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30 November 2020
Viva Barcelona! Spain's second biggest city is a magnet for sightseers and sunbathers alike. Our guide has 35 tips, including where to find 'free' tapas and an interactive map showing where you can marvel at some of the greatest work of Catalan architect Gaudi – for free.
Flights are often one of the biggest expenses of a holiday, but Barcelona has excellent connections and is well served by budget airlines.
Prices vary depending on when you're flying and where you're flying from, of course – but generally it's easy to grab a bargain ticket.
When we looked in August 2019 for a trip one month ahead, we found return flights to Barcelona from London for £45, or from Manchester for £58 (both hand luggage only).
It's usually best to book early for the cheapest prices, though, and bear in mind that you'll pay more at peak times.
A number of airlines, including Easyjet and Ryanair, fly direct to Barcelona El Prat (the main airport) from cities across the UK. But it may also be worth checking flights to other nearby airports, including Girona (just over an hour's drive away) and Reus (1 hour 20 minutes).
The latest research from travel search site Momondo's 'flight insight' data suggests Tuesday is the cheapest day to fly to Barcelona. For full help on how to book the cheapest flights, see our Cheap Flights guide – and if you're flying budget, check our Easyjet Tricks and Ryanair Tips.
The Sagrada Familia is arguably one of the most famous sites in Barcelona and a must-see on many tourists' checklists, not least for the intricate detail of the iconic exterior.
Work on the church was started over 100 years ago and is still ongoing, with the Gaudi masterpiece finally expected to be finished in 2026.
While you'll have to pay to go inside, you can view the sensational architecture from the outside for free, and for many the walk around the facade with its many ornate carvings will be enough.
If you do want to venture inside, standard adult tickets cost:
Discounts are available for students, under-30s, over-65s, and those with a disability (you may need documents as proof). Children under 11 go free.
It may not always be well advertised, but cafes and restaurants usually serve a three-course menú del día – menu of the day – so you can grab a bargain bite.
The menú del día is a tradition which dates to 1965 (the Bill in Barcelona blog has a great piece on the history of it), and while restaurants no longer have to serve one by law, it's still widely offered.
The number of courses and drink options may vary, and technically the menú del día is just for weekday lunchtimes, but many restaurants will have a similar menu at the weekend too. If you can't see one advertised, it's worth asking.
There's also a free app called Menú del Día (available for iPhone and Android, or you can use the web app). It shows you which local restaurants have a menú del día, and what exactly's on offer. It has decent reviews, but we haven't had much feedback from MoneySavers yet, so please let us know if you've used it in the forum.
If you land at Barcelona's main airport, El Prat, it's super-cheap to get from there to the city using public transport – you'll pay a fraction of the €30ish you'd have to cough up for a taxi. Use the free Citymapper app to help you plan your route.
Here are a few of the different options, with the cost of a single fare:
If you're considering flying to Girona Airport or Reus Airport make sure you factor in the extra transfer time and cost – getting the bus from either takes about an hour and 15 minutes each way, and a ticket is about €25-€30 return.
Antoni Gaudi is one of Spain's most famous and best-loved architects. His colourful and unusual work can be viewed in many a street in the city, where passers-by can gawk at it in all its glory – and best of all, of course, seeing it this way is free.
Some of Gaudi's best work can be seen for free at Parc Güell and the Sagrada Familia, but here's some of the best of the rest (with how much it costs, where applicable, if you do want to pay to go inside):
We've plotted all these on the interactive map below – use it to help plan your sightseeing.
The home of Barcelona's fabled football team, the Nou Camp (or Camp Nou) is the largest stadium in Europe, but you'll pay a lot to watch a game here – even some of the cheapest seats are €80-€100 from the FC Barcelona site.
Barça B may be Barcelona's reserve team, but watching them could be a great way to spot some of Barça's future talent, with big names such as Lionel Messi having come up through the ranks. And of course you'll get to see the famous tiki-taka football in action.
Even if you're not seeing a game, a tour around the Nou Camp is a great day out, as you get to walk through the players' tunnel, check out the pitch and changing rooms and of course gawp at the silverware. Tour tickets are usually €26 for adults or €20 for concessions.
Alternatively, consider watching a different sport – the Nou Camp also hosts basketball, handball, futsal (essentially five-a-side football) and roller hockey.
Many of the best things to do in Barcelona cost nothing at all – here are a few options which won't cost you a cent:
Visit Barcelona's Magic Fountain. The Font Màgica de Montjuïc is at the bottom of the hill looking up towards the Palau Nacional (National Palace). It's quite a sight at any time, but is best seen in the evening, when there's a light show which includes jets in time to music (of course Freddie Mercury's Barcelona features). Check Barcelona city council's website for times.
