The Ultimate Barcelona Travel Guide
Barcelona, the sophisticated capital of the Catalonian region of Spain, is known throughout the world as one of the best travel destinations in Europe. The city has a fascinating history that dates back thousands of years, thought-provoking architecture that begs you to take photos, outstanding galleries home to some of the most famous masterpieces in the art world and a high-octane nightlife scene that doesn’t even get going until the early hours.
Whether you’re a family on your annual vacation, a couple on a romantic city escape, a group of young travelers ready for adventure or a solo explorer prepared to tackle whatever life throws at you, you’re sure to fall in love with Barcelona as soon as you step foot on Catalonian soil. So you don’t miss a single thing during your visit, we’ve put together the ultimate Barcelona travel guide, designed to help you out though every aspect of your trip.
The ultimate Barcelona travel guide
Although the first people to settle in Barcelona did so in the Neolithic times, the city as we know it today was founded by the Romans at the end of the first century BC. The city was originally named Barcino and was protected by a large wall, which you can still see in the Old Town.
For the next 200 years, Barcelona was under Muslim rule until it became part of the Carolingian Empire and one of the major residences of the court of the Crown of Aragon following the Christian re-conquest.
During the medieval period, Barcelona became established as the political and economic center of the Western Mediterranean. You can still see evidence of this prosperous time in the city’s incredibly ornate buildings and spectacular squares throughout the Gothic Quarter.
Between the 15th and 18th centuries, Barcelona struggled to hold onto its political and economic independence. The struggle finally ended in 1714, when Bourbon troops invaded and took the locals’ rights and privileges away. Things began to turn around in the mid-19th century, when the textile industry took off and Catalan became the dominant literary language once more.
The 20th century saw a huge boost of urban renewal throughout Barcelona, resulting in the Eixample district where you’ll find distinctive Catalan art-nouveau buildings. These include Gaudí’s Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Familia – amazing examples of the stunning architecture that make Spain such an awesome place to visit.
The rights and freedoms of the local people which were gained during this time were once again severely restricted during the Civil War and the dictatorship that followed. But, never one to back down, Barcelona regained its political and economic strength with the reinstatement of democracy in 1978 and the Catalan language was restored. The opportunity to host the 1992 Olympic Games gave the city a boost of positivity and confirmed its status as a major metropolis.
In 2004, the Universal Forum of Cultures began reclaiming Barcelona’s abandoned industrial zones and convert them into modern residential districts, an example of the forward-thinking and renewed strength with which Barcelona confidently strides into the 21st century.
This Barcelona travel guide is for every type of traveler, but budgets differ hugely between families with four kids and backpackers traveling solo. To help everyone out, here are the typical costs you can expect to come across in Barcelona, as well as some money-saving tips to help make your budget stretch just that little bit further.
Accommodation As you’d expect, accommodation costs vary massively according to what type of place you’re staying in and when you travel. A bed in a shared dorm will set you back €30 per night (usually including unlimited WiFi access and breakfast), while budget hotels start at €60 per night for a double room. Four- and five-star hotels start at €80 per night for a double room and go up to a whopping €500 per night. You can make some huge savings with Airbnb. Prices start from as little as €30 per night for a private room and if you sign up for Airbnb using this link, you’ll get an instant $40 off your first booking!
Transportation A single ticket for the bus or metro is €2.15. But you’ll save yourself a small fortune by buying a T10 Transport Ticket, a Barcelona Travel Card or a Tourist Travel Pass. Scroll down to the Transport section at the bottom of this Barcelona travel guide for more info.
Eating out Even though it’s the second biggest city in Spain, you can dine out on fairly little money in Barcelona. You can usually enjoy a basic three-course meal for €7 from a street-side café or for €25 from a more upmarket restaurant. Keep an eye out for Menu del Día (Menu of the Day) which is a set two- or three-course meal plus a drink that works out fantastic value for money. Remember, it’s always cheaper to eat out for lunch than it is for dinner.
Food shopping An even better way to cut down on your food spending is to buy your own ingredients from one of the major supermarkets (Carrefour or Mercadona) or a local farmers’ market and make your own meals. You can easily pick up enough food for a family of four for a week for €50. Even if you don’t want to cook all your meals, you can still pick up pastries, sandwiches and snacks from supermarkets for cheap and yummy nibbles.
