Barcelona: How to Visit a City (almost) for Free

How can I even try to explain a visit to a city like Barcelona?
Viewing the Museu Nacional d'Art Catalunya
I can't, guys. I'm sorry, but I can't. Its expanse of secret walkways, ancient history, and pulsing artwork expands right over my ability to do it justice.
A modern Spanish red riding hood
  
Admiring this sculpture on the edge of the city as we head toward the bay
What I can explain to you is something very much in my descriptive abilities: how to save money visiting a big city like Barcelona. Now I know a lot of you are saying that cities are where we're meant to burn money, but when you're traveling on a budget, there are very few places that fall into that category. Yes, you will spend more money in a city than working on a farm for free room and board, but you can stretch that dollar/euro/yen/pure gold far enough to ensure that you will have enough money to visit as many cities as you like in the future.

So here are some basic rules:

1. When it comes to eating, do your research.
Food is important. Second to culture, it is the most important reason to visit a city (or maybe it's first?) Cities thrive on the fact that most tourists have no idea what they're doing when it comes to finding authentically good meals. But the fact is that tracking down a good place to eat is pretty easy now with things like TripAdvisor, Yelp, or food blogs.
We went to Juicy Jones twice, once for it's amazing and healthy smoothie selection (avocado, banana, and cocoa? Great following a night of too much cava), and the second time to try out their food
 My Japanese noodle salad had potential, but was severely under-flavored and John's stuffed eggplant was delectable but small-portioned.
It also has a great selection of house-made hippy tea blends. This one was Chai with ginger and other Indian spices.
While I'd love to visit the most renowned restaurants a city has to offer, these are often the most expensive. Blowing $100+ on a meal is literally more than what John and I spend in a month, unless we're buying plane tickets or something. Instead, I use search functions on Yelp and TripAdvisor to narrow down options based on price and rating. Then you have a choice of the top rated restaurants in your price range. Many times we find a route based on small food items so that we can literally eat all day. Afterwards, I map out the restaurants (and on Yelp, they're already mapped out for you) and from there, I plan out the day's route. And yes, I totally plan out the itinerary based on where I plan on eating that day, connecting the dots based on the city's main attractions.
La Seu Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter
A statue through the flags...
Let’s not forget that cities have amazing cheap food, too. Sometimes even more amazing than your $40 "spherical egg of white asparagus and false truffle" at the expensive joints.
We stopped for pinxos ("pinchos"), a common Spanish snack entailing a slice of bread with some sort of yummy goodness sitting atop. We finally settled on crab meat topped with shaved egg white (!?) and a hunk of soft herbed cheese with cranberry marmalade and nuts
I <3 tandoori chicken, notably when it's uber moist and flanked by a mint, sweet, and pickled sauce selection. Middle Eastern is just hard to beat. And it doesn't hurt that the owner gave us free dessert afterwards (it's always the people who have less that give more, right?) 
Case in point: Zeeshan Kebabish. We had eaten traditional Spanish, so why not go for a traditional Pakistani restaurant? This underestimated hole in the wall was possibly the best food we'd had all weekend (sorry Pitarra). We were full through lunch the next day, and we only spent $8 each.

Cities are melting pots, so don’t feel like you have to strictly adhere to a certain type of food to get that culture massage.

2. Same thing goes for drinking
I don't want you hobos to go buy a forty and sit in the park getting drunk, but I've seen how easily money slips away when it's spent on drinking in bars. If you're dead set on drinking, have a couple at home and nurse something at the bar instead of spending $20+ for a couple martinis. Consider why you're visiting the city: is it to buy overpriced drinks or to have a cultural experience? If you’re dead-set on going out, use this website to find well-priced bars. We noticed that a bar called Ryan’s had mixed drinks starting at three euros, and it wasn't even happy hour.

Anyway, who needs alcohol when you can drink cups of pure hot saucey chocolate goodness?
And then there was cream. And chocolate. Real chocolate. And churros (fried and sugared dough sticks, essentially).
(At La Pallaresa Chocolateria)
  
I ordered hot chocolate (which is literally heated chocolate, what we would consider more of a sundae topping) with espresso and steamed milk. This is serious.
3. Cumulative-ride subway/bus passes: do it.
If I'm in a huge city, the odds are that I'll use a subway at least ten times. In fact, in our three days there, I used it exactly 10 times. And when we could walk, we did. As a rule, walk as much as possible in a city; if you’re like me, you’re probably eating a lot and exercising little. Or at least take the subway uphill and walk back downhill. Be frugal with your wheel rides, you never know when those last two subway rides will unexpectedly come in handy.

Notice how I didn’t mention a taxi? That’s because taxis aren’t a part of the solution when you’re trying to save money in a city.

4. Pack breakfast
Maybe it's just a Europe thing, but from what I've experienced, breakfast in other countries is booooring. They just don't get it. Bread does not a breakfast make, people!  Spend your money maybe if it's a super special breakfast restaurant, but don't waste your money paying for a piece of toast and coffee or a croissant or whatever. You can get those things no matter where you are. Go to a grocery store, buy some yogurt and fruit or have your travel granola handy and save that money to put toward something unique to the city.

