Our final day of touring Budapest was here. After yet another brunch of pizza bread and baked goods, we headed out to make our way to the Hungarian Parliament. Upon entry into the Corvin-negyed metro station, we again inquired about our travel route at the information counter. With a bit of help from the people at the counter, combined with our map skills, we took the metro going to Deák Ferenc tér. From there, we were supposed to change Continue reading
For most globetrotters, Spain is synonymous with low prices and its carefully cultivated reputation as a budget destination has made it a long-time magnet for bargain hunters searching for sun on a shoestring. However, away from the budget enclaves of the costa resorts and country retreats, Spain’s most prosperous and visited city can come as an unwelcome surprise to the wallets of the uninitiated. Whilst certainly better value for money than Paris, London or Rome, travellers looking to soak up some Catalan culture can expect to pay around €20 for most of the big museums. Dinner for two at a paella or tapas-style restaurant in the tourist-heavy neighbourhoods of Eixample, Raval, Sants or the Gothic Quarter will rarely cost under €50, and if you don’t know where to look you can expect similarly eye-watering prices for a round of drinks. However, you don’t need to head to the outer barrios to experience the best of Barcelona on a student budget, and this brief guide should demonstrate that there’s no need to exchange quality for affordability in the ‘City of Counts’.
If you’re coming to Barcelona to worship at the temple of Gaudi, then be prepared to pay a hefty tribute. Entrance to the world-famous Sagrada Familia church will set you back €26, whilst the Casa Mila on the city’s posh Passeig de Gracia avenue costs €22. Even the charming Park Güell, nestled in the hills to the north, will cost you €7 (N.B: you can save a couple of euros for some of these attractions by booking online in advance). Luckily there are still plenty of ways to experience the richest aspects of Barcelona’s unique and fiercely independent way of life for the price of a cup of coffee. First off, it’s worth noting that on the first Sunday of every month, many of Barcelona’s biggest museums waive their entrance fee, so if you’ve timed your visit well then you can easily cram in a week’s worth of attractions on the day and pay nothing.
If you’re more interested in learning about the history of the city and the role it has played in shaping regional and national culture, then check out the MUHBA (Museum of the History of Barcelona) Group, which operates at a range of sites across the city. If you go to one of these museums, entrance should cost you less than €5 if you’re under 29 years old and, once you’ve paid for one, your ticket will grant you free or greatly-reduced entry to any of the two dozen other museums currently managed by this organisation (they also offer reduced admission to Park Güell).
I’d recommend the City History Museum as your first port of call; housed in a medieval palace in the heart of the Gothic Quarter, it’s the best place to get a crash course in Barcelona’s turbulent history — and if you venture into the basement you can explore the original foundations of the Roman settlement, built in 15 B.C! Another honourable mention for a cheap and unforgettable museum would be the Museu Frederic Marès just around the corner. I first discovered this spot whilst taking shelter from a thunderstorm in its medieval courtyard, and was lured inside when the alcoves failed to keep me dry. This villa contains what is essentially a mad aristocrat’s collection of high art and bric-a-brac, built-up over eighty years and filling four floors of space, ranging from ancient Greek marbles to a room full of Cuban cigars — a great way to wait out a monsoon and a steal at €2.
Barcelona is one of the world’s great food cities, and while I’m often prone to just getting a sandwich from the local supermarket chain to save money when travelling, it just doesn’t feel right to miss out on the food scene in exchange for a soggy egg sandwich from Aldi. Before getting to the more local fare, it’s worth mentioning just how much Barcelonans love a good burger; burger bars have sprung up in waves across the city in recent years, and connoisseurs have taken advantage of this craze to bring exciting, high-quality and affordable food to the masses.
My personal favourite without a doubt is Cat Bar, a somewhat dirty dive in the back streets of El Born which serves up the best vegan burger I’ve ever had in a city that is notoriously carnivorous. An eclectic and friendly place run by a Mancunian expat, it’s also one of the only places in Barcelona you can get craft beer, if you’re into that. Expect no-frills service from the sassy staff, and the satisfaction of coming out with change from a €10 note. Another good option if you want a guaranteed table at any time of night is one of the several branches of local superstar Bocoa Burger, which serves up juicy burgers with a Catalunyan twist and mountains of patatas bravas for similarly budget prices.
