If you are heading to Barcelona anytime soon – you got to read this. These are our tried and tested hacks and real-life experiences from Spain. Use these 25 essential Barcelona tips and tricks to be travel-ready in no time!
25 Barcelona Tips and Tricks for Tourist/travelers
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Chasing Columbus stories
If you are visiting Barcelona to learn about sea discoveries or Christopher Columbus, I am sorry you will be disappointed. No one talks about Columbus here.
Fact is Columbus was Italian born, who came to Spain (also visited Portugal) to get support for his sea voyages. Nothing of that actually happened in Barcelona. He was offered financial support and aid in Cordova by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. He is currently buried in Seville in Andalucia.
You will find some remnants of the sea voyages in Barcelona like the replica of Santa Maria in Port Vell, Maritime Museum and of course the 60 metre tall Monument of Christopher Columbus, which was built for the 1888 Trade Exposition (Exposición Universal de Barcelona), even that is shrouded in controversy. So if you love sea discovery and explorer stories, this may not be the place for you.
What are the prime attractions in Barcelona?
The must-see places in Barcelona include the art nouveau or modernist buildings of Anthony Gaudi. So whether it’s the Sagrada Família, Casa Batllo, or the Park Guell – they are all prime examples of modernist architecture in Barcelona and are attributed to Gaudi.
A close second comes the Montjuic castle and the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics related monuments and structures. And this second spot is shared by Camp Nou for football lovers and the Mount Tibidabo attractions.
Barcelona is also known for its beaches and festivals
Barcelona is located by the Mediterranean Sea and a short distance from the city center is the Port Vell (you can go on mesmerizing sunset cruises here) or even better – soak up the Spanish sun at the La Barceloneta Beach (or Barcelona beach).
Other pretty beaches in Barcelona include the Nova Icaria Beach, Ocata, Bogatell, and Mar Bella Beach. You can comfortably swim in Barcelona beaches from May until the end of September, outside of those months the water is a little bit colder.
Barcelona is the land of great festivals too, and they are held every month. Check this list below:
- JAN – Epiphany (the arrival of the three kings celebrated at Port Vell)
- FEB – La Gran Rua de Carneval (carnival with colorful fancy dresses, floats)
- APR – Dia de Sant Jordi
- MAY – Primavera Sound Fest
- JUNE – Sonar Festival (electronic music festival), Sant Joan (night party),
- JULY – Cruilla festival (music festival showcasing international artists from every genre)
- JUNE – AUG – Grec festival (theatre, dance, music and more)
- SEPT – Festa de la Merce (most popular, learn more about things to do in September)
- NOV – L’Alternativa (film festival)
Barcelona’s history and facts
Okay, so Barcelona’s history is HUGE. The Romans settled here, the industrial revolution was at its peak in Barcelona, then the Spanish kings ruled here (with Madrid as their capital), then there was the Spanish Civil War (clash of the leftist and rightist ideologies – 1936- 39), years of dictatorship and then finally leading to the democratic process in the 1970’s – followed by the National Catalan Day (and regionalism in 1977) to the 1992 Olympics – yes, lot of players and a lot of interesting history in this city – BUT very little of this history is discussed or showcased.
What you see in Barcelona today is mostly modern history from the 1970’s on-wards and the creations of Gaudi. There are many things that you can dig and explore – like the El Born Museum or the exhibitions and museums in the Gothic Quarter – but it is not enough (well, not for a history fanatic like me). MNAC or the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya museum is an amazing visit for arts and Catalonia history.
Talking about Catalan politics
Discussing Catalan politics is a no-no with locals unless they are your friend and you know them personally.
BUT…..tour guides do openly share their opinions about the situation.
After reading reviews online, we were hesitant to ask, but our guide, who took us on a day trip, showed us the different flags (one for Catalonia and another one with a star/liberation symbol) and shared how unstable sometimes things can get in Barcelona – with multiple elections looming and other economic situations.
So our advice, if you are taking a guided walking tour or a day tour from Barcelona – your guide will share their views on the Catalonian situation and it is always a good idea to hear them out or ask questions politely – rather then just frame your opinions based on the news.
