We’ve all dreamt of visiting Western Europe with its sun-soaked Mediterannean coastlines, lusted lifestyles, and delectable cuisine. Italy and Spain are equally alluring, but Italy often gets dubbed the more refined of the two, so does it cost more to visit?
Spain with its profound historical roots, unique architecture and colorful festivities is one of the most vibrant countries in Europe. The birthplace of tapas, sangria, and flamenco is somewhere you can always have a good time, so it’s no surprise that it’s been popular with tourists and ex-pats for decades. Italy, home to the Vatican, ancient Roman ruins, and one of Europe’s premier fashion capitals, has had a powerful influence on Western culture and cuisine.
Both countries lure visitors with their summer resorts, exciting cities, and delightful weather, so choosing to visit Italy or Spain is easy, but knowing where you can save on your European getaway could make all the difference. Find out whether Italy really is more expensive than Spain in this guide. Let’s go.
Is Italy more expensive than Spain?
The appeal of Italy and Spain is undeniable. Alike in climate and scenery, with sun-soaked summer resorts, heritage-steeped villages, and ancient ruins, but separated by distinct culinary traditions, historical occupation, and their attitudes to lifestyle, are they on the same level when it comes to price?
Geographically, they’re close to 1,000 kilometers apart, and even though they sell the same European dream to holidaymakers with their Mediterranean resorts, they’re both climatically and typographically dynamic. Italy with its Alpine meadows, glistening lakes, and jagged mountains, Spain with its high mountainous terrain, natural parks, dense forests, and even imposing volcanoes, are incredibly diverse. Italy often scores points for its vastly different landscapes in the north vs the south, but Spain is actually one of the most climatically diverse countries in the world and the most in Europe with 13 different Köppen climates from its cool coastal zones to sub-tropical islands.
You can find something for everyone and endless variety in both Italy and Spain. Still, Italy is often more closely tied to luxury and refinement. Spain might have glitzy Marbella and extortionate Ibiza, as well upscale resorts like San Sebastien in the Bay of Biscay, frequented by the rich and famous, but Italy’s sophistication goes back centuries.
Italy is a cultural superpower and one of the birthplaces of Western civilization. The Italian way, or dolce vita, is all about living a life of heedless pleasure and luxury. Lifestyle always prevails over commercial society and Italy is a lot less relaxed than Spain when it comes to social etiquette.
Not only birthing Western civilization, but Italy is also the birthplace of many globally renowned luxury brands and has been a leader in high-quality craftsmanship and design since the 11th century. Italy is home to cities like Venice and Florence where Renaissance masterpieces, ornate cathedrals, and world-class cuisine is commonplace. That isn’t to say that Spain isn’t brimming with culture, Royal Palaces, artistic masterpieces, and Roman architecture among unique and whimsical modernist landmarks, but Italy caters to a different type of clientele that has afforded it a reputation of grandeur, and high price tags.
All of this means that your tourist Euro is likely to stretch further in Spain than in Italy, and you could get more bang for your buck, especially in the way of accommodation and food, on the Iberian Peninsula than the boot. On average, Italy is 10 percent more expensive than Spain to visit, and 17 percent more expensive when it comes to the cost of living.
Still, it all depends on where you go, and not every Spanish holiday will be budget-friendly. Likewise, Italy doesn’t have to break the bank, and its refined metropolitan hubs skew the averages and don’t always give an honest reflection of the costs elsewhere. Before we get into this, let’s take a look at a comparison of some of the day-to-day expenses in Italy and Spain:
|Price in Spain (EUR)||Price in Italy (EUR)|
|Inexpensive meal (restaurant)||€12.00||€15.00|
|Fast food combo meal||€8.00||€8.00|
|Takeaway cappucino (restaurant)||€1.71||€1.48|
|Coke bottle (supermarket)||€1.82||€2.22|
|Water bottle (supermarket)||€1.23||€1.07|
|Mid-range hotel in the capital||€89||€134|
|Apartment rental monthly (1 bedroom) in the city center||€734.91||€662.52|
As you can see, not everything is more expensive in Italy, and how much you spend could all depend on how you spend your money and where. Knowing where you can save could make all the difference too, especially if you’re planning to stay for the long haul.
Is Italy more expensive than Spain for travel?
Neither Italy nor Spain is more accessible to reach than the other. With well-connected mainlands, and dozens of cosmopolitan cities and developed towns, the two countries have plenty of airports, cross-country rail routes, and highways. There are 59 airports in Spain and 77 airports in Italy. Even though Spain is considerably bigger, it’s not difficult or more expensive to reach all of the most popular spots and even less-trodden inland villages.
Budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet operate cheap flights from all major cities in Europe to both countries. You could even grab deals like €20 returns in the low season. The cheapest month to fly to Italy is November whereas February is the least expensive month to visit Spain.
However, if you’re coming from across the pond, you might pay slightly more to visit Italy, with the average round trip from New York costing around $844 compared to $672 to Spain. Likewise, you’ll pay around $814 to reach Venice from Montreal but closer to $650 from the Canadian city to Madrid or Malaga.
That said, Spain has two European land borders with France, Portugal, and the UK (Gibraltar) and maritime borders with Italy and Algeria, while Italy shares land borders with six countries: France, Switzerland, Austria, Slovenia, Vatican City, and San Marino, and maritime borders with ten. This means Italy can be the easier of the two to reach if you’re coming from elsewhere in Europe. Located in the far southwest, Spain is less accessible on interrail routes and European road trips and so might be more expensive if you’re planning to take this route.
