Winter in Vancouver is down to your bones cold. I’m in the middle of some Sunshine Coast drafts but the windy, rainy weather and the cooking shows I’ve been watching on Netflix have my thoughts straying to the dry heat of Barcelona. As close to a tropical vacation as I’ve had a while, June in this Spanish city was perfect for the girls and me after the unexpected and pelting rain in Paris.
Barcelona was a place that I thought might be a bit more on the expensive side, but as I’m pretty sure I’ve said before (about any place), things are only as expensive as you make them. Also, the Euro doesn’t seem to beat up the Canadian Dollar as much as the GBP, so it’s fairly easy to #GetThrifty, but still have an excellent time in Europe. Particularly in Barcelona. Here are some excellent ways to experience the city without breaking the bank.
1. Get your step on
Your feet are your most #GetThrifty mode of transport, and I’m a firm believer that getting your step on is the best way to really see any place you visit. (It also helps balance out all the food and wine!) We definitely got our step on in the five days we were there. If you take the Aerobus from the airport, they provide a fantastic map for you to mark-up and you can look up some great self-guided tours. There is a list of museums that have free entry, which is always nice.
Walking along touristy La Rambla is a colourful and entertaining experience, but make sure you hold your bag tight or have a slashproof purse (check out my travel essentials page for a great Pacsafe option!). I’ve never been pick-pocketed, and don’t hope to ever be, but Barcelona has some notoriously sticky-fingered individuals.
The walk along the greenway at the Arco de Triunfo and through to the Museum of Natural History is beautiful, but be prepared for the street vendors to try and cajole you into buying the pretty blankets they have on display.
If you fancy taking a walking tour, I highly recommend Donkey Tours. Their tours are free (make sure you tip your guide well – they are awesome!) and I went on their Modernism tour to experience the brilliance of the architecture that Barcelona is so well known for. (One word: Gaudí. I’ll write about this tour soon, but you should look him up. The man was a genius. One project of his that I didn’t get to was Park Güell, so I need to get to that next time!)
Should the weather happen to turn upside down on you (which very rarely happens) or you just don’t feel like walking anymore, the Metro is a good option to get around. You can get a T10 pass for €9.95 and it’s okay for a small group or family to share. (Use, pass back. Use, pass back, etc.) This is what I got for the girls and I to use. It’s always recommended to watch your things, but I felt very safe on my own, with the girls, and my walking tour group. If you’re going to be taking local transport more often or are there for longer, you can get a Hola Barcelona Transport Pass.
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2. Hop on a bus
When coming into the city from the airport, take the Aerobus. It’s clean, cheap (€5.90 for a single fare – return option also available) safe, leaves often, and drops you off in the centre of the city. Taxis are about €30-40, but there’s really no need to do that unless you have a crazy early flight home, like I did!
In terms of exploring, if you’re not down with walking too much or are short on time, the city bus tour (Barcelona Bus Turístic) is supposed to be very good. I’ve previously talked about how much I enjoy a hop-on-hop-off tour to get my bearings, and I will definitely take this one on my next visit. I chose to do the walking tour with Donkey Tours, but my friends went on the bus tour and loved it. They finished at Park Güell and moseyed on down from there. Booking in advance is highly recommended.
There are also some lovely wine region bus tours that we didn’t have a chance to explore, but next time!
3. Go full tourist
That perhaps sounds expensive and opposite to what this post is about. But if you’re planning on going on the Bus Tour and perhaps want to visit some museums and attractions, you may want to purchase the Barcelona Card. It’s 40,50€ for a 72 hour pass and it includes the bus tour (which is 30€ on its own), a metro/bus card, free or discounted admission to popular attractions and museums, and is a pretty sweet deal. But it really depends on how you are wanting to spend your time in the city.
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4. Go to the beach
Barcelona is considered one of the best beach cities in the world, but up until 1992, the beaches weren’t accessible to the public and/or didn’t exist. We have the 1992 Summer Olympics to thank for the almost five kilometres of beautiful sandy beach coastline. (Fun fact: Five of Barcelona’s seven urban beaches are man-made.) We went to Barceloneta Beach, and I think that was one of my favourite parts of our entire trip. It was nice to go to the beach and not worry about anything other than putting on sunscreen.
You can take the metro and then walk a bit to the beach, but we walked the whole way there and back, which was a fair click, but incredibly nice. To save some money, bring your own water and snacks with you and don’t buy the overpriced beach fare. When you’re done at the beach, there’s great brewpub called BlackLab that has an excellent selection and isn’t too pricey.
5. Count sticks at dinner
Pintxos and tapas. Only the same in that they one or two bite foods that are deceptively filling. But they are different, and how they are presented and classified depends on where you are in the city or even the country. This fascinates me, and if I’d had my s*** together, I would have arranged a tour or gotten together with a local blogger. At the same time, we knew we were getting to Barcelona wanting to relax and discover things for ourselves. We weren’t going in completely blind as our food tour in London, some tips from my Office Coordinator at work, and some very helpful markings on a map from our Airbnb landlord gave us some knowledge.
Pintxos are essentially hors d’oeuvres skewered with a stick. The length or colour of the stick represents a cost per piece of the food it has skewered. Costs are usually on signs at the counter or on the trays the wait staff walks around with. Tapas don’t have the stick. But you can easily keep track of cost (no matter how much sangria you have) and everything, and I mean everything, is delicious. Even the things with olives, and I don’t like olives.
6. Go Shopping
Yep, you read that right. Whether you’re travelling solo, with your partner, or with friends, this is probably the most important #GetThrifty tip I can give you for visiting any European city. The first thing we did after finding our Barcelona Airbnb (which was so gorgeous!) was go to the market around the corner. Everything is, as my friend Orla says, “cheap as chips”. Most things, wine included, are much better priced in Europe and the UK. You can get an excellent bottle of any varietal of Spanish wine for less than $10 CAD. Our favourite white cost all of €2.20 and it was fabulous. That is how good of a year 2015 was for wine.
Grab your basics: wine (you knew this would be listed first), cava (Spanish sparkling wine — a MUST), bottled water (1.5 litre bottles come in six or eight packs – very important in the hot weather), snacks (Manchego cheese, some Jamón Iberico, crackers and chips, some apples, and maybe some breakfast-y type foods.) I don’t think we spent more than €40-ish — TOTAL, for five days — on these shared groceries. This will serve you well, I promise. Particularly at siesta time. (See below.)
7. Take a nap (or just relax!)
I don’t nap but I love siesta time because you can actually hear the city quiet down. The majority of shops, bars, and restaurants close down from about 2-6pm ish (sometimes longer for the eateries and bars) and it’s the perfect time to get out of the heat or to just RELAX. Remember that wine and the Manchego cheese? Put your feet up and enjoy it.
On my first siesta day, I started doing some blog drafts, but then my BBC app alerted me of the Comey testimony was on so, naturally, I refilled my wine and settled in at our little sunroom table for that. It was fascinating.
Siesta was kind of the theme of this leg of the trip. Which is fitting because Barcelona is known as a pretty chill city. But the next time I go, I want to experience some flamenco, a football match, properly get down with the food (and have a tinto de verano – red wine with lemon soda – or two or three or four), and go to some museums.
Have you been to Barcelona? What was your favourite part of the city?
“We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm, and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.” ~ Jawaharial