See Picasso's masterpieces for free. Many museums, including the Museu Picasso, offer free entry on Sunday afternoons. See Time Out for more.
Walk the Olympic Park. The city played host in 1992 and the Olympic stadium, sculptures and surrounding park are worth a look, especially for views of the city. Visit Barcelona covers the practicalities.
Find a free walking tour. There are Runner Bean's free Gaudi and Old City tours or Free Tours by Foot (it's suggested you tip if you've enjoyed it). Many companies also offer paid-for tours, so always check you're booking a free one and if there will be extra costs such as metro journeys or entrance fees.
Head to a free festival. One of the biggest is the week-long La Mercè festival in September – it usually includes about 600 arts and music events, and more than 2,000 performers. Time Out has a good list of lots more festivals, and Barcelona Life has a few more.
6. Wander past Joan Miró's sculpture. Woman and Bird (pictured) towers above the Joan Miró Park, named after the Barcelona-born artist.
7. Spot the 52m fish at the beach. You can't miss the El Peix metal fish sculpture near the Port Olímpic shopping centre. It's said to change appearance depending on the weather.
8. Marvel at Santa Maria del Mar. Entry to this beautiful Gothic church's nave is free in the mornings and evenings – even if you don't go inside, its stunning architecture's worth a look. See Barcelona Lowdown for more.
9. Check out the city's best plaças (squares). They're packed with architecture, culture and often a public performance or two. Plaça Reial, de Rei and de Catalunya are worth a visit. Culture Trip has more.
10. Keep your eyes peeled for street art. As well as being home to well-known masterpieces, Barcelona boasts some seriously impressive street art and graffiti. Culture Trip has examples, as does the Blocal travel blog.
Many of Barcelona's legendary beaches are within easy reach of the city centre – in fact, some are within walking distance of a metro stop.
Barcelona.com has a great rundown of what each beach offers, to help choose. La Barceloneta, for example, is closest to the city centre, while Mar Bella offers diving, kayaking and other water sports (as well as a stretch where sunbathers can let it ALL hang out).
You could also take a 30-minute train ride to the beaches at Sitges, particularly if Barcelona is having a cloudy day, as the surrounding mountains there are said to create a microclimate meaning it's more likely to be sunny. Sitges is a charming seaside town known for its beauty, and it's a great destination for those with kids.
It's about €8 for a return from one of the Barcelona train stations (Barcelona Sants, Estació de França and Passeig de Gràcia). Expert train-blogger The Man in Seat 61 recommends booking Spanish train tickets in advance and lists a variety of sites to use depending if you want to pay in sterling or euros, but you should also be able to get a train on the day.
Barcelona's a big city, but don't think you have to rent a car or take a taxi – the metro and bus systems are great ways to get around. Plus the free Citymapper app will help you plan your route.
The metro is similar to the London Underground, but there are fewer lines, and some might say it's nicer (particularly as it's air-conditioned). It's split into zones and there's a handy zone counter to find out which ticket you'll need. Buses, meanwhile, are easy to hop on and off, and often take you right to tourist spots.
Tickets can be used interchangeably on buses and the metro (plus it'll only count as one journey if it's less than 75 minutes). But make sure you get the right one.
If you're staying for a few days, there are a couple of different travel card options:
It's worth noting you can use a Hola Barcelona card, but not a T-Casual pass, on the L9 metro line to the airport. But you can use the T-Casual on the bus or Renfe train to the airport.
Navigating public transport in an unfamiliar city can be daunting. But the free Citymapper app will have you hopping on and off the metro like a local. It's available for iPhone and Android, or you can use the web app.
The 'Get me somewhere' function is easy to use – simply enter your destination and starting point to find the best route from A to B. As well as finding various public transport options (including bus-only, rain-safe and wheelchair-accessible), it will show you how long it would take to walk, cycle or take a cab.
The app covers bus, metro, rail, tram and cycle docks. You can also use it to view subway and bus maps. What's more, you can use it in 41 cities around the world, including London, New York and Hong Kong.
Often when it comes to accommodation in a big foreign city, we say location is key – it's possible to save £100s on your stay simply by moving out of the city. Yet it's a bit different in Barcelona. Hotel prices can vary wildly, no matter where you're looking, and some of the cheapest and most expensive rooms can be just around the corner from each other.
So when booking a hotel, it's best to first consider which barrio – or district – you want to stay in. Make sure you factor in safety (some areas don't have a great reputation) and proximity to sights – for example, Eixample is about 10 minutes by metro to the city centre, while Sant Marti or Les Corts can take 30. Barcelona Tourist Guide has a map of the districts and Barcelona.de has a good overview of the areas.