Attractions Entry prices to Barcelona’s main attractions vary greatly. Always check online before you purchase your ticket – you’ll usually find big discounts on the attraction’s official website or from authorized ticket sellers. Another way to save on attractions is to stick to the free ones! There are loads of museums and galleries in Barcelona that are open to the public without charge. Again, look these up online to find out which dates/times grant free access.
Suggested daily budget €70 per person, including the price of a bed in a basic hostel. If your accommodation is already paid for and you only need to budget for attractions, food and transportation, €50 per person per day should be plenty for essentials. Don’t forget to add extra money for things like treats, shopping and big nights out.
The best Barcelona tours
Worried you’ll get lost in the sprawling city? Then sign up for a guided excursion. Not only will you be led by an experienced local guide who’s got all the insider info, but you’ll make some great friends along the way while discovering one of the top Spain destinations. Here are the best tours we recommend in our Barcelona travel guide:
Barcelona Food and Wine Tasting Tour A three-hour tour that lets you explore vibrant neighborhoods of Barcelona, soak up the dynamic atmosphere, tuck into tasty tapas and wash it all down with some locally-produed wines. It's one of our favorite tours in this Barcelona travel guide and a must for any foodie who wants to get to know the Catalan cuisine.
Full-Day Barcelona City Tour Explore the Gothic quarter, Gaudi’s incredible creations and the majestic Montjuic Park on this full-day tour. Whether you're a total history buff, a cultured art lover or just an ordinary traveler who wants to see what the city has to offer, this all-encompassing tour covers so much that you're sure to have an excellent time!
Skip the Line: Park Guell and Sagrada Familia Discover everything there is to know about Gaudi’s most famous works in Barcelona on this four-hour tour. The price includes fast-track entry into Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia where you'll have plenty of free time to explore on your own and soak up the incredible ambience that Gaudi worked so hard to create.
Small Group Hiking Tour Take a break from hectic city life and get back to nature on this energetic nine-hour tour. You'll get to see important historical and religious sites, such as the beautiful Santa Maria abbey and the Black Madonna statue guarded within, all while exploring the mountains of Montserrat.
The best things to do in Barcelona
The Catalonian capital is a real playground for culture vultures. Overflowing with art galleries, museums and theatres, these cultural attractions make Barcelona one of the best cities to visit in Spain for anyone interested in the arts.
Museu Picasso Barcelona’s most-visited museum that showcases work from the artist’s early years. It's spread across five medieval mansions, with charming courtyards, beautiful galleries and well-preserved staircases, giving it a warm, inviting atmosphere unlike anything you'd expect from an ordinary art gallery.
Fundació Joan Miró An approachable, modern museum that houses a hugely diverse art collection, including all Miro’s graphic work. It was founded in 1975 when the artist was still living, with a huge emphasis on the Mediterranean style which incorporates natural lighting and uses the sun to brighten up exhibition rooms.
El Gran Teatre Del Liceu The city’s world-famous opera house that hosts prestigious symphonies, opera festivals and ballets. It was originally built in 1847 and was lovingly reconstructed following a fire in 1994, bringing it back to its true glory.
Sagrada Familia No self-respecting Barcelona travel guide could forget about Gaudi's most famous masterpiece! A giant basilica designed by the famous artist, the Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882 and features a striking façade with a huge number of statues and carvings, as well as spires that reach for the sky and beautiful stained glass windows.
Outdoor activities and attractions
Despite being an urban city, Barcelona is packed with outdoor attractions and green spaces where you can enjoy nature. Well-manicured parks with gushing fountains and coastlines that stretch as far as the eye can see make this city one of the most beautiful places in Spain.
Parc de la Ciutadella A peaceful oasis in the center of the city, this park is home to grassy expanses, a huge pond, various fountains and hidden statues, as well as Barcelona Zoo and the Museu d'Art Modern.
Barceloneta Beach A 15-minute walk from the city center, this beach features golden sand, calm waters, several artistic structures and loads of seafood restaurants offering the freshest catch of the day.
Park Güell Created by Gaudi, this park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and highlights many beautiful mosaic sculptures, including the famous Hansel and Gretel-style houses that appear in almost every Barcelona travel guide photo.
