What to do?
Barcelona is Spain's second largest city, with a population of nearly two million people, and the capital of
August is probably the busiest time for tourists in Barcelona. That said, a very large percentage of the shops and restaurants can be found closed from early-August to early September. During this time, you will find the most expensive hotel rates (outside of conference times such as the World Mobile Congress) and the city is devoid of locals as the vast majority of residents go on vacation in August and leave the heat and humidity to the hordes of tourists who come. This also happens to be one of the highest periods of home break-ins as criminals know that many places are unoccupied for an entire month.
It is important to note that, while Barcelona has decent, albeit crowded beaches, the locals will be very appreciative if visitors do not consider Barcelona a beach resort and absolutely do not wear beachwear when visiting churches, restaurants, etc. If you only want a beach, and a good beach at that, head south to Costa Daurada, north to Costa Brava or out to sea for the Balearic Islands.
Barcelona is great off-season and is a lovely city even in the winter months of January and February, as long as the possibility of rain is low. Given the high humidity, 19–23 °C (66–73 °F) is considered comfortable weather, which is usually the temperature between April and June and between late September–November. This is the best time to visit the city. Anything warmer than this can feel too hot.
Toddler happiness is considered a public responsibility in Spain. In any public place, people around you will make every effort possible to make your toddler happy: whenever he or she looks bored or is crying, everyone does their best to entertain or to calm them.
The other tourist offices can be found at Plaça de Sant Jaume, Ciutat, 2 Ajuntament de Barcelona. (City Hall.) Opening time: Monday to Friday: 8.30am-8.30pm. Saturday: 9am-7pm. Sunday and public holidays: 9am-2pm.; Estació de Sants, Plaça dels Països Catalans. How to get there: Metro: L5,L3. Bus: 63,68. Opening time: daily, 8am-8pm. and Aeroport del Prat. Terminal 1 and 2. Opening time: Daily, 9am-9pm. All are closed on 1st January and 25th December. For a full list of tourist information points check the link above.
The department store El Corte Ingles publishes a free street map for tourists. You can pick a copy at the store, or at one of the many hotels in the city.
Turisme de Barcelona
Barcelona Card. This card gives an opportunity to visit more than 25 museums and other sites in Barcelona without an extra charge. For another 70 plus sites it offers various kinds of discounts during a validity period of the card. It also includes a travel pass for public transport in Barcelona (for details see Hola BCN! card below). The card is available for purchase for periods of between 2 and 5 days. Bear in mind that if you don't plan to see lots of museums every day, then it may be cheaper to buy transport-only tickets (see below). They cannot be used on the cable cars or funiculars (except for Montjuïc) From €20 for a Barcelona Card Express (2-day), up to €60 for a 5-day card (10% discount if bought online in advance); a version for children is available as well..
The public transport in the city and the surrounding area managed by Autoritat del Transport Metropolità (ATM) consortium. The whole area is covered by the Integrated Fare System, which is divided into 6 zones. This system includes the most of the public transport in the area: metro, city and intercity bus, tram and commuter trains.
The city limits of Barcelona are completely located inside zone 1. The public transport in the city itself is mostly managed by Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB). They have a separate site dedicated for tourists. The other two operators in Barcelona are Rodalies de Catalunya and Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat de Catalunya (FGC).
Travel cards are excellent value in comparison with a single ticket. Be sure to look after them well as bent or damaged cards will not be read by the ticket machines. Such cards can be replaced at one of TMB's customer service centres.
TMB also offers a few route planners on their website: versions for desktop, for mobile browser and mobile apps for Android and iPhone. Another route planner is available on the ATM site.
Pay attention to the fact that to get from metro lines operated by TMB (1,2,3,4,5, 9/10 and 11) to the ones operated by FGC (6,7 and 8), or vice versa, you need to exit and then enter through a new pay-gate. In this case, if you had a one-journey ticket, you need to get a new one. If you used a multiple journey ticket you won't be charged for a second time when changing lines as long as you are within the stated travel time for a single journey. Also, you can't repeat operator, so you can't use a FGC ride to make a shortcut. For instance: changing to L9S to L1 via L8 using Fira and Espanya will charge you with two journeys, you should go via Torrassa instead although its way longer. All trains are air-conditioned.
Take also care when travelling to the airport: while the T-10 is valid for Renfe services, it is not accepted at Metro. If you get to the airport by metro using a T-10, you'll be forced to pay the full fare, which is 4,50€, and the ticket you've used will not be refunded.
Barcelona is a very walkable city. It takes little over an hour to walk from Port Vell at the seaside to Park Güell at the foothills of the mountain range at the northeastern end of the city, and you can see a range of attractions, including La Rambla and Sagrada Familia, on your way. There are opportunities all around to sit down and enjoy a drink or a meal everywhere. If you are fit, you can pretty much explore the city by foot alone, unless the heat beats you in the warmer months (and then you can always resort to the air-conditioned metro).
