Barcelona City Guide

If you're looking for a city that has it all, then you can't go wrong with a weekend break to Barcelona.

Introduction to Barcelona

Barcelona is Spain's second largest city. It is also the capital of the region of Catalonia, an autonomous community with it's own government, which made headlines in 2016 after a failed independence bid. Barcelona is culturally quite different from the rest of Spain and they even speak a different language (Catalan), but you'll still recognise the typical Spanish stuff like Paella, Sangria and Tapas.

Barcelona is an old city with a mixture of buildings, dating from Roman times all the way up to the latest innovative buildings like the gherkin-shaped Torre Glories. You'll find windy alleys packed with shops, bars and restaurants in the Barrio Gotic, the oldest part of the city, whereas neighbourhoods like El Poblenou and Eixample have wide, tree-lined streets and a grid plan that makes it difficult to get lost.

Where is Barcelona?

Barcelona is located in the North East of Spain, on the country's Mediterranean coast. It's a five hour drive from the capital, Madrid and around two hours from the French border to the North.

What's Barcelona famous for?

  • Incredible architecture from Antoni Gaudi
  • FC Barcelona, one of the most successful football clubs in the world
  • Miles of golden beaches and great weather
  • Some of the best food in the world, notably Tapas

When to go to Barcelona?

Spring or Autumn (March - May, September - November). Thanks to being right on the Mediterranean, Barcelona can get chilly over the winter months, with rain and storms not uncommon, as well as daily temperatures in the low teens. Plus, apart from Christmas, not a great deal happens during winter.

Summer on the other hand sees very hot and humid days, which are no fun in one of the busiest cities in Europe. You'll also be battling crowds of tourists who flock to Barca when the weather picks up.

How to get to Barcelona

Barcelona has it's own large international airport (Barcelona El Prat), but there's also Reus Airport (about 45 minutes from the city) which is served by low cost carriers.

Barcelona has good road and highway connections to the rest of Spain and is reachable from Southern France with a couple of hours

Barcelona is fully connected to European rail networks and high-speed lines run from Barcelona to other major Spanish cities.

Barcelona is a port city, so arriving by sea is easy, even on your own vessel! There are also ferry links to the Balearic Islands, North Africa and Italy.

How to get around Barcelona

Barcelona is a sprawling city with roads that clog up quickly with traffic at all hours, so hiring a car isn't the best idea. Stick to walking on foot or even better hire a bike. The city is also experiencing an electric scooter revolution and the paths and public walkways are wide enough to accommodate two-wheelers of all varieties.

The Barcelona Metro is also very handy for getting around town, with stations connecting the main tourist hot-spots with the wider city and its districts. Tickets cost a few euros at most and the trains are clean modern.

There's also a decent network of tourist buses, with open-tops making it easy to soak up the architecture and atmosphere. Oh, and don't forget to take the cable car if you fancy going to see the castle and fountains at Montjuc.

Is Barcelona safe?

Yes, Barcelona is generally a safe city, but like any other large European cities the threats certainly exist. Busy tourist areas, especially near La Rambla and the Placa de Catalunya are frequented by pickpockets and scam ticket sellers, so keep your belongings close and don't engage in conversation with people offering deals that seem too good to be true. If travelling on the Metro at night, avoid flashing expensive items or mobile phones - stay anonymous and you won't be bothered by thieves or muggers.

Where to stay in Barcelona

Barri Gotic

This charming part of town is the historic centre of Barcelona and feels a bit different from the rest of the city. The medieval street layout means hotels and apartments are hidden away on windy, narrow alleyways and you'll find plenty of tiny bars, shops and taperias (restaurants selling tapas) packed into the old buildings. You're slap bang in the middle of Barcelona here, so you may end up paying a premium for a hotel room, but you'll be incredibly close to all the good stuff!

El Poblenou

This 'new' part of the city was built at the same time as the expansive grid system known as 'the expansion' (Eixample in Catalan). At one time a key industrial area of the city, Poblenou is undergoing some serious gentrification, with trendy cafes, upmarket restaurants and cool bars filling the old warehouses and workshops. You'll also pay less for a hotel room or apartment here.

La Barceloneta

Right next to Barcelona's harbour, this part of town is packed with a mix of luxury apartments and budget hotels and hostels. Perfect for accessing the city centre as well as the many bars and restaurants that overlook the sea, this part of town is a good choice if you want a mixture of 'proper' Barcelona with all the touristy stuff just a short walk away.

Best things to do in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia

Probably the best example of Gaudi architecture, this cathedral has been under construction since 1882 and there's still a good ten or more years of work remaining! Truly unique and incredible to look at, this one-of-a-kind building is packed with detail, design and incredible views from the top.

Camp Nou

The colossal home of five-time Champion's League winners FC Barcelona is well worth a visit even if you're not a football fan. If you're lucky enough to get tickets, the atmosphere alone is enough to make this one a must-see. If there isn't a game on, then the stadium tour is just as good, with the chance to see where the likes of Messi, Suarez, Maradona, Neymar and Cruyff have all plied their trade over the years.

The beaches

Barcelona has many miles of sandy beaches that allow a busy city to blend into a holiday resort. La Barceloneta is the busiest beach on sunny days, but try the Platja de Bogatell in the city's Poblenou district if you're looking for more space

La Rambla

This super-busy shopping street acts as the heart of the city. Head there at night to see performers, musicians and of course the famous living statues that make La Rambla so vibrant. Don't forgot to stop at the Placa Real to enjoy some sangria and watch the world go by!

Park Guell

Another Gaudi hot-spot, this public park features buildings that mimic nature, with an impressive balcony offering without a doubt the best views across the city. Keep an eye our for giant lizards!