Barcelona on a Budget:
Yes, It's Totally Possible
NOT EVERY CITY HAS AN ED SHEERAN SONG NAMED AFTER IT.
But what town better invites serenading than Barcelona? Stunning architecture, top-notch dining — and yes, a vibrant nightlife that'll have you dancing until dawn — all make Catalonia's capital a hot destination.
In fact, according to a 2016 study by Mastercard®, Barcelona recently eclipsed Amsterdam as the third-most-visited European city, second only to London and Paris. And like other mega-popular destinations, it's a place where it's easy to spend more than you budgeted for, and not just because of the free-flowing sangria.
They might only be about €2 ($2.32 USD)* a pop, but those pintxos and copas de cava add up faster than you think. And that's not to mention all the must-sees: unguided tickets for the Sagrada Familia start at €15 ($17.36 USD)*, the Picasso Museum at €11 ($12.73 USD)*, and you've got to see a flamenco show while you're in town, right?
But if you're flexible and a little scrappy, Barcelona's full of secrets for the thrifty traveler. For instance, many of its museums regularly offer free entry windows, so you can save money simply by shuffling your itinerary.
You can see Barcelona without going bankrupt or feeling like you're missing out — trust me. I just spent a month in the city, and I'm still solvent. (In fact, I didn't even touch my savings account!)
Free Museum Entry Times in Barcelona
For many travelers, each journey is a pilgrimage to a city's unique artworks and artifacts — and as an ancient Roman settlement and a haunt of figures like Gaudí, Picasso, Dalí, Hemingway and Orwell, Barcelona's got a whole lot of history to bask in.
But if you don't want to shell out €10 ($11.58 USD)* or more every time you walk through a set of watchfully-guarded glass doors, no worries. Just plan your visits around each museum's free entry windows.
Museu Picasso offers free entry every Thursday evening from 6:00 p.m. until it closes at 9:30 p.m., as well as all day on the first Sunday of every month – but you still need to book your ticket ahead of time if you want to get in. You can do that online starting four days before the free-entry window.
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is free for public entry each Saturday after 3 p.m., as well as the first Sunday of each month and the following special occasions: 12 February, Santa Eulàlia; 18 May, the International day of Museums; 11 September, the national day of Catalonia; 24 September, Day of la Mercè (City festivities).
Museu d'Història de Barcelona (MUHBA) operates many cultural attractions in the city, but its not-to-be-missed main nucleus, where you can take an elevator down to the excavated ruins of Roman Barcino, is at Plaça del Rei — and it's free every Sunday after 3 p.m. (and all day on the first Sunday of each month).
Many of the city's churches, like the Catedral de Barcelona and the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi, charge for entry during the day but are free in the evening after 6 p.m. and, obviously, during worship services.
However, everyone has to pay to get into La Sagrada Familia, since your entry price goes toward the project of completing construction of the church, widely considered Gaudí's unfinished magnum opus.
Park Güell's Monumental Zone — the section declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO — is free to enter outside of its ticketed daylight hours, which vary by season. Of course, you might not get the same view in the dark. The rest of the park is free to enter any time, and you can see a decent amount of Gaudí's famous trencadís, or broken tile decorations, without paying for entry.
Finally, no matter what museum or attraction you have in mind, keep your eye out for discounts and reduced entry rates. Some of them might surprise you.
For example, I got into Castell de Montjuïc for €3 ($3.47 USD)instead of €5 ($5.79 USD)* just because I'm a few months shy of my 30th birthday — a special "youth" rate that would be unheard of stateside.
More Ways to Have Free (or Cheap) Fun in Barcelona
Done with museums for a while? We don't blame you — that Spanish sunshine is hard to resist. Plus, some of the best of Barcelona takes place right outside on its winding, cobblestone streets.
Instead of dishing out €30 ($34.73 USD)* or more for a flamenco show, head to Plaça Nova on Sunday at noon to watch, as locals dance the traditional Catalan Sardana to live music. If you learn the steps, you can even join in!
You'll also find plenty of talented performers and entertainers just by meandering around the labyrinthine lanes of El Born or Barri Gòtic, from living statues and dancers to castell, or human-tower, builders — all of whom rival anything you'd shell out dozens of euros to see from stadium seating.
For a free evening of edgy fun, hang out in the courtyard in front of MACBA, Barcelona's Contemporary Art Museum. Consisting of long ramps and ledges, it's a world-famous site for skaters. No balance? No problem. It's still a blast to watch and a great place to mingle, and totally free unless you spring for the €1 ($1.16 USD)* beers the street vendors are hawking.
Your guidebook has doubtless directed you to immerse yourself in the sights, smells and flavors of La Boqueria— and indeed, a trip to Spain without a visit to an open-air market would be incomplete. But here's a tip: Try one a little further from La Rambla. From Sant Antoni to El Clot, these bustling hubs of culinary commerce are a great way to try out all the local cheese, cured meats, and seafood you can stomach, but you'll pay less for the privilege when you steer clear of tourist-crowded versions.
Finally — and this probably goes without saying, but just in case — if you're looking for the best free way to have fun in Barcelona, just head for the beach. A dip in the Mediterranean is just as healing as any spa day I've ever had, and about 100% cheaper.
*All content provided in this blog is supplied by Jamie Cattanach and is for informational purposes only. Barclaycard makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in the blog or found by following any link within this blog.
*Prices may fluctuate over time. This article reflects price estimates at time of publication.
Image credit: Jamie Cattanach
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