Parking around all major tourist destinations is expensive (€3/hour, €20-36/day) and the spaces are difficult to navigate, as there are several classes of public parking spaces, with complicated rules for each class. Barcelona is plagued with the same problems that plague other major European cities; massive traffic jams and extremely narrow streets in some areas, coupled with a very complicated road system. As such, driving yourself around is not recommended for tourists, especially those with no driving experience in large cities. Public transport will get you to all the major areas, and you should use that as your main mode of transport.
Having a driving map is essential - plan your route before you set off. Navigating with an average tourist map is frequently misleading: many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable). As an example, Gran via de Les Corts Catalanes is technically two-way, but in one direction supports only minor traffic: after every crossroad you'll find the traffic light on the next crossroad turns red by the time you reach it.
Some free parking spots reported by travelers are:
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to spend much more time driving outside the city borders than inside it - and ideally if you don't plan to park overnight at all. Otherwise, for purely in-city transportation, consider renting a scooter, or using public transportation instead.
Barcelona's official languages are Catalan and Spanish. However, most signs are indicated only in Catalan because it is established by law as the first official language. Yet, Spanish is also widely used in public transport and other facilities. Regular announcements in the Metro are made only in Catalan, but unplanned disruptions are announced by an automated system in a wide variety of languages including English, French, Arabic and Japanese. On the other hand, FGC announcements -either regular or disruptions- will be made only in Catalan, and disruption announcements on RENFE's network will usually be broadcasted only in Spanish. As in most other cities, any attempt by visitors to use the native languages is always appreciated. Most locals are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish, and instinctively address foreigners in Spanish. Catalan is a language, not a dialect, and sounds closer to Italian, Portuguese, and French in many ways. Avoid referring to Catalan as a dialect, which will offend Catalans.
The main cause of Spanish and Catalan social bilingualism in modern Catalonia is a large scale immigration process from the rest of Spain which occurred over the 20th century, as Catalonia started a significant industrialization which demanded an increased workforce from elsewhere. Nowadays, 60% of the people in Catalonia use Spanish as their first language whereas 40% use Catalan.
These issues regarding language, national identity, and politics are like politics anywhere, and there's no way to summarize them here. Some Catalans feel Spanish and some not, and there is a portion who are anti-Spanish (and feel opposed to Spain and the Spanish language), as there are Spaniards who are not very fond of Catalans or Catalonia in general.
In tourist areas, almost all shops and bars have some English speaking staff. People will generally make an effort to try to help you if you speak in English. If you are a native English speaker you will not have any problems as Barcelona is a very touristic city.
Walk around the winding streets and hidden squares, fountains and palaces in the Barri Gòtic (Ciutat Vella). Highlights include the Catedral, the Museu d'Història de Barcelona (formerly known as the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat), and Plaça Reial.
Since 1984 seven buildings by the architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926) in or near Barcelona are listed as "Works of Antoni Gaudí" on the UNESCO World Heritage List: the basilica of Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila (La Pedrera) and Casa Batlló in Eixample, Palau Güell in Ciutat Vella, Parc Güell and Casa Vicens in Gràcia, the crypt of the Church in Colònia Güell.
The works by the Catalan art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List: Palau de la Música Catalana in Ciutat Vella and Hospital de Sant Pau in Eixample.
The Ruta del Modernisme run by Modernisme Centre (Pl. de Catalunya, 17, subterráneo; phone +34 933 177 652): guidebook and discount voucher book for €12. Takes you round all the best Modernisme (art nouveau) buildings in Barcelona. The main part of the route can be walked in a couple of hours, providing you don't stray too far from the main routes. The Tourist Offices offer a pack that includes discounted tickets to many attractions such as La Pedrera and La Casa Batlló. All can be seen from the outside for free.
Most shops and shopping malls are closed on Sundays because of law restrictions, but not all. In Ciutat Vella you will find plenty of small fashion shops, souvenir shops and small supermakets open on Sundays. The souvenir shopping scattered throughout the Barri Gotic and all along La Rambla are tourist traps, none of them sell Catalan or Spanish products but the typical array of Chinese general souvenirs, they should be avoided. Moreover on the Port Vell, right at the end of The Ramblas there is Maremagnum, a shopping mall that stays open all Sundays.
Barcelona's cuisine is inconsistent in quality, as with all highly touristic cities, but good food does exist at reasonable prices. The golden rule of thumb applies well in Barcelona; to save money and get better food, look for places off the beaten track by fellow travellers and seek out cafes and restaurants where the locals frequent. A good idea is to avoid restaurants with touts outside.
