Heyyyy guys remember when I went to Barcelona and then didn’t write a travel guide for six months?
Sometimes thinking about writing travel guides makes me anxious because I like to pack them with SO much information and it really takes the right mindset (and HOURS and hours) to be able to dig in and do it right–but, yesterday, I woke up really missing our Spain trip, and it reminded me that I still needed to write my Barcelona travel guide––so I dedicated the majority of the day to it yesterday and here we are! Turns out, a little bit of Wanderlust was just the thing I needed to get it done!
Barcelona Travel Guide
I will start out by saying I had been to Barcelona before when studying abroad and I really was NOT a fan, I think for a couple of reasons: 1. I spent time in only the heavy touristy area. 2. People were NOT nice and I was scared of being pickpocketed the whole time. 3. There was a pretty significant language barrier, which is never an issue to me in itself, but it becomes an issue when people are mean AND you can’t understand why they’re yelling at you.
That being said, we mostly went back because many friends had been recently and RAVED about it (saying they liked it even more than Paris) and Neal also really wanted to go, so I decided that I would give it another shot, and I am SO GLAD I did! It could not have been more different than the first time I visited. If you are in the same boat as I was and had written off visiting Barcelona again, I highly recommend reconsidering!
Barcelona is a world-class city with friendly people, incredible food, and amazing culture. Not to mention, it’s easy to get to (a direct flight!), and is also relatively affordable. If you’ve been on the fence about visiting Barcelona, DO IT! Now, let’s jump into my guide!
(Another perk––it’s a super quick, super cheap flight to Mallorca, so you can easily get a fun city and relaxing beach experience all in one trip!)
How to get to Barcelona:
Flying direct to Barcelona
First thing’s first, getting to Barcelona. Most major airlines offer direct flights to Barcelona from many major US cities. I will start off by saying that I’ve started trying to fly United everywhere so I can get United status/perks to cover us internationally. (while Neal has the Southwest card/companion pass, so we are covered whenever we fly together domestically!)
I recently got the United Club credit card, so at the present moment I fly United as much as I can (and will intend to do so internationally as well––they’ve had really competitive flight pricing recently as well!) The club card is an expensive yearly fee but the perks are well worth it. It’s basically like getting status in a credit card––you get premium access, which means you get your own check-in counter with no lines, you get United Club access (which is also a lifesaver if your flight is delayed, canceled, or you need to get re-booked because you get to use the concierge inside the club and have first access to rebookings) and the best part––your checked bags are free AND priority––so they are the first off the plane! Maybe I need to do a whole different post on this.
I say this because I probably wouldn’t repeat our current airline choice next time around, but I will share about it anyway because I think it’s still useful information.
For our Spain trip, we booked Norwegian Air from Chicago to Barcelona, which is a fairly new airline that we hadn’t heard of before booking our flights. The flights were SO affordable that we didn’t really think twice. “Norwegian” we thought–”it must be nice–Norway doesn’t half-ass anything!!”
We were both very wrong AND kind of right.
Overall, I would recommend flying it again as long as you know EXACTLY what to expect, which is this:
THOUGHTS ON NORWEGIAN: THE CONS
First, let’s start with the bad news.
Norwegian is basically a less crappy Spirit. You get a cheap fare and nickel and dimed for everything.
You cannot get away with just a carry-on, because there is a 10KG weight limit. (RIDICULOUS.) Yes, you know us, we carry on EVERYWHERE and we had intended to do so on this trip, only to not remember that European carry-on weight limits are very strict. Therefore, we were forced to check our bags and could’ve gotten away with much larger suitcases.
You cannot check-in online, and the check-in process at the airport is slow, annoying, and VERY old-school. There are no kiosks. The line is long. Nobody really cares how long you have to wait. You very much feel like you’re flying a budget airline here.
You do not get anything for free. No free soda, no free wine, certainly no free meals like you would on most international flights with other airlines. If you plan ahead and bring food, then you won’t have an issue. However, you can purchase meals ahead of time (which evidently I did, I think just in case we were late and didn’t get to eat before, I am always terrified of being stranded on a plane for 8 hours while starving.) If you want to buy anything on the plane, it ain’t cheap. We definitely racked up like a $60 bill between snacks and wine over the 8 hour flight.
