From cycling around the city gazing at beautiful architecture and lazy afternoons on the beach to cooking meals with fresh produce from La Boqueria and drinking Catalonian wine in any of the city’s outdoor squares, Barcelona is an ideal slow travel destination.
Seeking out local experiences and taking your time to travel slowly in Barcelona lets you get a feel for the city, learn about the local culture, and travel responsibly.
Barcelona is included in nearly every itinerary for travellers who are doing a whistle-stop tour of Europe and is a popular destination for a weekend away. Most travellers you speak to only have three days in the city and their must-sees are usually very similar.
Whether you have just three days or three weeks, you don’t have to pack in a million sightseeing activities to get the most out of the city. You can experience Barcelona the slow and local way.
Slow Travel Activities in Barcelona
Whether you love discovering historic places, delving into local culture, hiking in the mountains or long beach days, Barcelona is rich in slow travel activities. We mostly decided to do our own thing and organise our own activities, but there are plenty of tours and groups that you can join for slow travel style activities too.
Walking Tours of Barcelona
You might be imagining huge groups all carrying little coloured flags and straining to hear their city guide right now, but Barcelona has a great alternative walking tour scene. If you are thinking of doing a walking tour, you will get more out of the experience by doing one on your first or second day in Barcelona, as they are usually aimed at people who have just arrived in the city.
Spanish Civil War Tour – If history is your passion, then follow in the footsteps of George Orwell, the International Brigade’s most famous militiaman, as historian Nick Lloyd brings the Spanish Civil War to life bullet hole by bullet hole. At four hours, the tour is not for the faint-hearted, but for those with even the slightest interest in the resistance to Franco and fascism, the experience is completely unmissable.
The tour costs €25, and sets off from Plaça Catalunya at 9:00am in the summer and 10:00am in the winter. Luke 100% recommends.
Hidden City Walking Tours – This alternative walking tour company is a social enterprise that employs guides who were previously homeless. The classic tours include both traditional churches and favourite tourist stops, but also delves into homelessness, prostitution and poverty that is afflicting many people in the El Ravel sector. However, the tour is often light on the social issues and heavy on the high culture. While the social concept and very small tour groups does differentiate the tours, the company is still largely business focused.
The tour costs €15, and sets off from Plaça Nova 1. Tour times vary depending on demand. Charlie tentatively recommends.
Free Walking Tours – If you’re counting the euros, then there are many free walking tours in Barcelona. You can find walking tours that cover the best of Barcelona’s attractions, discover Gaudi’s incredible architecture across the city, or explore the old city. If your navigation skills are pretty good, you can also just grab some inspiration from the maps on tour websites and wander off on your own city tour.
Cycle Around the City
As with the walking tours, there are endless options when it comes to cycling around Barcelona. We decided to rent our own bikes and go slow on our own, but you can go on a cycling tour if you want (there are even slow travel cycling tours!) We cycled over to Camp Nou (where Luke wanted to go) but the cycle routes are a bit haphazard if you don’t know the city, so we’d certainly recommend planning your journey carefully before setting off.
To rent your own bicycle, expect to pay around €6 for 2 hours. You can get a better deal if you want to rent for a whole day, a couple of days or even a week.
Hike Carretera de les Aigües
If you’ve ever walked around Barcelona and wondered how so many people can be so beautiful, well the answer is at least partly found above the city on the carretera de les aigues (road of waters in English). This 10km track through the hills overlooking the city is a favourite with fitness fans who run and cycle through the intense heat in their quest for health and the perfect body. If like us you’re keen for a hike, you can walk the trail. To get there, take the FCG from Placa de Catalunya to the station called ‘Peu de Funicular.’ From here you can take a funicular up to the carretera de les aigues (first stop). If you walk north east along the carretera, you’ll eventually find yourself at a car park which leads to a bus station which will take you back to the FCG.
Take in the Views from Tibidabo
A completely surreal experience. I have no idea why the normally stylish Spanish would decide to build a fun fair right next to a cathedral, but they did, and you can see the result here at Tibidabo (go for the views, not the fun fair). In fact, you can see the results from almost anywhere in Barcelona because Tibidabo is on yet another hill overlooking the city. To get there you can take the funicular to Vallvidrera Superior and walk the 2 (steep) kilometres to the cathedral.
