Barcelona City Travel Tips, Attractions & More
Spain’s second largest city may be a little too cosmopolitan to many Spanish people but to those who come from other parts of the world, Barcelona (or BCN) is a dream sunny destination with a fantastic art and gastronomy scene. Beachgoers, art lovers, and foodies swarm in this Catalonia capital every year and nobody can blame them. Since the Olympic Games of 1992, the people of Barcelona have made it a point to make their city as open and tourist-friendly as possible. Add to that the apparent slow easy-going atmosphere that seems natural to all beach towns and cities as well as the eclectic mix of traditional and modern architecture and Barcelona is a top holiday destination for people of all ages. Here is a list of top things to do in Barcelona.
Season Suitcase Essentials
City Logistics – Getting Around the City
Since Barcelona is a city dedicated to tourism, getting into the city from anywhere is the world is like child’s play. The Barcelona-El Prat International Airport is a major airport that services flights from all over the world and is serviced by taxis, shuttle buses like the Aerobus, as well as a train station that can take you to the city itself. It isn’t the only option by plane, either. For cheaper flight alternatives, you can fly into smaller nearby cities like Zaragoza, Girona, or Reus, then take a cheap bus or a train into Barcelona.
If you’re coming from other parts of Europe, you can always go by rail as day and overnight trains come into Barcelona everyday. And since it is also a major port city, you can always take the slow leisurely route and get there by passenger ship, cruise ship, or ferry.
Just like with any condensed metropolitan, it’s super easy to get around Barcelona. Of course, there’s the compulsory Metro and city buses, which you can buy one-journey tickets, transport only tickets, Barcelona card, or Barcelona ComboPasses for depending on your travel plans. There are also transports catered to people who prefer to zoom in on the more touristy spots. The Barcelona Bus Turístic, Barcelona City Tour, and Barcelona Segway Tour provide transport services directly to such spots around the city!
While all these options are great, however, the best options to see this gorgeous city by far is by bike or on foot. Barcelona is a very walkable and bike-friendly city full of intricate architecture, beautiful art, vivid colors, and friendly people; and the only way you can truly experience it is to see it at your own pace on the streets with the rest of the locals. As an added perk, biking or walking will let you take advantage of the relaxing salty air coming in from the sea.
Since Barcelona is nestled prettily between the mountains and the sea, one of the best things about it is its mild climate. It never gets too hot or too cold here so not only is it a great vacation spot in the summer, it’s really lovely, with its blue sky-weather, in the winter as well! However, since summertime is its busiest time of the year, it will be very crowded and prices will shoot high up. To avoid the crowds and even to just enjoy a less humid weather, it’s best to go in the spring or autumn.
For travelers who just can’t completely detach themselves from the virtual world, you will find that the city is also Wi-Fi friendly, with access points and signs to them all over town.
Where to Stay?
Like in many other cities, Airbnb is a great resource for quality affordable places to stay in Barcelona. You can find really nice private rooms there for as low as $26 a night or rent an entire apartment if you’re travelling with family or as a group for $85.
Of course, if you are more comfortable with traditional accommodations, the city, being big on tourism, has a range of fantastic places – budget, mid-level, or high-end – to stay in. For budget travellers, hostels are plentiful on and around La Rambla, Plaza Cataluña and Passeig de Gracia. There are also some cheap long-stay places like the Melon District Residences that will prove fantastic when you’re staying for longer in the city.
Mid-level hotels are also abundant for those with a bigger budget or are travelling with kids and prefer a more comfortable private setting. Local (Ayre Hotels, Hotels Catalonia) and international hotels (Hilton) chains are safe bets. But there are also some boutique hotels that offer higher comfort for affordable prices. Perhaps a few of the best are Hotel España, Hotel Jardi, and Hotel Ciutat Vella.
Now, if you’d like to splurge and surround yourself with luxury, National Geographic published a great list of the best luxury hotels in Barcelona that you should definitely check out.
Top Things to Do
Oh the things you can do in Barcelona! If we try and list all the things you can do in this city, it might take us forever. There are, however, a few must-sees that need special mentioning, especially for those who will be visiting it for the first time:
• Magic Fountain of Montjuic. This illuminated fountain is a perfect welcome or a lovely goodbye for your first or last night in Barcelona. Open only between 7 pm and 8:30 pm on Fridays and Saturdays (October – April) and between 9 pm and 11 pm Thursdays through Sundays (May – September), it holds water and light shows that are a sight to behold especially with the city’s dusky blue sky in the background.
