This post is a part of our Spain for Everyone series. The information below was curated by our expert guides across the country. They are responsible travelers too, and this is their bucket list for you!
As mass tourism continues to have negative effects on local businesses and homes, responsible travel in Spain takes on increasing importance.
What is responsible tourism, anyway? If you’re on our website reading this article, you’ve already started off on the right foot! Here at Devour Tours we promote and encourage sustainable, responsible ways of visiting new places. That means supporting locally owned, family-run businesses over tourist traps, and making sure every euro spent goes back into the local economy. Going even further, it means protecting the local environment by keeping places beautiful. This guide to responsible travel in Spain will show you some of our favorite ways to stay culturally curious while supporting local businesses and efforts.
1. Shop at a local market
Not only are neighborhood markets a wonderful foodie experience, but they’re also one of the easiest ways to support local sellers! Walk into any given market and you’ll find yourself in a maze of sights, sounds, colors and flavors. Many of the stalls are proudly family-run and have been selling the same products for generations. We could talk about markets all day, but here are a few to add to your itinerary to help promote responsible travel in Spain!
- Madrid’s aptly-named Mercado de Maravillas (Calle Bravo Murillo, 122), which translates to “market of wonders,” is one of the city’s largest. It has more than 250 stalls!
- Mercado de la Paz (Calle de Ayala, 28), also in Madrid, features a unique iron structure that has made it stand out as a local landmark since 1882.
- A third Madrid favorite, Mercado de San Fernando (Calle de Embajadores, 41), has earned a great reputation as a meeting point for locals.
- In Seville, take some time to shop at the locally run stalls in the Mercado de Triana (Calle San Jorge, 6), then stick around for lunch!
- San Sebastian’s Mercado de la Bretxa (Boulevard Zumardia, 3) is a traditional, local institution that dates back to 1870.
- Another great market in San Sebastian, Mercado de San Martin (Urbieta Kalea, 9), offers a fresher and more modern look while sticking to its traditional roots.
2. Enjoy a meal at a family-run restaurant
How can you spot a tourist trap from a mile away? First of all, stay away from places with bright pictures of the food outside. Locals don’t need to know what they’re eating! If a seemingly friendly waiter is standing outside trying to draw customers in by proffering a menu in five different languages, steer clear of that as well. No matter what city you’re in, locals know the places they like, and don’t need to be convinced by restaurant staff to visit their establishment.
As a food-focused tourism company, we pride ourselves on promoting responsible travel in Spain by visiting local, mostly family-run establishments on our food tours. These are some of our guests’ favorite stops—all of them have been around for generations and are true authentic institutions!
- Restaurante La Bola in Madrid (Calle de la Bola, 5) has been serving the best cocido in the city since 1870—and has been run by the same family ever since!
- Seville favorite Taberna La Goleta (Calle Mateos Gago, 20) introduced the now-famous orange wine to the city more than a century ago.
- You’ll feel right at home at Mesón Mariano in Malaga (Calle Granados, 2). Locals love the homestyle cooking and traditional recipes.
3. See the sights by bike
Riding a bike can be a great way to participate in sustainable, responsible travel in Spain. You’ll get a great workout and help protect the environment, too! Many major cities like Madrid, Barcelona and Seville have city-wide bike rental systems. Members who pay for the service can take and leave their bikes at any of the dozens of docking stations all over town. Barcelona in particular is an excellent city for biking. Getting around on two wheels is incredibly easy, and the city is home to plenty of rental companies.
Another great coastal city for cycling, Malaga has countless kilometers of cycling paths in and around the city. Head east to the beaches of El Palo and Pedregalejo. The latter especially will instantly captivate you with its old-world charm and seaside bars and restaurants. If you’re tired and hungry from your ride, we recommend El Tintero (Avenida de Salvador Allende, 340), where servers walk around with plates of food and you flag down whoever’s holding what you want to eat!
If you’re up north, you can’t miss San Sebastian‘s extensive network of cycling paths. Known locally in Basque as bidegorris, they snake through the city for more than 30 kilometers. Rent one of the city bikes and take a ride!
4. Escape the city center
Yes, most of the main tourist attractions in any given place tend to be around one general area. However, central areas tend to get overcrowded as tourists rush in to see the sights. This creates problems such as pollution and traffic for those who live and work in the city. One efficient idea for practicing responsible travel in Spain is to get out of the main tourist areas and check out the neighborhoods where few visitors go. Even if you want to go sightseeing, consider heading to an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood to eat or go shopping, and spending your money there. Barcelona, for example, is full of lovely authentic neighborhoods such as Clot and Les Corts. In San Sebastian, check out neighborhoods like Antiguo or Egia.
5. Support century-old family businesses
It’s easy to get distracted by the bright colors and kitschy knickknacks inside the souvenir shops. However, consider a more responsible approach when it comes to buying mementos from your trip. Some of the most understated and oldest shops in any city hold the greatest treasures. In many cases, they’ve been run by the same family for over a century! Many cities, such as Madrid and Barcelona, reward those businesses for their longevity by placing a special plaque outside. If a shop has that prized plaque, you can rest assured that you’ll be supporting a hard-working family of locals who have been in the business for generations.
6. Buy Spanish-made products
Sometimes even the cutest little shops import their products from abroad. How can you know whether or not you’re supporting a local artisan with your purchase? Oftentimes, you’ll find locally made products at specialty boutiques. In Barcelona, head to stores such as Wawas Barcelona (Carrer dels Carders, 14), El Diluvio Universal (Carrer de les Guilleries, 2), OMG BCN (Plaça de la Llana, 7) or Barceloning (Carrer de Mallorca, 332). Each of these locally owned small businesses carries products made in Barcelona itself. Additionally, sometimes locally made products will feature a special label or tag. Look out for the “Eusko Label” in San Sebastian. You’ll recognize it from the letter K, meaning “kalitatea” (“quality” in Basque).
7. Recycle in style at a flea market
We’re all about the markets here at Devour Tours, and that’s not just limited to food. One of our favorite ways to practice responsible travel in Spain is by visiting a local flea market. It’s win-win: you can support local vendors and pick up some unique new pieces!
Spain’s most famous flea market, without a doubt, is the Rastro. Every Sunday and public holiday, thousands of visitors head to La Latina to experience the legendary market. However, if you can’t make it to Madrid, there are plenty of other great flea markets outside the capital. Seville, for example, hosts one every Thursday on Calle Feria.
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Life is too short to speak one language and stay in one place. In 2015, this philosophy took her from familiar Ohio to sunny southern Spain. Usually drinking tinto de verano, reading Lorca, or attempting to dance flamenco (not all at once). Follow her blog, Viatic Couture, for more.