Nevertheless, the cost of transportation in both counties is pretty similar. The average price for a one-way bus or subway ticket in Spain is around €1.40, whereas it’s €1.50 in Italy. A monthly travel pass in Spain is €40 compared to €35 in Italy. Both countries have developed high-speed rail networks. You can travel the 500 km rail distance from Madrid to Barcelona for as little as €9 each way, while you can travel the 575 km rail route from Milan to Rome for a starting price of €14, if you book in advance.
Is Italy more expensive than Spain for accommodation?
The price of accommodation all depends on where you go in the country. Popular touristy cities are more expensive to stay in both Italy and Spain, while remote villages, with which both countries are peppered, offer quaint budget stays and plenty of family-owned B&Bs. That said, you can find budget dwellings in pretty much every Italian or Spanish city.
The average hotel price across the whole country is lower in Spain than in Italy, coming out at €53 a night compared to €67 in Italy. Likewise, if you want to stay in either capital city, the average mid-range hotel in Madrid comes to €89 a night compared to €134 in Rome.
However, the average nightly price for an Airbnb rental in Spain, as a whole, is €210, compared to €192 in Italy. What’s more, the average nightly price for a vacation rental in Barcelona is €290, one of Spain’s most expensive cosmopolitan destinations, compared to €186 in Milan, Italy’s priciest city.
Head south and the pattern continues. The average nightly price for an Airbnb in Marbella is €429, and as much as €682 in Ibiza, compared to €230 on the Amalfi Coast and €445 on the island of Capri. However, vacation rentals in towns like Positano at the heart of Amalfi could set you back an average of €1,200 a night.
Some of these two countries’ most iconic destinations might have more upscale accommodation in Spain than Italy, but Spain still has more diversity and more budget accommodation on offer, hence the national average is lower in Spain for hotels.
Is Italy more expensive than Spain for food?
Generally, Italy is more expensive than Spain for food, including restaurants and groceries. The average inexpensive meal in Spain, as a whole, is around €12, compare to €15 in Italy. This is similar in Madrid and Rome, averaging at €12.70 and €15 respectively. Barcelona comes in at €13.90, but Milan is the most expensive with an average of €20 for an inexpensive meal.
In Palermo, Sicily, you can eat on a budget for around €8-10, and this is the same in Malaga and Alicante, although a meal for two in a mid-range restaurant in a Spanish resort town will cost around €40 without alcohol, compared to €50 in Sicily.
Dinners out in Italy are more expensive across the board. They average at around €60 in Italy on the whole for three courses for two, which increases to €70 in the capital, and €80 in Milan, compared to €50 in Spain on average, which is the same in Madrid, and around €60 in Barcelona.
On average, restaurant prices are 20 percent higher across Italy than in Spain, while groceries are over €26 percent higher. You can get by spending around €38 on food a day in Italy, compared to €32 in Spain, while the average traveler spends around €17 on alcohol in Italy and €15 in Spain.
Spain and Italy on a Budget: Our Top 7 Money-Saving Tips
- Do your research – If you want to save money, you’re in the right place. Avoid using travel agencies to book your trips and do plenty of research beforehand so you can make sure you get the best deals on your European getaway. This includes finding the cheapest towns to visit, using flight comparison sites, hunting for last-minute low-season deals, or booking far in advance if you want to go in the high season.
- Choose flights with layovers – If you’re coming from overseas to Spain or Italy, a great way to cut down the cost of your flight is to find options with long layovers instead of direct flights. Filter your searches on price comparison sites to flights with one and even two stop-overs. What’s more, you could just find yourself with a few hours to kill in another exciting European country, for free.
- Make a money management plan – Make sure you contact your bank before visiting Europe and find out the exchange rate for ATM withdrawals – it’s almost always higher at airports, and if you don’t pay in the local currency. Bring cash if possible, as Spain and Italy are both behind on the cash-to-plastic transition, and consider getting a travel bank account to avoid high international transaction fees.
- Get a European sim – Roaming charges can be extortionate when you leave your home country, and often unexpected. You could return home and only then find out just how much your provider has been charging you for using internet abroad. Get your phone unlocked before leaving and buy a European SIM card before you leave or as soon as you land in Europe.
- Travel off-season – With its temperate climates, Europe in summer is always the most expensive time to visit, and this is certainly true for Italy and Spain. Everything from flights to hotels and food can be cheaper in the out-of-season months. What’s more, somewhere like southern Spain has year-round pleasant weather, so don’t be deterred from chasing the winter sun in exchange for cheaper rates.
- Make the most of free attractions – Skip the expensive tours and organized day trips, and look for cheap/free things to do wherever you’re visiting. Europe is full of these from museums to walking tours, ancient ruins, and small quaint villages. Take public transport and make your own way, it’s always possible, usually cheaper, and most definitely more exciting.
- Stay in a vacation rental instead of a hotel – Even though Airbnbs can be more expensive than hotels by the night, the freedom and space they afford are almost always worth it. Being able to store food and cook your own meals could save you hundreds of dollars in Europe. Better yet, find small family-run B&Bs and guest houses with shared kitchens for the best deals. You’ll also be able to get helpful local advice from the owners if you’re lucky.
Is Italy more expensive than Spain? The Conclusion
On average, Italy is more expensive than Spain for a vacation, with daily costs of previous travelers coming to around €132 in Italy per person compared to €119 in Spain. There isn’t too much in it, but if you really want to save money, Spain’s sparkling Mediterranean resorts and even cosmopolitan cities are much easier to visit on a budget than most of Italy’s seaside towns and urban hubs. Local transport costs much the same in the two countries, averaging at €22 a day in Spain and €21 in Italy, likewise, entertainment and attractions shouldn’t come to more than €20 a day in both countries. Remember that Spain isn’t always cheap wherever you go, and Italy doesn’t have to break the bank if you stick to our money-saving tips, but Spain is generally more budget-friendly than the boot.