As always, be mindful as this topic is still sensitive. Locals may not be very open in sharing their thoughts, but tour guides will most likely share!
Exploring other countries from Barcelona: Travel Tips
Barcelona is the perfect base city to explore other countries
Have you heard of Andorra? It is the microstate/country in Europe and is known for ski resorts and shopping. It’s capital – Andorra de Vella is the highest capital in Europe.
So to visit Andorra you have to fly into an international airport and the nearest airport is Barcelona (Andorra has no airport).
From Catalonia, it is easy to explore the Pyrenees and head to southern France as well. And this can be done in a day trip – thus making it perfect (and feasible) for travelers who are short on time. Check out: This day tour from Barcelona to southern France and Andorra
Barcelona is huge: Prioritize
If you are unsure how many days you need in Barcelona, then read this guide. The short answer is that – Barcelona is huge and it has tons of things to keep you busy for one to six days or more. But if you are short on time, we recommend that you prioritize.
If you are an art lover, pick your choices, and explore 2-3 attractions in-depth. Hop on and hop off sightseeing bus is a great way to get acquainted with the city, but to explore Barcelona intimately you will need time.
Book attractions online and save money and time!
Almost all of the places we had been to in Barcelona were bustling with tourists – it’s a good thing for the economy, but as travelers, we gotta be smart. We highly recommend booking entry tickets online, to avoid waiting in line.
Don’t even think of getting tickets at the Sagrada Familia on a hot summer day (peak season), you will probably stay there for an hour or so. No, not worth it. Entry tickets will have a designated time slot for you to arrive and enter the site.
We paid online for a guided Sagrada Familia tour and Park Guell on the same day to avoid standing in queue for long.
Start early to capture uninterrupted shots of landmark buildings
Although attractions are quite busy with tourists, waking up early is key. If you can manage to arrive at a site before 08:30 am, you will be greeted with empty sites with no tourists (or photobombers). Most cafes and stores will not be open by 09:30 am, but the metro will be running – so wake up early and reach there before everyone else.
We went to the Sagrada Familia twice (visited the interiors only once). The first day was crazy crowded because we arrived at 11:15 am (like jet-lagged after our flight). We weren’t happy with the pictures on day one, so we went back there the next day, arrived at 08:10 am and voila! Not a single soul, (just a few joggers), and the entire Sagrada Familia was left for us to admire!
Enter free at Park Güell
Park Guell is Gaudi’s popular creation. It was built as a housing complex to accommodate up to 40 families. Today it a lovely park with stunning mosaic creations of Gaudi.
One thing to keep in mind is that the actual park is free to enter and explore. No tickets are necessary and there is no line up either. The line ups and entry fee applies to the protected monument within the Parc Guell. Yes, that’s the beautiful and colorful benches and towers, and views that you see from the picture below. With the ticket, you can also visit Gaudi’s museum.
Another pro tip: Head to the highest part of Park Guell – Turó de les tres creus – for some stunning views of the city and it is FREE!
Panoramic city views in Barcelona: Tips
We have been to so many European cities, but Barcelona’s landscape never ceases to amaze me. The city is not like flat land, it has hills and peaks and that gives Barcelona its unique character.
So whether it’s the Montjuic castle or the cable car leading to it, balconies of Casa Batllo or rooftop terrace of La Pedrera/Casa Mila – there are stunning city views everywhere and are worth every penny and effort. Many of these viewpoints are FREE – like the Bunkers del Carmel, Plaza de Arenas, Park Guell viewpoint, to name a few. Get the full list of scenic viewpoints in Barcelona here.
Commuting – What is the best way to get around Barcelona?
A modern city like Barcelona has good transportation and infrastructure like you would expect a European tourist destination to have. As a tourist, here is what you will use to make your travel easy peasy.
- Public Transportation – Use Metro, Tram and Train or bus to commute throughout the city or from the airport.
- Barcelona Card for transport: Includes unlimited transport (train/tram/bus) rides (Click to book/read more about Barcelona Travel Card)
- Aerobus aka Airport Shuttle to City Centre – Book your airport transfer here
- Taxi – You can take a taxi in Barcelona- even from the airport as a private transfer. Uber is not operating as of December 2019 (services were canceled after protests).
