When I first arrived in Barcelona 5 years ago I was mesmerized. I made the decision to go based on a flip of a Japanese coin and I feel like I hit the jackpot. It isn't hard to see why people talk highly of Barcelona from it's architecture, art, cuisine, beaches and it's lifestyle. At any time or any day of the week you have something to do. After every trip I make to Barcelona I continue to meet new people and discover more to the city. My goal is that you get the best of Barcelona in your short stay and who knows, you might fall in love with the city and never leave.
A brief review
Barcelona is a city in the province of Catalunya in Spain. The local and main language here is Catalan with Spanish being the secondary language. Most streets and signs you will see in Catalan listed first or at the top with Spanish under it. The locals consider themselves Catalan, not Spanish so be careful on what you say. Just remember you are in Catalunya not Spain! The founding of the city and a history of it's people and language is far too extensive for me to summarize but you can learn that at tourist destinations while you are there. Many businesses close from 2-4pm in the day and you should expect to find mostly restaurants open at this time. The banks usually close at 2pm in the summer time as well.
I am not trying to worry anybody but I do want to share some tips which come mostly from experience. Your trip should be a memorable one but I would hate to hear someone's trip was ruined because they had a bag stolen. Just be careful and use some common sense. For men I usually recommend you don't carry a wallet . If you are going to take one I recommend you try to put it in your front pocket and at least remove most of your valuables such that if it were to get taken you are not at a big loss. Personally I keep my money in my pocket (80 euros is usually more than enough for 1 night) along with a bank card and credit card. Ladies and their purses, I can't expect you to leave your purse in the hotel so just be sure to take only what you need. Take your make-up but you don't need too much money or all your bank/credit cards and your ID. For ID I recommend you take a passport photocopy with you and leave it in your pocket, not wallet or purse. Legally you are supposed to have valid ID but I have never had problems and losing my passport would be far more problematic. If you have a bag or purse with you and you are sitting down for a cafe or dinner don't leave your bag on the ground or in a vacant chair. Either hang onto it or wrap it around the chair leg. On a positive note in the past year the local government has increased the number of police officers in major tourist areas. Lastly, carry your health insurance papers with you and the emergency number is 112 not 911 should you need it. Hopefully not.
Currency Exchange & ATMs
If you don't have euros I recommend you exchange what you have at the airport for convenience. It may not be the best rate but they will speak English and your money is usually safe here. Depending on where your hotel is I recommend you try not to use the ATMs too often especially if you don't know the area too well. If I have to take money from an ATM then I only do so at a bank that lets you lock the door and has the ATM indoors. How much money do you need? Depends on what you do and where you go but I recommend 100 euros per day should be more than enough.
For taxis if the fare is 7,50 euro then I would round it up to 8 euro. For a cafe usually it isn't necessary for something that small, for 2 euro I add 20c. At a restaurant for a 20 euro meal you can put 50c or 1 euro would be considered generous. At a bar it usually is not necessary but use your discretion. If you are going to tip on a 5 euro drink (expensive for Barcelona's standards) then 50c is appreciated. Of course if you tip more they will love you that much more :)
Taxis & Transportation
From the airport you can either take a taxi or a train to the city center. I recommend you take the taxi for convenience and your estimated costs should be 20-25 euros going from the airport to the city centre, Barcelona Sants or to the Princesa Sofia. Most taxi drivers I find don't speak English and many like showing you the scenic route. Just ensure that you have the address neatly written so there is no confusion. If you are going to take the train from the airport you should be looking out for a sign that says "Renfe" and is at Terminal B. I think 1 way will cost you 1,60 euro and the main stops are Barcelona Sants and Passeig de Gracia. For those who are in need of a taxi and are stuck some place where you can't find a taxi I will do my best to be available by text, email or phone to help out (see email address at bottom of article).
The metro is a fast and convenient way to navigate through the city. You can buy a T-10 card which gives you 10 passes for around 7,50 euro. Another safety message here, keep an eye on your wallets and any bags, backpacks or purses should be in front of you, not behind you or at your side where you can't always see it. The metro opens Mon to Thurs 5am to midnight and on weekends runs until 2am. It is not uncommon to see a train on the weekend at 8am with half of the people coming back from clubs and the other half going to work all envious. You can view the metro map at www.tmb.cat in English, Catalan and Spanish.
You can find everything you need in Barcelona and I find it is a great place to shop for clothes that you can take back home that nobody has. Nobody likes going out only to find another person wearing the exact same threads as you. At least when you shop here your friends back home will ask 'where did you get that' and you can throw on your shades, pause, then tell them 'Barcelona'.
Passeig de Gracia has the reputation for being the shopping zone of Barcelona featuring some highend shops such as Massimo Dutti, Zara (well not highend but it's popular), Chanel, Gucci, Armani, Burberry, Lacoste and more.
Placa Catalunya has el Corte Ingles which has 6 or 7 floors and has everything from electronics, fashion, household appliances and even a grocery store at the bottom. There is a Sfera store and a building called FNAC which contains an assortment of stores within.
