Barcelona on a budget is not an oxymoron. Though you may want to splurge on the delicious Catalan cuisine and exquisite leather gloves, you can find plenty of family friendly activities where you won’t need to spend any money. Visit in low season, late fall (before Christmas) or winter to save more money; hotels cut prices and crowds are much thinner. But the moderate temperature makes a winter visit ideal.
Barcelona has amazing architecture, incredible food and its own language, Catalan. We spent three days in the coastal city after nearly a week in Madrid. We took the ‘fast train,’ the AVE high speed rail that whisks you between the cities in under three hours.
What Barcelona does not have is many free attractions. To visit the architectural wonders of Antonio Gaudi, you have to pay high entrance fees. To eat most of the great food, you can spend a ton of money And to take the cable car across the city from Barcelona to the base of Mont Juic cost more for our family of four than a night in the apartment we rented. But here are a couple of places that are free in Barcelona.
Barceloneta, the beach just off the main part of Barcelona, is free and even in December, when it was 60 degrees (or 13 Celsius), we saw people in the water, including one nude man. There were bands playing on the boardwalk and a group of gymnast practicing flips. We took off our shoes and walked on the cool, clean sand to the Olympic stadium.
Note, though, that you have to pay to use restrooms here – and when we went in December, the paid toilets closed as we approached. No amount of pleading worked. We did find one restaurant that allowed my kids to use the bathroom, but it took three tries.
The Magic Fountains
Mont Juic has several museums, all with admission fees, including a Picasso Museum, one dedicated to Joan Miro and another focusing on Catalan art. But it also has a free night time show, combining music and colored lights in the fountains that cascade from the Museum of Catalonia. In winter, the performances are at 7-9 p.m., lasting 30 minutes each, on Friday nights; in the summer, the show is offered nightly and goes from 9-11:30 p.m. People dance in front of the fountains and claim prime viewing spots early.
Barcelona has three wide pedestrian avenues, Las Ramblas, that are lined with restaurants, bars and shops. There are benches where you can sit and watch the parade of pedestrians, or you can join the crowds and stroll along. The wide boulevards, so different form the winding, narrow streets of much of the city, also attract street performers.
Mercado de la Boqueria
The outdoor public market sells fruit, fish, cheese, meat and candy; it’s fun just to wander through and look at all the colorful food and spices on display. Note to those with sensitive children – chickens and rabbits are sold with their heads still attached, and giant legs of pigs hang over meat counters.
The Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona
The cathedral, parts of which date fro the 4th century, is open for free every morning for free from 8 a.m. to 12:30 (services are held on Sundays) and again from 5:45 to 7 p.m. weekdays. The free entry doesn’t include a visit to the roof.
Much of Parc Guell, a UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Gaudi, is always free. The park is built on a steep hill, so you will get some exercise walking around; the park is also a 15 minute hike from the Metro.
You have to pay to enter the Monumental Zone, which includes the famous Dragon Staircase and Casa del Guarda, now part of the Barcelona History Museum. This is one of the less expensive Gaudi experiences; tickets are seven Euros if bought online, and free for kids under age six.