- Bicycle, scooter, Vespa (or bike tours) are other ways to explore and commute within the city.
- Hop on and hop off sightseeing tour – We LOVE this option for touring the city and capturing all the attractions.
- Car rentals
- Or walk – By walking you won’t be able to cover the whole city in a short visit.
We recommend the use of metro extensively and then add a hop on and hop off tour for 24 or 48 hours for sightseeing and checking out all the prime landmarks of the city. Or you can also purchase this Barcelona Pass – which includes a hop on and hop off tour, plus free entry into 20 sightseeing attractions (Sagrada Familia is not included).
Barcelona is not the cheapest destination
At one point, Spain and Portugal together were branded as cheaper destinations to visit in Europe. But Barcelona is not cheap, it is as expensive as Paris (but not as high maintenance as Iceland or Switzerland). Accommodation and fancy dinners will come at a cost.
Guided tourist attractions are priced similar to Paris – as comparison entry tickets with a guided tour of the Sagrada Familia is the same price to the second-floor access of the Eiffel Tower.
We highly recommend booking hotels in advance to save money, we visited Barcelona twice and the second time around, we didn’t book hotels far in advance and it was definitely pricier than the first trip. This is true for hostels as well, for when hotels are expensive people start looking for hostels and they are pricey (especially the ones near the city center).
Barcelona Tips: Take free tours, attractions to save money
If you wish to save money on activities or wish to explore Barcelona on a budget, here are some sites to check out.
- The Bunkers – Known as the Bunkers del Carmel, it is the spot where anti-aircraft guns were installed during the Spanish Civil War. Today you can visit for amazing panoramic views of the city and for FREE!
- Free walking tour – There are a few free walking tours in Barcelona that you can enjoy. The most popular one is Free-Walking-Tours Barcelona and there are many more.
- Magic Fountains of Montjuïc at night – Watch the magic fountains show every night for free. The fountain is located near the Plaça d’Espanya and Poble Espanyol de Barcelona, just below the Palau Nacional on the Montjuïc mountain. The typical hours are from 09:00 to 10:00 pm.
- Free Museum entries – First Sunday of every month, you can visit popular museums for free in Barcelona. The list includes Barcelona City History Museum, MNAC – National Art Museum of Catalunya, and more. Get the entire list and additional free days here.
- 1992 Olympics Stadium – The Barcelona Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olimpic) was the venue for the 1992 Olympic games, and you can pop by the stadium for free. We got there through our hop on and hop off tour.
- Gothic Quarter – Wandering through the lanes of the Gothic Quarter is completely free.
- Las Ramblas – Exploring Las Ramblas and its many stores (for window shopping) is FREE
- Cheap buy: Els Encants Vells Flea Market is the best place to buy unique and vintage items like art and painting, clothing, etc to take back home. To snag a good deal, be prepared to haggle and look through stuff.
Plaza Catalunya is an important landmark to remember for tours
If you love taking tours like us, remember the roundabout – Plaza Catalunya – this is the starting or meeting point for most tours (walking, bike tour, day tours, or hop on and hop off stop).
Note: Plaza Catalunya is different from Plaza Espanya. The latter is also a round-about/transport hub and is known for the Magic Fountains show in the evening (from the Palau Nacional).
Good, bad and the ugly truth of Las Ramblas
Now we liked Las Ramblas and we were there probably every night, commuting or hanging out at La Boqueria market or enjoying an evening stroll. Regardless of what guide books say, here is what we think.
Good: It is a leafy, tree-lined boulevard and it is always bustling with activities – day or night. We love seeing the crowd, in a good way. It is a tourist spot, so it is easy to find stores, metro, fast food chains, banks, and fancy dining places.
Bad: Food or tapas offered at Las Ramblas street is overpriced. They actually kill the tapas (you will know if you have been to Seville). Souvenirs are expensive too. If you wander away to the Gothic Quarter, you will probably find better restaurants and cheaper too.
Ugly: Pickpockets and petty theft is real! So be aware of your surroundings and keep your valuable close to you.
In 2017, Las Ramblas was the scene of a gruesome attack – and today it is common to see the police patrolling the area in the evening.
Safety – Is Barcelona dangerous for tourists?
