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Top 10 free things to do in BARCELONA
From Gaudi and Picasso to street parties and outdoor movies, we pick the best attractions and local haunts to help you enjoy Barcelona for free
See our guides to New York for free and Paris for free
  • Is there anything we've missed? Tell us your favourite free things to do in Barcelona in the comments below
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Masterpiece of modernism... Gaudi's La Pedrera building. Photograph: jpique/Getty Images
Marta Bausells

Tuesday 17 June 2014 06.00 BST Last modified on Wednesday 20 August 2014 18.30 BST
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Modernist architecture
Barcelona is the birthplace and cradle of Catalan modernism from the late-19th and early-20th-century, and modernist architecture can be seen all over the city. Its main exponent was Antoni Gaudí, designer of Park Güell - the jewel in Barcelona's modernist crown. The city recently introduced a €7 entry fee for the park, but you can still see some of his masterpieces from the outside: Casa Batlló and La Pedrera are both spectacular examples. Check out the Modernism Route website for details on where to find buildings not just by Gaudí but also by other key modernis t architects, such as Lluís Domènech i Montaner (who designed the Palau de la Música Catalana) and Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

Views from the hills
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Stroll on... Carretera de les Aigües trail. Photograph: stickair/flickr
The good thing about this upwardly rising city is that neighbourhoods to the north offer several locations to take in breathtaking views. The Carmel Bunkers, at the top of the Turó de la Rovira hill, are a free open space. They were built as anti-aircraft bunkers during the Civil War in 1937, and afterwards the ruins became shacks, which were removed for the Olympics in 1992. Now part of the city's Museum of History, they are a free open space with panoramic views. The Carretera de les Aigües is a 10km trail along the side of Tibidabo, the mountain on the north-western edge of the city. Packed with runners, cyclists and wanderers at weekends, it offers spectacular views and, conveniently, is in Serra de Collserola natural park.

Sunday afternoons at the museums
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Picasso Museum. Photograph: Julian Martin/EPA
Some of the best museums in Barcelona have free entry every Sunday after 3pm: the Picasso Museum is the go-to place for his early works; the Museum of History of Barcelona is essential for history suckers – especially if you’re into Roman ruins and want to check out the city's 4,000 square metres of archeological digs, as well as medieval landmarks and fascinating insights into Catalonia’s history; CCCB is good for innovative contemporary exhibitions; or there's the new Born Cultural Centre, a 19th-century market with a cast-iron structure beneath which are the ruins of the 18th-century city before it was destroyed in a siege in 1714. Also free on first Sundays is the National Museum of Art of Catalonia for medieval and modernist art.

Gothic quarter
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Walls of the church in Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. Photograph: Andrea Ciambra/flickr
Strolling around the old city, and especially the Gothic quarter – next to the popular La Rambla – is a great way to get a feel for the town. Every corner is full of history and, from the old Jewish quarter, el Call, to the secluded medieval alleyways that define the neighbourhood, you’ll find charming little squares, streets or patios in many buildings that are open to the public, such as the historical archive of the city or the Roman Temple of Augustus. Squares not to miss are Plaça del Rei and Plaça Sant Felip Neri, a hauntingly silent spot with an emblematic fountain and church, in the walls of which can be seen the scars of heavy bombing from the Spanish civil war.

City beaches
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Barceloneta beach. Photograph: Alamy
The crammed beaches of Barcelona can be anything but relaxing in the summer months – hence the locals’ preference for quieter nearby seaside resorts like Sitges (a short train ride away) or, to the north, the spectacular Costa Brava. However, the city’s beaches are great for an urgent dip. The popular Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià beaches have a curious mix of locals and tourists, and both are next to the old fisherman’s quarter, which is worth exploring for its cafes and bars. On the other side of the Olympic Port, it's a bit quieter and there's a nudist section in Mar Bella.
Outdoor film screenings and gigs
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Photograph: Cinema Lliure
Barcelona has the perfect weather for watching outdoor movies and, not surprisingly, a few film festivals have popped up over the past few years. Among the free offerings is the Cinema Lliure, which shows independent films on Sant Sebastià beach on Thursday and Sunday evenings. The Centre of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) programmes its own festival, Gandules, showing short films and documentaries for free in its courtyard. And, for a free and intimate taste of local music, go to the gardens of the University of Barcelona on selected July evenings.

Santa Maria del Mar
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Santa Maria del Mar church. Photograph: marcp_dmoz/flickr
The church of Santa Maria del Mar, built in the 14th century, deserves an article in its own right as one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals ever built. While Barcelona's cathedral was the centre of the old city, this church became the main building of what was then the new part of the city, next to the sea, in which a nucleus of merchants and shipowners settled. The speed at which the new church was built – 55 years - was an incredible feat at a time when most churches took longer than a century to construct, and makes it a rare example of pure Gothic architecture. Do visit the cathedral as well, but the unique harmony and elegance of this church's interior will take your breath away.

Local parks and green spaces
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Rent a boat in Parc de la Ciutadella. Photograph: Alain Rouiller/flickr
If there is one thing Barcelona lacks, especially compared with British cities, it’s parks. The population density is quite high, and people live mostly in apartment buildings. However, both the coast and the mountains are around the corner (including the Pyrenees, a couple of hours away), so the city's main green space, Parc de la Ciutadella, is more than adequate. It's on the site of an old military citadel – hence, the name – and has a lake and zoo, and houses the Catalan Parliament. Head to the Montjuïc hill for a mix of nature, great views and culture – you'll find the the National Museum of Art and the Joan Miró Foundation, as well as Olympic landmarks and a castle. Check the timetables for what nights the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc is operating, and go and see a beautiful display of waterfalls and music.

Late-summer festivals
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Verdi street in Gràcia decorated as an urban forest. Photograph: Photogra Pher/flickr
One of the best local experiences is a neighbourhood festival, and they're mostly held at the end of the summer. Barcelona's own festival, La Mercè – the name of the city's patron saint – takes place in late September and comprises more than 600 events, including gigs all over the city and all kinds of cultural attractions, from the typical castells (human towers) to correfocs (fire-running), fireworks, and processions of gegants (massive papier-mâché figures hollowed out and carried by local organisations). The Gràcia neighbourhood throws the most spectacular street parties, and runs a competition for the best-decorated street, with outlandish themes ranging from urban forests to outer space.

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La Boqueria market. Photograph: Peter Bowater/Alamy
Food plays a big part in Catalan culture, and there's no better way to get a taste of local cuisine than exploring the city's markets. La Boqueria, Europe's biggest food market, in the middle of La Rambla, is the most famous – and crowded – but both its food stalls and its architecture make it unmissable (if you can, go in the morning). Santa Caterina is also worth a visit thanks to its colourful undulating structure and its food. The former has several tapas bars, and the latter includes a restaurant – perfect for tasting the market's produce.
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Strolling around the old city, and especially the Gothic quarter, so i see....
If there is one thing Barcelona lacks, especially compared with British cities, it’s parks

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