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Barcelona on a Budget

WHEN MY husband and I decided to start a family, we knew certain financial sacrifices would have to be made, but there was one pleasure we were fierce about maintaining: travel.

We had our sights set on Barcelona, a tourist mecca famous for its spectacular architecture, its legendary chefs and its storied restaurants. Could we make the trip without skimping on the fun and flavour we’d grown accustomed to—and without putting too large a dent in our single income?

Turns out, if you do your research and get creative, the answer is a resounding yes—even in a cosmopolitan city like Barcelona, with its outsized culinary reputation.

Jet-setting with companions is a smart strategy to save on accommodations. You and your friends can book a private apartment at the fabulous Casa Gracia for a little over 100 euros a night. Situated in the heart of the Catalan capital, its hip, sophisticated environment offers everything the cost-conscious globetrotter might fancy. Another stylish, affordable choice is Generator Barcelona, located minutes from Passeia de Gràcia, Barcelona’s most elegant avenue. And for those who dream of waking up as close to the aroma of fresh pan básico and pan rústico as possible, there’s the nearby Hotel Praktik Garden, a boutique auberge boasting a bona fide bakery and a lush outdoor terrace.

While all three provide complimentary breakfast, the morning hours are also a prime opportunity to beat the crowds at the bustling farmers’ market La Boqueria. When it comes to feasting on restaurant-quality tapas at a reasonable price, this pilgrimage destination remains unrivalled. Head straight to El Quim de la Boqueria, a local favourite offering traditional Spanish and Catalan dishes like fried eggs with baby squid.

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The storied Parc Güell market is a perfect place to buy a variety of classic Spanish foods, from jamón serrano and jamón ibérico to traditional Arzúa-Ulloa cheese and fresh bread, fruits and vegetables. Stock up for a gourmet picnic around dusk. A visit to La Boqueria will inevitably be followed by a leisurely stroll down La Rambla. A tree-lined pedestrian street that stretches for more than a kilometre, it forms the boundary between the quarters of Barri Gòtic to the east and El Raval to the west. As the legendary boulevard of Picasso’s youth, it has an immersive atmosphere that’s worth soaking up. You’d be wise to skip actually eating or drinking in La Rambla, though—the prices scream turista! Instead, wander off the main road to Plaça Reial. Surrounded by lampposts designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, it’s an ideal site to pause, sip a coffee and enjoy the city.

You’re bound to encounter cava some-where along the way. This sparkling wine of Denominación de Origen (DO) status from Catalonia is referred to as “Spanish champagne.” Sweet and refreshing in equal measure, the best cava in Barcelona can be found at Can Paixano.

Aptly described as a hole-in-the-wall in the old La Barceloneta neighbourhood, the bar has been active since 1969, and despite its popularity, it retains the vibe of an authentic hidden gem. Enjoy a crisp, cool glass of cava before procuring a bottle to go.

Moving beyond the salty marine scents so characteristic of La Barceloneta, obtain a T10 transport ticket at any metro station or tobacco stand—only 1 euro a day—and hop on a bus to Parc Güell on Carmel Hill. Composed of gardens, colourful tiling and architectonic elements, it’s one of Gaudi’s major works. Though a small hike is required to reach the summit, once you’re there, greeted by the breathtaking city views, you’ll agree it was worth the effort. Especially as you tuck into that gourmet picnic we recommended you stock up for earlier, paired with your newly purchased bottle of cava.

Now, you may want to experience at least one of your Barcelona meals sitting down at an actual table. Back at Casa Gracia, a one-of-a-kind gastro-cultural space welcomes you. There’s La Paisana, which pairs multicultural inspiration with a modern aesthetic, its ingredients sourced entirely from the vibrant district of Gràcia. There’s BIS, previously a bank vault, where you’re encouraged to kick off your evening with a cocktail after dinner. And finally, there’s De Tranquis, a lounge area more suitable for a relaxed night of smoothies, teas and cupcakes, as well as slow music and a nice conversation or book.

If you came to Barcelona seeking more elevated fare, then inquire about the chefs who trained under Ferran Adrià, the pioneer of molecular gastronomy. Inspired by his cuisine, several of Adrià’s past apprentices operate acclaimed restaurants downtown, including Alexis Peñalver’s La Pubilla and Carles Abellan’s Tapas 24. The former is a sexy spot to meet, imbibe and ingest, whereas the latter is an ode to Spanish products and identity. For approximately 15 to 20 euros, you will be treated to tapas that are not just mouth-watering, but uniquely representative of Catalan gastronomy.