Barcelona overall is pretty safe. Pickpockets are a major crime or an issue for tourists visiting Barcelona. There are a large number of pickpockets and bag thieves in most tourist attractions.
During one of our day tours, we met this lady whose backpack filled with camera gear was swapped for another one (and she lost all of her gear). On another occasion, my friend lost her purse while eating at a restaurant in the Gothic Quarter and had to get a new passport made.
We learned one thing: never lose sight of your bag or belongings. I carried my passport, credit cards and money, cell-phone, small mirror-less camera, and daily cosmetic items in a crossbody bag. The bag was always on my body – like a crossbody, never left it on my shoulders or on the restaurant chair. The zipper was always closed.
And I didn’t lose a THING! We used the metro extensively, was at Las Ramblas practically every night for a stroll – but NOTHING got stolen.
So, carry a cross-body bag and take the essentials and leave it on as cross-body – even while eating in a restaurant. Violent crime is very rare in Barcelona, so it’s unlikely that someone will snatch your bag when its worn cross-body.
If you happen to lose any item/s and wish to report lost/stolen goods, you have to head to the police station and lodge a complaint there (nothing happens over the phone!)
Is Barcelona tourist friendly?
Well, personally we didn’t experience anyone treating us differently. But you will see messages for tourists, “to go back” in some of the neighborhoods. However, in our personal experience, we didn’t encounter or see any ill will towards us or any other tourists.
Wherever we went people were polite and they helped/responded when we had any questions.
Learn a few phrases of two official languages of Barcelona
Barcelona has 2 official languages – Catalan and Spanish. For the most part, we didn’t face any problem in navigating through the city, without knowing either language.
In most restaurants – wait staff and the host will either speak Catalan or Spanish, mostly the former. Locals will appreciate it if you can greet or thank them in their language.
Tipping in Barcelona Travel Guide
It is common to tip in the restaurants in Barcelona. Locals often tip modestly, and it is considered polite if you do so. Usually, the tip is rounded off to 10% of the bill (or more if you are happy with service).
Credit card or cash (euros) is accepted in almost all Barcelona Restaurants.
Food and water safety in Barcelona
There are tons of different food items/dishes to try out in Barcelona. Most popular foods include Iberico Ham, paella, Spanish Omelet, Bombas, etc. Fresh vegetables (I adore tomatoes from Spain – they are delicious) and seafood are also very popular in Barcelona.
We didn’t have any stomach complaints after consuming food in the touristy areas in Barcelona like La Boqueria or Las Ramblas restaurants.
Restaurants in Las Ramblas were pricey, and the taste was okay. Gothic Quarter had better restaurants and cafes to choose from. Their food is not spicy at all. Pork, sausage is quite popular too.
Tap water is safe to drink in Barcelona. And it is safe for cooking too. It has low levels of chlorine to prevent contamination, but it is completely safe for drinking.
P.S: There is a Tim Hortons in Barcelona, my Canadian friends!
Travel documents – Apply for Schengen Visa ahead of time if you require one
Barcelona is located in Spain and it belongs to the EU zone. So if you possess a non-visa exempt passport, most likely you will require a visa to travel to Spain. Schengen Visa has to be applied for in advance, and you should have the visa granted before arriving in Spain.
Passport holders of US/Canada and EU nationals are allowed to enter Spain visa-free. From 2022, citizens of the US and Canada will have to apply for an eTIAS online before departing for their trip to Spain. This is not a visa, but it is an online entry authorization to travel to Europe. You can apply for it online and it only takes a few minutes.
How many airports does Barcelona have? Airport arrivals and reaching the city center
While you are ready to book your flights to Barcelona, remember there is only ONE Barcelona airport. The IATA code is BCN and it is called Barcelona-El Prat aka Barcelona International Airport.
It is located 13 km southwest of the city center. Here are some of the ways to get to the city center from the airport.
- Metro Train – Take a metro train to the city center for 4.20 euros. Barcelona public transportation is very efficient and connects the city very effortlessly. (The Airport Metro line is called L9 Sud). Buy your Barcelona metro pass here.
