Top tips for shopping on a self catering holiday in Spain

Of the millions of people to visit Spain each year for their holidays, many opt out of staying in a hotel and having everything done for them, and it is these people who get to experience a tiny bit of the real Spain, so we've put together five tips to shop successfully whilst holidaying in this wonderful country.


So without further ado, here is how to shop in Spain and what to avoid too.

Tip one: Cash is king!

In the UK, more or less everyone pays by card now, even in places like McDonald's, you can pay with plastic, or even use the new touch-less technology. Even ways to pay for goods via your mobile phone are now common, but if you are in Spain, put it all away as cash is the preferred currency here.

When shopping for more or less anything, if you present your card at the checkout, for more or less any small purchase, you may find the shop owner refuses to take it and asks for cash, even in large stores.

Don't take it personally. Spain has had a cash culture for many years and both debit and credit cards are treated with suspicion by many, as are paying online for items, using cheques, or paying by mobile phone, it just doesn't work here!


Be sure to come here with cash in euros, and get it changed at the best rates you can find, avoiding money changing at the airport too, which is always expensive. If you are able to pay by card in a shop, be expected to be asked for your passport or they may ask for your "DNI", pronounced "dee enney" which is a Spanish identity card everyone must carry by law here, something the UK government failed to bring in, so whilst out spending your holiday money, bring your passport with you, and of course keep it safe.

Part of the reason also is the Cash-in-hand culture that prevails in Spain, tax evasion being a national sport here, and many shops have a proper till to record SOME transactions, and the rest is a drawer under the counter. It's quite shocking at first, but this is Spain, and Spain is very different!

Tip two: Cheap as chips in the Chinese markets.

Up until recently the country had what was known as 100 peseta shops, which then changed to one euro shops similar, but selling far poorer quality goods, that the British equivalents such as Wilkinson's or poundland.

Marbella shopping

More recently, Spain has seen a massive influx of Chinese people, many of whom opened what the locals call Chinese markets or Chinese shops, and most of them are large and sell more or less anything and everything at rock bottom prices, although the quality of many of the items for sale leave a lot to be desired.

They are however a great place to buy souvenirs for the family back home, without denting your budget, and many of them have some too-good-to-miss bargains, and if you are out shopping in Spain I guarantee you will come across one. Go inside, it's quite an experience, although be prepared to be followed around the store by a staff member eyeing you suspiciously, again it's just some cultural quirk, they are not implying you are a thief, it's simply the way they do things here!

Tip three: Shopping in a Spanish supermarket

I always missed the UK supermarkets when we moved to Spain, and I guess I still do in some ways. Why? Well, as soon as you walk into a Spanish supermarket and get a pungent whiff, just inside the door, of either bleach or fish, rather than warm baked bread, you instantly known something is not right!

Seafood meal 

The Spanish supermarket is very different as there are no ready meals, rarely is there fresh milk, and the food on offer is what you would call the raw ingredients rather than ready prepared food items. The Spanish themselves eat far healthier that us British and that is reflected in their diet and shopping habits. They take the time to prepare the food from scratch, but compared to the UK, at least you KNOW what you are eating!

If you are planning a self-catering holiday in Spain at one of our quality villas to rent then be prepared to cook the meal yourself and you can relax and enjoy the meal and a great bottle of wine too, often only for around 3 or 4 euros per bottle!

Lanzarote - La Geria wine

Major brands of supermarkets here are Alcampo, Carrefour, Mercadona, Mas, Dia, Eroski and Consum, although they do have a lot of Aldi and Lidl centres too. Above all Spanish supermarket shopping reflects the local culture and cuisine of where you are staying and the shopping habits of the Spanish are very different to ours.You will not find any British brands of supermarkets apart from Iceland, who are run as a franchise in a select few resorts, but for a real Spanish self-catering holiday, it's best to head for where the locals shop, and it's cheaper too!

Out of town mega markets are NOT the norm, neither is taking the car to shop and don't be surprised to see young women with those "Granny trolleys" or even a pull along suitcase, coming out of the shops and walking back to their flat nearby. This is how it's done!

Tip four: Going to the Market

A trip to a market in Spain is a pleasant assault on every sense you can think of. The sights, the sounds, the smells, the sometimes bizarre and weird foods that you may never ever have seen, its recommended for sure.

Madrid market

In general Spanish Markets are highly regulated by their local town halls and food-based ones offer in general the freshest produce you have ever seen, and some stuff that quite frankly you won't find anywhere else, or even find a translation for the odd-looking fruit you may be considering buying for your tea!

Some markets also sell non-food items such as shoes, watches, gifts, toys etc, but be careful on what you buy as it will probably be "Market quality" and if it breaks or falls apart once you get back to the UK, you will have lost your money and will not be able to take it back!

Tip five: Would you buy something from a man in the street?

Spain has plenty of wonderful resorts to visit, both on the mainland and also on some of the Spanish Islands, but one side that is best avoided is the people selling stuff in the street, often on a blanket laid on the promenade.

These people in Spanish are known as "Manteros" (Blanket sellers), often illegal immigrants and if you are holidaying somewhere on the Costa Blanca, for example, you will soon find them, or at worse, they will find you and hassle you.

Alicante promenade

Almost 9 times out of ten, the products they are selling are fake goods and if you buy from them, you actually stand a chance of being stopped at customs on your return and asked to hand over your fake Gucci bag you got for a bargain 40 euros, and your 50 euro Rolex watch too! If something seems to good to be true then it is and these people may seem friendly, often a bit too friendly, are best avoided. If they hassle you, just walk away, and/or find a police officer.

Shopping in Spain is very different than what you would expect back in the UK but hopefully armed with this knowledge, you should see your euros go further and you may even bag some real bargains to take back home with you!