Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe. The city is rooted in history and culture, there is a great party scene and walking through the streets is like walking through a giant outdoor museum, featuring some of the greatest architecture you’ve ever seen. There’s 300 days of sun and one euro beer and tapas with a great beach at the end of La Ramblas – Barcelona literally has it all. In fact, the city has so much to do it can feel like a lot of pressure to do it all if you’re only there for a short time and so I have devised the ultimate budget guide to getting the most out of the city on a two day trip.
MORNING: BE A TOURIST
I think it’s best to get the touristy stuff out of the way early in the morning. Walk down La Rambla, check out the shops and people watch. Boost your energy with a two euro smoothie at the La Boqueria market, peak down the side roads then head to the Columbus monument and check out the beach. Walk smoothly passed the ridiculously overpriced restaurants and bars then head to the Arc de Triomf for a quick pic. Feeling like a tourist? Good, now you’re free to experience real Barcelona.
I never really had an appreciation of architecture until I went to Barcelona. I naively didn’t realise that buildings could tell stories and be art until I saw Guadi. I think a good place to start to see the most famous and in my opinion, the most beautiful buildings, is at the Basilica Cathedral at the edge of the Gothic Quarter. Have a look inside, it’s free and really quite beautiful. From here, head to Placa de Gracia and start walking in the opposite direction to the beach. On this street you will see your first Gaudi spectacular and will begin your journey towards the Sagrada Familia – his final and grandest project.
<— Start here!!
You shouldn’t have much trouble finding the buildings mentioned without Google maps because there will always be a crowd of tourists gathered around them. Keep an eye out on the pavement for circular red stamps which signify that there is a landmark nearby. Makre sure you check out the following:
I don’t know how better to describe the appearance of the building than “crazy.” It embodies Guadi’s belief that buildings should not be symmetrical (as God didn’t intend nature to be that way) and is colorful and exciting. The building tells the story of St George and the Dragon, an important legend in Catalonia where St George rescued the virgin princess from the dragon after she had been sent as a sacrifice to protect the village. The décor of the building resembles the scales of the dragon and the balconies have the appearance of bones and skulls, symbolising the virgins that the dragon devoured.
Next to the Casa Battlo is Casa Amattler, which was designed in the late 19th century for a famous chocolatier. The neo-gothic style takes on the appearance of a sweet shop with its ‘colorful wrapper’ appearance. Inside there is a chocolate shop and you can see the first elevator to appear in someone’s home. He was so large that he had his servants pull him up on a lift to get to the top floor. Being so large was a point of pride for the owner which you can see by the rounded balconies which are a symbol of his figure!
A group of aristocrats paid Gaudi a large sum of money to build La Pedrera and they gave him total freedom in his design. Gaudi wasn’t a big fan of the aristocrats so took this opportunity to mess with them a bit – he built a building that they hated. It takes on the appearance of a desert and the balconies look like seaweed. The best bit is that the staircases are all muddled like in Harry Potter – the second floor staircase leads to the forth, the first to the fifth making the house a somewhat irritating maze. Another fun fact about the building is that it actually gave Matt Lucas inspiration for the desert in Star Wars and if you closely, you’ll see a distinct similarity between the chimneys and Darth Vader!
You have to finish the tour with Gaudi’s pride and joy: The Sagrada Familia. I’m only going to upload one photo of it because I think it’s best if you enjoy it as a surprise. There are no words to describe how breathtakingly beautiful it is and I really think its beauty is hard to capture in a photo, although you will see many tourists trying. Unfortunately, Gaudi kept most of his ideas in his head so his students had to guess how he intended the cathedral to be finished. I think there is definitely an “uglier” side to it and there is an obvious difference between the two. At the front of the “uglier” side you will see the small and modest house where Gaudi spent most of his time coming up with his ideas. He was not a lavish man and his poor-man appearance actually played a big part of his death. He fell into the railway and no one would help him because they thought he was just a beggar pretending to be Gaudi. When he finally was recognized and rescued, it was too late. What was he looking at right before he died? The Sagrada Familia. Make sure you don’t miss it.
