If you’re studying abroad in Barcelona, chances are you have seen, or will see, Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Parc Guell, Port Vell, Montjuic, Port Olympico, Las Ramblas, Barri Gotic, La Catedral, etc. You'll probably own a guidebook (or several) that say the same things. They’re beautiful, they’re wonderful, you have to see them once. Everyone knows where they are, they cost money when you’re on a budget, they’re not going to feed you or keep you busy for the three, four, or more months you have to spend in the city. And they’re certainly not going to get you free drinks.
You may have been overcharged at the El Corte Inglés grocery store trying to buy imitation Mexican food or ramen noodles. Maybe you paid close to five euros for a Maoz falafel on Las Ramblas, convinced nothing could beat their "all you can eat" vegetable bar. I’m here to help. I may have only spent four months in the capital of Catalunya, but trust me, I was poor and I was desperate to squeeze every last drop of fun, food and frivolity out of what I’m now proud to call my favorite city on earth.
Let’s start with the basics. You’re hungry, more importantly, you can’t afford to buy a seventeen euro paella on Las Ramblas. You want cheap, tasty, and if you’ve been in Barcelona for more than a week, you want a break from Pan amb tomat and sausages you can’t identify.
Get on the yellow line, get off at the Barceloneta stop. Two of my favorite restaraunts are here, each one has the most delicious food for under five euros. You’ll be full! The first one is Bella Istanbul, it specializes in something you will soon get to know very well – the doner kebap, aka the shawarma. Both the doner kebap and the durum doner are excellent, definitely in my top three. Grab one on the way to the beach, you’ll be satisfied for the day.
If you’re looking for something a little more Catalan, stop by Can Paixano (Reina Cristina, 7), better known as La Xampañeria, the best ever cava and sandwiches. Nestled among a slew of electronics stores, this is where the fine Spanish tradition of enjoying a good drink comes in. Order a bottle of cava, preferably the rosat, for everyone! At about $2.50 a bottle, it’s not going to break anyone’s bank and it will do its job. Be sure to order sandwiches, you need to, unless you’re getting bottles to go from the back counter. They’re delicious and ridiculously cheap. I recommend pollo con cebollas, pimientos, y queso, or the heftier chorizo. Order seconds! It’s crazy in there, closes at ten, push your way up to the counter, yell out your order and enjoy the true Catalan chaos and cuisine. Don’t order the cheesecake, it doesn’t taste like home.
Where for dessert? Start with Lato Gelato on c/ Ferran in the Barri Gotic. I have never had anything this good, you won’t find another gelato in the area for the price. Buy two scoops, make sure one of them is the chocolate. For an even cheaper and more energizing option, stop by the McDonald’s on Las Ramblas or Placa Catalunya (yes, McDonalds). Order the gelat i café. It’s a cup of coffee poured over soft serve ice cream, better than you can believe, with a one euro price tag.
Still have a coffee craving? How about the relaxing café con leche in the loungy La Clandestina, tucked away at Baixada de Viladecols, 2, near a big chunk of the city’s crumbling Roman wall. If chocolate is what you desire, head over to La Granja at Banys Nous, 4, for the best Swiss chocolate. I never liked the thick, chalky consistency of the other chocolates I found in Spain. This one, though, is beyond comparison. Be sure to get whipped cream. If you order a glass of milk to wash it down, tell them to make it cold, or you’ll get a steamed glass.
After you’ve digested your day’s work, it’s time to start the night off right. For a comfy atmosphere and a chance to meet a lot of English-speaking people from all over the world, go to L’Ovella Negra, off Las Ramblas (c/ de les Sitges, 5). If they’re checking IDs, apologize for forgetting yours and walk inside. Order a pitcher of Welch's-like sangria and squeeze in among the students for some of the most entertaining people-watching (and people-meeting). Are you a sports fan? The Shamrock Irish Bar in the Raval (c/ Tallers, 72) has games on a big screen with a pool table and dart board, also one euro Budweisers and a friendly Irish/Russian/English staff who you’ll get to know by the end of your first night (and the grilled cheese ain’t bad either!).
If you’re not full and happy by the end of this day, you'll need more help than I can give you. Should this little taste of Barcelona leave you hankering for more tomorrow, check back for additional restaurants, bars, clubs, stores and secrets in Part Two of the Ultimate Student's Guide.
Need help finding some of these addresses on that tricky, vague El Corte Inglés city map? Try this link for the best guia around. You'll even get directions with exact walking and metro ride times, you'll never be late to meet up with friends at your new favorite eateries and bars. At least you won't have an excuse.