Barcelona basics: A short guide for first timers
Why is Barcelona one of the most visited cities in the world? For one it’s a city that combines a great variety of different kinds of people, architecture, nature, beach, nightlife and warm temperatures year around. Flying there is cheap and the city has an easy access to many other places in Europe. The question we really must ask ourselves is: why not to go there?
Here are my tips for Barcelona-rookies.
I lived in Barcelona almost 5 months and never stopped marvelling at the beauty of buildings and architecture everywhere I went. The city is quite big and there is much to see.
If I could say only one thing about BCN, it would be “there’s always another alley”. The city changes a lot and new stores come and go. That’s the reason why people keep coming back, there’s always something new going on.
Same happens with people. Barcelona is not the city of love but it sure is the city of passion. While I walked along the streets I saw many happy looking couples passionately kissing. I couldn’t help but wonder, did they meet last night or last year?
Sometimes that passion can take hold of you and you end up missing your flight – like I did. But not to worry, the cheapest thing in Barca after sangria are flights. Just get a new one or never leave.
From the Airport
Traveling at any time of day from the airport to the city centre is not a problem. Cheap airlines fly mostly either to BCN airport or Girona, which is a city located about 100 kms away from Barcelona’s centre.
From Girona you can take either a bus or train, I recommend the last one. Buses leave after every flight and cost around 10 euros per journey. If you take a train you will get to see a little bit of the beautiful city of medieval Girona, and landscape that you would not see from the highway. Trains leave every hour and cost around 6 euros per single ticket.
From Barcelona airport you have multiple choices to make your way to the centre or hotel. Most hotels are situated near either tourist locations or famous shopping streets like La Rambla or Placa Catalunya.
My choice would be either a taxi or local bus. Using taxis is quite cheap, from airport it’s around 20 euros to the centre. Taxis are a overall good way to travel in the city and you can catch them anywhere. Use the yellow-black ones with meters, they are safe.
Local bus number 46 runs all the time and single ticket costs two euros.
If you buy a T10- card which costs 10 euros, you can use it in metros, trains and buses for ten journeys. With single tickets you pay the double amount. At night time you can catch a night bus called N17.
Local buses don’t have space for luggage so if you’ve packed a stack of high heels (good girl) best take a blue airport bus which provides storage for your bags. One-way is 5,65 euros. It leaves every 20 minutes and takes you straight to Placa Espanya or Placa Catalunya.
Welcome to Europe’s capital of intelligent pickpockets. The most common way to get robbed is to be drunk. Pickpockets are smart and they work in groups. They normally know a tourist when they see one and lurk around tourist attractions and night clubs. You should also watch your belongings carefully in the Metro system.
Many of my friends have been robbed while walking home late at night or even while peeing, so be aware. As a woman, don’t walk alone late at night especially in areas like Raval or small empty alleys.
The city of wheeled transportation
The city centre is walkable and you can always hop on a taxi if you get tired of walking around. However, thanks to Olympics in 1992, the city has good pavement almost everywhere and it’s easy to move around with a bicycle, scooter or skateboard- anything with wheels really. Just go to Barceloneta, the neighborhood by the seaside, and you will see what I mean. There you’ll see people practice longboarding, pay for three-wheeled bicycle rides and look funny while driving segways. Hiring a bike costs around €5 per hour. Ask your hostel or hotel where you can find the nearest place to rent one.
Where to stay
Barcelona is not a cheap even though it’s part of Spain. You can get a litre of sangria with one euro but you can’t get a hostel under ten. City has lots and lots of hotels to offer but I would recommend to hire a holiday apartment if traveling with a budget and with a group. The city has multiple options. If you want a safe apartment without cockroaches, choose a website that offers apartments with good pictures and good information. Normally for scandinavians like me, sites on your own languages are the safest.
Tourist attractions- what to choose?
Barcelona is a huge city and it has a variety of everything! Normally people come for a long weekend break and there’s no way that you can see everything what the city has to offer in that short of time. From main tourist attractions I would recommend to choose the most unique ones (Gaudi, Picasso) or from the ones that you can see the big picture. Take an old funicular train to Tibidabo and you will see the whole city from Ferris Wheel. Grab a picnic and enjoy nature and Gaudi in park Güell. Spend half a day shopping and then head to the mountain of Montjüic to see the city lights and waterfall light show.
And last but not least, go out! Explore the variety of bars and restaurants that the city has to offer. Apolo club is for booty shakers and “nasty mondays” are something that party people have to experience. Have a mojito at least in one of the themed bars the city has to offer. If you miss cold home temperatures, Icebarcelona is your choice.
I have to say food in Barcelona is not my favorite. I am a vegetarian so it was kind of hard to find food. Anyways the city does have good places that I would gladly recommend either you eat meat or not.
Before sunset in Barceloneta, grab a baguette from amazing Bo de B.
Try a huge vegan burger and mouth watering pear avocado smoothie at Veggie Garden and you will not get disappointed. Price for a burger is €4 and you will have troubles finishing it. Enjoy world famous tapas and one euro beers or red wine in Can Pepe at the feet of Montjüic. Definately don’t miss out food markets like La Boqueria where you can find 1,5 litres of strawberries with €1!
Best coffee in town is Satans Coffee Corner on Carrer Peu de la Creu. Taste it and fall in love!
Shopping is for everyone in Barca. If you look for designer labels, take a metro to Passeig de Gracia. Admire one of my favorite buildings in the city designed by Gaudi next to the metro stop and then head to Tiffany’s.
Zara, Mango and other Spanish brands you will find near Catalunya or any relatively big mall. Trendy area called Gothic is full of amazing cute little stores but the prices there are on european standards.
For vintage weirdos like me, halleluja! There’s couple of actual streets full of vintage stores. For example Riera Baixa is one of them. My ultimate favorite store however is a small and cute Grey Street. It has everything from tea, jewelry and decoration to second hand designer clothes. The owner is a cute girl originally from Melbourne and she makes you smile every time you walk in.
You might not know this, but you can surf in Barcelona!
And no, I don’t mean tubes, I mean waves that are fun for everyone. You can hire a wetsuit and a board from Barceloneta for €20. Water sports are really popular in Barcelona and on weekends Barceloneta is packed with people jet skiing, longboarding, swimming and kayaking.
The Beach is also full volleyball nets and happy people playing. Go and ask for a permission to join. Another good place to do your daily workout is Montjüic hill. A beautiful place full of parks, sights and other people with (or without) sneakers.
The sport that dominated my time in Barcelona was not football but skateboarding. Barcelona is the mecca of skateboarding and people around the world come to skate the world famous spots like MACBA and Paral-lel. People watching is fun and you should definitely do it in either of those places. You will fast gain a bigger respect towards the scruffy skaters after you see them fall and rise again and again until they land their tricks.
Before traveling to Barca, learn a little bit of spanish or even Catalan. Hola is not good enough but even something so small can help opening doors and hearts. If locals feel that you have an interest in something more than just shopping and popping champagne your experience in Barcelona will be totally different.
I would recommend a money belt you can wear underneath your clothing as stealing is frequent and many a travel has come back from their Barcelona vacation without a wallet. If you don’t know what to buy for budget souveniers- find a Chinese store instead of overpriced tourist shops. There you will find the same cards, magnets and paintings at a much cheaper price.
Do you have some other tips for people traveling to Barca?
All photos by Rita Lahtinen
Tags: city travel