When I first landed in Barcelona, I remember pausing just outside of the airplane as I was instantly overcome with this tingling sensation. I dismissed it, assuming that it was just butterflies from arriving in a foreign country where I didn’t know anyone and where I would spend the next 5 months of my life. However, I recalled the same feeling just a few weeks ago when I was strolling down Carrer Valencia on my way to have a coffee with a friend, and I suddenly realised that it couldn’t have just been nerves from arriving in a new place, but it was in fact the overall feeling you get from Barcelona ~ a feeling that you can do anything.
Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of Spain's Catalonia region, located on the Northeast coast of the Iberia Peninsula and facing the Mediterranean sea. It is known as one of the most culturally rich cities in Spain, with its Antoni Gaui inspired architecture and beautiful cobbled streets of the old town, steeped in history. It is a place that effortlessly combines beautiful beaches and chic city living. Barcelona is a welcoming and warm multinational city, with expats living here from all over the world, but at the same time, the Spanish and Catalan locals divide the city into two parts which is noticeable everywhere you go. The Catalan independence is one of the biggest movements across Barcelona, deriving from Catalan nationalism desiring independence of Catalonia from the rest of Spain. It is not only this political movement that divides the city, but also the Spanish and Catalan language. Spanish is widely spoken in Barcelona, also by the Catalan people, and it is rare that a Catalan would be offended if you spoke Spanish to them. However, if you wish to integrate with the Catalan culture, it is best to learn the Catalan language as well.
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Barcelona’s main international airport is, Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN), which is located 14km southwest of the city centre, in the town of El Prat de Llobregat. The airport has two terminals, T1 and T2 both very easy to navigate around. To reach the city centre, there are many options: Metro / bus / taxi. If you are looking to book flights, Skyscanner, is a fantastic site and gives you great options at very affordable prices. From the UK, grab a flight with Vueling for as little as £10!
Metro / R2:
The metro has an extensive network inside of Barcelona, but you can also reach a great distance outside of the city, with direct links to the airport. There is also a railway system called the R2 Nord RENFE. It is possible to take the R2 from the airport to the city, which runs between 5am and 11pm. The R2 stations are usually connected to the metro stations, so it is easy to access the metro if the R2 does not go to your desired station. You can also take the R2 train if you would like to visit places outside Barcelona, such as the beautiful beaches of Badalona, Sant Pol de Mar, Sitges and Castelldefels. Barceloneta (the beach which is linked with the city).
If you are travelling from the airport, it is super easy to take the bus to the city. The airport transfer bus takes you to and from Placa Catalunya, which is a very central spot in Barcelona regardless where you are residing during your stay. When you arrive into BCN airport, head downstairs and you will see the bus stop to take you to the centre. You can buy a ticket from the machine (€5) or buy one as you get on the bus. There are also a few other stops on the way. The journey takes about 20 minutes. Placa Catalunya is located above the city center and aligned with Eixample a popular area in Barcelona, which makes it easy to reach your final destination. The ticket costs €5 ($6) and the bus leaves from and to the airport between 6am to 11pm.
It is fairly cheap to take a taxi from the airport, it usually costs around €30 ($34) to go to the city centre or nearby places such as Eixample. Do not pay more than that as this is the standard price for this journey, regardless of the time of day.
I recommend exploring Barcelona on foot as there is so much to see. The city is big, but the walking distance from A to B, i.e. different sights or activities, is usually no longer than 30 minutes, and there is always plenty to see along the way.
For those who prefer to save their feet for the dance floor, there are multiple ways to travel inside the city. The metro is easily accessible, a one way journey costs no more than €2.20 ($2.50). There are also alternative metro cards, for example a 10 journey travel card costs €10 ($11.50). The metro system is huge, I would dare to compare it to London if not bigger; it has 12 different lines, as well as a funicular (mountain railway).
As well as the metro, there are many different bus lines in Barcelona, therefore, I suggest downloading the apps, Maps.me, Citymapper or Moovit once you are in the city. These applications will help you when you are travelling around as the GPS can be used offline and Citymapper and Moovit will give you the best suggestions from A to B and tell you all the required changes of lines, methods of travel as well as any upcoming closures.