Set menus (menú del migdia) Most restaurants (and some bars) offer a menú del migdia (menu of the day), which usually means a simple and unpretentious two course meal (one salad, main dish and a drink; plus a dessert sometimes), 3 or 4 options each, with a drink and a dessert, for €8 to €20, depending on the restaurant. Depending on the restaurant, the portions may be quite generous, or rather small. During the week, some smart restaurants offer lunch specials from 2PM to 4PM. The savvy traveler will try the hip places for a fraction of the price during the day.
If you're looking for a place where everyone can choose their own meal, ask for restaurants that serve platos combinados, which is the closest thing to an American/Northern European meal.
Smoking: Is not permitted in restaurants anymore.
You can get food from any part of the world in Barcelona, but make sure you try some Catalan food.
The selection of seafood is consistently great, although not a lot of it is local (this part of the Mediterranean is pretty well fished-out).
A treat to try that no travel guide mentions is waffles sold at street stands. They will tempt you with their mouth watering smell and taste.
Even though tapa restaurants are now endemic all over the city, tapas originated in Andalusia in the south of Spain, are NOT actually a meal, and most importantly are NOT native to Catalan cuisine. Catalans eat a more French style three course meal (appetizer, main dish and dessert) and would more likely go for a pre-meal beer/vermouth and some snacks (olives, chips, etc.) than a meal consisting entirely of the new trend in tapa-only dining. This pre-meal snack is actually called 'fer el vermut' or 'making the vermouth'. As you travel to smaller towns in Catalonia outside of Barcelona, it is less likely that you will find tapas and more likely to see restaurants serving traditional Catalan food in three courses.
If you feel lost in the variety of food choices there are - Catalan, Basque, Spanish, and beyond, it may be helpful to do a food tour to quickly get oriented. Many independent tour operators run food and wine tours in the city.
Depending on where you are in the city, there may be restaurants galore, or none at all. The following areas tend to be restaurant "hubs", with a large variety of restaurants to choose from:
Around Plaça Catalunya there are dozens of restaurants serving excellent tapas.
For budget eating you may choose "menú del migdia" in small bars on the Avinguda del Paral·lel for €9-€11 per person. Be aware that sometimes the menu and the staff are only in Spanish.
The large cafes that line the Passeig de Gràcia and the Rambla Catalunya, just north of the Plaça Catalunya, offer a variety of acceptable tapas. This part of the town is quite touristy and a bit expensive.
Try a "café con hielo" an espresso served with a glass of ice cubes on the side and any local 'cafeteria'
Barcelona is Europe's pickpocketing capital. Never keep your wallet, cash or important documents in trouser pockets or in bag pockets: a money belt is an easy and inexpensive way to prevent being robbed. As always, be alert in crowded places, such as public transport, train and bus stations, La Rambla and Raval. People may approach you asking for change, or to change money. Just ignore them. If you are asked to change money, then official looking police may approach you afterwards to 'check' your wallet for ID, etc. These are not police, so be at your most vigilant or you might find they have taken a few cards or cash upon returning your wallet. If you are in a crowd of spectators watching street entertainment, beware of anyone getting suspiciously close to you.
Pickpockets use the football trick as the local specialty. At certain tourist hotspots, there are people who will try to show you a 'magic trick'. This involves tying a piece of string around your finger. While you are distracted (and your arm is effectively disabled), an accomplice will pickpocket you. It is also possible that criminals will pose as tourists and ask directions to approach their victims. Keep your distance and be careful in tourist places.
The subway is a hotbed for pickpocketing activity, which can range from simple opportunistic thefts to coordinated attacks. Be especially wary on the subway platforms at Sants train station and Sagrada Família. A group of men will come out of seemingly nowhere while you attempt to enter a subway car and block your entrance and exit in a coordinated manner, effectively pinning you against the doors while they close. They will act as if the car is just crowded and they are trying to get on as well, but, in reality, they have already gone through your pockets.
Once they take stuff, they quickly return to the platform and walk off calmly while you are trapped in the departing subway as they make sure they exit just before the doors cannot be reopened. Violence in these situations is rare, and in most cases the goal of the thieves is to rob you undetected. Stay vigilant: do not leave anything in a back trouser pocket (except maybe a map of the city). Hold on to your bag or purse at all times. Do not leave anything unattended while you sit in a cafe or restaurant.
One guy acts like reading a newspaper and is about to go into the subway gate (he's scanning his target). While you insert your subway card to enter and before the gate opens, that guy immediately enters his subway card also, which causes the gate to jam and alarm sound. Immediately 3-4 other people appear and, while acting like trying to help, (pointing to the gate telling you 'the door is jam') will try to snatch your backpack or wallet while you are still surprised. Check and make sure no one tailgates on you, or, simply, just let the guy go first.
