Barcelona will seduce you with its sunny beaches, dramatic mountains, and delicious Catalan dishes (tapas and vermouth, anyone?). Spend your days wandering through museums, your afternoons spellbound by Gaudí's surrealist architecture, and your nights dancing in cave-like clubs.
The capital of the region known as Catalonia, Barcelona is said to be over 400 years older than Rome. Whether that's true or not, this is not Barcelona's first rodeo. The metropolis is swarmed with tourists year round and who can blame them? Near perfect weather, award-winning architecture, and gastronomic fare ranging from traditional to modern make this city a delight. Fueled by political distress — after all, Catalonians are a fiercely independent people — there are two sides to today's Barcelona: a late-night party hub and a tranquil, historical treasure. Whichever you choose, Barcelona will have you saying ¡vale! to everything in no time.
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Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe. In 2016 alone, some 32 million tourists descended upon the city. Although officials are taking measures to control the flux of tourism, numbers are still high for a city of only 1.6 million residents. Point in fact: no matter when you visit, you're bound to run into long lines and hordes of sightseers. The best time to visit is between May and June, the beginning of festival season when temperatures hover in the mid-70s (~21-26C). Summertime, July-August, tends to be sticky and humid. Locals flock to other destinations for a reprieve from the heat, but this is when Barcelona sees a majority of its tourists. Expect highs in the 80s (~26-31C) — a perfect excuse to hit the beach — but little cooling off during the nighttime. Keep in mind that many businesses close for the whole month of August.
Temperatures dip back into the low 70s (~21C) in autumn and going for a swim is possible well into September. But beach excursions come to end in October and November, when lows dip down into the 50s (~10-15C) or less. October is the wettest month of the year, with rains persisting into November as scattered showers throughout the day. Winters (December-February) are mild (50s and 60s/~10-18C) and often see vacationing Europeans come for Christmas and New Years celebrations. Warmer weather returns in March and April, but expect occasional showers until late spring.
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Barcelona has eight metro lines run by the TMB (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona). They serve a majority of the city and can be identified by the number and color of the line (e.g. L1 [red]). The metro operates on a zone fare basis, meaning the farther you travel from the city center, the more expensive your ticket. Most of the the major sights and points of interest fall within zone 1. A one-way ticket in this zone costs 2,20€. If you plan on traveling often, buy a T10 ticket instead. This card costs 10,20€, is good for 10 journeys, and is valid across all modes of public transportation. Prices will also increase for T10 card users the farther you travel from zone 1; a fare guide can be found at the bottom of the official metro map. Day passes (2, 3, 4 and 5 days), known as Hola Barcelona Travel Cards, are also available, for 15,20€ up to 35,40€. You can pay for your ticket using cash (notes or coins) or card at ticketing machines inside all metro stations.
The metro runs Mondays to Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays from 5am to midnight; Fridays and the night prior to public holidays from 5am until 2am. Saturdays and nights before public holidays including New Year's day, June 24, August 15, and September 29, service runs non-stop. Operation ceases at 11pm on Christmas Eve.
The city also operates a metropolitan rail network known as the Ferrocarrils de la Generalitat, or FGC. One funicular in Vallvidrera; three L lines run within the city, seven S lines operate to suburban areas like Sant Cugat and Sabadell, and two R lines (known as Rodalies) travel farther to Manresa and Igualada. FGC operates Mondays to Thursdays, Sundays, and public holidays from 5am to midnight; Fridays 5am to 2am; Saturdays and nights before public holidays including New Year's day, June 24, and September 24 are non-stop. To enter all trains, simply insert your card into the machine, wait for the ticket to come back from the pop-slot, then pass through the turnstile.
The TMB also runs over 200 bus lines and 17 night bus routes within the city, all of which are accessible for people with disabilities. Ticket fares are the same as the metro. Transfers are available for free between one public transport to another within 1 hour and 15 minutes of the first use, except for one-way single ticket users. The Nocturnal Bus Service (Nitbus) operates anywhere between 11pm and 5 or 6am but this schedule is subject to change, so check the timetable before heading out. All Nitbus make stops at Plaza Cataluña and accept all but Hola Barcelona travel cards. You can purchase tickets directly on the bus.
Two tram lines, reinstated in 2004, provide easy access to Barcelona's industrial, shopping, and residential areas. The Trambaix operates from Francesc Macià Square to Cornellà de Llobregat. The Trambesós goes from Ciutadella Villa Olímpica to Badalona. Trams accept all of the Barcelona transportation cards — which you can purchase at any tram station — and run Mondays to Thursdays, Sundays and public holidays 5am to midnight; Fridays, Saturdays, and nights before public holidays 5am to 2am.
