Whilst a gale blew across the United Kingdom, UEA Travel Society departed on a cheap-as-chips budget flight, courtesy of Ryanair, to leave the overcast skies of Norfolk behind and land two hours later in the golden sunshine basking over Spain’s capital city, Madrid.

Compared to most Spanish cities, Madrid is relatively new, having only become the capital of Spain in 1561 after the royal court was transferred there by royal decree. Walking the streets of this regal city you find yourself immersed in the culture of Madrid. With its cobbled streets and medieval architecture, from the Palacio Real de Madrid to the Plaza Mayor, the city’s history comes alive as you stroll the streets with one of the free walking tours. Travel Society can safely recommend New Madrid’s tour, although beware of having three of your party labelled as “lazy, loser, and lame” (referencing three Spanish kings who we had the pleasure of portraying).

Topping any activities list while in Madrid is sampling the local tapas bars. Spanish social life is built around tapas, which is essentially a snack served with an alcoholic beverage available all around Spain, but in particular the Madrid region where it originated. Spaniards tend to eat dinner from 9-11pm, and thus they “bar hop” from one tapas joint to the next, enjoying local brews and vineyards, and feasting on any number of Spanish dishes. Some of the weirder delights on offer include snails, razor clams and lamb stomach (all of which were tried by this writer). When abroad in Spain, or anywhere for that matter, tasting the local delicacies is a necessity for a true travel experience.

One top travel tip that we picked up along the way is that overnight coaches in the middle of the week, even in the depths of a Spanish winter, do sell out, so do not risk having to walk the streets of Madrid in the early hours of the morning and be sure to book all your transportation needs in advance. Of course, if you fancy hooking up with some Romanians and storming a local karaoke bar to sing “Barbie Girl” at 3am, then by all means, forget to book in advance. Sometimes the most annoying situations turn into the most surreal.

Barcelona, resting peacefully on the coast of the Mediterranean, is the second largest city in Spain, and is an odd mix of modern beach resort, medieval city and Olympian developments (Barcelona underwent a huge facelift when it hosted the Olympics in 1992). The Olympic Park itself, inside the city’s Montjuic Park, is well worth a trek up the hill that overlooks the city. Not only do you get some fantastic views, but you can also take a look around the modern art gallery dedicated to the famous Catalan painter Joan Miro. Speaking of works of art, you can’t go to Barcelona without visiting the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s gothic cathedral, which still has over a decade to go until it is completed, is truly a masterpiece. The Unesco World Heritage site has its own metro station and can be toured, but it’s best to wait until Sunday when the building is open for free to the public.

Putting aside the well-known attractions, the city offers one of the best nights out in Europe, with plenty of bars, restaurants and beachside dance clubs (the antics of Travel Society’s night out cannot be discussed here, yet if you listen to the lyrics of Katy Perry’s “Last Friday Night” you will get a fairly good idea of what went down). Moving on from beach volleyball and seafood paellas, Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, known as the “old city”, is full of Gaudi architecture, which stands in stark contrast to the hotels and apartment blocks that fan across the city’s wide boulevards. Couple these romantic attractions with one of Europe’s best football stadiums, FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou, and you’ll find that the city offers an incredibly vibrant and diverse atmosphere for any tourist.

Barcelona and Madrid are both incredibly different cities with very separate identities, however what they do share is a relaxed way of life and a culture of sitting out in the sunshine with a beer in the afternoon, and just watching the world go by. When we could have been in the library toiling over coursework and dissertations, it was great to shift all those worries momentarily to the back of our minds and relax a little. You are probably asking yourself how poor students can afford a week abroad, but this writer can safely say it was fantastic value for money, with travel and accommodation coming in at under £225. Considering the six memorable days that were had by all in Spain, this is a price worth paying. Now if only Michel Telo (YouTube him if you aren’t familar with the name) would come and perform in Britain.

Essential Madrid:

Getting away and around

Madrid Barajas Airport is one of Europe’s largest and it is a simple metro ride into the city centre. Madrid’s metro is clean and efficient with single tickets at 1.50 Euros, but the best way to see the city is by foot.

Where to rest your head

This writer stayed at Way Hostel in the city’s historic Sol district near the Plaza Mayor. Clean, with a free breakfast, but beds could be comfier.

You simply cannot miss

The Santiago Bernabeu stadium tour. Home to Real Madrid, the €16 Euro tour is worth every cent, as you get to see the changing rooms, the president’s box and sit in team manager Jose Mourinho’s seat.

Essential Barcelona:

Getting away and around

Barcelona’s airport is a train and a metro away from the centre but its bus and train stations are central.

Where to rest your head

The Travel Society slept at HostelOne Sants in the south of the city near Camp Nou. The free dinner saved a few euros and the hostel was great for meeting other travellers.

You simply cannot miss

Eating fresh seafood paella on Barceloneta, the city’s beach, which is lined with paella restaurants for you to search for the best deal and sit down for a meal.