Barcelona On A Budget

In this Jan. 23, 2002 file photo, visitors enter Guell Park in Barcelona, Spain. The park was designed by Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi for Barcelona industrialist Eusebi Guell between 1900 and 1914. (AP Photo/Santiago Lyon, File) AP

Spain's northeastern city of Barcelona, set between verdant mountains and the Mediterranean sea, basks in a well-earned reputation as one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations.

With a dramatic rocky coastline cradling little fishing ports to the north and almost endless sandy beaches stretching to the south, the capital of the Catalan region has acted as a powerful tourist magnet since the late 1950s.

Around 59.2 million foreign visitors last year made Spain the world's third most visited holiday destination, a position — behind France and ahead of the United States — it has held consistently for decades.

Thanks to its setting and the beauty of Catalonia, its coasts and offshore islands, millions of tourists explore Barcelona annually. Once there it is easy to understand why.

Rising majestically behind the city is the Tibidabo, an imposing pine tree-coated hill that frames the metropolis, its urban sprawl and vast port beside a glittering sea.

"Tibi dabo" is Latin for "I give thee," which according to the gospels of Luke and Matthew is what the devil said, offering Christ the glories of the world were he but to kneel and worship him.

The inference is that Barcelona, nestled beneath the Tibidabo, encompasses all known earthly delights.

With so many visitors competing to enjoy the cornucopia of pleasures on offer, it is understandably difficult to do so on a tight budget. However, some tricks can help you get the most out of your cash.

Step one is to learn how to get around cheaply. The city is compact and exceptionally pedestrian-friendly, turning walks anywhere other than to its outer limits into a pleasure, packed with visual and cultural stimulus.

To venture farther out it is important to buy a 10-trip card from any metro railway station. This entitles you to take city buses as well as underground trains and works out to about a dollar per trip.

In Barcelona you do not need to travel to the outskirts to find inexpensive accommodations and food.

Hostels in the Ciutat Vella, the old quarter deep in the heart of the city, are reasonably priced. (Look for Ciutat Vella locations for hostels listed at http://www.barcelona-on-line.es/eng/youth-barcelona-hostels.htm.) By contrast, distant campsites dotted around the suburbs can be more expensive than downtown "pensiones" and modest hotels.

It is prudent to follow Spanish food customs to get the best gastronomic deals. Bars and coffee houses offer set breakfasts ("desayuno del dia") which include coffee and toast or an equivalent at a fixed price that's lower than ordering each item separately.

The best breakfasts are to be found in Barcelona's 46 markets, of which La Boqueria, just west of La Rambla, near the port is the best example — http://www.boqueria.info/.

One market stall there has some of the best fruit juices available anywhere in Spain and prices are reasonable.

The most important meal of the day in Spain is lunch. The best deals are listed at midday as the "menu del dia" or special menu of the day. This will usually be a three-course meal including dessert and a drink at a bargain price.

When walking around the city, make sure you go in search of the works of local architect Antoni Gaudi. His Pedrera and Casa Batllo

http://www.casabatllo.es — are works of art in a category called Modernisme, which is like a mix between Art Nouveau and Art Deco. Gaudi's work was showcased in the recent Woody Allen movie "Vicky Cristina Barcelona."

The Barcelona Movie Web site — http://www.barcelonamovie.com (click on English) — offers themed walking itineraries related to other films shot in the city, including work by Pedro Almodovar. The site correctly calls itself "a space created for anyone interested in Barcelona, film and cultural tourism."

Take in the Mirador de l'Alcalde and walk around Montjuic Castle to catch sight of the port working below, and make sure you see the Montjuic cemetery in evening light.

When your feet get tired, take a tram ride from the zoo to the Forum area. This offers excellent views of the Agbar Tower and Gaudi's Sagrada Familia church.

At sunset there is no better place to be than along Barcelona's waterfront, which boasts two marinas full of private sailing boats and luxury yachts as well as clean sandy beaches.

The first Sunday of every month is a no-pay day at city museums, and Barcelona also has one of the most ambitious public art projects in Europe with sculptures by artists such as Javier Mariscal or Roy Lichtenstein dotted around town.

People-watching along La Rambla is more entertaining than many of the things you have to pay for and catching a glimpse of locals dancing Sardana on Sunday morning in front of the cathedral in the medieval heart of the city is unforgettable.
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