When you think Barcelona, you think football and paella and sun and art. It’s a perfect holiday destination because it has it all: beach, city, clubs, food. And it has a bit of a rep for being on the pricier side. Except it is possible to do Barcelona on a student budget, all it takes is a bit of research and it’s the perfect holiday destination.
Flights anywhere can get pricey, so I recommend booking as far in advance as you can. It’s obviously cheaper if you go off season (reading week?), but you can still get reasonably priced flights in the summer if you book early. Don’t bother with add on luggage; bringing just a carry on isn’t only cheaper, it’s also quicker on the other side and easier to walk around with on public transport once you arrive. If you’re booking a last-minute trip, coaches and trains are generally the way to go, as many of these tickets are only released 90 days in advance anyway. It can work out fairly cheaply if you don’t mind the long journey – just bring a good book and some headphones!
Travel once you’re there:
Barcelona has one of the best public transport systems in Europe – it’s clean and easy to use (just watch out for pickpockets, petty crime is a bit of a problem). The best way to do it, if you plan on exploring around Barcelona throughout your trip, is to get a T10 ticket. It costs $10.20 making each trip effectively $1 and gets you to most parts of Barcelona no problem. Since the metro is so fantastic and we’re on a budget, I wouldn’t recommend getting a taxi unless absolutely necessary. It’s very easy to be ripped off when they know you’re a tourist (been there, done that) and whilst not all taxi drivers are like that, it works out much cheaper to use public transport anyway.
Where to stay and what to eat:
Hostels are of course the go-to budget solution. They tend to attract a nice crowd if you research a good place and a lot of the time, you’ll meet other students travelling just like you. If you’re in a bigger group, an apartment can also work pretty well. One way to save money on food, whilst not missing out too much, is to limit yourself to one meal out a day. Buying cereal and pasta at a local supermarket to have for breakfast and lunch, then going out for a big dinner helps save money without feeling like you’re missing out on delicious Spanish cuisine. When you do go out to eat, often on weekdays at lunchtime restaurants will have a ‘menú del día’ which is a ‘menu of the day’ offering a variety of starters, mains and deserts for a set price. This can work out fairly reasonably and you tend to get a good selection of food from that restaurant. Drinks-wise there are water fountains all across Barcelona, so bring a reusable water bottle and save buying it.
Things to do:
There are some pricier things to do in Barcelona, like Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia or lavish boat trips however there are many free or cheaper things as well. Parc de la Cuitadella is like the Barcelona equivalent of Hyde Park – it has some beautiful features and a lake with rowing boats. If you’re looking for a more chilled day after a night out, bring a picnic blanket, some snacks and maybe a ball or frisbee and enjoy the sunshine. Make use of Sundays! Lots of museums have free entry on Sundays from 3pm-8pm so make the most of this and visit Museu Picasso. Some also offer free or discounted entrance if you show proof of being a student. Unashamedly touristy but just walking along La Rambla and exploring the indoor Mercat de la Boqueria can be a lot of fun and you don’t have to buy anything (although the colourful fruit juices might tempt you when you’re hot and sweaty). Likewise, the Magic Fountain lights show in the evening is a free to watch and who doesn’t love some 80’s tunes and in sync fountain jets? The beach! It’s free to use and great for a bit of relaxing or some beach games. Just don’t be fooled by the tanned locals and forgo the sun cream – you will regret it!
Clubbing and bars:
Look off the beaten track for the best places to go bar-wise. Many tourist traps will charge way more than a little local, family run bar which, ultimately, will often be much more fun and can feature live music and dancing as the night goes on. Clubbing tends to get expensive, but take advantage of the free drink with entry – unlike in England, drinks are generally made free-pouring so that vodka lemonade will be much more like vodka with a splash of lemonade. Like clubbing in any city (think London), pre-drinking even soft drinks is essential as drinks in the club have prices that will give you serious heart palpitations.