Plan the Perfect Trip to the Thriving Catalan Capital
Barcelona is a city of contrasts: it’s Catalan and Spanish, traditional and modern, and exciting and laid-back, all at the same time. But it’s this perfect harmony that makes Spain’s second-largest city fascinating enough to draw around 32 million tourists every year. As one of Europe’s chicest cities, home to no shortage of things to see and do, it’s important to make every second count while in Barcelona. Here’s everything you need to know about planning your getaway to guarantee the trip of your dreams.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: Spring and fall feature mild, sunny weather and a pleasant, laid-back vibe. These low-season periods are ideal for both tourists and residents—accommodation prices and lines for major attractions will be on the lower side, and fewer crowds make it easier for locals to go about their daily lives.
Language: Spanish is the official national language of Spain. In Catalonia, Barcelona’s region, Catalan has co-official status, so you may see signs and menus written in one or the other—or both.
Currency: Spain uses the euro.
Getting Around: Barcelona boasts a widespread, inexpensive, and efficient public transportation system, making it easy to get around town in a flash. The metro, bus, and tram networks are all safe and easy to use.
Travel Tip: Lines at some of the major Barcelona attractions—such as the Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum—can get quite long at the box office. Skip the queues and buy your tickets for important tourist sites online in advance before you go, which will save you valuable time.
Things to Do in Barcelona
You could easily spend months in Barcelona discovering its thriving Catalan heritage and colorful modern culture. Home to great art, live music, and shopping in addition to some of Spain’s most iconic tourist attractions, Barcelona is a city where it’s nearly impossible to get bored. And if you ever need a quick break, head to one of its gorgeous parks or beaches for a quick dose of vitamin D.
- Discover the works of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, from masterpieces such as the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell to grandiose residences such as Casa Vicens.
- Explore the world of wonders that is Montjuic Hill, home to the National Catalan Art Museum, an entire miniature Spanish village, and some pretty spectacular views.
- Visit a bustling neighborhood market to get an authentic glimpse of local life—consider Mercado de Santa Caterina or Mercado de Sant Antoni as alternatives to the touristy Boqueria.
What to Eat & Drink in Barcelona
When thinking about food in Spain, one word probably comes to mind: tapas. These aren’t just small plates—here in Spain, going out for tapas is an entire social event centered around sharing food and good conversation with friends at a crowded bar. If you’re in the mood for a sit-down meal, you’ll also find plenty of rustic, traditional Catalan fare, as well as an exciting array of international restaurants representing the city’s vibrant immigrant community.
Barcelona is one of Spain’s most exciting cities for wine lovers, with century-old bodegas standing side-by-side with sleek, contemporary wine bars. Beyond the typical Catalan reds and whites—which are excellent—you’ll also find a lot of locals drinking vermouth and cava, Spain’s answer to champagne. Beer lovers will be pleased to know that the city is also home to a growing number of microbreweries serving up some of the most fascinating craft brews in the country.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
When it comes to where to stay in Barcelona, the best neighborhoods are just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the city center. By staying here, you’ll save money on your accommodation and avoid the louder touristy areas, making for a more pleasant stay.
Gracia, formerly its own village before being swallowed up by the ever-expanding metropolis that is Barcelona in the 19th century, retains plenty of small-town charm while keeping you close to the action of the modern city. Just south of that is Example, a chic, sophisticated district with a great shopping and dining scene. And if a seaside atmosphere is what you’re after, you’ll love the quaint old fishermen’s quarter that is Barceloneta (while the beach of the same name is far from Barcelona’s best, the neighborhood itself offers irresistible charm).
Three major Catalan airports serve the Barcelona area, but if you’re staying in the city itself, your best bet is likely to fly into Barcelona-El Prat (BCN). If you’re already in Spain or even elsewhere in Europe, the city is well-connected by bus and train as well, and is conveniently served by Spain’s high-speed train line (the AVE).
Culture & Customs
Though legally part of Spain, many residents of Catalonia—including Barcelona—consider themselves Catalan rather than Spanish. This means you might be more likely to see and hear the Catalan language being used, and some people may get upset if you identify them as being from Spain, so be respectful of the local identity. Large, peaceful demonstrations in favor of Catalan independence are not uncommon.
Tipping in Spain is not as customary as it is other countries, most notably the United States. As a general rule, a small tip (such as rounding up the bill to the nearest euro) is appreciated, but is not necessary in most industries.
Barcelona is generally a safe city, but petty crime such as pickpocketing does happen. Keep an eye on your belongings, and be aware of your surroundings at all times.
Money Saving Tips
- Come lunchtime, look for restaurants serving a menú del día. This multi-course meal deal includes two dishes (usually you’ll be able to choose from a short list of options), bread, a drink, and coffee or dessert, all for one low price.
- Or, grab some goodies from the market and head to the park for a DIY picnic that’s even cheaper.
- Take the bus or train from El Prat Airport to the city center and pay a fraction of what a taxi would cost for the same trip.
- Use a T-10 travel pass to save on public transportation within the city.
- If museums are your thing, plan your trip for the first Sunday of any given month, when they’re free throughout the city.