The seats on our Norwegian plane were 3 seaters on both sides (at least in Coach) which is a lose-lose situation when you are flying with two people, because either one has to sit in the middle, or one has to sit in the window with a stranger in between. Not ideal for anyone who cares to sit together.
PRO’S OF FLYING NORWEGIAN:
IT’S REALLY, REALLY INEXPENSIVE. I booked our flights with Chase points but they came out to be the equivalent of like $500 round trip per person. To BARCELONA. I can’t even get home to Portland for that cheap!
The planes are brand new and VERY nice. You have lot’s of movies/tv shows/etc to choose from.
You can purchase snacks and beverages and order them off the touch screen in front of you and they bring them to your seat, which is pretty awesome. (Granted, this can be abused–again, as we racked up probably about $60 in wine and snacks on our flight there.)
No jet lag? The best part–I have no idea if this is a placebo effect, but Neal and I both agreed we didn’t feel jet-lagged at all. Because their planes are brand new, their cabins are apparently pressurized differently, meaning you don’t feel as fatigued post-flight, and we both agreed we weren’t jet-lagged at all. (Tired? Yes. Jet lagged? No.)
Getting to Barcelona from elsewhere within Spain or Europe:
I highly recommend flying Vueling if you’re flying within Spain or other cities in Europe. This is what we flew to and from Mallorca to Barcelona. Vueling is Spain’s budget airline (like RyanAir) but is MUCH nicer. We were pleasantly surprised because we had very, very low expectations. Tickets to Mallorca literally started at $36. THIRTY SIX. But don’t get those–you should absolutely 100% pay the extra few bucks to upgrade to the Vueling TimeFlex ticket for a few reasons:
With TimeFlex, you get FastPass access–meaning you don’t have to wait in the insane hour-long check-in lines AND you get a fast-pass through security. Had we not had this, we might have missed our connection in Barcelona because the lines were ungodly everywhere.
Additionally, the TimeFlex allows you to be flexible on flight changes (and because I thought it might save us if for some reason we ended up missing our connecting flight). If my semester abroad taught me that budget airline European air travel is nothing if not incredibly frustrating.
ANOTHER HEADS UP:
If you have to switch terminals in Barcelona, be aware that they are about 10 minutes apart and you need to take a shuttle to get there. The shuttles run frequently and you pick it up on the curb outside the terminal. Just follow the signs–it’s fairly intuitive. The terminals are not remotely close together. Chances are though, if you fly any airline other than Norwegian, you’ll likely fly into the main terminal–T1, which is also what Vueling flies out of, so you should be fine there with a closer connection.
Where to stay in Barcelona:
We stayed at the Almanac hotel, which we booked on points, and it was DELIGHTFUL. It was centrally located, although if we went back, I may look into places in the heart of the Gothic quarter, (Barri Gòtic) because that’s where we spent most of our time. It was only a 10-15 minute walk from the Gothi quarter, though and still, a great location, was super nice, beautiful, with great service and a beautiful rooftop bar and pool area. (We honestly didn’t end up using the pool though––we were always too tired at the end of the afternoon and opted for naps instead.)
One note on hotel location: you might read online that staying on “Las Ramblas” is good––it’s not. It is a huge touristy shopping area (that many people think they should stay near) but any local in Barcelona will tell you to stay as far away from Las Ramblas as possible––it’s rampant with pickpockets, is crowded, full of chains, pushy people trying to sell you things, and there are MUCH better spots to spend your time. The only time we ever felt unsafe in Barcelona was when we cut through Las Ramblas walking home from dinner our first night. (Which we should have never done). Do not stay ON Las Ramblas!
The bathrooms at the Almanac are GORGEOUS!
Above: The rooftop at the Almanac hotel
Above: At La Vinya del Senyor grabbing a cava overlooking the basilica
Things to do in Barcelona:
Secret Food tour:
If you take nothing else away from this post, it should be this: You MUST do a Secret Food Tour! (Preferably your first day, so you’ll get great reccos for the rest of the trip!)
