Whether you’re a British family looking for a Spanish Holiday or an American couple looking for tips to reduce stress on an inexpensive European vacation, below are some things we did that will help anyone who wants to visit Barcelona on a budget.
What do you do when you live in France, and your kids have 2 weeks off during April for spring break? We decided to tackle one of our bucket list cities and visit Barcelona, Spain. Not only was Barcelona better than I imagined, but I was also surprised at just how diverse, affordable and family-friendly this city was for our budget-conscious crew of five.
1- Find The cheapest way to get to Barcelona
It’s a no brainer. The most obvious way to save money on your trip to Spain is on transportation. Will it be by plane, train, automobile or some combination of all three?
Since we live in France, just six hours from Barcelona and since we don’t own a car, we thought it would be fun AND INEXPENSIVE to take the train to Barcelona.
WRONG! The train was the most expensive option.
One round trip train ticket from La Garde France to Barcelona was over 400 euros. There are five of us so that meant that it would cost us over 2,000 euros for our family to get to Barcelona by train (over 2,500 dollars), which was waaaaaaaay out of our budget.
We decided to rent a car for the week which cost us less than 400 euros. That 400 euros covered the cost of the car, the GPS, gas and car insurance.
Not only was it more affordable to drive, but we got to take in the scenery on the drive over. There are some amazing buildings and churches between France and Spain.
The kids seemed to really enjoy the road trip too. They sat in the back seat listening to music, watching movies and watching the world go by.
If you decide to drive to Spain or anywhere in Europe, take care to bring a credit card and or lots of cash and change for the toll booths.
On our 6 hour drive, we encountered about 7 toll booths. A few were 2 or 3 euros, but two of the toll booths were almost 16 euros. In total, we paid about 75 Euros in toll booth fees.
Even if you fly to Spain, renting a car is great for short day trips to neighbouring towns and villages.
You can still find deals for flights, especially during the off-peak season when prices can drop by half.
2- Save Money And Go during the off-season but be prepared for…
There is an old saying, “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.”
If you decide to buy tickets during off-peak season to take advantage of cheaper tickets, you should be prepared because tickets are cheaper for a reason.
One of those reasons tickets are cheaper is that the weather is not always optimal for sightseeing, but that’s ok because there are still plenty of things to see and do when it’s cold and rainy.
For instance, during our trip to Barcelona, it rained 2 of the six days we were there.
Rather than stay indoors and cower, we chose to throw on our rain jackets, buy some umbrellas and visit places that involved being indoors.
We then saved the outdoor activities for the days when the forecast predicted sun.
3-Find Cheap Food
Another way you can economize is on food.
Check out Mercat de Sant Josep La Boqueria, an outdoor covered market (open Monday through Saturday) located right off La Rambla. La Rambla is one of the most popular areas to walk around to shop, eat and take in the sites. Every guidebook will tell you to visit it.
The St Josep market is literally a cornucopia of things to see, eat and smell.
It had everything from freshly squeezed juice smoothies, fresh produce and wonderful cheeses to meat counters that sold chicken and sheep heads. (The sheep head, I am told, is quite popular.)
Many restaurant vendors sell the most magnificent foods at the open market, from fried octopus and traditional tapas to nachos and chips.
We ended up eating at the market several times. The kids all loved it because they each found things they wanted to eat.
Blake and I loved it because it was DELICIOUS AND CHEAP.
We also bought some fresh fruit and things we can’t find in France like refried beans and hot sauces. The French don’t really like spicy food, and I do.
4-Unexpected Normal Things To Do
How do you tell someone to cut your hair if you can’t communicate?
We did ordinary things at home, but because we were doing them someplace new in a language we did not speak, it added a whole new dimension to an otherwise ordinary situation.
Get A Haircut:
It was not only cheap, less than 10 euros, but also an adventure.
Neither of us spoke Spanish, so we were wildly flapping around our arms and mimicking scissors with our hands to tell the barber how short to cut Blake’s hair.
Fun times! Blake ended up with a crew cut and the shortest haircut of his life. I loved it, he not so much.
5- Get Lost And Find Unexpected Fun Things To Do
We also did a lot of random exploring.
There was a huge cat sculpture that was begging to be climbed. Catherine was intrigued by the cats’ two huge. Needless to say, we handled the situation very delicately; no pun intended.
One spontaneous and inexpensive thing we ended up doing was visiting a chocolate museum called “Museu de la xocalato.”
It was totally unplanned. We were walking around near the Picasso museum and just happened upon it by accident.
It was a rather smallish museum, but it was cheap. Less than 6 euros per ticket but instead of a ticket you got a chocolate bar as your entrance ticket that you get to eat in the museum. That’s what Catherine is holding in the photo above.
There was tons of information on how chocolate was discovered and hundreds of chocolate statues, but there was a cool chocolate bar that served melted chocolate in a cup that we ate by dunking croissants into. It was to die for.
6- Bring Foot Powered Scooters
I read that Barcelona was a place where you walk a lot.
Having three kids, who have travelled a lot, I knew that one of their biggest complaints and most stressful things for me was going places where there was a lot of walking.
I decided to bring a scooter this time. Not only did we cover more ground, but the kids really enjoyed having scooters to get around in some beautiful places. I am definitely going to bring them for our next excursion.
I made sure to get a big enough scooter that Catherine and I could share because when she got tired, I just scooted along with her.
Everyplace with wide-open spaces suddenly became a new place to explore on scooters rather than more walking in the hot heat.
7- See some of Gaudi’s Greatest Works.
Gaudi was a Spanish architect born in Catalonia whose work was inspired by religion and nature. His works are more like art than architecture.
We went to see CASA BATLLO, this smallest of Gaudi’s famous works, which has a dragon and sword on the roof and an impressive front-facing façade. You can take a tour of the house, which we did, and I highly recommend you get the audio tour and get your tickets online since the line to get in can get really long.
Another one of Gaudi’s work is the Sagrada Familia Church. It is possibly one of the most unique and fascinating churches I have ever laid eyes on. This gothic beauty looks like it could have been made with sand and melted wax to me. Pictures don’t do it justice.
There are other Gaudi works, but I’ll let you research that yourself.
Barcelona: A great budget-friendly place
If you want to visit Europe on a budget or with kids, I highly recommend Barcelona. It literally has something for everyone on every budget. We plan on going again because one week was just not enough.
Question: Have you been to Barcelona? What did you think of it? If not, is it on your bucket list of places to go?