Barcelona Travel Guide and Travel Information.
Barcelona is one of Europe’s most popular cities for a city break holiday. Once rather run down, Barcelona underwent a seismic change culminating in the 1992 Olympic Games, an event which completely transformed the city.
Barcelona has long been a Mecca for architects and the city features an array of avant-garde designs. Barcelona’s most famous son, the architect Antoni Gaudi, has left his mark including the incredible unfinished Sagrada Familia, but his work can be seen even in the lampposts and fountains of the elegant Plaça Reial in the Barri Gotic, the Old Town.
Somehow, old and new architectural styles combine well across the city. Barcelona has kept its atmosphere while the renaissance of the old port and the beaches has added much to its appeal.
As the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona is also a major commercial center, with ever improving transport links increasing its attractiveness. Tourism is one of the driving forces of the economy and nearly a third of all tourist trips to Spain now take in a Barcelona holiday.
There is a strong local desire to create an independent Catalan state with Barcelona at its center, and visitors will hear Catalan spoken as much as Castillian Spanish. Local pride is never clearer than when a capacity 120,000 crowd at FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou football stadium cheers on a victory over arch-rivals Real Madrid – and the city celebrates a victory in style.
Promenading down the Ramblas, one of the world’s most famous thoroughfares, is a delight, although you need your wits about you as petty crime is an issue here. The ancient heart of the city is still hugely atmospheric and there is a vibrant cafe and bar scene while eating out can still be remarkable value for money. Art fans will find much to see and admire the city’s range of museums. They are amongst the best in the world.
With a pleasant climate all year round, Barcelona is worth a holiday break in any season, although spring and autumn are particularly appealing. With cheap flight budget airlines using the expanding airport and the vastly improved rail links, Barcelona is now one of the most popular short break city destinations.
Did you know?
Barcelona has 24 twin or sister cities around the world.
Barcelona is one of Europe’s easiest cities to reach with a wide range of city break flights and ever-improving rail links, including the brand new high-speed link with Madrid. It’s also a major holiday cruise port.
Barcelona airport is 12km southwest of the city center. There are three terminals – A, B and C – with cheap flights from most major European airports.
Foreign airlines mainly use terminal A while Iberia’s international flights land at terminal B. Airlines includes Air France, Alitalia, BMI Baby, British Airways, Continental, Delta, easyJet, KLM, Lufthansa, SAS, Spanair, and Virgin Express. Ryanair uses a number of airports they dub ‘Barcelona’ but some are actually 100km away at Girona and Reus.
(London Heathrow Airport) → Barcelona, Spain Flight Schedule
Trains leave the airport for the city center every 30min daily stopping at Central-Sants (journey time – 17min), Plaç a de Catalunya (23min), Arc de Triomf (26min) and Clot-Aragó (30min) for connections to the metro.
The Aerobús service runs to Plaça de Catalunya via Gran Via every 15min on weekdays, and every 30min at weekends, taking 15-30min). Taxis to and from the airport will cost around €20, with an airport supplement and a charge for each suitcase. Taxi ranks are outside the terminal buildings.
Barcelona By Rail:
RENFE runs the Spanish rail network, which radiates from Madrid to all major cities including Barcelona. There are also rail services running from the French border along the Mediterranean coast. Seat reservations are required on all intercity trains and supplements are charged on many faster trains, even for passengers holding Interrail and Eurail passes.
Estació Central-Sants on Plaça del Països Catalans is the main railway station, serving international, national and suburban routes. It has tourist information, hotel rates and left luggage facilities. Estació de França on Avenida Marqués de l’Argentera also handles many long-distance services, including the Talgo trains from Madrid, Seville, and Malaga. Passeig de Gràcia station near to Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla handles routes from Tarragona, Figueres, and Girona.
Direct trains to Barcelona from Paris take around 11hrs; Milan takes about 13hrs, 15min, and the regular departures to Madrid use the new high-speed rail service.
Barcelona By Road:
Turn off the various Autopistas on to the Ronda Littoral, on the southern side of the city’s ring road and look for signs to Port Vell, the main old town exit. There are plenty of car parks but they are expensive. On-road parking is near impossible. A foreign car is no protection from fines or being towed away.
Barcelona By Sea:
The Port de Barcelona is the second largest Mediterranean cruise port after Athens. Crueurs del Porte de Barcelona run five cruise ship terminals (two at Moll Adossat and two at Moll Barcelona and one at Moll Espanya) and the Autoritat Portuària de Barcelona runs the Port Vell terminal. All have taxi and shuttle buses to the city center and there are parking and car hire services.
