There are a few things to know about Barcelona before you jet off on your Catalan adventure - the inside advice that’ll help you see the city and make your trip one you’ll never forget. If you’re after some handy Barcelona tips and tricks, we’ve got you covered from how to get around stress free to the secrets to seeing the city like a local. Is backpacking Barcelona the next stop on your travel bucket list? Check out these useful Barcelona travel tips so you can do the city like a pro!
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1. TRAVEL FREELY WITH THE HOLA BARCELONA CITY CARD
Our top tip for getting around Barcelona is to buy one of Hola Barcelona’s awesome city cards to get around the entire city with the ultimate ease. These travel cards can either get you 2, 3, 4 or 5 days of unlimited travel on almost all of the city’s public transport including all buses, all metros and the Montjuic funicular to name just a few. So the annoyance of having to buy tickets and carry the right cash all conveniently disappears. Plus they’re SUCH good value! Simply buy your ticket online (a 48-hour city card costs just €15.20), pick it up at any metro station’s Hola BCN machine, then scan your ticket and hop on board.
2. USE CITYMAPPER AS YOUR GUIDE
So you’ve got the city card, but now you need to actually use Barcelona’s public transport. Citymapper is an app you really can put all your trust in when it comes to navigating public transport in Barcelona and loads of other big cities around the world. Buses, metros, trams, cars - you name the vehicle and Citymapper can help. It’ll tell you where the nearest stop or station is, when the next one leaves, exactly how to get to your destination and how long it’s going to take you! The thing is a lifesaver!
3. GET TO THE POPULAR DINNER SPOTS EARLY
Barcelona certainly isn’t short of amazing places to eat. But when it comes to the very best tapas in Barcelona, that’s also authentic and affordable, people know where to go! A few of our particular favourite tapas bars include El Xampanyet and Bodega Vasconia, both in the Gothic Quarter, and you can expect a hefty line streaming out of both as soon as dinner service begins. The way to avoid the hunger pangs as you stand in line and wait? Get there at least 15 minutes early! It’s worth it to be able to walk right in and be guaranteed an enjoyable sit down (not stand up as many Catalan eateries do) meal. Authentic tapas bars in Barcelona are only small with limited seating which is why the good ones always get so packed, but it's all part of the Catalan food experience!
4. BOOK THE MAJOR ATTRACTIONS IN ADVANCE
If it’s your first time planning a trip to the Catalan capital, you can’t skip out on the city’s biggest attractions. However to guarantee you entry and avoid major disappointment, be sure to book tickets in advance of your trip, especially if a Gaudi tour is on your list! (And if not, it definitely should be.) To see Parc Guell properly, you have to book tickets and a timeslot to the Monumental Zone well in advance - we’re talking at least a couple of weeks in peak season. If you’re after a peek inside the Sagrada Familia, this is also one to book before you go. You might be in awe of the structure’s exterior, but once you step inside you will be blown away by its beauty making the entry fee oh so worth it!
5. KEEP LOOKING UP
When you’re walking through the labyrinth-like Gothic Quarter, keep looking up for some of the most beautiful sights in Barcelona. The tall, medieval buildings often adorned in flowers look simple yet beautiful, and you’ll often find yourself in quiet courtyards, one of which you can see the tallest spire of Barcelona Cathedral towering above. Keep an eye out for Placa Milans where if you look directly upwards, the curvature of the buildings create the most amazing photo opportunity you won’t be able to resist!
6. HOLD ONTO YOUR BELONGINGS
Whilst Barcelona is a city of beauty, don’t be too complacent while you wander your way through. Unfortunately, Barca has a reputation for pickpockets, so do what you can to avoid enticing the thieves and try not to look like a walking talking sign saying ‘I’M A TOURIST, TAKE MY STUFF’. Keep your phone zipped up safe, ensure your bag is always securely shut and leave whatever valuables you don’t really need in a locker back at the hostel. You don’t want a stolen phone to ruin your holiday, so don’t let it happen!
7. DON’T FALL FOR THE TOURIST TRAPS
Barcelona has become one of Europe’s most popular tourist destinations, and in turn the city has become flooded with overpriced restaurants and tourist services that we highly recommend you steer well clear of. Don’t be drawn into the restaurants down Las Ramblas by the lady with the menu stood outside - you can count on all the places down there not just to rip you off, but to serve you bad quality, inauthentic food too.
8. TAKE THE AEROBUS TO AND FROM THE AIRPORT
Forget booking a taxi to the city centre when you arrive, because the Aerobus is just as easy and miles cheaper. When arriving in Barcelona airport, find the Aerobus stop just outside then buy your ticket from the official beforehand and hop on board the next departing bus. The Aerobus is a great service used by everyone in Barcelona, not just tourists, as it’s great value at just €10.20 return and drops you right in the city centre at Placa Catalunya.
9. REMEMBER, SPANISH AND CATALAN ARE NOT THE SAME THING!
While Spanish is still widely spoken and understood by locals, it’s important to respect that Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and is not a Spanish city. Catalan culture is very separate to Spanish culture in the way of many things; music, dance, food, annual celebrations and, of course, the language to name a few. It’s a thing that Barcelona locals feel like the thousands of foreign tourists who descend on their city every day don’t make enough effort to learn Catalan phrases. So be sure to brush up on a few pleasantries before you arrive so that locals will know you’ve made the effort for them - we’re sure they will appreciate it.
10. GET OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
Barcelona is full of incredible history, culture and architecture - it’s home to some of Gaudi’s most celebrated work after all - however there’s so much more to the city than most tourists see. Between visiting the main attractions and gawping at the completely unique architecture, be sure to take some time to explore the more hidden gems of Barcelona. Get epic panoramic views from the Carmel Bunkers, have an al fresco glass of wine in the quieter Poble Sec district and shop at Mercat de Santa Caterina instead of the extremely busy La Boqueria. Seeing the more off-the-beaten-track Barcelona could leave you with some of the best memories of your entire trip.
11. SAVE YOUR EURO AND TAKE A FREE WALKING TOUR
Walking tours are a great way to see a city, and the ones that leave everyday from St Christopher’s Inns Barcelona hostel are totally free. If you’re only in Barcelona for a short amount of time this is a fantastic option, as you’ll see some of the best attractions and photo spots that will also be perfectly explained by your tour guide. Just be sure to give your guide a tip at the end.
12. THERE ARE MORE BEACHES THAN JUST BARCELONETA
Don’t get us wrong, Barceloneta is the ideal sunbathing spot when you’re in the city. It’s right by the Gothic Quarter, pretty much in walking distance and it’s simply stunning. However in the height of summer it can get absolutely packed! Instead of fighting for a space on the sand, soak up the sun on one of Barcelona’s many other beautiful beaches that aren’t even far away. Bogatell and Nova Icaria are just a few minutes cycle north of Barceloneta and WAY quieter. Head there for a few hours sunbathing with less people, more sand and cheaper drinks in a seaside chiringuito.
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