Barcelona is one of the most iconic and most visited cities in Europe, which can make looking for advice quite overwhelming. As someone who loves the city so much that I decided to move here, I thought I would put together some quick tips to make your life a little bit easier when doing research for your trip. Here I have come up with five tips to make you that much more of an expert for when you find yourself in this little slice of Catalan paradise.
1. Lay of the Land
Barcelona has many distinct neighborhoods that each contain their own unique vibe. Choosing which neighborhood to stay in or where everything is in relation to one another can be quite a daunting task, but I hope to make it a bit easier with this quick guide.
The windy and historic streets of the Gothic Quarter make this an attractive neighborhood for many tourists when selecting an area to stay in. This bustling barrio contains many of the city's main tourist attractions, like Las Ramblas and Barcelona Cathedral. I definitely suggest taking a guided walking tour of the Gothic Quarter to get the historic run-down of all of the fascinating facts that lurk behind every corner.
This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in the city and my personal recommended place to stay if you are wanting to stay within the old part of the city (which you can see marked in light yellow on the map above.) El Born is a very "hip" part of town containing many artisan shops, tapas bars, and some of the city's most famous cocktail bars -- such as Paradiso for example. The windy little streets will transport you back in time as you allow yourself to get lost within the maze of this cute barrio.
Eixample (meaning Expansion in Catalan), is the largest and most central part of the city. If you have seen aerial photos of Barcelona, they were most likely taken within this district. The famous grid-lined streets and inner courtyards within the city blocks, make this neighborhood one of the most intentionally designed communities from the 19th century. It was during this time that the Modernist movement in architecture really took off and created some of the city's most emblematic buildings, like Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia. Within this area, you will find many beautiful examples of architecture and have easy access to the rest of the city. I definitely recommend staying in this neighborhood if you have the chance due to its beauty, walkability, and central location.
This neighborhood is a bit off the beaten path for most tourists but is actually my personal favorite. This barrio was a small town of its own that was annexed by Barcelona in 1897 after the expansion of Eixample joined it with the old part of the city. Here you will find many beautiful squares lined with restaurants and outdoor seating, as well as many artisan shops and bars along the narrow passageways. One of my favorite activities is to go to one of Gracia's many beautiful squares and just get drinks with friends to enjoy the sunny weather and grade-A people-watching.
The seaside neighborhood of Barceloneta is home to Barcelona's most famous beach named after the neighborhood itself. It is here that you will find the best Paella and other seafood dishes, as this was the part of town where most of the fishermen resided in. Barceloneta was actually built over an old coral reef and island in the 15th century in an attempt to expand the city with the construction of Barcelona's first port. The architecture in this part of town is simple and residential, but its proximity to the beach is unmatched.
As the name suggests, this neighborhood was actually created on the site of the 1992 Olympic village. It is where you will find many nightclubs, trendy seaside restaurants, Barcelona's largest casino, and Nova Icaria beach. This part of town definitely has a more of a modern feel to it than the majority of the city and you will spot several skyscrapers and modern sculptures as you explore this side of Barcelona.
On the opposite side of Las Ramblas from the Gothic Quarter, you will find the artistic barrio of El Raval. It is here that you will find Barcelona's most famous food market La Boqueria, which is a definite must-see if you are coming to the city. There are also many trendy bars and restaurants around every corner. If you are into vintage shopping, try walking down Carrer dels Tallers, where you will find "Vintage-Kilo" shops lining the streets. While this neighborhood often gets a bad rap, it is definitely worth checking out.
Often overlooked by visitors, Sant Antoni is a gem of a neighborhood with bodegas, gin & tonic joints, and casual dining around every turn. Its central location yet lack of touristic fair, make this the perfect neighborhood for taking a peek into the everyday lives of the local people. Sant Antoni is also home to an iconic food market housed within a gorgeous iron structure that was typical of the Modernist markets built towards the end of the 19th century. On Sundays, this market has a large second-hand book seller's event as well, so if you are a book lover, you should add it to your list.
2. Where to Stay
This hostel has a bit of a special place in my heart because it is not only the first hostel I ever stayed in, but is also the first place I ever stayed in Barcelona, my now home. You should forget all of your previous stereotypes about hostels for this place because it is absolutely gorgeous and has a very high-end feel with a lower-end price tag. The location is also super amazing being right on the border of Gracia and Eixample and at the beginning of one of Barcelona's most iconic streets: Passeig de Gracia.
$$ - BCNGOTIC (125/night)
If you are wanting to stay in the old city and prefer to stay in an apartment rather than a hotel, then this is definitely the place for you. These apartments are located in El Born, right by the famous cathedral Santa Maria del Mar and super close to the metro station Jaume I, making this an incredible location. While Airbnb is the typical choice for travelers looking for apartments, Barcelona has very strict laws around travel rentals and not all of the listings on Airbnb are legal, making it difficult to navigate. This is almost like a hotel/Airbnb hybrid as the entire building is vacation rentals and the service is top-notch. The bonus is that these apartments also have air conditioning!