Marvel at La Sagrada Familia
If you’re going to see any of the famous sights, then this is the one to choose. Everyone’s favourite ultra-right wing religious zealot, Antoni Gaudi, left his masterpiece unfinished when he was killed in a tram accident. The subsequent burning of his workshop and plans during the Spanish Civil War means that now there is more than a little controversy over exactly how this magnificent building should be finished – if it ever is at all. Though the completion date has been pushed back yet again to 2026, visiting the Sagrada Familia remains one of the must-see Barcelona experiences for everyone visiting the city.
To avoid the worst of the substantial crowds and save a little on the entry price, buy your ticket online and go as early in the day as possible.
Wander Around Parque Guell
Another of Gaudi’s gifts to the people of Barcelona, Park Guell is a green space designed by the master of modernism himself. While the majority of the park is free to visitors, the section where Gaudi’s sculptures are located is ticketed. The closest Metro stations are Vallcarca and Lesseps, with the park being about a five minute walk from either. The place tends to be packed all day every day, so try to get there very early for some (relative) peace and quiet and take it slow.
Like at Sagrada Familia, buying tickets online (€7) will keep the costs down and reduce the amount of time that you have to spend waiting in queues, which can be formidable all year round.
Check out the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona
An eclectic collection of modern art makes for an intriguing but not spell-binding afternoon in the Contemporary Art Museum of Barcelona. Exhibitions change every three to four months, but you can expect thought provoking pieces every time. The plaza outside the building has become an unofficial meeting point for a tribe of skateboarders that make for great people-watching in their own right.
Concessions are available throughout the week, and on the 18th of May (International Museum Day) entry is free. There are also 20% off coupons that can be found in the Aerobus brochure. Normal entry is €10.
Have a Lazy Beach Day at Sant Sebastian & Barceloneta or ‘Barcelona Beach’
A friend of mine, a Barcelona local and lifelong resident, recently admitted that she had been to Barcelona beach perhaps only once or twice in her life. “It’s a tourist beach!” she explained. “Nobody who goes there actually lives in Barcelona.” But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a look, especially if there is a party on as festivities often spill out from the city centre onto the beach. We recommend walking the length of the beach taking in some of the sculptures and art installations along the way.
Explore Castell de Montjuic
The easiest way to escape from the deliciously sweltering maze that is Barcelona city centre is to head to Montjuic, a great green hill by the sea that makes for welcome relief for the city-sick traveller. Atop the hill is the Castell de Montjuic, a fort which offers wonderfully imperious views of the city below. You can get to Montjuic by taking the Metro to Paral-lel, then taking the Funicular towards the Castell (both are covered by one ticket). From here you can walk up the hillside if the heat isn’t too heavy. The Castell is best at sunset, when the heat is diminished and the light is photogenic.
Bring some form of ID (a photocopy is best) as there are numerous concessions available on the €10 entry fee.
Piknic Electronik Barcelona (summer only)
The other reason to come to Montjuic is to attend Piknic Electronik, a daytime party that stretches into the evening is held every Sunday throughout the summer in the gardens surrounding the castle. Piknic Electronik puts things that are universally loved together: the warm weather of Barcelona, drinks with friends, good (well, electronic) music, the feel of grass beneath your feet, and breathtaking, treelined sunset views.
Tickets on the door are €15 and drink prices inside the small grounds are high. The budget conscious traveller can bring their own bottle of local Catalan wine to enjoy with friends on the hillside outside before going inside to the piknic.
See the Sunset at Plaça d’Espanya
A roundabout by a shopping centre doesn’t sound like the most promising of spots, but there’s more to this Plaça than you might first think and out of all the places we went for sunset this one shone. Once you’ve left the Metro, you can climb the stairs (€1 cheaper than taking the lift) inside the shopping centre (which was once the les arenes bull-fighting ring) to get to the view point above, giving you superb views of the palatial Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – not to mention the rest of Barcelona. You can get an even better view of sunset opposite at the top of the stairs outside the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya.