• Gaudi Architecture, specifically. If there’s one thing you need to know about Barcelona, it’s that the city is basically like a one massive tribute to the late Antoni Gaudí, a Spanish architect and figurehead of Catalan architecture modernism. The most notable of his works is the grand Sagrada Familia, his greatest work, but his other designs – La Pedrera Park Güell, Palau Güell, Casa Batlló, and Casa Vicens – are worth exploring as well.
• Architecture, in general. When it comes to its architecture, Barcelona knows well how to mix the old with the new, the traditional with the modern. It’s definitely worth exploring this eclectic mix, which you can do best on foot, while in town. You can use this architecture guide and this list as your reference.
• The beaches. Once named the #1 beach city in the world, Barcelona offers a wide selection of beaches for its visitors. Beaches closer to the city are more crowded, smaller, and cater to many young people who prefer to drink and party; while the beaches farther from the city are bigger, quieter, and cater more to those who would rather swim and relax. For an extensive guide to Barcelona’s best beaches, check out this list.
• Learn Catalan. The Barcelonians are great storytellers. They love telling their animated stories to those who would listen! And they love teaching their language to those who are interested. So while there, take advantage of it. Not only will you be learning a new language, you might also establish lasting friendships.
• Museums. If you have kids with you but would like to take a little break from the outdoors, museums are the best places to be. Take your little artists to the Can Framis Museum and your future scientists to either the Museum of Natural History or the CosmoCaixa: Museum of Science.
• Tibidabo Amusement Park. If you have a free day and you’re craving for an adrenaline boost, this amusement park at the top of the hill offers exciting rides and a good clean fun while giving you sweeping views of the city below.
Although there were delays in its completion, the high-speed train that connects Barcelona and Figueres finally finished in 2013 and is now up and running. Because it’s fully operating, it now will only take visitors less than an hour to travel from BCN to the birthplace of celebrated artist Salvador Dali.
Free Stuff in Barcelona
Not everything costs money in a city like Barcelona. If you know where to look and if your timing is right, there are a lot of cool things that you can do for free:
• Museu Picasso. While this museum costs € 6.50 – € 14 to see, they offer free admission every Sunday from 3 to 7 pm and every first Sunday of the month for the entire day.
• Museu d’Historia de Barcelona also offers free admission on Sundays from 3 pm and every first Saturday of the month from 4 pm.
• Kids under 16 get in for free at Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona and they also offer free admission on Wednesdays, from 8 to 10 pm on Thursdays, from 3 to 8 pm on Sundays.
• The CaixaForum also has free admission every first Sunday of the month.
• Some works by artist Fundació Joan Miró, like the 22m-tall “Woman and Bird” in Parc de Joan Miró and his mosaics on La Rambla and at Terminal 2 of the Barcelona international airport, are also free for viewing.
• Since Barcelona is an art-filled city, you will see beautiful art everywhere – from mosaics and sculptures to murals and street art – without spending a dime. You can use this public art mapping blog as a guide to the city’s most interesting pieces of free art.
• The cities architectural sights are impressive but you can choose not to pay for entry, especially when you’re on a budget. These structures are as extraordinary on the outside as they are on the inside, sometimes even more. Put on a pair of comfortable shoes, get your legs and feet ready, and spend a day looking up in awe at these stunning creations for free. You’ll thank us for it.
Explore – Best Neighborhoods
It’s a shame to visit a great city and not see its neighborhoods. The famous sites and frequented spots, they’re great and all, but it’s when you really explore a city’s neighborhoods that you truly get to know that city’s unique personality. And in Barcelona, there are quite a few of them:
• Eixample. This neighborhood is home to the city’s best works of modernist art, including the most famous one of all, Sagrada Familia, but don’t just head straight to those sites and then leave. Sit down, have coffee, and just get a feel of the atmosphere here.
• Gothic Quarter. The center of the old town, this area will make you feel like you’ve just time-travelled back to the past. At night, though, it transforms into a bustling area that is perfect for a fun night out.
• Gracia. Another neighborhood with an old charm feel to it, Gracia is perfect for spending a relaxing afternoon sipping coffee or a night having tapas and beer outdoors. And if you happen to be there during the Festa Major de Gracia, prepare to be transported to a magical place!
• El Raval. Barcelona is also a melting pot of cultures and there’s nowhere else to really experience that as well as get to know the city’s immigrant communities than in this neighborhood.
