Planning A Trip to Barcelona: Travel Tips for First-Time Travelers

The exterior of a massive building, Montjuic, in Barcelona
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First things first – congrats! You’re planning a trip to Barcelona. And that’s a reason to celebrate! Barcelona is a vibrant and lively city to explore. But knowing a little bit about the destination before you take off helps manage your expectations and ensures you maximize your itinerary. This guide is filled with logistical advice and travel tips for first-time travelers to Barcelona (although a seasoned traveler may learn a thing or two). So, whether you are spending a week in the city or just one day, here are the Barcelona travel tips and practical info to know before you go.

Where is Barcelona? 

Barcelona is a major coastal city along the Mediterranean Sea in the northeastern part of Spain. It is located in the Catalonia region – an area that operates semi-autonomously in Spain. And Barcelona serves as the regional capital. 

What language is spoken in Barcelona?

Catalan and Spanish are the official languages in Barcelona, although the locals speak Catalan. Don’t make the assumption that Catalan is a dialect of Spanish – it is its own language.

Before you arrive in Barcelona, download the Google translate app or Duolingo app to learn a few basic phrases. “Hello,” “Goodbye,” “Table for two, please,” and “Where are the toilets,” are essential phrases to know. Although most of the people in the service industry understand and/or speak English.

Four yellow chairs around a table with several potted plants at restaurant in Barcelona
Dining is a lot easier when you know a few phrases in the local language.

What is the currency in Barcelona?

Like the rest of Spain (and most of Europe), Barcelona uses the euro as its currency. ATMs are widely available in Barcelona.

What outlet is used in Barcelona?

Barcelona uses the type E two-prong plug, so you need an outlet adapter and power converter if traveling from the United States (and most places outside of Europe). This converter does both! It has traveled with me around Europe for over three years.

The facade of the La Sagrada Familia church in Barcelona.
Barcelona’s star attraction – La Sagrada Familia.

How to get to Barcelona?

Barcelona Airport

El Prat International Airport is Barcelona’s main airport. If flying from the United States, this is the airport you will fly into. If flying within Europe, you may consider flying into nearby Girona. However, it takes an additional hour to get from Girona to Barcelona via high-speed train.

How to get from the Barcelona airport to the City Center?

Train: An easy way to get to the city center from the Barcelona airport is to take the airport train. Easily accessible from the terminal (with plenty of directional signage), the train from the Barcelona airport has three stops: Sants Station, Passeig de Gràcia and El Clot. Use Google Maps to determine which stop is closest to your accommodations. From the train stop, you can either catch another mode of public transportation (metro train, bus, tram), take a taxi or walk. A single train journey from the airport is just under five euros (or you can buy the T10 train pass).

Bus: Another option is to take the aerobus from the airport into the city center. And it may be more convenient, as there are five stops with the bus. A single journey ticket is just under six euros.

Taxi: A taxi from the airport to the city center is convenient, as well. The journey costs between 30 and 35 euros. 

Check out this website for more detailed information on airport transportation.

Barcelona Train Station

Estacio de Sants is the Central Train Station in Barcelona. The AVE, which is Spain’s high-speed rail line, is well connected throughout the region and other parts of Europe. If you are traveling from major European cities to Barcelona, you most likely will arrive at the Estacio de Sants station.

Read more: Barcelona is an easy high-speed train ride from Madrid. Check out this Madrid travel itinerary.

Barcelona Bus Station

Another option for arriving to Barcelona is via bus! And luckily, there are plenty of low-budget bus companies that connect major cities in Europe. Check out Flixibus or Eurostar, which are usually much more affordable than traveling via train (although the journey is usually much longer). Barcelona Nord is the main bus station in Barcelona. Taking the Flixibus from Barcelona to Nimes, France, was super cheap.

Barcelona Port

Located on the Mediterranean Sea, many travelers arrive in Barcelona by cruise ship. Look for cruises that start or end in the city. That way, you can add more time to your trip (versus only spending one day in Barcelona).

The interior of Casa Mila in Barcelona
Most of Antoni Gaudí’s popular buildings and sites (like Casa Mila here) are easily accessible via public transportation (or walking within in City Center).

How to get around Barcelona?

There are many options for getting around Barcelona – metro, taxi, walking, etc. If you do not have phone data in Barcelona, download the offline city map via Google Maps. That way, you can still use Google Maps without data.

Metro in Barcelona

You can purchase a single journey metro ticket. If you plan to use the metro several times (or have a few people in your party), purchase the T10 ticket for 11 euros. This pass is valid for 10 journeys on all metro trains, buses and trams operated by TMB, Renfe and FGC.

All tickets can be purchased from the ticket machine inside the station. Best of all, the machines are user-friendly, as you can operate it in your preferred language.

Taxi

Yellow taxis are everywhere in Barcelona. Look for the word “libre” on the front of the car. Libre means “free,” so the taxi should be unoccupied and available for you. Just raise your hand to flag the driver down (or ask your hotel bellman to call one). Make sure the taxi meter is visible and running. And while most taxis accept credit cards, double-check before starting the journey.

