Our Guide to Spain

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Since the turn of the Millennium Spain has become a gradually more diverse  to go for a beery night out. In the past activity inevitably involved locating a bodega or a tapas bar, both of which usually only sold one beer on tap, and a few uninteresting bottles.

The Northern and Central European idea drinking without any obligation to consume food almost didn't exist outside of the odd hole-in-the-wall sports bar, late night clubs and the usual Irish themed pubs.

Spain has become steadily switched onto craft beer. Similar to Poland, the local offerings were so muted that the sheer exposure to the many other styles available was like someone pulling back a curtain they hadn't even recognised was there. Part of this was connected to beer's utility as a refresher, with flavour taking a back seat.

Some bodegas on the other hand are a slightly different proposition. These can be the most atmospheric places, the traditional, aged, candlelit venues with the local pub atmosphere you crave when you visit a new place. The sheer informality of the standing room creates a social space unlike what Northern Europeans will be accustomed to.

In the major cities you will find some kooky, off-beat alternative bars that match up well to the European bar scene. Barcelona is a typically good example of the range of options you'd almost demand as a prerequisite for visiting these days. Fortunately it does live up to the hype.

Service is nearly always pretty pleasant - as good as, and at times better than English service, while the price of drinks in Spain varies enormously depending where you are. In touristic places there is a harder job for bars to price their drinks to appeal to locals out of season and rinse tourists for all they're worth in season.

It almost goes without saying that Spain has a mixed focus with wine and vermouth equally as important as beer. In the baking hot summers you'll be wanting to use some of that light tasting Estrella even if it's just holding the glass to your forehead.

P.S -Clearly there are lots of holiday resorts in Spain which have become near-enclaves for English/German/Russian people. If you find yourself there, then they will usually have the tackiest impressions of their own sorts of bars and pubs. It's arguable whether any of that is really 'Spain', particularly as no-one serving there is Spanish or speaking Spanish. I will accept submissions in the cases of really good pubs and bars on these resorts.

Ratings Key (0-10)

Bars marked (*) will take you to our full profile write-up!
Name Location D R I N K S D É C O R A T M O S P H E R E A M E N I T I E S V A L U E O V E R A L L
BierCaB Barcelona 10 6 6 8 6 7.7
Garage Bar Barcelona 9 7 8 8 6 7.7
Kaelderkold Barcelona 9 7 8 6 6 7.7
Manchester Barcelona 7 6 8 7 8 7.5
Marsella  * Barcelona 7 9 9 6 6 8.4
El Bosc De Les Fades   * Barcelona 7 9 8 8 6 8.4
Can Codina Barcelona 7 8 8 7 6 7.6
Bar Pastis   * Barcelona 6 10 9 7 7 9.1
L'Ovella Negra Barcelona 6 8 9 9 8 7.7
Pipa Club Barcelona 6 8 9 7 6 7.7
Jazz Café Cordoba 7 9 9 7 5 8.4
La Gloria Cordoba 6 9 8 7 7 7.6
Lucas Cordoba 6 7 9 7 7 7.5
Bohemia Jazz Cafe Granada 8 9 9 8 5 9.2
Taberna Casa Enrique Granada 8 9 9 6 4 8.3
Bodegas Casteneda Granada 8 8 9 7 7 8.3
La Tertulia Granada 7 8 8 8 6 7.9
Taberna vinos Antonio Perez Granada 8 8 8 7 7 7.9
Cisco y Tierra Granada 7 8 8 7 7 7.9
Mementomori Granada 7 9 8 7 6 7.8
La Loca de Gandocha Granada 7 7 8 8 7 7.7
Bar Candela Granada 7 8 8 7 5 7.6
Kloster Madrid 8 8 8 7 6 8
La Fontanilla Madrid 7 9 8 6 6 8.1
La Fontana De Oro Madrid 7 9 7 8 6 7.7
Taberna De Antonio Sanchez Madrid 6 9 8 7 4 8.1
De La Ardosa Madrid 6 9 8 7 6 8.2
Oldenburg Madrid 9 8 9 7 7 8.5
Taberna Cofrade Las Merchanas Malaga 7 9 9 7 5 8.7
Antigua Casa de Guardia Malaga 8 9 9 7 7 8.5
La Casa Invisible Malaga 6 9 9 8 7 8.5
La Tranca Malaga 7 8 9 7 6 8.3
Colmado 93 Malaga 7 8 9 7 6 7.9
La Farola de Orellana Malaga 7 7 9 7 7 7.9
El Pimpi Malaga 8 8 7 8 5 7.9
Central Beers Malaga 8 7 7 7 5 7.7
Birra Deluxe Malaga 9 7 7 7 4 7.5
La Madriguera Malaga 8 6 7 7 5 7.5
Lorien * Palma 8 8 9 7 6 8.5
Bodega Bellver Palma 6 8 9 7 7 8.5
Pub Momo Santiago de Compostela 7 8 8 8 7 8.2
Modus Vivendi Santiago de Compostela 6 9 8 7 7 8.4
Avante Santiago de Compostela 5 8 8 7 7 7.7
Garlochi Seville 7 10 9 6 6 9.1
Casa Moreno Seville 6 9 9 7 7 8.7
Cerveceria Internacional Seville 9 8 8 7 6 8.3
El Rinconcillo Seville 8 8 8 8 6 8.3
La Carboneria Seville 7 8 9 8 8 8.3
El Comercio Seville 7 8 8 7 6 7.9
Ajoblanco Seville 6 8 8 7 7 7.8
Casa Ricardo Seville 7 8 8 8 6 7.8
Gonzalo Molina Seville 6 8 8 7 7 7.7
Urbano Comix Seville 7 8 8 8 6 7.7
Bicicleteria Seville 7 8 8 7 6 7.7
Casa Morales Seville 7 8 8 7 6 7.7
La Goleta Seville 6 8 8 7 6 7.7
Bodega Soto Seville 7 8 8 8 7 7.7
Bodega Santa Cruz Seville 7 8 8 7 7 7.6
El Chiringuito Seville 7 8 8 7 6 7.6
Casa Vizcaino Seville 7 8 8 7 6 7.6
Bodega Diaz Salazar Seville 7 8 7 7 6 7.5
La Teresas Seville 7 8 7 7 6 7.5
Clan Sibaritas Seville 8 7 7 7 6 7.5
Bodega La Aurora Seville 7 7 8 8 7 7.5
Cerveceria Lupolo Toledo 8 7 8 7 7 7.5

