City Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Barcelona, Spain
This post is part of a five part City Guide series as I explore Europe as a brand ambassador for Bonwi. It has affiliate links to things I genuinely like.
As soon as I arrived in Barcelona and walked 15 minutes from Plaça Catalunya to my hotel, I knew that my three night stay wasn’t going to be enough to discover the ins and outs of this stunning city. Simply gazing at building after building of the Catalan art nouveau architecture was enough for me to think, “I need to come back to Barcelona for a longer trip”. Then, once I tasted the local gastronomy, it was decided; I was definitely coming back. But before I get ahead of myself with prepping for my second trip to Barcelona, let me share with you what made me fall in love with Barcelona from what I did to how I got around.
Click on a section to jump down the page.
- How to Get to Barcelona
- How to Get to Your Hotel From the Airport
- Where to Stay
- How to Get Around
- What to Do
- Where to Eat
- What to Pack
How to Get to Barcelona
Barcelona is one of the world’s most visited city in the world, so naturally there are a ton of ways to get there! Since I’m only a short 2 hour flight away, I opted to fly. I flew with Vueling, a low-budget Spanish airline, for only €65 round trip in March. You can also get to Barcelona by train, renting a car, or carpooling.
Note: Vueling has a one carry-on limit of 10KG. To prevent paying a hefty checked luggage fee at the airport, weight your carry-on before hand with a hand scale, or buy checked luggage online in advance.
How to Get to Your Hotel From the Barcelona Airport
Barcelona Airport Aerobus
On the way in, I took the Barcelona Airport Aerobus, which runs every 5 to 10 minutes outside both Terminals 1 and 2, takes about 30 minutes depending on traffic, and has wi-fi on board! It stops at very popular areas such as Plaça Catalunya, Plaça Espanya, and other stops. I got off Plaça Catalunya then walked to my hotel using an offline version of Google Maps since I didn’t have data.
You can buy a ticket directly on the bus with cash or at a ticket machine right in front of the bus with a Pin card or cash. A single ticket costs €5,90 and a return ticket cost €10,20 (as of 4/7/17).
Tip: The bus driver won’t give you change if you have a bill larger than 20 so bring some small change for this, use a card with a Pin at the machine, or pre-buy tickets online.
If you are going to use the Barcelona Airport Aerobus to get back to the airport, make sure to get on the right bus. The A1 line goes to Terminal 1 and A2 line goes to Terminal 2.
Mike flew into Barcelona earlier than me since he was coming from Amsterdam and I was coming from Berlin. He only paid €1 for the train because by buying a T10 ticket, a 10-trip card usable on all public transportation in the city for €10. We knew that we’d be using public transportation over the weekend and that he’d use the card on the way back so buying a T10 ticket was a good idea.
The RENFE train runs every 30 minutes from the airport and stops at major stations such as Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gràcia or Clot. Then you can walk from those stops or transfer (for free with the T10 card) to another mode of transportation.
Note: If you have a Barcelona city card, which includes unlimited public transportation, free access to over 20 attractions, and discounts on various sights and attractions, then your train ride from the airport to city center is included.
Since I had a very early flight leaving Barcelona, I opted to take a taxi back to the airpot. It cost about €35.00, which I paid in cash. The hotel reserved the taxi for me the night before, but you can use the myTaxi app to schedule or call one.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Neighborhoods in Barcelona
If it’s your first time in Barcelona, you probably want to stay in places with multiple transportation connections and easy access to tourist sites. Thus, Placa Catalunya, Las Ramblas or the Gothic Quarter (the old town) are your best bet. If you’re a seaside lover, then check out La Barceloneta, but if you want to get away from the tourists, try Gràcia, a hip bohemian neighborhood with young professionals, or Sant Andreu for a local neighborhood.
I Got Back $237 in Rewards From My Three Night Hotel Stay!
Whether it’s in the heart of the city or in a more local neighborhood, I would book your hotel through Bonwi because of how awesome their rewards program is. Basically, they give you more rewards than any other hotel site, which means your points build up faster for free trips Visa cash cards, Amazon gift cards, and more. I plan on going to Greece with my rewards!
