This will probably sound ridiculous, but I believe that the most unfortunate part about being a student is the freedom. Why? Because living in a constant limbo between adulting and still being treated like a small child puts a lot of pressure on us. We are told that we are young with the freedom to move about and do crazy things, but at the same time we are expected to 'live the best years of life' with nothing but a student loan that barely covers our years rent. Chuck in extra-long holidays, completed assignments, and a mind so bored it might self-implode, we are presented with a heaping plateful of Wanderlust.
Wanderlust (noun) – a strong, innate desire to rove or travel about
A plateful of desire to do so much with so little money in our bank accounts. What if I told you that you could travel to any city you desire for £200, and see all that is worth seeing in just 48hrs? I'd be lying, because I don't know if you can do that in any city, but you certainly can in Barcelona. And here I am to be your personal EVERYTHING guide for all that there is to see in one beautiful Spaniard city.
How to Travel and Sleep Cheap
As students, we are lucky enough to have extra-long holidays that occasionally push past what would be considered 'peak travel times' for all of those pesky families. Essentially this means that we have the monopoly over travelling at 'unwanted' times of the year. Unwanted times when the flights are cheap as hell and the pools are child free. Win Win.
SkyScanner is your best friend here. So is mid to late January. Yes, I understand that January isn't exactly the warmest month of the year, but would you rather be stuck in the dreary swirl of British weather or prancing around Spain, where the degrees are still in the double digits? You make the choice.
I managed to nab my return flight to Barcelona for £30. That's probably cheaper than going home for the weekend. Just sayin'.
Pro Tip – Try to nab flights that depart at a time where humans are actually functioning (like mid-morning). I made the mistake of travelling home on a 6am flight – I wasn't quite the same person for a week.
When it comes to hotel booking, it's more about savvy searching than using a specific webpage. I used Expedia and ended up staying in a hotel very near the beach but not so very near the 'city centre'. But it only cost £34 a night which, between two people, is practically nothing. We literally pay more per day to live in student accommodation, and this was a 4 star hotel with a POOL. Does your accommodation have a pool? Probs not.
Pro Tip – Check to see how easy it is to travel to and from the airport to your prospective hotel, and where the nearest metro is too. Barcelona's airport is fairly far from everything else so if your hotel is under 10 minutes away from there, you're probably not far enough away from it.
Myself and my travel buddy got taxis to and from the hotel (because we picked rubbish flight times) and that cost about £30 each way – our hotel was about 20 minutes away. Shocking, I know. So try to keep your travel times during metro operating hours because that is FAR cheaper.
Like many cities, Barcelona has quite a few options for cheap tickets if you intend on using public transport more than normal. The 48hr Hola BCN travel card at 15 Euros a piece gets you unlimited travel across ALL public transport – including the metro, buses, and the tram. In my 48hrs I used it countless times, making it 100% worth the surprisingly low price.
Pro Tip – I found the buses fairly complicated to attempt to navigate so I stuck with the metro. The metro was extremely easy to navigate, and with a little help from Google Maps and the handy city maps (hotels usually give them out for free), I managed to get from A – B with little to no problems.
What to See
Being the spontaneous (lazy) person that I am, I didn't do much planning until I actually got to Barcelona. Once there, it was easier to map our location and pinpoint the best routes to see as much as possible in the short space of time that we had.
Note: Both days have been lined up in order of the places that we visited starting from the furthest away from our hotel back to the nearest, but, depending on where your hotel is situated, a different order may be better suited for you.
- Segrada Familia – Highly beautiful from the outside, and apparently highly beautiful from the inside too, but at 22 Euros a ticket, we gave it a miss.
- Museu Picasso – Located in the Gothic Quarter (definitely worth a visit in itself, even if you aren't so keen on art), this gallery features everything from Picasso's early work during his time spent at Art school to some of the crazy abstract stuff he did in his later years.
- Ciutedella Park – Again, located in the Gothic Quarter, featuring magical gardens, dilapidated aviaries, swinging palm trees, and the overhead bustle and squawks of unexpected green parrots, this is the place for a moment of paradise-laced calm.
- Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona – Located directly opposite Cuitedella Park, boasting a very French 'Arc de Triomphe' vibe, Barcelona's own little slice of Paris is definitely worth a palm tree adorned walk.
Pro Tip – The Museu Picasso holds regular exhibitions alongside the other galleries, these are all fully FREE to students with a valid student ID card.
- Park Guell – This was definitely the highlight of my Spanish adventure. Situated up high on one of Barcelona's many hills, the park boasts a birds-eye view of the city and sea beneath, whilst being surrounded with some of Guell's most interesting architectural creations. With street performers singing, dancing, and strumming out tropical melodies on their guitars whilst you watch the bustling city below, it's a literal paradise. Be prepared to walk a lot though, so put on your most comfy shoes and don't be afraid to venture into the less populated areas of the park (they often have the best views for photo opportunities!)
- Gothic Quarter Food Hop – What more is there to say? You know what they say – 'When in Rome…' or, you know, Barcelona, EAT A LOT.
Pro Tip – Allow a lot of time for Park Guell, especially if you intend to walk up to it from the nearest metro (about 20 mins away). Also, do not bother paying for the entrance ticket into a small part of the park – I've been told that you don't see much more than if you just explored around the area itself.
Where and What to Eat
If you're anything like me, eating is an integral part of anything that you do, including the places that you choose to travel. Luckily for you, and me, Barcelona is a city heaving with culture and extremely delicious food. Unfortunately, the food isn't amazingly cheap, but with some careful menu spying and the joy that is sandwich cafes, you can eat a lot for not much more than you'd spend in a typical British city.
- Sandwich Cafes – These are a go-to quick, cheap eats stop. Speckled all over Barcelona city, these are not hard to come by. Just keep an eye out for sandwich filled windows, and you’re all set. Often these places have half-baguette and coffee deals for under 3 Euros, but even if you’re hungrier than that, you can nab a full sandwich and drink for about 5 Euros. Bargain.
- Spanish Chains – These tend to be a lot cheaper than independent branches, whilst still having that tropical Spanish flair. A great example is a place called Soco. Boasting traditional Spanish food with an Italian twist, their menu offers a broad range of delicious food under 12 Euros a piece. And cheap wine. Hallelujah.
- Irish Bars – Surprisingly not sparse. These places have cheap booze, great greasy food, and a lot of energy. A favourite among British youths and locals is Flaherty’s – with a HUGE menu, indie music, and sports broadcasting this place is practically perfect.
- Artisan Tapas Bars – If you’re up for spending a bit more to throw yourselves into the true Catalan food sphere, then these are the places to go. Usually offering up a wide range of tapas, paella dishes, and jugs of sangria, you’ll leave these bars feeling satisfied and very drunk. Tapas start at 4-5 Euros a piece, paella is between 12-15 Euro per person (usually you have to order for a minimum of 2 people), and jugs of sangria come at about 15 Euros. Pricey but worth it.
Pro Tip – If you’re a fan of burgers be aware that the Spaniards like to cook their meat pretty rare. If you aren’t into that, just ask for yours to be well done whilst you order it. No one likes a bloody surprise.
If this hasn’t convinced you to visit Barcelona, then I don’t know what will. Get those bags packed and passports at the ready because next January Barcelona is the place to be.