There’s a lot of things to do in Barcelona, Spain’s second city: the dark, twisting streets of the Barri Gòtic; the cool and sophisticated La Ribera district filled with designer shops and fashionable bars; the enticing beaches and über-modern seafront area – all topped off by some seriously unusual architecture, an integral part of Catalan’s Modernisme movement. It’s this mix, along with its tempting tapas and bar scene that makes the city such an exciting stop, and inevitably the prices to visit its museums, churches and the like are high. Here are a few suggestions for free things to do in Barcelona:
Walk down Las Ramblas
The sight that launches most guidebooks, Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s main – and most famous – thoroughfare. Lined with cafés, bars and souvenir shops, it’s a heaving throng of tourists, locals, buskers and those notorious street performance artists. A stroll down here is an absolute must.
Ditch the diet at La Boqueria
Barcelona’s biggest and brightest market, La Boqueria, situated just off Las Ramblas, has enticing and overflowing displays of fresh fruit and vegetables, glistening seafood and meat – including some rather alarming sheep head cuts – pongy cheeses and tempting cakes and breads. If you’ve eaten breakfast already, head to Els Enchants Vells (metro Encants/Glòries), Barcelona’s bustling open-air flea market.
Go to hospital
Designed in 1902 by Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, in an exuberant modernist style complete with swirling turrets and towers, vibrant mosaics and a beautiful brick facade, the enormous complex of the Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site, also known as Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Paul, rivals the Sagrada Família in size and wow-factor. Admission is free the first Sunday of every month.
Sit on a bench in Parc Güell
Antoni Gaudì – figurehead of Catalan modernisme – really let his imagination go wild in the Parc Güell. Sitting on the outskirts of the Gràcia district and opened to the public in 1922, the urban parkland is peppered with brightly coloured pavilions, swirling sculptures, giant lizards and its most famous feature, a long ceramic bench – a glittering, undulating mass of multi-coloured mosaics.
Sunbathe on the beach
Take your pick from a number of Barcelona’s sandy beaches: Barceloneta is the closest to the city centre (metro stop Barceloneta, or a 20 min walk from town) and attracts the most crowds, while further along, quieter Icària (metro stop Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica) has some top-quality restaurants worth trying. Mar Bella beach, generally known as a nudist beach – and good for windsurfing – is a 20 min walk from Poble Nou metro stop. The perfect spots for when those city streets get that bit too hot.
Goggle at La Seu
Barcelona’s greatest Gothic cathedral, La Seu, dates from 1298, and was built over an old Christian basilica. With its imposing facade topped with spiked steeples and huge flying buttresses, it’s home to the remains of Santa Eulalia, a young girl martyred for her Christian beliefs. The interior and cloister (complete with white geese, meant to represent the virginal Eulalia) are free to visit during general admission times, but there are charges to sections outside these hours.
Hop from house to house
Most of the modernist houses in Barcelona have an admission charge, but there’s nothing stopping you doing your own house-hop for free. Casa Amatller, La Pedrera, Casa Battlò, Casa Lleó Morera – to name but a few – all have magnificent facades displaying trademark features of swirling walls and mind-boggling motifs. For the ultimate in modernist marvel, the Sagrada Família – worth a (free) visit for its exterior alone – cannot be beaten.
Skate at night
Pull on some elbow pads, knee protectors and a pair of gnarly freeline skates, and join the Association of Skaters for a night-time exploration of Barcelona. The group leaves from C/Salvador Esprinu, 61 at 10.30pm every Friday, depending on the weather.
Marvel at Frederic Mares’ curios collection
On the first Sunday of every month, this fantastic little museum dedicated to the life and work of the twentieth-century sculptor Frederic Mares, has free admission. The museum shows off his prolific collection of religious sculptures and secular knick-knacks, all of which give a fascinating insight into the life of an infatuated hoarder.
Witness an explosion of lights
By day, the perfectly ordinary-looking Font Màgica sits among the lush gardens and impressive buildings in Montjuïc pleasure park. On certain nights, however, its bubbling water is lit up in vibrant rainbow colours, dancing and splashing to a musical soundtrack (either classical or cheese, or both). It’s free to see the pretty – and popular – spectacle, so join the crowd with plenty of “oohs” and “aaahs”.