For example, as we strolled around the Gracia neighborhood one afternoon, we stumbled upon this gem of a store offering all things milk-made. Chocolate custard and the best chocolate milk ever as an afternoon snack? Two euros total, and a belly full of good. Good thing I didn't waste my money on a lame breakfast, now I can indulge in the good stuff…
After the purchase, we went outside and consumed everything before taking another step.
Honestly, you have to find La Lleteria Granja Armengol when you go to Barcelona
5. Find what's free
Big cities typically have websites on the lookout for free events, and here are some of Barcelona's:
For Free
Butxaca
BCNnoches

Otherwise, just go to your search engine of choice and type in "free things in ___". You're golden.

Often you'll find that museums are free on the first Sunday of every month, so stay aware of that and always go early to [hopefully] avoid lines.
Obligiatory couple photo in front of Museum of National Art
The ceiling inside the lobby as I lingered around, avoiding Gothic frowney art.
One of the best attractions in Barcelona is the La Boqueria food market, and it’s so amazing you might even forget to spend money.
Get your fixes: fruit, salted fish, and dried things galore
If you do buy, don't go for prepackaged things as they're typically overpriced, buy based on weight like we did with this Jamon Iberico, Spain's amazing version of Prosciutto. America, when will you catch on to cured meats??
Who needs a meat slicer when you can get your top-notch cured pork leg sliced by hand?
You expect me to choose?
One thing we realized while walking around is while cities certainly can get redundant, it’s refreshing to focus on how each city has its own flair. For example, sure, Jerusalem has a stellar food market that’s comparable to La Boqueria. But what you won’t see in a Jerusalem market is huge legs of cured ham hanging everywhere. 
And just like that, you know you’re somewhere new.
Don’t forget free accommodation possibilities like Couchsurfing, and since that can be difficult in big cities, my favorite site to find cheap beds is hostelz.com or airbandb.

6. Don't get overwhelmed
The best and most memorable times I have in cities results from simply walking around, exploring, and taking everything in. This involves no planning and no spending money, so don't underestimate it.

And then there are the things you want to pay to see, but have to save for another time and simply take in what you can get. For us, these were all the Gaudí buildings. We saw what we could from the outside, and thankfully soaked up as much of Parque Guell (which is free) as possible.
La Sagrada Familia, Gaudis biggest building.
Casa Vicens, a residence that was Gaudi´s first building in Barcelona
La Casa Batlló, or House of Bones, as the locals call it
  
Looking over the mosaic benches at Parque Guell
Typical atypical architecture at the Park
A completely mosaic-ed ceiling in Parque Guell
Looking over the city from the park (with the ocean in the distance).
A trippy walkway made of stone cutting through the park. Why isn´t all architecture like this!?
The bold Casa Milá, also known as The Quarry

So, there's our Barcelona trip wrapped within in a nutshell of money-saving tips (whew, it was hard to sort through all those pictures!).

An amazing city, but as with all heavily-populated areas, I am ready to move on to our next volunteering "farm" near Tarragona, where we'll be helping out on a camping site. Don't forget to sign up to follow Chowgypsy with updates in your inbox!

5 comments:

  1. Holy moly - this is a good guide. I had a lot of thoughts and responses: 1) Drinking melted chocolate is amazing, but gives you such a weird sugar crash
    2) Dude my brother & I spent a week in Paris and did exactly what you guys do - we mapped out our days based on food, then visited the sites that were nearby.
    3) I agree, food markets are beautiful and are a great way to really 'see' the city and what it has to offer.
    4) I really like your #4, I'd never realized it but it's true. Breakfast is nearly always nonexistent or really not worth paying for in a restaurant. & 5) I hope you guys are having fun in Spain :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ahhh this is so great to read. Good point about the hot chocolate. It actually drives me a little crazy because I loooove cocoa, and whenever I go to buy pure cocoa at a store in Europe the first ingredient is ALWAYS sugar--and this is what they're giving to the kids!? A lot of times you can't fin pure cocoa powder.
      Love that you have the same idea when you visit cities--why go if you're not gonna dominate the food scene??
      And Spain is wonderful--it certainly helps knowing the language...but I CANNOT wait for Italy in August!!

      Delete
  2. Love Barcelona. Stayed S in Alta Fulla

    ReplyDelete
  3. Ah, what a pity I couldn't get to Altafulla! Barcelona is full of and surrounded by places I'll have to come back to discover.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Very informative post about Barcelona. I don't know much about Barcelona. Thanks for help me to know about Barcelona. I always think to visit this place. Your post also admires me to visit in Barcelona . Thanks
    http://vakantiehuizenspanje.villamar.nl/findAllVillas.php?region=Costa+Maresme

    ReplyDelete

ShareThis

LinkWithin

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...