Barcelona has one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean and in some places the streets seemed to breathe with the movement of tourists. A fast paced art and history lover’s paradise, Barcelona is also one of the most authentically raw and energized European cities I’ve explored. Dark twisty lanes seem to echo secrets, while open air plaza’s are alive with the loud laughter of vendors and browsers, spotted beneath waving palm trees. Truly a city of contradictions.
Las Ramblas is the most touristy spot to lay your head, but is also a great base for exploring the city. From here you can walk to almost all the big sights, or if needed, take the €2 subway.
Even with the cranes and over 100 years of constant construction, La Sagrada Familia is easily a highlight of Barcelona. Much larger than I anticipated, the sand castle-like organic church will have you craning your neck trying to take in the intricacies Gaudí painstakingly conceived. Having seen pictures of the inside I was disappointed when I saw a queue snaking around the building. Instead of joining the group, I found an empty patch of grass to admire the amazing (free) exterior in depth. You can walk here from Las Ramblas as I did, but to save yourself the hour-long walk you can also take the Metro to “Sagara Familia.”
Personally I found Gaudí’s other work even more original, and found myself wishing I could live with no straight lines in my life. The Casa Batlló is wonderfully colourful inside, but is striking enough (and free) from the outside to captivate your inner artist.
Gaudí’s Park Güell is the ultimate for budget travelers. With no entrance fee, the park will take hours to explore all the natural and surreal beauty inside, all while lending a panoramic view of Barcleona.
If architecture isn’t your thing, Barcelona would be the city to change your mind, but food is also expectedly a huge part of Spanish culture that you won’t want to miss out on. Visit one of the many markets to sample whatever catches your eye. The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is ideally located right off Las Ramblas, and shockingly isn’t catered toward tourists. This is an ideal place to purchase local meat, cheese, fruits and veggies for an affordable picnic lunch. If it’s old posters, postcards or books that you’re looking for, head to Sant Antoni Market on a Sunday, also just a short walk.
Restaurants abound on the streets of Barcelona, and Tapas restaurants are Spain’s genius – undeniably a budget foodie’s revelation. Forget the sense of panic felt when looking at a menu and worrying about making the wrong choice – that feeling that creeps up when you are in town for a limited amount of time and want to make the most of your local restaurant experiences. This is an opportunity to try multiple dishes, all while staying within your budget. Try to find a place outside the tourist centre to score an even better deal. Top tries include patates bravas – fried potato’s with hot sauce (try the Galician version) bombas – deep fried balls of salt cod, and of course Spanish cured ham.
It is also important to know when to relax on budget and give into a few local specialties that you won’t find at home, or at least not for the same price. The perfect opportunity for this in Spain is the ever-elusive Iberico ham. At approximately €1 a slice, this top-notch cured meat is worth a momentary weakness.