Planning a trip to Barcelona? Don’t leave before reading these Barcelona travel tips! This guide will get you acquainted with the city, uncover how to get around and avoid crowds, show you where to stay, and more. These tips have been written by our guest writer, Ashley, who is a travel expert for Barcelona. The article has been further expanded by the editor.
One of the top tourist destinations in Europe, Barcelona is an exciting place to visit. It offers not only sunny weather and excellent food but also mountains, parks, beaches, bustling squares, boutique and designer shopping, and colorful food markets. The city center is walkable and easy to navigate as a tourist and the price point is very affordable when compared to other top cities like London and Paris.
The architecture is some of the most unique you’ll find in Europe thanks to Antoni Gaudi. Colorful and playful Park Güell makes an appearance on pretty much every tour book and is one of the hottest Instagram spots. Gaudi’s quirky over the top church, Sagrada Familia, is a forest of columns and colors inside…and remains unfinished to this day.
Whether you’re looking for a walk along the beach front, a tapas crawl in the Gothic Quarter, or a visit to the world-famous Picasso museum, Barcelona is sure to please. I find myself returning to this city again and again.
Unlike many other destinations, I fall more in love with the passion of the locals, ocean views, fresh seafood, and ancient Gothic Quarter with each visit. This lively city is actually where I’ve chosen to spend three birthdays! Barcelona should without a doubt be included in every Spain itinerary. I promise you will want to return. These Barcelona travel tips will help make sure your trip is a success and tackling this city like a pro.
Where is Barcelona?
Of course, you know that Barcelona is in Spain. It is located in northeast Spain in the Catalonia region. This sunny city has the perk of being surrounded by both mountains and ocean.
The Serra de Collserola mountain range borders the west and the Mediterranean Sea is to the east. It’s about 90 miles south of the French border and 313 miles from Spain’s capital, Madrid.
Political Climate and Protests in Barcelona – is Barcelona Safe to Visit?
You may have seen the protests in Barcelona that occurred in October 2019 and wonder what exactly is going on and is the city safe to visit. As a brief summary, the Catalonia region (where Barcelona is located) has been seeking independence from Spain for several years. Think of it like Texas seeking independence from the United States.
In 2017 the Catalonia parliament declared independence after 90% of Catalonia voters backed independence. The capital, Madrid, declared this act unconstitutional, revoked independence, fired the leaders, and dissolved the Catalan parliament in December 2017.
In October 2019 Spain’s Supreme Court sentenced nine Catalonia politicians to serve jail time of nine to thirteen years. This is what sparked the protests in Barcelona that aired on TV all over the world.
I was actually in Barcelona two days before the riots and protests started and have visited several times since Catalonia began seeking independence. Overall, Barcelona is just as safe as other large cities in Europe like Paris and London.
The protests that occurred in October 2019 are extremely rare. Worst case scenario you might have difficulty with public transportation if there’s a protest, like you would with strikes that commonly occur in Paris with the train systems.
I would absolutely not let the political climate stop you from visiting Barcelona. The U.S. Department of State has Spain listed as a level two travel advisory, which is the same advisory level as Germany, Italy, France, the United Kingdom, etc.
Keep up to date with the news and be aware of your surroundings just like you would in any other city. If there is a demonstration or protest, avoid that area. In reality, the biggest safety risk you most likely face in Barcelona is pickpocketing…so keep your valuables close.
In summary, the political climate in Barcelona has not stopped it from being one of the hottest tourist destinations in Europe nor has it stopped me from visiting as a solo female traveler. I have felt safe each time I have been in the city and still highly recommend it to family and friends.
Do I Need to Know Spanish?
Barcelona’s popularity with travelers from around the world has made English pretty common. You should have zero problems if you don’t know a single word in Spanish…though I always recommend learning the basics out of curtesy to the country you are visiting and in order to be polite.
Getting from Barcelona Airport to City
Barcelona has a very convenient international airport named El Prat; coded BCN. Major US and Canadian cities have non-stop flights to BCN. Regional airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet have non-stop flights to BCN from major European cities. To get to the city center from Barcelona airport your two best options are a taxi or the Aerobus.
I’ve taken the Aerobus several times and it’s incredibly easy and cheap. Tickets are €5.90. You can buy your tickets in advance here, with cash from the bus driver, or from the vending machines at the bus departure points.
Aerobus depart from both Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 and leave after every 5-10 minutes. The bus stops at three popular areas within the city center, Gran Via – Urgel, Plaça Universitat, and Plaça de Catalunya. If you plan to take the bus and don’t want a long walk with your luggage it would be wise to book a hotel near these stops.
Taxis can be found outside each terminal and will cost between €30 and €40. Uber does not currently operate in Barcelona.
Alternates to Barcelona Airport
If you can’t find a direct flight to Barcelona, your next best option is to fly to Madrid. A high-speed Renfe AVE train connects Madrid to Barcelona in just two and a half hours. Tickets can be found for as low as €60 euros if purchased in advance.
