Make the most out of your trip to Barcelona and check out this travel guide with everything you need to know before you go!
Barcelona has everything you’re looking for in a city trip. There’s loads of history, a vibrant city life, more shops than you can count, it’s foodie heaven, it has perfect weather and there’s even a beach! There’s truly something for everyone!
Barcelona is a city on the east coast of Spain. It’s the capital of the Catalonia region and besides Spanish you’ll hear a lot of local people speak Catalan. Barcelona is known for its art and architecture. The mind-boggling Sagrada Familia cathedral and other stunning Gaudí landmarks are scattered around the city. The Gothic Quarter will take you back to medieval times and if you pay attention you’ll even come across some ancient Roman ruins!
Keep on reading for all the tips and tricks to make your visit to this stunning city unforgettable!
In Barcelona there are two official languages: Spanish and Catalan. Barcelona is the capital city of the Catalonia region of Spain. The Catalonia region has its own language, food specialities and traditions. In Spain, the Catalan language is spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Outside of Spain, it’s spoken in some parts of France and Italy and it’s also the official language of Andorra.
Since this region has both Catalan and Spanish as its two official languages you’ll notice that both are visible on road signs, ads and in the media. Most Barcelona residents are fluent in both Catalan and Spanish. Don’t worry if you don’t speak either of these languages, we found that many of the locals speak English as well. Many restaurants have a separate English menu for tourists, or they print the English translation underneath. It’s really incredible to see that many inhabitants of this region speak at least three languages fluently!
The Euro (€) is the official currency used in all of Spain. We paid by card everywhere we went, even tiny tapas bars where only locals went accepted payment by card. We did notice that sometimes it’s not possible to give a tip when paying by card so it’s a good idea to have some cash on hand for tipping.
Tap Water Safety
Tap water is regarded as safe to drink but has a peculiar taste because of the chlorine treatment. Many locals and tourists stick to bottled water for this reason. There are many small grocery shops all around the city where you can buy bottled water. If you have no problem with the taste you’ll be happy to know that throughout the city you’ll find many drink water fountains where you can refill your own bottle.
How to get around in Barcelona
- On foot: The best way to get around is on foot. Many of the popular sights are within walking distance of each other. Some places of interest can be found a bit further away, it’s best to go there by public transport or taxi and then walk around on site. While strolling around you’ll come across many cute little side streets, small shops and beautiful buildings around every corner!
- Public Transport: There are many public transportation options like buses, metros and trains. Using public transportation is the most cost-effective way to quickly get to another part of the city. If you plan on using a lot of public transportation during your stay then buying a ‘Hola Barcelona Travel Card’ is a good idea. Depending on the type of card you buy you’ll get 2,3,4 or 5 days of unlimited access to all forms of public transport.
- Car: Renting a car for a stay within Barcelona is not advised, but this is a great option if you plan on doing a day trip outside the city. For quick and easy transportation within the city there are plenty of black and yellow taxis around. These can simply be hailed from the side of the road or ordered via a mobile app. Using a taxi is the easiest and most convenient option, but also the most expensive one. We used ‘Freenow’ while we were there, it’s similar to Uber. Many of the taxis also offer rides using the Freenow app. We liked this because you know exactly how much a certain trip will cost you in advance. Keep in mind that if you’re in a group, going by taxi might actually be cheaper since you can split the costs!
Getting from the airport to Barcelona city centre
Depending on your budget and time restraints there are several options to get to and from the airport. The closest airport is Barcelona – El Prat (BCN) which is about 14 kilometres away from the city centre. Officially this airport is called the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona - El Prat Airport.
Important note for your flight back home:
Barcelona Airport has 2 terminals. Make sure you know which terminal you’re flying from. Terminal 1 (T1) and Terminal 2 (T2) are located 4 km apart. There is a free shuttle bus that connects the two terminals, but keep in mind that this will take between 10-15 minutes. Your departure terminal can be found on your flight details.
To get from the airport to the city centre (and vice versa) you’ll have several options to choose from.
- By car: The easiest and most comfortable way to get to the city centre with your luggage is by car. You’ll find a long line of taxis outside the airport that will take you to the centre in about 30 minutes depending on the traffic. We took an Uber which cost us €39. We later found out that 'Freenow' is the app that most people in Barcelona use instead of Uber. The cost of a taxi should be similar.
- By bus: The Aerobus service will take you from the airport (both terminals) directly to the city centre in about 30-35 minutes. It runs 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. At the time of writing a one-way ticket will cost you €5,90 while a return ticket is €10,20. They also offer combination tickets with the ‘Hola Barcelona Travel Card’ which gives you access to public transport for a set amount of hours. The Aerobus makes several stops with Plaça Catalunya as its final stop. Make sure to check that one of these stops is near your hotel. Our hotel was a 20-minute walk from the final stop, which meant we would either have to walk from there or continue on another form of public transport. We opted to get a taxi instead, but if your hotel is close to a stop or you’re travelling light then the Aerobus is a great way to get to the city centre! The regular bus (number 46) is the cheapest option to get to the city centre during the daytime. But keep in mind that it runs less frequently and makes a lot of stops. Getting to the centre will almost take an hour and you’ll probably need another form of transport to get to your actual end destination.