Then check comparison sites to find the best price. We've full help in our Cheap Hotels guide, but here are our top picks in brief:
If you fancy something plush, try our uncovering secret five-star hotels trick, and try the little known Priceline loophole. And if there's a group of you, it might be worth renting out an apartment instead (particularly as they often can be as swanky as a hotel). See Holiday Rentals for more.
Of course, hostels have some of the cheapest rates, but don't think 'dirty' just because they're dirt cheap. Private rooms with a shared bathroom start from about £25/night in Barcelona. See our Cheap Hostels point for more.
If you've booked your trip but don't yet have travel insurance, the message is simple: DO IT NOW.
The reason we're so firm on this is we still hear of travellers being caught out with no travel insurance, and therefore no cover, when things go wrong.
If you're going to Barcelona though, beware. Bizarrely, Spain isn't automatically covered by all 'European' travel insurance policies, so always double-check. (All European policies featured in our guides offer the option of policies that can include cover in Spain.)
See our Cheap Travel Insurance guide for more info, and also our Over-65s' Travel Insurance and Travel Insurance For Those With Pre-Existing Conditions guides.
La Rambla is probably the most famous street in Barcelona, stretching from Plaça de Catalunya (the city centre square) all the way to the Columbus monument at the port.
The boulevard is just under a mile long, and is crammed with stalls, street artists, bars and restaurants.
It is mostly pedestrianised, except for one lane of traffic on either side of the boulevard, and there are three metro stops along it.
Be prepared for it to be very busy, and be on alert, as it's a pickpocket's paradise. (See tips to avoid them below.)
Of course, as it's such a tourist hotspot, expect to pay through the nose in some of the bars and restaurants. So once you've had a wander and soaked up the atmosphere, you might be better venturing off the beaten track for better quality food and drink at more affordable prices.
Experience sensory overload while wandering around hundreds of stalls at one of Barcelona's biggest markets. It's used by many a local, and reportedly some of the top chefs in the city are said to pick up their produce here.
The Mercat de la Boqueria, also called Mercat de Sant Josep, is just off La Rambla and offers everything from jamón (ham), salted fish and fresh fruit and veg, to Spanish and Catalan delicacies and spices.
At some of the bars and eateries here you can pay as much as at a restaurant, but the market really comes into its own if you're grabbing a 'walking' lunch, or packing a picnic for the beach. Plus the building itself is worth seeing, having taken more than 100 years to build.
There are also a fair few other famous markets that are worth a visit:
Most cards add a 3% cost to the exchange rates banks themselves get. You can avoid this by packing a specialist card that doesn't add this 'load', meaning you'll get near-perfect exchange rates which beat even the best bureaux de change. Pocket one just for spending overseas (always repay IN FULL to avoid interest). Generally you'll need to apply between one and three weeks before you go.
Our current top pick is the Barclaycard Rewards card, which has near-perfect rates, no fees on spending or withdrawing cash abroad and no interest on either as long as you pay it off IN FULL every month. Plus, you get 0.25% cashback on spending worldwide.
As an alternative, the Santander Zero card also has no fees on overseas spending and withdrawals but withdrawals incur interest even if you pay off the card in full – so it's better to spend than withdraw.
It's always nice to learn some of the local lingo, and to help we've listed some essential MoneySaving phrases below.
Language can be a sensitive subject in Barcelona. The city is the capital of the Catalonia region, which many want to be independent from Spain (see the BBC's Catalonia profile for a quick history lesson).
As a result there are two official languages, Spanish and Catalan, though you'll hear Spanish frequently in the tourist areas.
While it's Spanish below, if you feel like learning Catalan, try Omniglot's pronunciations.
Gaudi's brightly coloured Parc Güell is a must-see for anyone visiting Barcelona for the first – or even the fifth – time.
It offers spectacular views across the city and is teeming with Gaudi masterpieces, including the Dragon Stairway and Porter's Lodge.
Large swathes of the park are free to visit, but you'll have to pay to visit the most popular area, the Monumental Zone, where much of Gaudi's work is.
Online tickets are €10 or €7 for concessions (they're roughly €1 more if you buy on the gate), plus up to €12 more for a public guided tour or up to a whopping €55 for a private guided tour. The Gaudi House Museum is located in the free area of Parc Güell, but you'll have to buy a €5.50 ticket to get in.
Parc Güell's about 30 minutes from central Barcelona. The bus costs around €2 or the metro's a little more (see metro tips). Both will take you to different entrances – if you fancy a challenge, there are hundreds of steps if you go to Passatge de Sant Josep de la Muntanya (although luckily there is an escalator). See Parc Güell's How to Get Here page.