Barcelona, pop. 1,615,100

A large city with a diverse selection of bars, it is unlikely anyone who enjoys a drink on an evening will fall short in their pursuit. Whether you’re a craft beer fan, looking for brewery taps and multi-tap venues, a purist looking for historic bodegas or an alternative looking for a quirky refuge from the busy city, your needs are amply catered for in Barcelona’s central districts. As this is a tourist hub, the hours of service are wider too, so it’s perfectly possible to have an enjoyable night out and be home by midnight, in comparison to other Spanish towns and cities where things are barely getting going by then. Prices are on a par with most major cities in Western Europe, meaning double or triple what you can expect to pay in other parts of Spain. The fun of exploring the wildly different venues makes up for this.

Cordoba, pop. 327,636

Andalusia's Moorish inheritance is not seen in such concentrated glory as Cordoba's old town and Mezquita. During the day and during tourist season this creates a crucible of activity, but being a day-trip destination, it can become conversely deserted at night, with consequences for its bar scene. Eschew the blander old town options and go a little further out to find where locals go. These can be authentic tapas bars, rock pubs, Jazz Cafes. Life is out there, you'll need to go and search for it though.

Granada, pop. 238,939

Famous for the Alhambra, Sierra Nevada and tapas, this city is 'real Spain' with tapas bars of different varieties dotted everywhere, normally offering a tapa with each drink, making this a remarkably affordable place to drink and eat. Wine and Vermouth holds sway as much as the city's beer, with craft beer not having made as deep inroads as Malaga or the major cities. The nightlife is predictably lively and excellent, however you'll need to pace yourself to leave space for the constant plates of food. Don't just stick to the centre either, as the university district is cosmopolitan, culturally vibrant and in places remarkably good value.