EVENING: TAPAS AND BARS
After a long day of walking, you will definitely deserve a good meal that doesn’t eat into your budget. I would really recommend going to George Orwell Square (Placa de George Orwell) for cheap and tasty dinners. You can get a three course meal at the restaurant on the corner for as cheap as 6 euros. While you are there you can check out the quirky shops surrounding the square and the statue dedicated to George Orwell in the center, which is meant to symbolize an eye for Big Brother watching. Ironically, the first security camera in Barcelona was actually installed on this square!
In terms of bars, Universitat is a student area so you will find lots of cheap bars where you can get one euro beers. The Barcelona nightlife tends to start late so if you want to go out, don’t hit the clubs until midnight. Avoid the clubs on the beach because they are tacky and overpriced. You can find some pretty good recommendations online for bars depending on what you are into. I personally liked “Nevermind” which is a famous grunge bar with a skate park inside, plus you get free popcorn. It’s definitely gimmicky and at the far end of the hipster scale but it’s fun and we met some cool people there. Hostel bar crawls tend to be pretty good too!
MORNING: GOtHIC QUARTER
Most days there are free walking tours that start at the cathedral. I’ve been on the tour of the gothic quarter twice and would really recommend it if you are into history. It’s a good way to break out of tourist Barcelona and learn about its culture and history, plus the guides tend to give good advice on how to make the most of your trip. Even if you don’t go on the tour, spend the morning walking around the quarter anyway and listen to the buskers, eat churros and look up everywhere you go. If you enjoy the buskers, please don’t forget to give them some change – it’s how they make a living!
AFTERNOON: PARK GUEL (or/and) MUSEUMS
You might have time to do both if you time your day properly but the two things I personally recommend are Park Guel and the Picasso museum if like me, you are a fan, which is free on Thursdays.
Park Guel is beautiful and walking around it for me was a peaceful and spiritual experience. There are so many buskers and the atmosphere to the park is really special. If you walk to the top you can see the whole of Barcelona and the view is breathtaking. In terms of seeing the Gaudi there, I think paying to step behind a rope is a bit of a rip off. If you walk round far enough, you can get a view of the buildings without having to spare any Euros.
As the evening draws to a close, get some sangrias and repeat last night but in new places! Relax and debrief.
T10 tickets: If you are not up for walking everywhere and either want to cram as much in as possible or are going to be staying a while, get a T10 ticket. This gets you ten journeys for ten euros. Also, make sure you are aware what time the metro shuts if you are going to be out drinking.
Museum free/cheap days: Have a look online for museum free days. There are a lot of them and this means you can check out great artwork without breaking into your budget.
Don’t buy food on La Rambla: I cannot emphasise this enough. There is so much good food and drink in Barcelona but also plenty of tourist traps. Whatever you fancy on La Rambla, you can find for half the price if you go to streets to the side.
Cheap drinks/bars: Universitat and basically any bar that is not right in the center.
Etiquette: Catalonians are known for being passionately Catalonian, not Spanish. If you are visiting and want to be polite, learn your hellos and thank you’s in Catalan, not Spanish. People will respond you better and you won’t risk offending. Also, apparently some bars have a special tourist menu with special (i.e. more expensive) prices for people that rudely don’t make the effort!
Don’t go to the zoo: Lastly, I just want to mention the Barcelona zoo. I went there because I love animals and I was appalled by the conditions the animals are kept in. The elephants and tigers have barely any space and a lot of the animals were distressed and unhappy. I found the whole experience very depressing and regret giving them any of my money.
I hope that you have found this guide helpful and not too lengthy – I wanted to cover as much as possible! I adore Barcelona and think that everybody should experience it at least once. Just remember while you are there to always look up and to look around and you will feel like the star of your own movie.