Barcelona – after living there for the last 6 months it was really hard for me to go back to Germany. Especially during a time where spring is already in full process, temperatures are rising and people are getting happier due to the good weather. During the last half a year I was not only living in Barcelona but it also became home to me and a place where I could definitely see myself living in the future.
The city is one of the most amazing places I have ever been to. It’s incredibly vivid, you have bars at each street corner, the variety of food and people is huge and everyone is just so friendly and open hearted. I’ve never been to a city where I felt so welcome and part of it in such a short time. Barcelona and it’s people make you feel like you belong to them in an instance and that’s one of the things that made it so special for me.
But if you’re only visiting Barcelona for holidays rather than living there long time, I would like to help you get along by providing a guide about my favorite places and all the local tips and hints I got received in the past 6 months.
This guide is not going to be the one you’ll find in every travel guide. It’s rather a local and detailed article about all the beauty Barcelona has to offer apart from the well known tourist paths.
Make sure to check it out and I’ll promise you’ll get to know the city in a way that only locals do.
I don’t think I actually owe you a serious answer to that question. And I’m also quite sure that most of you have at least considered visiting this place or you probably wouldn’t be reading this.
Anyway, I wan’t to let you know what makes this city so special for me apart from the things I already mentioned.
Barcelona is one of the most beautiful and historical metropolises of Europe, it has a perfect size (neither to small nor to big) and the city is amazing to explore on foot which gives you a completely different overview of a city than exploring everything by metro (which you could also do in Barcelona).
The diversity here is amazing. If it’s food, culture, modern/historical architecture or landscapes. I’m sure you’ll never get bored in this place as there is just so much to see and just walking around the streets of Barcelona is so impressive and interesting that sometimes I just spend my days walking through the different “barrios” and explore them by myself (amazing thing to do!).
To/from Airport: There are various options on how to get into the city after arriving at Barcelona’s airport. I’ve tried some of them and the following two were the most convenient:
1. Aerobus: To me, the Aerobus was the most convenient way of travelling to or from the airport. There are no waiting times as it runs every 5-10 minutes. One bus heads to Terminal 1 (A1) and the other one to Terminal 2 (A2). You’ll recognize the blue buses outside the terminals instantly. Prices are 5,90€ one way and you can take the bus in direction airport from Plaza España, Urgell or Plaza Cataluña. On the way from the airport to the city center there is another stop at Universitat. The journey takes about 35 minutes on average, always depending on the traffic.
2. Renfe: The Renfe R2 nort is the cheaper airport transportation system. A journey costs you 1€ if you buy a T10 ticket (10 metro rides for 10€ – best deal!). Another advantage is that you can always rely on the time it takes as the train isn’t affected by traffic. The journey takes you 25 minutes and the train leaves every half an hour. The train stops at Barcelona Saints and Passeig de Gracia. Remember to plan in some time for getting to the station if you take the train from Passeig de Gracia as the station is quite big and it can get some time to get around.
Metro: The metro transportation system in Barcelona is really good and convenient. There are 5 main metro lines that cover the city: L1-L5. The lines have a lot of intersections which makes it really easy to navigate through the city. I would definitely recommend you to buy a T10 metro ticket at one of the vending machines in the station as it gives you the best value (10 rides for 10€).
Bus: Barcelona also has a vast Bus system, taking you almost everywhere you could think of. Still, the bus routes are not that easy to understand and unless you can’t avoid it, I don’t think you’ll have to use the buses a lot. During my time in Barcelona I didn’t ride the bus many times. In case you do so, remember that you can also use your T10 ticket for the buses.
Bike: My favorite way to get around the city is by bike. Ok, it takes some time to get used to the directions but actually it’s really simple as most of the areas are arranged in rectangular blocks and straight streets. The city is insanely comfortable to ride a bike as the center is not really stretched out and you can easily go everywhere by bike. If you’re staying long time, make sure to sign up for the Bicing Service! 50€ a year and you can take the bikes from everywhere. There is a vast network of bike stations where you can just pick up your bike and drop it at the next station if you don’t need it anymore. For short time visitors there are a lot of different options. Barcelona has a lot of rental services so check them out here or here.
On foot: The same points go for exploring the city on foot. The advantage of Barcelona is that the center is not too stretched out which makes it really convenient to walk around the center. Not only do you save money on transportation but you get to know the city in a complete different way as you’re going to see things that you’d miss out when just hopping from metro station to metro station.
The different areas – where to stay?
I’m not going to cover each area of Barcelona as there are just to many and some of them are rather not that interesting. So I’m going to list my favorite ones to give you an impression of the city.
Eixample: The Eixample is one of the biggest and most famous areas of the city. It’s stretched out from Sagrada Familia to Plaza España and goes from Plaza Cataluña to the top end of Passeig de Gracia.