Traditionally, tapas was essentially a slice of bread used as a lid to cover your drink, and was often free.
It has clearly come a long way, with entire restaurants dedicated to the tapas experience, and more options than you could ever hope to try in one sitting. Popular delicacies include patatas bravas (potatoes in tomato sauce) and Spanish croquettes with serrano ham.
Usually you'll have to pay for tapas, but there are still a few places that stick to the tradition of giving them out free when you buy a drink, such as Cal Chusco in La Barceloneta. See Time Out for a list of eight bars which do this – and let us know which others you've found in the forum.
If you're travelling in a group, renting an apartment can often be much cheaper per person than an equivalent hotel room – see our Holiday Rentals guide for more.
But be careful when you book – big names such as Airbnb and HomeAway have encountered opposition from Barcelona's City Hall, and the battle between them is ongoing. As it stands, anyone renting out a Barcelona apartment on Airbnb for less than 31 days at a time must have a licence to do so. Last year Airbnb and HomeAway were fined €600,000 each over this.
When we had a quick look at Barcelona lets on Airbnb, we couldn't see anything to say whether each apartment had a licence, and the site has previously said it reminds hosts to check local rules but ultimately it's their responsibility.
So if you're renting via Airbnb or one of the other big sites it's worth contacting the host in advance to double-check the apartment meets the rules. If not, you may be better off booking one that does.
It's easy to assume a ticket offering travel and entry to numerous attractions will be a cheaper bet, but this isn't always the case.
In Barcelona, there are two main multi-ticket offers:
To see if these are right for you, it's best to put together an itinerary of what you want to see and then tot up how much this would cost if you bought tickets separately. Make sure you factor in the cost of travel where appropriate too.
While multi-ticket offers can win, often it's touch and go, even if you do your best to get good value out of them. For example, you could use the €81 Iventure Card to get entry to La Pedrera (fast-track), the Nou Camp and the Sagrada Familia (fast-track and tour).
Yet buying those tickets individually (if you're willing to miss out on the fast-track and tour at Sagrada Familia) comes to around €70 all-in. So weigh it up carefully.
If you've a head for heights, Mount Tibidabo stands at 512 metres tall, and offers views right across the city to the Mediterranean.
There's also an amusement park there, with some rides dating back to the 19th century, and the beautiful Temple del Sagrat Cor (The Church of the Sacred Heart).
It takes about 45 minutes to get there from the centre of Barcelona, and there are a few different ways to do so. For the more scenic route you'll want to take the funicular cable car up the mountain, and you can also catch the Tramvia Blau (Blue Tram, which dates from 1901) for part of the route if you're willing to pay more. Use the free Citymapper app to plan your route.
Visitors recommend taking your own picnic as the cafes can be pricey, and checking the cable car times as they can vary throughout the year and the last ones of the day can get busy.
It's also worth taking a look at the Temple del Sagrat Cor – entry is free but you can pay €2ish for a lift to the top of the church tower.
Thanks to Barcelona city council, there are tons of free Wi-Fi spots across the city, for example at museums and markets. To check where exactly the hotspots are, see the Barcelona Wi-Fi site.
To use it, you just need to search your Wi-Fi connections for 'Barcelona Wi-Fi' and click 'connect'. You'll also need to agree to the terms and conditions.
It feels like there are at least two Zara shops on every main street in Barcelona, and in some cases there are more than that.
If you're a fan of the clothes store, your trip to Barcelona's a good opportunity to stock up, as items tend to be sold a lot cheaper in the Spanish shops. Even if the exchange rate isn't great you can still bag a bargain – see Martin's Zara on the cheap blog for more.
As well as traditional Spanish fiestas, there are a number of large-scale music festivals held each year in Barcelona.
Two of the biggest are Primavera, which largely caters to an indie crowd, and Sonar, which showcases mainly electronic music. Unusually, there's no camping at either so you'll need to book accommodation.
The Barcelona Tourist Guide website has a great rundown of how to get to Primavera and Sonar once you're in the city (public transport is likely cheapest unless you're in a big group, in which case it could be worth checking taxi prices).
Aside from Parc Güell, one of the most-famous and best-loved parks in Barcelona is Parc de la Ciutadella.
The nearest metro stop is the Arc de Triomf – you'll get to walk under this amazing archway on your way to the 18-hectare park.
Once there, you can walk in the gardens, picnic, or row on the lake (costing about €6 per two-person boat for 30 minutes), while on Sundays you'll often hear musicians too.
