Last Updated on 11th June 2020 by Sophie Nadeau
If there’s one city that travellers put on European bucket lists more than most others, it’s likely Barcelona. Situated in the East of Spain and capital of the Catalonia region, the vibrant city is not only home to the beach, and plenty of Gaudí architecture, but also a fantastic foodie scene worth devouring. So whether you’re travelling to Barcelona for the first time, fiftieth time, or hundreth time, here are the best Barcelona travel tips you need to know before your visit!
#1 Familiarise yourself with these basic Barcelona travel tips
If I could give you just one tip for visiting the city, it would be to familiarise yourself with a few basic facts about the city. For example, Barcelona is to be found within Spain, which uses the euro currency. Next, Spain is by and large a Catholic country, meaning that most grocery shops and the like are closed on Sundays. Be prepared and purchase everything you need before it comes round to Sunday.
#2 Plan your Barcelona visit at the right time!
If you want the best prices, fewer queues but still want to make the most of the good weather, then you’ll do well by planning your visit to Barcelona to be just before or just after peak season (i.e. the summer holidays and particularly school holidays). This way, everything will be open but you won’t be queueing nearly as much and the price of accommodation and travel (airfares) are likely to be significantly lower.
#3 Go in search of Gaudí locations
Gaudi arrived in Barcelona at just aged 16 in order to study architecture and he continued living in the city for the rest of his life, leaving behind a legacy of fantastical buildings, monuments, and many a wonderful architectural piece worth seeing. From Parc Güell to Casa Batllò, if there’s just one thing you should do in Barcelona, it should be to seek out the best of Gaudí works.
#4 Enjoy free museum days on the first Sunday of the month
Much like in Paris, visitors to Barcelona can benefit from free museum visits on the first Sunday of every month. As such, if you’re looking to enjoy Barcelona on a budget, this can be a great way to see the best of the city (and its many museums) without breaking the bank. Some of the top museums included in the programme include Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Montjuïc Castle (a former military fortress atop the Montjuïc hill).
#5 Purchase tickets to every major Barcelona attraction well in advance
And while we’re on the subject of visiting Gaudí sites across the city, be sure to note that if you’re looking to see many of Barcelona’s main paid attractions, then you should be sure to purchase your tickets well in advance. This way, you’ll not only benefit from a skip-the-line function, but also be able to visit on the day and at the time you so desire.
For example, if you wish to see Casa Batllò, be sure to book your skip-the-line ticket ahead of time here. Of course, the most famous attraction which Barcelona has to offer is the as-of-yet uncompleted Sagrada Familia cathedral, which is a fantastical blend of organic forms and intricate carvings. A must-see when in Barcelona, purchase your Sagrada Familia ticket here in advance.
#6 Pack a universal travel adapter
If you’re travelling from outside of mainland Europe, then chances are that you’ll need to pack a universal travel adapter so as to keep all your electronics (and particularly your camera) charged on the go! Buy an adapter like this one to ensure that you don’t get caught out!
#7 Always have cash on you!
Much like in many parts of Germany, a lot of establishments in Spain (particularly smaller ones like corner convenience stores and independent coffee shops), don’t accept card, or only accept card if the payment is over a larger amount like €10 or €15. As such, be sure to always carry a bit of cash on you so as to pay for smaller items like books, sandwiches, or coffees. ATMs are readily available throughout the city.
#8 Do I need to tip in Barcelona?
If it’s your first time in Europe, then you should note that tipping is not expected, though is almost always welcome. Staff are paid a living wage and so tipping is not commonplace. This is also the case in Barcelona. If you do wish to tip, people generally leave a tip of around 10% and 15% if the service is particularly excellent. If you’re taking a taxi, then you would generally round up the price if you wish to tip.
#9 Book your accommodation to be in the city centre
Sure, booking to stay in the heart of Barcelona will cost you a little more than if you opt to book accommodation outside of the city centre. However, what you pay for in fees you’ll more than make up for in ease of access to the rest of the city, not to mention that you’ll save precious exploration time as opposed to wasting your hours in the city commuting!
I personally stayed at this boutique hotel in the Gothic area of the city and loved every moment of it. From easy access to nearby restaurants to a rooftop pool complete with panoramic views over the city, I highly recommend booking to stay at this Barcelona accommodation. And if you’re looking for an über luxe experience while in the Catalonia capital, consider booking to stay at this luxury hotel.
#10 Barcelona is a great solo travel destination
After the likes of Amsterdam, Zurich, and Edinburgh, one of my favourite places to go solo in Europe is Barcelona. After all, the city is packed with activities and things to do (including group tours if you’re looking to explore together with a larger group of people).
If you’re planning to stay in more budget accommodation, then the sheer number of tourists that visit the city on an annual basis means that there are plenty of hostels to choose from. Otherwise, though it’s only polite to learn a few words of the local language, most people speak a fantastic level of English, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to get by. For more Barcelona travel tips and Barcelona mistakes to avoid, check out my solo travel guide to Barcelona.
#11 Avoid eating food along las Ramblas
Due to its incredible popularity, Las Ramblas is now home to a myriad of tourist traps and overpriced foodie spots which aren’t necessarily of the highest quality. As always, I recommend avoiding spots which display photos of food on the menu as well as those directly along the main Barcelona thoroughfare. Instead, head just a few streets back and you’re guaranteed to find much better quality food (and tapas) at more reasonable rates!
#12 Pack comfortable walking shoes!
The capital of Catalonia is a city best explored on foot over the course of several days. Thanks to its many cobbled streets and narrow alleyways (not to mention plethora of hidden attractions), this is the best way to discover Barcelona’s lesser known spots.
