Over the course of our few visits to Barcelona we’ve found so much to love about the city, but the best experiences have always come as recommendations from locals. It’s thanks to them that we’ve not only fallen in love with the city, but also collected a list of 20 free things to do in Barcelona that we think you’ll love too.
As ever the best times we’ve had in a location have (mostly) all happened because we reached out to locals for their advice and local knowledge, and in our opinion there’s no better way to learn about what’s really worth doing in a city than by asking the people that live there all year around.
Of all the suggestions that came our way through meet-ups once we arrived and chats we’d had with locals and expats online before we arrived, almost all of them worked out as not only worth doing, but worth sharing.
Hopefully for coming holiday in Barcelona you’ll also not only enjoy these twenty activities, but also feel like sharing them too.
20 Free Things To Do in Barcelona
There are more than enough attractions, museums, and activities to keep you busy during your stay that you’ll need at least a few weeks to see everything – something we’d highly encourage!
With this list we hope you’ll be able to have not only a cheap time in Barcelona, but a deeply fulfilling one too.
1. See the Museu Picasso for free
There’s always a queue at the classic Gothic Quarter museum dedicated to the Spanish master who once lived and worked within the grey stone walls in which his collection is now kept, and that’s no different on the first Sunday of the month when entrance is free to all.
Whilst the chance of a queue might be off putting, getting in for free surely shouldn’t be.
As long as you arrive earlier than the free entry period between 3PM and 7PM, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be the first one in.
Also on the first Sunday of the month you can visit the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Museu d’Història de Catalunya. For more details see the TimeOut Guide to Free Entry Sundays in Barcelona.
2. Join a walking tour for free
We’ve been joining free walking tours across Europe and have had a great time on every single one.
There are a number of small local companies that provide free walking tours in Barcelona, but ever since our first time with Sandemans New Europe Tours back in Berlin in 2011 we’ve been big fans.
3. Enjoy the sun and songs on Passeig Maritime
Walking along the Passeig Maritime has been a past-time for locals of Barcelona for many decades and continues to be a popular place for people to walk, bike, and rollerblade their way from the beach back to their homes.
On a sunny day you’ll find people lining the entire route either sitting and enjoying the sun, the sounds of the several street bands that play, or selling their handmade souvenirs.
With a cold drink in your hand and your ears full of the sounds of the Spanish summer; there aren’t many better places to stroll during the day.
4. Find a quiet part of Barcelona’s beach
What to do when the beaches of Barcelona fill up for the summer? Find somewhere a little quieter!
Hundreds of tourists and locals descend onto the beach to darken their tan and to cool off in the water, so if you’re preparing to join them with your towel and swimming costume be prepared.
To find somewhere a little quieter on the beach walk as far a long it as you possibly can until the sand runs out. Surprising at the corners of the beach there are entire areas that go neglected.
Just be sure to take some sunblock with you!
5. Walk along the Passeig de Gracia
This walk towards the neighbourhood of Gracia may be one of the most popular roads and footpaths in Barcelona, but it’s for good reason.
Along the route are many of the cities best examples of Gaudi’s work – Casa Batlló and Casa Milà – and many of the most luxurious Spanish and international brands.
We recommend that you walk the route either as soon as the sun rises in the morning, or as it just as it goes down at night. This way you’ll be able to admire the architectural masterpieces without the crowds, and do some window shopping rather than breaking into your travel budget.
6. Explore the latest design stores and cafes
Once you’ve reached the end of Passeig de Gracia you’ll have reached the neighbourhood of the same name where many of the best up-and-coming designers can be found either selling their latest work, or taking a midday coffee at any of the highly trendy Instagram-worthy cafes.
In Gracia you’ll also find a number of well designed and highly recommended restaurants in which to grab a midday meal or snack before you head out to support the local independent retailers.
7. Find a bargain at Barcelona’s best flea market
For over 600 years people from across Barcelona have been finding fantastic deals on antique furniture and other handmade Catalan goods at Encants Barcelona.
The market you see today isn’t quite like the one which started on the same grounds all those years ago, but in our opinion is (probably) much nicer to look at from a modern architecture point-of-view.
Reopened in 2013, the market now boasts over 500 retailers selling a whole host of different items that should appeal to everyone from the amateur home designer to future fashion experts.
For a better idea of how great the market is, take a peek at this photo essay of the Mercat Del Encants by Revati of Different-Doors.com.
8. Get unlimited free transport with the Barcelona Card
Now this tip isn’t exactly free, but we thought that this deal was too good to not mention; and it’s certainly a huge saving against the price you’d pay for transport without it.
