Despite being one of the most visited destinations in the world, I still find it’s often the case that articles featuring Barcelona travel tips omit a crucial detail about this spectacular city…
That it is hilariously easy to screw up here.
I’m talking tourist traps left and right, pickpockets front and back, and so many overwhelming activity options that you’ll wish you could just chug vermouth and nap forever.
But here’s the thing: Barcelona (when done properly) can truly be a life-changing, or at least waistline-changing, experience.
So, if you want to ensure that you visit Barcelona properly, let me help.
Below you’ll find my top Barcelona travel tips, meticulously collected over trial and error from my four visits.
Save these Barcelona travel tips for later!
You’ll be very glad you did.
Barcelona Travel Planning Tips
Let’s start with some planning-related Barcelona tips to help you with flights, booking hotels in Barcelona, choosing dates, the best times to visit Barcelona, etc.
Learn the tricks for getting cheap flights TO Barcelona
If you haven’t booked your flights to Barcelona yet, be sure to check out my guide on how to get the cheapest flights to Europe. I promise it’ll save you hundreds of dollars on your flight!
Avoid visiting Barcelona in peak season
If your Barcelona visit is planned for July or August, well… *hands you oxygen mask and a bag for tears*
Just kidding! Kinda.
The truth is, Barcelona is probably one of the most visited cities in Europe, and while I’ve never visited in peak-peak season, I’ve seen enough human mobs during my January and May visits to imagine just how frightening it is with massive crowds, sweltering heat and every unpleasant thing about travel squished together in one photogenic moderniste package.
I would strongly advise if you hate crowds as much as I do to visit in the off-season (January – March).
I recently went in January and was greeted with pleasant temperatures, blue skies, sunshine, and of course, a fraction of the crowds one might encounter in July or August.
Still prepare for crowds in the off-season
However, just to cover my butt and confusingly backtrack, I should say that just because Barcelona is quieter in the off-season, doesn’t mean it’s a magical ghost town either.
In fact, I still found main spots like La Boqueria, Las Ramblas and Placa Catalunya to be teeming with tourists in January…
BUT there were significantly less crowds at most paid attractions, and ticket availability was generous even on the day-of, which can’t be said for the peak season, when it’s advised you book every activity in advance.
So, if you fancy a bit more spontaneity during your Barcelona visit, be sure to time your Barcelona trip for the off-season.
Book your hotel well in advance
Barcelona is one of the busiest tourist cities in the world, which means the best hotels (and most affordable ones) book up quickly, especially during peak season.
So, book early!
I know that committing to a hotel early can feel scary, but if you use Booking.com, you can find hundreds of hotels that offer free reservations and free cancellations up until a certain point.
This means you can get some peace of mind without putting down any deposits or committing to a hard date until much later.
Here are some of the places I’ve stayed in Barcelona and can recommend:
- Budget: This fun hostel
- Mid-range: This clean and central hotel
- Unique: This cool yet affordable hotel or this one
Know the difference between the European hotel star system vs North America
If you’re currently looking for accommodation in Barcelona: here’s another tip – look at reviews rather than star rating alone.
In North America, the star rating system for hotels usually means 5* = opulent luxury and 1* = you may lose your kidneys.
This is not the case in Europe. With European hotels, instead of stars matching quality on a scale of 1-5, the stars actually correspond to a checklist of amenities/requirements.
SO, you can find some wonderful 2* properties that are just smaller and lacking amenities like a spa or pool, while also finding mediocre 4 or 5* properties that have earned that rating simply due to amenities like fitness centers and valets.
Make sure you have travel insurance
As you’ve probably heard countless times, travel insurance is an important must for every trip… but this is especially true in touristy cities like Barcelona, where there are pickpockets everywhere.
Trust me, the peace of mind you get with insurance is worth the cost, especially for dreamy bucket list destinations like this!
Download helpful apps before you go
There are plenty of apps you can download that will make your time in Barcelona 100x easier.
