As the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is the most important city in Spain’s wealthiest region. That doesn’t make it off limits to budget travelers, though. Its ever-increasing popularity and immense size grant you loads of options in both accommodations and dining. Where there are choices, there are opportunities to save.
Where to Stay
As is the case with most major cities, the closer you are to the center, the more expensive the room. You may decide the energy of La Rambla, the Barri Gotic, or Barceloneta is worth the higher room price. If your budget is taking priority, however, stay in the farther flung quarters of the city. Sant Jordi is a high quality hostel chain with locations throughout Barcelona and a unique atmosphere focused on skateboarding and street art. You could stay in a colorful dorm in the charming village of Gracia for 35 euro a night, or you could drop 45 a night on a private apartment-style room just minutes from the Sagrada Familia. There’s a tremendous energy to any Sant Jordi hostel as they bring guests from all their branches together for nightly club and bar outings with no cover charge.
Think twice before booking via Airbnb in Barcelona. Tourism in the city is on the rise and some real estate owners are scrambling to transition their properties to more lucrative rentals, leading many locals in the city center to feel they are being forced out of their homes. Remember your tourism should only benefit a community, not detract from it. When choosing an Airbnb host, read carefully to ensure they are a true local host, not a hotel exploiting the real estate market.
What to Eat
When you imagine dining in Barcelona, you might first think of tapas bars or paella. Neither, in fact, are originally from the region. If you have your heart set on those classically Spanish meals, you’ll have plenty of options for indulging those tastes, but make sure to treat yourself to some authentically Catalan food as well. Start every meal you can with pan con tomat, an appetizer so simple, if it doesn’t taste good at your chosen restaurant, you should get up and walk out the door. Follow it up with escalivada, a mixed vegetable dish often served with romesco sauce, and for dessert try a crema catalana. The cinnamon and lemon flavored custard predates its better known cousin crème brulee by about 200 years.
On a shoestring budget, the Mercat de Boqueria, touristy as it may be, could easily become your go-to. Locals may prefer shopping at other markets, but the Boqueria has a strong mix of grocers, prepared foods, and tapas bars that make It a convenient spot to patch together an inexpensive lunch while picking up a few veggies to saute at your hostel for an equally cost effective dinner.
There are plenty of cafes throughout the city where you can drop a mere three or four euro on a sandwich stuffed with chorizo or jamon iberico. Since lunch is often the largest meal in Spain, however, midday is the best time to treat yourself to a sit-down restaurant Lunchtime, however, is the best time to treat yourself to a sit-down restaurant dinner with the reasonably priced “menu del dia” options you’ll see advertised on practically every street corner.
While tapas may not be traditional to Catalonia, they can still be a means of getting a tasty and budget friendly dinner. Just keep in mind that unlike the rest of the country, in Barcelona, you do not receive a complimentary tapa with your drink order.
Want more budget stretching tips? Look for our guide to budget entertainment and attractions in Barcelona.