For a higher-end option, this is a wonderful hotel in a great location right off of Passeig de Gracia - the Champs-Élysées of Barcelona. From the roof-top terrace and pool, you have a gorgeous view of Casa Mila, one of Antoni Gaudi's most famous architectural marvels. If you are looking for a luxurious option in the center of the city, then look no further.
While I have not had the chance the stay at this hotel myself, it came very highly recommended by family members of mine. It is in the heart of the Gothic Quarter and transports you to another time with the classic Catalan architecture. It is a very small boutique hotel with only 22 rooms, so it is an exclusive experience. If you want an experience equal in culture and luxury, then this is definitely your best option.
3. Getting Around
Taxis in Barcelona are quite cheap in comparison to the soaring uber prices in the United States. On average for a 15-minute ride, you will pay around 10€. If you have a larger group, this can be quite an economic option and will get you quickly to your destination. All Taxis in Barcelona accept card as well, so no need to worry about carrying cash around for this purpose.
The metro or "subway" as many Americans know it to be called, is an amazing way to get around the city and is nothing to be intimidated by. The metro system in Barcelona is super comprehensive and can get you pretty much anywhere in a flash. I suggest purchasing the T-Casual ticket, which will give you 10 rides for 11.35€. This ticket not only includes the metro, but also the bus, trams, and roadalies (local trains) within zone 1, which includes the entire city shown on the map under "Lay of the Land" on this post. Google Maps does a great job of giving directions within the metro system, I also can recommend the app Moovit for getting directions as well.
You can purchase tickets at any metro stop with the machines and they all have the option to switch to English to ensure that you are getting the right tickets. You can also purchase tickets at the Tabac shops that can be found all over the city.
The bus system in Barcelona is incredibly comprehensive and very safe as well. Just like the Metro, I recommend purchasing the T-Casual ticket which gives you 10 Journeys for 11.35€, you can purchase this ticket at any metro stop or Tabac shop. Unlike the Metro, the busses have a night bus system that allows them to run all night long. You can also use Google Maps for very good directions and bus times, to ensure that you navigate everything like a pro.
Barcelona is super bike-friendly and has wonderful bike lanes all over the city. Oftentimes, cycling is the fastest way to get around the city. While Barcelona does have bike docs only for locals called Smou, tourists also have access to a wonderful company called Donkey Republic. All you need to do is download the app and you then are able to see all of the available bikes to rent at the click of a button.
Believe it or not, Barcelona is actually quite a compact city and is extremely walkable. I can regularly go a week or so without using the bus or metro and just walk everywhere. The entire city is very pedestrian-friendly and very safe. While there are pickpockets in the more touristy areas, they always go for the easiest target, so just be cautious and you will be completely fine. As a young woman who is typically walking alone, I feel very safe in most areas. The only places I often take more caution walking alone are the Gothic Quarter, El Raval, and Barceloneta past midnight, but with friends, you will be fine.
4. Best Season to Visit
While many think of Spain as a summer destination, there are just as many things to see and enjoy in the winter as well. The weather typically ranges from a high of 59°F (15°C) to a low of 47°F (8°C), so while it is chilly it is still very enjoyable. The crowds are significantly smaller than in the summer months and there are plenty of festivities centered around the holidays. Christmas markets are in the main squares and festive lights line the main streets from late November to Mid-January. In February you even can experience Carnival with a parade in each neighborhood. You can enjoy picnics on the beach, colorful lights, and stroll the streets with the locals if you decide to visit in the winter months.
This is when the city really starts to come back to life from the sleepy winter. Tourism picks up and the city begins to flourish as the greenery returns to foliage lining the promenades. The weather is still a bit chilly in the Spring, so definitely bring some clothing for cooler weather. The high is on average around 65°F (18°C) and the low is on average around 50°F (10°C), so pack a light jacket and some light sweaters, not just shorts and sundresses. It is also prone to more rainy weather in the Spring, so come prepared with an umbrella just in case.