There are a number of easy to use transport options in Barcelona, with the metro the easiest to navigate; but with tickets at €2.18 per journey your total expenditure during your holiday can really add up – so why not travel for free instead?
With the Barcelona Card you’ll get unlimited free transport on the metro, tram, buses, the train to and from the airport, plus a number of discounts to attractions in the city.
Available at durations of 3, 4, and 5 days the card should be more than enough to cover most holidays in Barcelona.
9. Explore Barcelona’s other cathedral
You can’t visit Barcelona and NOT see the Sagrada Familia, that much we agree on – but there’s another cathedral within the old city limits that is more than worth visiting.
Built in the 13th Century, the Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia is one of the finest examples in Europe of the Gothic style of architecture – and fittingly for this list – is free to enter!
10. Claim victory at the Arc de Trimof
Another architectural highlight in Barcelona is the Arc de Triomf, however this isn’t your standard victory arch.
Whilst surely inspired by other European victory gateways, this particular red brick giant was built as an entrance way for visits to the 1888 Barcelona World Fair.
It’s well worth stopping by to admire the details of the structure and is only a two minute walk away from our next free thing to do in Barcelona.
11. Discover the street art of Barri Gòtic
Known more commonly in the English speaking world as Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, Barri Gòtic is one of the oldest districts in the city and it’s ironically where you’ll find some of the newest addictions by street artists.
Covering the doors of the houses and garages throughout the neighbourhood, the street art is everywhere and waiting to be discovered. Sometimes it’s out in the open, other times it’s hidden down the darkest and least trodden alleyways, but once found is worth the exploration time.
12. Become a Modernisme by simply walking
Walking around is our personal preference in every city we travel to as it enables us to learn directly from our surroundings about the past and the future of where we are.
One great free way for you to learn about the past in Barcelona is to take a walk along the Route of Modernisme on which you’ll pass by many of the best examples of the style, and with the online guide you’ll soon be a walking expert on all things Modernisme.
13. Join a free language exchange
We both love to talk with locals to learn their secrets about the hidden underbelly of whichever city we’re in, but one of the most fun ways in which to do so is to learn a little of the language whilst you’re there.
By joining a free language exchange you can share an experience with someone that you’ll remember forever, you’ll also help someone else to practice their languages skills, not forgetting that you’ll leave with a little more language knowledge yourself.
There are a number of free events to choose from, but we’ve heard great things about the Friday Language Exchange group on Facebook.
14. Watch the sunset from the best panorama
This free thing to do actually came recommended to us after we’d already left Barcelona, but we really trust our friend Margherita who’s put together her own favourite insider tips for Barcelona in which this panorama is included.
We could tell you about how fantastic the view is from the former bunker built during the Spanish Civil War, but maybe Margherita’s pictures will do it better justice.
15. See the mobile canvases behind La Boqueria
Every guide book that you read will tell you to go to La Boqueria, Europe’s biggest indoor food market – but we won’t.
Due to the location and success the market has seen over the years it has become more of a plastic replica of what must have once been a great place to wonder through, watching people as they try fresh goods and imported delicacies.
What we would recommend you do instead at La Boqueria is to walk through the entrance on La Rambla and to keep on walking straight until you’ve reached the other side. What you’ll find is the loading bay and parking areas for some of Barcelona’s mobile canvases.
Each and every delivery truck you see there is a mobile street art delight which differ from one side to the next, and what’s also great about these street art covered trucks is that you’ll also see them rolling through the city!
16. See a real local market
If you’re looking for a real market in which the quota of tourists-to-locals is more in favour of the latter, then be sure to take a look at the fresh food market of the Santa Caterina Market.
The market is hard to miss thanks to the new modern construction it’s housed in, and yet whilst much smaller than the above market, is far more of an authentic place to see.
17. Explore the multicultural side of Barcelona
As a port town it’ll come as no surprise that Barcelona has not only a rich tapestry of history, but also of living inhabitants.
Within the El Raval district of the city you’ll find a mixture of people, stores, and restaurants from across Europe.
You’ll also see small Chinese shops selling spices and great Nepalese restaurants too; but the largest community that we saw were mostly from Morocco and Tunisia.
18. Let time pass you by at Plaça Reial
If the idea of people watching in El Raval excites you, then be sure to spend some time within the large courtyard of Plaça Reial that’s not so far away from La Rambla. It’s here that you’ll regularly find people throughout the day and night stopping for coffee, pastries, light lunches, delicious dinners, and plate after plate of tapas.
19. See the Roman remains at El Born Cultural Centre
If the history of Gothic Quarter isn’t enough to excite you then be sure to spend some time within the El Born Cultural Centre where you’ll find some recently recovered remains and building foundations from the Roman period of the city.
