When planning a trip to Barcelona, you'll want to indulge in the excellent Spanish food and wine, tour the famous museums and landmarks, and perhaps relax on the beach. To keep your budget balanced, take advantage of free attractions: Plan to visit the museums on the free museum days, walk the interesting winding streets in the historic sections of town, and enjoy tastes of regional produce at an open air market.
Barcelona's most famous landmark may charge admission, but viewing it from the outside is free. The Sagrada Familia church is Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí's greatest masterpiece and is a must see for everyone visiting Barcelona. And, if you are returning to the city, stop by again, because the construction continues and there's something new to see each year.
Of course, paying the entrance fee does at least help guarantee that they finish the building (over 120 years and counting, so far), but if you're on a very tight budget, you can still appreciate 90 percent of the building from across the street.
Barcelona's most famous series of streets, Las Ramblas, is a tourist attraction in itself. The street performers are there all day and at night the area comes to life with lights, quaint cafes, and people out strolling after dinner. There is much to see along the streets:
- Get a bite to eat at La Boqueria, Barcelona's flagship market.
- The Plaça Reial can be found just off the main street (look for the Gaudi designed lampposts) where there are some great nightclubs.
- At the bottom of Las Ramblas is the Colon Monument, dedicated to the explorer, Christopher Columbus, with a small viewing tower at the top (Charge for the elevator is €5.40).
Climb Montjuic and Visit the Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya
One of two mountains in Barcelona (the other being Tibidabo), Montjuic has a wealth of sights for those who don't mind a bit of a climb. Take a walk with a nice view of the sea, wander around the old watchtower, and marvel at the Mayor's Belvedere, a collage of broken bottles and pottery by Carles Buïgas.
The Museu Nacional D'Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art) is free to those under 15, over 65, and to everyone on the first Sunday of the month.
Go for a run in a very pleasant park in the center of Barcelona. Parc de la Ciutadella features Barcelona's Arc de Triomf (much nicer than the one in Paris), fountains, a boating lake, ornate museums (not free), a zoo (also not free), and beautiful running and walking trails.
The Parc de la Ciutadella, located on the northeastern edge of Ciutat Vella, was created during the mid-19th century and once was the only park in Barcelona.
You can spend time on the beach catching some rays without even leaving the city at Barceloneta Beach. There's a lot going on at this urban beach from drummers to sand-artists to singing donut salesmen. It tends to be crowded but is also a fun place to people-watch and be entertained.
There are some great seafood restaurants in the Barceloneta neighborhood, a onetime fishermen's quarter that retains its old-world charm.
There is also a nudist beach, a bit of a walk from the main touristy area.
Entrance to the Barcelona Cathedral, also known as La Seu (another word for cathedral), La Catredal, or the church of Saint Eulalia, is free so you can explore the beauty of this Romanesque cathedral from both outside and within.
La Seu's spires dominate the Gothic Quarter and the cathedral is surrounded by some of Barcelona's most romantic old quarter winding narrow streets. Look for the 14th-century cloister, overseen by carvings of 13 geese representing the 13 years of the martyred Saint Eulalia, whose tomb is inside the cathedral.
Several museums have at least one free day a week or month. The most famous is the Picasso museum, the best showcase of works by the Spanish cubist artist. It is only free on the first Sunday of the month. Be forewarned: The line to get in is gigantic so get there early.
The museum is also free to children under 16 and to study groups (only on Wednesday afternoons). Inquire at the museum for more information.
Metronom, a showcase for art considered too experimental for mainstream art galleries, is open daily. Located at Fusina, 9, 08003 Barcelona, the site was once an old warehouse. There are rotating exhibits and special events.
This famous indoor market hall is a colorful explosion of fruit, vegetables, seafood, rows and rows of cured jamón, and some mind-boggling butchers’ displays. There are tapas bars, pizza stalls, and all manner of produce you can try before you buy.
Joan Miró, born in Barcelona in 1893, is one of the most noted Barcelona artists. Known internationally, Miró art can be found in many public spaces in his native Barcelona. In 1960 he donated four significant pieces of art to the city. You'll see your first Miró piece, the Mural de l’Aeroport, on the outside of the airport’s Terminal 2. There's even a mosaic piece in the middle of the street (look down) on the Pla de l’Os, part of La Rambla just outside the Boquería market.
