Looking for the perfect spot to settle down in Spain? Barcelona has tons to offer from its rich cultural history to its great food to its sheer size. There’s so much to explore. With every neighborhood telling a different story, creative professionals will find plenty of inspiration in each corner of the Catalonian capital.
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When to Go
Summer brings warmer temperatures and bigger crowds, but it’s also one of the liveliest times in the city. In August, the charming village of Gracia comes to life as the Festa Major takes over its streets with magnificent, larger than life decorations and the world-famous castellers or human towers. At the same time, you may find shops closed in August as it’s a common month for Europeans to take long holidays.
The city’s Mediterranean location promises mild temperatures even in winter. Snow falls rarely and sticks around even less frequently. Spanish hot chocolate, a thick concoction often served with churros, is not to be missed, and a crisp January day is the perfect time to warm up with a cup.
Spring typically sees heavy rainfall, but this is when you’re most likely to find the Catalan specialty calcots on restaurant menus. These tiny onions get thrown on a grill until they reach a charred perfection. Pile ’em high on your plate with romesco sauce for dipping and don’t be afraid to make a mess as you strip away the blackened outer layer to reveal a juicy core inside.
On the other end of the shoulder season spectrum, autumn probably holds Barcelona’s best weather. There are ample festivals and special exhibitions in the fall, ranging from film festivals to gourmet gatherings.
How Much to Spend
During peak season, a one-way flight to Barcelona from the US will cost at least $300-400. You can find a dorm bed in a hostel for as low as $15-20 a night, but I recommend shelling out $40-50 a night for a private room. Budget no less than $20-30 a day for meals. If you’re self-catering, however, you can probably get a week’s worth of groceries for $30 or less. Depending on how much you ride the metro, you should plan on spending $10-20 a week on transportation.
Barcelona is part of the EU, so uses the euro as currency. The conversion to USD is so close, you can comfortably treat euros as dollars and avoid the mental math.
The closest airport to the city center is Barcelona-El Prat (BCN). If you’re coming from another European destination with Ryanair, keep in mind the budget airline also sells flights to Girona (GRO) and Tarragona (REU) as flights to Barcelona, but you’ll have to spend more time and money getting into the city from these farther removed airports.
From El Prat, track down the Aerobus, which has regular departures to the city center. A ticket will cost you about $6, and the bus’s final stop is Placa de la Catalunya. From there, you may need to take the metro to your accommodations – Placa de la Catalunya serves Lines 1 and 3.
If you’re already in Europe, Barcelona is also readily accessible by bus and train. The main bus station Barcelona Nord is right next to the Arc de Triomf and its corresponding Line 1 metro station. Trains arrive at Barcelona Sants, on the far west side of the city. The nearest metro station, Sants Estacio, serves Lines 3 and 5.
Barcelona is massive and there’s simply no way to see the city without relying on public transportation. The Barcelona metro system can be overwhelming at first due to the city’s size, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll find the subway to be one of the best in Europe. It’s very clean and incredibly efficient. The absolute longest you’ll ever wait for a train is 4 to 5 minutes.
Don’t get suckered into buying an Hola BCN card! These tourist traps range from one-day to five-day passes, but are a terrible bargain. The five-day pass costs $30-35 – you’d have to ride the metro at least three to four times a day to really get your money’s worth. Instead, look for the T-10 pass. It’s not as flashy, but grants you 10 rides on any timeline for about $10.
You’ll also see buses traversing the city. These are part of the same TMB system as the subway and you can use your same metro pass for both.
What to Pack
Summer temperatures in Barcelona tend to hover around the mid-80s Fahrenheit or high-20s Celsius. In the winter, temperatures rarely dip below 5 degrees Celsius, or 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Whatever season you visit, light layers are a good rule of thumb. Large scarves are especially fashionable in Spain and can also provide just the right coverage for visiting cathedrals. You’ll see lots of skinny jeans and muted colors on both men and women.
Take at least one dressier outfit for nights on the town. Catalonia is the richest region of Spain and whether you plan on splurging on a nice restaurant one night or hitting the streets to partake in Barcelona’s great nightlife, you’ll want to look your best.
When you’re working on the road, you’ll naturally have a fair amount of tech in your bag. Barcelona is notorious for its pickpockets at major tourist attractions and on public transportation, so digital nomads should keep a close eye on their belongings. Spain has type F power sockets, so you can use the same two-prong plug adapter you do in other European countries.
Summer visitors will need plenty of strong sunscreen and ideally a good hat as well. Comfortable shoes are a must for any destination, but due to Barcelona’s size, you may want to give extra consideration to choosing the right footwear. Save the flip flops for the beach, though. Any footwear other than leather boots in cold weather and nicer sandals in warm weather are sure to mark you a tourist.
Where to Stay
In a city as large as Barcelona, you can easily find accommodations for any budget. So in deciding where to stay, you need to think less about specific locations and more about the neighborhood.
The Barri Gotic’s winding alleys capture the imagination, but a location as romantic and desirable as this is sure to be more expensive. Beach bums will want to stay within walking distance of Barceloneta, while the neighboring quarter El Born has a decidedly artsy vibe. If money is tight, you may be better served by the residential areas near the Sagrada Familia church.
