Get the most out of your holiday and take a second and read through our list of things to know before traveling to Barcelona.
1. Catalonia is not Spain
Okay, it is really. But, it’s a tricky situation, especially at the moment. Catalans are a fiercely proud bunch with a strong cultural heritage that is unique to the region. Under Franco, this northeastern corner of the country suffered tremendously. The dictator banned Catalan institutions, legislation, and language, in turn, giving birth to separatist ambitions that in the wake of the 2008 financial crash have reemerged and in recent years, come to a head. In 2017, Catalan pro-independence leaders coordinated an independence referendum. The Spanish government declared it illegal, and voters and police clashed. While this will in no way affect your visit, understand that this is a sensitive issue that the locals will hold strong opinions of. So, be respectful.
2. Forget the Flamenco
Following on. If you’re expecting the fiery Spanish fairytale pushed by Hollywood blockbusters that lump the country into a grotesque amalgamation of stereotypes that include feisty flamenco performances, matadors, and bloody bullring showdowns, then head 1000 kilometers south to Andalucia. This is not to suggest that Barcelona isn’t as colorful and vibrant as all that, just that it boasts its own brand. So, when you visit Barcelona, throw out whatever preconceived notions you have unintentionally sponged up over the years and let the city and the distinct Catalonian culture surprise you.
3. No Parlem Espanyol
That’s right. They speak their own language in these parts. Don’t worry, if you’ve spent the last three months listening to rosetta stone tapes fine-tuning your pronunciation of Buenos Dias, Catalans speak Spanish too. But, the local language is its own thing and if you want to earn points with the folk brush up before you go. A couple of phrases you may want up your sleeve are, “Bon Dia,” “Sisplau,” and “Adéu.”
4. Barna not Barca
As tempting as it may be to say prior to departure or upon your return that you’re “going to Barca” or “just got back from Barca,” don’t. Barca refers to Barcelona’s football club, Barcelona FC. Using Barca to reference anything other than the football team will make you stand out like a sore thumb. To blend in like a local drop the “c” and replace it with an “n.” Barna. Roll it around your tongue. This is Barcelona’s correct nickname.
5. Summer lovin’ had me a…crowd
Another essential thing to know before traveling to Barcelona over the summer is that it gets busy. In 2017, the Catalonian capital was the 12th most visited city in the world with 8.9 million international visitors. In the context of Spain, it is the most visited city in the country. And, from May to September, it is busy, busy, busy. Tourists throng the streets of the Gothic Quarter, form mammoth queues at the major attractions, and crowd the beaches, and restaurants. So, if you’re hoping for a slightly quieter visit consider going during the offseason.
6. So, when’s the best time to visit Barcelona?
Spring is one of the best times of year to visit Barcelona. The weather is cooler, and there are a slew of festivals and parties to enjoy. Chief among them is the Calçotada, a festival where sweet spring onions are barbequed, dipped in romesco sauce, eaten by the bucketload and washed down with goblets of vermouth. Or, pull up in September/October when the crowds have thinned, the weather is still warm, and the water still swimmable.
7. And the worst time?
August. August is the worst time of year to visit Barcelona. Plain and simple. All the locals tack up “tacant per vacances” – closed for holidays – signs and disappear, leaving the city devoid of locals and packed with tourists.
8. Sticky Fingered Pickpockets
Going hand in hand with a city that has a high tourist turnover is, of course, petty crime. Barcelona has a reputation for it. This may also have something to do with the law. The theft of anything under the price of € 400 is a misdemeanor, and If you’re caught, you’re only hit with a € 50 fine. Even if you’re a repeat offender. So, one of the most important things to know before traveling to Barcelona is that you need to keep your personal effects close to you. Some good practices are not to carry your wallet, cash, cards or ID in your pockets. Invest in a money belt that you can clip to your person or hang around your neck and keep beneath your shirt. If you’re at a restaurant, don’t drape your bag over a chair or leave any valuables in plain sight on a table.
9. There’s more to the city than the Sagrada Familia
There’s no denying that the Sagrada Familia is an absolute must when visiting Barcelona. But, it’s important to remember that there is more to the city than Gaudi’s masterpiece. Same goes for Park Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and La Rambla. Chief amongst the Barcelona travel tips is if you are planning on visiting one, or all of these, sites, then work out the details beforehand. All these sites are always busy and wait times in queues to get into them are guaranteed to hit the hour mark, if not more. So, Book Tickets Online in advance. Most also offer skip the line options which mean you can throw wait times out the window and avoid the hassle altogether.
10. MACBA Magic
For an exciting afternoon out and a different taste of Barcelona’s diverse culture, head to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. MACBA for short. Before you head into the museum, which boasts an incredible selection of contemporary and modern art, hang out front. This corner of the city is skate Mecca that both pros and young up and comers have shredded for years. Paul Rodriguez’s big spin heel anyone? If you’re not interested in spending an afternoon trying to decipher artwork and just want to check out the scene, head to MACBA on Tuesday. Tuesday’s MACBA shuts for the day, and without the patrolling security guards, everything runs uninterrupted.
