All About Barcelona Travel Guide
From the gothic spires of Barcelona Cathedral to the whimsical towers of La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona is a melting pot of artistic and architectural styles. Big, bold, and multi-colored Barcelona, Spain boasts nine amazing UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Learn about this Mediterranean city with an avant-garde flair in our Barcelona Travel Guide.
Known for its beaches, tapas, love of football, and raucous nightlife, Barcelona is a popular tourist destination. The city has wide shady sidewalks that make it surprisingly walkable. Visitors can shop Las Ramblas, stroll the Gothic Quarter, and hike from one work of Antoni Gaudi to another - all on foot.
Travel to Barcelona to experience its vibrant festivals, mercados, music, dance, and food. Use our Barcelona Travel Guide to learn about the weather, the best time to visit, where to stay, eat, and play. For more information on specific attractions in Barcelona Spain, read our article Best Things to do in Barcelona .
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WHERE IS BARCELONA SPAIN
Barcelona is located on the Iberian Peninsula in northeast Spain. The city was built on a plain between the Mediterranean Sea and a half-circle of mountains. The peaks ringing Barcelona City have limited urban sprawl, and resulted in Barcelona being one of the most densely built cities in the world.
Founded as a Roman colony, Barcelona quickly grew into an imperial walled city. During the Middle Ages rule of the city changed hands from the Aragons to the Catalonians, Valenians, and Moors. The 20th century brought more war and regime change.
After Spain declared a democracy in the 1970s, Barcelona became the capitol of the autonomous Catalonia region. The city experienced a period of growth and was awarded the 1992 Olympic games. To prepare for the games the waterfront, Montjuic, and other districts were revitalized. New promenades, marinas, beaches, and sporting venues were built.
Today, Barcelona is a fascinating mixture of the many cultures that have shaped the city. It is the second largest city in Spain, and one of the most visited cities in the world. Barcelona has a fast-growing seaport and international airport as well as a well-developed highway system.
With a fusion of Catalan, Spanish, Moorish, and European customs, Barcelona’s culture is unlike any other. For such a large city, there is an intimacy about it. The city’s official languages are Catalan and Spanish, English is also widely spoken.
The city is renowned for its rich architectural heritage. Within Barcelona City there are Roman Walls, a Gothic Quarter, and the modernistic creations of Antoni Gaudi (and others). Barcelona has a vibrant arts community with many museums, music venues, galleries, and Flamenco troupes. The city hosts frequent festivals and is home to an active street performer community. Its nightclubs, bars, and dancehalls are open well into the night.
Mediterranean cuisine and sports are also integral parts of Barcelona’s personality. No visit to the city is complete without a trip to La Bouqueria Market or a peek at the FC Barcelona “Barca” football stadium.
WHAT IS BARCELONA KNOWN FOR
Barcelona is known for its stunning architecture, innovative arts scene, Catalan culture, warm climate, and never-ending nightlife – all tied up in beachy Mediterranean vibe. Some of Barcelona’s more famous landmarks include Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila, and Casa Batllo.
Hosting some 27 million visitors a year with a fast-growing cruise port, Barcelona is also becoming known for over-tourism. Crowding and pickpockets are prevalent. When traveling to Barcelona, visitors should consider the best time of year to go and practice personal safety strategies (see below).
BARCELONA TIME ZONE
Central European Standard Time.
As a Mediterranean climate, Barcelona experiences mild temperatures most of the year:
Summer: May through October temperatures are warm in the 57 to 88’ F range. Summer is humid averaging around 72% humidity.
Bridge Season: April and November are thought of as transitional months with temperatures fluctuating in the 48-65’ F range.
Winter: December through March temperatures fall their coldest to around 41-58’ F.
Rainfall: The city averages around 25 inches of rain annually. It rains the least from June through August. It rains the most from September through October.
BEST TIME TO VISIT BARCELONA
The best time to visit Barcelona is in May and June when the weather is warm, rainfall is infrequent, flowers are blooming, and the crowds are lighter. September and October are also good months to visit, although it is rainier.