In many corners of the city, you might notice a strong skateboarding culture. The Sant Jordi chain has specialty “skate hostels” peppered around various neighborhoods. Skateboards and graffiti adorn each wall, adding to the atmosphere. Each branch organizes nightly dinners in the common room and outings to bars and clubs, making them great for social butterflies.
Where to Eat
Barcelona’s dining scene is perhaps even more overwhelming than its metro system. No matter which way you turn, you’ll be presented with a mind-boggling number of choices. Further complicating matters is the fact that many people don’t realize how Catalan food differs from other Spanish food.
You’re probably looking forward to tapas bar hopping down La Rambla or digging into a steaming skillet of paella, but did you know neither of this is authentic to Barcelona? Both are imports from other regions of Spain, and many restaurants in the city serve them up just because of tourist demand.
If you have your heart set on tapas, leave the city center behind and head north to Gracia. L’Anxoveta is a charming locally-owned joint that serves up tastier small plates than you’ll find anywhere on touristy La Rambla. Be sure to order a bomba. L’Anxoveta dresses up this fried meat and potato ball with two kinds of sauce, a spicy red sauce at the base and a creamy alioli on top.
When searching for paella, keep in mind that this is a dish best shared with friends. In fact, many restaurants won’t serve paella to solo diners! If you’re on your own, go to L’Arroz in Barceloneta, which is one of the few eateries in town that does offer single servings of this quintessential rice dish. You might also consider ordering up a plate of fideua. Made with short noodles instead of rice, this is a very similar dish that has authentic roots in Catalonia, unlike paella which has its origin in Valencia, to the south.
Want to explore authentic Catalan food? Sign up for a tour with Devour Barcelona. Their guides will help you crack the code of eating well in a city with boundless options.
For dining on a dime, you’ll see plenty of takeaway sandwich stands throughout the city. A crusty baguette piled with nutty jamon iberico will set you back only 3 or 4 euro at a place like Cafe Caracas in the Ciutat Vella, or one of the many kiosks and hole-in-the-wall joints dotting the paths to Castell de Montjuic or Parc Guell. Browsing city markets is also a great way to sample lots of Spanish food without dropping too much dough. The Mercat de la Boqueria is the most popular with tourists, but it’s still a great option for an inexpensive and filling lunch as you cobble together tastes from fruit stands, tapas bars, and other vendors.
Where to Work
Barcelona has less of a cafe culture and more of a bar culture. You’ll see locals catch up with friends over a drink at combo cafe-bars on every corner in the city. But you’ll be much harder pressed to find a spot where you can settle in with your laptop for an afternoon. Cafes with strong WiFi signals are unfortunately few and far between. You can find a few lists on other blogs, like Travel Around or Lovin.ie, of what options Barcelona does have. Pudding is an especially fun workspace, with bright colors and towering toadstools straight out of Alice in Wonderland. Most days, however, you’ll probably be best served by booking a private hostel or hotel room with good WiFi and working at your accommodations.
What to Do
Each section of Barcelona has its own distinct character. When you have time for sightseeing, consider picking one neighborhood to explore throughout the day. I’ve already noted the intriguing Barri Gotic, artsy El Born, and beachfront Barceloneta above. Some other options include the former red light district El Raval and the hilltop gardens of Montjuic.
Art and architecture lovers should set aside at least an entire day for visiting the creations of famed architect Antoni Gaudi. Start your day by booking a Sagrada Familia ticket online. The church’s website can point you to major discounts you won’t find anywhere else. You might find, as I did, that scheduling your visit for the end of the day, around 7pm, cuts your ticket price in half and means competing with fewer crowds.
La Pedrera and Casa Batllo are both Gaudi-designed houses of wealthy 20th century families and now house museums. The $25 cost of entry to Casa Batllo may seem staggering, but it’s completely worth it. More than just a string of dry audio clips, this self-guided tour includes an “augmented reality” component. You’ll move a smartphone-like device around each room to see renderings of what the furniture would have looked like during the Batllo’s residency, or animations highlighting how Gaudi drew his inspiration from nature.
Windows turn to tortoise shells or fish gills before your eyes, and the creative curation doesn’t stop there. The museum has many other unique exhibits, including a colorful projection on a 3D model of the house’s facade, where you’ll see the balconies transform into singing skulls and the floral decorations morph into Monet’s famous water lilies before the spine of the roof awakes and becomes a fire-breathing dragon. Each detail of Gaudi’s work is showcased with these types of stunning effects.
Parc Guell is another Gaudi site worth a visit. You’ll have to pay $7 for access to the so-called “Monumental Zone,” that stretch of candy-colored mosaics that grace so many Barcelona postcards. But the rest of the park is free to explore and you can capture a Barcelona skyline from many other viewpoints at no cost.
If you’re in a museum-hopping mood, you can skip the Museu Picasso. The selection of works is rather underwhelming and you’ll either have to fork over $11 for the overpriced admission fee or waste hours in line for the free entry on Sunday afternoon. Instead, you should take the funicular up to Montjuic, where you’ll find the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Fundacio Joan Miro in close proximity.
The surrounding region of Catalonia is chock full of day trip options. Enjoy a beach day among the rugged beauty of the Costa Brava or hop on a mountain retreat in Montserrat.
Looking for more things to do in Barcelona? Get the full scoop on my gourmet tour of Gracia with Devour Barcelona.
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