11. The Dos and Don’ts of Barcelona’s Beach
Barcelona’s beach, made in preparation for the city’s 1992 Summer Olympics, is one of the best urban beaches in the world. The Paseo Maritimo, or beach promenade, is a two leveled boardwalk that stretches for miles. All year round this is the perfect place for a jog or a cycle.
If you’re not keen on the idea of exercise, then roll out a towel and catch some rays along this long stretch of coast. Remember those sticky-fingered pickpockets? They operate with impunity here, so be conscious and careful. This may seem inconsequential, but one of the small things to know before traveling to Barcelona beach is not to buy drinks from the chaps who stroll up and down the sandy shore hawking cold beers and mojitos. The unofficial vendors cause quite an upset with the locals and buying from them is illegal. Also, the beers and juices and fruits used the cocktails are stored in severely unhygienic locations (often in the sewers around the city). In the summer that refreshing mojito is mixed with mint and lime that have been left to fester under the baking sun for hours at a time. Um, no thanks. All up and down the beach are official bars where, if you’re looking to quench your thirst, you can pick up a cold bevvy.
12. Is it Time to Eat?
Barcelona operates on a different timetable. For most of us who hail from overseas, adjusting to a Catalan schedule may take a bit of time and a whole lot of getting used to. But, here, there is no 6.30 pm dinner, and lunch is the main event. So, if you want to pull a chameleon and blend in with the natives, pull up between 1.30 and 3.30 pm for a three-course lunch meal. Then, head home for a siesta before rolling out for a dinner of tapas no earlier than 9.30 pm.
13. Soggy Tapas does not a Great Meal Make
Barcelona is brimming with tapas bars. But, beware of where you decide to pull up for a meal of these delicious small plates. It’s easy, especially when walking La Rambla, to fall into the tourist traps, with places pushing poor quality food. If you’re not keen on doing research beforehand, then head off the beaten track. Away from the crowds, you’re sure to stumble on something that will give you a fantastic tapas experience.
14. Talking of Tapas
Talking of tapas, no trip to Spain would be complete without tasting Patatas Bravas. These are small, quartered potatoes fried to perfection and served with aioli. They are, undeniably, one of the tastes of Spain.
15. Paella, Paella, Paella!
Contrary to popular belief, paella is not native to Barcelona. In actuality, paella comes from Valencia. But, it has been exported, adopted and adapted by Catalonia and many of Spain’s other regions. For those who don’t know, paella is huge pans of yellow or black rice, fresh vegetables, and depending on the dish, rabbit, chicken, or seafood. Avoid restaurants with pictures of paella hung up in their windows as these are generally cooked from frozen. For excellent paella head to Barceloneta. Pez Vela, at the far end of Barcelona’s beach promenade, specializes in the dish and serves up some excellent varieties.
16. To Tip or not to Tip
This is a question that plagues everyone wherever they travel. So, good thing you have us to work as your Barcelona travel guide, helping you to navigate the choppy waters of tipping etiquette. In Barcelona, a gratuity is not expected. Obviously, this isn’t to say that you should not tip, especially if you have been provided with exceptional service. If you do want to, anywhere between 5 and 10 percent is more than acceptable.
17. Beer O’clock
Don’t get us wrong, the Spanish put them away just like everywhere else, but they do it in a distinctly different way. Unlike in London, where when the clock strikes 5.00 pm everyone makes a beeline for the pub to chuck down a couple of pints, things are slower here. Notice the distinct lack of pint glasses? Here, the preferred glassware for a cold one is considerably smaller, just under half a pint, and is summoned by uttering the phrase “una caña sisplau.”
18. Tomar un Vermut
Or, “taking a vermouth,” is an art form in Barcelona. For many, vermouth is a cocktail modifier used in classics like the Manhattan, Negroni, and Martini. But, in Barcelona, it is its own thing, served up over ice and garnished with either an orange slice or an olive and a little of its salty brine. As with all great things, there are unwritten rules that one must obey to enjoy the drink properly. Firstly, vermouth is an aperitif. Secondly, only order vermouth from noon onwards, and thirdly, accompany it with something to nibble on. Only something small though, as vermouth is meant to arouse the appetite, so leave the tapas and mains for later.
19. Dinner before liquor to fit in quicker
Barcelona has, like the rest of the world, fallen into the gin and tonic craze. Head to just about any bar and order one, and the bartender will motion to a selection of gins and ask for your pick. In fact, the city boasts several fantastic bars dedicated entirely to the quaffable combination. But, and this is another of those important things to know before traveling to Barcelona, spirits are an after-dinner affair. Very rarely do Barcelona’s residents resort to hard liquor before they’ve lined their stomachs. This probably explains why a Spanish night out almost always ends in the early hours of the morning.
20. The Best View in Town
This is one of our favorite Barcelona travel tips. Up in the hills behind Gracia, a short walk on from Park Guell is one of Barcelona’s best-kept secrets, the Bunkers of El Carmel. Sitting atop the Turo de la Rovira are the remains of Barcelona’s civil war era artillery battlements. Set up to defend the city from aerial raids, they have since been removed and are now a draw for tourist and locals alike. You can read about the history of the site on the information boards dotted around, but it is really the view that people come up here for. From here you can enjoy stunning panoramic views of the entire city below. If you’re keen, take a small picnic or some sandwiches and a few cold beers, set up camp, and soak it all in.