El Triangle & Carrer de Pelai - I mentioned above about FNAC which is in El Triangle and contains a Sephora on the street said of Pelai. You can find a Pull & Bear store, and many more. A great shoe store for all the ladies looking for an assortment of shoes at discount prices is Raul & Alba Rodriguez, remember Zapatas is shoes in Spanish.
El Triangle Official Web site
Avinguda del Portal de l'Angel is a street that opens up from Placa Catalunya. It runs parallel to Las Ramblas and you can see it on the entrance of El Corte Ingles. There are many shops here from Pull & Bear, Zara, Roy Alty and many more that I don't recognize as well.
Las Ramblas has enough shopping areas but most are closer to Placa Catalunya while the opposite end has more restaurants. You can find stores like Desigual and Zastwo. My favorite store is called New Yorker which is off of Las Ramblas.
Les Quinze Nits
Location: Plaįa Reial, 6 (just off of Las Ramblas)
One of my favorite restaurants in Barcelona. French cuisine with a few local dishes and great seafood. My favorites are the duck and black rice (arroz negro). Less crowded in the day time before 4pm, around 8pm the restaurant gets very busy and a big line forms outside the restaurant but usually is 30 minute wait.
Les Quinze Nits Official Web site
Location: Rambla Catalunya 65
Traditional Catalan cuisine
El Glop Official Web site
Location: Carrer Mallorca 191
If my memory serves me correct then this is a cheap but high quality buffet place complete with all sorts of delicious tapas, salads, cheeses, meats, roasts and an assortment of seafood. The food was so good that I ate more than I had room for.
Location: Carrer dels Escudellers 10
Great restaurant with a wide selection of food and usually a lineup and long wait outside of the restaurant near Placa Reial.
El Danzatoria Tibidabo
Location: Avingude del Tibidabo 61
This place is a club and restaurant with spectacular views of the city at night. Ask for Claudio. :)
Location: Carrer Carabassa 19 (in Gothic quarter)
Eastern European food, tapas, cafe and drinks. Good wines with cheap but delicious Mediterranean and Thai cuisine as well.
Arc Cafe Official Web site
Location: Carrer Doctor Dou 10 (in Raval area near Macba, 1 minute off of Las Ramblas)
Listed 1-4pm and 9pm-midnight
Bar Muy Buenas
Location: Carrer Carme 63
Cuban and African cuisine
Since most of the events are planned with little time to check out some of the other bars in town I will mention a few if you happen to have the time.
Espit Chupitos (chupitos means shots)
Location: Passeig de Colom 8 (near Metro Drassanes and 10 min walk to the beach)
A bar that has a listing of over 500 different shots on the wall with the bar on the other side, great place to get a meeting started! For girls I highly recommend a "Monica Lebinski" shot, you won't be disappointed!
Espit Chupitos Official Web site
Location: Carrer de la Reina Christina 7 (in Barceloneta)
I am not sure of the opening times but it probably isn't open until around 5pm and it gets crazy busy, we're talking you cannot move likesardines in a can but party sardines none the less. I think you pay 5 euro for a bottle of Cava which comes with a plate of tapas (sausages & cheese, sandwiches, salmon on mini baguette) which is tasty, cheap and a good way to start the night. For those that don't know Cava is Champaign however it cannot be called Champaign because it is not made in France. It is a sparkling wine but here it's called Cava and I find is suitable for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
It helps to know a few basic phrases and understand some common words you will see around the city. For common and important words I will put them in Catalan/Spanish/English format and try to teach you a few things along the way.
Many people don't take the time to learn a few basic phrases in Catalan. If you want to win the hearts of the locals either buy a book on Catalan or print some pages off for the flight or transit to Barcelona. It may seem like a bit of work to do but Barcelona is a magical place so have some fun while you are there and absorb the culture. Some Catalan sites of interest are below:
You might not have time for all the significant tourist destinations to visit but here is a guide to help you make the best of your time.
Location: Carrer Mallorca 401 (Metro: Sagrada Familia)
Open 9am to 8pm
Recommend 1 to 2 hours to visit and experience. Anytime near sunset is a great time to visit as you can climb to the top (tiring but worth it, if you are too tired you can take the lift for 2,50 euro). Great view of the city, surrounding mountains and the sea. An ambitious project designed by Antonio Gaudí that is expected to be finished by 2025 assuming the new train station being built near it doesn't destroy it but that is another story.
Sagrada Familia Official Web site
Location: Close to Metro stops Lesseps & Vallcarca.
You can take a taxi getting there or by metro. By Metro I recommend getting off at Vallcarca and walking south opposed to getting off at Lesseps and walking up hill. You could easily spend half a day here but I would budget 2 hours. Great views of the city.
Location: Montserrat, Spain (approximately 1 hour by train), take by train at Placa Espanya
Cost: 14,50 euro for return ticket by train
Time: budget half day for this excursion. This may seem off the path but the views from these mountains are worth the trip alone.
