If visiting Barcelona and looking for a nice introduction to the city, a Free Tour is always a great option. There are dozens of Free Tours in Barcelona, some are run by big multinationals and others by small locally-based companies. Our advice is always to go with the latter. Not only you help maintain the local economy but you will also get a more local flavour out of the experience. I am going to show you the best Free Tours in Barcelona but, in case you are new to the concept, let me explain first what a Free Tour is.
What is a Free Tour?
This is a concept that started in Europe in 2004 and that has spread all over the world. It is very simple: instead of pre-paying for a tour where the price is fixed, the customer decides the value after taking the tour. Simple, right? If the guides do a good job you will probably be happy to compensate for their work so it is a win-win situation.
Free Walking Tours have become so popular nowadays that are highly ranked on sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp. Travel gurus like Rick Steves or reputable guidebooks like Lonely Planet also recommend some of these companies as one of the best ways to explore a city.
So there is only one way to know if you will become the next big fan of Free Tours: try one. Now, as in any other fixed-price tour, quality varies enormously between the different Free Walking Tours so my advice is to compare and decide which one you think is best.
The Best Free Tours in Barcelona: Theme by Theme
Nowadays there are many companies in Barcelona offering Free Tours so the choice is overwhelming. I have selected for you a list of the most recommended ones depending on your interests. There are so many different types that you could almost spend your entire visit taking only Free Tours in Barcelona.
1- The Gothic Quarter Free Tour
The first Free Tour in Barcelona was actually Runner Bean Tours, a local company established by Ann-Marie and myself 10 years ago now. Wow! Time flies! After some time working as tour guides and quite frustrated by the level of customer care taken by the companies we worked for, we decided to start our own project.
The Gothic Quarter Free Tour was the one that was kick-started first by the company. The old medieval town of Barcelona is such a lovely area with over 2,000 years of history that it’s difficult for someone not to get charmed by it. On this Free Walking Tour, you will explore the nooks and crannies of the Gothic Quarter. Barcelona’s highlights, like the Cathedral or the old Jewish Quarter, are also included here. And to top it off, there is also time to marvel at Roman remains that have withstood the passage of time… with a few surprises along the way.
If learning about the history of the city and local traditions is your cup of tea, you would love this walking tour. Travel gurus like Rick Steves or Arthur Frommers have recommended Runner Bean Tours as well as thousands of visitors on sites like Google, TripAdvisor or Yelp. It is advisable to book in advance as, for quality purposes, numbers are limited.
2- The Street Art Free Tour
Barcelona is well known for its Street Art. I am not an expert in this field and that is why a while ago I took a walking tour with the guys at Barcelona Street Style. I have to say that it opened my eyes to a fascinating world completely unknown to me until then.
They offer two Free Tours in Barcelona focused on graffiti: one around El Born & Gothic Quarter and the other one around El Raval. I would recommend the latter for a more varied and better line-up. The guides are fantastic and some of them are actual street artists themselves so they know every new inch of painted wall in Barcelona.
As well as the two Free Walking Tours, you can book a fixed price bike tour in the Poble Nou neighbourhood and even do a workshop to learn the techniques of Street Art. An extra skill to bring back home with you from Barcelona.
3- The Gaudí Free Tour
Antoni Gaudí is one of the main reasons Barcelona attracts so many visitors. And who can blame them! The Catalan Art Nouveau architecture is one of the highlights of the city. Gaudí’s buildings top them all with his extravagant and genius creations.
As the title says, the focus on this Free Tour is exclusively on Gaudí. It includes his most important buildings in Barcelona, like Palau Güell, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia. A couple of metro rides are involved in order to cover the large distances between the sites. This is also a great opportunity to learn how to navigate the metro and what the best passes to buy are!
For many, Sagrada Familia and Gaudí are the highlights of their visit to Barcelona. If you want to know all about the man and his vision while learning his unusual techniques, this is the trip for you. The interior of the buildings are not part of this tour but you can ask your friendly guide for advice on which one/s to visit afterwards.
4- The Bike Free Tour
Cycling in Barcelona is just a pleasure. The city is renowned for its multiple cycle lanes, rain is quite rare and the city centre and waterfront are mainly flat. On this daily 3 hour Free Bike Tour you will cover the open areas of the city while feeling the Mediterranean breeze.
There is a small charge of €5 for the bike rental and the rest works on the usual Free Tour system of donations for the guide. Just bear in mind that kids are not allowed on their scheduled group tour so you would have to book a private tour if you are travelling with the little ones.