Pro Tip: Whatever month you decide to travel, check the city’s calendar of festivals. Barcelona City hosts many of the biggest music, art, football, and beach festivals in Europe. Traveling during one of these fiestas can greatly impact your ability to book lodging, restaurants, and attractions.
TRANSPORT TO AND FROM BARCELONA
Most visitors will arrive in Barcelona by airplane, ship, train, bus, or private car.
Airplane: Barcelona-El Prat Airport is about 30 minutes (11 miles) south of the city. It is one of the largest airports on the Mediterranean coast serving Spain, Europe, and international destinations. The airport is easily reached from the city center by taxi, bus, or train.
Cruise Port: The Port of Barcelona is a modern, busy seaport divided into cruise and commercial zones. Port Vell, or “the old port,” is a major European cruise terminal (in part due to the city’s proximity to the airport).
Train: Barcelona’s main railway station for national and international trains is the Barcelona Sants Station. High speed trains traveling from Madrid and some destinations in France are available at this station.
Bus or Private Car: Spain has a modern system of highways with well-maintained four-lane motorways leading in and out of Barcelona. If driving to Barcelona, visitors should be aware that many of Spain’s highways are toll roads. The main bus station linking Barcelona City to other cities throughout Spain and Europe is the Barcelona Nord Station.
GETTING AROUND BARCELONA
Despite its size, Barcelona has a cozy, informal feel. Many of its streets have pedestrian strips between avenues. These park-like spaces are filled with playgrounds, cafes, and kiosks selling street food and crafts. The city has also constructed bike and scooter lanes on most boulevards.
Bikes, mopeds, scooters, motor vehicles, buses, trams, and pedestrians share the sidewalks and streets. To the uninitiated, the flow can feel chaotic. Add to this the crowds of heavily touristed areas such as Las Ramblas, Catalunya Square, the Gothic Quarter, and beaches, and the atmosphere can seem frenzied. Here are the best ways to navigate the city:
Walking: The best way to explore Barcelona is to walk. However, the city is too big to walk from neighborhood to neighborhood. Consider combine walking with a day bus pass or hop on hop off bus.
Bicycle: Barcelona’s “bicing” bike sharing service is not open to tourists. Visitors can rent bikes from rental shops around the city by-the-hour or for bike tours.
Bus: Buses are a popular form of transport for tourists and locals. Clean, well-maintained buses run from early in the morning until late in the evening. Visitors can use a bank card to purchase single run or day passes at bus stops around the city.
Hop On Hop Off Bus: The city hosts two hop on hop off bus companies; the Barcelona City Tour and Barcelona Bus Touristic. These buses can be an efficient and economical way to move between neighborhoods and take in major sites.
Train: The Barcelona Metro is a good choice for traveling back and forth from neighborhoods outside of the city center. Twelve lines operate from early in the morning until late in the evening.
Taxi: Taxies are prevalent throughout the city. They can be hailed on the street, summoned via cell phone, picked up at a taxi stand, or called by a concierge. Look for the black and yellow livery.
BARCELONA TRAVEL TIPS
Language: Barcelona has two official languages; Catalan and Spanish. English is also widely spoken, especially in the main tourist areas.
Voltage / Plug Types: Outlets usually take plugs with two prongs. The standard voltage in Spain is 230V; the standard frequency is 50Hz. Pro Tip: Appliances from the US may burn “hot” with the increased voltage so take care (blow driers, irons, steamers, electronics).
Currency: The Euro. Most major Credit Cards are widely accepted (American Express and Travelers checks are not). ATMs are readily available.
Tipping: Tipping is much less prevalent in Barcelona City than in the United States. If service is exceptional, it is common to leave a 5% tip.
Meal Times: Restaurants in Barcelona generally open from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. for lunch, and from 8:00 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. for dinner. Larger establishments often open earlier, and remain open throughout the day. Smaller businesses may close for siesta (2:00pm to 5:00pm).