I’ve previously written a full list of the best travel apps for Europe so be sure to check that out, but here are some especially good options for Barcelona:
- Google Translate: A must for translating signs/menus on the go. Download Spanish to be used offline if you can
- The Fork: Great for making restaurant reservations
Consider adding other Catalonian destinations to your itinerary
Barcelona is an amazing city, but I can also highly recommend Tarragona, Girona, and Montserrat.
If you have extra time during your trip, planning at least a day trip to one of these spots is a must!
Barcelona Metro Tips & General Tricks For Transport/Getting Around
Getting around Barcelona can be really daunting for a first-time visitor, so here are all my best Barcelona tips related to getting around:
Buy a T-10 Ticket for public transportation
While public transportation in Barcelona isn’t too expensive compared to other major European cities, buying single tickets over and over is not only a hassle, it can add up quickly.
Instead of constantly getting single tickets then, the best ticket you can get as a tourist in my opinion is a T-10 ticket which gets you ten trips for only 10.20.
Doing some not-so-complicated math, this evens out to about 1 euro per trip which is half the price of a single ticket, with the happy bonus that you don’t need to constantly buy new tickets every time.
If you’re looking for the best value transport ticket in Barcelona, this is it!
Avoid taxis if you can in Barcelona
On a similar note, I would avoid taking too many taxis. This is because Barcelona is a delightfully walkable city marred with hilariously bad traffic.
Given that the city’s public transportation system is so clean, safe and cheap, I wouldn’t advise trying to take a taxi anywhere. Instead, just use public transport, or your good old fashioned legs.
Use the Aerobus Express to get to/from the airport
If you are travelling light (e.g. you can easily carry your bags), then the most affordable and convenient way to get to/from the airport in Barcelona is by far the Aerobus Express. You can easily book/compare options on Omio or through their official site.
This option costs only 5.90 each way, and is quick and convenient. This is the option I pick every time I go to Barcelona.
Book an airport transfer for minimal stress
That said, if you are travelling with a lot of bags, a big group, or as a family, then booking an airport transfer might be wise.
For the least stressful option, consider booking a Welcome Pickups transfer, which is a set price, includes an English speaking driver who monitors your flight arrival time, and offers free cancellations up until 24 hours before.
This saves you the hassle of trying to get a taxi/navigate the language barriers to do so… while of course helping you avoid getting scammed too!
Easily rent a bike
While you can of course book a bike tour in Barcelona like this one, there’s a super simple way to rent a bike in Barcelona whenever you need one – through an app called Donkey Republic, which allows bike-sharing across the city.
You simply pick up a bike when you see one, use it, then drop it off at one of many docking points around the city.
Easily rent a scooter
For a transport option that’s even more fun, Barcelona also has many companies that offer e-scooter rentals that are activated through an app.
Barcelona Tips For Attractions
Odds are, if you’re visiting Barcelona, sightseeing til you drop s part of the plan. So, here are some of my best Barcelona travel tips related to sightseeing, attractions and itinerary planning.
Book Barcelona attractions in advance
If it has always been your dream since birth to drool over the Sagrada Familia, explore the whimsical Pedrera, or skip and twirl your way through Parc Guell, book it.
Book it now. Build yourself a time machine and book it last week. I’m not joking.
The last thing you want during your Barcelona trip (besides a sugary sangria hangover) is to wait too long for tickets then realize that there are none left, or worse yet, rot in a line-up for 1.4 million years just to catch a glimpse your Gaudi of choice.
When in Barcelona, time is money, so be smart and get your tickets well in advance. Here are some helpful links where you can get skip the line tickets:
- Sagrada Familia: Get fast-track tickets here
- Camp Nou Experience: Get fast-track tickets here
- La Pedrera: Get skip-the-line tickets here
- Palau de la Música: Get a self-guided tour ticket here
- Casa Vicens: Get skip-the-line-tickets here
Take advantage of Barcelona’s many combo cards and tourist passes
One of the best things about visiting Barcelona is the amount of amazing attractions and touristic offerings that are around to dazzle and impress.
That said, hopping from attraction to attraction does add up quickly in Barcelona, which means your future will involve plenty of emptying your wallet while crying.