Bonus: Keep Fit at the Gym
We mostly keep fit by walking and cycling, but sometimes a visit to the gym can be a nice way to spend a morning. Our friend who lives in Barcelona recommended the Gym4Less app which locates your nearest gyms and provides discounted entry rates – either for one off trips or monthly membership. We used the app to find our nearest gym, which happened to be on the rooftop of a very nice hotel and only cost €5 per session.
Vegetarian Slow Food & Responsible Eating in Barcelona
Barcelona’s vegetarian, vegan and organic eating scene is really good. There are more vegetarian-friendly restaurants than you can imagine and HappyCow doesn’t even scratch the surface. Here are just a few of the vegetarian friendly and responsible eating places we loved:
This pescetarian and vegetarian cooperative cafe is decked out with upcycled furniture, using old doors as tables and the like. The home cooked dishes at La Bàscula change every day, so make sure to check the big chalkboard to see what’s new. A main will set you back around €8-10 and a glass of ecological wine comes in at €3 per glass.
Google Map: 30 Flassaders, 08003 Barcelona
This colourful courtyard cafe is the perfect spot for a slow lunch in the sunshine. Espai Mescladis is part of the Ciutadania Multicultural Foundation which helps immigrant groups with social integration and to find employment. The cafe pride themselves on organic food from responsible sources. Definitely try the fig and walnut salad, and the beetroot and goat cheese bruschetta. Menu of the day is €12.50.
Google Map: 35 Carrer Carders, 08003 Barcelona
Health foodies like me will love Tuyo. The cafe has a slow food philosophy, supports local and fairtrade suppliers and farmers, and is run by the loveliest woman you will ever meet. They serve up eclectic salads including a very delicious black quinoa, pomegranate seed and pistachio salad, colourful soups, spreads like hummus and babaganoush, and a few baguettes filled with fun combos like goat cheese and fig. We enjoyed a menu del dia of one dish, one sweet and an iced tea for €7.50.
Google Map: 16 Carrer Comerc, 08003, Barcelona
Tip: Most of Barcelona’s restaurants have a menu del dia (menu of the day) during the day time, which usually includes a first and second course and a drink or dessert, at a set price. A good vegetarian menu del dia will cost between €8-15.
Take a Slow Food Cooking Class
If like us you love learning how to cook local foods, then check out the incredible tapas cooking class with Barcelona Slow Travel. This isn’t an ordinary cooking class – it’s run by Barcelona locals Guillermo and Christina, based in their own apartment, and is all about home cooked slow food. Guillermo and Christina don’t rush through the class: they are slow foodies who believe in using local produce, sourcing sustainably and cooking with organic ingredients. The tapas cooking class isn’t exclusively vegetarian, but they’re happy to accommodate all dietary requirements if you let them know in advance. Book your cooking class here.
Buy Local & Cook Your Own
If you’ve got your own apartment and kitchen during your stay in Barcelona, then cooking at home is a good budget-friendly alternative to eating out. We always ate at least one meal in every day. We mostly opted to bake our own breakfast granola to eat with yoghurt and fresh figs so we could go slow in the mornings, and made up some smashing sandwiches with pan integral from the local bakery, Spanish cheese and fresh basil for when we were going out hiking.
Every neighbourhood in Barcelona is full of fruterias stocked with fresh fruits and veggies, here and there are grain shops where you can get organic rice, bulgur wheat and other grains, large markets that have all kinds of amazing produce, and local wines that are hands down some of the best we’ve had.
Real foodies can head over to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s most famous food market, located next to Las Ramblas. Ignore the first row of vendors whose prices are higher than the less prominent stallholders that are further in. You can find loads of locally sourced produce here. For wine, when facing the market take the first left out under the arch and there’s a small wine shop with good local and ecological wines from as little €3 a bottle.
Slow Travel Accommodation in Barcelona
When it comes to slow travel and local experiences in Barcelona, you can look for alternative accommodation options that go beyond the standard hotel experience and help you to enjoy slow travel culture.