Madrid, pop. 3,174,000

Rarely have I been anywhere with so many bars. There seems to be no economic limit, thousands of venues, the majority of which are small one-room affairs on the ground floor only. So many of them are packed full – Spaniards have no qualms at all about close congregation, even while eating. Yep – eating - these are largely tapas bars, a format which dominates Madrid. Unlike Barcelona the hours are less relaxed – you will find some of these do not even open until 10pm onward. Tapas bars demand a certain level of understanding of the format, along with – in Madrid at least – a reasonable grasp of Spanish to ensure you get what you want. In some venues a beer will secure you a giant plate of food, while in others the beers are cheap and the plates get larger the more you spend. The ‘classic’ set up is a brushed aluminium bar top and single beer tap serving Spanish lager – usually Mahou – the pouring of which is taken to near religious levels (no-one pausing to ask why the beer itself has to be so awful).

Madrid has a host of reasonable ‘pubs’ in the centre, which have a nice lived-in character, but are not especially Spanish, while they also have a thing for Belgian & German beer (who doesn’t), and you can find some terrific bars which focus on those.

It’s incredibly busy out in town and sometimes a bit too stressful for its own good.

Malaga, pop. 571,049

Associated with tourists, the Costa Del Sol, ex-pats and beach strip clubs, Malaga's city is quite the opposite, in fact if you arrive off season you will find a beautiful balance of locals with enough diversity to make it feel relevant and cosmopolitan. This extends to its fantastic offering of bars from historic vermouth taverns with stacks of barrels, to tapas bars every bit as good as Granada, to several craft beer destinations. There are some offbeat choices as well such as Casa Invsible based in a commune.

Palma di Mallorca, pop. 404,700

Bland tapas/pintxos bars and non-descript cervecerias are the order of the day in the centre of Palma, a place where you could easily spend an unmemorably generic night out without doing your research. However, such places usually provoke a backlash and that comes in the form of the nascent beer movement in Spain, which in tandem with the alternative crown yields a clutch of more characterful, distinctive venues. In addition to this, there are some enjoyable historic bodegas to be found.

Santiago de Compostela, pop. 95,207

Literally a pilgrimage site; in the height of the ‘Camino’ season, thousands of outsiders arrive, having completed ‘The Way of St. James’, often staying in Santiago for one night only. Given this night is universally one of celebration, having made it the whole way (or cheated), many bars are needed to absorb and accommodate these daily spasms of revelry. Outside of the peak season, this dies down to the extent that locals rediscover and reclaim these venues. There is an enjoyably low-key atmosphere which provides space and ambience sometimes lacking later night in some permanently busy-busy Spanish cities. The bars themselves are a mixed bag, but several stand out, with varying themes and influences: Galician independence, courtyard/ruin pubs, antiques and haberdasheries, civic exhibitions and folk music. This adds up to a successful and intriguing combination. As with several other Spanish cities, don’t even bother visiting these venues until after 10pm, or even later in some cases.

Seville, pop. 688,503

A major city with sprawling modern outskirts and a sizeable classical centre. In many ways a gathering together of all the Andalusian hits. Absurdly lavish Cathedral, Moorish and Spanish palaces, grand parks and boulevards, beautiful palms and ferns in tiled courtyards. You'll find aspects of Malaga, Cordoba, Granada here while its size and depth gradually impresses on you. Nightlife is dominated by traditional bodegas, tabernas, bodeguitas & cervecerias with their timeless appeal: chunky wooden seats, framed photographs crammed in every inch of wall space, tiled bar, aluminium counter and the ubiquitous Cruzcampo beer tap. Flamenco venues run from the most formal dinner affairs to low key events venues. Of course, the city is big enough to offer alternatives to the traditional stuff, but even by mediocre regional standards Seville has a poor selection of multitap beer bars of either local brewers or world beers, likewise fewer cocktail bars than most. The outstanding venues lean into the city's religious traditional or are so beautifully authentic and unspoilt as to almost be as impressive as the flowery iconography. Learn to explore the little neighbourhoods that circle the old town and many bar crawls can be chained together without any long walks.

Toledo, pop. 84,282

A tightly controlled conveyor belt of tourists arrive from Madrid by train, making their way up the hill to this extraordinarily beautiful hilltop town. Currently Toledo is still raking in money from their association with Game of Thrones, but it has been a honeypot for tourists for a lot longer than that. This is not an extraordinary city for bars, however. While you will find some tolerable English/Irish style pubs, and an enjoyable brewery tap, the hordes of middle classes seeking cafes and restaurants and - one can assume - spiralling rental costs, suppress any chance this place may have of becoming a hotbed of nightlife.