Barcelona: A Complete Backpacker’s Guide
¡Vamos a Barcelona!
A comprehensive how to guide for Barcelona, Spain.
Barcelona is one of my favorite cities. The reason is simple, once you have been you will see why. Barcelona is hot, energetic, and full of life. The city has beaches, mountains, great architecture, hills, art works, and a vibrant history. The people are great and the life is good. Top everything off with a little touch of Catalunyan pride and you have Barcelona. It will have you screaming màs in no time. Getting around Barcelona is not difficult, but it helps to know a few things. Thus, I have created this guide to Barcelona in order to help you do things on your own.
Quickly dispelling a myth: Barça never refers to the city. Only Barna can be used to refer to Barcelona in the short form. Barça refers only to the FC Barcelona. The world-famous futbol team from Barcelona.
Vocabulary: In Spanish, the word used for the region is cataluña. In Catalan, the word used is Catalunya. In English, the word used is Catalonia. I may alter the use of the word, but in my mind they are interchangeable.
When to visit Barcelona?
April-September if you are seeking moderate to excellent weather.
June-August is peak tourist season and full of people.
Off-season is from October-March and is far less crowded and can be mildly cold.
What to see and do in Barcelona?
This is a list of things that I like to do in Barcelona. It is a good start for anyone visiting the city.
- Relax on the Beach (There are multiple: Barceloneta, Bogatell, Nova Icária, Mar Bella, among several others.)
- Climb Mont JÜIC
- Stroll through Gaudi Park (Park Guell)
- See the Gaudi Houses
- Walk down Plaça d’España
- See a game at Camp Nou
- Walk La Rambla
- Visit the Open Markets (There are a few: Sant Josep, Moroccan
- Walk Barrio Gotico (Gothic District)
- Hike Tibidabo
- Party in Porto Olympico
- See the Arc de triomf
- Take a tour of the Monumental Arena
- Check out La Sagrada Familia
- Chill in Parc de la Ciutadella
- See the Roman legacy in Parc del Clot
- People watch in Plaça d’Catalunya (Plaza de Cataluña)
- Take a stroll around the maremagnum
- Drink and eat at la champagnería
- People watch and have a beer in Plaça Reial
- Walk around Sant Pau
How to get to Barcelona?
Barcelona is an extremely accessible city, which is another reason that makes it so great. One can arrive in the city through multiple ways, outside of conventional methods such as driving, walking, or cycling. You can arrive in Barcelona by train, plane, bus, or ferry.
By Plane: There are 3 airports that service Barcelona.
- El Prat – Is the airport that is physically in Barcelona. It is located in the southwestern part of the city. This is by far the most convenient airport. You can get to and from the airport by taking the aerobus or by using the local metro/rail system. It costs around 3-5€ to get to the city center (Plaza de Catalunya) by Metro. The aerobus is around 6€ one-way. Both trips take no more than 40 minutes.
- Girona – Is the second most popular airport that accesses Barcelona. Girona is a small city located about 85-90Km to the northeast of Barcelona. You can take a bus from Girona to Estació Nord in Barcelona, the buses are frequent leaving every half hour or so. It will cost 15€ one-way or 25€ round trip. You can catch the bus from just outside the airport to the right. The trip takes about an hour.
- Reus – Technically services Barcelona, but it is the least popular of the three airports. You can take a train with Renfe from Reus to Barcelona for about 10€. The ride should take about 2 hours.
- Estació del Nord – Is located near the Arc de Triomf and its metro stop.
- Sants estació – Is not far from Plaça d’Espanya.
Price Estimation Guide: Barcelona to Madrid: 30€
Barcelona to Valencia: 27€
Barcelona to Bilbao: 45€ (If you stop in Zaragoza, you could save some)
Barcelona to Montpelier: 45€
**Prices are estimations, but are about what you can expect to pay. Check the bus websites for current pricing.
- Estació de França: Is a large station just a short walk from the Barceloneta metro stop on Passeig d’Isabel II.