Anyways, I stayed at the Olivia Balmes Hotel for 3 nights and got back $237 in rewards! My hotel cost $818 for 3 nights, which means I got 29% of it back in rewards. Since I booked the hotel through my credit card, I also got 2% on there meaning I got a total of 31% back. This is much much more than other sites like Expedia or Hotels.com will give you. I would know because I used Hotels.com for a couple of years and only got a measly free $80 one-night stay, which was like 5% of what I spent. Bonwi is a better value and much more giving.
Here’s how much rewards in dollars I have built up already:
Total in Rewards From 3 Trips = $760
Isn’t that exciting!? If you want to build up points quickly too, check out Bonwi, and get $15 in points just for signing up.
How to Get Around Barcelona
Barcelona’s architecture is absolutely stunning. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from every detail from the intricate patterns of the wrought-iron balcony railings to the bold designs of the tiles inlaid on the buildings. Walking around is the best way to take it all in. If you’re on public transportation too much, you will miss out on a lot of history that makes Barcelona what it is.
Tip: If you don’t have data, download an offline version of Google Maps whenever you have wi-fi, and star your hotel and other places of interest on it.
Public transportation in Barcelona is clear and straightforward. The only trouble I had sometimes was finding the entrance to specific lines above ground, but if you’re at a station that interconnects a few lines, then you can access the line you need underground. To get directions for public transportation, I used Google Maps, but if you don’t have data, pull up directions beforehand.
If you plan on using public transportation at least 10x, then I recommend getting the T10 card. It has 10 trips for €10 euros whereas a single ticket cost €2,15 (in 2017). This is a great value because you can use it for multiple people and can be used on the train to/from the airport.
If you intend on doing lots of sightseeing and using public transportation a lot, then get the Barcelona city card. You get free unlimited public transportation for 72, 96, or 120 hours in addition to free entry to some attractions and discounts to others. Check out the great reviews and prices here.
Tip: Don’t be shy about going on the bus! It’s a great mode of transportation. To make sure I don’t miss my stop on the bus, I check around what time I should be arriving, keep an eye out on my watch, then open my Google Maps as I’m nearing my location. Even if I don’t have data, it’ll show me a GPS point of where I am.
myTaxi or Taxi
Like Berlin, Barcelona doesn’t have Uber, but they do have an equivalent, myTaxi (iPhone, Android). There are also taxis floating around the city if you want to get one the old school way; by waving one down or walking up to one.
What to Do in Barcelona
I’m a fairly chill traveler who likes to eat, drink, and do whatever locals do, but Barcelona is so overwhelmingly beautiful that I wanted to do more than my usual ‘not much’ type of trip. I had to go sightseeing! Here are my recommendations.
Get Lost in Antoni Gaudí’s Works of Art
I’ve never been so enthralled by a city’s architecture as I was by Barcelona’s. One of its most well-known architects is Antoni Gaudí. You could spend a whole weekend just visiting his works of arts, but here are a couple of must-sees.
La Sagrada Família
Words can’t describe how magnificent this church is. It is most unique religious structure that I’ve seen in 20 countries. Everything in the church is purposefully placed and designed so make sure to get the audio guide to get an understanding of all the thought that went into this place. This is one of those places where your eyes will be darting from one corner to the next ’cause you don’t know which column, color, or glass pane to look at!
Tip: Buying tickets online is much cheaper than getting it in person. Also, tickets tend to sell out depending on the time you want to go so get tickets online.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
This striking building is the last building that Gaudí built and is his most extravagant design as he had complete freedom with the plan and budget. I really wanted to go here but hesitated because the ticket is €29,00, but after dinner one night at 10PM, I happened to walk by La Pedrera just as they were starting their night-time experience. It cost €34 but noting that the group would only be six people including me and feeling a bit tipsy from my dinner, I thought, “Well, what are the chances that I’d walk by something I wanted to do exactly when the next tour would start. It’s a sign to go in!” I LOVED IT!
My favorite part of the tour was exploring La Pedrera with only five other people. Besides the in-depth explanation of who Gaudi is, what the significance of the building is, and its place in history when it was built, with such a small group, the tour guide was able to go “off-script” by answering questions we wouldn’t have found on information cards. The show and view of Barcelona at night were beautiful, and the glass of cava at the end was the cherry on top!
Tip: Book the last tour of the night so you have the smallest group possible.
There are many other buildings that Gaudí designed, and each one is special in its own way. If you want to see as many as possible, check out this map on the Barcelona Tourism site.