While you are at an outdoor table of a café, don't leave your smartphone on the table. Someone will try to steal it. For example, a guy babbling for change with an unreadable poster in his hands, getting closer and closer to the smartphone until he eventually picks it up, passes it to a second guy that will run away with it.
People in Barcelona are often very friendly and love to practice their English, so don't be unfriendly. That said, you should, of course, be suspicious if someone approaches you in a touristy area speaking your language and asking you for help. This should put your guard up immediately. Do not be tempted to sign their petition, give them directions, or help them with their problem. You don't know anything about where you are, since you're a tourist, so you won't be able to help them in any case.
Professional scam artists exhibiting a high degree of coordination are active in many areas of the city. Be careful in tourist areas. A variety of methods are employed, including the No Change trick. A common scam involves fake cops who will show up ask to see your passport, then take your belongings at the first opportunity. The story varies, but they are almost certainly not real ones. When it happens, the best strategy is to just walk away instead of starting any sort of conversations with them. Another trick is that one seemingly confused person will ask you for directions, diverting your attention and then suddenly fake police will appear asking for your ID. This is a co-ordinated move to divert the attention and steal whatever is possible. If such incident happens, just walk away, without listening to any of their conversation. Stay alert, especially in busy tourist area near the Sants station and Plaça d'Espanya.
Another popular scam happens in the metro. A group of scammers (often middle-aged women) will take advantage of the fuss while people are entering the metro and surround a tourist, frantically asking for directions. Most tourists won't know what to say while one of the scammers empties their pockets. They will try to confuse the tourist while the metro stays in the platform, and will get out just before the doors are closed. When you realize you've been scammed, the train will have already left and they will be safely outside with your belongings.
The bird excrement scam is also common. One or more accomplices will secretly spray or throw a smelly liquid on you. When you look up thinking a passing bird has pooped on you, they will run up to you and tell you that they saw a bird poop on you. They will offer to help you clean up, and while you are cleaning they will go through your pockets and any bags you have set down. It is wise to beware of anyone who is attempting to touch a complete stranger.
A version of Three Card Monte is one of many common scams played on Les Rambles. There are also people holding petitions to install a wheelchair lift in locations with a lot of stairs. Once your signature is obtained they will then aggressively ask for a donation. Sometimes there can be crowds of children demanding money with hardly anyone else in the area, making it difficult to get away.
Barcelona offers ATMs in many locations. Many provide a wide range of services (withdrawals, transfers, mobile credit recharges, ticketing, etc.), and most accept ATM/debit/credit cards of various banks. Choose an ATM in a secure or highly-public space (e.g., in a bank lobby or airport terminal) to avoid machines modified by criminals to skim/video your card data or where you might be robbed after use. Ensure early in usage that the ATM supports a language you understand. For a full discussion of safe/effective charge/debit/ATM card usage and their cost trade-offs, see Money.
Be very careful in the Barcelona Sants train station where thieves prey on new arrivals, even on the platforms.
Women traveling alone should exercise caution while exploring the more isolated parts of Montjuïc. The city beaches, particularly the ones adjoining Barceloneta, have proven to be quite lucrative for bag snatchers. Anything that one would rather not lose is best left, locked, in one's hostel or hotel.
Men traveling alone should expect the prostitutes on Les Rambles, St. Antoni, and Raval in the early hours to be very aggressive and in league with pickpockets and robbers.
Also, people need to be careful when leaving the bars of the Olympic Port late as there are many pickpockets around.
Women should be wary of wearing exposed jewelery such as gold chains and necklaces. People walking down a street may be attacked from behind by a thief who may grab the necklace and try to rip it off the woman's neck before quickly running away, often down a convenient side street. Be especially careful of seedy looking men on bicycles as there have been many grab and snatch assaults in recent years.
In the event of such a robbery, people will need to find the local police station to report the incident, especially if a travel insurance claim is going to be made. Don't expect any police action beyond the report though as these types of events are par for the course and arrests, even when made almost never lead to prosecution due to a slow, antiquated, and overburdened legal system.
Parts of Barcelona are covered by closed circuit TV surveillance, but only the more popular spots.
Tourist drivers may attract special attention, such as Red light bag snatch or Flat tire scams
If you need to report a crime (for example, to claim on travel insurance), be prepared for the reality that in the downtown police station, officers generally do not speak English, despite that fact the official theft report form is in English, Spanish, and Catalan. The police station most often used to report theft is the one underneath Plaça Catalunya beside metro station, where they have some translators for common world languages.
Day trips from Barcelona include:
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