You can usually get cheap flights to Barcelona from the UK at most times of the year, making it a tempting destination for Brits and for travellers already in Europe. But once you get there, is Barcelona expensive to visit, or is it possible to enjoy Barcelona on a budget?
Barcelona certainly isn’t known for being a budget-friendly destination, but after we heard that Barcelona made Skyscanner’s 2015 list of the best cities to visit in Europe, we thought we should go for it while the pound is strong against the euro.
Unlike other tourists in Barcelona, we have the economic advantage of being slow travellers. Our travel budget isn’t as rock bottom some of our previous trips have been (such as Vietnam and Poland), but it reflects a very affordable time away in Spain’s coolest city.
The budget includes accommodation, three meals per day, local transport, and local activities. Flights are not included in the budget.
Where we Travelled
We had a total of three weeks in Barcelona during September 2015 and stayed in the city for the majority of that time. We took two day trips from Barcelona: the first was to the mountains of Montserrat and the other was to the beach town of Sitges.
Budget Accommodation in Barcelona
Finding accommodation in Barcelona on a budget is probably the hardest part. Our slow travel style was a huge benefit to our budget when it came to finding low cost accommodation in Barcelona. With three weeks to spend in the city, we did some research and found that it was more cost effective to rent a room in a shared apartment for the month than to pay per night in a hotel, hostel or on Airbnb.
We had a couple of expat friends living in Barcelona who we got in touch with and we joined some expat Facebook groups to ask around about monthly rentals. We had a couple of responses and amazingly luckily for us our friends had a room going for the month which we rented off of them for €300 for the month. It’s really thanks to this that we were manage to do Barcelona on a budget.
If you’re not able to rent for such an extended period of time, then your best bet from our research is Airbnb. Despite protests from the city’s hotels, Airbnb is still legal in Barcelona and there are loads of Airbnb rentals across the city. As you would expect anywhere, rooms in shared apartments with local hosts are the cheapest option and we’d highly recommend trying to find a place in the heart of the city to avoid long metro rides.
Eating in Barcelona on a Budget
There are some incredible cafes and restaurants in Barcelona, but they also come with some sizeable price tags. Eating in Barcelona on a budget is doable though and the best way to keep costs low is to do as the locals do.
To start the day, grab a coffee and a croissant for breakfast – this usually costs around €2 – €3.
When it comes to lunchtime, eat up. Look out for menu del dia (menu of the day) which is usually scribbled on a chalkboard outside lunch places. A good menu del dia includes a first and second course as well as a drink or dessert for a set price that’s often between €8 – €15. The menu del dias mostly only apply to lunchtime, although you’ll find some dinner offers around.
If you want to keep the cost of food down even lower and your accommodation has a kitchen, then eating in is a good option. There are fruit and veg shops throughout the city selling fresh produce at pretty good prices, and you can always get a crusty baguette for around €1. Packed lunches are also a good idea if you’re heading off on a day trip to places like Montserrat.
Most Expensive Eat: A two-course dinner on the roof terrace at Flax & Kale – €37 for two people (we splashed out!)
Least Expensive Eat: Spanish tortilla with courgette at Kop de Ma in Sants – €2 for a slice (and perhaps the most delicious spanish omelette that I’ve ever eaten).
Drinking in Barcelona on a Budget
I don’t usually include this one, but there’s just no way you can go to Barcelona and not be part of the late night tapas culture. Locals won’t eat in Barcelona until really late and instead prefer to snack on tapas (small plates) while having a drink, often at multiple different bars.
Compared to the UK, drinking in Barcelona is really cheap. A glass of wine will cost €2 on average and a beer even less. However, prices can soar if you’re not careful. Always choose to drink local, Catalan wine – it’s not only delicious, but it’s also much cheaper. And stay away from enormous glasses of sangria on the ramblas, these are overpriced and besides, while sangria is sold in Barcelona it actually originates from the south of Spain. The local drink in Barcelona is vermouth — vermut in Spanish.
For those on an even tighter budget, we discovered a small wine shop near La Boqueria where a bottle of ecological, sustainably sourced wine cost as little as €2 a bottle. The local beers are estrella and moritz, and are both well worth trying. While we were in Barcelona it felt like there was a party on every night, and it was very common for people to sit in the parks and listen to music passing around a bottle of beer. This is a cheap and popular option in Barcelona, and the Spanish even have a word for it: botellón. Note that it is technically illegal to drink on the streets in Barcelona.
There are also street vendors who sell beer, also illegally. These vendors are known as ‘cerveza beer men’ because they speak both Spanish and English, asking you if you want a ‘cerveza? beer?’ in quick succession. The price for a can of beer from one of these people is €1, though they will tell you it’s more if you look new to the place. Cerveza beer men frequent festivals and are to be found wherever there is a party. When the police come by, the cerveza beer men scatter, hiding their (warm) beer in bushes and gutters. They will reappear when the police have passed, and sell those same beers, so give them a clean if you are determined to drink them.
Getting Around Barcelona on a Budget
Barcelona is a great city to get around by foot, as many of the bigger sights are within walking distance of each other (with the exception of Park Guell which is further out).
If you’ve got further to go or just want to get around the city, then the metro is your best bet. You can get a ‘ten journey ticket’ for €10 which works out much better value than buying a single ticket. One cool thing about the ticket system is that you can use the same ticket for a metro journey, the buses, the funiculars and some train and tram services and only have it count as one ‘use’ so long as it is within the same hour and a half.
For those that are out late at night – which is pretty much everyone in Barcelona – the night buses are an excellent option for when the Metro has closed and are equally cheap (you can use your ten journey metro ticket). There are lots of different routes, including the N16 and N17 buses which go to the airports, and they run throughout the night and the early hours of the morning.
Budget Activities in Barcelona
Barcelona has been known as a bit of a budget breaker because there are so many incredible tourist sights that you don’t want to miss out on. Gaudi’s famous Sagrada Familia has an unavoidable €15, but you can visit Parc Guell for free (you only have to pay if you want to enter the front area, which is always crowded with tourists).
Discounts and concessions are also available in some places. We were able to get a reduced entrance price because of having an EU passport when we went up to see Montjuic Castle – lucky for us I was carrying a photocopy of our passports in my purse!
If you’re doing Barcelona on a budget though, there are plenty of things to do for free in Barcelona too though. Barcelona has lots of awesome parks, squares and beaches to spend time at. If you love walking like us, then you can plan a walking route to check out the city’s many gorgeous buildings.
Barcelona may not be the cheapest city in Europe, but even if you only have a small budget then it’s definitely possible to enjoy everything that this vibrant place has to offer. If you can, take advantage of travelling slowly in Barcelona and that will benefit your budget too.
Are you travelling to Barcelona soon, or have you been before? Did you manage to travel in Barcelona on a budget, or did you end up blowing it all?