It is very accessible to get a taxi in Barcelona. The biggest taxi company is Mytaxi and it is possible to order a taxi through their app, however I strongly recommend downloading Cabify. This service was recommended to me when I first arrived in Barcelona and I have used this app since day one (to that extent that 20 % of my salary could easily be transferred directly to the company). This app is similar to UBER, however it is much cheaper, nicer and feels safer. The drivers are securely identified and you can follow your trip through the app. On top of that, most drivers (I would say 95 % of the ones I have met) are super service minded and makes sure that you get inside safely before they drive away (if they drive you at night). They also always offer you a bottle of water on the way, which is included in the price. It usually costs around €5.50 ($6) for journeys within the city. If the journey is a bit longer or outside of the city center, it usually ends up costing between €7-9 ($8-10). It is also possible to schedule a future journey, for example, when going to the airport.
For the bike lovers out there, there are many bike rental companies around the city, where you can rent a bike for a day at a great price. They also have bike tours that take you around the main sights of the city. For example, Rent a Bike Bcn lets you rent a bike from €5 ($6) (the cheapest alternative which gives you access for 2 hours) to €25 ($28.50) (24 hours with an electric bike)
Many people visit Barcelona specifically for the history and beautiful architectural work by Antoni Gaudi, which is spread all over Catalonia. Head to Parc Güell, Casa Batlló, Casa Milá (La Pedrera) and of course one of the biggest monuments in the entire city; La Sagrada Familia for incredible displays of his work, you won’t be disappointed!
The La Sagrada Familia (pictured) is a breathtaking church and UNESCO world heritage site in the centre of Barcelona. Designed and inspired by Antoni Gaudi, the La Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882. When Gaudi died in 1926 only a quarter of the construction has been completed. It has been estimated that the Basilica will be finished in 2026. Visitors can enter inside the La Sagrada Familia even though it is still under construction and even seen the tomb of Antoni Gaudi who is buried there. You can book tickets through the official La Sagrada Familia website, expect to pay €29 ($33).
Bunkers del Carmel: If you are looking for a perfect place to get a panoramic view of Barcelona, head to Bunkers del Carmel. It is close to Parc Güell but with less tourists and it brings you an even greater view of the city. It takes some effort to get to this spot by foot, however the walk there is amazing. It is super easy to get to from Gracia & Eixample. It is also possible to take a taxi or bus there and if you are brave enough, you can cycle. Grab some beers or a bottle of wine and head there for sunset.
Tibidabo: If you enjoy views from above combined with cultural experiences, I would also recommend to visit Tibidabo. From downtown Barcelona, Tibidabo reminds you of the magical castle in the Disney logo, especially at night when the glow from the castle lights up the city. It is fairly easy to get to; take the train to Av. Tibidabo and walk 15 minutes to the funicular which will take you up the hill side. The funicular costs €7 ($ 8) for a return ticket. I am sure there are alternative ways to get there, but this is a nice way to explore and the funicular ride offers something different with impressive views.
Montjuic: Another place to enjoy Barcelona from above is Montjüic. You can go by cable railway from the beach (Barceloneta) and at the same time get a view of the whole city. The railway costs around €10-15 ($11-17).
Parque de Ciutadella: is a park which is located near the centre of Barcelona. This park is bursting with creative people during the summer afternoons and evenings. Many people come here to have a walk, have a picnic, hang out with friends, paint, listen to music, study or just have a good time. The park has a beautiful lake and a fountain.
Parque del Laberint d’Horta: A bit away from the center of Barcelona, you will find another incredible park called Parque del Laberint d’Horta. The park has a small maze (where you think you cannot get lost, but do not be too confident) and a super nice but small fountain. It is a perfect space to have a walk and it is located close to the forest, which makes you feel like you are on a hike but still close to the city centre of Barcelona. The air feels fresh here as it is located above the city. Close by, there are also several other parks and view spots that can be explored.
Whilst Barcelona is incredible, I strongly suggest going outside of the city to enjoy the amazing mountain views. I highly recommend to join an organised hike where you have an experienced person who can lead you on this tour. Siruana, for example, is only a two hour bus or car ride from Barcelona and the mountains around Siruana are magical. There are also places closer to Barcelona if the time for hiking is a bit limited, for example Tavertet.
I would recommend to join Mamut Hiking on one of their hikes. Please LIKE them on Facebook and download the MeetUp app. When you contact them, ask for Yulia, who is a passionate hiker, arranging several hikes close to Barcelona. The meet ups happen every weekend and it is possible to join a one day hike or a multiple day hike. I highly recommend doing this.
If you are into the Latin dance world like me, you will find many good places in Barcelona where you can dance Bachata and Salsa. Great places to learn new dance moves and for a sociable night out are:
- Antilla Salsa Disco
- Mojito Club
- Salsabana (great dance classes here)
- Dio Club Seven
- Salsongu and Bachatonu Club
- Bachata Dance Club.