So here’s another money-saving Barcelona tip for you: buy a combo card or tourist pass which gives you entry to multiple attractions for a single price!
Here are some Barcelona sightseeing passes you might be interested in:
- Articket: entry to six of Barcelona’s top art museums for only €30; valid for 3 months
- Barcelona iVenture card: allows you bundle 3 or 5 of Barcelona’s top attractions for steep savings (or there’s an unlimited option too!)
- Barcelona Express Card: 2 days of unlimited public transport for €20 plus a lot of discounts/savings on Barcelona’s top attractions
- Barcelona Pass Modernista: 7 days’ skip-the-line access to 15 of the most famous Moderniste works in Barcelona for steep savings
Avoid overstuffing your itinerary
Barcelona is one of those cities where you’ll inevitably run around like a headless chicken, attempting to fit an entire guidebook’s worth of fun into a whopping 48 hours.
And while that might sound like a good idea at first, it’s a delicious recipe for almost dying.
Trust me, Barcelona is a city with attractions for days. I mean, I tried to summarize the highlights of things to do in Barcelona and STILL ended up with a (mildly terrifying) 79 activities.
So, remember: people can live in Barcelona for an entire lifetime and still not discover everything that the city has to offer, so as a tourist, don’t expect that you’ll be able to cover everything in a few days.
Rather than break your legs trying to fit every single must-see, select a few that are non-negotiable for you, and instead pencil in extra time to relax and soak in all the wonderful vibes that Barcelona has to offer.
Trust me, that’s when you fall slowly but surely in love.
Wake up EARLY
The morning hours are the best time to explore Barcelona. Yes, I’m talking sunrise-early if you really want to make the most of the city’s “empty hours”.
Barcelona is hands down one of the busiest cities in the world when it comes to tourism, and waking up early is pretty much the only way to experience it without tons of crowds.
My pro Barcelona tip for avoiding crowds? Pick the #1 attraction you’re most excited for, and plan to see it as soon as it opens, with some sunrise explorations beforehand.
Enjoy ALL the free Barcelona viewpoints
Barcelona is a stunning city with plenty of incredible vantage points… many of which are free!
Here are some you should make sure you don’t miss.
The Bunkers del Carmel: To me, the best view in the city. A bit of work to reach but absolutely magical at sunset. Read my guide on how to visit the Bunkers del Carmel in Barcelona for more.
Las Arenas de Barcelona: A bullring-turned-shopping mall that is now home to a free 360 degree viewing platform overlooking Plaça d’Espanya. Access is free via escalator, while the elevator is 1 euro.
El Corte Inglés: A popular Barcelona shopping center, with an epic view over Plaça de Catalunya from its top floor.
Tibidabo: The highest viewpoint in Barcelona, with the bonus of having an amusement park on site!
Seek out beaches beyond Barceloneta
Barcelona is known as a beach destination, and while the city has plenty of beaches to visit, most tourists flock to crowded Barceloneta and inevitably leave feeling disappointed.
So, if you’re craving some fun in the sun, look beyond Barceloneta and click here for a great guide to the different beaches around the city.
Do NOT scour the streets of Barcelona for bullfights and flamenco
Looking around Barcelona for bullfights and flamenco is like pillaging Seattle in search of the best New York Style pizza… you could do it, but it’s definitely not the best use of your time.
As mentioned above, Catalonia is rather different from the rest of Spain, and most attempts to fulfill Spanish stereotypes are created to indulge tourist fantasy more than anything else.
For instance, while you may be able to find flamenco performances in Barcelona, this is conventionally more an ‘Andalucia’ thing, and isn’t a Catalan tradition at all.
And as for bullfighting, you should know that bull fights have been outlawed entirely in Catalonia. SO, instead of looking for flamenco and the like, try seeking out more Catalonian traditions instead, like attending a local street festival.
Make time to visit other Barcelona neighbourhoods
Last but not least, I implore you to avoid the key mistake of missing Barcelona’s many diverse neighbourhoods!
