I’ve just spent 6 days in gorgeous, sunny and laid back Barcelona. Barcelona is quite possibly my favourite city in Europe, it has absolutely everything a visitor could want: beach, history, art, culture, food and awesome nightlife. Every time I visit I can totally imagine myself living there, it’s just so…easy! The chilled vibes of a beach town, mixed with the sophistication and buzz of a big international city is what totally sucks me in. If you haven’t been yet I urge you to go, it’s definitely a must see place. If it’s not on your travel bucket list yet then PUT IT ON! You won’t be sorry. And it’s really not that expensive to get to within Europe, if you know where/when to look. I paid just £38 return from London, which is cheaper than a trip back home to Newcastle, and certainly les than I would spend on a night out. I wrote about how I manage to score such cheap flights here.
I’ve been to Barcelona now a few times and feel totally comfortable buzzing around from one place to another and have discovered some nice little hacks and cool places to hang out. But I’ve also made a fair few mistakes too, especially when it comes to wasting time and money. I don’t claim to know the city inside out, but if you’re a first or even second time visitor to Barcelona I think you could maybe benefit from my (ahem..) “Pearls of wisdom”, so I thought I would put together a post to share a few of my essential Barcelona do’s and don’ts.
1. Do Use public transport
The public transport in Barcelona is extensive; train, tram and bus are all really easy to use and pretty inexpensive. Buy a T-10 card from the machines in the station to get the cheapest fares. This ticket allows 10 journeys and can be used by multiple people, so you can scan through the barriers and pass the ticket back to your friend if you want. Use this site to plan your journeys
2. Don’t eat/drink in the café’s or restaurants directly on La Rambla
La Rambla is a really long shopping street that stretches from the Av Diagonal all the way down to the port. This street is the epicentre of touristy Barcelona and therefore crammed with eateries. BUT it will cost 2-3 times as much to eat/drink here than a restaurant or bar in the side streets off La Rambla. I don’t begrudge businesses earning a crust, but I’d much rather buy a glass of vino tinto for 2 Euros than 6 Euros.
3. Do Buy tickets online
If you rock up to Sagrada Familia, the biggest tourist attraction in the city, without a ticket you will either find they are sold out or offer you a time slot just before closing. Not what you want when you’ve got limited time and have just travelled across town to get there. You can buy tickets online in advance and there is no need to print them, as they will just scan the QR code on a mobile device, too easy! The same goes for most other museums and visitor attractions in the city. Hop on some free WIFI in your accommodation or a café and get those tickets sorted. Plus it means you don’t have to join a massive queue. Win win!
4. Do Try speaking a little Catalan
Did you know they speak Catalan in Barcelona? It’s very similar to Spanish in a lot of ways (although they’d probably hate me for saying that!) but a little different. You will see signs, menus etc. written in Catalan and Spanish. Most people in service/tourism industry speak great English, but it’s always appreciated when you try a little of the local language. Parla Català?
5. Don’t bother with the cable car from Montjuic to the port
This is just my opinion ok, so don’t shoot me down, but I’ve waited in line twice for the cable car that runs from the Miramar hotel on Montjuic (Jew Mountain) down to Barceloneta. I’m sure the views are amazing, but it breaks down all the time and queues are massive. Views are just as good (if not better) from the Castell de Montjuic at the very top of the mountain, and only 3-5 Euro entry. Depending on your starting point you can get the 150 bus, the funicular, cable car (a different one from opposite Miro museum) or if you’re feeling fit, walk up. I realise people use that cable car to access the castell too, but it’s one hell of a steep walk from the Miramar cable car station up to the top of Montjuic, so just something to bear in mind.
6. Do eat ALL the seafood
The seafood in Barcelona is incredible and the Catalans eat a lot of it. They’re really big on octopus, anchovies (boquerones), salt cod (Bacalao), prawns, lobster, squid…well anything in the sea really. You just need to have a walk round the markets to see what a variety of seafood they have. I think there’s nothing better than eating incredibly fresh seafood by the sea with a nice cold glass of white wine. I had a delicious seafood tagliatelle at Carpe Diem, right on the beach. It’s a really cool Balinese style bar/restaurant, a bit pricey, but worth it for the quality and views. Plus it turns into an awesome nightclub once the sun goes down. BONUS!
7. Don’t miss having lunch at a food market
La Boqueria is the most famous and biggest food market in Barcelona. It’s located on la Rambla, in the city centre. It can get very VERY busy, so if you want to eat at one of the tapas bars in the market get there super early, or about 3pm after the lunch rush. This place is loud and vibrant with amazing produce. Even if you don’t want to eat it’s worth walking around and taking a look at all the different meats, fish, cheeses, spices etc. they sell. If you want to go to a smaller market I’d recommend Mercat Santa Caterina, in the Gothic quarter.
8. Do get lost in the Gothic quarter
Ok, I realise telling you to get lost sounds a bit weird, but the Gothic quarter (Barrio Gotico) is the old town of Barcelona and like a huge maze of tiny narrow lanes that open into beautiful squares. Pop into the tiny little bars for a beer or coffee and browse the boutiques. You’ll completely forget how you got there, but that’s part of the fun, right?
9. Don’t JUST stay in the tourist areas
I realise that the temptation to stay in tourist land can be strong; I mean it’s just easy isn’t it?! They speak your language, you know what to expect, and you don’t have to think too hard about where you’re going. But if you don’t venture out you’re missing out on massive part of Barcelona. I know I bang on about avoiding tourist traps, but for me travelling is all about experiencing the REAL culture of a place, hanging out, eating and partying with locals. I would recommend going out in Poblenou, the former industrial area to the east of the Gothic Quarter. Poblenou is, a young, cool area with an arty vibe. It has lots of great bars, clubs and restaurants where the real Barcelonans hang out. Walk down Rambla Poblenou, and explore the streets that lead off it.
10. Do go shopping in Eixample
Or more specifically Av Diagonal and the streets directly off it. This is the financial district, full of imposing glass sky scrappers, but also hundreds of high end shops. Even if your budget doesn’t stretch to making a purchase, it’s quite nice just to people watch and window shop. There are also lots of gooooooorgeous cocktail bars and restaurants in this area. I can whole-heartedly recommend Hisop, a high-end modern Catalan restaurant, or Solange Cocktail bar.
11. Don’t rock up to a club before 2am
Nightlife starts and finishes a lot later in Spain. Clubs don’t open till midnight, and even at 1am they are pretty dead. Some places even offer a free drink if you arrive before 2am so that tells you something! oh, and be prepared to party until 6am. La Terrrazza is probably the most famous club in Barcelona, an open-air club night based in an old village, which is a tourist attraction during the day. It’s kind of an Ibiza terrace in the city.
12. DO have an amazing time.
Just writing about Barcelona makes me want to go back RIGHT NOW! Who knows, I may even make the leap to live there some day, I think it would be so much fun.
Have you been to Barcelona? Do you agree/disagree with these Dos’ and Don’ts?
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Excellent write up! I was recently there and can agree with many of your points! Such a wonderfully diverse city 🙂
Thanks Jennie. It’s a great city to visit, there’s something for everyone 🙂
this is city that has to be on anyone’s bucket list , so much to see,… and eat