The museums of Barcelona are amazing, and definitely worth a visit (see my last post!). Aside from the art and history, there are plenty of things to do, many of them cheap (or free!). Read on for some of my favourites.
TOP 7 FREE AND NOTEWORTHY SIGHTS
- Sagrada Familia (the outside)
- Las Ramblas
- La Boqueria
- City Plazas – great for a picnic and people watching
- Make-your-own Tapa Tour
- Olympic Park
- Barceloneta Beach
- The Patio B&B: An utterly charming and beautifully upkept spot. The owners Liz and Tony have recently revamped the B&B into two self-catering apartments – check out all the details and beautiful pictures at thepatiobcn.com.
- Casa Gracia Hotel/Hostel: With everything from dorm rooms for 15 euro per night to a private penthouse apartment, this spot has something for everyone.
- Generator Hostels
- Fit Food: Mama’s café, La Vietnamita, Onna Coffee, La Besneta, Green Shots
- Detox to Retox: La Paisana, Café Pages, Entrepans, Brunch & Cake, Micaela Pizza, Matalaranya, La Nocciola gelato, Sil’s Cakes
- If you want to spend hours with good wifi: Mama’s café, Sabio Infante, Onna Coffee
One can hardly utter the word Barcelona without talking about the Sagrada Familia. This unparalleled cathedral, designed by Gaudi and under construction since forever, is arguably one of the most amazing architectural works of all time. One must try hard not to love it.
Unlike any cathedral in the world, the building appears to rise out of the ground like a growing tree, at the same time melting down from the spindly spires soaring above. Gaudi heavily relied on nature and the aesthetics of natural form in his design. Around the back, the cathedral museum does a fabulous job of setting the scene and revealing the ideas behind the marvel. If you want to enter the cathedral and museum, prices range depending if you add an elevator ride up one of the spires (highly recommended!).
Alternatively, you can attend mass here for free – offered every day in Spanish and Catalan and on Sundays in English. The website has more information on time tables as well as special masses.
Continuing towards the South, I run into Plaza Catalunya and onwards to Las Ramblas. This famous avenue is overrun by tourists and pick-pockets each summer, but it is blessedly more spacious in November.
On the right hand side midway down, it’s the Boqueria, or market. Packed with tourists and locals alike, this is where to come for some sangria and tapas, freshly caught prawns for dinner, a bundle of locally grown carrots, or a falafel. In short, they have it all.
I snaked my way through, starting at the fruit juice stands, selling every combination imaginable, from kiwi-coconut to pineapple-blackberry. Thinly sliced ham is passed over counters, elderly ladies scrutinize the fish to pick the best, and tourists marvel at the massive empanadas and street food fare on offer. If you can manage to squeeze into one of the bars, take a seat and people-watch.
In the evening it’s time for tapas. The Gothic quarter is a great option for a tapas crawl, with a high bar:human ratio. The Gracia neighbourhood is equally well equipped. Starting at Entrepans, we go for an aperitif of Vermouth and salty olives.
Moving on to Café Pages, we order a classic jamon plate, thin slices of the rightly famous Spanish ham. On the side, grilled asparagus with Romesco sauce, done perfectly. The pan con tomate (bread with tomatoes) is heaven. Thickly sliced bread, grilled and soaked with garlicky tomato paste and good olive oil.
The finale – one more Vermouth and some meat at Matalaranya.
Money Saving Tip: Tapas Crawls
Maybe agencies offer a 2-3 hour tapa tour and all claim to take you to non-tourist joints and show you the “real” side of tapas in Barcelona. Let’s face it, all of Barcelona is touristy. They are everywhere. I am wary of these groups asking for upwards of 60 euros for walking you around to different bars.
My strategy – ask at your hotel/hostel if they have some favourite places nearby. Inquire about their favourite dishes, and you can easily make your own tour. We really lucked out in San Sebastian with our hotel owner being the King of Tapas for the town. In any case, most locals are more than happy to tell you their favourite places and what to order.
Safe Tapas Bets
- Pan con tomate: Grilled crusty bread topped with olive oil and tomato paste.
- Croquettes: Crispy fried nuggets, filled with anything from squid to mushrooms and cheese.
- Manchego cheese
Fresh air and exercise are a good way to shake away the Vermouth from the night before. I run from The Patio directly towards the Olympic park, hoofing it up the hills for the reward of the views at the top.
I head to Green Shots – as the name suggests, you can get your shot of vitamins in the form of fresh juices and smoothies. Food options include rotating salads, pizzas, casseroles, and quiches.
The Olympic park, playing host to not only museums but an abundance of green space, is a lovely oasis in the busy city. Designed for the Olympics in 1992, this park is truly beautiful.
Explore on foot, or rent a city bike and jet around the winding pathways running through the park.
Feeling far too healthy after my green smoothie, it’s time for pizza. Micaela Pizza is a take-away joint, offering gourmet massive slices for 2.50 euro a pop. Cheap as chips and delicious.
Staying in the neighbourhood, I explore Gracia, the capital of the bio, hippie, environmentally-friendly population of the city. All kinds of fair-trade and organic shops beckon, with everything from local almonds to handknit socks. La Besneta is a vegan bakery serving amazing cakes, muffins, and truffles. Sil’s cakes, an “American” style bakery, serves up proper US of A monstrosities – like triple layer oreo cheesecake.
BAW offers architectural walks around the city – highly recommended for any architecture junkie. I pick the Gaudi tour, but many other options exist. for all the details.
For a more general, and free, tour, Sandemans runs their usual city tour free of charge, every day at 10, 11, 12, and 2 pm. All details here.
If you want to hang out with fellow laptop junkies for hours on end, head to Sabio Infante or Mama’s Café. Both are full of expats, both have good wifi, and both don’t mind if you order a single coffee and linger. Mama’s makes a mean brunch, served all day long. The vegan scramble with a side of tomato garlic toast is seriously yummy and healthy at the same time.
A few blocks away, Nocciola gelato serves up handcrafted Italian gelato – the combination of Snickers and dark chocolate sorbet sends me to bed with happy dreams.
If you happen to be a yoga lover, Zentro Urban yoga offers a one week trial pass at their studio for 18 euro, a positive steal of a deal. The studio, on the fourth floor of a lovely brick building, is flooded with light and good vibes. I attend a Vinyasa class, my favourite style, and feel the aches and tension of long term travel seeping out with each minute. The instructors are as friendly as can be and everyone is welcome. The one week pass is valid for unlimited yoga and pilates classes.
Just two minutes away, Brunch & Cake serves. . . brunch & cake. With a side of good coffee and one or two expats (guaranteed).
Though it was November, the weather gods were very kind and the day had a forecasted high of 22 degrees, with bluebell skies. I head to Barceloneta beach. Barceloneta is accessible by public transport and another spot you will find packed to the gills in high season. While it’s not a secluded or pristine white sand beach, it is a beach nonetheless and can give you your taste of ocean air.
For different dinner, La Vietnamita makes amazing soups and rice bowls, all ringing in under 10 euro.
Barcelona is chock full of amazing things to see and do, some of which require little to no cash on hand. It is truly a city with something for every person and every budget.