You can reach the city center from the Barcelona Sants train station via metro or taxi. Google maps works really well if you decide to take the metro listing which metro line to take, number of stops, etc. From the train station follow the signs for the metro. The blue and green lines stop at the Sants metro station. You will be able to get pretty much anywhere in the city center directly with these lines.
Barcelona Weather: Best Time of Year to Visit Barcelona
April through mid-June and September through mid-November are the best times to visit Barcelona. Highs stay in the 60s and 70s and bring perfect weather for seeing the city by foot, patio dining, and enjoying the parks.
My personal favorite time of year to visit Barcelona is October. Technically this is the rainiest time of year, but I’ve found that usually there is an hour or two where it storms like crazy (if it rains at all that day) and then the rest of the day is beautiful. I’ve visited Barcelona three times in October and had perfect weather each time with the occasional short-lived thunderstorm.
Summer brings heat, humidity, and peak tourist season. With the high crowds comes high hotel prices and very crowded tourist sights. Many Spaniards leave town and vacation the month of August. The lack of locals this month means you won’t get a very authentic feel.
Winter is a good time to visit if you are looking for a hotel deal as this is low season. Temperatures are good for touring hovering in the 40s and 60s. If you have a lot of indoor activities and don’t plan on visiting the beach, winter is great. I personally feel that Barcelona is an outdoor city and prefer to visit when the weather brings everyone outside and can enjoy dining on patios (spring and fall).
How to Get Around Barcelona
The city center of Barcelona is fairly compact with most tourist attractions being within walking distance. As long as you stay in a central location, more on that below, you should be no more than 20 minutes by foot from most tourist sights.
There may be a few times you have to use the metro in order to save time. Thankfully the metro is easy and cheap. The T-Casual pass is a great deal where you get 10 rides (metro, buses, and tram) for €11.35. Individual metro tickets cost €2.40.
If you’ll be using the metro five times or more, which you probably will during a three to four day trip, get the T-Casual pass. I rely on Google maps to direct me to which line to take, what entrance to use, and times of departure.
Avoiding Crowds in Barcelona
Choosing the right time of year is the most important way to avoid crowds. Avoid summer and visit during spring or fall for the perfect mix of good weather and crowds. Visit during winter for the lowest crowd levels.
Barcelona is one of the most popular European cities, so there will always be crowds around popular attractions and areas. Visit tourist sights early in the morning, as in ten minutes before they open, or late in the afternoon. Tour groups tend to crowd attractions starting around 9:00 or 10:00am through about 3:00 or 4:00pm.
Don’t be afraid to wander a few steps or streets away from crowded sights. The Gothic Quarter is always crowded. It’s located right off of the busy and centrally located Las Ramblas pedestrian street.
If you continue past the Gothic Quarter, you’ll find yourself in the quieter El Born and La Ribera neighborhoods. The Example neighborhood, north of Las Ramblas, feels less crowded since it’s more spread out with wider streets and larger squares.
Try to leave your hotel and hit the streets before sunrise at least twice during your stay in Barcelona. Wandering the Gothic Quarter while it’s quiet and empty and seeing the early morning glow at the Montjuic Magic Fountains are sure to be some of your favorite memories
Where to See Gaudi’s Architecture in Barcelona?
You can not visit Barcelona and not spend some time appreciating Gaudi’s unique architecture. If you didn’t know – Antoni Gaudí was a Spanish architect who was highly criticized during his time because many found his work to be “excessively imaginative”. It was only a few decades after his death that his work received international fame. Seven of his buildings are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.
While you’re visiting Barcelona, do not miss his last and most famous work, which is incomplete – La Sagrada Familia. This is where Gaudí was buried after he died. Other amazing unmissable places to see Gaudi’s art are Parc Güell, Palau Güell, Torre Bellesguard, and houses – Casa Milà and La Casa Batlló.
If you’re a Dan Brown fan, then you would have surely read about Gaudi’s buildings in his latest book called Origin. In this book, Robert Langdon goes to the main scientist’s home that’s in Gaudi’s Casa Milà. Robert Langdon also spends a lot of time inside Sagrada Familia.
During summer months, you may want to book advance tickets to enter Gaudi’s attractions to ensure you have a spot. Below are some of the options that we have handpicked for you:
- Sagrada Familia: Priority Access Guided Tour with Ticket: “Skip the line” ticket for the famous Sagrada Familia with a small group guided tour. This tour costs € 46 and is rated 4.8 out of 5 based on 240+ reviews.
- Sagrada Familia Fast-Track Ticket: If you don’t need a guide, but would still want to avoid standing in the long queues, then this “skip the line” ticket” ensures your entry to the Sagrada Familia. It has been rated 4.7 our of 5 based on around 18,000 reviews and costs € 26.70.
- Park Güell Admission Ticket: Admission ticket for the stunning Park Güell including the shuttle service between the park and Alfons X Metro station.
- Casa Milà (La Pedrera): “Skip The Line” Ticket & Audio Guide for Gaudi’s Casa Milà.