For ferries to Mallorca, Menorca, and Ibiza, the Estació Marítima Balears or Balearic Maritime Station, is at Moll de Sant Bertran 3 – metro stop Drassanes. They also operate a fast ferry service between Barcelona and Palma.
Did you know?
75% of Barcelona residents can speak or read Catalan.
Barcelona has an excellent public transport network, a model for other cities plagued by congestion, overcrowding and expensive fares. The metro is modern, cheap and efficient, bus routes are shown at all stops and tour buses are great for the first-time visitor.
The six metro lines are identified by number and color. Tickets must be validated in a platform machine before boarding and carried at all times. They can be bought at TMB operator centers and station machines. Trains run until midnight or 2 am at weekends.
Suburbs and surrounding areas are served by rail lines run by the FGC and RENFE. The RENFE local network is known as Rodalies or Cercanías and the central station is at Plaça de Catalunya.
Buses run from around 6.30am to 10 pm. Almost all run through Plaça de Catalunya, Plaça Urquinaona or Plaça de la Universitat. Buy single tickets on board or validate travel cards in machines onboarding. Yellow night buses need separate tickets. The TombBús is a shopping service that runs every 7min weekdays, 15min Saturdays, between Plaça de Catalunya and Plaça Pius XII.
Multi-ride tickets – Targetas – are cheaper with prices depending on the number of zones. Bus passes vary from daily to monthly, while widely available tourist passes range from two to five days for all city transport, including airport routes.
The Barcelona Bus Turístic, operated by TMB (tel: (93) 285 3832) allows visitors to hop on and off anywhere – an excellent introduction to the city sights. The open-top buses have red and blue routes and leave Plaça de Catalunya daily from 9 am at 30min intervals, or every 10min in peak season.
Julià Tours (tel: (93) 317 6454) have tours from Ronda Universitat 5, while Pullmantur (tel: (93) 318 0241), sets off from Gran Viá de Les Corts Catalanes 645. Morning tours head for the Barri Gotic and Montjuïc, while the afternoon tours take in architectural highlights and the Picasso Museum.
There are four tram lines. The one behind the zoo at Ciutadella-Vila Olímpica Metro stop for Sant Andrià is of most use to visitors.
Barcelona Funicular And Cable Cars:
A funicular railway climbs Montjuïc from near Parallel Metro to Avenida Miramar, daily 9 am to 8 pm or 10 pm in summer. From the amusement park, there is a cable car (telefèric) to Montjuïc Castle daily from 11 am. Another runs every 15min from the San Sebastian Tower, calling at the Jaume I tower, daily from 10.30am and is a fabulous journey with stunning views.
There are 11,000 yellow-and-black cabs in the city. They can be hailed in the street or booked. Luggage costs extra and tips are normally 5-10% of the fare.
Driving is best avoided as most attractions are central, parking is difficult and there is excellent public transport. There’s also a complicated one-way system. Parking is in the ‘blue’ zones, daily 8 am – 2 pm and 4 pm – 8 pm. Illegally parked cars are towed away with no favors for tourists. City center car parks are expensive.
Barcelona Bike Hire:
Barcelona has a limited network of bicycle lanes but bicycles can be carried on buses and trams, with peak hour restrictions. Hire bikes from Al Punt de Trobada, Carrer Badajoz 24 ((93) 225 0585); Un Coxte Menys, Esparteria 3 ((93) 268 2105); and Biciclot Carrer Vernada 16 ((93) 307 7475). The ID is required.
Barcelona When To Go:
Holiday Guide to Barcelona Weather And Events.
While it can be hot in summer, Barcelona’s climate and the wide range of attractions make it a year-round city to visit. If it does rain, there are plenty of world-class museums, though many are closed on Mondays.
Barcelona has a typical Mediterranean climate with hot dry summers and mild winters. There’s often a pleasant breeze to moderate the summer heat.
Most rainfall is in the winter months. January and February are the coldest, with average temperatures of 10°C (50°F). It rarely snows. July and August are the hottest, averaging 30°C (86°F).
The highest recorded temperature in the city itself is 38.6°C but the Fabra Observatory, situated above the city on Tibidabo, has recorded an even higher temperature of 39.8°C (103.6°F).
The winter can, on occasions, bring storms but most months will see many warm, sunny days. As with many Mediterranean cities, the best times to visit are the spring and autumn, when you will normally be able to enjoy warm, sunny weather without extremes of temperature although there is a risk of rain.
Barcelona Festivals And Events:
January: As in most of Spain, Christmas presents are exchanged on Epiphany (January 6), just as the Christmas trees are coming down in Britain. The night before, the Cavalcada deis Reis Magis, or Parade of the Three Kings, attracts children and families with its floats and music, with sweets thrown to the eager youngsters.