After all, Barcelona is more than a tourist hotspot, it’s home to 1.6 million locals who enjoy the city just as much as visitors do, so one of the best things you can do is try to see a more local side to the city, and uncover your own hidden gems along the way.
If you’d like a nudge in the right direction, these are two great neighbourhoods I love:
El Born (AKA La Ribera): Located a stone’s throw from the beach, I love El Born because it is packed with amazing cafes and restaurants, as well as interesting sights like The Santa Maria Basilica and the El Born Cultural Centre. My top tip? Grab yourself a mascarpone croissant from Pastisseria Hofmann and marvel at how you’ve lived this long without it.
Gracia: Largely hailed as the most authentically Catalonian piece of Barcelona left thanks to a huge population of native Catalonians, Gracia is Barcelona’s hipster hood, teeming with independent boutiques and (organic) grocery stores. You’ll also find plenty of dreamy attractions here including top sights like Park Güell and Casa Vincens.
Safety Tips For Barcelona
Like in many busy European cities, petty crime can be an issue in Barcelona, from pickpocketing scams to fake police officers. Here are some tips for staying safe in Barcelona.
Learn how to avoid pickpockets in Barcelona
Of all the complaints and tourist mistakes I’ve heard about Barcelona, getting duped by pickpockets and scammers is like the ultimate Barcelona rite of passage.
Make no mistake, pickpockets in Barcelona are PROFESSIONALS that often work in teams all around the city, certainly in tourist hotspots like Las Ramblas and busy hubs like Metro stations.
I’ve already written a full guide on how to avoid pickpockets in Europe, but below are two basic rules of thumb to follow to avoid robbery when you visit Barcelona…
Do NOT bring valuables to the beach
One very important Barcelona tip all visitors should remember is to NEVER bring your valuables with you to the beach, because petty thieves in Barcelona loooove the beach.
When possible, take turns with your travel companions watching belongings, or maybe invest in a beach safe or a waterproof case to bring with you swimming.
Never have your valuables out in the open
The last thing you want is to make yourself into a shiny walking target.
When in Barcelona, remember to not walk around with your phone in your hand, and definitely don’t leave your phone somewhere snatchable, like on a table while dining out, in your pocket on public transport, etc.
Know Barcelona’s emergency numbers
In North America, 911 is the go-to when you have any kind of emergency.
If you face an emergency in Barcelona, there’s a few options for numbers you can call:
Police, ambulance, fire brigade: 112
Local Police: 092
Fire brigade: 080
Accident / Ambulance: 061
English-speaking police officers: +34 932 903 000 (police headquarters), Via Laietana 43
Have a plan in case of a worst case scenario
This isn’t just a good Barcelona travel tip, but a good tip for travelling anywhere – make a plan for the worst case scenario.
Imagine your bags get stolen in Barcelona with your passports and all your cash/cards – what would be your backup plan? What would you do if you lost your phone?
Having a plan in place can minimize stress in the event that anything does happen, and having that peace of mind is very important for any vacation!
Food And Drink Tips For Barcelona
Eating and drinking well is a quintessential part of any Barcelona trip. Here are some Barcelona travel tips related to food and drink!
Avoid tourist trap restaurants (especially on Las Ramblas)
Barcelona is an incredible city with amazing food culture – both traditional and international.
That’s why one of the saddest mistakes you can make in Barcelona is getting caught at a tourist trap restaurant and even more depressingly, paying extortionate amounts for a terrible meal.
The area where this often happens is Barcelona’s (in)famous main drag: Las Ramblas.
Over the years, it has become a commonly accepted rule of thumb that those terrace restaurants along Las Ramblas do nothing but heat up frozen paella.
So, if you’re trying to avoid these establishments, a good sign of imminent tourist trappage = aggressive stock photos, or English words being thrown around in large blocky letters.
Instead of munching on mediocre tourist trap food, I would recommend booking a food tour or getting local tips and searching up restaurant reviews online before you go.
