Getting to know new people from truly all continents in one year, made my stay in Barcelona, Spain a life-changing experience. Please go for it!
MBA Student 2016, EU Business School
Greetings travellers and students to Barcelona from afar! In these trying times, your jet-setting plans may have been put on hold- but that doesn’t mean you can’t plan ahead.
To help you to do so, I have compiled a handy log of tips and tricks that I picked up through my time studying abroad in the spicy city of Barcelona. Perhaps you can delve through and find something that will help you have the study abroad trip of the century- whilst also being an impeccable citizen of the city. Dig in!
The city of Barcelona is beautiful, eloquent and multicultural- it’s no wonder that tourism is rife, particularly in the summer months. When studying abroad, it is easy to get wrapped up in a faux Barcelona that exists solely for visitors, but this will be expensive, stressful and inauthentic. There are ways to see the true Barcelona, and to let your money go a little further, putting it into the local economy rather than the tourist traps.
These life hacks were learnt from experience, after being ripped off time and time again, and now I shall hand these cheeky cheats over to you. Use them wisely, and be nice!
- Barcelona is home to the largest football stadium in Europe, Camp Nou
- Barcelona´s 4.5 km of beaches are artificial; created for the 1992 Olympics
- Barcelona was meant to be the home of Eiffel Tower
1. Be flexible on your flights
If you are flexible, even if it’s just by a few days, use Skyscanners nifty tool. Type in your destination, but do not choose a date, instead click on ‘Whole Month’. This allows you to see how the prices rise and fall by the day, allowing you to get the best possible deal!
Most budget airlines have you pay a giant sum to check in a suitcase. Instead, choose to travel light, and fit all you have in a little backpack. You will find yourself much more mobile upon arrival in Barcelona.
Not yet in Barcelona, but already being ripped off? Empty out your water bottle before going through security rather than throwing it out. On the other side you can fill it in a café or at a free water fountain, saving you the extortionate burden of having to buy on the inside. Packed lunches are also pretty fantastic if you can plan ahead.
2. Travel in style, for a fraction of the cost
Once you have touched down in Barcelona, continue saving on your journey to the centre. Whilst the airport charges a minimum of €4 for a train to the centre, and the bus costs a good €6, you can do it for less than €1 if your suave enough.
From Terminal 2, you can travel using the T10 metro card, which costs €9.95 for 10 trips, and can be used by multiple people. This card can be used around the city, on the metro, bus and tram. Buy this from the ticket machine, and save some precious pennies!
If you land in T1, don’t head straight to the metro to use this trick, it won’t work! Instead, take the free shuttle bus to T2, scoot to the metro, and you are good to go! The same tactic can be used on the way home. You’re welcome!
3. See it all from the Bunkers for free
In your first few days in Barcelona, you want to get your bearings and see the city. The best way to do this is all at once- and the only way to do that is to get up high. Avoid the crowds and hefty tourist prices by scaling up to the Bunkers of Carmel for a day trip.
Pack a picnic and some beers, and take the V17 bus up to Carmel. Use your T10 ticket that you have already purchased to get back from the airport. From here, hike the short distance to the top, (looking out for the family of wild ginger house cats, and the melodic green parrots). Settle yourself on your picnic blanket or on a tree stump, and view the entire skyline in one go, absolutely free!
Notice the Sagrada Familia, Torre Agbar, W Barcelona, the airport, Tibidabo, Montjuic and the sea. Pack suncream and water, but if you have forgotten, there are water fountains dotted about. Make sure to explore the forests, and meet the friendly folk playing guitar.
4. Gaudi, all day every day
One of the biggest expenses of Barcelona are the ‘cultural excursions’ and ticket costs. It is kept on the hush-hush, but everything that you would be paying €12 pp for can be done absolutely ‘gratis!’. The Gaudi structures in Park Guell are impressive, but not when they are ridden with selfie sticks and sunburnt visitors.
Instead, have an early night, and set your alarm for 6am. Public transport starts at 5-6 am, so head out before the first light and make your way up to Park Guell. Entry to the Gaudi pieces here are free before 8am, and the Park itself is always free. Bring a flask and some fresh croissants and enjoy the sunrise with a picnic, from Gaudi’s own benches. Super!
In the same vein as the Gaudi’s of Park Guell, the inner city Gaudi designs can also be admired at no cost. Wander the city by foot, and gaze up at the Gaudi structures on Passeig de Gracia, La Pedrera, Casa Vicens and el Torre Bellesguard.
They are still hugely impressive from the outside, be aware that this is how they were intended to be viewed, looking up from the street! Now look down at the pavement, if you see a curved clover pattern engraved into the paving stones, this design, as well as the lampposts in Plaça Reial, is the brainchild of Gaudi.
5. Mix and match your Pinchos at the foot of Montjuic
Most tourist spots offer Pinchos and tapas at a hefty cost. In fact, tourists spots offer it all at a hefty cost, one of the main reasons Barcelona is considered an expensive city to travel to. Be wise, eat out, but not at the foot of the Sagrada Familia, nor in a shiny bar on las Ramblas. For an authentic and delicious treat, head to the foot of Montjuic on Carrer de Blai.