There are also many big clubs in Barcelona if you are into house, tecno, hip hop and RnB. Many of the clubs are down at Barceloneta (Restaurant Carpe Diem Lounge club, Pacha, Shoko and Opium), which attract a young and international crowd. There are also several clubs in Gracia, offering shows and artists every day of the week, such as Sutton, Razzmatazz, Otto Zutz and Gatsby.
This is a great way to see Barcelona and understand the history and architecture. You can book this with your hostel and it is completely free, donations welcome at the end. Tours tend to leave from Plaza Catalunya at 11am and 3pm. Check out Free Walking tours Barcelona for more information. The walking tour will take you through Las Ramblas, one of the most famous streets in Barcelona. Whilst it is touristy and overcrowded, it is a great experience. Look out for the Miro Mural, created by Joan Miro who was one of the most influential artists in Barcelona, alongside Gaudi. You will find them by Liceu Metro and Liceu theater. Tours available in Spanish and English.
The main beach in Barcelona is, Barceloneta. Whilst this beach is a lovely spot to relax in (despite the constant stream of salesman and touts), it is super crowded and rife with pickpockets. Therefore, I suggest that if you have the time, take the R2 train and visit the beaches outside Barcelona. My favourites are:
- Badalona (30 minutes from Barcelona)
- Sant Pol de Mar (1 hour from Barcelona, pictured)
- Sitges (30 minutes from Barcelona)
Castelldefels (25 minutes south of the city centre) is a great place to visit for the day or night. It is a little town that can be reached by train from Barcelona's central station. The beach is vast and there is lots going on such as kitesurfing, volleyball and various other activities. If you are there for food, check out Takua, a beautiful restaurant serving delicious food. You will be surrounded by flame lamps, vintage furniture, bountiful plants and the friendliest staff you will ever meet!
If you enjoy nature and mountain views, Montserrat is the place for you. Translated as 'Saw Mountain', this beautiful mountain range is located close to the centre of Barcelona, so it could easily be visited in half a day. However, we would suggest spending a little longer out here, the views are incredible. Sitting atop the mountain range is Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery. Inside, you will find the Virgin of Montserrat, one of the few black madonnas of Europe.This is Catalonias most important religious retreats.
Head to Barcelona's main train station, Barcelona Sants in Placa Espanya, and take a R5 train to Aeri de Montserrat, which will take just over 1 hour. Once you arrive, you can then take the cable car up to the monastery. Combined tickets for the whole journey can be bought at the station in Placa Espanya. Once you have explored inside, head out on one of the many hiking trails.
If you fancy a little more exercise, take the train to Monistrol de Montserrat from Place Espanya, walk through the town of Monistrol and start making your way up the mountain! I would advise setting aside a whole day if you are planning on doing it this way.
There are cafes by the monastery but we suggest taking a picnic with you and really making a day of it. Head to the Boqueria Mercado before making the journey. But please dispose of your waste properly or take it back to Barcelona with you!
Take layers - it gets cold up the top and don't forget suncream!
The Magic Fountain is a fantastic attraction to visit when in Barcelona. Originally designed in 1929, the Magic Fountain was restored in 1992 for the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
This impressive fountain offers a sensational show set to music and lit by every colour of the rainbow. Hundreds of people come to watch this spectacle, sitting on the surrounding steps that lead up to the MNAC Museum or from the vantage point of Montjuic Mountain (mentioned above), offering incredible views from above.
During the summer months of June to September, shows are from Wednesday to Sunday, with two shows a night, lasting around 15-20 minutes For the rest of the year, the shows are from Thursday to Saturday. Start times are usually around 8/9pm. Check here for timings and extra information.
There are lots of good hostels, hotels and airbnb’s in Barcelona to choose from. Many locals also rent out a room in their apartments which is very affordable if you wanted to keep your costs down when travelling in and around Barcelona. I would say that the average price for renting a room in Barcelona, during the weekend is around €40-50 ($45-60) per night in the city center. You can also find a cheap hostels with prices as low as €18 per night ($21). If you are comfortable with living a bit outside of the city centre the prices are even lower. The prices are also dependent on the season and when the booking is made. Check out Air Bnb, Booking.com and Hostel World for more information.
Use this link from Cj and get £25 off your Air Bnb stay!
Depending on your motive with your journey to Barcelona, there are different areas recommended to your stay. Below is a list of a few of the most popular and not so popular areas in Barcelona, which I would recommend and not recommend to stay in.