- Aeroport Bus – Take an airport bus (Aeroport bus from terminal 1) to the Plaza Espanya and the metro from there to your destination (or walk if it’s located nearby). It takes about 40 minutes. We utilized this service on our first day in Barcelona. Book your bus tickets here.
- Taxi – Private taxi to your hotel. You can reserve your private airport transfer here.
If you are traveling within Europe and taking budget airlines like RyanAir – check the arrival airport code before booking the trip. RyanAir uses Reus and Girona Barcelona as Barcelona airport – but they are over 60 miles away. Vueling uses BCN (we flew from Zurich to Barcelona and we arrived at the El Prat).
What to pack for Barcelona?
Barcelona has a very relaxed vibe. It is not like Paris (sorry for the comparison).
Dress up the way, you would normally wear in your home country (like pants, shoes, shirts, blouses, dresses, etc.) The weather in Barcelona remains pleasant all year round – except for summers when it is really hot.
So let’s talk about stuff you shouldn’t be carrying or wearing in Barcelona (and what you should carry too).
- No snow boots or heavy parka jackets.
- Sweaters or Cardigans not required – If you are always cold like me, well carry one – just one light cardigan.
- Expensive jewelry – No.
- Luxury bags – It’s okay to carry, as long as its not flashy, and screening “Louis Vuitton”, with the bag wide open. Please don’t forget to close the zipper – on whatever kind of bags you carry. Anti-theft bags are a good option if you want to tie them on the restaurant table while helping a kid and want to be hands-free. Here is the guide to antitheft backpacks and travel purses.
- Carry flip flops for the beach, but wear comfortable walking shoes for the city. We actually recommend hiking shoes for Barcelona, as there will be a ton of uneven path (for scenic view-points) and concrete jungle/city centre walking. Here is our recommended hiking shoe for her
- Carry sunscreen and perfume – Heat and humidity are stinky!
- Avoid carrying swimwear outside of the months of May through September – the water is too cold for a swim. But carry swim swear all year round if you are staying in a fancy hotel that has a rooftop pool (or any pool on-site).
Do you have any tips for a first time tourist in Barcelona?
As a first time visitor to Barcelona – we say take it easy. One of the reasons Barcelona is a popular destination is the warm weather and cultural experiences. Take the time to deeply explore 2-3 of your must-see sightseeing sites (based on your personal style – for top attractions checkpoint no 2) and then relax at a beach or go food/bar hopping.
Barcelona is huge, and there are crowded pockets. Ditch the car, hop on the metro or bus for commuting within the city. Take a hop on and hop off sightseeing tour to get acquainted with the attractions and the city itself.
Visit the popular sites – because that will help you make a comparison and understand where Barcelona and Spain stand in terms of world history and politics (or your own bucket list).
Be very mindful of your surroundings – keep an eye out for your bags, pretty purses and camera. In crowded areas or events, don’t get distracted – keep yourself and your loved ones safe.
Allow additional time for each popular touristy site. There will be security line-ups prior to entering the site. As always get your tickets online and ahead of time.
For your first trip to Barcelona, staying near the city center will be super convenient. All sightseeing tour pickups will be a breeze, you will easily find cafés and restaurants and access to metro and bus stations. Hotels will be a little pricier in and around the city center area (also includes Port Vell and El Raval neighborhood), but it is worth the convenience for a short visit to the city.
We hope you found this post on Barcelona travel tips useful
Happy travels to Barcelona!
Read more travel posts from Barcelona: Barcelona Spain and Europe travel
Planning your trip to Europe – If this is your first-ever trip to Europe, consider reading our Europe 101 guide.
Schengen Visa – If you require a visa to travel to Europe, most likely it is the Schengen Visa (for those belonging to the Euro Zone or EU, doesn’t include the UK). Read our guide to applying for Schengen Visa.
Spain and other guides
- Itinerary: Best of Spain in 7 days
- Destinations: Explore pretty cities in Spain
- Barcelona Itinerary: Explore the city highlights in 2 days
- Barcelona Scenic Spots: Get the list of Barcelona spots
- Seville: Get the guide to Seville in Andalucia
- Seville Itinerary: Explore Seville in 2 days
- Food guide to Seville: Learn how to do tapas bar hopping
- Europe – Get our 27 Europe in one week itinerary samples
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