Outdoor Gym at Barceloneta Beach Keeping fit on vacation doesn't have to be a chore! Here you'll find all the equipment you need for street workouts, calisthenics, freeletics, parkour, bodyweight training and bootcamp workouts.
The best neighborhoods to explore
Barcelona is sectioned into different neighborhoods that locals refer to as Barri. These areas are remarkably diverse and offer a striking contrast of ancient and modern, often seen literally side-by-side. Because most of the land in Barcelona is already taken up, architects are forced to renovate old, abandoned buildings, often creating a divergence of old and new within one single structure which lends a wonderful charm to the city. Here are the best neighborhoods definitely worth exploring in our Barcelona travel guide.
Gothic Quarter Also known as Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of Barcelona, where you can still find ancient roman ruins today. Many buildings around this area boast amazing architecture that goes back to the medieval period and you’ll also find some of the city’s most impressive religious structures, including the La Seu cathedral and the Santa Maria del Pi, here. Because there are so many tourist attractions within the Gothic Quarter, a significant portion of the apartments are now dedicated to tourism, making it a great place to stay and explore the city.
Las Ramblas For many the essence of Barcelona, Las Ramblas is also home to some of the city’s biggest attractions. From the Las Ramblas street itself with its street vendors and theatrical performers to the La Boqueria food market and the Plaça de Catalunya square, there’s always loads to see an do in this part of the city. And just like the Gothic Quarter, because Las Ramblas is such a hot tourist destination, you’ll find loads of apartments available for short-term rental here.
El Raval In between Las Ramblas and Montjuic hill, El Raval has been transformed from its grassy field origins into an urban jungle. The upper part of the district is lively, colorful and trendy, with the MACBA museum and the Center of Contemporary Culture taking center stage. To cater for young, dynamic tourists, this part of the city has been flooded with new, contemporary hotels, ideally positioned for exploring the area’s main attractions, which also include the Gran Theatre del Liceu theatre, Palau Guell and Sant Pau del Camp church.
Barceloneta Offering a totally different atmosphere to the rest of Barcelona, Barceloneta is the place where the city’s fishermen originally lived and worked. Today, the area is more of a coastal resort, but it’s still famed for its fresh fish and seafood which you can indulge in at any seafront restaurant. Barceloneta was designed in a grid pattern, with narrow streets lined by neck-achingly tall buildings dotted with tiny balconies where locals enjoy their morning café con leche, giving the area a romantic Naples-like feel.
The best hotels in Barcelona
Barcelona is full of historic Gothic buildings which have been beautifully restored and transformed into wonderful boutique hotels. Many of them are also ideally located in the middle of the city’s most bustling hotspots and close of some of the best attractions in Spain. Our Barcelona travel guide is aimed at people with all different kinds of budgets and the hotels below reflect that.
Kabul Hostel Known as the best party hostel in Barcelona, Kabul Hostel offers free breakfast, linen, lockers and luggage storage, all in the Gothic Quarter of the city, just a short walk away from Las Ramblas.
Hello BCN Equally well located close to Las Ramblas, Hello BCN provides budget-friendly accommodation for backpackers without skimping on essentials, like WiFi, a guest kitchen, air conditioning and heating.
Generator Hostel Barcelona Located in the buzzing district of Gracia, close to Gaudi's Casa Batllo, this hostel-hotel blend offers super-affordable rooms in a clean and modern style, with funky artistic touches.
Leonardo Boutique Hotel Barcelona Sagrada Familia The closest you'll get to staying in an art gallery, this contemporary hotel is decorated with artwork from local artists and is just a 15-minute walk away from the Sagrada Familia.
Casa Camper Hotel Barcelona A design hotel set inside a 19th century gothic building in the heart of Raval, Casa Camper Hotel Barcelona is just a stone's throw away from all the best attractions, bars and restaurants.
Hotel Barcelona Catedral A touch of modern class in the center of Barcelona's Old Town, this recently-refurbished hotel in the Gothic Quarter offers guests a rooftop bar and swimming pool, stylishly decorated rooms and a superb location.
If you love the idea of staying on the famous Las Ramblas street, take a look at these 5 amazing rentals in Las Ramblas.
