Barcelona, the capital of the Catalonia region, is probably the most popular destination in Spain, priding itself with mindblowing architecture, artsy scene, and museums of world-famous artists. The city is like an open-air museum, where you need to be careful while strolling down its streets in order not to miss something very unique and beautiful. Therefore, here’s the ultimate guide of what to do in Barcelona on a budget.
4 Things to know before going to Barcelona
Be aware of pickpocketers; they aren’t violent but are very quick! Have your belongings and valuable items always on your site, especially when walking through touristy places. You can’t be safe even in early mornings, at the cafe’s outdoor seating area, or elsewhere!
Barcelona, this famous town of Costa Brava coastal region, is always crowded with tourists, all year round! If you are like me and don’t like crowded places, wake up early and walk to those famous districts in peace.
One of the main things to do in Barcelona is to visit Gaudi’s breathtaking architectural landmarks. Thus, one of the things to know before going to Barcelona is to buy tickets for museums online beforehand. Some offer discounts when purchasing online and gives you access without waiting in line. Lines at the museums can get quite insane!
Moreover, if you are on a budget, some museums are free to enter on the first Sunday of each month, thus plan your travel around those dates. Some museums even offer free entrance on other days as well, so check their websites. Do note that architectural marvels of Gaudi are never free, such as Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, Casa Vicens Gaudí, or La Sagrada Familia.
Getting around Barcelona
Before I talk about navigating yourself through Barcelona, you’ll need to know how to get from Barcelona airport to the city center. There’s a direct bus called Aerobus that stands at every arrival hall of the airport and departs every 5 minutes. One way ticket costs €5.90; a two-way card, valid for 15 days, is cheaper and costs €10.20. The bus stops at Pl. Espanya, Gran Via-Urgell, Pl. Universidad, and Pl.Catalunya. You can buy tickets online, at the stop via a machine that takes only credit/debit cards, or at the driver with the cash.
Even though Barcelona is a big city, the metro system is very straightforward and easy to use. Moreover, Barcelona is a walkable city, and most of the attractions are reachable on foot. However, if you don’t feel like walking, check out the review of the Barcelona hop-on hop-off bus tour.
The metro has ten lines, and each has a different color, which makes it easy to remember. I was staying near Placa Catalunya. Therefore, I haven’t used the subway as much. I walked almost everywhere. If you need transportation, you can buy two, three, four, and five day Barcelona Visitor Cards. If you buy them online beforehand, you get a 10% discount. Otherwise, one journey costs €2.20. You can also purchase a T-10 ticket for €10.20, granting you ten metro journeys around Barcelona.
What to do in Barcelona on a budget – FREE things to do in Barcelona
Wander through narrow streets of Gothic Quarter & El Born districts
One of the top things to do in Barcelona is to visit its two main districts Gothic Quarter and El Born. The first one is a charming neighborhood with medieval streets and lanes. It encircles the oldest parts of the city and is home to the remains of Barcelona’s Roman wall and several significant landmarks of that time. Despite the name, most of the buildings you’ll see today, date back to the 19th and 20 centuries and not to the Middle Ages.
The quarter has a labyrinth-like layout, where small streets open out into squares. The most famous landmarks of the area include the Roman and Medieval walls, remains of the Roman Temple, Church of Santa Maria del Pi, Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, Plaça del Rei, Plaça de Sant Felip Neri, Palau Reial Major, and Els Quatre Gats to name a few.
Neighboring the Gothic Quarter, El Born is much quieter and less crowded than its neighbor. Similar to the Gothic, the streets of this district are narrow, and buildings date back to the Medieval times. Some of the most famous sights to see here is the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, the Museu Picasso, and Mercat del Born.
Additionally, El Born has nice photo spots to take beautiful pictures. Here, you can find gorgeous street art along with lanes decorated with light bulbs, stars, and pennants.
Don’t forget Mercat del Born
Mercat del Born was a public market and today is an archeological site. It was the biggest covered square in Europe, which signified the start of Modernism in Catalan architecture. The market opened in 1876 and operated until 1971. The archeological excavations discovered ruins of the 3rd century urban live. Today, the complex has permanent and temporary exhibitions, touch screens to show El Born in 3D, a model of the building, and a gift shop.
- Opening Hours: Always
- Entrance Fee: FREE
Walk down Las Ramblas
La Rambla, the main, tree-lined pedestrian street covers 1.2 km and consists of several shorter streets with different names. That is why in Spanish it’s called the plural version – Las Ramblas. Walking down the Las Ramblas is a must when it comes to things to do in Barcelona.