It's also worth finding the Cascada fountain (pictured), designed by Josep Fontsère and Antoni Gaudi, the latter being the former's student at the time.
There are museums (entry is usually under €10), and the Catalan parliament and Barcelona Zoo are housed in the park. You can get a 10% discount on zoo tickets booking online.
Plus, the park has two play areas, which have tons of toys and activities. Time Out has some other good recommendations for child-friendly parks in Barcelona.
The Palau de la Música Catalana is a famous music hall in Barcelona, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Many tourists say it's well worth a visit inside to see the spectacular architecture, even if you don't go to a concert there.
If you just want to glimpse the interior without paying anything, the foyer is open to the public. But it's best to book ahead for guided tours, which begin every hour. Guided tour tickets cost €16 when booked in advance and €20 on the day.
It's not always clear if the Spanish VAT charge of 10% is included in menu prices, so if in doubt, ask: "IVA incluido?"
If you're hitting the shops, it's also worth knowing there's a 21% tax on clothing, though this is usually included in the price marked on tags.
Of course it's always at your discretion whether or not to tip, yet it's certainly not as prevalent in Spain as in the UK.
Some diners round up, or add a few extra euros to their bill. In touristy parts of Barcelona though, tipping's more commonplace – 10% for evening meals is the norm.
For services such as taxis or hotel porters, tipping is welcomed but large tips are not usual and a few coins should be fine.
We say go with what you feel comfortable with.
When you think of Barcelona, you might not automatically think of skiing – but the slopes are not as far as you might think.
In fact, if you've booked to go skiing at one of the Pyrenees resorts, such as Grandvalira, chances are you might fly into Barcelona El Prat Airport anyway, so it could be a great opportunity to combine a city and ski break.
The ski season in this area tends to run between the end of November and late March.
The cost of adult ski passes starts at €51 for one day. But many package ski holidays also include lift passes, so if you're planning to book more days it's worth comparing prices.
Ski equipment hire starts at about €19 a day, but offers are available depending on how long you hire it for.
Time and again when using your card you'll be asked if you want to pay in euros or pounds, so here's the answer...
ALWAYS pay in euros, even if you're told there's 0% commission.
A free European Health Insurance Card (EHIC) is NOT a substitute for travel insurance. However, it does entitle you to free or cheap healthcare if you need it.
The EHIC is an agreement between countries in the EU and European Economic Area. Until the end of 2020, you'll be able to use your EHIC, and apply for a new card or renew yours if needed. However, from 1 January 2021, after the Brexit transition period ends, the EHIC's future is less certain.
An EHIC gives you access to the same treatment that locals can have. Just be aware that most hospitals in Barcelona also offer private healthcare, so if they start talking about cash, they could be going down this route and you'll need to show your EHIC.
If you need a doctor's prescription and have an EHIC, you'll get 50% off and 90% off if you're a pensioner. See our Free EHIC guide for more info.
If you're eating out, you'll often find a basket of bread's put on your table before you even think about ordering.
Don't just absent-mindedly munch on it though, or let it sit there. There's typically a separate charge for this bread, even if you don't eat it – so if you don't want it, ask the waiter to take it away.
Barcelona is an amazing city, but it does have a reputation for pickpockets.
We've included this point not to scare you off, but to make you aware and ensure you stay savvy when sightseeing.
As in any large city, there are handy tips and tricks you can employ to help minimise your chances of being pickpocketed:
MSE Megan stayed in Barcelona for a month while doing an internship. Here are some tips she picked up while flying solo:
This was my first time abroad on my own and I read up on some of the most common scams, so I would know what to watch out for. I also copied the locals' style of dress to make sure I blended in – this must have worked quite well, as I was often spoken to in a torrent of Catalan which I had little hope of keeping up with.
Tap water is generally considered safe to drink in Barcelona, though some say it doesn't taste nice.
An alternative is to head to the nearest supermarket, where you can often pick up litres of water for less than a euro – much less than you'd pay for a bottle of agua mineral in a restaurant.
This can be handy for day trips to ensure you keep hydrated.
EU rules, which came into effect in 2017, slashed the cost of using your mobile in most parts of Europe, including Barcelona. So you won't be charged any extra fees to use your UK allowance of minutes, texts and (most) data.
These rules apply for the duration of the Brexit transition period – so nothing's changing until 2021. However, the Government's said there'll be no requirement for mobile providers to offer free roaming from 1 January 2021, so you'll need to check with yours to find out what it plans to charge if you're travelling then. See our Brexit need-to-knows for more information.
For full details, plus what to watch out for, see our 10 'free' EU mobile roaming need-to-knows.
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