- By underground (metro): The metro connects both airport Terminal T1 and T2 with the city centre and takes about 30 minutes. It’s important to note that there’s no direct metro line from the airport to the city centre. From the airport, you take metro line L9 Sud from where you’ll have to transfer to line L1 to get to the actual city centre, you might even need an extra transfer to line L4 to get closer to the Gothic Quarter. The metro goes every 7 minutes, but note that it usually only runs from 5 AM to midnight (with extra runtimes on Friday and Saturday night).
- By train: The R2 Nord train line will take you from the airport to the city centre. Depending on where you need to be you’ll probably need another form of transportation to your final destination. Trains run every half hour and will take about 30 minutes. Keep in mind that the train only leaves from airport Terminal 2 so if you arrive at Terminal 1 you will first need to take the free shuttle bus to the other terminal.
When to visit Barcelona?
Most people think of Barcelona as a spring and summer destination. While these two seasons are definitely the liveliest when it comes to festivals and tourists, each season has its own charms. Barcelona has a Mediterranean climate with hot summers and mild winters, making it a perfect year-round destination for city trips.
- Winter: The winters in Barcelona are mild with temperatures ranging between 5-15°C (41-59°F). The days can be sunny but will feel chilly because of the cold sea air.
- Spring: In March and April the temperature will start to rise towards 20°C (68°F). The travel season will usually start from May onwards, when the temperatures start getting warmer as well. The spring weather is still very changeable so be sure to wear layers. And don’t forget to bring an umbrella for the occasional spring rain shower. At night the temperature will usually still drop quite a bit.
- Summer: The summers in Barcelona can be hot with average temperatures between 22-28°C (70-83°F). Especially the months of July and August can be really hot! Of course, there’s always the beach to escape to if you need to cool off. During the summer months there are also many outdoor activities like festivals, concerts and street parades. The summer is the busiest time of year with loads of tourists exploring the city.
- Autumn: From September onwards the temperature will start dropping again from 25°C (77°F) in September to around 15°C (59°F) in November. There can also be some occasional rain and cloudy weather. Since this is the low season it’s ideal for exploring the city without masses of tourists.
Plan ahead and make the most of your stay
Barcelona is a bustling city with loads of things to see, do, eat, try and experience. Plan ahead and decide what to put on your Barcelona bucket list. You probably won’t be able to do everything Barcelona has to offer in one visit so planning it out helps you get the most out of your trip.
Here are some planning tips to keep in mind:
Buy online tickets to sights:
Most of the tourist attractions like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Casa Mila can have huge waiting lines. Buy your tickets in advance and be sure of your spot. Tickets are sold with a date and time slot making it super easy to plan your day with little time wasted standing in line. Some lines can actually take hours only to find out that there are no more tickets available for that day, so be sure to pre-book your activities online.
Important side note: only buy your tickets through the original sights website. Resellers will often add extra fees.
Online restaurant reservations:
This is definitely not a necessity, but we found that in the high season restaurants get very busy, especially the popular ones. Many have a website where you can make an online reservation, often even for the same day. We usually booked our dinner for that day during the afternoon to be sure of a spot. This was purely because we had a bucket list of restaurants we wanted to go to. You can also take the chance and just walk in, especially if you're travelling as a couple there's a good chance they'll be able to find you a table on the spot.
If you want to find out which authentic restaurants in Barcelona you shouldn’t miss out on, then sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know when our “Where to eat in Barcelona” article goes live!
Closed on Sunday:
Keep in mind that on Sunday many shops and restaurants are closed. This was the only day we had trouble finding a restaurant because all that were on our list were either closed or not in our area. After walking around for a long time and being tired and hungry we decided to get in line for a popular spot that actually had high ratings on TripAdvisor. This was the only spot we weren’t raving about, the food was by no means bad, but there are far better restaurants in this city!
The main shops are closed on Sunday as well, but in the touristy areas most tourist shops will remain open. Most of the tourist attractions and museums are also open on Sunday.
Plan your days:
Normally we don’t like to plan our entire holiday but since Barcelona in the summer is a very busy place you really should at least make a general itinerary. Decide on which attractions you want to see or which areas you absolutely want to visit. We recommend tackling one area of this city per day. That way you can pre-book tickets to sights that you do not want to miss, maybe book a restaurant for lunch or dinner and spend the rest of the time exploring that area on foot. You’ll make the most of your time there without spending too much time in a taxi or bus to get from one place to the next.
If you want more tips on what to see and do then check out this article where we will tell you about the top 10 things to do in Barcelona!
How to avoid scams, pickpockets & tourist traps
Like most popular tourist destinations there are plenty of scammers, pickpockets and tourist traps trying to get your money. Unfortunately, Barcelona has gotten a really bad name when it comes to pickpockets. Don’t let this scare you away! These things go on in every big city. A bit of common sense and being aware of your surroundings will prevent most issues. Here are our top tips to help prevent these issues from ruining your holiday:
How to avoid scams:
- Don’t buy anything from street vendors. You’ll notice people selling random knick knacks on street corners. A popular example is a person selling a toy that looks like a cartoon character that jumps around to the beat of the boombox next to it. People think it’s a fun toy, turns out they’re just buying a piece of paper. Usually there are other street vendors around selling other junk as well. Just ignore them and go to a real shop if you want to buy a souvenir.