- Sants estació: Barcelona Sants metro stop doubles over as a train station.
- Muelle de San Beltrán – This is the main exit point, which can be found in the marina at the end of Avinguida de Parallel and/or La Rambla. There are ferry lines between Spain and Italy, the Spanish Islands (Palma and Eivissa (Ibiza)), and Morocco.
Where to stay in Barcelona?
Barcelona has more hostels and hotels than any place that I can think of, and as a result finding budget accommodation is not too difficult. There are a few reasonably priced hostels that hoover around 12-18€ per night. I recommend either staying at a centrally located place for convenience or one where you will meet people to have fun and explore with.
Additionally, check out options like AirBnB. You can find a range of rooms on the site and varying prices as well. You may find a more suitable situation for similar prices as a hostel or hotel.
If you prefer the hotel route, check out places on Kayak.com.
How to get around?
Public transportation in Barcelona is very efficient. Both the buses and metros are timely and relative quick at getting you to your destination. The metro takes about 2-3 minutes to travel between stops. The buses are less frequent at night and might leave you waiting awhile, but there are a few night buses. Both the bus and train cost 2€ per trip. I recommend buying either a day pass (T-dia) or 10 pass (T-10) depending on how long you are staying. Check their page here for all the card types. The passes work on the bus and metro.
Navigating the city by metro is the easiest thing to do. The lines are color coded and easy to understand. The metro and bus maps can be seen here.
The Metro operates between the hours of 5a.m.-12a.m.(05:00-24:00) Sunday – Thursday. On Fridays, the metro is open until 2a.m. (02:00). Lastly, on Saturdays the service runs for 24 hours.
Another option for getting around is to take a taxi. If you are with 2 or 3 other people, then a taxi will cost about the same as each of you individually taking the metro. A taxi between most major destinations will normally cost roughly 10€.
What to eat?
A signature dish of Catalunya, Spain in general, is Jamon. Jamon is sliced-aged pork. It has a very rich and distinct flavor. It is quite common to eat as a finger food or to eat with bread. There is a variety of types and they range in price.
Tapas and Pinxos are another Spanish custom. Pinxos (pronounced ‘pin-chos’) are not actually from Catalunya. They are the Basque version of Tapas. However, their fame has brought them to other regions of Spain. Tapas are appetizer-style foods that you can stop and get. They are typically more social foods rather than a complete meal, but Spanish people do find a way to make a meal out of them. You can find tapas at many little corner bars or restaurants around the city.
Paella is another food commonly associated with Spain. It is a rice-based dish cooked with high-quality herbs, spices, and your choice of protein; You can have Paella with seafood or meat. Seafood is usually the most customary. Paella is not from Barcelona either, but rather a tradition from Valencia. It has become popular to eat in Barcelona.
As you would imagine the Seafood is good in Barcelona also due to its close proximity to the Meditteranean. There are many restaurants serving a variety of regional dishes.
Lastly, I would recommend grabbing one of the international foods if you have some room left in your stomach. Because Barcelona is such an international city, it has attracted cuisines from many parts of the world. There are a lot of immigrants from Pakistan and Morocco, which have created a few nice eateries around the city. Additionally, the latino population has brought over some of their culinary traditions as well. If you are cruising around for late night food, try a Kebab. Barcelona has some of the better Kebabs that I have tried in Europe.
What to drink in Barcelona?
Spanish people party. Catalunyans are no different. For any given event, you are going to find them using it as an excuse to celebrate with a rewarding beverage. There a few signature drinks that are made in Catalonia.
- Clara – Clara is referred to as a shandy in English. It is a mixture of beer and lemon Fanta. It is a staple in the area.
- Cava – Cava Brut is a sparkling wine made in Catalonia. The drink is very similar to any champagne with its own twist of Spanish bits. Try to make it to the Champanería for a real treat.
