They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch – I say they’re wrong! I am notoriously useless when it comes to organising my finances. I have such respect for those people who work hard, like the ants in Aesop’s fable, storing their grains away until suddenly, POW! They’ve bought their dream house with a white picket fence. Unfortunately, I am more of the grasshopper clan, the ones who sing all summer and then turn into Oliver Twist, holding his bowl out for more. Except for me its more of a monthly cycle – making it rain after payday and declaring the Prosecco is on me before I descend into poverty by the end of the month. Honestly, it’s a nothing short of a miracle I’ve created a semblance of an adult life with an actual home, clothes on my back and food in the kitchen.

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Anyway, it’s at times like these that I remember the old adage: Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. And it seems alright to book that plane ticket again. As a result, I have done quite a bit of travelling on a shoestring and I would say that you are at your most creative when travelling on a budget. Sometimes, you can uncover some great things to do in a city without spending too much of anything at all. Here are a few of my favourite things to do for free in Barcelona…

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1. An afternoon at the museum

Barcelona has some top-notch museums covering all manner of interests from art and music to vintage trinkets and erotica. But all those admission fees can put pressure on your purse strings. Instead take advantage of the days many of the museums open their doors for free – some on the first Sunday of every month and others during a regular afternoon slot. Check out Time Out for more information on individual free slots.

Museums that partake include: The Picasso Museum; MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), a wonderful collection of art housed in the impressive Palau Nacional; Museu Frederic Mares, eccentric and bizarre trinkets collected by an all-round magpie of a man; Museu Maritim de Barcelona, a collection of ships housed in a dramatic Gothic structure; and Jardi Botanic, the botanical gardens.

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2. Hit the beach

One of the reasons I love Barcelona is that it’s a city with a beach. Seven in fact! These wide and well-maintained stretches of powder soft sand, dotted with chiringuitos (beach bars) are the ideal place to catch some rays and take a dip. Yes, they can get busy in the summer months but the party atmosphere is part of the fun with people drinking cava in the sun and couples indulging in a spot of salsa on the sand. La Barceloneta is the biggest and leads straight off the charming fishing neighbourhood of the same name; Platja Sant Sebastia has a nudist zone; Nova Icaria offers the most leisure options and is popular with families… and don’t miss out on the beach gym with all those bronzed bodies working up a sweat!

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3. Get lost in the Gothic quarter

The winding streets of El Barri Gotic are the essence of Barcelona. Shuttered balconies and the mysterious network of lanes and alleys leading away from the brashness of Las Ramblas evoke a sense of adventure – who knows what or who might be waiting around the corner. Tapas joints, hidden bars, quirky shops, all sorts of treasures are lurking. Ensure you swing by the majestic Gothic Cathedral – if you are dressed appropriately you can enter and marvel at the incredible architecture and décor inside. Well worth a peek.

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4. Watch the MACBA skaters do their thing

Barcelona is renowned for being an excellent city for skaters and the numero uno spot is in front of MACBA, the museum of contemporary art, located in El Raval. The official, permissible skate times are after 2.30pm on Tuesdays and Sundays although you are likely to see action any day of the week. Lots of people hang out here – grab a drink and people watch to your heart’s content.

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5. Check out an outdoor film

Pay Barcelona a visit in July or August and you can take advantage of films al fresco! The Centre of Contemporary Culture puts on a film festival which shows short films and documentaries (in the film’s original language with Spanish subtitles) in the courtyard. The past few years have seen Platja Sant Sebastian screening independent movies on the beach of an evening and up on the hill, the grassy moat of a 17th century fortress plays host to open air film festival, Sala Montjuic, throughout the summer months. Pack a picnic, grab a blanket and arrive early to secure a spot. Evening entertainment sorted.

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6. Parks glorious parks

Speaking of picnics, there are a couple of lush, green spaces in Barcelona certainly worth a visit for a free day out. Parc Guell is Gaudi’s darling and set up on a hill with panoramic views of the city. Granted you have to queue and pay for the Monumental Zone but you can wander for free around the rest of the park with an ice-cream, absorb the views and watch some of the busking acts. We caught an excellent ska band that made our day!

Another option is the Parc de la Ciutadella on the La Ribera side of town. A picturesque lake, zoo and landscaped gardens provide a welcome respite from the city streets.

Again, over the summer months, look out for Musica als Parcs, an event which stages free jazz concerts in various green spaces around the city.

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7. Window shopping in El Raval

This is the district to trawl for those that enjoy all things vintage, quirky and retro. Although the area has a bit of a bad rep, it’s been cleaning up its act over the past few years and is morphing into the coolest district of Barcelona. Take a stroll along Calle Riera Baixa and the various lanes that criss-cross that area to find second-hand clothing, accessories, trinkets and furniture. Maybe not as high-end as El Born’s boutiques but it means that should you find something you simply can’t live without, it probably won’t break the bank.

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8. Discover street art with a guided tour

Barcelona knows first impressions matter and the sheer look and style of the city has been known to cause love at first sight. If you know where to look you might just realise this uber cool city is one giant canvas – the street art on show here is second to none. Barcelona Street Style Tours provide walking tours that not only highlight some of the best street art the city has to offer but also underground galleries, shops and bars that are part of the whole urban scene. Walking tours are free but donations are appreciated. Alternatively, go exploring yourself and see what you can discover.

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9. Street party

Barcelona knows how to throw a fiesta and every summer the time is right for dancing in the street as the various barrios hold their own celebratory parties where the sangria flows and there’s a carnival vibe in the air. Gracia holds the most famous one – Festa Major de Gracia.

10. To market, to market

Magpies rejoice as Barcelona has some excellent markets to explore, soaking up the sights, sounds and general hubbub. Most of the barrios have a local fresh produce market where you can pick up plump tomatoes, creamy goat’s cheese and salty olives, ideal for a self-catered lunch, However, La Boqueria needs a mention as she is the big mama of food markets, a sprawling, colourful mishmash of food, snacks and edible souvenirs, along with some interesting tapas bars to the sides and back – very touristy but still worth a wander. Mercat de la Concepcio is a beautiful flower market on Passeig de Gracia – perfect if you fancy stopping to smell the roses or picking up some blooms to brighten your day; and Mercat del Encants is one of the city’s biggest flea markets – you can find literally anything amongst the stalls. Remember, one girl’s trash is another girl’s treasure!

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11. The magic fountains

This is one sight I keep meaning to see but have ended up side-tracked every time… it’s on my list for this summer though. Take a trip up to Montjuic to see the famous Font Magica – the magic fountains. This free display of colour, lights and dancing water lasts around fifteens minutes but is apparently a unique and stunning display. The shows run throughout nearly the entire year but are much more regular in the summer – Thursday-Sunday periodically from 9pm.

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Hope you enjoy my Barcelona freebies and let us know if you have any other tips!

All images by Alex Saint except image7 skater by Francisco Sanchez, image8 Sala Montjuic by Ender84 and image16 Font Magica by Christopher Chan

Alex Saint is a writer based in Bristol, England – a place she calls home due to its friendly, diverse atmosphere and never-ending list of fun things to do. She loves tattoos, quirky fashion, pugs and, of course, travelling.

Keep up with the Saint sisters and their adventures in Bristol, London and beyond at www.saintsonaplane.com and @saintsonaplane or Alex herself @alexsaint13

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