Ciutat Vella is the old town and the historical center of Barcelona. This part of the city is located close to the city beach and divided into 4 smaller districts (Barri Gotic, El Raval, La Barceloneta and Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera ). The tourist lane, La Rambla, has Barri Gotic and El Raval on either side. This part of Barcelona is most popular with tourists and often overcrowded, especially during high season. There are also many locals living here, and depending on which part of the area you are in, there are a few things to know before you arrive.
El Ravla is known for its worn down houses, small alleyways, shops and an international cultural scene. Historically, El Raval has been notorious for high criminality, prostitution and offering a decadent party life. Whilst El Raval is now much improved, I would recommend to being careful if you choose to stay here.
Barri Gòtic, also known as el Gòtic, is the oldest part of the historical center of the city. This part of the city is super cosy with narrow streets and small authentic shops. It is perfect to stroll after a long day and to sample some of Barcelona's most delicious tapas or have a glass of wine in one of its snug restaurants or bars. Watch out for thefts! Due to the narrow streets, pickpockets and thefts are common here.
La Barceloneta is an old fishing quarter built in the 19th century. The neighborhood is bursting with charming old houses, bars and restaurants with outdoor dining. During summertime, the beach if filled with all kinds of people doing outdoor activities, sports, yoga, swimming, partying and hanging out with their families. The vibe here is beautiful and it is a great place to spend an afternoon. The area is quite safe to live in, but watch out for thefts during day time at the beach. I would not recommend leaving your valuables unattended to have a swim as there are many pickpockets at the beach.
Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera (& El Born)
The last district of Ciutat Vella is Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera. The area is a surrounded by Via Laietana on one side and Arc de Triomphe and the Parc de la Ciutadella on the other (two amazing places to visit). In Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera you can find a market that could compete with La Boqueria (located on La Rambla), called Mercado de Santa Caterina (the market of Saint Catherine). It is worth a visit! El Born is a part of Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera, and is probably one of the most popular areas in Barcelona, especially in the old town. This part of Barcelona has a bohemian atmosphere, art galleries and museums (for example the Picasso museum) and a lot of cosy restaurants and bars.
The Eixample district is a dynamic district in Barcelona which was built during the 1860’s. The area is divided into smaller sub areas, la Nova Esquerra de l’Eixample, l'Antiga Esquerra de l’Eixample, Dreta de l’Eixample, Sant Antoni, La Sagrada Familia and Fort Pienc. Not only is Eixample my favorite area to spend time and live in, but it is also one of the safest in Barcelona. You should always be careful about your valuables when walking around the city, but the districts in Eixample are much safer compared to the old town. You will also find many of the most famous attractions here, such as the work created by Gaudi (Sagrada Familia, Parc Güell, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo). Eixample is iconic and one of the most comfortable areas to live in in Barcelona. You have access to restaurants, shops, supermarkets and bars, all within walking distance. It is close to the historical city center as well as the upper parts of Barcelona (for example, Gracia). If you are in to shopping, you will find the greatest shopping districts in the city, for example Passeig de Gràcia, Plaça Catalunya and Avinguda Diagonal, where there are both exclusive shops and cheaper stores.
The neighbourhood in Gracia reminds you a little bit of El Born. This area is located above Eixample and is known for its bohemian crowd and multiple international restaurants. There is also fantastic nightlife in Gracia, where you will find super popular clubs such as Gatsby, Bling Bling and Sutton. Gracia is also known for its Gracia festival which is held for 5 days in August. During this time, locals compete in decorating the area and Gracia really comes alive with amazing live music acts, pop up food places and lots of dancing! We highly recommend this area to stay in!
Pars Tailors is an incredible hostel inspired by a 1930’s tailors shop, combining vintage chic and modern facilities. Located in a ‘hippie’ district of Barcelona, between Sant Antoni and Eixample, with close proximity to the famous Las Ramblas and Placa Catalunya (10 minute walk), this hostel will captivate your imagination immediately. The interior is decorated with retro suitcases, old fashioned sewing machines, interesting wall hangings, tables shaped like ironing boards, old school sofas and chairs and fascinating trinkets. The rooms each have their own them, based on different styles of fabrics and catering for all guests needs. You can stay in a dorm or private room. Dormitories are either 6,8 or 12 bed and there is the options of female only rooms. Prices start at €18 ($21).
Pars Tailors hostel also offer free tours, paella cooking lessons, sangria and beer nights, great for meeting other travellers, as well as bike rental, 24 hour reception, a fully equipped kitchen, roof terrace and so much more. They have been featured in the Guardian as one of the top hostels in Barcelona and featured in numerous magazines. The staff are super friendly and provide a great space to meet like minded travellers.
