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.
And you can experience all of this on a budget, writes Barcelona insider, Sally Davies.
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. There is also a reasonably priced restaurant downstairs.
Recently renovated, the 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 are very cheap in low season.
Les Quinze Nits (Plaça Reial 6, Barri Gòtic; 0034 93 317 30 75; average €25 a head) 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 watch the life in the square. The food is a mix of Catalan and international dishes, and is a great price considering the elegant setting.
It’s a shame to be on the Med and not try some seafood, but it can get very expensive. La Paradeta(Carrer Comercial 7; 0034 93 268 19 39; average €20 a head) 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.
The tourist office issues three- to five-day ‘Barcelona Cards’ (from €45) for transport and sightseeing, but they tend not to work out as 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 (€30), valid for a year and which 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 (Carrer de Provença 261-265, corner with Passeig de Gràcia).
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.
Look out too for the Modernista wrought-iron lampposts and tiled benches dotted along the boulevard.
In common with all city-run museums in Barcelona, the Museu Picasso (Carrer de Montcada 15-23; 0034 93 256 30 00; free 3-8pm Sunday, otherwise €11) is free from 3pm to 8pm on Sunday afternoons. (Many museums are also free on one extra day a month, check individual websites for details.)
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 (though few of his better-known paintings, since it celebrates his years in Barcelona as a recent art graduate). The museum also has some of the best temporary exhibitions in town.
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 €10.20 return.
Barcelona is very easy to get around, and distances are – in most cases – walkable. A T-10 (available in metro stations) costs €9.95 and allows 10 journeys on bus, metro or local train (combinations are allowed), and can be shared with more than one person.
If you can, avoid visiting the city in high season, particularly Easter week and July/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.
Most restaurants in Spain offer a fixed-price menu at lunchtime (usually around €12, including one drink), so it’s a good idea to make this your main meal of the day.