Incredibly it’s within what was once one of the oldest market halls in the city, and to see the two thousand year old evidence beneath you of houses, shops, and classic flagstone roads is mind-blowing.
20. Join a photo walk with some locals
If you’ve been riding the metro all day from one attraction to the next and have an urge to walk and explore, why not do so in the company of a local on a photo walk?
Photo walks are an increasing trend throughout the world and we recently joined a walking tour of Girona that’s left us eager to return for a longer stay.
It’s a chance to walk with fellow photographers and talk with them about photography tips, but also about the city around you. It’s surprising the things that you’ll see when you allow yourself to flow along in a group whilst making friends – specially when it ventures off the path.
To find the next scheduled photo walk in Barcelona we recommend checking the Barcelona Photography group on Meetup.com.
BONUS – 5 Free Things To See with a Barcelona Card
For those of you who choose to purchase a Barcelona Card when you arrive for the free unlimited travel it offers, you’ll also have a few free attractions added to choose from making it an almost must-have buy for your holiday.
1. CCCB – (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona)
A fantastic example of a former warehouse-turned-cultural highlight, the CCCB is one of the most frequently visited attractions in the city due to the multitude of cultural activities it hosts throughout the year. The CCCB also has a large hand in many of the other cultural events that happen during the summer months so it’s worth checking their activities page to see what’s worth enjoying for free with the Barcelona Card.
2. Fundació Joan Miró
Established by the the Catalan master of the arts himself, the Fundació Joan Miró is a fantastic building upon the hill of Montjuïc that houses more than 10,000 from his collection, plus a number of his greatest works.
3. CaixaForum Barcleona
Owned by the Spanish bank, La Caixa, this art gallery is one of three within Spain that the bank owns and continues to run.
This particular attraction is an architectural highlight on its own, but it’s well known for hosting a number of fantastic art exhibitions throughout the year.
4. Museu de Ciències Naturals de Barcelona
Also known as the Museu Blau, this particular museum is yet another architectural gem of the city, and it houses regular exhibitions on the subject of natural history.
5. MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona)
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona not only is a great place to watch the local youth pulling off amazing tricks on their skateboards, it’s also a prime location to see some of Spain’s best artworks.
Did we miss anything?
As much as we’ve tried our best to uncover as many free things to do in Barcelona as we can, we’re both sure that there must be at least another twenty that we’ve yet to hear about.
We’d love to improve this list and invite you to leave yours in the comments below for all of our friends to find.
In the meantime, we hope that you enjoy your coming holiday in Barcelona and not only find these tips useful, but also find our slow travel guide to Barcelona useful to make your trip better, cheaper, and deeper.
Which of the 20 things do YOU want to do?
PS. Readers Suggestions
Our friend Matt from the fun Hostelgeeks.com was kind enough to email us a bunch of suggestions based on their own great collection of locals travel tips for Barcelona which you can get on their site. Matt suggests:
– Join a free concert at a local bar in El Raval
“All through Raval you’ll find free concerts over the weekend, but of them all my favourite is “London Bar“. It’s most local bands that play there and the music changes from acoustic music one week to tradition Spanish flamenco the next.”
– Challenge a local to Ping Pong!
“Barcelonins (this is how locals are called in Catalan) love ping pong! Throughout the city you’ll find tables in squares and open spaces so just approach someone playing a game and challenge them! They’re usually up for a challenge, so don’t be shy!”
Thanks again to Matt for his suggestions!
Another reader suggestion, this time inspired by Andy of BackpackDiplomacy.com’s Backpackers Guide to Barcelona:
– Be extra careful at the beach
Never go to the water and leave valuables at your towel. They won’t be there when you return. Ask someone around you whom you can trust to watch your things
Thanks for the tip, Andy!
Kaamna of Momaboard.com also has a number of suggestions:
– Check farmacias for cheaper baby toileteries
Whilst Carrefour stocks all of the diapers and other kids bits-and-pieces you need; be sure to check the many smaller farmacias for an extensive range of baby toileteries.
Thanks Kaamna for the advice! For more useful tips check her Ultimate Guide to Barcelona with Kids.
One great suggestion that pairs well with our tip to visit the Fundació Joan Miró is this one from Tsatsa of Experiencite.com.
Take the cable car to the top of Montjuic
The views from the castle and park from the top of Montjuic are worth the €7 fee to use the cable car from the lower part of Barcelona below. Be warned though as the view of the sea from above will have you wanting to rush back down to jump back in to.
You can see more of Tsatsa’s suggestions in Experiencite’s own, Amazing Things To Do in Barcelona post.