Walk Around the Gothic Quarter (Old Town)
The history of the Gothic Quarter goes all the way back to the Romans who founded the city in 133BC. You can see remnants of Roman ruins nestled in between 14th and 15th century monuments. All the history here plus the modern conveniences and fun of shopping make this a truly wonderful neighborhood to meander about!
Revel at the Stunning Sand Sculptures in Barceloneta
Obviously going to the beach is a must in Barcelona, but don’t head straight to the water. Take a moment to view the stunning sand sculptures built alongside the boardwalk. It’s really amazing what these sand sculptors can do with sand!
Where to Eat in Barcelona
Barcelona is a foodie’s heaven. They seem to do everything right from tapas to paella and seafood to even ramen! Make sure to plan your meals as much as your sightseeing because you won’t want to miss out on these delicious bites.
Four Local Restaurants with a Barcelonian
I had arrived in Barcelona late Saturday afternoon, and by Sunday night, I was (fake) panicking a little. I only had one day left in Barcelona and still hadn’t eaten all the food I had wanted to! Luckily, my food tour with Food Lovers Company cured my woes, and I left Barcelona more than satisfied with all the food I got to try.
This tapas tour featured in Rick Steves’ Guide to Spain is totally worth €125 because over 4-4.5 hours, you:
– go to four restaurants and leave extremely full at the end,
– taste a variety of local dishes that you would’ve never thought to order on your own,
– get a full drink at each restaurant of local wines and liqueurs,
– get a walking tour as you go from restaurant to restaurant,
– can ask for recommendations for the rest of your trip I bombarded her with “Where should I eat …” questions,
– get personal insight on the Catalan culture,
– and hear stories about living and growing up in Barcelona because your guide is from Barcelona (unlike other food tours operated by expats).
Bonus: This tour brings you to a secret viewpoint of Barcelona that tourists don’t know about! This was a wonderful surprise that I didn’t know the tour included. It was so lovely to see Barcelona lit up in the night!
Tip: Book this for your first night in Barcelona so you can ask for recommendations for the rest of your time there.
To read about my full experience and see more photos, head to this blog post.
Mercado de La Boqueria
I love going to markets. The atmosphere is lively and buzzing about food! It’s a great way to see what types of fruits, vegetables, and general foods locals like to eat and a good place to have a bite here and there. Around the market are bars selling food and drink so you can come here for lunch or a light snack. You can’t go wrong stopping at any of these places as you’re guaranteed to have fresh and top-quality ingredients.
Restaurant La Pepita
This is the best tapas place to go for foodies who want a warm, casual, and live vibe for dinnertime. The menu is diverse, and everything on there is good– seriously. Try the Grilled Pulpo Over Mashed Potatoes, Steak Tartare, and of course, Pepitas!
Tip: They don’t take reservations and tables can fill up quickly so go when they open.
Neighborhood Note: This restaurant is in Grácia, which is a trendy neighborhood that’s good for nightlife, so stay in this area afterwards for drinks.
You can’t go to Barcelona without eating paella so head to Maians to have a classic paella in a local, down-to-earth environment. Try some of their tapas too like the calamari, which is lightly fried and tender.
When we were there, some musicians came in off the street playing lively music. After a couple of rounds, they collected coins from people, which they used to buy drinks at the bar! I found that to be amusing.
Koku Kitchen Ramen
Who would’ve thought that Barcelona is a great city to eat ramen in?! Well, it is. Ramen’s been quite trendy in Barcelona so local establishments here have made it their responsibility to do it right. One of these places is Koku Kitchen Ramen. Their broth is flavorful, and the noodles are oh so satisfying. Also, that egg? #eggporn
Neighborhood Note: Koku Kitchen Ramen is in the Gothic Area so plan to come here when you’re exploring this neighborhood.
What to Pack for Barcelona
While you pack and get ready for your trip, download the offline version of Google Maps so that you have a map on hand starred with the places you’ll be visiting even if you don’t have data. Here’s what I brought with me, which includes a mix of must-have electronics and cute clothes!
Reusable, Foldable Bag (See 8 Reasons Why Here)
If you’re looking specifically for what hair straightener or curling wand to bring, check out my post on dual-voltage hair appliances, which breaks down everything you need to know about using your hair appliances abroad!
Ready to get lost in the beauty of Barcelona’s Art Nouveau buildings and eat amazing food? Book your hotel with Bonwi, and get rewards like never before!
Thanks for stopping by! xo.