Note: At Placa Espanya things may seem confusing so it is easiest for me to suggest finding the Barcelona tourist information booth and asking them since they speak English and can guide you to the proper entrance to the train station. Montserrat is a monastery but you don't have to be religious to enjoy the views and these beautifully designed buildings.
Montserrat Tourist Board Official Web site
Location: Passeig de Gracia 43 at Metro Passeig de Gracia
Cost: 16,50 euros
Just a beautiful building with interesting interior and a nice view at the top. Should not take more than 1 hour. Designed by Antonio Gaudí.
Case Batllķ Official Web site
La Pedrera (MILĀ HOUSE)
Location: Passeig de Gracia 92
Another building designed by Antonio Gaudí just a further walk north of Casa Batllķ.
Location: Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5
Very difficult to find information about this building online since it's a building that was commissioned by Eusebi Güell. The tour and interior is worth it not to mention the top of the building. Budget 1 hour total for this building.
MNAC - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
Location: Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuīc (walking distance from Placa Espanya and of course Metro Espanya, you can't miss it)
Open: Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 7pm and 10am to 2:30pm on Sundays. Not a bad idea to check out Fira Barcelona while you are there. Largest collection of Catalan art. The building itself is majestic with a stunning view of Barcelona looking out onto Placa Espanya. Also within walking distance of the olympic stadium and facilities.
MNAC Official Web site
Location: Placa Espanya to the MNAC (Metro Espanya)
Summer: (May to September)
Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 21.30 to 23:30 pm
Music Sessions: 21:30, 22:00, 22:30, 23:00 and 23:30 pm
A stunning display of lights and water acrobatics set to classical music.
Location: On a small mountain and a 20 to 30 minute walk from the bottom of Las Ramblas but a big uphill walk. An easier method is arrive at Metro Paral.lel and take the Funicular de Montjuīc which is a short uphill railway. You can also arrive by aerial cableway. The cable cars connect Barceloneta to Montjuīc, yet another great way to see the city from above. Montjuīc is an old fortress with a nice view of the sea and city.
Location: Mont Tibidabo (can be reached by Rail at Placa Catalunya)
At 532m (1746ft) high it offers one of the highest views of Barcelona. I haven't been but you can always see the top of this mountain at night which has lights shining on the Temple de Sagrat Cor. I haven't been but there are also amusement rides at the top which I might try on this trip.
Location: Well La Playa is the beach but you have a large selection of beaches ranging from Barceloneta going as far north as you feel like. I have taken a 30 minute train ride north along the coast and it was beaches the whole way and packed. At the beach you can buy beer for 1,50 euro from "walking vendors" but otherwise there are usually bars and cafes within sight.
Las Ramblas and Placa Catalunya
Placa Catalunya is beautiful, which leads you to what I call the top of Las Ramblas. As you walk down las Ramblas towards the sea (mar) you should see a fountain on the right. Legend has said that if you drink from this fountain then you will always return to Barcelona. I always have a sip while in Barcelona to ensure I will be back. If you are casually walking 5 minutes in on the left you should see the Erotic museum of Barcelona. I haven't been but I hear it is worth the pricy admission of nearly 20 euros. Half the distance on the right you should see Mercat Boqueria, which is a large market containing fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and fish. I recommend walking through the fish section if you have never seen what some of the critters swimming in the sea look like. An absolute must is getting an iced fruit drink here which some vendors charge 1,50 euro and sometimes 2 euro especially at the very front. If you walk half way into the market you should find the exact same drinks for 1 euro. My favorites include coconut, strawberry & kiwi, coconut & mango, well I like them truthfully just depends on my mood. As you approach the end of Las Ramblas you will run into Carrer Nou de la Rambla (street) on the right. Maybe 30 steps in on the left you will find one of the best shawarmas/durums/kebabs in Barcelona, 4 euros. On the left is Placa Reial, a must see that is a beatiful square/placa complete with palm trees and a large fountain at the center and lined with restaurants throughout. There are also a few clubs which don't open until either midnight or 2am, are fun to check out once in a while but can be expensive.
More information: Las Ramblas and Placa Catalunya
Traveling, seminars and maybe some "socializing" can take a toll on your body so why not consider spending a little bit of money and pamper yourself. Your hotel might have some services available such as massage but maybe you want to try something a little different because we know routine can be boring at times. Massage is always a great way to relax and is more of a health benefit than a luxury. I would also recommend reflexology or reflexology combined with a massage OR acupuncture. If you don't know what reflexology is then I can tell you it is like a relaxing foot massage but there is more to it than that and you can either google it or just try it. Acupuncture is great for overcoming injuries but it is a great way to relax as well. If you have never tried it but always wanted to then give it a try. I recommend the following 2 places listed below which I have been to and they are also my friends. If you cannot speak Spanish and want to know if they are available let me know and I can call to check for available times and book on your behalf.
Passeig Sant Joan, 30
+34 609 379 355 (Spanish only)
Lee Moon (just call him Lee)
Located less than 5 minute walk from Arc de Triomf
Burgos (street) 51
+34 646 754 385 (Spanish and Catalan only)
Located 7 minute walk from Sants Estacio