Barcelona has the reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Its cosmopolitan and international feel make it one of the ultimate weekend destinations for people looking to get their dose of culture, and people flock here from across the globe. But it’s not all just sea, sun and sangria as my friends and I discovered when we spent a couple of days there, and it is possible to do a weekend away on a budget.
Barcelona is a satisfying city break because it has a little bit of everything. I think it’s the combination of the big city with the seaside resort, which means you can have the best of both worlds; you can explore the culture and history of an old city or lie on the beach if you are a sun worshiper.
I went with my girlfriends in September which in my opinion is the perfect time to go because you can extend your summer into September without the hot temperatures that you would get during peak season. It was still warm, but with a nice breeze (I hate it when it’s too hot) and we were still in shorts and strappy tops.
Below is my guide to doing Barcelona on a shoestring budget.
Where to stay
We were of course travelling on a budget, so we checked into the Sant Jordi Alberg hostel. With travelling, location is everything as you do not want to spend your precious time travelling into the city every day. We were about 10 minutes walking distance to the renowned Las Ramblas main thoroughfare which was handy as we got some fresh air and exercise every day and meant we could eat things we wanted guilt-free! In fact, we walked everywhere in the city!
I would recommend Sant Jordi Alberg hostel as the staff were so friendly, it was a chilled atmosphere, they did cheap or free dinners some nights and every night they would do a bar crawl which is a great way to meet other travellers.
Of course, every hostel will have its ‘token-weirdo’ and in our case it was Bobak. Bobak seemed relatively normal when we first met him in our shared dorm room but after a few days it became apparent that he was in fact a bit strange, for example he claimed to be a vegetarian but would eat meat. Unfortunately, my friend had to spend a morning with him when we were too hungover to get out of bed (trust me I judge myself for being too hungover to get out of bed) and tagged along with her to go look at some architecture. They shared lunch at a tapas restaurant and ordered a few things each to share, my aforementioned friend offered Bobak the last calamari, to which he replied that he couldn’t because he was a vegetarian, she said he had already eaten 2 pieces of it and he denied it – but he definitely had!
What to eat
La Boqueria market
This place was heaven and we passed it every morning on our walk down Las Ramblas and into town. It’s quite well-hidden off the main road, so make sure you have a map and know which side of the road it is on. Just a little advice as well, vendors on Las Ramblas sell smoothies and fresh fruit but don’t be tempted! They sell their wares for at least double or triple the prices that you would find elsewhere – and the same goes for souvenirs. Anyway, at this famous market you will find heaps of fruit of all colours of the rainbow, exotic fruit smoothies and fruit salads, along with cured meats, fresh fish, nuts and spices.
Every morning my friends and I would buy a fruit salad or a smoothie for an on-the-go breakfast into town and it is so cheap with prices starting from €1 for fruit salad and around €2.50 for a smoothie. I would recommend the guava smoothie and a pot of red juicy watermelon.
Reial is the Catalan word for ‘royal’ and the square was certainly worthy of its name. Plaça Reial is a beautiful old square with high porticos, palm trees and a flamboyant fountain in the middle. Despite being located off las Ramblas, we found a place here that was very reasonably priced, and it was the perfect place for dinner as you could sit out on the square and enjoy some good old-fashioned people-watching. It wasn’t a fancy restaurant or anything and we enjoyed some lovely pasta dishes with a bottle of wine – absolute heaven!
I know it might seem odd that I am putting a supermarket under ‘where to eat’, but if you are travelling on a shoestring budget like we were, then you cannot afford to eat out for every meal like some lucky people! The supermarket we came across on Las Ramblas was a ‘posh supermarket’ and really big! It even had a sushi counter! One or two nights we stopped by this place on the way home to pick up some food, because I don’t know about you, but I love having a picnic with lots of different things to choose from. You can have a starter, main and dessert if you want – all for €10!
La Sagrada Familia
I know this is a rather cliched one to mention but you simply can’t visit Barcelona and not go and see one of the most famous landmarks! La Sagrada Familia is the unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí and really is a sight to behold. Tickets start from €15 which get you entry to the church, but I would recommend getting the audio guide tour which is €22 as you can explore the church at your own pace. It is also nice to know what you are looking for, and the story behind things. I said to my friend that if I had such a beautiful church to worship in then I might be religious myself! Make sure you respect the dress code and pack a jumper to put over your shoulders and make sure you don’t wear your short shorts that day! Again, the restaurants around this tourist attraction should probably be avoided as they are tourist-traps!
This park was apparently conceived as an English-style garden city which unfortunately failed and was sold to the city authorities and opened as a public park. Parc Güell was declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO. I really enjoyed visiting this park and you can tell that Gaudi let his imagination run riot here with lots of weird and wonderful creatures like dragons and lizards, and the pavilions which remind you of the set of Game of Thrones. There are lots of photo opportunities because of the lovely colourful tiles and mosaics. Tickets cost €7.50 online and entrance is in half-hour slots, so make sure you are on time. Make sure you go up to the top to sit on the bench and see the lovely views across the city like we did. Bring a picnic with you because the restaurant is expensive and crowded.
Because I am not a sun worshiper there is nothing I appreciate more than sitting on the beach – under an umbrella – with an ice-cold beer or cocktail. There are so many beach bars that line the promenade so if you are wandering along then take the time for a pit-stop and a beverage.
Montjuïc cable car
After you have been to a beach bar you can walk along to the Montjuïc cable car. This will take you up to the top of Montjuïc. Up there you will find a restaurant which has a great view over the city and sea. You can get a return ticket or a single, we just got a single and walked down to the bottom to stretch our legs as we had queued for a long time.
In summary GO TO BARCELONA! It is the perfect city break with your girls or with your better half. We went for four days but I would go back again just because it was such a lovely city and there are still things that I feel I haven’t seen yet.
- Bring comfortable shoes as you will be doing a lot of walking!
- Make sure you buy one of those tacky fans from a souvenir vendor – you will need it! And after all, “When in Rome!”
- Watch out for street entertainers – some of them may be pickpockets
- Just wander around and get lost!
- We took about €50 per day for spending money and this was more than enough