Barcelona, like many Western European cities, can end up being a pricey break, with entrance and activity fees, food and drink, and transport costs racking up. I was a little worried about trying to spend a week there on a budget, but with a little research I found ways to maximise my time there at minimal cost; here are some of my top tips.
Take a free walking tour. I’ve extolled the virtues of walking tours previously, and as always it was the first thing I did on my first full day in Barcelona. There are many different tours available (use Google or TripAdvisor to see the various options) and you only pay a tip to the guide at the end of the tour. It was great value for the two hour guide to the Gothic Quarter and history of the city, and a pleasant, informal atmosphere with other travellers.
Look for free entry times to museums and the Cathedral. Many of the museums in Barcelona offer free entry on the first Sunday of every month, and after 3pm every Sunday – I took advantage of this to visit the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Barcelona City History Museum) in the city centre on a Sunday afternoon, where I saw the remains of the Roman city of Barcino which lie under the streets of modern-day Barcelona; a mind-blowing experience for no cost at all! The Cathedral charges a tourist entry free between the hours of 1 and 5pm – go before or after and, while you might have to queue, you can get in to see the beautiful interior for free (don’t forget to bring something to cover your knees and shoulders).
Spend the day at the beach (and take your own food and drink). I absolutely loved Barceloneta beach; it felt quite apart from the city and provided welcome relief from the oppressive July urban heat. There are five kilometres of sand and sea to choose from and it’s all public, so there’s no charge unless you want to rent a sunbed or parasol. While it can be tempting to buy from the vendors walking up and down the beach offering sangria and mojitos, or to pop to one of the beach bars for some take-away patatas bravas, these are fairly pricey options for what you get, so to keep costs down, stop by one of the supermarkets lining the street down to the beach to pick up some snacks and beers, cokes or bottles of cocktail drinks for your day on the sand.
Bring your own sandwich out for lunch. I spotted loads of supermarkets and grocery stores around the city, and there are lots of places to find a bench to sit and eat, whether in one of the parks, or down by the harbour. If you’ve got a fridge in your accommodation, you could buy in some meats, cheese, fruit etc. to make a hearty lunch to pop into your bag. If you can’t eat gluten or have other dietary restrictions, head to El Corte Ingles at Plaza Catalunya where there’s a really good “free from” range of groceries in their food hall.
Don’t forget your student card. If you’re studying (or have graduated recently – check the date, your card might still be valid!) remember to look for student discounts – many of the attractions and activities offer a student concession.
Be smart about transport options. Barcelona is very walkable in terms of distances, but with it being so hot when I visited, I found myself using the metro to save my energy. Rather than purchase a two or five-day ticket, which can end up being overly expensive for the journeys you make, buy a T-10 ticket for 9 euros 90. This gives you 10 journeys with no date restriction on when they need to be used.
Eat indoors in restaurants. While it’s lovely to sit outside and enjoy your food in the warm weather, look closely at signs and menus – many restaurants add a “terrace charge” of 10-15% if you want to eat at an outside table. Take yourself inside to avoid this extra element to your bill.
Combine sightseeing and food on the go at the Mercat de la Boqueria. The famous indoor market is fun to wander around and you can also pick up some bits to eat from the stalls on your way round (don’t go overboard on your “food crawl” though, as it all adds up!).
And one thing that is honestly worth paying for…
I balked at the 15 euro entrance free to go inside Gaudi’s unfinished church, the Sagrada Familia, but having Googled “is it worth it?” and found many blog posts saying it was, I paid up and went in. I can confirm it’s worth every cent. It’s so weird and beautiful inside. If you’re going to splurge on anything during your time in Barcelona, make it this.