Ask two Spanish people where the best tapas come from and the resulting discussion could last for days. Every corner of the country has its own take on this simple bar snack – some cities value tradition, while others like tapas with a twist. With so much choice, it’s hard to know where to start but we’ve narrowed it down to seven of the best, according to our global travellers.*
León, Castilla y León
Ibérico ham is a classic tapa served in bars all around León
In Leon’s atmospheric old town, bars serve a hefty free tapa with each drink. Most spots tend to favour simple dishes and substantial portions – think platefuls of local cheese and chorizo, fried potatoes doused in homemade alioli, slivers of umami-rich Ibérico ham. The best bars are crowded into the boisterous Barrio Húmedo district and around the Plaza Mayor. Hotel Via Leon makes a peaceful base, just a few minutes’ walk from the action.
Bilbao, País Vasco
Bilbao is famous for its 'pintxos' – tapas made up of tasty toppings skewered on bread
Tapas are elevated to an art form in Bilbao. All along Calle Ledesma, counters are piled high with ‘pintxos’ – slices of bread topped with anything from caramelised foie to tempura crab. Some bars prefer you to point out the pintxos you want, while others just hand you a plate and let you help yourself. Take your lead from locals if you’re not sure. Spend the night across the river at Pensión Boutique Caravan Cinema, where rooms have bright, film-themed décor.
San Sebastián, País Vasco
Tender octopus, smoked paprika and potato top this mouthwatering pintxo
San Sebastián is perhaps Spain’s most glamorous city – impossibly scenic, home to an International Film Festival and now, to a plethora of Michelin-starred restaurants. In the tapas bars of the old quarter, traditional anchovy, olive and chilli skewers vie with molecular creations like bonfire-roasted cod and velvety sheep’s cheese risotto. Locals pair their pintxos with Txakoli, a light white wine that’s made nearby. Save more of your budget for food by staying at the well-priced Casa Nicolasa.
Logroño, La Rioja
Join locals as they flit between tapas bars on Logroño’s Calle Laurel
The capital of the Rioja winemaking region is a magnet for bar-hopping foodies. In Logroño’s medieval centre, Calle Laurel packs over 30 tapas bars into a two-block stretch. Each one has a signature dish, from spicy patatas bravas in Bar Jubera to El Soriano’s grilled mushrooms with juicy prawns. The food isn’t free, but a tapa and glass of Rioja should come in at around €3. When you’ve eaten your fill, retreat to the restored 16th-century rooms of Hotel Calle Mayor.
Tapas in Granada come free with every drink
Granada is fiercely proud of its reputation for fantastic free tapas. Each round of drinks here comes complete with snacks – and you’ll never get the same tapa twice. Try Bodegas Espadafor for roast ham, or head to Los Diamantes for mouthwatering seafood, eaten elbow-to-elbow with a mostly local crowd. For the full Andalusian experience, stay at Palacio de Santa Inés, a beautifully preserved townhouse overlooking the Alhambra Palace.
Extra virgin olive oil is the stand-out ingredient in Jaén’s tapas
Jaén is the world’s biggest producer of olive oil, so it’s no surprise that extra-virgin is the star ingredient of its tapas. It elevates simple sandwiches and imparts bold grassy flavour to regional favourites like pipirrana salad and gazpacho. Most bars have an extensive menu, but you may not need it – you’ll get a free tapa with every drink. Once you’re done, spend the night at the swanky Parador de Jaén, a hilltop castle with glorious valley views.
Almería's culture of free tapas is one of the most generous in Spain
Generosity reaches new heights in Almería. Not only does each drink ordered here come with a free tapa, but most bars let you choose which one you want from the menu. In this coastal city, fresh seafood is always a safe bet – look out for chargrilled octopus or crisp fried ‘pescaíto frito’. Aire Hotel & Ancient Baths is conveniently close to the old town’s eateries, and has a rooftop pool overlooking the Alcazaba.
*These cities were among the top-rated destinations for ‘tapas’, according to Booking.com customers.