Barcelona insider tips

The Magic Fountain just in front of the MNAC

By Sally Davies, your Barcelona expert

I write for BBC radio, Insight Guides, .... Read more

How to save money plus other advice on Barcelona

Barcelona can be an expensive city to visit but it doesn't have to be. Read my advice on how to save money.

Eating and drinking
Getting around
Sights and attractions
Other useful tips

Eating and drinking

  • La Rambla is strictly for strolling – avoid its overpriced restaurants and cafés, and above all its terraces, where a Coke will cost you the same as a small handbag and beer only comes in ‘Tourist’ size (about a litre).
  • The best places in the centre to pick up picnic fodder are La Boqueria market (on La Rambla) and the Mercat Santa Caterina (in the Born).
  • Many bars operate a three-tier payment system. Terrace seats attract the largest surcharge, but prices to be served at tables are often higher than sitting up at the bar.
  • Most restaurants in Spain served a cheap, fixed-price meal at lunchtime, known as the menú del día. This is usually two or three courses with something to drink, and costs around 10 euros.
  • The Spanish tend to tip very little in restaurants, and rarely tip cab-drivers.
  • The chain of restaurants of which Les Quinze Nits in the Plaça Reial is the most famous, serves amazingly cheap (though not haute-cuisine) food in swish surroundings. Other branches include the nearby La Fonda (C/Escudellers 10) and La Dolça Herminia (C/Magdalenes 27).
  • Good spots for picnics include the Parc de la Ciutadella, and the Jardins Mossèn Cinto up on Montjuïc, where the air is much cooler.

Getting around

  • Single tickets on the metro, bus and tram are 1.45 euros, but buy a shareable T10 (8.25 euros) for ten discounted journeys. You can buy them in metro stations, in estancos (tobacco shops), and yellow ServiCaixa cashpoints.
  • Multi-journey tickets such as the T10 allow you to swap between modes of transport – metro, bus and tram – without paying extra, as long as it’s within 1hour 15 minutes of validating the ticket. Enter the card into the machine as normal, but it won’t subtract a trip.
  • The tourist bus (Bus Turístic) is expensive (22 euros for 24hrs), but a book of coupons offering discounts on sights is included.
  • The cheapest way to get in from the airport is either local bus (No.46) or, if you have a T10 (see above), you could also use it to take the train (see my Barcelona flights page for more information.
  • The price of taxis has increased exponentially in recent years, but it’s rare that you’ll really need one, even late at night. There are frequent night-buses, and the metro runs until 2am on Fridays and all night on Saturdays.
  • If you buy your ticket for the Bus Turístic on www.barcelonaturisme.com you’ll get a 10 per cent discount.

Sights and attractions

  • The following museums, galleries and sights are free to enter: Ajuntament, Temple Romà d’August, Arts Santa Mònica, La Capella, Palau Güell, CaixaForum, Fundació Joan Brossa, Museu de Carrosses Fúnebres, Hospital Sant Pau, Park Güell.
  • As of April 2009, all municipally run museums are free to enter on Sunday afternoons.
  • On certain days of the year, such as the Dia dels Museus (18 May), Santa Eulàlia (12 Feb), Sant Jordi (23 Apr), Corpus Christi (3 June), the Diada (11 Sept), and La Mercè (24 Sept), all museums are free to enter.
  • Kidsattractions, such as the Zoo and the Aquarium, tend to be expensive, but they’re often just as content with a stroll down La Rambla looking at the street performers, or a trip to the sound and light show at the Magic Fountain just in front of the MNAC.
  • If you’re planning on doing a lot (but really, a lot) of sightseeing and moving around, the Barcelona Card can be a worthwhile investment. It costs 27 euros for two days/32 euros for three and provides unlimited free transport in the city, and discounts at various sights, shops and restaurants, along with the airport bus. See www.barcelonacard.com.
  • The Articket is an excellent-value pass to the Fundació Miró, the MACBA, the MNAC, La Pedrera, the Fundació Tàpies, the CCCB and the Museu Picasso. It costs 22 euros and is valid for six months. See www.articketbcn.org.
  • In a similar vein but focused on things archaeological, the Arqueoticket is valid for a year and allows unlimited visits to the Museu d’Arqueologia, Museu Barbier-Mueller, Museu Egipci, Museu d’Història de Barcelona and Museu Marítim. It costs 14 euros and you can buy it on www.barcelonaturisme.com.
  • If you are planning repeat visits to the Museu Picasso or the MACBA, invest in their annual pass. The Carnet Picasso is 10 euros and the MACBA Passi is 12 euros and both allow unlimited visits during one year.
  • Longer-term visitors would do well to get a municipal library card, which gives discounts on cinemas, theatres and in many shops.
  • Almost all churches are free to enter, including the spectacular Santa Maria del Mar in the Born.
  • During the Música als Parcs festival in summer, there are free classical concerts on Thursday and Sunday nights, and jazz on Wednesdays and Fridays, in various of the city’s parks. See www.parcsijardins.cat for details.
  • For a great (and free) view over the port and across the city, head up to the roof terrace of the Museu d’Història de Catalunya. There’s also a café up there.
  • Discounted theatre tickets are sold on the afternoons of the shows at the underground tourist office in Plaça Catalunya.
  • Some museum tickets are valid for other museums or attractions. A ticket to the Museu de les Ciències Naturals, for example, is also valid for the Jardí Botànic, and a ticket to the Museu d’Història de Barcelona also gets you into the Pedralbes convent and a handful of smaller museums.

Other useful tips

  • All cinemas have a ‘dia de l’espectador’; basically a cheap night. Usually it’s Monday, but can be Wednesday – check the cartelera section of listings magazines or the Friday newspaper supplements.
  • If you’re picking up provisions at La Boqueria, avoid the stalls at the front. They have the most colourful displays, along with the most colourful pricing.
  • Sales run from 7 January and the beginning of July, but are not particularly impressive until the second wave of reductions about three weeks later.
  • Although it’s prime tourist season, many hotels offer cheaper rooms in July and August, when they miss out on the business trade. See more advice on my Barcelona hotels page.
  • There are few public loos around town, but FNAC and El Corte Inglés on Plaça Catalunya both have them.
  • The tourist office gives out free, but not terribly good, maps. For something better, and also free, get hold of a bus map from the tourist office in Plaça Catalunya.
  • La Roca (www.larocavillage.com) is a discount shopping village about 40 minutes’ from Barcelona. There are three buses a day; see the website for details.
  • If you’re planning on being here for any length of time, it might be worth investing in a Spanish SIM card. These are available from FNAC or El Corte Inglés in Plaça Catalunya, or any of the mobile phone shops around town.
  • Clubs normally grant free or reduced entry before 2am if you have a flyer. These are ubiquitous in bars and cafés around town.
  • From October to May there are free organ concerts at the cathedral on the 2nd Wednesday of the month. See www.euroconcert.org for details.
  • The council has recently installed 500 free WiFi spots around Barcelona. These include libraries, museums, parks and gardens. Look out for the large blue signs with a W.
  • Hotel breakfasts tend to be expensive. Better to head out to a nearby bar for coffee and a magdalena.
  • Most of Barcelona’s discount fashion outlets are along the C/Girona.

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