Barcelona has it all: a piece of history hidden behind every corner, a delicious gastronomy, a fascinating culture, surrounding natural spaces with the best views of the city, the nicest architecture…what else could you wish for? Well, ideally, to do all these things for free! If that’s what you had in mind, you are in luck! Although the city’s cost of living has increased during the past few years, there are still plenty of free things to do in Barcelona throughout the year, and we are about to show you some of them!
Visit the city’s finest museums for free!
In Barcelona, culture is at everyone’s reach the first Sunday of every month! Many history and art museums offer free entry during a few hours a week, but what most of them have in common, from the Picasso Museum to the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC) is that the admission is free during the first Sunday of every month. Here’s three recommendations that we believe are amongst the best things to do in Barcelona for free:
Situated in the picturesque El Born neighbourhood, very close to the Gothic Quarter, you will find the Picasso Museum, whose building alone is already worth a visit. The museum counts with 3600 pieces by one of the most renowned artist of the 10th century.
Barcelona History Museum (MUHBA)
The amazing construction that holds the Barcelona History Museum is impressively attached to the Cathedral of Barcelona. In the heart of the Gothic Quarter, the ticket allows you to visit rooms where some of the most important events of the Catalan history took place.
National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC)
Situated at the bottom of Montjuïc, this majestic construction was first built for the 1929 Universal Exhibition. Although its permanent exhibition offers a magnificent journey through Catalan art from the 12th until the 20th century, the crown jewel is its Catalan Romanesque art collection.
Montjuïc, time to explore!
The name of this hill literally means “Jewish Mount”, and it overlooks Barcelona from a privileged position: it is located just behind the harbour, in fact it used to be the defense point of the city.
There are many scenic means of transportation around Montjuïc for which you have to pay a fee, such as the funicular or the cable car. However, there is plenty to be discovered (free of charge) by those who feel like taking a little hike: from the Jardins de Laribal to the 1992 Summer Olympics Stadium, Montjuïc is filled with hidden gems. Enjoying the sun with a picnic in one of the hilly gardens is definitely one of the best free things to do in Barcelona!
Walk around and discover the city with a free walking tour
Yes, you got us. Joining a free walking tour is not actually one of the free things to do in Barcelona. What is true, however, is that these kind of tours are one of the best options to have a first contact with the city and get some context of where you just landed on. There are different local companies that offer this kind of service, and it normally takes from two to three hours to get a glimpse of the center of Barcelona, including its Gothic Quarter. The tour guides provide background on what surrounds you so that you can understand the culture of the city and why it looks the way it does.
As we mentioned before, the walking tours are not technically free of charge. Whoever takes part in them can decide the value of the activity, since the price of the tour not a fixed one, but what the customer decides it is worth.
Get lost in the Gothic quarter
Do yourself a favour and let go of Google Maps for a couple of hours. The narrow streets and cobblestone alleyways of the Gothic Quarter will teleport you a few centuries back, to the splendorous times of Barcelona’s Mediterranean trading and growing vertically with the grand Gothic churches.
Needless to say, if you appreciate Gothic architecture you will fall in love with this magic yet somehow obscure neighborhood. Don’t miss a chance to visit Barcelona’s Cathedral, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, the Esglèsia de la Mercè…and Sant Felip Neri square is such a precious hidden gem!
Visit the famous food markets in Barcelona!
When thinking about free things to do in Barcelona, La Boqueria food market always comes to mind. The reputation of this vibrant and colorful spot precedes it! It is situated in the very heart of Barcelona, right next to the typical avenue of Las Ramblas. This one falls to one side of the Gothic Quarter and has been on every visitor’s things to do list for years.
What you might not know is that to the other side of the Gothic Quarter, next to Via Laietena avenue, you will find another typically Barcelonian food market, the Santa Caterina food market. Its wavy rooftop reminds us of the most famous mosaics by Gaudí, and it’s filled with all the foods that make our Mediterranean gastronomy unique. Wander around its aisles to get a good idea of what a Catalan food market looks like!
Not too far from Barcelona city center you will also find Sant Antoni’s food market. This very recently restored Art Nouveau building will satisfy both a gastronomic and architectural purpose in your free things to do list. As you might know already, Art Nouveau style has a special seat in Barcelona’s history, and here’s good proof of it!
The magic fountain show in Montjuïc - Barcelona International Expositions
For the young ones and for those who aren’t that young anymore, attending the magic fountain show at the bottom of Montjuïc is one of the best free things to do in Barcelona. We are talking about a display of water, music and lights that has as a background the magnificent Catalan Museum of National Art. The magic fountain show timings changes throughout the year, depending on the daylight.