Not to mention that the average price of low end hotel and hostel rooms that we researched during September came in at around €50 per night, making slow travel accommodation options in Barcelona better for your budget too.
Rent an Apartment
If like us you have more time in the city, then renting a room in an apartment is a great idea. In the summer there are usually rooms available in apartments by the month. We had three weeks in Barcelona so we rented a room from some expat friends for €300 between the both of us.
There are lots websites and organisations for finding apartments in Barcelona, such as OK Apartment, but be careful which ones you use. A quick warning that there are lots of apartment scams on Craigslist and you shouldn’t transfer/wire money to anyone you met on the website.
Rent an Apartment on Airbnb
If you have less time in the city, you can still choose to stay in an apartment short-term with Airbnb. Most of the travellers we spoke to were using Airbnb. Finding a shared apartment or a private apartment in your price range can be done: we met a honeymooning couple who found a high-end private apartment overlooking Sagrada Familia, but we also looked up lots of apartment shares with smaller rooms costing much less than the average hotel.
Read More: Highly recommend this article on the Airbnb phenomenon, its impact on cities like Barcelona and how it can benefit local hosts.
Sustainable Hotels and Hostels in Barcelona
Before we decided to stay for as long as three weeks and subsequently organised our apartment rental, I did a some research into more sustainable and green hotels in Barcelona. I emailed them all to ask if I could come to have a quick look around but received very few replies unfortunately, so I can only point them out rather than personally recommend them.
Budget Eco Hostels – Using 100% renewable energy suppliers, LED lighting and biodegradable cleaning products and with dorms rooms available for €23+, Sleep Green Eco Youth Hostel comes in as the most budget friendly eco hostel that I found.
Midrange Eco Hotels – The ecologically designed urban hostel, EcoZentric, boasts LED lighting, ecological thermostatic showers, ecological thermal insulation and 100% organic cotton sheets amongst other things. Double room are priced at €75 and up.
Higher End Eco Hotels – For budgets that can stretch to over €100, Casa Bella Gracia is powered by renewable energy, has a grey water recycling system and uses natural, ecological materials. I met three Canadian girls at a cooking class who were staying here and absolutely loved it. They said there was no formal reception desk and instead they had a keycard and pin code so it was like coming and going into your own apartment.
You can search for green and sustainable hotels in Barcelona on Expedia and a number of different search comparison websites. Always check recent hotel reviews on TripAdvisor before making a decision to book.
Couchsurfing in Barcelona
Another way to enjoy travelling slowly and experiencing local life in Barcelona is to stay with a local through Couchsurfing. Be aware that Couchsurfing, especially in a place like Barcelona where tourism is so huge, is a way to connect with locals, not just to get free accommodation.
How to Get Around in Barcelona
Safe, reliable and reasonably priced, Barcelona has a great public transport system. While walking is a really good way to explore specific neighbourhoods, if you want to head further out then definitely use the Metro and the buses. We found that a €10 ‘ten journey ticket’ was much better value than buying a single ticket and lasted us about a week and a half. More dedicated Metro users might get through the same amount of journeys in half that time though.
Responsible Tourism in Barcelona
The challenge of keeping Barcelona a city that people can live in, not just holiday in, is a difficult one.
Barcelona has a better claim than most at being the world’s oldest tourist city; some sources allege that the Plaça Catalunya had to be cleared of French tourists before the first shots of the Civil War were fired in 1936. After the war, and particularly after Franco’s dictatorship ended, tourists began flooding back to Barcelona in astonishing numbers.
In fact, roughly 7.4 million tourists visit this city of 1.6 million every year, and such unsustainable numbers are making life uncomfortable for locals, but at the same time keeping the city immensely wealthy. As more residents move out to make way for bars, restaurants and souvenir shops, it becomes a genuine danger that Barcelona will lose the very thing that makes it charming in the first place.
Choosing a slow travel trip to Barcelona is one way to alleviate some of the issues associated with this. Travel in a way that supports the local community by renting from or staying with locals, buying locally sourced food, not drinking to excess or making lots of noise at night (something which many neighbourhoods experience and dislike tourists for) and by using public transport.