20 free things to do in Barcelona

by TRENT HOLDEN·
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Barcelona is a city blessed with cultural attractions, bars and life-changing Catalan cuisine. Yet this ‘having fun’ business can come with a hefty price tag, as all those entry fees and tapas bills add up. Fortunately for those watching their euros, Barcelona has a heap on offer that won’t cost you a cent.

Park Güell  in Barcelona. Image by Sylvain Sonnet / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images.Park Güell  in Barcelona. Image by Sylvain Sonnet / Photographer's Choice / Getty Images.

1. Be dazzled by Park Güell

Given the pricey admission to all the other Gaudí sights, it’s remarkable that the whimsical Parc Güell remains free – particularly as it’s up there with his finest work. A masterpiece of landscape gardening, sprawling Park Güell features all the hallmarks of Gaudí’s genius touch. There are Modernisme touches throughout, and the centrepiece is its main gate with two gingerbread-like buildings – a collage of swirling spires, mosaics and pleasing irregularities – which leads on to his famous psychedelic mosaic salamanders.

Las Ramblas taken from the Columbus Monument by Nigel's Europe. CC BY-SA 2.0.La Rambla taken from the Columbus Monument by Nigel's Europe. CC BY-SA 2.0.

2. Saunter up La Rambla

Sure it’s unashamedly touristy, but ambling along this 1km-long walkway is arguably the quintessential Barcelona experience. Lined with regal historical buildings, La Rambla is a great place to stroll and soak up the buzzing atmosphere, with great people-watching and street performers.

3. Admire Modernisme architecture

While many of Barcelona’s architectural gems have admission fees, there are plenty for free. The mind-blowing workmanship of Gaudí’s magnum opus, cathedral-like La Sagrada Família’s exterior can be appreciated without cost. Also check out the World Heritage–listed Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau nearby. Next door to Casa Milà (another of Gaudí’s buildings whose facade can be marvelled for free) is the unique Casa Amatller, a Modernisme gem mixing Gothic and Dutch influences – its exterior features dripping sculptures of dragons and other realms of fantasy.

The Boqueria Market by Maurizio Constanzo. CC BY 2.0.The Boqueria Market by Maurizio Constanzo. CC BY 2.0.

4. Browse the Mercat de la Boqueria

This famous indoor market hall is a colourful explosion of gleaming fresh produce, gourmet delicatessens, tapas bars, and butchers selling meaty legs of jamón. Mercat de la Boqueria is swarming with tourists but remains a decidedly local affair.

5. Bask on a beach

Barcelona has some wonderful beaches perfect for resting aching feet after days of sightseeing. Barceloneta is the most popular, with its lovely sweep of golden sand and promenade with beach bars, restaurants and ice cream stands.

Beach in Barcelona by ctsnow. CC BY 2.0.Beach in Barcelona by ctsnow. CC BY 2.0.

6. Get your culture fix for free

Plan ahead so your visit coincides with one of the ‘free admission’ days at some of Barcelona’s finest museums and galleries including the Museu Picasso, or the excavated Roman ruins at Museu d’Història de Barcelona, both free Sunday from 3pm. The Museu Picasso, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, CaixaForum and Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona are also free the entire day on the first Sunday of each month.

7. Gaze at Joan Miró's public art

The definitive collection of Barcelona’s favourite homegrown artist at Fundació Joan Miró is worth forking out for, but there are fantastic Miró sculptures around the city for free viewing. Parc de Joan Miró is home to his epic 22m-tall Woman and Bird sculpture covered in primary coloured glazed tiles and rising dramatically from a sparkling pool. There’s also a Miró mosaic on the pavement of La Rambla and another displayed unexpectedly on the outside wall of Terminal 2 at the airport.

8. Be awed by La Catedral

In the heart of Barri Gòtic, colossal neo-Gothic La Catedral is equally impressive outside as it is within. Free entry in the morning and late afternoon makes it worth venturing inside to take in its soaring domed ceilings, pillars and cloister with courtyard of palms, orange trees and resident gaggle of white geese.

La Catedral, Barri Gotic, Barcelona by Katherine Price. CC BY 2.0.

9. Sniff out free music, dancing and art

There’s always some cultural freebie going on in town, whether it’s jazz in the park, a modern art installation or flamenco. Visit For Free for information on upcoming free cultural events.

10. Lose your way in Barri Gòtic

Get lost in a warren of cobblestone laneways lined with bars, charming eateries, historic architecture and upmarket shops in the atmospheric medieval quarter of Barri Gòtic.

11. See the sights at Plaça Reial

At this landmark plaza, look out for Gaudí’s first piece of commissioned work for the city – lamp posts featuring dragon-headed serpents wrapped around the pole leading up to a winged helmet.

12. People-watch in El Raval

A grungier version of Barri Gòtic, this network of narrow streets is home to an eclectic cast of characters including artists, backpackers, punks, students and more. There are plenty of cool bars and vintage clothing stores to stumble upon.

Magic fountain of Montjuic by cali4beach. CC BY 2.0.Magic fountain of Montjuic by cali4beach. CC BY 2.0.

13. Be enchanted at the Font Màgica

Built for Barcelona’s 1929 World Exposition, this water-, sound- and lightshow has been drawing tourists ever since. Sure, the Magic Fountain borders on the kitsch side – but who wouldn't stop to admire explosions of multicoloured water in sync with a cheesy 80s beat?

14. Peer out from Castell de Montjuïc

This 17th-century fortress sits atop the summit of grassy Montjuïc and is an interesting place to contemplate its dark history as an execution spot. These days it’s a lot more peaceful, with its garden-filled moat and sweeping views over the harbour.

View of Barcelona from Monjuic by Moyann_Brenn. CC BY 2.0.View of Barcelona from Monjuic by Moyan_Brenn. CC BY 2.0.

15. Seek out street art

Strolling the streets around El Raval you’ll encounter fantastic stencil-art and murals; check out Mapping Barcelona Public Art. Famous art installations include the Peix, a giant fish sculpture designed by Frank Gehry; Roy Lichtenstein’s 15m-high sculpture; and Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies’ Monument Homage to Picasso.

16. Rummage at Els Encants Vells flea market

This old favourite market has an intriguing mix of trash and treasure. There’s a real emphasis on the trash here, but there’s enough random oddities to make it worthwhile. An excellent vintage clothing collection is at the outer rim.

17. Limber up for ping pong, boules and hiking

Joggers can hit the boardwalks around scenic Port Olímpic, while hikers can head to the hills surrounding the city. Skateboarders can strut their stuff with locals at the plaza outside MACBA. Otherwise did someone say ping pong, or perhaps boules? Both are widely available for free in parks throughout the city.

Ping pong in Barcelona by Enric Bach. CC BY 2.0.Ping pong in Barcelona by Enric Bach. CC BY 2.0.

18. Go wild at a festival

If you’re here late September don’t miss the four-day Festes de la Mercè, which brings the city to life with free concerts, dancing, fireworks, acrobatic feats and lively correfocs (colourful parades of drums, devils and firecrackers). Or try the summer extravaganza Festa Major de Gràcia.

19. Explore Mercat de Santa Caterina

It’s less touristy compared to La Boqueria, but this 19th-century market hall is worth a visit for its fine produce and its Modernisme-inspired, vibrantly coloured, tiled wave-shaped roof.

20. Sightsee epic monuments

Barcelona is a monumental city in many ways, and its abundance of stately, historical markers and statues can make for some outstanding free sightseeing. Two good examples are the epic 60m tall Colombus monument at the end of La Rambla, and the grand Arc de Triomf.