Let’s face it, Barcelona is a beautiful city full of history, whimsical art, and incredible food. However, visiting Barcelona can be pricey especially when the Euro is up. But not to worry, the city has a lot to offer without spending a penny. Here are a few of our favorite things to do in Barcelona for free.
Stroll La Rambla
Even if you’re in Barcelona for only one night you’re going to want to stroll La Ramba. Okay, it’s touristy, but let’s face it; you’re a tourist, so just relax and enjoy the walk! Besides, there are plenty of locals mixed in with the tourists because strolling La Rambla is simply a fun thing to do for everyone regardless of where you’re from!
La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian mall through the center of Barcelona. It starts at Placa de Catalunya on the north and extends about three fourths of a mile south to the Christopher Columbus Monument and Port Vell, the old port of Barcelona. Barri Gotic is on the east side of La Rambla and to the west is La Ravel.
I suggest walking La Rambla at least once in the daytime and once in the evening. During the daytime the stroll is much more quiet, although still crowded, and you can take the time to enjoy the facades of the historic buildings lining the street. This includes the Palace of the Virreina and the famous Liceu Theatre (Liceo in Spanish), in which operas and ballets are performed. One of our favorites is at La Rambla 82, Casa Bruno Cuadros. It’s now a bank but it has a fun facade featuring umbrellas including a fanciful dragon with a fan.
Also be sure to take a look at the paving design of La Rambla. This was originally a waterway through the city center and they’ve reflected those watery origins by using paving stones that look like ripples in the water.
At night La Rambla is full of even more people, light and fun. Street entertainers are everywhere as well as sidewalk vendors with every kind of treat imaginable. It’s fun to get a table at one of the many cafes and just sit and people watch. It’s very reminiscent of Paris where you can see people of the entire world walk by.
Our next free activity is located at La Rambla 91.
Ogle the Food at La Boqueria
The colorful Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, more commonly known “La Boqueria” is located at La Rambla 91. Here you’ll find a market that dates back to the 13th century but which is still very much alive and well. Walking through the market’s gate you are immediately delighted by the profusion of colors, smells and sounds. The market was packed with people, tourists and locals alike. It was easy to tell which were tourists because they, like us, all had their cameras out taking picture after picture of this incredible market. It’s just one of those places that is photo-worthy around every corner.
It’s easy to spend an hour or two here, just wandering from booth to booth and marveling at the incredible displays of food which are works of art in themselves. There is lots of inexpensive food here so you can munch as you wander and gape!
Get Lost in the Barri Gotic
To the east of La Rambla is Barcelona’s Gothic quarter: The Barri Gotic. This is one of the oldest districts in Barcelona and dates back to Roman times. Most of the buildings here were built in the 18th and 19th centuries although there are some that date back to medieval times. The streets are like a giant maze and it’s fun just to wander them with no plan and to see what you can discover!
Barri Gotic has something for everyone including lots of little interesting shops and restaurants tucked throughout the quarter. Here in the Gothic quarter is also where you’ll find gems such as La Catredal and Placa Reila. I’d give you their addresses but you’d just get lost! Instead, do like we did and wander around until you find them.
People Watch in Placa Reial
Placa Reial, the Royal Square, is a tree-lined piece of heaven within the Barri Gotic and just a couple of blocks east of La Rambla. Here you’ll find palm trees, fountains, whimsical street lights and porticoed buildings with plenty of tables where you can sip wine and watch all the people. As with seemingly everywhere in Barcelona, you’ll find a great mix of locals and tourists. The locals come here to walk their dogs and/or play with their kids. Most of the tourists are doing what we did, sipping wine, watching people and just enjoying the picture-perfect setting!
Wonder at the Roman Graves
Barcelona has ancient origins and once was a Roman city called Barino. Back in the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.C. the people of Barino buried their dead outside the city walls in what is now called Plaça de la Vila de Madrid, in Barri Gotic. A viewing walkway has been built around the 70 or so graves allowing you to step back into time to see how ancient Romans buried their dead. This is one of several Roman ruins in Barcelona.
Revere in La Catedral
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, better known as “La Catedral”, is in the heart of Barri Gòtic. This huge gothic cathedral took over 150 years to build in the 12th, 13th and 14th centuries. Inside the cathedral we were amazed at the soaring ceilings, huge pillars and magnificent art. In here you can almost feel the hundreds of years of history. Outside the cathedral we enjoyed the peace and tranquility of cloister along with the 13 white geese commemorating St. Eulalia who was said to be thirteen when she was martyred. (Note: entry to the cathedral is free in the morning and late afternoon.)
Walk the Waterfront
Barcelona is before all a port city, so what visit would be complete without visiting the port area? We recommend the Passeig de Colum with it’s whimsical artworks and incredible views of ships, yachts and of course the Monumento Cristobal Colón at the foot of La Rambla. The entire waterfront area is bustling with tourists and locals; on their way to ports unknown or simply out strolling and enjoying the sunshine and sea air.
Check Out the Santa Caterina Market
Like the Boqueria, the Santa Caterina Market is filled with incredible displays of food but this market is much more modern. You’ll know you’re there when you spot the market’s roof of colorful tiles representing the fruits and vegetables within. Inside the enormous hall is booth after booth with colorful displays of fruits, vegetables, seafood and of course jamon. You can easily spend a couple of hours here, tasting food and admiring the incredible displays of food!
Stroll the Passeig de Lluis Companys
This little auto-free promenade is a delightful place to stroll and enjoy the Barcelona sun. It begins on the north with the Arc de Triomf, which was built in 1888 as the entrance to the World Exposition. Three blocks later the promenade ends at the Castle of Three Dragons. In between are whimsical street lights and monuments commemorating Catalonian historical figures. It’s the perfect place to take a break from the hustle and bustle and relax while watching locals blowing bubbles and selling balloons.
I’ve listed nine free places to visit in Barcelona, but there are so many more: walking the Gracia neighborhood, visiting El Reval, and more more more! Barcelona is a world of whimsey, history, art and incredible food. When you visit you’ll want to do all the above and so much more!
Our go-to reference for our visit was Barcelona.com.
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