Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city, but if you think it plays second-fiddle to the Spanish capital of Madrid, you’d be wrong. Considered one of the world’s capitals of culture, this city of 1.6 million offers so much to do you’ll never get bored.
And for more than a few reasons, enjoying Barcelona on a budget is quite easy to do.
Let’s start with the weather. Tucked between the mountains and the sea, Barcelona has a Mediterranean climate that’s quite nice most of the year. July and August can get hot, with highs averaging in the mid-80s, but the rest of the year is comfortable—-even winter usually only dips into the 40s. The good news is that this means you can spend much of your time in Barcelona outdoors; coincidentally, this is where you’ll find most of the magic in this city.
But one of the keys to budget-friendly travel is to plan. So, how does one plan a trip to Barcelona on a budget?
This may be your biggest expense here in the capital of Catalonia but also one of the easiest to control, so it pays to do your research ahead of time to find the best option for your tastes and budget.
Hostels are usually the most affordable accommodations in any major city, and Barcelona is no different. The benefits are multifold:
• Lodging is usually very affordable, especially if you rent just a bunk in a shared room
• Hostels are usually concentrated near attractions or in cool, off-beat neighborhoods
• You’ll meet other travelers and can get advice about what’s going on in the city
If you’re not into sharing a living space with others, an AirBNB stay might be the next-best choice. You’ll find options all over the city and with a very wide price range. An added perk to the AirBNB route is that many hosts know their neighborhoods well and will provide you with their favorite restaurants, bars, attractions, and other locals-only information. You may have to do some patient searching and be flexible on the dates of your stay if you want to a great deal.
Finally, hotels are available as well, but keep in mind that the more affordable hotels will likely be farther away from the main tourist centers and require additional travel time to get to the main sites. However, the right small, local hotel stay can provide a unique experience and it better supports the local economy.
Spain is home to a culinary tradition that’s perfect for travelers on a budget: tapas. Tapas, which translates to “top,” have many origin stories, but essentially they’re smaller dishes meant to be more of a tasting than a full meal, and they often accompany a beer, cocktail, or glass of wine—some traditional Spanish bars even include tapas with drink orders. Because they’re smaller plates, they’re also more affordable than the typical entree; this means you can order several distinct items in one sitting and get a fuller picture of Barcelona’s food scene. Some must-try tapas dishes in Barcelona include:
• Bombas - mashed potatoes wrapped around minced meat that is then deep-fried. These are often a bit spicier than the average Spanish dish but are served with aioli (a garlicky mayonnaise) to balance it out.
• Pan con Tomate - Consisting of bread topped with diced tomato and drizzled with olive oil and salt, this is a staple among tapas in the Catalonia region.
• Jamón Iberico de Bellota - Spain is well-known for its cured meats, and this is a common favorite. Made from the hind legs of pigs from Spain’s Iberian peninsula, often raised on special diets of olives, chestnuts, or acorns to grant the meat a certain taste.
• Pulpo a la Gallega - Octopus and potatoes may seem a little...out there, but give it a shot—you’re traveling to experience new things, aren’t you?
Of course, While tapas are a nice way to snack throughout the day on a budget, you’d be missing out if you didn’t sit down for a dinner of traditional Spanish paella at least once.
Fortunately, part of what makes Barcelona so wonderful is its vibrant culture and world-class architecture, nearly all of which is possible to admire without spending a dime as you walk about town.
Walk down La Rambla, Barcelona’s liveliest street, packed with people, performers, shops, bars, and restaurants.
Visit the Picasso Museum to see the legendary cubist painter’s career unfold before your eyes. Admission is usually €12, but admission is free on Thursdays from 6-9 p.m. and on the first Sunday of every month.
Stroll through Parc Guell, which is filled with the surreal work of architect Antoni Gaudi. Much of the park is free to visit, however the €10 ticket to see the rest of the park is a worthwhile splurge.
Seeing the outside of the iconic La Sagrada Familia is stunning enough (and free of charge), but the inside is well worth the price of admission. Tickets range from €20 for a basic ticket to €39 for access to the cathedral’s towers. You’ll save money by buying tickets online ahead of time rather than showing up at the ticket office, so plan.
Don’t forget that during the summer, Barcelona’s beaches are a great spot to relax, swim, and soak up some sun.
Fortunately for budget travelers, Barcelona is a very dense city with a high priority given to pedestrians and bicyclists.
Bicycling Barcelona is a great option. You’ll likely see the “Bicing” bike-share bikes around the city, however, those are only for registered residents of Barcelona. Visitors can rent bikes by the hour or day from one of many local outfitters. These may be more expensive, but you’ll be assured a safe, well-tuned bike as well as advice from the outfitter about riding in the city—many outfitters provide Barcelona bike maps to ease navigation.
Barcelona Biking, Born Bike, and Un cotxe menys are three popular services. If you feel better riding with a group, many of these companies also offer guided bike tours of the city focused on architecture, food, street art, and more.
Barcelona also has a well-developed public transportation system consisting of buses, subways, and trams. It’s an economical way to get to the farther reaches of the city and makes you feel like more of a local.
Finally, there’s nothing quite like walking in Barcelona. Taking in the shops, street art, and architecture at walking speed gives you the best feel for the city. If your legs allow it, this is certainly the best way to see the city. If there are several sights you want to see, group them by area and tackle one area a day, planning your route to avoid unnecessary detours that can quickly add miles to your day. You can always stop on a park bench for a bit of relaxation and people watching or duck into a cafe for a snack and a pick-me-up. If time allows, give yourself a day to just get lost (somewhat literally): choose a direction and walk, following the flow of the streets or ducking down side streets that look interesting—you never know what you’ll find. Be sure to do a bit of research ahead of time to find out if there are any parts of the city that are considered unsafe for tourists.
You’re ready to plan your trip to Barcelona on a budget. Happy traveling!