Since 2008, some aspects of life in Barcelona have become more affordable. Renting an apartment, for example, is much cheaper now than it was when I arrived in 2005. Basics though, like coffee and wine (those are staples, right?) are pretty much the same price as always, and perhaps more expensive these days thanks to a sales tax increase.
At the time of this writing, the Euro to USD conversion was €1 buck to $1.33 USD, which means if you make a living in dollars, your €2 glass of Rioja wine will set you back $2.67, and a €15 lunch will cost you $20. It all adds up fast.
Here are some ways to stretch your money in Barcelona, no matter what currency you’re carrying.
An inexpensive meal in Barcelona will cost you €15-20 at a restaurant, and usually more than that. The best deal in town is the “Menú del Día,” which is a daily special offered at any respectable restaurant from Monday-Friday (and these days some places offer it on the weekend, a “benefit” of the the crisis).
Get the Menú del Día, which includes two courses and dessert plus a drink for €8-15. This is an excellent value, and a bargain I often take advantage of. If the restaurant you’re at does not have a Menú del Día, it’s probably a place for tourists. (Here are some recommended cheap eats.)
If you’re a group, consider renting a short-term holiday apartment instead of a hotel room, allowing you to cook your own meals. Itaca, in the Gothic Quarter, offers budget apartments in a stellar location. (Here are more budget sleeping options.)
Lushes rejoice! Wine and booze is not expensive in Spain. Bars such as Milk and Marmalade serve €5 all night long. The cheapo way to go is to buy your own wine at the supermarket.
In the supermarket you’ll be confronted with a huge selection of “vino.” There will be bottles at €1 and up to €25 (or more). Do not buy the €1 bottle, it’s for cooking or teens who will mix it with Coca-Cola. Spend at least €5 for a bottle of wine, keeping in mind that Priorat, Penedès and Empordà are local options. (More about Barcelona’s supermarkets.)
Much of Barcelona’s eye-candy is free of charge. Rambling Las Ramblas (don’t buy anything), strolling Park Ciutadella, admiring Gaudí’s buildings from the outside, chilling on the beach boardwalk, and hiking around Montjuïc, are all without cost.
The best way to get around town on the cheap is by walking. However, you may tire of treading pavement or have jet lag, and this is when the Metro and bus come in handy.
If you’re only in town a couple days, buy the T-10 Metro card in any metro station. You cannot buy this card on the bus (but you can use it on the bus)! If you’re in town for a longer period of time, then spring for the 50/30, which will give you 50 rides to be used in 30 days. (More about Barcelona transportation.)
Love to shop? Then plan your trip around “rebajas” or sales times in Barcelona. Sales are held in January and July each year, and linger for a couple months after the start date.
Oh my, there are many museums in Barcelona! You could get the Articket BCN (€30 for six museums) if you’re super keen on seeing them all, or you could go to the free museums and pay nothing but the metro ride. Caixa Forum was one of my freebie faves. (See our previous post on the Articket.)
UPDATE May 2013: Both the Caixa Forum and Park Güell will start charging admission in 2013. (Naturally, our Cheapo hearts are saddened by this.)
Tapas are delicious and wonderful, but are not usually cheap (at least not in this part of Spain). If you’re in need of a bite, pop into a bakery and have your pick of many sweet and savory items, from sharp cheese sandwiches to chocolate croissants.
It’s not common to tip in Barcelona. Certainly 10-15% is not expected. Most people leave their spare change or nothing. It’s up to you, but you’re not offending or robbing anyone by not tipping generously. (For folks from the US, this may be a hard concept to wrap the mind around, it was for me!)
If you’re into seeing theater, music or dance in Barcelona (and you should) then check out atrapalo.com or other discount ticket websites for steals on shows nightly.
Barcelona is an easy city to blow your weekly budget in one fun-filled day. With a bit of planning, it’s possible to make a little go a long way while still seeing the best of the metropolis.