The area is really diverse and you’ll encounter everyone from local grandpa to young international student living here. The whole area was constructed as a planned area, meaning that everything is alined rectangular. The streets go straight from one end of the area to another and from north to south. That makes orientation really easy. At each street corner are small shops and bars and you have a lot of different restaurants and cultural variety. The area is perfectly connected by metro and you are close by to all the important sights and places of Barcelona. During the last 6 months I was living here and there was not one moment where I regretted it.
Gracia: Gracia is considered the young, cultural, alternative and artisanal heart of Barcelona. It’s a little bit out of the centre and more a local area. Nevertheless, there is a huge variety of cultures and you’ll find all kinds of interesting food and restaurants here. I really loved the alternative vibe of this place and its many small bars and vivid plazas. It feels very different to the rest of the city as it almost seems like a small village rather then a part of the city. It’s packed with small alleys and there are orange trees growing on the streets.
Born: El Born is one of the oldest parts of Barcelona. Located next to the Barri Gotic and north of la Barceloneta, this area is part of the “heart” of Barcelona and gives you an impression of the history of the city. Small and narrow alleys, ancient buildings and paved streets. Which might sound like a boring area is one of Barcelona’s hippest and most international areas. The vibe is amazing, a lot of people from all over the world opened small shops around here and the Bar Scene is just amazing. The area is especially famous for its young and intercultural flair and to me it was of the most interesting areas due to its unique and alternative feeling.
Barri Gotic: The Barri Gotic is Barcelona’s oldest area and one of the most interesting to visit. I could not imagine living here because it can get really busy with tourists and there is not much light due to the narrowly built houses. Nevertheless, the architecture is just amazing and it never gets boring walking around the area and take in the vibe of the ancient streets and buildings. The Cathedral and other famous buildings are located here. The area is just next to Las Ramblas and a must visit if you’re coming to Barcelona.
Barceloneta: Barceloneta is the old fisher village of Barcelona and located directly at the beach. The area is really interesting and you can still feel what it used to be. If you’re looking for some great seafood this is definitely the place to go! Even though considered a rather “shabby” area of the city, there are a lot of interesting places to stay at and the location is amazing. The area is packed with small bars and restaurants and you get a real beach feeling here. Remember that it might get very busy in summer.
El Raval: Raval is what you would consider the Arab area of the city. Once you get there you know what I’m talking about. It looks different from the rest of Barcelona. The area is rather old and the shops and restaurants are mostly Arabic. There is some amazing food here and you should definitely check it out as it shows Barcelona’s variety of cultures in a very intense way. The area is directly in the city center just on the other side of las Ramblas.
I really enjoyed walking around here as there are a lot of interesting shops. Especially vintage clothes and small boutiques are really common here and you’ll find a lot of bars and young people. The area has a international vibe to it as there are a lot of young students living here.
Poble Sec: I would consider this area a typical local area. A lot of small cafes and bars, small narrow streets and not a lot of tourists. One of my favorite things to do is to have a stroll through Carrer del Blai and stop by for some Pinchos. Located at the side of Montjuic you have an amazing view over the city if you walk a little bit up hill.
Food in Barcelona
I already wrote an article about my favorite eats in Barcelona here.
In general, Barcelona has a huge variety of food and restaurants to offer.
If you’re looking for seafood, definitely check out the many small restaurants in Barceloneta as the seafood is insanely fresh and good there. Some recommendations are La Cova Fumada, Can Maño or El Vaso de Oro.
You can find Tapas and Pinchos everywhere in the city but my favorite place was Carrer del Blai in Poble Sec.
For Arabian food I’d definitely recommend you to check out Raval. The area is packed with amazing oriental restaurants and you can find some great food here.
If you’re looking for healthy and unusual food you might want to check out Gracia. There are a lot of different alternative restaurants and you can find some stuff you never tried before. My favorites where La Vietnamita, el Petit Bangkok or Thai noodles.
All over the city you’ll find Brunch and Cake, a really nice place for breakfast/brunch.
If you’re into Burgers you have to check out Bacoa! There are also a lot of them around Barcelona and for me they mades some of the best burgers ever.
I would recommend you to avoid the typical Chinese corner restaurants for food as it is really basic. Also try to avoid the front row tourist trap restaurants at las Ramblas or Barceloneta as you’ll get overpriced and mediocre food. A lot of times it’s worth checking out the side streets where you can find some real gems.
I don’t want to give you the typical tourist attractions as there’s already so much information out there and it would be quite useless. What I want to show you are my favorite places during the last 6 months. They’re mostly away from the tourist paths, still amazing and in my opinion show you the city in a better way than just visiting the typical Tourist traps.
- Viewpoint Poble Sec: As Barcelona is a city built in between the sea and the nearby mountains, there are some fantastic views if you go a little bit uphill. The most popular is Tibidabo, even though it is really far away and I already wrote a whole article about los Bunkers.
