Choose your hotel wisely. When going on a city break, it’s more than likely that you will spend most of your time outside, but, for me at least, it’s important that the room is clean and you feel safe to leave possessions behind while you are out exploring. We did very little research on this, but were extremely lucky with what we booked. The Hotel Sant Augusti was exactly that – clean, safe and in a fabulous location, being right next to one of the main metro lines, La Bouquiera Market, the beach, The Gothic Quarter and La Rambla. It also served a buffet breakfast every morning from 7.30am – 11.00am and had free wi-fi, which was useful when keeping in contact with loved ones.
Work out in advance what it is that you really want to see, and where possible, book tickets online before you go as there are enormous queues and long waits for the main attractions. For example, we arrived at La Sagrada Familia early, but had to queue for about half an hour to buy a ticket and then waited a further three hours before we were allowed in as there were timed entrance spots. It may be also useful to take a guidebook and print off maps of the areas you wish to travel to in advance – we had to buy a map when we were there and soon discovered that it was poorly labelled and many of the sights were in the wrong place.
Be aware of pickpockets, but don’t be so paranoid that it ruins your trip. Barcelona has a reputation for being the pickpocket capital of the world, and before we left, I had read a ton of rather horrifying articles and was worried about what we might have to deal with when we arrived. However, during our entire visit we didn’t once see or experience anything, and everyone that we spoke to was genuinely nice. It’s a simple matter of being sensible – I bought a cheap, small bag with a large zip, inside zipped pockets, a flap and a long thick strap that I wore over my body for about £4 from Primark before I travelled. During the day I put a paper copy of my passport and my metro card in one inside pocket, the money that I would need for the day in another and made sure that the bag was zipped up and the flap was facing my body. When eating or sitting down anywhere, I kept the bag on instead of leaving it on the back of my chair. I didn’t put anything in my trouser pockets. If we were approached by anyone wanting to sell anything I responded with a polite but firm ‘no gracias.’ We didn’t stand in the middle of the street holding a map or walk around with a selfie stick and our phones held high in the air – I couldn’t believe the amount of people I saw doing this.
Know that you will be charged a ‘city tax’ once you arrive, which is a standard payment set by the Catalonian authorities for all hotels – we were charged €0.68 per person per day of our stay, which was almost €7.00 that we hadn’t budgeted for. The amount you will be charged will depend on the rating of your hotel and how many people are in your group. You won’t be able to pay this in advance, and the only method of payment is by cash at the hotel desk upon arrival.
Planning to go to the beach? Take a large towel with you if you wish to visit the Barceloneta Beach – if you sit on the sun loungers you will be charged €8.00 per person and a further €8.00 for the use of a parasol. There are also lots of people trying to sell things – within just a few minutes of arriving we had been continually harassed by people offering massages, temporary tattoos, hair braids, shawls and drinks. However, if you walk further down it is much quieter.
Take the time to learn basic Spanish. The Brits have a reputation for ignorance when abroad, often making no attempt to speak the local language. Before we left, I watched several YouTube videos and learned how to say ‘hello,’ ‘goodbye,’ ‘thank you,’ ‘how much?’, ask for things on a menu and request the bill. In the main tourist areas of the city, most of the locals speak fluent English, and I discovered that many people would speak to me in English before I even opened my mouth, but I made a point of using my new found phrases as much as possible, and even with my accent they understood what I was saying.
Want to save money? Here is how The Bloke and I saved a few quid:
Pack light. When booking the trip, we discovered that we were given an allowance of 10 kilos of luggage each as part of the flight package, which is about the size of a medium sized rucksack. Any more than that would have cost us an extra £40. As we were there to see the sights and not go out clubbing or have a fashion parade, I took a minimal amount of comfortable, lightweight clothing, created a capsule wardrobe of five or six different outfits, a bikini, sarong, underwear and two pairs of shoes, which fit easily into my rucksack and weighed less than 7 kilos. As we didn’t have extra, we took our bag directly onto the plane as hand luggage and didn’t have to wait for suitcases at the carousel at the airport. I found that at the end of the five days there were still a few items that I hadn’t worn. We saved £40, lots of time and easily carried the rucksacks on the metro and train without having to struggle with the ridiculous trolley cases that were continually run over my feet by stressed out passengers.