Renting a car is not recommended, due to the volume of people and vehicles, as well as shortage of convenient parking spaces. Major ride hailing services like MyTaxi and Cabify are available but it may be easier to stick with public transportation or to hail an official city taxi, which are painted black with yellow doors. Taxi rates per kilometer are 1,17€ (between 8am and 8pm) and 1,40€ (between 8pm to 8am). A supplement of 3,10€ per person will be added for rides with more than four passengers. As of 2019, Uber has been suspended in Barcelona.
Barcelona's bike sharing program, Bicing, has over 6,000 mechanical and 800 electric bikes available to rent with an annual membership or on a per use basis. Unfortunately, only residents of the city are allowed to sign up for a a Bicing card. Visitors are better off taking advantage of the pedestrian-friendly streets of Barcelona instead.
Euros are the official currency of Spain. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions and for picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment. It's also a good idea to have small bills on hand for taxi trips in case your driver cannot make change with larger bills.
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Spain is made up of 17 autonomous communities; Catalonia is one of them, with Barcelona serving as its capital. Over the years, there has been an on-going debate between certain political agencies and parts of the population over the separation of Catalonia from Spain. At the center of this dispute is the Catalan language, which has been used by separatists as a reason to establish Catalonia's own cultural identity.
The language does not derive from Spanish or French, and it is distinct from Castilian Spanish. Castilian Spanish is the purest and most proper form of the Spanish language, and is taught to most beginners. A majority of the population in Barcelona speaks Castilian, while only about 50 to 60 percent speak Catalan. During your visit to Barcelona, expect to see Catalan alongside Spanish in newspapers, television, books, roadsigns, shops, and museums. Here are a few common phrases you can use:
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Barcelona has earned a place among the top gastronomical capitals in the world. The city celebrates food in its purest forms, whether its at a no frills café or with traditional flavors. The proximity to the Mediterranean means fresh seafood, but ties with inland Catalonia make porks popular as well. Look for the famous Serrano hams and embutidos (cold cuts). But the most important thing for understanding Barcelonians' quotidian relationship with food is the timing.
Breakfast (8am to 10:30am) tends to be a light affair that consists of some coffee (café con leche or solo [espresso]), orange juice, a pastry (like churros), a sandwich (generally with ham and cheese), or toast with jams or marmalades. Because most restaurants do not open until 1 or 2pm, locals have a mid-morning snack, also known as almuerzo, between 11am and 12:30pm, to tide them over. Some bars will have specials like a small sandwich (entrepà) and a canyita, a small glass of beer; muffins and other pastries are common as well.
Lunch is the most important meal of the day in Spain. Known as comida, it is made up of multiple courses of heavier foods. Many restaurants offer an affordable menu of the day with 3 to 6 options for the first course, like soups and salads, followed by a meat or fish, paella, pasta, and/or rice and beans for the second course (platos combinados). This is topped off with dessert (yogurt or fruits), plus enough bread, wine, and beer to have you begging for a siesta when you're done. Lunch goes on between 1 and 4pm, with the rush hour around 2 or 2:30pm. Keep in mind that many business may close after lunch and re-open after 5pm.
The mid-afternoon snack, or la merienda, occurs between 5:30 and 7:30pm, and is more about socializing than the actual meal. Locals meet at cafés over hot chocolate, churros, and other sweet pastries. Cured meat sandwiches are also popular. Dinner (cena) is served on the later side, anywhere from 8:30pm until 11pm. Portions are smaller than lunch, and often this means tapas (aperitivos) at a wine bar. These small plates range anywhere between 1€ to 5€ and consists of calamari, potatoes (patatas bravas especially), and croquettes. The small plates can also be ordered as raciones which are larger plates of the tapas, or pinchos, mouth sized tapas served on pieces of bread. It's normal to order one racione per person or multiple tapas for the table to share. Visitors can still find the same dishes they had at lunch at dinner but usually at a higher price; bear in mind that most restaurants close one day a week (typically Sunday or Monday).
Markets are another major cog of the Barcelona food machine. In an age of mega supermarkets, Barcelona is investing in the revitalization of half of the 40+ markets across the city, many of which date back to Medieval times. Even if you're not shopping for fresh produce, meats, and other sundries, they are worth it for the atmosphere alone. Today, some of the markets offer free Wi-fi access, cooking workshops, hosted events, and exhibitions (like the Mercat del Born). La Boqueria one of the most prominent, helped usher in the modern food revolution of the 2000s and solidified the city as one of the food capitals of the world. Las Ramblas Market dates back to the 13th century, and it gets massive crowds, but you won't see as many locals here anymore. Head to Sant Antoni Market instead.
