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How to do Barcelona on a budget

By Sally Davies

24 November 20236 min read

Aerial view of Barceloneta beach in Barcelona on a bright blue day

Few cities can match Barcelona for its spread of attractions appealing to every kind of holidaymaker.

At its heart is a picturesque medieval quarter crowned by a towering gothic cathedral, while adjacent neighbourhoods boast buildings by many of the world’s finest contemporary architects, and, of course, Gaudí.

There is a wealth of museums, the best-loved football stadium in the world, and – a big bonus – the beach.

Even better? You can experience all of this on a budget. Here’s how.

Where to stay on a budget

Out of the tourist centre, but in the increasingly trendy neighbourhood of Sant Antoni, the Market Hotel is a great budget option for those who don’t want to compromise on style.

Small, smart bedrooms are decorated in black, white and red, and there are appreciated touches such as a bowl of apples at reception and free mineral water. Rooms range from single to superior suites and there is also a reasonably priced restaurant downstairs. You can pick up room-only deals for under €70 a night.

Over in the Eixample district, Praktik Garden has a plant-filled entrance and lobby made extra colourful by floor-to-ceiling books around the reception desk, and an astroturfed patio area on the first floor.

Next to this is a funky lounge area where you can help yourself to Nespresso coffee. The rooms on this floor are more elaborate but more expensive – go for one of the simple rooms upstairs, which cost as little as €62 a night in low season.

Alternatively, if you don’t mind sharing a dormitory, consider a hostel for an even cheaper night’s sleep. Hostel One Paralelo and Sant Jordi Hostel Gracia are both good options.

Where to eat on a budget

Tapas is a staple on most menus in Spain, averaging €4 - €6 a dish. Look to traditional bars and restaurants away from the main tourist streets to have your fill at local prices.

Equally good value is Spain’s menu del dia. Most restaurants offer this fixed-price menu at lunchtime (usually around €15, including one drink), so it’s a good idea to make this your main meal of the day.

Les Quinze Nits, is one of a chain of budget restaurants, though you’d never know, given the unique visual character of each. This one sits in the Plaça Reial, and has a large terrace under the arcades from which you can people-watch in the square. The food is a mix of Catalan and international dishes, and is a great price considering the elegant setting, around €25 a head.

It’s a shame to be on the Med and not try some seafood, but it can get very expensive. La Paradeta strips dining down to its essentials, with formica tables and a system whereby you collect your food from a hatch when it’s ready. The fish and shellfish, however, is as fresh and superb quality as you’ll find anywhere. You choose it yourself from a large, chipped ice-covered stall at the entrance. Enjoy a meal with drinks for under €20 a person.

What to see on a budget

The tourist office issues three- to five-day ‘Barcelona Cards’ (from €53) for transport and sightseeing, but they tend not to be value for money unless you have a punishing schedule of travelling and museum-going planned (and bear in mind that most places in Barcelona are within walking distance).

Better is the Articket (€38), which is valid for a year and allows entry to six of the best of the city’s art museums, including the Museu Picasso, the MACBA, the MNAC and the Fundació Miró.

A lot of Gaudí’s buildings are wildly expensive to get into, with long queues, but a stroll up the Passeig de Gràcia will take you past the façades of two of the finest: the colourfully tiled, dragon shaped Casa Batlló (no.43) and his maritime-themed apartment block La Pedrera.

You’ll also see plenty of other masterpieces of Modernisme architecture – just next to the Casa Batlló is the geometrically designed Casa Amatller, and on the southern corner of the same block, the frothy Casa Lleó i Morera.

Like all city-run museums in Barcelona, the Museu Picasso is free to visit on the first Sunday of the month, as well as at certain times during the week (from 5pm to 7pm on Thursday afternoons, otherwise €14). It’s housed in a set of beautifully preserved merchant’s mansions from the 15th century and contains hundreds of pieces of interest to Picasso fans. The museum also has some of the best temporary exhibitions in town.

How to get around on a budget

The simplest way to get into town from the airport is on the Aerobus, with a journey time of around 35 minutes from the airport to Plaça Catalunya, and costing €11.65 return. Alternatively, taxis are more affordable in Barcelona than other European cities and are considered safe and reliable. Prices are metered rather than fixed, and can be cost effective if split between multiple passengers.

Barcelona is very easy to get around, and distances are – in most cases – walkable. If you do want to rest your feet, a T-casual (available in metro stations) starts at €11.35 for Zone 1 travel and allows ten journeys by bus, metro or local train (combinations are allowed), plus can be shared with more than one person.

Or check out the city’s e-bike scheme, AMBici. You can buy passes per use or at flat rates. The first 30 minutes of each is free (increasing to €0.15 in 2024), and €0.50 for each additional 30 minutes.

Insider tips

  • If you can, avoid visiting the city in high season, particularly Easter week and during July and August when hotel prices skyrocket and many restaurants are closed.
  • An increasing number of sights now offer online ticketing, which is generally 10-15% cheaper than buying tickets on the door. And, if you intend to take a trip on a tourist bus, do this first, since they will give you a book of discount vouchers for various attractions.
  • Tap water is safe to drink in Barcelona so bring a reusable water bottle with you and fill up for free in your accommodation rather than buying bottled water.
  • For cheap eats on the go, look out for daily food markets where you can pick up fresh breads, cheeses and fruit and vegetables for just a few euros.

*Please note: all prices correct at time of writing.

NH Collection Barcelona Gran Hotel Calderón

  • Barcelona, Barcelona Area, Spain
  • 29 July 2024
  • Room only
  • From Manchester

Prices and availability shown can change. Always check pricing with partner before booking.

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