- Casa Batlló: Entrance Ticket and Smart Guide for Casa Batlló.
The above mentioned tickets and tours are highly rated but be sure to check out all the terms and conditions before booking your ticket.
Don’t Miss Barcelona’s Beaches
With so many options of things to do in Barcelona, don’t end up missing the most amazing part of the city – the coast. The beaches are good to visit sometimes as early as from March and as late as November.
The most famous beaches to visit in Barcelona is Barceloneta, but it does get crowded during peak summer. Bogatell beach is a little calmer as compared to the most. It is a good place to catch a few beachside drinks and dinner. Families would love Nova Icaria beach – and it is also not as crowded ads many others.
Barcelona also has its fair share of nudist beaches and the most famous one is Mar Bella Beach and it turns into a party place at night during the weekends.
Eating in Barcelona
One can not have a bad meal in Spain, and especially in Barcelona. Keep in mind that most of the restaurants are closed during the siesta time (migdiada) from 4 pm to 8 pm.
Before we talk about what to eat, we’d like to mention that you should take out time to visit La Boqueria – a lively open air food market in Barcelona’s city centre. Located in Las Ramblas, La Boqueria is one of the most famous markets of Spain. Get inside, go crazy trying different snacks and even a big meal here. Buy some fresh produce so that you can cook your own meals. Not just for foodies, La Boqueria is an unmissable place for photographers too.
If you love seafood, then you’re going to love the food in Spain. We all know about the well adored Paella – a dish with rice and seafood. In decent places you will have to preorder your Paella an hour before about your order because it takes time to prepare this epic dish.
Spanish omelettes are famous world over, but they taste much better in Spain. Go to a cafe where you mostly see locals and eat a piece of this fluffy omelet with your coffee. Most bars or cafes offer free “tapas” – a light snack to eat with your drink. On many occasions you will see sardines, tiny sandwiches or even a small piece of fluffy omelette.
If you love snacking, you should not miss “Bomba“, which is potato with meat rolled up and fried in a ball. Vegans would love Pa amb tomàquet, which is bread with tomato and olive oil. Apart from this, you will find a spanish version of many world famous snacks like Patatas Bravas (wedges or french fries), Bocadillos (Sandwich) and (Chorizo) sausage.
Visit Montjuïc for a View of Barcelona City
Montjuïc is the name of a hill in Barcelona that overlooks the city centre and the harbor. It is actually more than just a hill, it has the castle of Montjuic, the Magic Mountain of Montjuic, Palau Nacional that has the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and Grec Theather Gardens to name a few places
A fun way to reach Montjuic is by riding a cable car from the Barceloneta beach to the top of Montjuic. Once you’re there, spend some time exploring the castle and admire the views of Barcelona.
Day Trips from Barcelona
If you have time for a day trip outside of Barcelona, I highly recommend Girona. This small city was actually a major filming site for Game of Thrones. You will immediately see why as you enter this beyond picturesque and medieval city.
Renfe offers a quick 38 minute non-stop train service to Girona from the Barcelona Sants station. If you buy tickets in advance you can find them for as cheap as €9.40 each way.
Read this blog post for a complete guide to Girona listing what to see, how to plan your time, and how to get there.
Another wonderful day trip option is to visit Montserrat combined with a wine tour. Montserrat is the mountain that rises from northwest Barcelona. The formations are very unique and the views you’ll get once you reach the top are spectacular. It’s a nice city break after you’ve been exploring Barcelona for a few days.
Joining a small group tour will make the trip to Montserrat a breeze and will provide a guide to give background knowledge on Montserrat and the wines grown in Barcelona. I joined this tour and loved it! It’s around 7 hours, is 16 people max, and includes one winery where you get to taste several wines, enjoy a selection of tapas, and visit the vineyards. I also appreciated that the tour included a guided visit of the monastery, the main attraction on Montserrat.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
The best area to stay in Barcelona for convenience and price is near Plaça de Catalunya. The Aerobus from the airport stops at Plaça de Catalunya and you have easy access to Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, and the Eixample neighborhood. Most tourist sights are within 20 minutes by foot and all major metro lines are within 5 to 10 minutes walking distance. You can easily find hotels in the €125 to €175 budget as long as you book in advance.
I’ve stayed at Hotel Jazz and Hotel Praktik Vinoteca and highly recommend both. These properties offered the perfect combination of an ideal location, safe, clean, comfortable, and a great price around €135 a night.
I hope these Barcelona travel tips help you step foot in this lively city with confidence. Enjoy the tapas, take plenty of evening strolls, soak in the ambiance of the Gothic Quarter, and sip sangria as relive your favorite moments during your time in Barcelona.
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About the writer:
Ashley of Abroad With Ash
Ashley is the owner and creator of Abroad with Ash. After leaving a career in finance, Ashley began focusing on her travel blog where she provides beneficial advice and insights through firsthand experience, itineraries, city guides, and top 5 lists to help others plan their next adventure.
She currently resides in Texas and has a healthy obsession for coffee shops, travel deals, gelato, and Harry Potter.
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