The street connects Placa de Catalunya with Port Vell and Christopher Columbus Monument. La Rambla gets very crowded, especially during the high tourist season, so make sure you are aware of pickpocketers.
What to do in Barcelona on a budget: Visit the markets in Barcelona
Mercado de La Boqueria
This is a large public market on La Rambla, making it one of the foremost Barcelona attractions; hence, it gets very crowded. Here, you can get all kinds of goods, such as fresh juices, fruit salads, fish and seafood snacks, fruits, vegetables, jamon, cheese, and olives, to name just a few.
Mercado Santa Caterina
Alternatively, Mercado Santa Caterina is quieter and less touristy, but very centrally located. Here, you can browse the stalls peacefully and buy some products. However, unlike touristy La Boqueria, this market doesn’t offer ready-made snacks, only fresh juices, and fruit salads. It’s a great place to buy groceries if you are staying in an apartment.
What to do in Barcelona on a budget: parks and squares
People-watch at Plaça de Catalunya
This large square in the center of Barcelona is both the city center and the spot where the old city (Gothic Quarter and El Born) and the Eixample neighborhood meet. Additionally, some of the main avenues and streets meet at the square, such as La Rambla, Passeig de Gracia, Portal de l’Angel, and Rambla de Catalunya. Occupying around 50,000 sq. meters, Placa de Catalunya, is famous for its statues and fountains.
Visit Arco de Triunfo
Arch of Triumph is a Neo-Mudejar style brick arch built as the main gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. The front features the stone sculpture “Barcelona welcomes the nations”, while the opposite side has a stone carving entitled “Recompense” and represents the award-granting ceremony to the participants of the Fair. On the sides, it has allegories of industry and agriculture, along with art and trade.
Have a relaxing stroll in Ciutadella Park
Created in the middle of the 19th century, Ciutadella Park was the only green space of Barcelona at that time. It covers 280,000 sq. meters and is home to the zoo, a small lake, Palau del Parlament de Catalunya, a large fountain designed by Josep Fontserè, and several museums. It’s believed that young Gaudi contributed to the design of the fountain.
Visit one of the biggest squares in Barcelona
Placa d’Espanya is one of the biggest squares in Barcelona. Built for International Exhibition in 1929, the plaza features a fountain, two Venetian Towers, and a promenade leading to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. To have a splendid view of the square, go to the roof of Arena shopping mall. It’s the round one facing the square. There’s a lift that takes you directly to the panoramic viewpoint, but it costs something. So go inside and take the escalators to the fourth floor.
“Get lost” at Labyrinth Park of Horta
This hidden gem of Barcelona is a perfect getaway from the overcrowded city. Even though the park has beautiful buildings of Neoclassical style and Italian-inspired terraces, the main attraction here is the maze itself. With over 600-meter tall hedge walls, the maze features the statue of Greek God of Love, Eros, in the center. Some of the pavilions look over the labyrinth and pride themselves with statues of other Greek gods. Here’s more of off the beaten path and hidden gems of Barcelona,
What to do in Barcelona: Enjoy panoramic views
To enjoy panoramic views of Barcelona you can go either at Tibidabo or Bunkers del Carmel. Tibidabo is the tallest mountain overlooking the city. Dominated by Sagrat Cor church, the place is among the top Barcelona attractions. The Sacred Heart of Jesus sculpture, similar to the one in Rio de Janeiro, sits on the top of the church. Go inside the church for beautiful paintings and decorations. And if you have more time to spend here, there’s an Amusement Park with a colorful Ferris Wheel and other carousels to have fun.
You can get there with Tibidabo Funicular, Tramvia Blau, by car, or a minibus 111 connecting Vallvidrera village with the upper station of Vallvidrera funicular.
Bunkers del Carmel
Visiting Bunkers del Carmel is among Barcelona tourist attractions because it offers a gorgeous view of the city. During the Spanish Civil War, the top of the Turo de la Rovira hill was used as an anti-aircraft fortification to look over the entire Barcelona.
The place has a large, 105mm cannons and masonry defenses to protect the city from bombing. After the war ended, those weapons were removed, and the bunkers were left alone. It used to be a hidden gem for a couple of years, and today, the area gets so many tourists and locals that it’s hard to find a place to sit and enjoy the view.
