murcia: +1.6 percent

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