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I kind of assume that most European city breaks will be expensive when it comes to getting around, eating out, accommodation, sight-seeing and so on, however Barcelona was a pleasant surprise! Here's how to avoid the tourist traps and experience all the amazing things this city has to offer without breaking the bank...
Flights to Barcelona are pretty affordable from most major UK airports. We chose to fly with Ryanair (via Skyscanner), which doesn't have the best reputation as an airline, but at the end of the day - they get you from A to B and their 'no frills' approach to air travel is fine by me for a flight that only takes 2 hours. Particularly on a city break; you don't really need hold luggage and if you're not bothered about whether you're sat next to who you're flying with - you won't incur any extra charges. We paid around £80 each for return tickets and we did go out on a weekend with reasonable flight times.
- ACCOMMODATION -For a city break, Airbnb is a no-brainer, in my opinion! We chose to stay in a studio in Gracia. We kind of came across this place by accident because it was super affordable but it turned out to be the perfect location for us. The studio wasn't perfect (mainly the bathroom, which made me second-guess whether to book this place) but it was cute and decorated nicely, plus right in the middle of everything. We had so many great bars, bakeries, cafes and restaurants within a 5-minute walk of our place. It's definitely the Northern Quarter or Shoreditch of Barcelona with lots of cool graffiti and vegetarian casual dining restaurants on every corner, without being too far away from the things we wanted to do. It cost around £85 a night between us.
Our Airbnb studio in Gracia
- EATING AND DRINKING OUT -This was the most pleasant surprise for me! We generally did opt for quite casual places, however we also went to some nicer bars and restaurants, spending far less money than we would have at home (even living in a relatively affordable city like Birmingham). Whilst Las Ramblas is definitely worth a wander down - I wouldn't recommend eating or drinking in that part of Barcelona because if you just walk 10 minutes further out; you'll be looking at a great meal for a fraction of the price.
If you're vegetarian; I can't recommend Vila de Garcia enough. It is more on the casual dining side but I really liked it - we'd usually be out all day and get back pretty late but it's quite usual to have your dinner at 9-10pm on the continent. Quinoa Bar was a favourite of ours; they do simple but incredibly tasty plant-based sandwiches and burgers. Dinner there with drinks for two people would typically cost around €20 (or a little over £17). There's also a bar next door called Bar Pietro where you can get a glass of wine and a beer for €3.50 (£3) in total!
If you'd like to save money - try a tapas bar. There was a really nice one right opposite our place called Raspall, where you get to choose a mini plate with every drink you order. You can get a large beer and a tapa for €3 or swap the beer for a wine for just another 50 cents. That means you can fill your stomach and have a few drinks for less than a drink alone would set you back in the UK.
For a bit more of a formal dining experience; we really liked the restaurant La Cava (which is the sister restaurant next door to the super-popular La Pepita). It's a tapas bar with a mix of cold and hot dishes, as well as catering to veggies, meateaters and pescetarians (like me!) The food really was very tasty, so despite having to wait a little while in the awkwardly-narrow entrance (most Barcelona restaurants are pretty small) it was well worth it. On our day around the Gothic Quarter and the beach we went to a sangria and vegetarian burger / tapas place called BarCeloneta Sangria Bar. There were something like 10 sangria variations to choose from and everything from the unusual taste pairings in their dips to the polenta was soooo tasty! Both of these restaurants came in at around €20 per person. And if you want to go to a fancier cocktail bar, it will still only set you back the same amount as going to somewhere pretty standard for a cocktail in the UK! We treated ourselves to a carefully-crafted cocktail at the Old Fashioned Bar, which I really recommend checking out if you want to try unique and new flavour combinations. We also found a lovely wine bar called La Graciosa that had just opened near where we were staying - even the most expensive wine on the menu (which was switched up daily) only cost €5.50 and I actually bought a bottle of it to take home from them.
We often woke up a little later and got food around midday. In Gracia there are a lot of independently-owned bakeries. We regularly popped into Nabucco Obrador for pizza slices and sandwiches, that were all veggie-friendly with fillings and toppings like aubergine, sun-dried tomatoes and feta. This would only set us back around €7-8 a day for us both to eat! Pizza places are very popular in Barcelona too, so we also went to LeccaBaffi. They did really great wine and had a huge variety of freshly-made pizza slices with everything from a tuna, olive, tomato and rocket slice to a mix of cheese, truffle and mushroom. A drink and a slice each for lunch will cost around €15-20 in total.
All in all, I think you can eat great food and drink plenty for a grand total of around €20-40 (£17-35) a day per person.
- GETTING AROUND -I was honestly expecting to be pretty reliant on the Metro system during the trip, but the moderate, comfortable temperature and sunshine meant we walked pretty much everywhere, which I recommend for discovering new areas, taking in the architecture and really getting to know this city. The only time we didn't walk was when we hired bikes to get back to the other side of town in good time for a booking. You may see a bike hire service called Bicing around the city, however this is for locals only. Instead, I recommend Donkey Republic for tourists. You simply download the app and it will tell you where the closest bikes are. You then use the app to unlock the bike and off you go down Barcelona's many cycling lanes! Once you're done, simply lock up the bike using the app at any rack and you'll be debited based on how long you've used the bikes for, with better rates the longer your hire for. We paid around €3 (£2.60) each for an hour.
Our biggest expense by far were taxis to and from the airport. We arrived around 9pm so just wanted to get to our Airbnb and head out for dinner, so hopped into the closest taxi, which cost us around €35 (£30) for a 20-ish minute journey! The links between the main city and the airport were pretty disappointing - whilst we were there, the options were to get a shuttle bus (which would still be over a mile's walk to our place whilst carrying bags) or take multiple lines on the Metro, which would have taken over an hour. Whilst we were there I downloaded the MyTaxi app (as there's no Uber in Spain), which is an Uber-like way of ordering and paying for a taxi, and actually worked out cheaper on the return at €27 (£24).
- SEEING THE SIGHTS -Barcelona is a great place to take in on foot - much of the amazing architecture (such as the work of Gaudi, the Gothic Quarter and the wonderful parks) can be taken in at street-level. The only 'touristy' things we did that needed tickets were Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia.
Arc de Triomphe
Churches, buildings and free parks in Barcelona
Casa Batllo (currently undergoing renovation works)
The Gothic Quarter
I definitely think retrospectively that you don't necessarily need to buy the ticket for the small area of Park Guell with the Gaudi artworks to have a great time in this amazing, vast park. You can still see amazing views and experience live music without paying that extra €10 - it really depends how much of a Gaudi fan you are!
La Sagrada Familia
Finally, we also visited the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalonia. The tickets are €12 or €8 for students and this was well worth it for me! The collection houses examples of Catalonian art from medieval works painted onto the walls of churches (and carefully transferred to this building) to surrealist post-Spanish Civil war works. It was so interesting to see the history of another country played out in its artwork.