Barcelona is an absolutely amazing city. I don’t know if you guys can tell but we can’t stop gushing about it (or writing about it for that matter…). We can see ourselves living here full time, that is how much we love the place. However, Barcelona is a large city and can be overwhelming for first time visitors. We wanted to put together these tips for visiting Barcelona so that whether it’s your first visit or hundredth you can always enjoy this amazing youthful and vibrant city!
Welcome to our Barcelona Series! Here in this series you will learn everything you need to have a perfect time in Barcelona. We are all about eating, drinking and living local and there is no place we like to do all of that better than Barcelona!
Here is what you can expect from this series:
Top Tips for First Time Visitors to Barcelona – You’re here!
Unique Things to Do in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Drink Local in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Quintessential Barcelona – What You Can’t Miss in the Catalan Capital (Coming Soon!)
Top Tips for Visiting Barcelona
Barcelona is First and Foremost Catalonia NOT Spain
This may seem nit-picky but really it’s not. The people of Barcelona are Catalan, first and foremost, and will continue to be especially with the campaigns for independence. Everywhere you walk in Barcelona you will see the Catalan flag hanging, both their official flag and their flag of independence.
The people also really respond when you attempt to speak some Catalan as well. You don’t need to worry about being fluent. They don’t expect you to be but a few key phrase help. Here are some basic and useful phrases:
Adéu – Goodbye
Merci – Thank You (Yes, the same as French)
Si us plau – Please
It is that easy!
Adopt the Pace of Daily Life of Barcelona
Daily life in Barcelona may be at odds with your normal pace of life. And that is because people stay up late in Barcelona. Yes, they really do eat late and if you really want to experience everything the city has to offer than you have to get on their schedule!
Most locals in Barcelona are not early risers and don’t eat breakfast so get ready to just pop into a coffee shop for a cafe amb llet (also known as a cafe con leche) no earlier than 7am. You will be hard pressed to find too many places open before that. Lunch is then usually around 12-3pm. You won’t find many lunch spots serving lunch later than 3:30pm and 4pm is a good meal’s no mans land – seriously, all of our bad meals happened around 4pm…
Dinner is then at 10:30pm. Sounds like a big gap? No worries. Barcelona loves its food and the time between lunch and dinner is filled with a variety of different food worthy activities. There is of course tapas hour which starts around 7pm but really hits its stride around 8:30, 9pm. Grab a group of friends and start hopping from tapas bar to tapas bar tossing back some house made cava and perfect little bites.
If you can’t wait until 7pm there is always….
Embrace La Hora del Vermut
This may be our favorite hour. In the afternoon Barcelona gets quiet. Restaurants shut down for their lunch break, people take siestas, or they settle into chairs that dot the numerous plazas of the city for la hora del vermut, or the vermouth hour.
Vermouth is all the rage in Barcelona and it is the perfect afternoon libation. It is slightly sweet and served with a slice of orange and an olive with the options to add some carbonated water and bitters if you so choose. Pair this with sunshine, good friends and some snacks and you will realize why everyone in Barcelona is falling head over heels for the hour of vermouth!
Avoid La Rambla
La Rambla is probably the best known street in Barcelona and yet we would advise you to stay away. That may seem contrary to what most people say but hear us out.
This street used to be unique: full of flower shops, street performers and all the drama of Barcelona architecture.
However, it became too popular.
Now it is overrun with terrible restaurants, people peddling bad restaurants and bars, and tacky souvenir stalls. Take a walk up La Rambla and explore La Boqueria, the most famous market in the city, and then hightail it out of there.
Spend Time in the El Raval Vs. the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is beautiful and it is worth a stroll through the area but if we had to pick a neighborhood to really dive into and explore we would suggest El Raval. Yes, it is grittier than the Gothic Quarter but that is part of its charm. Also the culinary scene in El Raval is unparalleled. You can experience everything from an absinthe bar that hasn’t changed since it opened in 1820, to several places embracing brunch, to the modern take on tapas at Bar Cañete. El Raval is gritty and real and you should dive right in!
Learn the Metro System
Barcelona is a big city. There is no denying that. So it would be a good thing to learn the metro system since everyone isn’t as crazy about walking as we are. (It is very common for us to walk upwards of six, seven miles a day in a city) The metro is pretty extensive but relatively easy to use. One of the easiest ways to do this is to download a Barcelona Metro App. We use this one and it made it super easy to plan out our trips including letting us know where to transfer and how long it will take us!
Pick Where to Stay Wisely
This goes back to Barcelona being a large city. If you end up staying way out in the boonies and the metro closes at midnight you may end up being stranded in the center and having to take a taxi quite often. We would definitely spend some time researching what neighborhood you would like to stay in based on what you want to do during your trip.
To learn more about what neighborhoods to stay in check out this article we wrote for Adventurous Kate!
Treat the Locals with Respect
You may have read recently that Barcelona has been experiencing some backlash on tourism. This is especially prevalent in the neighborhood of Barceloneta where you will see signs all over that protest against tourism especially during the summer as Barceloneta is on the beach. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t visit Barcelona but it does mean that you need to remember that Barcelona is a city filled with people who live there.
Their whole lives are in the city. They work there. Their families live there. They are not on vacation. Barcelona is their home. So what can you do?
Treat the locals with respect. When leaving the beach, put on some clothes and don’t go into shops and restaurants in your swim suit. Be quiet when you are walking through neighborhoods at 5am after a night out. Actively try to visit and patronize locally owned business and restaurants. Support the little guys and don’t shop, eat or stay in large chains. Show that you respect the locals and their home, Barcelona, will open up her arms
Eat Catalan Cuisine – Not Just Spanish Cuisine
Once again Barcelona is a Catalan city with Catalan culture and Catalan cuisine. This means that you need to sample at least some Catalan cuisine while you are in the city. Most likely you will try some without even knowing it because they are incredibly proud of their cuisine (as they should be) but we also think you should hunt down some classic Catalan dishes.
One of our favorites is botifarra amb mongetes which is a Catalan sausage served with garlicky white beans grown in Catalonia. This is very typical peasant’s food for the region. Another ingredient that they LOVE is bacallá or salt cod and you will find it cooked in a variety of ways including bacallá a la llauna which is cod cooked in a tin. Perhaps the best place to find this is at Bodega d’En Rafel.
*If you want to learn more about the Catalan dishes you should be looking for while in Barcelona purchase our brand new culinary guidebook “Eat Local in Barcelona” available in paperback and ebook*
Bonus: Drink Cava to Your Heart’s Content!
We couldn’t forget to mention cava when it comes to visiting Barcelona! It is after all probably our favorite wet beverage! Cava is plentiful and rather cheap all throughout the city because about 95% of Spain’s cava production happening in Penedes just outside Barcelona. We would suggest just drinking cava whenever you can. Salut!
We hope that these top 9 tips for visiting Barcelona for the first time help you have an absolutely wonderful time in the city! Barcelona is just so magical that we want people to fall in love with the city just as much as we have.
Read On to Read the Rest of the Series!
Top Tips for First Time Visitors to Barcelona – You’re Here!
Unique Things to Do in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Drink Local in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Quintessential Barcelona – What You Can’t Miss in Barcelona (Coming Soon!)
Heading to Barcelona soon? Don’t forget to buy travel insurance! Sure you may not use it but its always good to have. We recommend World Nomads which we have been using for years and have always made us feel secure as we travel around the world!
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