The Best of Barcelona on a Shoestring Budget

Lead Photo: by Mike McBey / CC BY 2.0

Barcelona is a beautiful city with so much to see, including incredible architecture, pristine sandy beaches and a wonderful climate that works year-round. It’s almost too good to be true, which is why Barcelona has become such a tourist destination, and entrance fees, posh hotels and three-course meals come at a hefty cost! Find out how to enjoy this beautiful bit of Catalonia and its neighboring towns without breaking the bank.

What to See in Barcelona

Photo:  by  Rick Ligthelm  /  CC BY 2.0

A lot of Barcelona’s charm is in its architecture, and the best part about architecture is that its free! The Sagrada Familia, for example, is a stunning building, which is, of course, magnificent from the inside. However, the real spectacle is the outside — and you can look at that for free! Other exceptional buildings include Gaudi’s Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, both of which you can also view for free. There are also numerous walking tours that visit the best of Gaudi's famous buildings which only ask for tips in return.

The Gothic Quarter is another example of stunning but markedly different architecture. The winding and narrow streets here are an excellent way to escape the afternoon sun. While the enormous cathedral almost sneaks up on you, this breathtaking beauty is free to visit in the early mornings or late afternoons. Take time to soak in the impressive neo-Gothic facade before stepping inside. While the architecture here is something else, perhaps the most unusual part of this cathedral is the 13 geese who live inside the cloister and represent (rather morbidly) the fact that Saint Eulalia allegedly was only 13-years-old when she died.

Day Trips Around Barcelona

The neighboring town of Vic has a huge student presence, and many known names and faces have studied there, including the recent $5.1 million PSPC winner Ramón Colillas. Student towns like Vic are generally good places to pick up a cheap lunch or enjoy a glass of wine (or two, or four), but Vic is especially famous for its cured meats. There are a plethora of options to choose from, but the fuet is especially moreish, a dried pork sausage flavored with lots of black pepper and a little aniseed. You’ll be able to find embutidos wherever you go in Vic, but the Plaça Major is undoubtedly the most picturesque spot to enjoy this little treat.

Tarragona is a little way along the coast from Barcelona but has a splendid old town that is worth visiting. Les Ferreres Aqueduct, just a little north of Tarragona and the bridge between a thickly forested valley, was the primary method of channeling water from the Francolí River to Tarragona in ancient times. Nowadays, you can walk along the path where the water flowed, although it’s not advisable for those who don’t have a head for heights!

Where to Stay in Barcelona

Airbnb is an excellent way to save money on accommodations, as it’s special to stay with people who know the area well and can let you into their favorite spots that most other tourists don’t know. Plus, the decor is quirkier, and the whole experience is a little more personal than a hotel.

A hostel is another brilliant way to save money, and Barcelona has loads of them! The Born Barcelona Hostel is especially well-situated in the trendy El Born area of the city where independent shops, local bars and cultural spots such as the Picasso Museum make up most of the narrow streets. It’s also not far from Barceloneta, the fishing district that as plenty of little restaurants serving up delectable fresh (and affordable) tapas.

Rooms here range from 15 euros per night for a single bed in a shared dormitory up to a little more for a private room. Advance booking is essential as it does fill up quickly.

Where to Eat in Barcelona

A great little restaurant with slick white brick walls, modern lighting and minimalistic decor, the Gat Blau restaurant feels anything other than cheap. Here the focus is on using local ingredients and being resourceful. The chef, Pere Carrió, explains that by being creative with local, organic vegetables, using less expensive cuts of meat and keeping waste to a minimum, they can offer great food at a great value. And he’s not lying! For 12 euros, you can eat from the set lunch menu, which varies every day. Dinner is a little more expensive at 25 euros, but the food here is nothing short of phenomenal, so it’s worth every cent.

Bar Casi is less slick than Gat Blau, with a proper local bar feel, as that’s what it is. The decor here is simple indeed, with six long communal tables that span the width of the bar where everyone can sit together to enjoy lunch. This bar has been open since 1978, and it would be fair to say that the food alone is enough to explain why. Xavi Montes is the charismatic and ever-cheerful owner who will make you feel right at home immediately. A hearty lunch here will set you back less than 10 euros, and you might never want to eat anywhere else.

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