Montjuic is another hill in Barcelona featuring a castle, Magic Fountain Show, Fundació Joan Miró, a modern art museum showcasing the works of Joan Miró, botanical gardens, museum of ethnology, the Catalan Museum of Archeology, and The Olympic and Sports Museum.
What to do in Barcelona: Port and Beaches
Walk down the Port of Barcelona
Spanning a 2000-year history, Port of Barcelona is an important commercial hub of Europe in the Mediterranean. It’s also Catalonia’s largest port and has three zones: Port Vell, or the Old Port, Barcelona Free Port, and the commercial/industrial port. Come here for a relaxing stroll in the afternoon or evening. And if you get hungry, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes to enjoy Catalonian cuisine.
Sunbath or relax at the beaches of Barcelona
Apart from sightseeing, Barcelona prides itself on the sandy coastline. Beaches in Barcelona are clean and offer all the necessary infrastructure for your comfortable dip in the sea. The coast, divided into several areas, covers around 160 kilometers. Here are the names of the beaches: Barceloneta, Nova Icaria, Bogatell, and Mar Bella, to name a few.
All of those beaches have public showers, toilets, bungalows, sunbeds, and umbrellas. Additionally, there are playgrounds for kids and volleyball fields.
What to do in Barcelona on a budget: Top Barcelona Attractions
Take a look at Casa de les Punxes
The Casa de les Punxes, also known as Casa Terradas is a Modernisme style building at the intersection of three streets in Eixample district. Bartomeu Terradas Brutau commissioned Josep Puig i Cadafalch to create a house for his three sisters – Josefa, Angela, and Rosa. The result of the design was to reflect old medieval castles featuring elements of various architectural styles and trends of the 20th century. Its six pointed towers with distinctive design gave the name Casa de les Punxes.
- Opening Hours: Everyday: 10 a.m – 7 p.m with last entrance at 6 p.m
- Entrance Fee: from €13. Buy tickets here and check the timetable
Admire the beauty of Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral is the Gothic religious building and seat of Barcelona’s Archbishop. Built during the 13th and 15th centuries, the cathedral is a magnificent construction with the late 19th-century neo-Gothic facade, and stunning roof featuring a wide range of mythical and domestic animals.
- Opening Hours: For touristic visit – Mon-Fri: 12:30 p.m – 7:15 p.m; Sat-Sun: 12:30 p.m – 4:45 p.m
- Entrance Fee: €7
See the works of Picasso
The museum of Pablo Picasso is home to one of the most comprehensive collections by Pablo Picasso. You’ll see around 4,251 of his artworks, starting from his childhood finishing with Cubism. Among the exhibits, you’ll see two of his first major works – The First Communion and Science and Charity. Overall, the museum showcases Picasso’s relationship with Barcelona.
I won’t bother you with many details. It’s a must-visit place even if you are not that familiar with his works.
- Opening Hours: Mondays: 10 a.m – 5 p.m; Tue-Sun: 9 a.m – 8:30 p.m; Thursdays: 9 a.m – 9:30 p.m
- Entrance Fee: €12. Buy tickets here and check the timetable
- TIP: You can enter the museum for FREE on the first Sundays of each month (9 a.m – 7 p.m), on Thursdays from 6:00 p.m – 9:30 p.m, and on February 12th, May 18th and September 24th. However, you’ll need to “buy” the ticket online to be able to enter the museum. They won’t let you in if you just show up.
Explore one of the beautiful hospitals
One of the most important places to visit in Barcelona is this former Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau in El Guinardo neighborhood. Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the complex was built between 1901-30 and functioned as a hospital till 2009. Today, it’s a museum where you can visit several buildings to learn the history and see how the patient rooms looked like.
The complex is quite big and includes 26 buildings; however, the origin of the institution dates back to the beginning of the 15th century when six small medieval hospitals merged. In 2003, a new hospital building was built next to it, that’s why this one stopped functioning as a clinic. Together with Palau de la Musica Catalana, the hospital is a UNESCO site.
- Opening Hours: April-October: Mon-Sat: 9:30 a.m – 7 p.m; Sun-and Holidays: 9:30 a.m – 3 p.m; November-March: Mon-Sat: 9:30 a.m – 5 p.m; Sun-and Holidays: 9:30 a.m – 3 p.m;
- Entrance Fee: from €14. Buy tickets here
- TIP: FREE entrance on first Sundays of each month. Unlike the Museum of Picasso, you can show up without reserving your spot.