Montjuic’s magic fountain was built when the entire area where it stands was refurbished to host the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, one of the many moments in which Barcelona has been an international protagonist in the past. Did you know that the city also hosted the 1888 Universal Exposition? That one happened when Art Nouveau was becoming trendier, and many Art Nouveau buildings from that moment can still be seen around the Arc de Triomf area, next to the Parc de la Ciutadella. Designing one’s own walking tour around Barcelona is one of the best things to do in this city and you should definitely include these two areas in it.
Bargain your way around the market of Els Encants
Walking around the aisles of Barcelona’s local flea market is one of the most alternative free things to do in Barcelona. Since 2013, the market is located in an amazing modern building right next to the impressive Agbar Tower and DHUB Design Museum, two symbols of the city’s skyline.
Els Encants market currently hosts more than 500 stalls in which you can find...well, pretty much everything you can possibly imagine. From second-hand clothes to a CD that Mike Jagger potentially signed for one of his lovers, this flea market is the greatest option to take home the most original souvenirs from Barcelona.
Els Encants opening times are mondays, wednesdays, fridays and Saturdays from 9 am to 8 pm. Local tip: First thing in the morning at 7am every monday, friday and saturday there are public auctions happening the old fashioned way to get all kinds of antiques at ridiculously low prices!
Get the best views of Barcelona
Barcelona is beautiful from every perspective; from a narrow dark street in the Gothic Quarter or from a helicopter. Sadly, the latter is not exactly one of the free things to do in Barcelona. What you can do free of charge, however, is to visit the most amazing viewpoints of our beloved city. Find here the best viewpoints in Barcelona:
Bunkers del Carmel
For a romantic date, a photoshoot or a drink with friends, the Bunkers del Carmel fit every occasion. Not only does it offer an amazing view over the city of Barcelona, but it is a historical landmark as well, since it used to serve as an anti-aircraft battery during the Spanish Civil War. Local tip: combine it with your visit to Park Güell, since they are really close to each other.
If you are wondering what Tibidabo is, we are talking about the hill on top of which you can find Sacred Heart church that can be seen from pretty much every corner of the city. It is also the name of the amusing park situated right next to the church. Visiting the amusement park is sadly not one of the free things to do in Barcelona, although we wish it was! You can get to the top of the mountain by public transportation, but if you want to make an excursion out of it you can also hike through the Collserola mountain range to get to the beautiful viewpoint (get off at Baixador de Vallvidrera train station and start walking up). These are arguably the best views of Barcelona you can get without buying a helicopter.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, Montjuïc is a must when it comes to discovering and walking around Barcelona for free. If you are looking for a view of the city itself, climb the stairs all the way to the Catalan National Museum of Art’s door and turn around, you won’t be disappointed. For a breathtaking view of the mediterranean sea and the city at the same time, keep on walking up and check out the surroundings of the Miramar Hotel or the Montjuïc Castle itself.
Stroll around Passeig de Gràcia and relive the Art Nouveau era
If names like Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, and of course Sagrada Familia ring a bell, some artistic context is in order, because they all have something in common: they are fantastic examples of Art Nouveau architecture.
Catalan take on Art Nouveau, Modernisme in Catalan, is an architectural current that impregnates the center Barcelona, more specifically the neighbourhood of Eixample, which literally means “extension”. Both this trend and this neighbourhood date back from the end of the 19th century, when the city of Barcelona had to expand due to the arrival of workers during the Industrial Revolution.
Modernisme has a lot in common with Art Nouveau, and the Eixample quickly became the testing grounds for modernist architects such as Domènech i Montaner, Puig i Cadafalch and needless to say, the one and only Antoni Gaudí.
Walking down Passeig de Gràcia is the perfect way to admire the beauty of the façades that the bourgeois owners of the factories commissioned to the the renowned Art Nouveau artists. You will notice the curvy lines, the organic motifs that resemble nature and the overall organic shapes that these buildings present. Don’t miss the chance to stop and stare for a while at Casa Milà (la Pedrera) and Casa Batlló by Gaudí, Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch and Casa Lleó i Morera by Domènech i Montaner. Sadly, all of the houses charge and entry fee, but walking down the street and admiring their exterior is free and a pleasure in itself.
If after your stroll around Passeig de Gràcia you have developed an interest in Modernisme, there are many other examples to be discovered in Barcelona: el Palau de la Música, Hospital de Sant Pau, Casa Vicens, Casa de les Punxes… the list goes on and on! You also shouldn’t miss the Museum of Modernisme in the very core of Eixample.
The ones we mentioned are just a few of the many free things to do in Barcelona during your holiday. Being on a budget is definitely not an excuse in our city! Don’t forget to look up if any local festivities are happening during your stay, experiencing those will make your holidays that much more special!