Things to Do on a Budget While Traveling to Barcelona
Barcelona is for sure one of our favorite places in Spain. It’s known around the world as a vibrant city with tons to see and do, and it is! The amount of activities and sights is overwhelming, so we’ve condensed what we did into a guide. In five days, we were able to see lots of neighborhoods in Barcelona and also find time to relax and shoot photos with our favorite travel cameras.
We were bombarded with recommendations when we went to Barcelona for our first time together, and the best takeaway was this: book the famous tourist sites in advance.
What does this mean? Well, for the Sagrada Familia and Parque Guell (both famous works of Gaudi), you can’t show up without a ticket, or you’ll have to wait for a designated time. If you book tickets in advance, your trip will be stress-free.
We spent only five days in Barcelona with a day trip to Montserrat, and we were able to stroll around, get familiar with the neighborhoods of the city and eat great food. Here’s what worked for us.
Our best safety tip for Barcelona travel
It’s simple: watch your phone and your pockets. During our trip, our friend and his sister both had their phones stolen within minutes, on the street. The pickpockets and thieves in Barcelona are true professionals and they will catch you off guard.
After this incident, we were incredibly careful with our bags, pockets and phones, and luckily, we experienced no crime nor scams.
Areas like La Rambla are known for professional pick-pocketing. Use caution, and you should be fine!
Where to stay in Barcelona?
Stay in El Born, Barcelona’s hip neighborhood!
We opted to Airbnb in a trendy and convenient area called El Born, which is a neighborhood within La Ribera. This is the area in between the Gothic Quarter and the Park (La Ciudadela).
We enjoyed El Born because at night, the streets were lined with little bars and tapas restaurants, yet there were still quiet squares and dark alleys. Each night and day we managed to get lost in the streets that didn’t seem very marked and at night, they all looked the same!
Couples trip ideas for sightseeing in Barcelona
You can pick and choose from our list of things to do in Barcelona during your trip depending on your budget. We alternated our time between the big must-see architectural sights and taking our time walking aimlessly in neighborhoods and parks in order to save a bit of money during our trip.
Fun fact, we dated long distance during this trip! Barcelona was very accessible and accommodating for us. Becca was flying in from New York City and Dan was coming in from Valencia, Spain. This was the perfect destination for us to meet!
Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most famous cathedral in Spain! Buy tickets online for specific dates/times in advance. This was the absolute best advice that a coworker gave me before we left!
Passeig de Gràcia in L’Eixample District (free)
This is the main street for a Gaudi architecture walk. We did Lonely Planet’s walking tour in the Barcelona pocket guide book.
Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (free)
Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) has dark and stone alleyways and a famous bridge connecting two buildings called El Pont del Bisbe (Bishop’s Bridge). It’s worth a photo, especially at golden hour.
We found out that most of the Gaudi attractions have a hefty entrance fee, around 20 EUR. We opted to only pay for what we found to be well worth it and Parque Guell was one of them. Our best suggestion is to book online, print tickets if you can, beforehand, and you have to pick a time slot for which you have to show up on a specific date.
El Born neighborhood (free)
This neighborhood has charming streets, small alleys and lots of shops. You can find a bunch of museums like the Picasso Museum and the Museum of the City here, between Barri Gotic and El Born.
Parc de la Ciutadell & Arc de Triomf (free)
Parc de la Ciutadell is a big park with palm trees and street performers. You can do lots of people-watching. The Arc is the main architectural attraction and it’s made of pink stone.
Vila de Gracia neighborhood (free)
If we had to choose, this was where we may have chosen to stay if we had known about it. Vila de Gracia is charming and is a less touristy neighborhood with quiet streets.
We walked here from the Sagrada Familia and it took an hour at a leisurely pace, but was such a nice walk. From here, we walked to Parque Guell, the famous Gaudi park. Wear comfy shoes because it is up a giant hill!
Cafes and health food restaurants in Barcelona
Cafe del Teatre (Vila de Gracia)
This is a cute cafe in Vila de Gracia where we caffeinated before Les Tres a la Cuina opened at 1 pm.
Orangutan Coffee (Barri Gotic)
This is a cafe we found in the Gothic Quarter with really good espresso. It’s tight for seating, but has character.
Faborit (L’Eixample District)
Faborit is a nice cafe next to Casa Amatller, a piece of famous Gaudi. With nice weather, we got to enjoy the back patio, which is next to the famous buildings.
Les Tres a la Cuina (Vila de Gracia)
This farm-to-table set menu restaurant was just what we needed before our uphill walk to Parque Guell. The food was unique, and this place is top-rated in Vila de Gracia.
Budget-friendly trendy restaurants and bars in El Born
El Born is where we did most of our eating and drinking because the choices were endless!
Mosquito is popular to say the least. The menu is Chinese and Asian tapas, and they also have a drinks menu, complete with cava, Catalan champagne.
We can’t say no to trying trendy Argentine-style wine bars! This place is great for having a drink while you wait for your table at Mosquito.
This bar in El Born is delightful for cocktails and small bites. You can find great atmosphere and find something delicious for most tastes.
La Taguara (gluten-free options)
OMG, AREPAS (Venezuelan style) in El Born! Don’t tell, but we went to La Taguara three times because Becca loves arepas so much
Looking for pizza on a quiet street in El Born with friendly owners? This is the place.
Another thing we can’t say no to, wherever we are in the world, is tacos. Taco Alto hit the spot.
Take a day trip to Montserrat Monastery
Montserrat is a beautiful region outside Barcelona and it can be accessed by train. What we learned by not leaving early enough is that you should leave as early as possible if you’d like to hike. This is because even as early as 3:30 or 4:00 pm, the shadows of the mountains start making things darker, and you have to budget time for returning to the cable car that brings you back to the train.
We originally set out early to be able to get in the entire hike! We could’ve done it, but overthinking directions got the best of us.
We took the train from Barcelona near the city park and transferred, and got to the Montserrat stop. We had to ask people in Spanish intermittently if we were going the right way. It took between an hour and an hour and a half.
Here’s how NOT to take a trip to Montserrat:
When we got off the train at the Montserrat, we could see the mountain/monastery clearly if we looked up. Thinking we missed something, we walked for about 45 minutes to Montserrat the town, which is small and has no touristic value. We kept asking local people where the hike started, and they had no idea. This was because we actually were supposed to follow all the tourists, as the only way to begin the hike is by taking the funicular up the mountain.
By being too adventurous (we had been walking along the highway and there was no signage) we lost two hours and couldn’t hike at all, because it was going to get dark pretty soon.
Instead, we toured the main area of the monastery (it’s pretty crazy that they built a monastery on a mountain so many years ago!). The lookout points were pretty spectacular and the views were great.
We walked to all the lookout points around the area and then went up to the monastery itself. It started getting cold! So, we headed down in one of the last funicular trips back to the train to Barcelona.
How to relax during your trip to Barcelona
Remember: you don’t have to do it all! Barcelona is an excellent place to explore entirely by foot and public transport. Be sure to enjoy the cool neighborhoods, parks and architecture as much as the ticketed famous sights.
Leaving soon? Don’t forget our list of things to do before leaving home!