Visit one of the most beautiful concert halls
One of the top things to do in Barcelona is to visit Palau de la Musica Catalana, the most spectacular and mind-blowing a concert hall I have visited. Also designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the building was constructed between 1905-08 for the choral society called Orfeó Català.
I only took a guided visit, but if you can, attend a concert or a flamenco dance show here. It will be a completely new experience! Both the interior and the exterior of the concert hall is mesmerizing. I was planning on buying a self-guided ticket, but unfortunately, all the tickets were sold out for the next three months. I am glad I took the guided visit as I learned much more than I would have by reading sources on the internet.
Finances to build the concert hall came mostly from the public; however, Barcelona’s bourgeoisie and wealthy industrialists also contributed. Even today, as it’s privately owned, it manages to sustain itself by tourists and donations from culture enthusiasts all over the world.
The tour lasts around an hour and takes you to the beautiful balcony and the main hall explaining all the details the architect incorporated in the building. It’s the only concert hall in the whole of Europe lit up by natural light! So, I won’t tell you all the secrets that Domènech used and got inspired from. It’s better to see it yourself.
- Opening Hours: April-October: Mon-Sat: 9:30 a.m – 7 p.m; Sun-and Holidays: 9:30 a.m – 3 p.m; November-March: Mon-Sat: 9:30 a.m – 5 p.m; Sun-and Holidays: 9:30 a.m – 3 p.m;
- Entrance Fee: €20; advanced purchase (21 days earlier) – €16; self-guided visit – €15. Buy tickets here
What to do in Barcelona: Admire Gaudi’s Masterpieces
La Sagrada Familia
Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is an unfinished Roman Catholic church and one of the essential Barcelona attractions. It is still under development and should be finished in 2029. Gaudi’s work on the building is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The construction started in 1882 under the supervision of Francisco de Paula del Villar, a Spanish Architect. In a year he resigned, and Gaudi took over, transforming the whole project in his style. The building combines curvilinear Art Nouveau and Gothic elements.
Gaudí dedicated the rest of his life to this project, and when he died in 1926, not even the quarter of the project was complete. The construction solely relies on private donations, which slowed down the process and was also interrupted by the Spanish Civil War. The Revolutionaries set fire to the crypt where Gaudi was buried and partially destroyed his original plans, paster models, and drawings. It took 16 years of work to piece together the fragments to finish the church.
- Opening Hours: November-February: 9 a.m – 6 p.m; March – October: 9 a.m – 7 p.m; April – September: 9 a.m – 8 p.m
- Entrance Fee: from €17. Buy tickets here
Considered as one of the masterpieces of Gaudi, Casa Batllo was redesigned by him at the beginning of the 20th century. The local name of the building translates into English as the House of Bones because of its skeletal, visceral, organic quality.
During my visit, the facade of Casa Batllo was under construction, and the line to get inside was ridiculously long. That’s why you need to purchase tickets for such famous buildings online!
Similar to other works of Gaudi, this one is of Art Nouveau and Modernisme style. The ground floor has extraordinary tracery, (stonework that holds the glass in Gothic windows), irregular oval windows, and cursive stonework. The building has few straight lines, while most of the exterior features colorful mosaics made from broken ceramic tiles.
Standing next to the Casa Batllo, Casa Amatller is the Modernisme style building by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Together with Casa Batllo, Casa Lleó-Morera, and Casa Mulleras, they are the most important architectural buildings referred to as Block of Discord in Eixample neighborhood.
- Opening Hours: It depends on the renovation and restoration works, but guided tours are available
- Entrance Fee: €10. Check their website
Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera, translates into English as “The stone quarry,” referencing its bizarre rough-hewn design. This modernist building was the last private house Gaudi designed for Mila family between 1906-12.
The building is characterized by the wavy stone exterior, twisting wrought-iron balconies, and the breathtaking terrace. Like any other Gaudi’s works, Casa Mila is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Opening Hours: March 1 – November 3: 9 a.m – 8:30 p.m; November 4 – February 28: 9 a.m – 6:30 p.m; There are also night tours available.
- Entrance Fee: from €22. Buy tickets here
Casa Vicens Gaudí
Casa Vicens is another spectacular work of Gaudi. Located in Gracia neighborhood, it’s the first building of Art Nouveau and the first one designed by Antoni. It reflects the Neo-Mudejar architecture and also includes neoclassical and oriental styles.
What made this building so unique at that time was when Gaudi used different techniques and incorporated various materials to design the house, including ceramic tiles, iron, concrete, and glass. With Casa Vinces, he turned down the traditional style and created his own in the field of architecture.