A red sign for the Barcelona City Tour Bus with tourists in the background
The city sightseeing bus is one way to get around Barcelona – especially on a crowded day like this one!

Barcelona Sightseeing Bus Tour

A tourist sightseeing bus is a convenient way to see most of the neighborhoods and sites in Barcelona. These bus tours operate like “hop on, hop off” tours. Simply hop off the bus on your preferred stop, and then head back to the drop off point when you’re ready to continue.

Usually, buses run every 15 – 20 minutes. You are given headphones to listen to the history of the sites during transit (and the audio can be played in many languages). The official tourist bus company is called Barcelona Bus Turístic, although the City Sightseeing Bus seemed just as popular. Tickets (30 euros as of October 2019) can be purchased on the bus or in advance.

Barcelona City Pass

When you are planning a trip to Barcelona, check out the benefits of the Barcelona City Pass. This pass may be worth purchasing if you plan to visit Park Guell and La Sagrada Familia, as well as plan to take the sightseeing bus tour. Just be sure to purchase the pass before you arrive in Barcelona. It includes transport from the airport to the city center, so you want to take advantage of that.

A restaurant in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona.
Get lost wandering through Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.

Walk

My favorite way to get around Barcelona is to get my steps in! Barcelona’s city center is very walkable.

Is there uber in Barcelona?

No, uber is not permitted in Barcelona. Instead, you can take the public transportation system (metro, bus and tram) or a taxi. Scooter rentals are popping up in the city, as well!

The colorful entrance to the Barcelona food market, La Boqueria.
Barcelona’s most popular food market, La Boqueria Market, is a fantastic place to sample the local cuisine. But watch your belongings – pickpocketing is (unfortunately) very common in this busy area of Barcelona.

What are the protests in Barcelona?

The recent protests in Barcelona likely have ramped up the “Is Barcelona safe” searches. It is unfortunate, as I have always felt comfortable in Barcelona (just keep your guard up – pickpocketing is very common).

So here is the Twitter version (aka in a nutshell) of the Barcelona protests: There is a pro-independence movement in Catalonia that has sparked a massive political debate throughout the country. In 2017, Catalonia voted in favor of independence from Spain. However, the Spanish government (located in Madrid) deemed the vote illegal.

In October 2019, the Spanish Supreme Court sentenced nine former Catalan separatist leaders to nearly a dozen years in prison. As a result, protests ravaged throughout Barcelona and other cities in the region – some violent, most peaceful.

The exterior of a building with the catalan independence flag in Barcelona.
The pro-independence flag is hung on buildings throughout Barcelona.

By chance, my family and I were in Barcelona during this time. But we only experienced a few trashcan fires, peaceful walks and lots of sirens. Security is heightened in the city – especially around government buildings and train stations. But in a big city like Barcelona – filled with nearly 3 million locals in the city center and 32 million travelers a year – the streets seemed to carry on as usual.

As a tourist, you most likely won’t experience any travel interruptions. Just be mindful that this is an emotional and sensitive topic for those who call Catalonia home. 

Best time to visit Barcelona?

I don’t think there is a “best time to visit” any destination. It’s subjective, and it all depends on a person’s interests.

High season in Barcelona

Summer in Barcelona is considered the “high-season.” Like you would expect, Barcelona is very hot during these months. Being on the Mediterranean Sea, several cruise ships are at port each day so the city is extremely crowded. But if you want to lay on the beaches in Barcelona, then summer may be the best time for you.

The beaches in Barcelona with people laying on the sand.
Want a true beach vacation? Then planning a trip to Barcelona in the high season is best.

Shoulder season in Barcelona

The shoulder season in Barcelona consists of the spring and fall months. During this time, the weather is less predictable. You likely will experience many warm days (but you may also have some rain – pack a durable umbrella). The crowds are still out, but not to the extent of summer. Shoulder season is my favorite time to travel.

Low season in Barcelona

The winter months make up the low season in Barcelona. During the winter, popular tourist attractions may close earlier than in the summer months. But most everything is open – even in the winter – as Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Thankfully, Barcelona winters are very mild compared to other (more northern) cities.

Read more: If you’re looking for milder European destinations in the winter, take a trip to Ravello on the Amalfi Coast or travel to Dubrovnik in Croatia.

Bite sized appetizers, a wine glass and beer at the local food market in Barcelona.
Sample the local cuisine at La Boqueria Market.

Do you tip in Barcelona?

If there is one attribute that travelers share, it’s our universal confusion for tipping in an unfamiliar place. And it seems every website, blog or guide book gives a different answer for tipping in Barcelona. Some say round the bill up, some say leave a euro or two, some say add 10% of the bill for exceptional service. WHAT DO WE DO?!

All I will say is this: Our tour guide on a day-long trip to nearby Montserrat practically lectured our group for 10 minutes when someone asked her to explain tipping etiquette in Barcelona. “It is completely unnecessary – we are paid by our companies. If for some reason you can’t accept that, and you need to tip us to feel good, then do it. We aren’t going to turn down money.  Of course, we’ll take it. BUT YOU DO NOT NEED TO TIP HERE!” – Barcelona native and tour guide.

