10 free things to do in Barcelona, Spain

barcelona Barcelona, Spain, is full of fun things to do and interesting sites to explore. Luckily, the city features many experiences for the budget traveler with free museums, walking tours, beaches, parks, museums, dance shows, and more. Use this list to help you save money while still experiencing the best the city has to offer.

Walk down Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas is the most famous street in Barcelona, and often the first stop on many tourists’ to-do list. Not only is the street lined with restaurants, bars, cafes, theaters, and shops; it’s also home to various street entertainers, performance art, and colorful markets, making the street both fun and aesthetically pleasing. I love seeing all of the people dressed in ostentatious costumes trying to act like still sculptures (Note: Some of them look really real. I actually leaned on one not realizing it was a person!). Las Ramblas is also a bit historical, as the famous native painter Joan Miró, who died in 1983, helped to create part of the street. You can see one of his mosaic creations on the ground of the main center walkway. Get creative at an art museum

There are many art museums in Barcelona that offer free entry all of the time. One really great venue to check out is the Fundacion Fran Daurel, which features various forms of contemporary art, like paintings, tapestries, sculptures, photography, ceramics, and more. My personal favorite art museum is the Metronom, which showcases really radical and sometimes erotic pieces that can be a bit shocking at times. Photography lovers should stop by the Fundacion Foto Colectania which houses about 2,500 works as well as features exhibitions, events, and workshops all having to do with taking pictures. Other great art museums that offer free admission at certain times include the Museo Picasso (first Sunday of each month and every Sunday after 3PM), the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (first Wednesday of each month) and the Museo Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (first Sunday of each month).

gaudi Discover the unique architecture of Antonio Gaudí

Runner Bean Tours offers a free Gaudí walking tour where you will be taken all over the city to see many of his unique, sometimes eery, sometimes Dr.Seuss-like creations. While I’m not particularly interested in architecture, I absolutely loved this tour. The buildings are so out of the ordinary that it’s easy for everyone to get excited about the tour, and the history of this passionate man is hard to believe at some points. My favorite part of the experience was finding the hidden meanings in the architecture, like the religious symbolism in the facade of the Sagrada Familia, the sexual undertones of Casa Mila, or the face of Casa Batlló that appears to resemble skulls and bones.

Get spiritual at the Catedral de Barcelona (Barcelona Cathedral)

There are many religious and sacred sites in Barcelona that are free to visit. My personal favorite is the Barcelona Cathedral, made in the 14th century with a very detailed facade, Gothic design, high bell towers, and gargoyle statues. Make sure to stroll through the garden, which is full of live geese and beatiful flora. The inside is immaculate as well, with magnificent stained glass windows, statues, and 16 chapels dedicated to various saints. I especially loved visiting the crypt, which holds a statue of Saint Eulalia, who was burned alive by the Romans for her radical beliefs. It’s free to enter the church itself, and to visit the church’s museum it’s only 1 euro. Moreover, a guided tour of the museum, rooftop, choir, and terraces is only 4 euros.

parc guellSpend a whimsical day at Parc Güell

Once you take the walking tour, you’ll know immediately upon arrival that this park was designed by Gaudí. Built in the very early 1900’s, it’s literally like walking through a fairytale, and you can easily spend hours getting lost in the various colorful quadrants filled with mosaic tiled benches, dragon statues, fountains, vibrant flora, artfully placed rock walls, and unique buildings like The Gaudí House Museum and The Pavilion. When I visited, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking through some kind of surreal Candyland game come to life. There are also locals with blankets set up around the park selling jewelry, souvenirs, and accessories.

Hit the beach

The beaches in Barcelona are beautiful, and also free. Most can be accessed by taking the Yellow Line on the metro. The most popular and crowded beach is Barceloneta Beach, which is closest to the city center. Here you’ll be able to lay out and relax, go swimming, or even partake in some adventure sports like surfing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing.There is also unique architecture in the area (Gaudí wasn’t the only architect in Barcelona that was a bit eccentric), and you can enjoy it while laying out on your towel. Nova Icária Beach is also a popular beach with a very young, trendy feel. On the other hand, Mar Bella Beach is well-known for being the nudist area, although technically in Spain you can layout in the nude anywhere as long as you don’t cause a disturbance.

tapas Enjoy free tapas

While it’s not always easy to get free tapas in the bigger cities, there are some places that offer them with a drink if you look around. First there’s Ambiente del Sur, located in the L’Eixample neighborhood, a small Andalusan bar which serves free tapas like cold meats and cheeses, omelettes, and small salads with a drink. In the same area you can also visit is Bar Atrapatapa, which offers a wide variety of tapas and costs less than 2 euros with your drink. Other great options are Bar Mingus in the Gothic District and Gata Mala in the Gracia area, which both offer a free tapa with an ice cold beer.

See the Magic Fountain

In the evening, take a walk over to Montjuïc and see the Magic Fountain. It’s a beautiful showcase of water illuminated by different colors dancing to a mix of 70’s, 80’s, and classical music, depending which showing you catch. There are about 3,600 water jets, so you can imagine this isn’t your everyday fountain. Sit on the steps of the beautiful Palau Nacional Museum, the perfect viewpoint to catch the show. From October through April, you can catch shows every half hour on Friday and Saturday nights from 7PM-9PM. During the summer months of May through September, showtimes become more frequent, with viewings every half hour from Thursday-Sunday, 8PM-11PM.

market Peruse ourdoor markets

Barcelona is home to many open-air markets that are fun to browse. If you’re looking for fresh, colorful foods, head over to Mercat de Sant Josep (Monday through Saturday), which is right off La Rambla. They have everything from seafood to fruit to meats to wine to already prepared lunches. For art, Mercadillo de la Plaça de Sant Josep is open on the weekends in Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol. You can peruse local art from various mediums and chat with friendly artists. My absolute favorite market in Barcelona, however, is the enormous Mercat Del Encants flea market in Plaça de les Glories Catalanes. It’s open Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday from 8AM-2PM, and is literally filled with the most random items you have ever seen, both of old and new varieties. Browse through books, electronics, fetish porn, cosmetics, old CD’s, accessories, vintage clothing, dolls, toys, housewares, collectibles, and more.