They are very close to the Aerostop (1 minute walk) which offers direct links the airport, which takes 20 minutes. More information on their website.
There are 4 different Sant Jordi Hostels in Barcelona. Depending on what you are looking for, each one has its appeal. I stayed in Sant Jordi Gracia and had the most amazing time. Pedro and his team are incredibly welcoming and really look after you. They have a great common area with beanbags, a TV for movie nights, tables, computers and musical instruments!
The hostel is super clean, the beds are comfortable and come equipped with power sockets and lights and there is always something going on. But if you are looking for peace a quiet, there are enough places to escape to, including a gorgeous roof terrace and courtyard.
We highly recommend this hostel and the area - Gracia is cool, bohemian, artsy and has lots of amazing cafes, tapas bars, jazz clubs and quirky eateries. Expect to pay around €20 per night.
- It is not very common to find street food served through food trucks in Barcelona, mostly due to the limited parking space! However, there are a few places such as La Boqueria at Las Ramblas, a fantastic food market where you can buy a lot of different dishes while walking around. You can find street food at every market in Barcelona, for example at Mercat de Sant Antoni, Mercat de Santa Caterina, Mercat de Sant Concepció and Mercat del Ninot.
- Barcelona is known for tapas and paella. The more commercial tapas place what serve proper tapas is Vinitus, which is one of the most recommended restaurants to have tapas in Barcelona. The tapas here are super good and the place is well deserved to be visited.
- I prefer the smaller places to eat, El Mercader del Eixample is one of my favorite places to go. The menu is slightly limited as they do not have a big range of courses to choose from (I prefer that!), but you can tell that they have carefully picked out their best choices. The best thing with the restaurant is that they have a small inner garden that is so magical that you cannot imagine that it can be found in the inner center of Barcelona. Check out their reviews on Tripadvisor.
- L’Enric is also a small but nice tapas place in Eixample. Expect to pay around €30 ($35) per person including 2 glasses of wine and 3 tapas. Another place that serves great tapas in Eixample is Cerveceria Catalana at Carrer Mallorca.
Vegan and vegetarian places to eat are truly exploding in Barcelona. Below are my favorite places in the city so far, that are specialised in healthy vegetarian and vegan food:
- Flax & Kale
- Fit Kitchen Barcelona
- Alsur Café (there are 3 in the city, all as good as each other!)
- Galeria Cosmos
- Green & Berry
- Brunch & Cake
- The Juice House
- Hammock Juice Station
- Mamas Cafe in Gracia
- Veggie Garden - GTT TOP PICK!
- Guanabara: A Brazilian restaurant located on Carrer del Consell de Cent and provides you with the most beautiful and luxury atmosphere without being too fancy. The service at Guanabara is excellent and they usually have a live singer performing during the dinner. The restaurant does not have a menu, it instead offers a buffet where you pick your preferred sides (such as salad, rice, sushi, vegetables, cheese etc.) and the waiters constantly offer you different types of meat right at the table, until you beg them to stop. The meat here is delicious. You can tell that they have put their soul into the food and I can guarantee that you will not leave without being full to the brim - it is hard to resist with food that tastes that good!
- EatmyTrip is another goodie! You MUST check them out. They serve the most delicious homemade cakes, speciality coffees and delicious brunch options. Head to Consell de cent 378 to check them out. Follow them on Instagram: @eatmytrip and LIKE them on Facebook.
- Head to Fortune Bubble Waffle for 100% original Hong Kong Bubble Waffle created at their gorgeous little shop in Career de Sant Pere Mes Biaz 14. Home made waffles with ridiculous amounts of different toppings. A real sweet treat :) Check them out on Instagram: @fortunebubblewaffle and LIKE them on Facebook and get ready to drool!
I suggest supporting local entrepreneurs by joining groups for yoga, workout, hiking, wine-tasting, language-exchange, activities by the sea or any other preferred activities. For the adventurous people, I recommend joining Mamut Hiking ~ a hiking meetup organised by Yulia Sesareva, check out her Instagram: @yulia_mamuthiking and LIKE her on Facebook. Yulia will take you exploring and you will go on the most amazing hikes just outside of Barcelona, meeting new people and making new friends :)
- I also like supporting local businesses and family-run restaurants in Barcelona, that serve genuine local food and wine.
- Do not forget to support the young creatives, the local artists, designers and vendors who can be found everywhere you go in beautiful Barcelona.