Today’s Cities For Less feature comes from the Spanish city of Barcelona and brings back memories of sleeping on the floor of a friend of a friend back in my student days. Now that is one way to travel the globe 4 less but not one I particularly want to repeat if I am honest! Instead, we have lots of other awesome tips for you to help you visit Barcelona on a budget.
Barcelona on a budget by Alex and Ashley
Alex and Ashley, of In Pursuit of Adventure are our contributors for this week. I will let them introduce themselves.
Alex and Ashley
We are Ashley and Alex, foodies and boozies excited to share our adventures from around the globe from Iceland to Cambodia, India to South Africa and Peru as we dig into local food and drinks to showcase all these cultures have to offer. After all, we believe the best way to discover a culture and its people is to share a meal or a drink with them! Join us for an epic around the world feast!
Our love affair with Barcelona
We fell in love with Barcelona when we spent a month in the city back in July 2015. We were instantly hooked by the vibrant and youthful vibe of this city. We wanted to be able to soak it all in and we returned for another month and a half in January. While the city was less inundated with tourists we found the vibe we loved still there.
We could actually see ourselves settling down and living in Barcelona. It just felt right, from the stylish and friendly locals, to the focus on eating and drinking local (all night!), the prevalent independent art scene and the beach. All these factors combined to create the perfect city for us to live in and it’s cheap too!
Things to do in Barcelona
Explore El Encants Flea Market
Okay, now if you want to keep things cheap when shopping, the El Encants Flea Market is the place to be. I grew up going to flea markets and have always loved them. The ability to bargain for price has always been fun to me. When I visited the Souks in Marrakech, I got my first lesson in how to barter like a professional so when I get the chance to barter I do.
This market is like a piece of modern art. The roof resembles a swell of waves with the bottom of the waves filled with mirrors reflecting the entire market back at you. It is a really cool flea market that also has great bites to eat while you search for the best deal. You can usually find whatever you are looking for, and some random things you aren’t, like giant mirrors with images of Napoleon on them. It’s worth a stop here just to check out all the unique items!
Santa Caterina Market
When in Europe, going to open air farmer’s markets is a must. You always find the grandmothers scouring the markets to find fresh ingredients for the night and Santa Caterina is one of the best local markets located in the neighborhood of El Born. The market is filled with locals and very few tourists which is always a fantastic sign as the prices tend to be geared towards the locals.
Also one of the best places to eat in Barcelona is in a market called Bar Joan and you can enjoy a bottle of wine, a first, second and dessert for about €12. Yes you read that right, you can get all of that for twelve Euro and guess what? It is really delicious and traditional. All of the ingredients are from the market and locals keep it so busy that you might have to wait for a seat. This is a great local market that is a must visit for anyone watching the pennies.
Create Your Own Catalan Modernism Tour
Okay, okay, it is time to stop expanding that waist belt and expand the cultural aspect of your life. One of the most important and amazing architects in the world is from Barcelona. I am talking about Gaudi and his works. He was an extremely important and influential architect who changed people’s perspective on how to view the world. He created structures that flowed with the tune of nature (Anne: and got himself killed by being run over by a tram!)
Even though you have to pay to get into his buildings, you can create a walking tour to see the outside of the buildings and honestly, the outside of these buildings are amazing! The fluidity of the structures are very impressive especially with how innovative and different they all are. I would highly suggest seeing Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Palau Güell, the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell.
It it worth paying to get into the Sagrada Familia and the Parc Güell as they are some of his best and most awe-inspiring works. (Anne: I totally agree. The Sagrada Familia is like a kaleidoscope of architectural styles and colours and is like nothing you will ever see anywhere else! You can’t help wonder if the architect was on acid when he created it).
Along with including Gaudi buildings, I would recommend seeing some other modernism buildings including the Plau de Musica Catalana and the Hospital de Sant Pau and the other buildings on Passeig de Gracia where both Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are located.
The great thing about this major city is that it sits on the Mediterranean Sea. This means that even though you are in a major European city, you still get that laid back beach vibe. The beach is an easy walk from the older sections of Barcelona including El Born, the Gothic Quarter and Barceloneta. On a hot summer day you can easily enjoy tanning on the sand while vendors walk by offering blankets and drinks after a morning of sightseeing. Let’s be honest who doesn’t like hanging out at the beach!
Wander the Gothic Quarter and Check Out the Street Art
One of the great things that you can do for free is to feast on all the wonderful street art in the Gothic Quarter. It’s very well-known and is a popular neighborhood for people to visit, a haunting neighborhood consisting of high walled alley ways that creates a sense of mystery.
The twist and turns lead you to amazing street art plus some phenomenal food. (Anne: watch your belongings in here as the first time I visited Barcelona, my friend narrowly avoided having her bag stolen in this area but don’t let that put you off the labyrinthine streets)
Food and Drink
One of the best things about the capital of Catalonia is the amount of delicious bites you can enjoy. The Spanish and Catalan both know how to enjoy a meal. The best part is that unlike many other major European cities, eating out is actually reasonable. The Catalan culture is a culture that appreciates how joyful food can be, a culture that revolves around cuisine and it is an integral part of their identity so you know it’s going to be affordable for both locals and tourists alike.
Your best bet for a cheap meal is to do what the Catalonians do and eat a large meal at lunch to take advantage of the Menu del Dia. This is usually a three course menu that includes wine and coffee for around 10-15 Euros. If you don’t feel like that much food you can always ask for a half menu as well.