Enjoy a free dance show

Cafe de Los Angelitos in the Barceloneta Distrcit has a really artsy interior with sculptures and paintings and also offers free tango and jazz shows on Wednesdays and Sundays. While not completely free, Los Tarantos offers the best flamenco show in the city for only 8 euros.

Your Paintings website puts UK’s art collections at your fingertips

paintings, Constable
An online collection now boasts half of all the publicly owned oil paintings in the United Kingdom.

Your Paintings was started in June by the BBC and the Public Catalogue Foundation and has already uploaded high-quality images of 104,000 oil paintings by 23,000 artists.

The goal is to put online all of the estimated 200,000 publicly owned paintings housed in some 3,000 institutions, making it a veritable Google Books of UK art. There are plenty of UK artists, as well as many other works from around the world and from all periods. While all are owned by the public, many are in buildings that aren’t generally open to the public, so this website helps make them available.

Right now the website is focusing on putting up all the oil paintings since that was the preferred medium of painters for several centuries, and a medium that British painters used quite well. Other media such as watercolor and tempera are represented, and more such paintings will probably go up in the future.

Users can tag paintings to help with the ongoing organization of the collection. There are also links to BBC’s online sound and video archives and various guided tours by different people in the art world.

The website also hosts regular online exhibitions. Currently there’s one on the arctic.

Detail from John Constable’s “The Hay Wain” courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Stay at a former military prison turned art hostel in Ljubljana, Slovenia

hostel celicaRecently, Gadling’s Meg Nesterov talked about 10 reasons to travel to Ljubljana in Slovenia. The country has a lot to offer to visitors, and for those looking for an affordable and historical place to stay, a unique hostel experience, as well.

Hostel Celica, currently an artsy youth hostel, was once a military prison within the military barracks of Metelkova Street, dating back to 1882. Once Slovenia gained independence and the barracks were no longer needed, the Metelkova Network planned to turn the site into a multicultural center. The vision never came to be, and when the city tried to demolish the barracks, the network and its supporters used their bodies to protect the building. They occupied the site, and when the city turned off the electricity and water, a new plan began to form in their minds.

The group decided to make the place into a welcoming space for international travelers, and with the help of architect Janko Jozic and over 80 artists, Hostel Celica opened its doors to its first guests in 2003.

While the space is now a hostel, that doesn’t mean it’s lost its essence of history and culture. There are 20 prison cells that act as rooms, and one of the former prison cells has been converted into a Point of Peace, a space where visitors can pray and meditate. There are alters for the five major world religions of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and Hinduism, and the highest religious representatives from each have come to bless the space. Moreover, an art gallery resides on the first floor of the hostel, and workshops, debates, concerts, and cultural events take place on a daily basis.

For more information or to book a room at Hostel Celica, click here.

Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport gallery opens winter exhibition (about winter!)

I love airport art galleries. They offer the delayed passenger something far more satisfying than eating fattening toxins in the food court. The gallery at Schipol Airport, Amsterdam, is one of the best because it’s run by the world-famous Rijksmuseum.

The gallery has just opened Dutch Winters, a collection of winter scenes by Dutch artists. Interestingly, the curators didn’t go for the usual Dutch Masters and their depictions of the harsh winters of the 16th century, when Northern Europe shivered under the Mini Ice Age. Instead, they’re displaying works from the 19th century.

A January Evening in the Wood at The Hague, shown above, was painted by Louis Apol in 1875. A member of The Hague School, Apol made realistic images typical of that school’s style. Below is Charles Leickert’s Winter View, which he did in 1867. Leickert’s style harkens back to the Dutch masters with its rural scene, detailed architecture, and numerous lifelike figures.

Fans of the Dutch Masters of Holland’s Golden Age won’t be disappointed. The gallery has a permanent exhibit of some of their works.

Images courtesy Rijksmuseum.


Scottish National Portrait Gallery to reopen after major renovation

Scottish National Portrait GalleryAfter more than two years and £17.6 million ($27.4 million), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh will reopen on December 1.

The remodel opens up more of the Victorian building to public view, adds more than 60% to the public space, and introduces several themed galleries, including Blazing with Crimson–a collection of full-length portraits of men in kilts.

The gallery’s massive collection of portraits includes those of great statesmen, royalty, scientists, engineers, soldiers, and athletes. Special galleries look at the new face of Scotland, with one exhibit highlighting Scotland’s large Pakistani community.

Another bonus to the revamped gallery is that entrance is now free.

The gallery opened in 1889 as the first purpose-built portrait gallery. While it has always featured paintings of Scotland’s great names, it now also includes a large space devoted to photography.

This is the second major museum reopening in Edinburgh this year. The National Museum of Scotland reopened this summer after a £47.4 million ($74 million) renovation.

Photo of Robert Burns portrait courtesy Wikimedia Commons.