- Be wary of beggars, many of them work in groups and are trying to steal your wallet. It’s best to ignore them, avoid confrontation and just walk away.
- Don’t join in any games that are going on in the streets. They’re all scams, you’ll never win any of these games and many of the onlookers are in on the game. Some might even try to pickpocket you while you’re distracted.
How to avoid pickpockets:
Losing your valuables to a pickpocket is a sure way to ruin your holiday. Unfortunately you can never 100% avoid this from happening, but you can definitely do several things to minimize the chance of this happening to you. The best thing to do is not make an easy target of yourself. Pickpockets go for the easiest victim they can find, make sure that isn’t you. Here are some tips:
- Keep your belongings within eyesight. If you wear a backpack then wear it on the front of your body. If you wear a cross-body purse make sure to wear it that way, not just hanging from one shoulder and keep the bag on the front of your body. Try to find a bag that’s more difficult to open. The more difficult it is, the more chance the pickpocket will try an easier victim.
- Be extra cautious in crowded places, touristy areas and public transportation. Crowded places are a pickpocket’s heaven. You’re easily distracted by all that is going on around you and you won’t notice people coming up close or rubbing up against you in a busy subway train. Try to always keep a physical distance from other people, and always know where your belongings are.
- Do not keep your wallet (or any other valuable item) in your back pocket. It’s easy to spot and easy to steal. You’ll never feel it if they take it out. It can also easily fall out when you sit down.
- Do not put your phone on the table. Not even within arms reach. It can easily be snatched. A scammer may try covering your phone with something else (newspaper, clipboard, piece of clothing) and snatch your phone when they leave.
- Be careful when you take your phone out in public. Since I use my phone for taking photos and videos I tied a wristband to my phone case. This way my phone was securely attached to my wrist at all times. This also gives some peace of mind when taking pictures from a height since you can’t accidentally drop your phone either!
- Do not hang your purse or backpack from the back of a chair. This is out of your line of sight. Keep your purse on your lap.
- Don’t just trust anyone. Have a good time and be friendly, but always be wary of strangers approaching you.
- Keep your eyes open. Yes there are a lot of pickpockets in Barcelona, but many of them are easy to spot. Keep an eye on your surroundings and keep an eye on your travel buddies as well. Tourists are looking at the surroundings and locals are minding their own business but the pickpockets are looking at the crowds in search of their next victim. I’ve spotted many looking but they’ll usually keep on walking if they notice you noticing them. Remember, they want the easiest victim they can find.
- Don’t bring too much money or valuables. Don’t bring too much cash with you. You can pay by card in most places. Just take what you think you need for that day. Keep your most important valuables in the hotel safe.
How to avoid tourist traps:
The biggest tourist traps we wanted to avoid were bad restaurants. Barcelona has some of the best food on this planet so we absolutely did not want to waste time and money on touristy places with bad or mediocre food.
The biggest red flags to avoid are photo menus on the outside of the restaurant. Do you see big photos advertising paella, just keep on walking. Is there a waiter standing outside trying to sweet-talk you in? Keep on walking. The hidden gems with really good food do not need to lure tourists inside.
Unfortunately, in certain areas there are no decent restaurants but only tourist traps. These are mostly around the La Rambla area and around the Sagrada Familia. Across the street from the Sagrada Familia we even found a bakery with an abysmal score of 1,3 stars on google reviews! And all reviews of the nearby places weren’t a lot better so don’t even bother trying to find an authentic local spot to have a bite. While I would normally never recommend going to one of the big fast-food chain restaurants like McDonald's, Starbucks etc, in this case this is exactly what I would recommend. There at least you know what you can expect.
La Rambla is basically one big tourist trap. It’s one of the busiest streets in Barcelona, you’ll see many street performers, stalls selling souvenirs and overly priced restaurants with mediocre food. This is also one of the pickpocket hotspots. If you want to see this famous street then take a walk around, but in our opinion you might as well skip this area entirely.
Get in the local rhythm
Maybe the biggest tip is to just let go of your ‘regular’ routine and enjoy the local flow. Change up your schedule to meet the daily rhythm the locals adhere to. Slow down and enjoy everything this city has to offer. Have a late lunch paired with some cava or vermouth and an even later dinner that consists out of loads of tapas. One of the best things about Barcelona is that the city is lively and bubbly even on a weeknight!
Many shops close for lunch and reopen around 4 PM. Lunch is usually eaten between 1:30 - 3:30 PM and dinner from 9 to 11:30 PM. In fact, most dinner restaurants won’t even be open before 8 PM!
More Barcelona Travel Inspiration
Now that you know all the important Barcelona travel tips check out our Top 10 Things to do in Barcelona to plan out your Barcelona city trip.
Stay tuned for more in-depth articles about what to do, see and eat in Barcelona. Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter so you’re the first to know when new articles go up on the blog!
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