What to eat and drink
Barcelona is one of the best places to visit in Spain for foodies. From bite-size tapas imbued with local flavors to fabulous seafood dishes made from fish caught that very day, here are four things you need to savor in the city according to our Barcelona travel guide.
Seafood Paella The classic Spanish rice dish loaded with shrimps, mussels and clams. Although it originated from Valencia, you'll find it in almost every restaurant in Barcelona.
Chocolate con Churros A small cup of super-thick hot chocolate perfect for dipping sugar-crusted churros into. Most locals enjoy it for breakfast, but it makes a wonderful snack or dessert, too.
Botifarra A chunky grilled pork sausage with a slightly spicy, salty flavor, usually served with beans. This is nothing like the flat breakfast sausage you're used to!
Cava Sparkling wine produced in the Catalan region that’s like French champagne, only better. It comes in two main varieties, white and rose, which also come in several varieties Brut Nature (dry) and Dolç (sweet).
Not only does Barcelona host some of the best Spanish music festivals, but it’s also some to some of the best nightclubs in the country. In our Barcelona travel guide, we’ve got the best nightspots where the party starts late and goes on even later.
Las Ramblas A great place to kick off the evening with tapas bars, wine bars and cocktail lounges overflowing with a mix of visitors and locals.
Gothic Quarter Offering a more international feel, the Gothic Quarter has a bubbling cauldron of local Catalan bars and as well as Irish and British pubs.
El Born A more sophisticated place for a night out, El Born is full of glamorous cocktail bars on the main strip and quirky hidden gems in the backstreets you won’t want to miss.
Raval One of the edgiest places in Barcelona for a night out, with a great bohemian vibe, cool bars with an alternative feel and plenty of places where you can pick up late-night eats.
The best way to get around Barcelona is to take advantage of public transportation. Because the city is so huge and is home to so many permanent residents (as well as hordes of temporary visitors!) you can pretty much go anywhere you want to in the city by hopping on a bus, tram or Metro. To save money while visiting Barcelona, we recommend picking up one of the following tickets or cards in our Barcelona travel guide.
T10 Transport Ticket You can use the T10 Transport Ticket for a total of ten journeys on the metro, buses, tram, RENFE train and FGC train within Zone 1. You can buy extended transport tickets that include additional zones, but since the best things to do in Barcelona are in Zone 1, you’re best off with the basic T10 Transport Ticket.
A single metro ticket is €2.15. But a T10 Transport Ticket is just €9.95. That’s an instant saving of €11.55, not to mention all the time you’ll save by not having to wait in line to buy your ticket each time! Each T10 Transport Ticket is valid for one calendar year and can be shared. You can buy it within any Metro station or from the airport at the entrance to the RENFE train station.
Barcelona Card The Barcelona Card gives you unlimited travel on Barcelona’s public transport system (buses, Metro, tram and train rides to/from the airport) at no extra charge. You can also use it to get discounts on 70+ things throughout the city, from museum entries and souvenirs to dining out and shows.
- 72-hour Barcelona Card: €45 adults / €21 children (aged 4-12) – that’s €15 / €7 per day
- 96-hour Barcelona Card: €55 adults / €27 children (aged 4-12) – that’s €13.75 / €6.75 per day
- 120-hour Barcelona Card: €60 adults / €32 children (aged 4-12) – that’s €12 / €6.40 per day
The quickest, easiest and cheapest way to buy the Barcelona Card is to purchase it online.
Tourist Travel Pass Known as the HolaBCN Card, the Tourist Travel Pass also grants you unlimited travel on Barcelona’s public transport system (including buses in the city center and to/from the airport, the metro in the city center, the suburban tram system, the Airport metro from T1 and T2 and the airport train to the city center) between 5am and 11pm.
You can buy a Tourist Travel Pass for two, three, four or five days, but all days need to be used consecutively. It’s very similar to the Barcelona card, but without the extra money-saving perks, which is why it’s considerably cheaper.
- 48-hour Tourist Travel Pass: €13.05
- 72-hour Tourist Travel Pass: €19.08
- 96-hour Tourist Travel Pass: €24.75
- 120-hour Tourist Travel Pass: €30.33
You can buy the Tourist Travel Pass from any Barcelona tourist information office, from any ticket vending machine at a metro station or online. There aren’t any child passes. If your little one is aged four or under, they can travel for free. If they’re five or older, you’ll have to buy them their own Tourist Travel Pass.