Don’t waste your money buying large bottles of toiletries before you go through baggage checks. Bottles of liquids need to 100ml or less and kept in small transparent bags – security will automatically throw away anything bigger without a conversation. Instead, I saved the points on my Boots card and used them to get travel sized toiletries (3 for £3), sun lotion and aftersun from the Boots store at the airport before we boarded. Because the points were gained when I had spent money throughout the year, the toiletries were free.
In the City:
I took advantage of the buffet breakfast and used the bread, cheese and ham on offer to make sandwiches which we took with us and ate at lunchtime instead of buying something. Some may find this unethical, but in my opinion, if you have paid for an all-you-can-eat breakfast then it doesn’t matter what time of day you consume it!
The metro has a whole variety of tickets on offer, from 2 – 5 day passes depending on the length of your stay. However, we discovered that many of the attractions we wanted to see were easily within walking distance – things like the Picasso Museum and Gaudi’s Casa Battlö took about 20 minutes – so instead we purchased a T-10 ticket for Zone 1, where all of the main sites are, which is valid for ten journeys and cost just under €10. The only condition of this particular ticket is that everyone traveling is all going to the same destination. It’s important to note that each person would count as one journey on the ticket e.g. if there are 10 people in a group and they all used the same T10 ticket it would completely used up on the first journey. As there were only two of us, we were able to use it to see some of the sights that were too far away to reach on foot on a single ticket.
There are a number of places that are free – the Magic Fountains display begins at 9.00pm and repeats every half an hour until 11.00pm from Thursday to Sunday, many museums are free on the first Sunday of every month or Sunday afternoons, and Parc Güell has a huge park area to walk round, offering amazing views of the city if you don’t wish to pay the entrance fee into the main municipal garden. And, to be fair, all of the main attractions are stunning and can be viewed from the outside without paying an entrance fee – we didn’t go inside Parc Güell, Casa Battlö and many of the cathedrals in the Gothic Quarter, choosing to admire the architecture from outside instead.
We didn’t purchase any food from the restaurants on La Rambla, as the prices are much higher. We found a few nice tapas restaurants in the Gothic Quarter, where each dish was approximately €4, and treated ourselves twice during our five days.
For dinner, we purchased our food most evenings from La Boquiera Market, where we discovered stall after stall of meats, cheeses, fruits, juices, seafood and empanadas. For example, one evening I purchased several empanadas, a box of fruit and a juice for about €7 for both of us as there are deals towards the end of the day, The market is also full of small eating places with food from all over the world at a fraction of the price of many restaurants.
Are you a casual smoker? Don’t waste your money buying cigarettes from the UK before you fly – a standard box of 20 cigarettes costs less than €5 in the ‘Tabac’ shops dotted all over the city, (which at the current conversion rate is about £3.60), which is less than half of the current standard UK price.
You can save on your data roaming package on your devices by taking advantage of the free wi-fi that is available in areas all over the city – just look out for the blue W – and in fast food restaurants like McDonalds and KFC.
Instead of getting a taxi to and from the airport, which would have cost at least €25 each way, we got the RENFE train to Passeig De Gracia and then the metro.
We quickly learned to buy bottles of water from established supermarkets rather than in hotel lobbies and outside attractions – small bottles of water cost twice the price in popular places.
If you are going to buy souvenirs, don’t buy them from the attraction gift shops where possible – there are plenty of souvenir shops that sell the same items for several euros less.
Most importantly, take your time, relax and enjoy one of the most interesting and vibrant cities I have ever had the pleasure of visiting!
What about you guys? Do you have any tips when exploring Barcelona, or any other city for that matter?
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