- Wine – Spain is known for producing great wines. It ranks with Italy, France, Portugal, Argentina, Chile, and other major producers for some of the best tasting and quality wines available. You can find wines easily at any store.
- Moritz – Out of the major beers produced in Catalunya, my favorite is Moritz. It has a good flavoring for my taste. It is a light beer.
- Voll-Damm – Produces several other beers in the area. Estrella Damm, Xibeca, and other Damm products are all made by the company. These are light beers and are typically the common beers available.
How to budget?
Budgeting for Barcelona is not difficult. Spain in general is cheaper than other countries in Western Europe and because of this Barcelona can be a budget friendly city. I have noticed that in Barcelona there is a large contrast. You have the backpacker crowd and the tourists. If you stick to the tourist route you can rack up some large bills rather quickly. As a backpacker you can save lots by sticking to the local areas and using grocery stores.
For example, you can get a baguette and a pack of turkey or ham for 1.50€. That can be lunch. An average meal such as tapas or pinxos would cost about 6-10€. A kebab will cost 3-4€. A 1.5L water bottle for around 0.60€.
A tourist could easily spend 20-30€ on a meal alone.
You can distinguish yourself by getting off of the beaten path and being smart. One rule of thumb that I learned was do not eat at any restaurant with a menu in more than one language. If it is only in Catalan excellent. If it is in both Catalan and Spanish, great. If it is in 5 different languages, with English being the first, run!
Staying Safe in Barcelona
Barcelona is an extremely safe city. There is virtually no violent crime each year. However, the amount of pickpockets goes up by the day. I have heard story after story of people being victim of a pickpocket while visiting Barcelona. The worst places are along La Rambla, near the Sagrada Familia, in the clubs, and along the beach.
Never leave the house with more than you are willing to lose!
To give you an idea of how bad it is, I once heard a tour guide telling a story about how he was giving a tour and realized that someone in his group did not look familiar. He called the person out and the guy ran off. Another person told me about a friend who was handed his wallet by a pickpocket because there was nothing in it.
I have also heard of stories about people’s bags going missing off of the beach or something disappearing from their pockets in minutes.
- Be smart about what you walk around with. Do not carry your life savings or valuable documents such as a passport.
- Never leave things behind you on the beach! Lay on them or strap them to your arm.
- Never go to the water and leave valuables at your towel. They won’t be there when you return. Ask someone around you whom you can trust to watch your things.
- Do not flash cash, valuables, phones, or anything that would attract a would-be thief.
- Pickpockets distract people in multiple ways, do not give in to someone you don’t know. They will look for opportune moments to strike like while you are at the ATM, paying for your bill, getting off of the metro, or talking to someone at the beach.
- Be on guard when there are large crowds or lines around.
About those red bikes
If you are like me you have probably wondered how you can get one of those red bikes that people have in Barcelona. Unfortunately, if you are not a resident of Spain and do not have a bank account in the city, then you will not be able to rent one. They are not for tourist or travelers, only for use by locals.
Where to party in Barcelona?
Barcelona is known world-wide for its night life. You can experience Barcelona’s Night life in many ways. This list is a broad overview, and it is not in any order.
- La Rambla – Most people will tell you to go here, but those people are not locals. La Rambla is fun only because there is a lot of activity and people. There are a couple of nice clubs and pubs in the area, but the main street is very expensive.
- Las Ramblas – La Rambla is the main street, Las Ramblas are the streets that run parallel to La Rambla on both sides. There are a few nice pubs, bars, and clubs tucked away in these streets. They are worth a visit. In the lower area of the Barrio Gotica, you can find many Irish pubs frequented by locals.
