An honest travel guide to Barcelona

I spent Christmas week of 2016 in Barcelona and it was a Christmas like no other. It was the first time I spent the holidays not surrounded by friends and family. Instead, I was surrounded by other travellers and backpackers from different continents who were just as curious about the world as I was.

Unlike the rest of Europe, it was sunny and warm in the day with the city bustling just like any other. At night, a little cooler and quieter, it’s only when you turned into a small street off La Rambla that the feistiness of Barcelona’s nightlife hits you. Even over Christmas, the Catalans were committed to long nights out, singing and dancing along to Spanish or Catalan songs I’ve never heard of.

Barcelona's Medeival Buildings
Barcelona’s medieval architecture
Barcelona church and market
Barcelona’s church and market. One of the sellers began tapping on his makeshift bongo and another began dancing. As you do.

Are you planning a trip to Barcelona this summer?

Here are some travel tips to help you save some money without compromising on the loveliness that is Barcelona. 

  1. Pre-drink before heading out – Try not to buy drinks at the clubs because they’re a lot more expensive (we’re talking 3 or 4 times more here). Instead, buy booze ahead of time at a convenience store or spend €1 on a can of beer from a street peddler on your way to the clubs.
    • (Edit: I was told after publishing this post that buying a can of beer for a euro is probably a bad idea because vendors store them in Barcelona’s gutters to keep them cold. I have no idea how true this is, and I didn’t die from drinking the beer (and neither did anyone else from our hostel), try tip #1, or don’t, at your own risk.)
  2. Get a t-10 ticket – For €9.95, you can buy the t-10 that gives you 10 rides that can be used by for multiple rides and by multiple people too. It’s a lot cheaper than individual tickets. If you’re staying for more than 5 days, I would consider getting a regular travel pass.
  3. Walk walk walk – Barcelona is an incredibly walkable city. I found that most places took roughly the same time to get to by foot as it would by bus or the tube so I just walked.
  4. Find a tapas or paella buddy – I love food. I don’t say this as an Instagram crazy millennial who “loves food” and doesn’t actually eat it once the photo has been snapped, that isn’t me one bit. I LOVE food. And this sometimes becomes a problem when travelling alone. On one hand, I’d like to order more than one dish to fully experience a cuisine and get a taste of how different ingredients are interpreted and adopted, on the other hand, I really don’t like wasting my food. In Barcelona where tapas and paella are meant for sharing, I’m almost always leaving a restaurant with food on my plate. Solution? Apart from taking away the leftovers, I tend to invite someone I’ve either met in a hostel or on a tour out for dinner. Everyone wins – I get to know someone from another part of the world, have fantastic conversations, eat great food and not waste any of it. Bonus point: You also get to share a bottle of wine. YAY.
  5. Give yourself time to wonder and wander – Barcelona is an architectural mishmash of very old, old, modern, Gaudi and everything in between. Regardless of how much or how little you know of architecture (I know nothing, to be honest), it’s a beautiful city with an eclectic mix of grand and humble structures and they deserve more than a quick glance in my opinion.
  6. Book everything online – For every tourist attraction you’re planning to visit, pre-book your tickets online. For instance, the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell rarely have tickets available for you to enter there and then because there’s a limited the number of visitors allowed per time slot and they’ve mostly been pre-booked, even in DECEMBER. Save yourself the hassle of queuing up for a ticket and then queuing up to get in, and a few euros by booking all your tickets online. Alternatively, you can buy a ticket at the counter and be prepared to “come back in 3 hours”.
  7. Here’s a cheaper way to check out Palau de la Música Catalana – Get a concert ticket to this modernist concert hall where you get to enjoy some fantastic music and glimmering architecture. It works out cheaper than just buying a ticket to go in and have a look. You can also head over to the coffee shop for a coffee or a snack and then have a wonder around the building. This is probably your cheapest option. (Got this tip from my guide 😉 )
  8. Shop at Lidl – It’s pretty decent.
  9. Stay in a hostel that arranges dinner and nights out – When you do, food is often cheaper than restaurants, you can help out with the cooking and learn a few tricks along the way, you make friends with people you’re staying with and you get to go to some pretty nice clubs for free because they know people you and I obviously don’t.
  10. Rent/Share a bike – I can’t cycle but I did notice bike sharing points dotted around the city, like those Barclays Bikes in London or Public Bike Share in Melaka and Penang. It’s probably a nicer way to explore the city too.


Other recommendations in Barcelona

Razzmatazz – This is a pretty dope club with a good mix of locals and backpackers. Yes, I use “dope” from time to time. Check out their facebook page for upcoming events and make sure to save the image of the poster on your phone. We got into the club for free with that.

Ovella Negra – Cheap and delicious Sangrias are served with free popcorn in this establishment. It’s packed out most nights because the atmosphere is great and the energy from young and happy (read: drunk) students is simply infectious. It’s trendy and fun and a great way to get a glimpse of what it’s like to live in Barcelona in your early 20s. I was probably the only backpacker there that night.

Hush Hush Cafe – I worked here a few times and absolutely loved it. Although it’s not a coworking space, there were enough plugs around, the WiFi was perfect and the music was on point – the perfect combo to get work done. In between writing sentences, I “people watched” the team working there who spoke French and Spanish fluently like it was the most natural thing ever. Their wines and beers were spectacular company too.

Barcelona’s underground city museum– If you’re a history buff or if you like old ruins, this is a pretty incredible site to behold. You can go on a tour where they let you walk through the ruins, passing old columns and passages; or you can do what I did and watch the free videos available and peer from the 1st floor down into the magic that was a floor below.


Coworking spaces

Espai Born – My last weekday in Barcelona was spent in this coworking space and it was lovely. Although coffee wasn’t provided (there’s a machine and you gotta bring your own pods), a stranger gave me one to fuel me up. In return, I offered him some chocolate I got from Lidl. Pro tip: Offering strangers chocolate was a great way to get to know them, a.k.a beautiful Spanish programmers and developers and graphic designers 😍 . A desk for the day cost around €15.


Stuff I wish I checked out

Parc de la Ciutadella – I was at the Arc de Triomf but didn’t make it all the way to the park and the zoo.

Flamenco show – As someone who loves the arts, dance and theatre, I should’ve gone for one of these shows. They felt too indulgent and expensive and so I decided to skip out on it.

Day trip to Girona – Sandemans Barcelona offered day trips to Girona but I couldn’t make it because I had to work.. you know that thing I do to fund my trips. Yes, that. Girona is home to Teatre-Museu Dali and it looked like my kind of wacky.

The inside of the Sagrada Familia – I saw this historical and present day wonder from the outside but never ventured into the building itself. A ticket seemed to cost more than I was willing to pay so I decided to skip it.

In Barcelona, I spent a lot of time alone. Nicole time was something I was craving for and to be alone in such a beautiful city felt like a luxury. On Christmas day, I ventured out towards the beach and sat down by the sea.

Tired from the night before, I sat on the sand chomping down on more churros than one person should have. It was a quiet day out and the beach was dotted with tourists and a few vendors. For a while I sat there, breathing and staring out into the sea, the open blue space before me.

Barcelona was once upon a time just a word in a plethora of words and names. But that day, Barcelona was real, it was tangible and I was a part of it.