Expect to eat dinner later
If you’re accustomed to eating dinner before 9pm, then know that you’ll probably have to adjust slightly to adapt to typical Barcelona dinner times, which usually begin around 8:30pm or often later.
Of course, you will still be able to find restaurants open earlier than that, but most locals won’t be eating much earlier than 8:30pm.
Try the “Menu del día”
Many restaurants in Barcelona will offer a “Menu del día” or “Combo of the Day” at lunch time which is typically a set menu that includes your starter, main course, dessert and drink for one low price.
This is a great way to sample local cuisine at a more affordable price, and of course get a great meal for less.
Shop at local markets
Barcelona’s food markets are legendary, and are great places to grab tasty and fresh local fare for an affordable price.
La Boqueria is of course world-famous, but I prefer the Mercato Santa Catarina for a quieter experience.
Consider a food tour
For foodies looking to get a great overview of Catalan cuisine, I can highly recommend doing a food tour while you’re in Barcelona.
I personally did a food tour with Devour Barcelona and had an amazing time.
Not only do you get to sample tons of great local cuisine, you also get a lot of insider local knowledge and context around the region’s most famous foods… and yes, there’s much more to the food scene here than paella (which is actually from Valencia).
Take a cooking class
The only thing better than sampling local cuisine is learning how to make it yourself! How’s that for a delicious souvenir?
Hands down, if you love food, one of the best things to do in Barcelona is taking a cooking class.
Here are some options:
Get a croissant from Pastisseria Hofmann
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this is one of my top Barcelona tips as far as food is concerned…
GO TO PASTISSERIA HOFMANN. Just do it.
The mascarpone croissant from here is still probably the best croissant I’ve ever had in my life – yes, even better than the dozens I’ve eaten in Paris. Make sure you try one – they’re award winning for a reason!
Don’t drink the weird mojitos they sell at Barceloneta Beach
Specifically, I’m referring to the ones being sold by random guys who approach you on the beach. They are painfully gross and watered down. Avoid at all costs!
Barcelona Etiquette & Culture Tips
Wondering how not to be rude in Barcelona? Here are some important must-knows related to Barcelona etiquette to keep in mind before you visit.
Learn some basic Spanish (or Catalan) in advance
Let’s face it: we English speaking tourists usually have it pretty easy when we travel. After all, most of the time, English is widely spoken and understood, so we get to smugly glide on by without worrying about being heard or understood.
Unfortunately, things are a little different in Barcelona.
While you can get by with English, a basic command of Spanish or Catalan is tremendously helpful (and more polite!), especially when you’re at smaller establishments like little cafes, restaurants or supermarkets.
I found myself on numerous occasions relying on my broken Spanish to get by, so my tip is this: at the very least, know your numbers and practice your best pointing 😉
Remember that Barcelona is in Catalonia
While Barcelona is indeed a city in Spain, many visitors forget that it belongs to the state of Catalonia, which is culturally unique from many other parts of Spain, and therefore confusingly different from the Spanish stereotypes and cliches you may have in your head.
In fact, many Catalonians will not refer to themselves as Spanish, and there’s even a pretty heavy separatist movement as well, but that’s another story for another time.
So, don’t forget that Barcelona is in Catalonia, and be ready for plenty of cultural surprises that defy conventional Spanish stereotypes.
North Americans like me might feel pressured by habit to tip the same amount that’s expected at home,… but here’s some nice news for your wallet: tipping isn’t really expected in Barcelona.
In fact, even 5% is considered generous for exceptional service. While I’m sure most of the time, tips are appreciated, most locals don’t at all, so there isn’t the expectation that you need to.
Packing Tips For Barcelona
What should you wear in Barcelona? And what shouldn’t you wear? What important things should you definitely pack for your Barcelona trip? Here are my best Barcelona travel tips related to packing.
Bring comfy shoes
Barcelona is a stunning city made for walking, with droolworthy landmarks and sights around every corner.
And so, while you might be tempted to pack the cutest shoes in your wardrobe for your Barcelona trip, I’d suggest packing only practical shoes that you can walk a whole day in. Your feet will thank you later.