No matter how well-traveled you are, it’s easy to forget about the little things. And sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference. Forget to change the time on your watch and you miss your flight home. Don’t have the right paperwork and get sent straight back on a plane to the US. Our Barcelona travel guide has covered everything from the best things to do in Barcelona to the best things to eat, but now it’s time to look at the practical stuff.
- If you’re not an EU citizen, you need a Spain visa to visit Barcelona.
- The currency is Euros. You can buy these before you leave home or exchange them when you land. Most bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and attractions will happily accept an international Visa or MasterCard as payment if you’ve got no cash, as long as your check is €5+.
- The main languages are the Castellano and Catalan versions of Spanish. Castellano is the type of Spanish most people are familiar with, but Catalan is slightly different. It’s a good idea to brush up on your Catalan and Castellano skills before you go.
- The time zone is UTC +1 for half of the year and UTC +2 during Daylight Savings Time
- The water from the faucet is safe to drink in Barcelona, but many people don’t like the taste. You can buy two gallons of bottled water at a local supermarket for less than €1, so don’t worry about it.
- Barcelona is one of the safest places in Europe. But just like in any major city, you need to take basic precautions. Here are some tips on staying safe in Spain.
- Barcelona has European sockets and runs on 230 volts, so make sure you take your travel adapter with you.
For more practical info about Barcelona, take a look at Spain Travel Tips: Things to Know When Traveling to Spain.
Related books and movies
And that’s it for our Barcelona travel guide! Now you’ve got all the knowledge and info you could ever need to make the most of your visit to the enchanting city, it’s time to get excited about your trip. Here’s a small pick of our favorite books and movies about Barcelona to inspire you before you go.
Barcelona Tile Designs A fascinating book brimming with gorgeous photos of carefully-restored and digitalized tile designs that became incredible popular during the 20th century in Barcelona, when the city was experiencing its Catalan art nouveau period. The book even comes with a disk so you can recreate your favorite tile designs at home and surround yourself with authentic Catalan style.
The Barcelona Journal Murders: The Trials and Tribulations of a Photographer in 1906 A thrilling tale of crime, mystery and love that will leave you captivated from the very first page. The book is set in 20th century Barcelona, with some of the city’s most important neighborhoods, including the historically-rich Gothic Quarter, acting as a backdrop for the gripping action.
Mission Barcelona: A Scavenger Hunt Adventure An absolute must for anyone visiting Barcelona with kids, this book ensures your little ones will be entertained from start to finish and get the most out of their trip, too. They’ll be just as excited as you are to see the city’s major landmarks, so they can tick them off to-see list and look for clues when you arrive to earn their title as a super spy.
Barcelona: A Photographic Tour A wonderful way to prepare yourself for the sheer beauty that lies ahead, this book takes you on a tour of Barcelona without you ever having to leave your seat. Gaze in awe at the outstanding high-res photos of the city’s best landmarks, artwork and buildings before you hop on a plane and see them for yourself with your own eyes.
Biutiful In the grubby working-class outskirts of Barcelona, Uxbal works hard to raise his two children on his own while taking care of his mentally-imbalanced wife and working in an illegal goods ring. You won’t find any airbrushed Barcelona in this movie, but you’re guaranteed to be taken to places the tour buses wouldn’t dare go.
L’Auberge Espagnole Follow Parisian student Xavier to Barcelona as he leaves his home to live with six other students in a turbulent melting pot of nationalities. This fun, light-hearted movie that showcases some of the most famous places in the city, but it’s also profound and thought-provoking, as you watch the students bond and accept their cultural differences.
Gaudi’s Barcelona The perfect watch for any art lover, this movie tells the life story of Gaudi, one of the world’s most cherished artists. Discover his simple origins and walk with him through is life, from his doomed infatuation that unsurprisingly ended in divorce to the tragic street accident which put an end to his life.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona Although the stately mansions, vintage Alpha Romeos and the lusty, seductive male protagonist might not be the most accurate representations of Barcelona, what this movie does get it is astonishing shots of the city. From the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell to Las Ramblas and Tibadabo, the scenes in this movie are so stunning, you’ll wish your flight was sooner.