If you’ve come to Barcelona for the empanadas and paella, then your best bet for an authentic, budget version which hasn’t just come out of a microwave is probably La Boqueria indoor market, just off La Rambla. A year-round tourist trap, this place might not seem the ideal spot for a budget lunch upon first entering, where overpriced smoothies and suspiciously colourful dishes abound. However, if you penetrate a little further into the darker, more deserted corners of this gargantuan place, then you’ll find some very high quality local cuisine, at local prices. Looking for lunch here is an experience in itself, where you can watch fired-up grandmothers haggling over the price of blood sausage, next to a regiment of fisherman hauling in the latest catch of swordfish and octopus. While there are plenty of cheap markets to grab lunch, this one stands out in terms of atmosphere and variety.
In the summer, drinking in Barcelona needn’t be an issue for the cash-strapped traveller, when a solid night out doesn’t require more than a few cervezas and a place to sit on the beach or pavement. However, this is a less attractive option in these brisk winter months, and you will be forced to go indoors and pay for your drinks at a bar. Luckily, as it is with most cities, all the best watering holes are the ones that get you loaded for peanuts, and there’s really no need to pay €14 for a watered-down cocktail at a swanky seafront bar.
Honourable mention goes to Betty Ford’s, a legendary queer bar in El Raval which was once the haunt of Barcelona’s BoHo arts scene, but now welcomes a mix of tourists, skaters and students as well as the old crowd. The beer is very cheap, and whilst the cocktails veer a little toward the pricey side, they don’t mess about and will happily empty half a bottle of rum into your mojito whilst jamming to the endlessly funky playlist. Another winner, and a venue that can’t be beaten on price, can be found on the corner facing Barcelona’s infamous superclub Razzmatazz. While I couldn’t figure out the name of this bar (it doesn’t seem to have one), it seems to exist entirely for the purpose of letting would-be revellers get sufficiently buzzed on cheap sangria before facing the extortionate drinks prices in the venue across the street. A litre of beer is around €5, whilst a litre(!) of sangria topped with a dangerously generous dose of vodka should cost you about €6, making this place much more reminiscent of the cheap bars of the Magaluf strip in terms of price.
I hope this guide will give prospective travellers enough info to enjoy this wonderful city on a genuine student budget, and if you’re looking for things which cost nothing, then http://forfree.barcelona will keep you updated on all free activities and events in Barcelona.
Featured image © Rodrigo Paredes
Compared to other Western capitals such as London, New York and Paris, which are pretty much as synonymous with astronomical rents, social cleansing and insta-hipster blandness as they are with their respective iconic landmarks, Berlin still manages to retain its essence as a city where normal people can actually live. This is largely due to the unusual and genuinely cutting-edge lifestyle it offers, which deserves to be preserved at all costs.
However, change is in the air. With Berlin rapidly becoming Continue reading
Our third morning in Budapest started with sandwiches from a nearby SPAR. This was the day we had planned to cross the Danube River to the Buda side. On our agenda was the Tomb of Gül Baba and the Buda Castle. Due to the availability of various modes of transport, I didn’t think it would be difficult to cross over to the other side of the city however, due to everything being labelled in Hungarian, it proved to be more challenging than I had anticipated. From Prince Apartments, we headed to the nearest underground metro station, Corvin-negyed, and after explaining our destination to the man at the information counter, made our way by metro to Deák Ferenc tér. From there, we caught a bus which went over the Margaret Bridge to the Buda side. The bus journey was about 30 minutes long; luckily the view of the Danube River was enough to keep us entertained during the journey.
Upon arrival to the Buda side, we got off at the stop nearest to the bridge. That wasn’t our best idea — with no proper inkling of the way to Gül Baba’s Tomb, we ended up walking in the wrong direction. On our expedition to find the tomb, we noticed that the Buda side of Budapest was quieter and less populated. To me, it looked more like a foreign country than the Pest side did. After a good 15 minutes of staring at the map and checking road signs, we realised we were lost in this more alien Budapest. That was when we stopped at a local shop to ask for directions.