February: Barcelona’s Carnival is a great attraction. Nearby, Sitges hosts a gay carnival that’s a huge party with gaudy parades.
March/April: Easter features a procession from the Església de Sant Agustí in El Ravel with a float featuring the Virgin of the Macarena. Barefoot penitent women drag crosses and chains through the streets. As you do.
St George’s Day, (he is Barcelona’s patron saint) is celebrated by men giving women a rose – the men receive a book as Book Day shares the same date.
May: The Feast of Corpus Christi – 53 days after Easter Sunday on a Thursday – is marked by the Dancing Egg tradition, an empty eggshell bobs up and down on the fountain in the Cathedral’s cloister – not to be missed.
Late May, and possibly early June, see the Primavera Sound event when DJs and musicians provide the entertainment.
June: Barcelona’s Sónar is Europe’s largest celebration of electronic music. Dia de Sant Joan (June 24) is celebrated with dancing, bonfires, and fireworks.
June/July/August: The Festival del Grec brings theatre, dance, and music to the city, particularly the open air Teatre Grec on Montjuïc.
August: The Gràcia district holds a competition for the best-dressed street in the Festa Major de Gràcia with lots of music and drinking.
September: Barcelona’s biggest party, the Festas de la Mercè, features fire, folk dancing, concerts, and even dragons. It’s a four-day event in the third week of September. Human castle builders, standing on each other’s shoulders, are an amazing sight, sometimes reaching 10 tiers before collapsing.
November: The Barcelona Jazz Festival extends through much of the month with many free performances.
December: A winter version of the Primavera Sound event brightens up the month.
Did you know?
Equador, followed by Peru, is where most migrants to Barcelona came from.
Is Barcelona in Spain or Catalunya? Do you speak Spanish, Catalan or will English get by? In reality, the city is a melting pot of cultures. The central parts are mainly Catalan, although 15% of the people have arrived relatively recently, largely from South America, North Africa, and Pakistan. Outside the center, it’s a mix of Spanish and Catalan.
Traditionally, Barcelona has been politically left-leaning and the city was run by anarchists in the early 1930s. Compared with much of Spain, the residents are not particularly religious, albeit most are nominally Catholic.
There is plenty of petty crime, particularly by pickpockets, with bag snatching among various scams aimed at tourists. Much of it is concentrated on the Ramblas, so have your wits about you. There are dodgy areas at the southern (seaward) end of the Ramblas and in parts of the Barri Gotic and El Ravel.
Barcelona was founded around 500BC by the Carthaginians under Amilcar Barca – the origin of the city’s name – and became the Roman city of Barcino. The city was ruled by Moors for around 100 years before being taken by the Franks.
It was the wonderfully named Wilfred the Hairy who founded what was later called Catalonia. From around 1000 – 1200, Barcelona became one of the most important Mediterranean ports and major projects, such as the construction of the Cathedral, began. The 1400s saw influence slipping away to Castille. In 1714, Philip V of Spain conquered Catalonia and even banned writing in Catalan.
Barcelona’s industrialization in the 19th century made it Spain’s leading city. The 1888 World Exhibition showed its global importance. It was a period of spectacular growth, with the Modernista architecture helping create Barcelona’s reputation as one of the most striking cities in the world.
In 1931, Catalunya declared itself independent, but 1936 saw the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War with Barcelona firmly on the Republican side before eventual defeat in 1939. Thousands of refugees were forced to flee to France.
The 1960s saw economic recovery. After the death of General Franco in 1975, Catalunya again gained some self-government. One of the city’s finest moments arrived in 1992 when it hosted the Olympic Games, resulting in a tourist boom that continues to this day.
Spain’s currency is the euro. Banks tend to open from 8 am or 9 am until 2 pm and then for another three hours from 4.30pm or 5 pm. ATMs are everywhere.
The code for Spain is 34. The Barcelona code is 93 and must always be dialed even when making local calls. The international access code is 00 so, to call the UK dial 00 44 and then the UK number without its leading ‘0’. For international directory inquiries from Barcelona, dial 11825. For local directory inquiries, dial 11818.
Tips are included in restaurant bills but many customers leave a small sum of around €1 per person. In bars, there is no service charge, a 10% tip is normal? Tipping taxi drivers are not normal for Spaniards but hotel porters normally get a €1 or €2 tip.
The main Tourist Information Office, the Oficina d’Informació de Turisme de Barcelona, is at Plaça de Catalunya 17-S with branches at the Barri Gotic, Estació Sants and El Prat airport, Terminal B. Call 93 285 3834.