Drinking Alcohol: The legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 18 years old.
Personal Safety: Barcelona is a large city known to have a pickpocketing issue. Visitors should consider carrying only a small amount of cash and one credit card. Use RFID blocking technology to secure personal information. Travel with few belongings secured close to the body and refrain from displaying expensive clothing, jewelry, bags, and camera equipment. Stick to well-populated, well-lit areas. Remain aware of your surroundings. Travel with a partner or group if able.
Fountains: Many of the fountains in the city are dry for restoration or environmental measures. These monuments are put back in service (water flows) around festivals and holidays. Check the city’s calendar of events for scheduled times.
BARCELONA NEIGHBORHOODS OF NOTE
Gothic Quarter (aka Barri Gotic): One of the oldest sections of the city, Barri Gotic is a mostly pedestrian neighborhood. Its streets are rich with Gothic architecture and historic heritage sites. In the winding cobblestone alleys, visitors will find Barcelona Cathedral, Placa Reial, Roman ruins, the Museum of History, and too many restaurants, boutiques, and bars to count.
Las Ramblas / El Raval: Las Ramblas is a lively avenue running from the waterfront to Placa de Catalunya. The street is full of flower markets, craft stalls, bars, and outdoor restaurants. Off Las Ramblas, there are entrances to La Bouqueria Market and Placa Reial. The Las Ramblas pedestrian mall is flanked by one-way roads. The 1.2 km avenue splits the Gothic Quarter from the El Raval district.
El Ravel is known for its vintage shopping, ribald bars, and gritty authenticity. After dark, Las Ramblas and El Ravel are reported to be home to red light elements of the city including drinking, illicit drugs, and prostitution.
Eixample: Eixample is a mixed residential/commercial neighborhood full of beautiful buildings decorated with exquisite tile work and lacey Catalan balconies. The neighborhood’s avenues are shaded with trees and flowering bushes. There are many outdoor cafes and inviting restaurants. In Eixample, you will find the Passeig de Gracia boulevard. The boulevard is home to luxury shopping and the modernistic Gaudi buildings; Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera).
El Born: Located between the Gothic Quarter and Parc de la Ciutadella, the El Born neighborhood is characterized by stone medieval streets and chic shopping. Visitors will find the Santa Maria del Mar Basilica and Picasso Museum in El Born. The area features designer boutiques, cafes, and cocktail bars with Samba dancing.
Montjuic: Montjuic (aka Montjuic Mountain) is a hill in Barcelona with wonderful views and things to do away from the bustle of the city. In the area, visitors will find several cultural heritage sites including: Castell de Montjuic Fortification, National Museum of Catalan Art, the Magic Fountain, Poble Espanyol, and the Olympic Stadium.
Port Vell and La Barceloneta: Barcelona’s seashore, starting roughly at the end of Las Ramblas and extending to the La Barceloneta beachside neighborhood, is full of fun things to do. There is a large commercial mall (the Maremagnum), an aquarium, a history museum, many marinas, and La Barceloneta Beach with its restaurants and bars.
HOTELS IN BARCELONA
H10 Casa Mimosa: Eixample District. The H10 Casa Mimosa in the same neighborhood as Casa Batllo and Casa Mila (La Pedrera). It is about a kilometer from Placa de la Catalunya where there are restaurants, entertainment, and transportation options including the hop on hop off buses. The hotel has an on-site bar and a breakfast restaurant.
Hotel 1898: Las Ramblas District. Hotel 1898 is located between the waterfront, El Raval, the Gothic Quarter, and Placa de la Catalunya. Guests of the hotel will find much do right outside their front door. The hotel offers a spa and two swimming pools.
Hotel Royal Passeig de Gracia: Eixample District. The Royal Passeig de Gracia hotel is located a short distance from Casa Mila (La Pedrera) on an avenue known for its luxury shopping. The hotel is close to Placa de la Catalunya. The hotel has a rooftop terrace, the 88.3 Terrace Bar, that offers panoramas of the cityscape.