- Porto Olympico – This is probably what makes Barcelona’s nightlife so famous. There are two sections to Porto Olympico. If you are standing by the towers and looking towards the beach, then to your right are the major discotecas and the left are smaller ones. The clubs to the right are places like Soto Vento, Catwalk, Opium Mar, Shoko, and several others that bring in some of the most popular Djs from around the world. They are usually quite rude at the door and act very exclusive. There is a dress code. You will have better luck going early and staying until they get packed if you want to get in. If they let you in late you usually have to pay around 20€ just to get in. Drinks will run at least 8-10€ a piece. If you go to the left, then all of the discos are free. They are smaller, but drinks are not that much cheaper. It is nice to visit those discos with a small group of friends and try out a few different bars.
- The big clubs – There are several large clubs around the city. Razzmatazz and Apollo, are two of the more well-known clubs. They are mixed crowds, but tend to be more local. They also bring in bands and Djs. If you are looking for a club, then I would suggest these over the expensive discos near Porto Olympico. These will still cost you, but you won’t be dealing with the people.
- The small bars – The underground bar scene in Barcelona is pretty good. Barcelona has a few little-known “dive bars”. For example, there are a few Czech bars around the city. Another of these would be L’Ovella Negra (The Black Sheep). L’Ovella Negra is a standard pub. During the night it becomes very packed, but you can enjoy a few beers along the way. Additionally, you should check out places like the champanería. The champanería is a champagne bar that serves Cava Brut by the glass to all who purchase a small sandwich. The sandwiches are small, but good. The Cava glasses are about 1€ each and they do not stop. For under 6€, you can have several glasses and eat.
- The college bars – Being that it is a large city, Barcelona has several colleges and the population of the city tends to be young. You can find these places in the Vila de Gracia neighborhood.
- Spanish people start partying really late in comparison with the world norms. 10-11 is a good time to begin thinking about going out. 12-1 is a time when Spanish people start to go out. Don’t be surprised if you Spanish counterparts are still partying well after dawn.
Do it like a local
Get off of the beaten path in Barcelona. Sure there are some nice touristy spots, but the greatest aspect of the city is that the city exists outside of tourism. There are many really nice areas in Barcelona, and they are welcoming to visit. Take some time to walk around the city. You can find something new all of the time.
Day trips from Barcelona
Obviously this is a guide to Barcelona, but if you are going to be staying in Barcelona for awhile, then you may want to check out some of the places around Barcelona. They make for nice day trips or as the next destination.
- Monteserrat is an old monastery. It is a nice area with some great photo-opportunities.
- Andorra is actually a small country located on the border between France and Spain in the Pyrenees. You can ski there during the winter, and shopping is supposedly duty-free.
- Costa Brava is to the northeast of Barcelona, but it is a nice beach area. A much quieter relative of Barcelona.
- Sitges is another beach within close proximity to Barcelona. If you are looking for a change of pace and want to see a small Spanish coastal town, then look into it.
- Although it is not a day trip, you can get really good deals on flights to Morocco with Ryanair from Barcelona.
Grocery Stores in Barcelona
There are several major area grocery stores. I will list them all to give you an idea of where you can get things from.
- Spar – Spar is an area grocery store that services other parts of Europe as well. The prices are a bit higher and the selection varies.
- Carrefour – Carrefour is a French grocery operator that has stores in Spain. It is a commercial store with a large selection.
- Día – Día is a middle of the road style grocery. Prices are fair, but the selection slacks. You can definitely get the basics though.
- Mercadona – Mercadona is a popular store in the region. It is one of the larger ones and they offer a good selection of products. Mercadona is a good place to get Catalunyan products and goods.
- Corner stores – These stores are usually run by emigrants, which is why they are opened on Sundays, but the prices are higher.
If I have not listed enough reasons to go to Barcelona, I can add more. Barcelona has the makings of a truly beautiful city. It is livable and functional, and there is always something to do. It is a great place to stop by and visit as you pass through Spain, or check out if you plan on staying for awhile.
I hope that you have enjoyed this guide to Barcelona. Learn more about traveling through Spain here.