In Catalonia, along with the rest of Spain they eat dinner quite late with Tapas Hour taking place between 7:30-10:00pm. If you don’t normally eat late, take advantage of a selection of tapas (from €1) by hopping around different neighborhoods.
While Tapas are not traditionally Catalan, they have gained so much popularity that they are now available throughout Spain, and in Barcelona you will see Catalan twists incorporated. Perhaps the best and cheapest area to go Tapas hopping is through the neighborhood of Poble Sec. Once a rougher neighborhood you can now find streets crammed with small tiny bodegas and tapas bars offering a rotating selection of tapas and inexpensive wine and cava. This neighborhood is incredibly lively and vibrant and you will find locals out every night of the week taking advantage of the cheap eats!
Another amazing and local place to grab a bite and some ridiculously cheap cava is at Can Paxiano in Barceloneta. This is a very typical Catalan place with everyone standing around the bar with little personal space, devouring bocadillos (sandwiches) from the grill, that has been seasoned by thousands of other grilled sandwiches cooked on it throughout the years, and consuming cava by the glass.
This is perhaps one of the cheapest places to eat and drink in all of Barcelona as a bottle of cava will set you back less than €10 and the sandwiches run around €4, plus they have a ton of small tapas to snack on as well! (Anne: oh wow. My mouth is watering at the thought of all this. I love tapas!)
In my opinion when traveling there is only one option for accommodation. Stay away from the over priced (and generally uncomfortable) accommodations at a hostel; avoid the hotels and invest in an Airbnb. This is the most affordable way of dealing with accommodation costs. Airbnb has plenty of options throughout the city of Barcelona and all we stayed in were amazing. (Anne: I love Airbnbs too for the wealth of quirky properties. Be sure to use this Airbnb link to bag yourself £20 off your first booking.)
You can have your own apartment or share one with a local. It is up to you. I prefer to share one with a local to get the local scoop. If you plan on staying in Barcelona for anywhere from two to six months also checkout SpotaHome which specializes in finding short-term leases for people studying, working or just living in Barcelona!
Anne: If you really must book a hotel, you can use a hotel search engine like hotels.com to search for last-minute hotels, luxury hotels including hotel chains and bargain bucket hotels. The best part is that for every ten nights booked, you earn one night free for your next stay.
Okay when traveling to Spain Ryanair is my favorite choice. You read that right, I truly believe that Ryanair is one of the best options to get to Spain. It is an unbelievably affordable way to reach the north-eastern part of Spain and there are regular flights. Vueling is another option for cheap flights into Barcelona especially if you are traveling from other parts of Spain.
Anne: There’s no denying that Ryanair are incredibly cheap but this airline is banned in our household. I hate them with a passion for their deceptive practice of charging you for so many extras that by the time you have finished your £9.99 flight is more like £99.99. However they do offer an extensive route map and if you want the cheapest price, you often can’t avoid flying them in Europe.
Barcelona has probably one of the most affordable public transportation in Europe. It gets you where you need to be at a reasonable price of around €2. The only negative comment I have about it is that sometimes you have to walk a distance to get from one train to another. Other than that it’s very efficient and helps you avoid walking some of the crazy hills, especially in the summer heat!
If you like to be healthy when you travel then I definitely suggest renting a bike to see the city. You not only get a very good view of the city but an affordable one. You can rent a bike for the day for €20. It is a great way to eat, drink and see the city in one go.
Or you can join in on a bike tour to see a different side of the city with Steel Donkey Bike Tours . This is a great way to see a less touristy side of Barcelona with locals!
Yes Barcelona is a very big city but even so it is very walkable. Ashley and I have a preference to walk a lot and it is a part of the culture. The old town center from El Born to Poble Sec is very walkable and you can even walk into l’Eixample and Gracia from downtown. Barcelona is surrounded by hills including the famous Tibidabo so you can always get in a workout too with those hills! (Anne: you are not kidding. That hill is a killer! Don’t forget a jacket either as even when sultry warm on the beach, it can be glacial up here!).
If you are going to splurge in Barcelona it should be on food. Barcelona is the heart of a restaurant renaissance starting with the famous El Buli and many of the chefs trained in this restaurant relocated to Barcelona. So with such a rich selection of restaurants how do you choose which one to splurge on?
Well for us, the splurge would have to be Bar Canete and preferably in a seat by the bar to watch the open kitchen. Bar Canete is a fantastic little restaurant in the Gothic Quarter that showcases Catalan ingredients in a modern way. You can try their famous canelons (similar to an Italian cannelloni) with foie gras and a truffle mousse, or start out with elegant anchovies and a glass of local crisp white wine.
End your meal with probably the best thing we ate in Barcelona, their oxtail stew; we died and went to heaven with our first bite! Seriously, if you want to splurge and eat well you can’t go wrong with Bar Canete!
So while Barcelona is a major European city you can still see the city on the cheap! Barcelona offers so many fantastic free or inexpensive options it is a no brainer to spend some time in the capital of Catalonia. From the amazing food, to the fiercely proud locals, the Mediterranean and the architecture and history of the city you won’t regret visiting Barcelona on a budget!
Anne: Wow, thanks Alex and Ashley. That is truly an awesome foodie tour of Barcelona and doesn’t that Oxtail stew look incredible?. Here’s a few other top tips to help you on your way.
Have your say
Maybe you have been to Barcelona or even flown with Ryanair – what do you think? Who knows their service may have improved after all it is around five years since I embargoed their service. Am I right to avoid destinations where the only airline I can travel with is Ryanair?
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