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Paella has grown in popularity so much that it's easy to taste it anywhere in the other. We still encourage you to taste the paella here anyway. In fact, try all of the seafood Barcelona has to offer, because it is fresh and it is plentiful. For a lesser known regional seafood specialty try Suquet de peix, a fish-and-potato stew once a breakfast dish for fishermen. Do not overlook the high quality tinned foods, or conservas. They started as soldier grub but have become a gourmet food product. Quality mackerel, scallops, octopus, squid, tuna, and clams are only a few of the delicacies served canned (some clam tins can fetch upwards of 600€ per kilo!). Try Quimet y Quimet, a hundred-year-old standing-room only tapas bar stacked with high quality conservas.
Nothing pairs with canned foods quite like vermouth, the fortified wine that has become the center of a mid-day social gathering across Spain (a gathering so popular it has its own name, la hora del vermut). Typically the first drink of the day, vermouth is enjoyed as an aperitif, on the rocks or with soda, alongside tapas and pa amb tomàquet, a bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil. Then of course there is the wine. Being one of the top three wine producers in the world, Spanish wine is a staple of Barcelona's every day. Aside from the typical dark reds (like Priorat) and whites from the Penedès region, the Spanish sparkling wine cava is exceptionally popular. Cava is served at weddings, banquets, and other celebrations and often comes in a white or pink color. You can also find refreshing sangria, cervezas (beer), or a gin and tonic ("gintonic," the Spaniards drop the "and"), the after dinner drink of choice, at just about any bar.
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Barri Gòtic offers more than just a tangle of ancient narrow streets. Treat your feet to a traditional, handmade espadrille from La Manual Alpargatera; pick up some new knives at the oldest cutlery shop in Catalonia, Ganiveteria Roca; or get a lesson on covering your head from this century-old boutique specializing in hats for every occasion. Home goods stores like La Nostra Ciutat have everything from baby toys and mugs to prints and graphic design posters. Nearby El Raval, a once dodgy part of town, has reinvented itself as an artistic bohemian enclave. It has become a breeding ground for boutiques selling luxurious skincare products, retro clothing finds, and souvenir shops with artisanal trinkets, ceramics, and local designer labels.
In Gràcia, shop the delicate creations at Les Catherinettes, a millinery with artistic headwear for men and women; check out custom furnishings and one-of-a-kind vintage at Antique Boutique; or scoop an old-timey camera at Nostàlgic and live out your film photo dreams.
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Spain is the birthplace of so many acclaimed art figures — and you can browse much of their work right here in Barcelona. The Picasso Museum in El Born dives deep into Spain's most acclaimed artist, with over 3,800 pieces from Pablo's formative years. If that weren't enough, the works are housed inside five contiguous Medieval stone mansions. Fundació Joan Miró in Montjüic was built specifically by Miró's friend to showcase the works by the Surrealist painter. The white, arched structure is an art piece in itself. In the same neighborhood is the massive MNAC: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, which covers Catalonian art from the 12th through to the 20th centuries. In the Eixample, you'll have your pick from Fundació Antoni Tàpies, — recognizable from its aluminum piping and metal netting above the rooftop — Fundación Mapfre — which showcases late-19th to mid-20th century painting and photography, — and Fundació Suñol — a contemporary art space that rotates 1,200 paintings, sculptures, and photography every six months. In La Font de la Guatlla sits CaixaForum, a former yarn and textile factory that now houses a permanent contemporary art collection and temporary exhibitions. The building, which once served as a police barracks before falling into disrepair, is one of the city's best examples of the industrial Modernisme style.
When you're ready to explore Barcelona's gallery scene, there is no better place to start than in the neighborhood of Eixample. ProjecteSD combines art exhibitions with artist conversations and book launches; Galería Senda presents diverse young and established artists on the national and international landscape; Galeria Mayoral focuses on work by postwar masters like Picasso, Miró, Dalí, Magritte, Chagall, and more; and ADN, which examines works by artists working the socio-political realm.
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About 10 percent of the city is covered in parks — 68 green spaces to be exact. This means there is an average of 18 square meters of park space per resident to enjoy. Just off El Born, visit Ciutadella Park, where you can go paddling on the lake, take a trip to the local zoo, or marvel at the ornate Cascada Monumenta, a stone waterfall designed by Gaudí. In the northern neighborhood of Gràcia is the famed Park Güell, where architecture meets nature in a sprawling 17 hectares of land. The park was a failed housing project by Gaudí for Spanish entrepreneur Eusebi Güell, who later bequeathed the property to the state. It is probably one of the most visited attractions in Barcelona, which means a long wait time and crowds. If you're looking for something quieter take a trip to Laberint d'Horta Park in Horta, the oldest park in the city. This green space features an elaborate labyrinth and 18th century neoclassical garden.
If you were looking for a beach prior to the 1992 Olympics, there weren't any. Today, there are seven that line the 4.5km coastline and offer plenty of sand and sunshine. Playa de la Barceloneta in La Barceloneta is a great option for when the weather is hot and humid.