Bring a theft-proof bag
Unfortunately, pickpocketing and petty theft is common in Barcelona, particularly with tourists as easy targets.
For peace of mind, you should definitely look into buying theft proof bags like this one, which is slash-proof and also has an abundance of hidden pockets to keep your belongings safe.
Bring bags with hidden pockets or a money belt
If you don’t want to buy an entirely new bag for your trip, that’s understandable, but you should still take a few measures to “theft-proof” your own bags.
A few ideas would be to pick only bags that have an additional layer of security (e.g. a zippered compartment inside the bag, or in the back where it’s inaccessible to grabby hands), or to simply wear a money belt or hidden passport scarf like this one.
Make sure you have a universal adapter
Power sockets in Barcelona have two round holes and if you’re visiting from overseas, odds are you’ll need an adapter for your plugs to fit.
I’d strongly recommend buying a universal adapter like this one if you don’t have one already.
It’s cheap, can be re-used for every trip, and covers you in all situations. Definitely some of the best money I’ve ever spent!
DIY your own travel sized toiletries
This is a very basic packing tip I always recommend, but it’s very easy these days to buy small reusable bottles that you can fill with your own toiletries of choice.
This allows you to bring your favourite products with you, and saves needless one-use toiletries from ending up in the landfill.
Need help picking the right one? Read my guide to reusable toiletry bottles for more info.
Have a re-usable bag handy
You can’t go wrong with a tote bag or two, and I always like to keep one in each purse when I travel.
You never know when you’ll need an extra bag, whether to haul goodies back from La Boqueria or simply carrying whatever souvenirs you’ve gotten that day, so remember to pack some just in case!
Bring protective wraps
If you’re travelling with an expensive camera, or anything else fragile, I highly recommend these amazing protective wraps.
I bought mine a few years ago and use them every trip. They’re padded velcro wraps that you can use to protect…. pretty much anything! So handy and they don’t take up too much space.
Alternatively, you can also look into product-specific protectors, like these awesome wine protectors to ensure your precious cargo doesn’t break in transit.
Final Barcelona Travel Tips
Okay, last but not least, here are some miscellaneous Barcelona trip tips that will help ensue your trip to Barcelona is as magical as you always dreamed!
Know how to find free WiFi
WiFi for tourists is a big deal – I get it! Luckily, there’s a lot of free hotspots scattered around Barcelona.
Here are some Barcelona tips for always finding free WiFi:
- Head to (or outside) a McDonalds or Starbucks – they always have WiFI
- Download an app like Wifi Map which will help you find hotspots
- Look on FourSquare, where people will often share the password of protected hotspots in the tips section
Keep receipts for a VAT refund
If you come from outside the EU and plan to do a lot of shopping, you may qualify for a VAT tax refund when you leave Barcelona. This can amount to huge amounts depending on what you buy!
Use Instagram, Pinterest and Blogs to research more offbeat Barcelona activities
Guidebooks and Google are great, but if you really want to find Barcelona hidden gems that are specific to your interests, be sure to dig deeper!
Psst: I’ve done some of the digging for you in this epic list of things to do in Barcelona.
From local blogs and Instagram accounts to the official tourism board website, there are a lot of great free resources available to help you find unique places to go that are more off the beaten path.
Need more guidance? You might find my guide on How to Find Cool Stuff to Do Near You helpful for this.
Use Google Maps to save spots you want to see
Another excellent Barcelona travel tip I have for you is to take advantage of Google Maps for more than just navigation.
One of my favourite travel hacks is using Google Maps for saving cool places.
Long story short, I star every location I deem interesting on Google Maps (I do this by pressing the Save button when I search up that spot), which gives me a visual map of all the cool cafes, street art murals, attractions, restaurants, etc. that I’ve saved during my research.
I love doing this because I’ll often end up in new areas during my explorations, and I can just look at my map to see if anything interesting I read about happens to be nearby. Saves a lot of planning!
Do you have any other Barcelona travel Tips to add?
Let me know in the comments! I hope you enjoyed this guide to visiting Barcelona. Safe travels!