I recommend this option if what you want to see are the beaches, the Ciutadella Park and the big avenues of the Eixample. It is a nice overview but, if you want more detailed information, take a walking tour in the old town or specialised tours, like the ones focused on Gaudí or Street Art. They limit their groups to 20 people so it is better to book beforehand to be sure you get a spot.
5- The Photography Free Tour
If photography is your thing, you will have a blast on this special free walking tour focusing on how to take the best Barcelona photos. You won’t see the main sites but areas that are special for their photogenic value. Worrying about not having the best equipment? Nothing to worry about. The daytime free tour is even mobile-friendly.
Their main tour takes place around Plaça d’Espanya and the site of the International Exhibition of 1929. There is also a night photography mini-workshop on offer that takes you around the more modern buildings of Barcelona.
6- The Born Free Tour
THIS TOUR HAS BEEN DISCONTINUED BY THE TOUR OPERATOR IN 2020
The old city of Barcelona is divided into three main sections: The Gothic Quarter, El Raval and La Rivera, also known as El Born. This array of small alleys is missing the spectacular architecture of the Gothic Quarter, except, perhaps, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar (in the photo). However, it rewards visitors with a charming neighbourhood full of restaurants and trendy shops.
This walking tour of El Born is a new addition to the market of Free Tours. It was started by a multinational company with a base in Ireland that opened 7 years ago and has expanded to a few cities. The exterior of Palau de la Musica, Arc de Triomf, Ciutadella Park and Passeig del Born are all included on this Barcelona Free Tour. A great way to see another part of the city!
The tour is offered only on certain days so please be sure you check the schedule before booking. After the walk, I recommend enjoying a coffee or a beer at one of the many cafes and restaurants around. You will probably deserve it!
7- Free Tours in other languages (rather than English)
The ones above are the best Free Tours in Barcelona that I recommend if English is your main language. But nowadays you can find free tours in many other languages: from Spanish to Russian, Italian and even Hebrew.
A quick online search will give you a few options. As usual, my advice is to check the reputation of the company before booking as quality varies enormously within Free Tours. The same as with any other tour.
What to look for on a Free Tour?
As I just mentioned above, Free Tours are like any fixed-price tours. The quality depends on the care that the company puts into it and the professionality and knowledge of the guide. Everyone has their own preferences but, when I travel, these are the points that I always look for. They give me a pretty good idea if the tour I am looking at is going to be mediocre, nice or plain fantastic.
Is it a local company?
To me, this is a very important factor. Not only because I like supporting small businesses whenever I travel but, also, because the tour with a local company has that special local flavour that big multinationals can never achieve. Want unbiased local recommendations after your tour? Ask your local guide and you’ll be fine.
Of the free tours mentioned above, all except the last two are local companies. I am always on the lookout for new offers by local people so watch this space for updates.
Do they try to up-sell other tours?
Let’s face it. There is nothing more annoying than a tour guide constantly advertising other products from the company. When I join a tour I just want to learn about the city. The last thing I need is more publicity disguised as information on a walking tour. I found that a great way to know if you are going to be bombarded with publicity is to check if the company has a pit stop at a bar or restaurant. If that is the case, this should raise a few red flags for you.
Are the tour guides professional?
With a professional guide (preferably with experience) half of the job is done for a good quality tour. Add to that a passionate guide who loves his/her job and you know you will be in good hands. I always read the about section on the company’s website. It gives me a clearer idea of who I am going to trust when visiting a new city. To put a face to these people before I even travel is just gold.
Is the tour sold through a third-party platform?
A new trend in the world of Free Tours is the re-sellers in the form of an app or a fancy website. I always stay away from these, not only for tours but also for attraction tickets. Remember that these are businesses and they do charge big commissions to the local tour companies that do the actual tour. I know they are easy to use but every time you book through them means that the price of the tour will go up for next time. How is that? The local companies still have to pay their bills so they will have to increase their prices to make up for the big commission. It is just easy Maths.
Hey! But we were talking about Free Tours here. How can it be more expensive than free? In the case of Free Tours, that big commission comes out of the guide’s pocket so, as the amount gets bigger, the guide is less happy and motivated, therefore, the quality goes down. Again, easy Maths.
How much to tip on a Free Tour?
This is the hundred million dollar question! “I have never taken a Free Tour before. How much do I tip?“. Well, this is a Free Tour system that works on donations but the amount, if any, is entirely up to you.
Take into account a couple of things. First, tips are the bread and butter of your guide so, if you do enjoy the tour, compensation is just fair. Also, the amount depends on many factors: how professional the guide was, how you enjoyed the actual tour, how expensive that city is to live in, etc. What I usually do is take a look at the prices charged for similar tours in that place. With this as a base, I go up or down depending on how much I enjoyed the walk.