But quite close to the center there is a place where you have an incredible view over Barcelona and it doesn’t even take a lot of effort to get there.
Get off Poble Sec Metro Station and walk up Carrer del Blai (if you’re hungry definitely stop for some Pinchos) for 5 minutes and turn right at Carrer d’En Fontrodona walk up the street until the next intersection and then turn right. You’re now heading straight towards some stairs which you have to go up and after a little bit you’ll reach an incredibly beautiful and unknown viewpoint with some benches right at the side of Montjuic. Trust me, it’s definitely worth it (tip: take a bottle of wine with you and watch the romantic sunset here 😉 )
- Gracia: Even if it’s not directly in the center of the city, a visit to Barcelona’s most charming barrio is a must! It’s possible to take almost a full day just strolling through the small and narrow streets, watching the people following their daily lives and just taking in the vibe of this area. Maybe pick an orange from one of the many orange trees growing here or just sit down at a small and local cafe. There is so much to see as this area is overflowing with cultural diversity but still keeps its local village flair. One of my favorite places where Placa de la Revolució with a lot of amazing cafes and bars or Placa de la Vila de Gracia, the center of the “village”. But the best way to experience this beautiful barrio is just to go there and explore it by yourself!
- MACBA: Means Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Contemporary Arts Museum). The museum itself is interesting but not the reason why I mention this place here. The big place in front of the museum is what made it so interesting for me. If you show a little bit interest in youth culture you should definitely pay this place a visit and sit down for a moment to observe what is happening here: A lot of young people showing their skills in skateboarding, dancing, playing football, singing and even more amazing hobbies you might have never heard of.
MACBA is Barcelona’s center of youth culture and it is always interesting to pass by and watch the people performing. There are always people hanging out and it’s a meeting point for people from all over the world.
- Food Markets: One of my favorite things to do was to stroll through the different food markets in Barcelona and get an impression of local people and food. In Barcelona, each area has at least one fresh food market. For me, it’s a possibility to see what the people eat and what they buy. Also, there are always interesting things to snack on and most of the times you’ll find great restaurants around food markets so keep an open eye.
My favorite ones were Mercat de l’Abaceria in Gracia and Mercat de la Barceloneta. Another more popular must visit is definitely the famous Mercado de la Boqueira at Las Ramblas and the huge and amazing Mercado de Sant Antoni which sadly is being renovated right now.
- Park Guell: Gaudi’s park uphill Gracia is divided in two parts: there is the inner part with all the famous artworks, houses and galleries which you have to pay and stand in queue for. And there is the outer part, way bigger with a lot of interesting art to see and some amazing views over the city. I did both and I enjoyed the outer part way more as it just isn’t that crowded and there are way more things to explore. In the end it’s up to you put maybe think about investing a little bit more time exploring the outer part of Park Guell.
10 Tips to take with you
Here are 10 tips to help you with a pleasant and joyful stay in Barcelona:
- Be attentive. Some people say that there are a lot of pickpockets in Barcelona but nothing got stolen from me in the past 6 months. I’m sure if you’re aware of your surroundings and your pockets you’re on the safe side.
- Stay away from the front row tourist restaurants. There are way better and cheaper restaurants if you spend a little time looking.
- Explore the city on foot or by bike, it’s extremely suitable for that.
- If you’re planning on using Metro, purchase the T10 ticket which gives you 10 metro/bus rides for 10€.
- It might help a lot to know some basic Spanish expressions, as surprisingly many people in Spain still don’t speak and understand any English.
- Try to take your main meal for lunch as you’ll get big discounts on lunch menus.
- Ordering the right beer size: Standard is caña (0,2l), if you want to go bigger you have to ask for a mediana (0,33l) or a jarra (0,5l). The small standard beer size is to prevent a big beer from warming up in summer.
- Don’t eat Tapas as a main dish. Eating tapas is more like snacking and if you’re really hungry it might turn out quite expensive. It’s more about grabbing some beers and snack a little on the tapas with some friends.
- Don’t bring up the Cataluña-Spain topic in a conversation. Trust me the results are always awkward so just avoid that situation.
- Tipping is not necessary. Tip as you want to. If you enjoyed the service no one will stop you from giving a tip. Often the service is also already included in the bill (IVA incluido)
To sum it up
Barcelona is one of the most interesting, welcoming and beautiful cities I have ever visited. There is so much to see apart from the must visits like la Sagrada Familia, Park Guell or Gaudi’s houses.
This guide should help you to experience the city in a different way and show you some more local insights to what marvellous Barcelona has to offer.
I hope I could provide some inspiration and I’m sure you won’t regret a visit. The people in Barcelona are so welcoming and make it really easy for you to give this city a special place in your heart.
Let me know if you have some tips you’d like to add. I’m always happy for suggestions.
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Thanks a lot for reading and until next time.
With love, Niko.
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