El Raval lacks the historic impact of the neighboring Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), but the network of lively streets around El Raval is home to an eclectic cast of characters including artists, backpackers, punk rockers, students, and more. There are plenty of cool bars and vintage clothing stores, not to mention the colossal Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art or MACBA)—as impressive from outside as within. Adjacent is the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. La Boqueria market on La Rambla is fun to explore and the nearby Maritime Museum has replica boats in medieval shipyard scenes.
Built for Barcelona’s 1929 World Exposition, this water, sound, and light show has been drawing tourists ever since. You'll love the jets of multicolored water rising in sync vintage numbers and show-tunes from this large fountain located at Plaça de Carles Buïgas.
Every year, the Magic Fountain is the site for the "Piromusical," a huge fireworks display with a music and laser show.
Barcelona’s graffiti artists are a proud bunch and you’ll find some great examples of their work around town, particularly in El Raval and Poblenou. The city also has a long tradition of street art and sculpture.
Some better-known examples include Peix, a giant fish sculpture designed by Frank Gehry overlooking the beach; Roy Lichtenstein’s 15 meters-high Barcelona Head at the Port Vell; Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies’ Monumental Homage to Picasso on the Passeig de Picasso; and Fernando Botero’s enormous cat on the Rambla del Raval.
Located next to the Design Museum, Encants flea market has an intriguing mix of trash and treasure. While it’s not without its fair share of odd shoes and outdated electronic devices, there are enough random oddities and antiques to make it worthwhile. There's even a gourmet food court up on the first floor.
Barcelona's Roman ruins are found everywhere in the older sections of the city. You can walk the walls of the old Roman city and read the illustrated information posted along the way. You'll find entrances to the old city at Plaça Nova, Pati Llimona Civic Center, and see the wall and towers at Plaça Ramon Berenguer.
You can learn about the Romans at the City Museum (free entrance on Sundays from 3 p.m.–8 p.m.) and find out about the archeological excavations which uncovered ruins of baths, houses, and wine cellars in Barcino.
Iconic Montjüic Castle is accessible from funicular or a walkway up the hill (nicknamed Jew's Hill). Once you are there you can walk the trail around the outside of the castle and admire the view of the city and the port.
Inside the castle (admission charged), there are gardens and a fascinating military museum with artifacts and dungeons where prisoners were held.
Runner Bean Tours will lead you on a leisurely walk through the fascinating Gothic Quarter explaining the culture and history of the area. You'll see both the landmarks of the area but also hidden places you might not discover on your own. The area has a mixture of impressive churches, quaint plazas, and narrow, winding streets to explore with your walking guide. The 2.5-hour tours run daily except December 24, 25, 26, and January 1.
In the Quadrat d’or (Golden Quarter) you'll find quite a few Art Nouveau buildings, probably the most in the world. In the area, see the Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, Gaudí’s houses at Passeig de Gràcia.
Along the "Gaudi Trail," you'll find more. The walk starts at Placa Real just off Las Ramblas, goes up Passeig de Gracia, taking in Casa Batllo and La Pedrera before veering off to the east to La Sagrada Familia and ends at Parc Guell.
Visit the Fascinating Cemeteries
You might not think of visiting a cemetery in Barcelona, but the intriguing monument art makes that worthwhile. Some of them offer free guided tours (but perhaps you'll need to understand Catalan or Spanish).
Poblenou Cemetery, first built in the 1700s, was the first modern burial ground in Barcelona. The architecture and monumental art makes it worth a visit. When there, see the famous sculpture El Petó de la Mort (The Kiss of Death).
Also up on Montjüic Hill is a cemetery where the rich and famous of Barcelona are buried with impressive monuments on their graves. You can also visit the museum and see the horse-drawn hearses and carriages free on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Visit and take a guided tour of Barcelona's city hall located in the middle of the Gothic Quarter. The building is open at no charge every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The English tours are at 10 a.m. While there, view the Saló de Cent, the stunning medieval main gathering room where events and weddings are held.