Designate a fiver for your meal, take a seat on la terraza, order a caña (beer) for €1, and enjoy the €4 remaining to pick and choose from the tsunami of Pinchos waiting seductively on the counter inside. Pinchos are small breads, with exotically towering toppings.
Their prices can be identified by the type of stick that holds them together, but the waiter will walk you through this. On Carrer de Blai, many restaurants offer pinchos for €1, so make sure you make the most of it!
6. Fill in your days with freedom
On Sunday afternoons, many museums offer free entry. Take heed of which museums partake and enjoy a (rather crowded) afternoon of gallery hopping. Some museums are free every day, such as ‘La Virreina’ near to Las Ramblas, and the ‘CCCB’ in Carrer de Montalegre. Check these out for some truly inspirational exhibitions.
Visit the plazas and parks for a relaxing day and night. Parc de la Ciutadella is close to the Arc de Triumph, here you can find free salsa classes, €6 boat rides and a lot of musical people. Plaza del Sol at night is a ‘spectacular’ not to miss. Join the sea of cross legged locals, buy a €1 beer, and enjoy the acoustics of the night.
Use your free Barcelona Wifi to browse ‘butxaca.com’, or pick up a paper copy in any alternative bar or café. This site is a lifesaver when it comes to finding what’s hot. The website is in Catalan, but most phones will translate it for you. Here is listed, day by day (‘agenda del dia), the vast array of activities in Barcelona. Choose from theatre, comedy, jam sessions, open mikes, salsa, flamenco, or alternative cinema.
And best part for you cheapskates? It is plainly specified how much each event is going to set you back. Look first at the prices, highlighting those that are ‘Gratis’ or ‘Copa’, and plan your day accordingly!
The public transport systems are fab, but they can be busy and hot at times. Make the most of your youthful limbs by walking from place to place! There is a lot to see in Barcelona, much of which has nothing to do with the guidebooks, plus, the city is smaller than you may think! Get to know your bearings:
- Uphill is Mount Tibidabo, downhill is the sea.
- 3 main roads, ‘Diagonal’, ‘Gran Via’ and ‘Parallel’.
- Use the Plaza’s as your guides, Plaza del Sol, Plaza Catalunya, Plaza Reial.
Once you know these landmarks, you won’t even need a map!
8. We don’t want fees, we want frees
If you are paying by card, or taking money out of the ATM, make sure to select ‘Pay in Euros’, if this is an option. This way you can avoid the mark ups put on by your bank at home. Every little helps!
Save money on night Taxi’s by utilising the excellent night bus system, or stay out boogying until 5am, when the metros will reopen. Plan accordingly: on Friday nights, the metro will close at 2am, whilst on Saturday it runs through the night. All other days, the last metro runs at 12am.
Barcelona offers a free wifi service called ‘Barcelona Wifi’. This can be logged in wherever there is signal, all you have to do is sign in with your nationality. This can save unnecessary roaming costs (which have been scrapped since July 15 for Europeans) and could help you find your friends in a sticky situation. The best part, it is absolutely free!
If you are from Europe, don’t forget to apply for an EHIC, (European Health Insurance Card). It is easy to get, free, and will save you in a medical conundrum. Avoid pricey foreign doctors, and head to the local CAP for medical advice.
Mind that you can speak a bit of Spanish though, because these are hardworking doctors with a lot of patients to see. If not, a good health insurance plan will help you to clear up any medical issues you may encounter on your journey.
10. And finally (por fin!)
There is a bit of beef going down between the locals and the tourists in Barcelona, house prices in the centre are rising drastically, and it is pushing locals out in favour of high earning Airbnb’s, and temporary residents. Centrally located hostels and bars attract crowds of noisy, midweek tourists, keeping working locals awake at night.
You may see some graffiti on your trip, ‘Tourist Go Home’, this is saddening, but it doesn’t refer to you as long as you are being respectful. It’s always a good idea to familiarise yourself with the local culture- and of course, don’t be a terrible tourist and get to grips on the language! In Barcelona, the locals speak both Spanish and Catalan.
To get in the good books- learn some Catalan, but if that’s not your cup of tea, at least practise some basic Spanish. First, learn your manners (A good start would be: ‘Gracias’, ‘por favor’, ‘Salut’, ‘Buen Provecho’ and ‘Disculpa’), and try to integrate a little into society.
You can download ‘Duolingo’ for free, which should help you to learn the basics before you arrive! Once in Barcelona, don’t be afraid to ask the locals for the slangs and the swearwords!
Some final advice for you before you jet off to get educated- Don’t stand in the way of busy passages, don’t get too drunk (you will not see the locals getting too wavy), use your suncream, and just generally be a nice person!
Remember that whilst you are on a wild study holiday, there are people that need to get up to go to work in the morning, and being noisy on the street at night may earn you a bucket of water on the head.