Trendy El Raval plays host to a slew of bars where you can get the evening started off right. Caribbean Club has expertly mixed rum cocktails from famed bartender Juanjo Gonzalez Rubiera. They'll practically transport you to Cuba — but no food is served here, so pace yourself accordingly. If you're itching to meet the green fairy, Bar Marmalade knows how to pour a glass of the green stuff. They're the oldest operating absinthe bar in the city and also serve coffee to keep you going. Another long operating establishment is Casa Almirall. It was founded in 1860, but the place still knows how to have a good time. Go for a glass of vermouth or a microbrew. For something more lively, hit Bar Pastís. Arrive before 9pm to grab a seat at this French-themed cabaret bar that lives for Piaf and live acts. Speakeasy El Armario will have you sneaking through the owner's wardrobe, Narnia style, to enjoy decently priced cocktails...that is, if you can get in. With no regular operating hours you'll just have to rely on luck. If that doesn't work out hit Cassette Bar, where a young crowd gathers for gintonics inside a quirky, modern space, with indie and experimental electronic music on the speakers.
In Barri Gòtic, jazz aficionados congregate at Jamboree. The cave-like landmark hosts jazz, Latin music, and blues gigs downstairs, while the upstairs venue showcases flamenco performances. For DJ sets and strobe lighting, Macarena has a sound system that booms to keep you dancing to minimalist electro. In Poble-sec, Laut is a venue that plays a big part in the Lapsus Festival where avant-garde electronic music blasts to a crowd of 200.
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If there is something Barcelona does not lack it's architecture masterpieces. The city is home to nine UNESCO landmarks, including La Sagrada Familia Basilica in the Eixample district. The Gaudí treasure has been under construction for over a century (longer than the Egyptian pyramids), with completion slated for 2026. It attracts about three million visitors annually, with much of the admission fees going to the cost of construction. A less popular architectural attraction in the same neighborhood is Dipòsit de les Aigües, a reservoir building designed in 1874 to store water for the nearby park. The Romanesque reservoir is now the library for the Universitat Pompeu Fabra Campus de la Ciutadella. Eixample is the home of Gaudí's Casa Milà, or La Pedrera, best known for its rolling stone façade and twisting wrought iron balconies. Visitors can enter the home and visit the rooftop terrace for spectacular views of the city.
Park Güell in Gràcia is another big attraction, bringing in over 9 million visitors every year. Porticos mimic ocean waves, a dragon is covered in colorful and broken ceramic pieces, and striated columns pay homage to the Doric style of Greek temples. Gaudí's unparalleled fairy tale creation is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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When it comes to sports, Barcelonians bleed blue and maroon. Hop on a train to Les Corts to witness the local soccer team, FC Barcelona, in action. The largest stadium in Europe, Camp Nou is a legendary holy ground for major sports fan (but if you're no supporter of FC, tread lightly). It's an electrifying atmosphere to catch a live game. Barça has been through a lot since its creation in 1899 but one thing has stuck over time: FC Barcelona supporters are known as "culés," the word for "ass" in Catalan. The legend goes that those who walked past the former stadium could see the buttocks of spectators sitting in the highest rows.
If experiencing the game live is not an option, countless locals congregate in bars to watch the action on television: The Wild Rover Irish Pub, Flaherty's Irish Pub Barcelona, and Shenanigans Irish Pub Barcelona in El Raval, and La Taverna de Barcelona in Eixample are the best bets for a "culé" atmosphere — just make sure to book a table in advance on game day.
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A stay in El Born promises visitors a front row seat to some of the best that Barcelona has to offer. Picturesque Medieval streets, tapas bars, boutiques, the Picasso Museum, and the famous Mercat Santa Caterina are just a few highlights of the area. For a less touristy stay, opt for accommodations in upper El Born. Gràcia exudes small town charm — and appropriately so, as the area was once a stand alone village before being absorbed by the city. Today restaurants serving traditional Catalan dishes stand next to wine shops selling organic and biodynamic wines.
La Barceloneta contains long stretches of beach and luxury hotels, including W Barcelona. Family-run businesses and local residents who try to keep tourism to a minimum make this neighborhood a pleasant place to dive deep into the city's cultural heritage. To the northwest is Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, one of the most sophisticated districts in Barcelona. Affluent residents and luxury homes means access to fine dining establishments and even a mountaintop amusement park.
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Barri Gòtic's central location makes it very walkable to-and-from major attractions around the city. The historical, labyrinthine streets are closed to car traffic, so parents can rest assured that it's safe to let the little ones roam with you. El Raval is similar, with the added benefit of Ciutadella Park and its zoo. Sarrià-Sant Gervasi may skew older but the Tibidabo Amusement Park screams fun and will entice even the youngest members of the family. Don't forget to visit CosmoCaixa, a science museum housed in a modernist building, which features a planetarium and an Amazon rainforest. Stay in Barceloneta for a true family neighborhood feel: beaches, mini markets, and many apartments for rent in the area.
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