Gran Hotel Havana: Eixample District. The Gran Hotel Havan sits on a quiet residential street between La Sagrada Familia, Passeig de Gracia, and Placa de la . This hotel offers a breakfast room and rooftop bar with pool. We have stayed at this hotel and found it comfortable, a good value, and in a convenient location.
Serras Barcelona: Port Vell district. The Serras Barcelona boutique hotel has 28 luxurious rooms and suites. The hotel features a Michelin star Chef Restaurant and rooftop terrace overlooking Port Vell and the Mediterranean Sea.
Hotel Ohla Barcelona: Gothic Quarter/Eixample Districts. The Ohla Barcelona boutique hotel has 74 rooms featuring black and white décor and modern electronics (40” TV, Satellite channels, free wifi). The hotel has two restaurants (one awarded with a Michelin star), a bar, and terrace with an enclosed pool.
Grand Hotel Central: Gothic Quarter/El Born District. The Grand Hotel Central has 147 room in a comfortable, elegant atmosphere. The hotel has a restaurants, bar, and rooftop terrace with restaurant and infinity pool.
BEST RESTAURANTS IN BARCELONA
Our choices for the best restaurants in Barcelona are:
Arcano: Price range $22-$86. Lunch/Dinner. El Born district. Mediterranean, European, Spanish, Catalan, and Fusion food. The restaurant is in a 17th century barn with Romanesque arches and stone walls.
9Nine: Price range $23-$65. Lunch/Dinner. Eixample district. Steakhouse, International, Mediterranean, European, Spanish, and Catalan food. Stucco, glass, and iron interior with large windows.
Teoric Taverna Gastronomica: Price range $16-$27. Lunch/Dinner. Eixample district. Mediterranean, European, Spanish, and Catalan food. The restaurant offers a “sea and mountain” concept featuring haut-cuisine presented in an informal atmosphere.
Cellerer Wine Bar: Price range $11-$43. Lunch/Dinner. Eixample district. Mediterranean, European, Spanish, Catalan food; and Wine Bar. Cozy, upscale, neighborhood wine bar offering Spanish tapas and outdoor tables. Located close to Casa Batlo.
THINGS TO DO IN BARCELONA
Be amazed by Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia. Climb one of the church’s two towers.
Have a picnic and photoshoot in Park Guell overlooking the city.
Walk, shop, and have a drink on Las Ramblas in the early evening.
Explore the Spanish Village (Poble Espanyol). Have dinner and see a Flamenco Show.
Wander the Gothic Quarter and find Barcelona Cathedral, Placa Reial, and the Roman Walls.
Enjoy tapas and drinks from a rooftop bar (there are many around the city).
Discover Gaudi’s modernistic masterpieces Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and Casa Batlo.
Bike the waterfront from Port Vell to Barceloneta Beach.
Spend the afternoon in Parc de la Ciutadella. Discover the zoo, Arc de Triomf, and gardens.
Enjoy a meal (and be amazed at the variety of food) at La Bouqueria Market.
Watch a football game at Camp Nou (home of FC Barcelona). Or, tour the 99,000 person stadium and visit its museum.
Take a day trip to Monserrat Abbey to see the Black Madonna.
See a nighttime show of the Magic Fountain at Montjuic hill.
Ride a cable car to the Montjuic fortress and tour the ruins of a castle.
Cruise above Port Vell on the Aerial Tramway.
Feed the pigeons in Catalunya plaza.
Spend the day at one of Barcelona’s nine beaches (all accessible by public transport).
Visit the Barcelona Aquarium with over 11,000 animals and over 30 tanks.
Take a bus to Mt. Tibidabo for amazing views from the Sagrat Cor Church.
While at Mt. Tibidabo, take a ride on the Ferris Wheet at Tibidabo Amusement Park.
Adéu (Goodbye) for now, we hope you enjoyed our Barcelona guide. Laura and Randy
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