- Opening Hours: Every day. April 1 – October 14: 10 a.m to 8 p.m; October 15 – March 31: Mondays 10 a.m – 3:00 p.m. Tue-Sun 10 a.m – 7 p.m
- Entrance Fee: €16 Buy tickets here
- TIP: FREE entrance on May 22
Park Guell is a public park and another masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi. The park, located on Carmel Hill, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular destination for many tourists. The park is quite big and free to enter; only the area of Gaudi’s architecture has the entrance fee.
A Spanish entrepreneur, Eusebi Güell, commissioned Gaudi to design the park. The construction started in 1900 and lasted for 14 years; however, it was officially opened only in 1926. The interior of the park reflects Gaudi’s naturalist phase when he got inspired by organic shapes. While creating the design, he released all this architectural mind and put his innovative structural solutions into practice. This led to the development of his organic style and set the foundation for the design of La Sagrada Familia.
- Opening Hours: Varies by season
- Entrance Fee: €10. Buy tickets here and check the timetable
- TIP: Come here early in the morning, before it opens to enter for FREE.
Other things to do in Barcelona
Take a Photo Walk Tour
Experience Barcelona in a bit different way. As I was traveling alone this time and I needed some great photos taken of me in the city, I decided to take a Photo Walk Tour with a local photographer through central parts of Barcelona. I booked the tour through Triple.co, a platform of locals offering various experiences in the major cities of Europe, including Amsterdam, Berlin, Bologna, Lisbon, London, Madrid, and many more.
I have never booked such a tour, so I was excited and nervous at the same time. It lasted around two hours, and the group was small – only four people. The photographer took as through El Born, Gothic quarter, and Ciutadella Park. We all tried to cheer each other and make each other laugh to look as natural as possible. You’ll get a link of all photos in a week, but you can only download 25 for free. The photographer will explain everything once you’ll be done.
Experience local lifestyle in Gracia neighborhood
Wandering through the streets and squares of Gracia neighborhood is one of the best things to do in Barcelona. Here, away from the bustling city center and tourists, you’ll feel the diverse and vibrant Catalan life at its best. It’s an ideal place to see how locals spend their day without any distractions. Sit down at its squares, either at the cafe or straight on the pavement as locals do, listen to a guy playing live music, and watch families spending time together.
Visit the museums in Barcelona
Barcelona City History Museum: History lovers will enjoy a visit here to learn a historical heritage of Barcelona starting from the Roman rule until the present day. The headquarters of the museum is in Placa del Rei in Gothic Quarter and manages a couple of historical landmarks around the city.
Erotic Museum: If you love unordinary museums, pay a visit to the Erotic Museum in the very center of Barcelona. The collection here is small and modest, yet very intriguing. Those exhibits were collected and owned by the same person. It is the only museum of such kind in Spain, offering cultural and historical records of erotic influence in the humanity beginning since the day of existing.
Museum of Chocolate: Are you a chocolate lover? Then come here learn about the history of chocolate and how it entered Europe, what medicinal benefits and nutritional value it has, and to see some of the best artsy representation of Barcelona’s most iconic buildings made from chocolate!
Museum of Funeral Carriages: I regret not having time to visit this museum; it makes the list of weird museums around the world. The collection includes 13 gorgeously ornate funeral carriages, three motor automobiles, and six coaches designed to carry the relatives to the cathedral and cemetery. All of them have historical, cultural, and artistic value dating back to the 18th century and tells the story of funeral customs back in the day.
Prepare for the trip
To ease your travel planning, check out all the posts about Spain travel. Additionally, here are some of the websites and services I use when preparing for my next adventure anywhere in the world.
– Book affordable flights on Kiwi.com, a platform that shows the best routes and flight deals to your destination. There’s a money-back guarantee if you miss the flight!
– Check iVisa to see if you need a tourist visa to visit Spain, how to apply online if applicable, or where’s the nearest embassy or consulate
– Find budget-friendly deals on all sorts of accommodation types on Booking and Agoda, or find a cool apartment on Airbnb and get $34 off on your first stay (my invite expires in 30 days after you sign up!
– Pre-book a private transfer or buy bus tickets from Barcelona Airport to your hotel
– Buy the most flexible and budget-friendly travel insurance, SafetyWing, to cover all sorts of health problems on the road
– Book in advance some of the best city walks, cultural experiences, and day tours to maximize your stay and experience here
Get more inspiration