As such, you’ll want to pack comfortable walking shoes like these ones. In the warmer months, I love wearing chic sandals which pair well with summer dresses. This brand does particularly lovely vegan sandals. Last but not least, if you want to see many of the city’s main attractions in one go, then check out my free and self-guided Barcelona walking tour.
#13 Remember that you can’t see everything in one go
One of the biggest Barcelona mistakes you could make would be to expect to see everything that the Spanish city has to offer in one go. Instead, travel at a slower pace, focus on several aspects of the city (perhaps the museums and galleries or the interesting architecture), and soak up the ambiance of Barcelona. Sure, you won’t get to see everything in one go, but you’ll also get a true feel for the local culture and likely enjoy your experience much more as a result.
#14 There are two co-official languages of Barcelona
Typically, the Spanish you learn at school is that of Castilian Spanish. However, more widely spoken in Barcelona, as the capital of the Catalonia region, is that of Catalan Spanish. The language is also spoken in the Spanish regions of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, as well as parts of Spain, Italy, and in the principality of Andorra. Both Catalan and Castilian are seen on signs throughout Barcelona and the wider Catalonia region.
#15 Discover Barcelona’s bookshop scene
While most visitors to Barcelona frequent the city with the expectation of wonderful food and a lovely time marvelling at all the Gaudi architecture to be found throughout the Catalonia capital, what many people don’t realise is that there’s a fantastic bookshop scene in the city. I particularly recommend Laie Librería Café (coffee served with a side of books) and Librería Altaïr (which offers a fantastic selection of travel tomes).
#16 Sangria isn’t typically the drink of choice
Though you might think that Sangria is as synonymous with drinking in Spain as wine is to France of beer is to Belgium, this is simply not the case when it comes to visiting Barcelona. Instead of Sangria (though you can still order this wine-based drink in most restaurants), locals tend to order Cava (a type of sparkling wine) or Vermouth.
#17 Fly into the correct Barcelona airport!
As is the case with so many major European cities, Milano and London to name but a couple, many of the ‘Barcelona’ named airports are actually very far away from the city. Barcelona Reus and Barcelona Girona are both dozens of kilometres away from the city, meaning that what you save in air fares will soon be lost in the form of valuable transport time and train tickets to reach Barcelona proper. As such, be sure to book your ticket to Barcelona El Prato where possible!
#18 Dinner is usually eaten late (and many restaurants open later than you might be used to)
Much like in France and Italy, people in Spain tend to eat much later than in other European destinations like the UK, Sweden, or Germany. Most restaurants don’t even open until at least 7:30 PM and people will typically eat from 9 PM onwards through to 11 PM. If you’re looking to go clubbing, then while most clubs close by 2:30 PM in the UK, people don’t even generally tend to go out before midnight in Barcelona and clubs are frequently open until 5 AM, if not later.
#19 Discover Barcelona’s Hidden Gems
Of course, after you’ve seen the city’s main attractions, there’s a whole secret side of Barcelona worth discovering too. From off the beaten path museums to discovering Roman artefacts (like this Roman temple of Augustus) from some two millennia ago, there’s no shortage of secret spots you’ll want to see for yourself.
#20 Be wary of pickpockets
Though Barcelona generally tends to be a safe city (and as safe as your hometown), pickpockets operate in every area of the city, and especially the more touristic parts such as along Las Ramblas. As such, be sure to keep an eye on your belongings at all times. I also highly advise to avoid wearing a backpack and to instead opt for a crossbody bag like these ones.
#21 Don’t visit La Barceloneta Beach
Over the past decade or so, and in particular the past few years, Barceloneta Beach has become increasingly overtouristed, meaning that it should be your last port of call if you’re looking to hang out on a beach when in Barcelona. What was once one of the top things to do in Barcelona has since become something of a tourist trap and so instead you’ll want to visit Nova Icaria Beach or Ocata Beach.
#22 There is a gluten-free Barcelona waiting to be discovered
If you’re gluten-free and are venturing to Barcelona, then it’s well worth noting that there is an entire gluten-free side to Barcelona beyond the tapas. Some of the best foodie spots for gluten-free grub in the Catalonia capital city include Pastisseria Jansana (a Gluten Free bakery) and Copasetic (gluten-free sit down food such as burgers, cocktails, and pancakes).
#23 There’s plenty of vegan and vegetarian food in Barcelona
If you eat meat-free and it’s your first time in Barcelona, then don’t worry because there are plenty of vegan and vegetarian options to be found, if only you know where to look. Though many tapas dishes tend to err on the meat side of things, some of the best veggie-friendly restaurants in the city include Teresa Carlos, Veggie Garden, and Quinoa Bar Vegetarià.
#24 Don’t try and walk from the cruise port
Though the cruise port may look fairly close to the rest of the city on the map, it most certainly isn’t! As such, one of the best Barcelona travel tips would be avoid trying to walk from the cruise port to elsewhere in the city if you’re arriving in the Catalonia city by boat. Instead, opt to take the handy shuttle bus, which will cost you just a few euros.
#25 Escape the city (at least once!)
If you want to get a taste for life in Spain outside of the big city, then Barcelona makes for a great base from which to explore the wider region. For example, the Monastery at Montserrat is a stunning ecclesiastical building set high up in the mountains, while the city of Girona is all pretty is pastel hues and most recently featured as the backdrop for several episodes of the hit TV show, Game of Thrones.
For those who are looking to head a little more off the beaten path, the city of Figueres is less than a couple of hours away from Barcelona and offers a Napoleonic era fortification worth exploring, several eateries serving traditional Catalonian fare, and Dalí’s self-made museum, which features room after room of quirky artworks and installations.
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