Sunny beach days, drinking tinto de verano in a bustling plaza, summer festivals and rooftop parties are all that await you and the millions of other vacationers in Barcelona during the summer months. This is by far the liveliest time of the year to visit the city, but with good reason. The temperature averages from a high of 83°F (28°C) to a low of 74°F (23°C), however, airconditioning is not super common, so keep this in mind fellow Americans. While Barcelona has many beaches, I suggest if you are wanting a beach day to take the train up the coast about 40 minutes to Sitges or rent a car for the day and head up the Costa Brava for a more relaxed and scenic atmosphere.
The herd of tourists finally begins to dwindle to manageable levels and the leaves turn to sepia tones during these cozy few months. Fall is a wonderful time to visit the city as temperatures are very pleasant with an average high of 75°F (24°C) and a low of 60°F (15°C). This of course varies depending on the month, but it really is lovely and this is the least touristy time of year while the weather is still warm. There is a Jazz festival, a film festival in Sitges, and Portadventura goes all out with Halloween decorations and festivities during the fall. There are lots of things to see and do during the fall, so I highly recommend visiting at this time of year.
5. Must-See Attractions
Antoni Gaudi's most famous feat of architecture has to be this incredible Basilica. While you may have grown tired of visiting cathedrals on your Europe trip, I can guarantee that this is nothing like your previous experiences and you 100% have to see this for yourself.
Another one of Antoni Gaudi's creations (you will see a theme here) is this incredible park. It costs 10€ to enter and you can either purchase tickets online or at the park entrance. The greenery is gorgeous and the architecture is iconic.
You guessed it, another Gaudi creation. This amazing apartment was modeled to look like a dragon, which is very symbolic for Barcelona due to the myth of Sant Jordi slaying a dragon. The inside is just as unique as its exterior, however, if you aren't staying longer than 4 days, I wouldn't say that entering is a huge priority as it is quite pricey at 35€ to enter. Seeing it from the outside, however, is a must-do.
Similar to Casa Batllo, Casa Mila is another Gaudi masterpiece that I wouldn't say is absolutely necessary to enter as it is 25€. However, it is a must-see from the exterior and it is located super close to Casa Batllo on Passeig de Gracia.
Gothic Quarter Tour
I always recommend doing a tour of Barcelona's oldest historic neighborhood as it really gives the best foundation for understanding the history of the city. Tours are on average two hours long and if you are a solo traveler, they are also a wonderful way to meet people. Here is a link to a free (tip-based) walking tour that I recommend.
This iconic boulevard divides Barcelona's Gothic Quarter and El Raval and stretches from Plaça Catalunya to the Cristopher Colombus statue at the base of Port Vell. It is a beautiful street, but I do not recommend going to any of the restaurants that line the street as they are all tourist traps. However, you can find some great places down the side streets or go to the next destination on this list.
This is the most famous market in all of Barcelona and for good reason. It has a huge array of stalls and restaurants featuring Jamon, cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, and all sorts of tapas and local cuisine. It is a feast for all the senses and shows a glimpse into Barcelona's Market culture. Each Barrio in Barcelona actually houses its own market, so I recommend going to visit a few others as well.
The busiest and most popular of Barcelona's beaches is definitely Barceloneta. It is the closest to the city center and has the most Iconic views of the W Hotel and palm trees. During the summer this beach is definitely a bit too crowded, but it is wonderful during the other months of the year for a picnic or to have a drink at one of the Xiriguitos (casual beach-side restaurants) that line the beach.
This scenic hill located in the southwest region of the city has it all. There is a castle overlooking the port with gorgeous views of the entire city, there are beautifully landscaped parks, the Olympic stadium from the 1992 Olympics is located here, and there is even a swimming pool with a restaurant and scenic views. If you want to escape the busyness of the city for a bit, then you should definitely explore Montjuic.
Barcelona's first public park is located between the neighborhoods of El Born and Polbenou. It contains a beautiful fountain, a small pond with rowboats, the city zoo, and several government buildings. It is a great place to just go have a picnic with friends or to take a stroll through some beautiful greenery. From here you can also go to the Arc de Triomf, which is located on the western side of the park.
If you plan to visit a museum in Barcelona, then I think the Picasso Museum should be at the top of your list. This museum was commissioned by the artist himself and shows his artistic evolution and life story through his work over time. If you have ever been confused by Picasso's eccentric cubism, then I think you will come away from this museum understanding him and this style so much more.
Bunkers of Carmel
Barcelona has some amazing viewpoints, but the Bunkers of Carmel wins the grand prize for best views in my book. These old military bunkers that were used during the civil war have been overtaken as a popular sunset spot. It is free to enter and you can either endure the hike up or take the bus that will drop you off with a 7-minute walk up to the top. Bring a blanket, snacks, and some bottles of wine and watch the sun drop over gorgeous views of the city and the sea.