Barcelona: 5 things that are always free

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The Caixa Forum is free to visit. Photo: Robert Ostmann
The Caixa Forum is free to visit. Photo: Robert Ostmann

By Regina W Bryan in Barcelona—

I wish this list was easier to compile, but Barcelona is not the “land of the free.” In fact, many locals believe that we pay more here for just about everything than they do in other parts of Spain.

Road-trip? You’ll pay loads in tolls in Catalonia. Bread and olives with dinner? That’s another €2 per person.  Free tapa with a drink (like they do in Granada or Oviedo, or in many other areas of the country)? Yeah right! Don’t make me laugh…

While it seems that nothing is free anymore in Barcelona, here are a few things that they haven’t figured out how to charge people for yet.

1. Wi-Fi

Free Wi-Fi is available all over the city thanks to the city government. From Ciutadella Park to the beaches of Barceloneta you can sign on and check your Facebook updates. Of course, you can also find Wi-Fi at one of the city’s many libraries. For more, read our previous post on free Wi-Fi in Barcelona.

Party for free during La Mercè festival. Photo: Hector Milla

2. Parties

This is a good one. Parties in Barcelona are elaborate, days-long, and for the most part free or very inexpensive. When I say “party,” I mean citywide parties or festivals such as La Mercè and Festes de Gràcia. These free parties take over whole barris, or in the case of La Mercè the whole city, and offer concerts, dances, decorations, activities for the kids, fireworks, fire running, and inexpensive communal dinners.

Drinks are also sold at low prices in the streets during these celebratory times. Mostly these bashes happen in the summer and early fall. Almost every barri in Barcelona has its own bash. La Mercè, which is the largest and brings in the big dogs in music, is held every September 23rd with many concerts and events leading up to it the week prior.

3. Maps

Yes maps, and info in general on the city, can be found in abundance in any of the Tourist Information Offices at no cost.  There’s a big one on Pl. Catalunya and another one on the corner of Pssg. de Gracia in Palau Robert. Which brings me to number 4…

4. Museums

Lots of museums in the city are free. Palau Robert is one, though I’ll warn you that many of its exhibitions are in Catalan. Most museums also have a free day. The MNAC for example is free the first Sunday of each month, plus free on International Museum Day, which is May 18th.

(Update: The Caixa Forum, one of my favorite museums, was free until 2013. Sadly, they’re charging now.)

5. Sunshine

As of right now sunshine, as much as you can take, is free. “Big whoop,” I hear you saying, “I can get that anywhere!” No sir, you can’t. I know this for a fact because I come from Portland, Oregon, where the Sun God makes very few appearances.

One of the aspects of Barcelona I enjoy most is all the sunny days, winter and summer alike. Go down to Barceloneta and sit on the beach in the sun in May. Have a coffee in October on a plaza in the sun. Do cartwheels at Ciutadella Park in February in the sun. It’s free, it’s uplifting, and it’s one of the reasons many foreigners from cloudy, chilly places relocate here.

Your favorite freebies?

What do you like doing in Barcelona for free? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

About the author

Regina W Bryan

About the author: Regina W.Bryan is a Barcelona-based freelance writer and photographer. When not eating tapas and exploring Europe, she is tending her balcony veggie garden and practicing Catalan. For more of her thoughts on Spain, check: www.regwb.com and www.thespainscoop.com.

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5 thoughts on “Barcelona: 5 things that are always free”

  1. Thanks Hidden Europe (didn’t see a person’s name) –

    Do you live in Catalunya as well? It looks like you’ve done some research about routes and roads so you must! I think your tip on Via Michelin is a great one. We use that often. What is important to keep in mind when you’re doing your estimates is that non-toll roads are popular because they are free not just with normal cars but with trucks. Via Michelin cannot, sadly, add on traffic times.

    My experience has been that many times it is much faster to take the toll roads out of Barcelona – and that with traffic, roundabouts, and lights the non-toll roads, especially along the coast of the Maresme. That road you mention to Garraf is a beauty but very curvy and a lot of ups and downs – I would not want to drive it at night, for example and it’s pretty slow going. La Mola is quite far from Barcelona, but yes, it’s pretty for skiing in the winter and perhaps for summer as well.

    I think Hidden Europe does have a good point in mentioning that old, non-toll roads can be pretty and if you have the time then go for it. If you need to get somewhere or have a lot of driving in font of you the non-toll roads can be a gamble.

    Reply
  2. .
    The ‘novullpagar’ (it means “I won’t pay” in Catalan) has certainly been covered across Europe in the media over the past four weeks. The Catalans protesting about highway tolls are mainly frazzled time-pressed commuters and also businesses who rely on the fast freeways to transport goods. But there are in fact very, very few roads in Catalunya where one needs to pay a toll. We think Reverie’s estimate of one per cent is an overestimate. Well over 99 per cent of roads are toll-free. Probably even 99.9 per cent.

    The tolls apply only to the following routes out of Barcelona: the C-16 (only as far as Sallent), the AP-7, the AP-2, the C-32 and the C-58. Any others? We think not, but perhaps you can put us right, Regina.

    What’s great for most leisure travellers (and indeed for many local residents) is that the old network of highways supplanted by these new tolls routes are all still in place. And they are often a delight. In Barcelona, as elsewhere across Europe, all you need is a very good map (ideally at a scale of 1:300,000 or higher) and a spirit of adventure.

    Good road planning websites like Via Michelin can help. For Barcelona check http://www.viamichelin.es. That site shows that the 100 mile ride from Barcelona to Bellmunt del Priorat can be done in just less than two hours on the toll highway (with a toll of €28 return). But take just half an hour longer, follow the old roads, and you’ll not a pay a cent in tolls. You can select non-toll options on the Via Michelin website. We would just add that we do find that they tend to assume overfast driving times (especially on freeways). We just don’t bomb along at the speeds they expect! So perhaps a more realistic estimate for the Barcelona to Priorat journey would be 2hrs 5mins using the toll highway and 2hrs 35mins using the much prettier old road.

    Much look forward, Regina, to reports of some toll-free driving adventures through the Catelunyan countryside. You have some fabulous options. The various routes around La Mola are great for summer explorations. For heading west the A-2 to Lleida and beyond is completely toll-free (and oddly sometimes faster than the expensive AP-2). And coast-wise, the old C 31 down the coast to Sitges is superb, especially as it cuts a ribbon along the Costas de Garraf. The toll highway is just tunnel and tunnel.

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  3. Thanks Reverie, but that has not been my experience here for the last almost 7 years. I just went to Priorat this last weekend and spent 30 euros in tolls. 30! Sure, you can take the non-pay roads, but they are muuuuuch slower. I think that’s why there’s been all this protest in Mataro where locals have refused to pay tolls because they feel it’s too expensive (here’s some info on that from this May : http://www.publico.es/espana/433878/la-segunda-protesta-contra-el-precio-de-los-peajes-termina-con-3-087-denuncias-en-catalunya).

    I’d be curious what other Barcelona locals think about all the tolls (if you drive).
    Anyone?

    Reg

    Reply
  4. 99% of roads in Catalunya are toll free. And the 1% that aren’t are roads that you’d not use if you are keen to explore the local Barcelona region. The tolls are only on the very main highways.

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