Barcelona is one of the world’s top travel destinations because it has something to offer for everyone – not least of which are plenty of free and cheap things to see and do. Here’s our list of our favorite things to do in Barcelona on a budget.
Take a yoga class in Park de la Ciutadella
The Ciutadella is Barcelona’s second largest park, after Montjuic, and it acts as one of Barcelona’s green lungs. The park, which takes its name from a now-gone military fortress built by Phillip V in 1715, is a top picnic destination from spring to autumn, with plenty of shaded, grassy areas where you can have a late morning brunch or relax over a bottle of wine or a cold cerveza in the evening after a day of wandering the city. It’s also a gathering spot for local yoga practitioners, and there are plenty of open classes you can join to get your fitness fix.
Enjoy the best view of Barcelona from an old war bunker
If you want a selfie with the entire city as the background the go-to place is the El Carmel Air Raid Bunker. A remnant of the Spanish Civil War, during which Barcelona was subjected to a vicious bombing campaign by General Franco’s fascist army, the bunker sits atop el Turó de la Rovira, one of the mountains that encircles the city on its northern side. The views are incredible; on a very clear day you can even make out the island of Mallorca nearly 200km away, and you’ll get to imbibe a little of Barcelona’s history.
Dodge the tourist traps and have a Menú del Dia for lunch
For every great restaurant in Barcelona there’s a tourist trap, waiting to sell you frozen Paella (correct pronunciation: pah-eh-yah) and Sangria from a carton at exorbitant prices. Luckily, there are plenty of places where you can enjoy a good meal at a reasonable price. The Menú del Dia is a prix fix menu offered from Monday to Friday for lunch that usually consists of a starter and a main plus drinks and dessert.
Tip from Matthias: For a really top notch “Menú del dia”, head to La Pubilla in Gracia or OFIS in El Raval. Both are very popular so call ahead to get a table.
Take a free walking tour
If instead of exploring the city yourself you’d like a more directed experience, a walking tour is the perfect way to take in the sights while also learning about the city’s history, architecture and its culture. There are dozens of companies offering guided tours of the city – some of them for free… sort of. Instead of paying up front they recommend you tip your guide afterwards if you enjoyed the experience. Even though it’s technically not “free”, it can still be cheaper than paying for a guided tour.
Explore Park Güell’s free area
Parc Güell is one of Antoni Gaudí’s most famous works, along with La Pedrera, the Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Familia. Although you need a ticket to access the lower part of the park, where its most well-known monuments are concentrated, the upper part is open to everyone. Make sure to visit the Turó de les Tres Creus for a spectacular view of the city.
Go to the beach!
This one’s obvious, so there’s not much more to say than to simply enjoy Barcelona’s 4.2 km of beaches. There are many bars and restaurants along the waterfront, known as Chiringuitos, as well as vendors walking around offering everything from massages, to souvenirs, to food and drinks. Barcelona’s beaches are nice, but if you want a quieter place to sunbathe, take the train from Passeig de Gràcia to Garraf, a tiny village 30 minutes south of Barcelona along the coast.
Take a walk on La Rambla
La Rambla is Barcelona’s most famous street, and for good reason. Lined with flower shops, restaurant terraces, and home to street artists and performers, it stretches from the port to Plaça Catalunya. Take a walk along La Rambla to take in the sights, or wander off into the El Raval and El Gòtic, two of Barcelona’s most interesting neighborhoods. For more things to do at or around La Rambla check out our article on it.
Visit Barcelona’s largest flea market: El Mercat dels Encants
There’s something special about markets – they’re a great place to soak in the colors, the smells and sounds of a city. Els Encants is no exception; among its stalls you’ll be able to find everything from old books and vinyl records to fashion and footwear from local independent designers. It is located near the Plaça de les Glories and opens every day except Tuesdays and Sundays, from morning to evening. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, early in the morning from eight to nine-thirty there are live auctions too.
Discover Barcelona’s history at El Born CCM
El Mercat del Born, a beautiful example of 19th century ironwork architecture, houses a cultural center and a permanent archaeological exhibit of the Barcelona of the year 1700 and of the Succession War of 1714, during which the city was laid siege for over year. After defeat, many of the houses in the area were razed to build an enormous military fortress, the largest in the world at the time and a symbol of Spain’s oppression of Catalonia, to ensure the city wouldn’t rebel again in the future. The Centre de Cultura i Memoria –center for culture and memory– provides a unique look into the events that came to define Catalonia and have become the historical backdrop to today’s pro-independence movement.
Barcelona’s public transport is cheap and reliable
While getting a taxi may sometimes seem easier and more convenient, Barcelona has one of the best public transport systems in the world, and one of the cheapest when compared to other large European capitals. The T-10, a ticket that gives you ten rides on all public transport systems in Barcelona, goes for 9.95€ — less than one euro per trip. That includes the airport, which can be reached by taking the number 46 bus from Plaza España.
Visit Barcelona’s museums for free on Sundays
Discover Catalan art and history through Barcelona’s museums, many of which can be visited for free if you go at the right time. This includes the MNAC, the Catalan National Art Museum (the first Sunday of the month), the MUHBA, the Barcelona History Musem (every Sunday from three o’clock onwards), the Picasso Museum (every Sunday from three to seven) or the CCCB, the Contemporary Culture Center (every Sunday from three to eight).
Go for a scenic walk at Carretera de les Aigües
Want to go for a run, or just a nice walk, with Barcelona at your feet? La Carretera de les Aigües runs along the Serra de Collserola overlooking the city from its northwestern side. The 9.5 kilometer track, which is mostly flat, so don’t worry about exhausting yourself climbing uphill, snakes through the Parc de Collserola and is a popular route for local runners. You can get there by taking the FGC train from Plaça Catalunya to Peu del Funicular and then take the funicular, which will leave you right on the path.
Get acquainted with Gothic Barcelona through two of its most important cathedrals
Barcelona is a city with a rich architectural heritage, ranging from ancient Romanesque churches to modern icons like the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion. Two of its architectural gems sit in the Gothic quarter, the Catedral de Santa Eulalia and the Catedral de Santa Maria del Mar. Both dating from the fourteenth century, these two wonderfully preserved buildings are paradigmatic examples of Catalan gothic architecture. In the Catedral de Santa Eulalia you can take an elevator up to the towers, where you’ll get a bird’s eye view the rooftops of Barcelona’s old city.
Watch Montjuic’s beautiful magic fountain show
After a day of exploring Montjuïc and visiting some of its many museums you can pause on your way back towards Plaza España in the evening to enjoy a water and lights show that will delight your senses. Montjuïc’s Magic Fountain, built for Barcelona’s 1929 International Exhibition, offers a spectacular display in which hundreds of jets of water combine with music and colored lights to paint beautiful, vibrant choreographies against the night sky.
Marvel at Barcelona’s Modernist architecture
If there’s an architectural style that defines Barcelona, it is without a doubt Modernism. Many of the city’s top landmarks are concentrated in the Quadrat D’Or –the Golden Square–, where you can view Modernist gems such as the Casa Batlló, the Casa Amatller, La Pedrera, and the Casa Lleó Morera, all within a few blocks of each other. Further south, in the old city, the Palau de la Musica Catalana is another must-see, but perhaps most spectacular of all, and somewhat off the beaten path, is the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau – an entire complex that is part of the Sant Pau hospital and that looks taken from a fantasy film.