Yet we Americans can’t break our habits. Of course, I tipped her 20 euros at the end of the tour. I’ll leave you with that story, and you can decide what to do.

Do they take credit cards in Barcelona?

Most businesses accept major credit cards in Barcelona. Mastercard and Visa tend to always be accepted, although you may experience some difficulty with American Express. 

Two glasses of cava in Barcelona.
Standing room only at this cava bar.

What are the meal times like in Barcelona?

A typical restaurant may be open for lunch from 1:30 to 4:00 p.m. Then, it closes until opening back up for dinner at 8:30 p.m. The locals in Barcelona eat late (compared to other places like the United States and other countries in Europe). 

And be sure to check out the El Raval neighborhood and El Born neighborhood for some fantastic breakfast joints.

What are traditional foods in Barcelona?

Tapas

When you think of Spanish food, you probably think of tapas, which are small, sharable plates. And you would be correct! There are so many fantastic tapas restaurants in Barcelona. Some favorites are the patatas bravas, jamon iberico, and then anything with seafood. Being on the Mediterranean Sea, the seafood in Barcelona is fresh and delicious.  And of course, any meal in Barcelona is best consumed with Spanish wine. Vermouth is also a popular drink of choice here. And cava is Spain’s take on champagne. Cheers!

Pintxos

Pintxos are also all the rage in Barcelona even though they originated in Spain’s Basque country. These small, bite-sized snacks are a small piece of bread with meat, veggies, cheese or seafood on top. Visit the El Poble-Sec neighborhood for pintxos.

Man ordering churros in Barcelona
Churros and hot chocolate are a must in Barcelona.

Churros and chocolate

Finally, for dessert, stop by any street vendor for churros and hot, melted chocolate. Churros are best when dipped in the chocolate!

Best area to stay in Barcelona?

Old Town

Like any large city, there are a lot of cool neighborhoods in Barcelona. Since the city is so accessible via walking or public transportation, I wouldn’t worry too much about finding the “perfect” area or place to stay. Because there are tons of great places! If you want to be closest to the tourist areas, look at accommodations around the Old Town. But even the Old Town is separated into small districts (El Raval, Barceloneta, Gothic Quarter and El Born).

Gothic Quarter

Wander through the narrow laneways and streets of the Gothic Quarter. This district is home to much of the city’s rich history and iconic landmarks. Many organized tours – like walking tours – meet in this area.

Two cups of coffee in a Barcelona coffee shop.
Discover the charming shops of the El Born neighborhood in Barcelona.

El Born

El Born is a trendy district of the Old Town that has lots of local shops, narrow streets and fantastic restaurants.

Barceloneta

Barceloneta is located near the beach and the port. It is well-known for its seafood and tapas restaurants. If you’re seeking a beach vaca, this may be the perfect place to stay in Barcelona.

El Raval

Finally, the El Raval neighborhood can get a bad rap. It is often described as “seedy” or a neighborhood to avoid after dark. I would describe it more as “gritty.” And there seemed to be a lot of students living in this area. As a tourist, you can find many budget-friendly accommodations in El Raval.

The view from inside a Barcelona accommodation is a yellow balcony and yellow shutters.
Wake up to these views in the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona.

Gràcia and Eixample

While not in the Old Town, the neighborhoods of both Gràcia and Eixample are also centrally located and give off a more upscale impression. Both neighborhoods are filled with highly-rated restaurants, high-end stores and plenty of things to do and see. Plus, public transportation is very accessible.

Where can a digital nomad work in Barcelona?

For my fellow digital nomads, there are plenty of cafes and co-working spaces in Barcelona. Check out the Coco Coffice if you need to get some work done. There are also tons of cafes – like Federal Gotic – that have a digital nomad and student vibe.

A menu, computer and coffee cup at a coworking space in Barcelona.
Digital nomad? You are in luck. There are several coworking spaces in Barcelona – like Coco Coffice. In fact, Barcelona has become a popular spot for location-independent workers.

Is the tap water safe to drink in Barcelona?

Yes! So, pack a reusable water bottle to avoid buying bottled water.

What to pack for Barcelona?

Nothing is worse than your phone dying mid-day. So, pack a portable phone battery charger on your trip. A day pack is also nice to have, especially if you are planning to walk quite a bit. And don’t forget a swimsuit and light-weight beach towel if traveling during the warmer months. For more packing suggestions, check out this minimalist packing guide for Europe.

There you go! Hopefully, this blog post shared useful travel tips as you begin planning a trip to Barcelona. Once the logistics are squared away, it’s time to plan the fun things to do in Barcelona – like visit Gaudi’s architecture, wander through the Gothic Quarter or take a day trip outside of the city. Or if you need more general traveling planning tips, check out this planning guide and checklist.

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One Comment Add yours

  1. jasonlikestotravel says:

    Very thorough guide. Only ever visited Barcelona on a daytrip with school so need to go back and explore it properly 🙂

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