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Barcelona is our favorite city in Europe – mainly because of the food and nightlight.
Yvonne, of Hello Wander World, who previously wrote about Rome, Culebra Island, Puerto Rico, Iceland, Costa Rica and Bangkok, recently went to Barcelona and here are her practical travel tips.
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Barcelona is a very diverse and culturally rich city. You’ll find the close, windy streets to be a delight to wander through, the architecture to be one of a kind, and the nightlife to be unforgettable. You can go out until the sun comes up any day of the week, if you’re up for it.
The city is part of the EU, so they use the Euro. Credit cards are accepted mostly everywhere (even American Express in some places!) minus some cash-only shops.
Barcelona’s major international airport, Barcelona – El Prat (BCN), is about 35 minutes from the city center. There are multiple options for getting into the city. Taxis cost about €30 to reach the city and take credit card. There’s also a direct airport bus, Aerobus, that leaves every 5 – 10 minutes that costs ~€5 one way. Tickets can be bought at the airport bus terminal or online. (Editor’s Note: There’s no uber in Barcelona. We use myTaxi in Barcelona – which gets you a regular taxi on demand with payment handled by the app or if you prefer, use cash).
Where to Stay
There are lots of great places to stay in Barcelona. Every part of the city has a different charm and character. For the most central location and nightlife, stay in the Plaza Catalunya area or around Las Ramblas. This is where the airport buses stop and the metro has a major transfer point.
For lots of character and central location, The Gothic Area has very unique architecture. To be close to the beach, stay in Barceloneta where the seafood’s fresh and the views are breathtaking. Barceloneta is also a very family-friendly destination. For more affordable lodging, you can check out Poble Sec or Placa Espanya, both of which are still on the metro, just not in the city center.
To be close to shopping and nightlife, stay along Passeig de Gracia, where the road is lined with high end fashion stores. There are many options between Airbnbs, hostels, and hotels. Since the city can get very busy, I suggest planning your lodging beforehand, if you have a specific location and budget in mind.
Food & Eating Etiquette
Delicious Catalan food is one of the biggest draws of Barcelona. You’ll find fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood all over the city. For the best paella and seafood dishes, head to Barceloneta, the beachside. For the best pinxos, head to Blai Street (Carrer de Blai in Catalan). Look out for Menu of the Day’s written on chalkboards outside of restaurants. They usually offer a 3 course meal and wine at a very reasonable price. It’s a great way to taste a variety of delicious foods and get more bang for your buck.
Avoid eating at any “authentic” restaurants along Las Ramblas, this main road is a tourist trap as far as restaurants go. The only stop worthwhile along Las Ramblas is La Boqueria. This open space marketplace offers delicious grilled seafood, fresh fruits and smoothies, and candies galore every day, but Sunday. Pro Tip: go to the market around closing time (8 – 8:30pm) for half off smoothies and fruits!
Dining is an enjoyable celebration of food and loved ones. Take your time for meals – waiters won’t bring you the check until you ask for it, they’re in no hurry to get you out, so you shouldn’t be either. Tipping is only expected for good service and only needs to be 7 – 10%.
How to get Around
Barcelona is a very walkable city. The streets are wonderful to wander and get lost in. There are free walking tours filled with history of the colorful city – to sign up, just google Free Walking Tour Barcelona.
For the sites that are farther from the city center, like the Sagrada Família or Park Güell, take the metro. To save money, get the T-10 tickets that offer you 10 rides that can be split across a group (up to 10 people for €9.95). Bike tours are also popular ways of getting around. But be aware that there are many narrow, crowded streets to navigate, so some biking skills are required.
The Sites & Museums
Gaudí is the beloved architect of Barcelona. You can see his works all over town. There are special discounts for certain ages and students at most sites. Also note, that most museums and sites are free certain times on Sundays and all day the first Sunday of every month. It’s not possible to cover all the sites and museums Barcelona has to offer in this one article because there are so many. Here’s a rundown of some of the most popular sites.
Sagrada Família: Gaudí’s work on this basilica is famous for many reasons. It’s taken over 110 years to build and as of 2017, it’s not done yet. You can get to the basilica easily by metro – it’s right next to a stop! You have the option of touring the basilica yourself, using a guided tour, or touring with an audio guide. It’s a good idea to purchase your entrance tickets online beforehand (they offer timed tickets) to avoid lines and the potential of selling out the time you prefer. People under 30 years old get a reduced price.
Park Güell: The outdoor park and gardens made by Gaudí are whimsical and offer great views of the city. The outer gardens are free to enter at all times. A ticket, less than €10, is required to get to the mosaic upper deck of the park. Tickets for popular times can book up days ahead of time, so plan ahead if you have a strict schedule. Tickets are discounted after 3:30pm on the first Sundays of the month. You could spend all day wandering the grounds.
It’s a strenuous hike from the metro, so many visitors recommend taking a taxi. Pro tip: if you arrive before opening, 8:30am, or after closing, 7pm, you can enter the park for free no matter what day it is.
Camp Nou: Check out the most visited museum in Barcelona – the stadium where FC Barcelona plays, €20 for a tour. Check the playing schedule and catch a game – this is a separate ticket from the museum. Fútbol (soccer) is a very important part of the culture.
Magic Fountain of Montjuïc: Enjoy the famous, nightly fountain show. It’s free, right by the Espanya metro, and a great way to end the day.
Museums/Basilicas/Viewpoints: There are many museums around the city, like the Picasso Museum (€11), Casa Batlló (a luxury home designed by Gaudí, €23.50 to get inside), and many smaller, but still grand basilicas. You could make a day of visiting museums and heading to the top of hills to get a breathtaking view of the city.
The official language is Catalan, but you can easily navigate with Spanish or English. Don’t confuse Catalan as just a dialect of Spanish though!
The city is safe. The biggest worry is pickpockets, especially in large crowds. Las Ramblas in specific is a very high target point for pickpockets. Keep your valuables close. Only carry things in your front pockets, preferably zippered, and inner pockets of bags. Stay conscious of where your valuables are.
Best time to Visit
There are lots of (good) factors, like festivals and weather, to consider when you plan your Barcelona trip. Summer is always the most crowded for tourists, but also brings the best beach weather. There’s also a Catalan tradition that takes place most Saturdays in the summer where you can witness human towers of up to 10 people standing on one another’s shoulders. If you’re keen on watching an FC Barcelona game, the season goes from August – May. Check out their schedule beforehand.
With the attraction discounts, Barcelona is a great place to visit when you’re under 26. You’ll be able to take advantage of the perks, plus the nightlife is great. If you overlap your stay over a Sunday, you’ll get a chance to see a site or two for free.
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