The directions definitely helped; we finally made it to the road leading up to Gül Baba’s Tomb, which is a place of pilgrimage for Muslims from all around the world. The tomb is located on Mecset Street, in the district of Rózsadomb, and was built by Mehmed Paşa between 1543 and 1548. Oddly, the road leading up to the tomb wasn’t labelled and it was only due to the presence of two other tourists that we figured out it led to the tomb. We began the climb up the road, which was uneven and very steep. A mark of my unfitness was that I had to stop a couple of times during the climb, and I also almost slipped on some loose bricks which were no longer embedded in the road.
On arriving at the top of the road, we found out there were more steps to climb. I wasn’t too overjoyed about that, but when we got to the top it was worth it. Budapest was stretched out before our eyes; a peaceful city with colourful buildings, dotted boats floating along in the river and tiny specks of cars zooming on the roads. After spending a few minutes staring at the view and getting some pictures, we made our way to the doors of the tomb, which had a shallow dome covered with lead plates and wooden tiles.
That was when we received a surprise; there was a sign in front of the tomb, stating that it was closed for remodelling until March 2017. Needless to say, we were disappointed and felt quite stupid for not checking the tomb’s opening times beforehand. However, we found the whole situation quite funny and were glad to have made the journey to the tomb, because the view was definitely worth it.
Laughing about our silly oversight, we made our way down the hill. It was lunchtime and the climb had made us hungry, so we stopped at a nearby bakery café on Frankel Leó utca called Dolcissima. A cute and sunny bakery with light, pastel-coloured walls and white furniture, it was the ideal place for a light snack. I had chocolate éclairs, which were deliciously soft and creamy, with thick chocolate coatings. The cheerful ambiance of the café combined with the pleasant service of the owner made Dolcissima a great rest stop, and after a hearty meal, we left to make our way to Buda Castle.
Buda Castle was built on the southern tip of Castle Hill and is the historical castle and palace complex of the Hungarian kings. It was first completed in 1265 and is linked to Clark Ádám Square and the Széchenyi Chain Bridge by the Castle Hill Funicular. Over the years, the castle has been extended and each king has added to its architecture, but it hasn’t had an easy life. When Ottoman Turks conquered Hungary, the palace suffered; it was left to decay and was mainly used as barracks, stables and storage. Continue reading
A hush spread over the piazza as the cinema screen lit up. The crowd held its breath as the opening credits appeared on the screen, and the silence was total as the spine-chilling notes of the film’s theme rang out, reverberating on the medieval palaces and cathedral surrounding the audience. The last of the sunlight faded, and the stars came out as I and another thousand people began to lose ourselves in a cinematic classic: Francis Ford Coppola’s ‘The Godfather’.
Sitting there in the darkness, back pressed uncomfortably against a pillar and knees pulled up to my chin, I was in ecstasy. All eyes were drawn to the stylishly violent story playing out on the screen, lost in this tale of family and loyalty and pride. Three hours later, after the applause had died out, I walked home in a daze — first with fellow members of the audience thronging the narrow alleys, and eventually by myself, wandering through the porticoed streets and squares.
I had come to Bologna with little in mind, to a city which I had originally planned to be the final stop on an ambitious journey from the heel of Italy’s boot all the way up to the thigh. However, due to other commitments this was not to be, and grand plans for sightseeing all along the Adriatic coast had dissolved into just an extended city break. I had almost no knowledge of the city’s history, and was only really aware of its fortuitous location on some major railway routes to other cities.
I didn’t know what to expect of Bologna. But what I found, I liked immensely.
The large medieval city is focused on Piazza Maggiore, surrounded by Bologna’s cathedral, city hall, and other important buildings as well as shops and restaurants. Just a few steps away you can find two of the last of Bologna’s medieval tower houses, built by wealthy patrician families. At one point, there were around a hundred of these tall, slim brick towers crowding the Bologna skyline, and ranging from 60-90 metres in height. Most are gone now, but at this busy intersection the Asinelli and Garisenda towers lean at a crazy angle, looming over the traffic and pedestrians below. Continue reading