When in Barcelona, you can shop at the usual shops that you will most likely find anywhere else in the world, but for the best shopping excursions, head straight to the local markets. Barcelona is teeming with wonderfully colorful markets like La Boqueria Market, Mercat de Sant Antoni, Mercat de L’Abaceria, and Mercat de Santa Caterina that sell everything from fish and meats to produce and contain sit down places to eat and grab drinks. During the holidays, there is also the Fira de Santa Llucia (Santa Lucia Christmas Market) where you can take your fill of the most colorful Christmas decorations.
Foodies – Where to Eat & Drink
Real foodies know that there’s real treasure in local street food. While other may be turned off by it for fear that they’re not clean or cooked well enough, street food is fast becoming a staple and is in fact well regulated especially in big cities. And in Barcelona, you just cannot come for a visit without sampling their best street cuisine, which include:
• Churros and Purros, long fried pastries covered in sugar,
• Bocadillos (also Bocata or Entrepans), a baguette sandwich with ham, cheese, or potato omelet in the middle,
• Rissoles, Croquettes filled with suckling pig,
• Pan de dios, custard and shaved coconut brioche rolls, and
• Horchata, refreshing milky drinks made of tigernuts and sugar.
Catalan food is also a must while in Barcelona as not only is it typically rich and tasty, it’s also the traditional food for many locals. Some of the best places to have it are Ciutat Comtal, La Bodegueta, Boqueria Food Market, Cal Pep, and Can Culleretes. The Barcelona tourist guide has a list of traditional Catalan food that you absolutely must try, including the special Catalan spring onion called Calçots that locals enjoy in the wintertime.
Other restaurants in Barcelona that come highly recommended are Arepería La Taguara (Venezuelan), Escriba, Restaurante Lasarte, Euskal Etxea (where they make great pintxos or Basque tapas), La Esquinica, Quimet i Quimet, and of course, Els 4Gats, a favorite haunt of Pablo Picasso.
Late Night – Nightlife in BCN
In Barcelona, people often accompany their drinks, especially their wine, with samplings of delicious snacks and side dishes. They do it so often, in fact, that it’s almost a religion. To feel like one of the locals, you should definitely check out their the most frequented haunts like Bodegueta Cal Pep, Bar Seco, El Jabali, Bar Mingus, and Bar Electricitat.
Although Barcelona mostly caters to families and groups of friends, it has it’s share of romantic spots. Take your partner and lover to see the water and light show at the Magic Fountains of Montjuic at dusk, walk on the beach, have a romantic lunch overlooking the city at Can Marti, or wonder about the other couples who left their marks with love scribbles on a wall at La Sagrada Familia.
Like most Spanish people, Barcelonians love their celebrations so it’s no surprise that the city holds many festivals throughout the year. These festivals include:
• Festa Major de Gracia, Barcelona’s largest and craziest block party,
• Feast of Sant Joan, Barcelona’s version of the United States’ Fourth of July when families and friends take to their balconies and the beaches to enjoy some good food and watch fireworks in the sky,
• La Diada de Sant Jordi, a Catholic feast on the 23rd of April when locals exchange roses or books to show their affection to one another,
• Le Merce, a colorful festival that features dances, fireworks, and a colorful parade that includes giant papier machés,
• And the music festivals – Primavera Sound in May, Sonar in June, Barcelona Accio Muscial in September, and the International Jazz Festival in October – that are big frequented by people from all over the world.
Best Day Trips Outside the City
While the beaches near the city are crowded and small, just 20-40 minutes by car or by train outside the city are more natural beaches that are as gorgeous as they are serene.
On the Costa Brava (“rugged coast”) in the north are quiet beaches like Montgat and Ocata that are secret rugged gems where the sea kiss the cliffs while in the south on the Costa Dorada (“golden coast”) are shallower and calmer beaches like Castelldefels, Sitges, and Tarragona, which has Roman ruins, that are a favorite among family vacationers.
On the other side of Barcelona are gorgeous mountain destinations that are also as accessible and equally picturesque as the beaches.
Closer to the city is Tibidabo, which of course has the amusement park and also the beautiful Roman Catholic Temple de Sagrat Cor, which is sitting at the summit of the mountain. An hour away is the multi-peaked Monsterrat that is famous for the Benedictine abbey Santa Maria de Montserra that’s nestled on its side.
Barcelona City Map
The city of Barcelona is designed to awaken all senses. From its amazing gastronomy scene, awe-inspiring art, and eclectic architecture to its sparkling beaches and scenic mountain spots, it’s almost as if the city was built to cater to anyone and everyone, no matter where their interests lie, making it everybody’s ultimate destination.
If you have any tips or suggestions on how to make a vacation in Barcelona even more memorable, we’d love to hear from you.