The food tour we ever went on was Eating Europe’s Taste of Testaccio tour in Rome, which was UNREAL, so we knew we wanted to do the same thing in Barcelona, and we are so glad we did! We went with Barcelona Secret Food Tours and cannot recommend it enough. We got super lucky in that it was only us and one other couple, who turned out to be LOVELY and so much fun. Our guide, Miguel, was so knowledgeable not just about the city’s food, but it’s history. It was the perfect walking tour/introduction to the city!
We never would’ve known about this if not for our food tour! There are square plaques called “Emblematics” throughout the city that mark Barcelona’s most historic businesses! Follow them and find some of the most iconic spots in the city that now form a valuable part of its heritage. You can see a map of all of them here! Many of them are within the city’s Gothic quarter, which brings me to my next point…
Explore the Gothic Quarter:
This area with its small, cobblestone medieval streets was my favorite area by far. There are so many adorable shops and local businesses to check out around here! Grab a drink at La Vinya Del Senyor which is a tiny little wine bar cafe in the Placa de Santa Maria de Mar. It’s a great spot for a mid-shopping break, a glass of cava, and some great people watching!
A trip to the market:
One of the reasons the food tour is cool is because it takes you to a local food market––the most famous one is on Las Ramblas, but we went to one called Mercat de Santa Caterina, which is in a better area with no crowds! (Time Out has a great roundup of all the big food markets in Barcelona as well!)
See some Gaudi Architecture:
Barcelona is widely known for its famous landmarks designed by Atoni Gaudi––and it’s impossible to miss them around the city! La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell are the most well-known and a visit is in high demand during tourist season. We made the mistake of not booking tickets in advance, so we were unable to get into any of them, so definitely make sure to plan ahead accordingly!
Park Guell is VERY cool (I went when I visited studying abroad, and highly recommend a visit!) but I’ve never been inside La Sagrada Familia, but it’s definitely worth checking out even if from the outside!
Time Out has a great roundup of the best Gaudi works to check out in Barcelona!
Go to the beach:
We didn’t go to the beach this time, but if you care to, Barcelona does have beaches where you can do so! However, be mindful of pickpockets and don’t leave your stuff unattended!! Miguel, our food tour guide, suggested getting away from the crowded beaches in Barcelona and taking a quick train to Garraf, which is a beautiful fishing village just 30 mins away by train.
Grab a drink on the Catalan History Museum rooftop:
This is a little tip we never would’ve known if not for our food tour guide, Miguel! Head up to the top floor of the museum and grab a cocktail with gorgeous views of the city and the harbor! We LOVED this spot! Ideal for winding down a beautiful sunny afternoon! (Photos below!)
Above: the rooftop bar at the Catalan Museum––the best hidden gem!
A visit to a Barcelona food market is a must! Above:
The Emblematics that you’ll see on the sidewalk in front of a business to mark historic Barcelona businesses. If you see one, you must go in!
City views from our hotel’s rooftop! (See the Sagrada Familia in the distance?)
Above: Casa Gispert is a must-stop for souvenirs like spices, olive oil, and their famous roasted nuts!
Best restaurants in Barcelona:
We LOVED this place so so much. This was where we ate on our first night in Barcelona. It’s tapas in “traditional” style–ish. (We learned that Tapas are actually lunch––not dinner!) BUT–they are prepared authentically. We ordered based on our server’s recommendation and everything was delicious. They have another dining room that you can only get to walking through the kitchen––our server was so fun and walked us through the kitchen to give us a tour, even though we weren’t sitting back there!
Maybe the best Asian fusion food we have EVER had. It’s casual street fare––they have a chef’s choice menu that I’d highly recommend going with. They even customized mine to have no seafood! (I hate seafood. I know, it’s a big flaw of mine.) Definitely recommend sitting at the bar, it’s so fun to watch them cook! Super casual, no-frills, and very affordable!
The Sopa Boba:
This was recommended to us by Miguel from our food tour! One of his favorite restaurants in the whole city, and it did not disappoint! Such a cute homey spot with delicious Spanish food!
This was where we ate on our last night and was definitely the “splurge” dinner of the trip! It’s all outdoor space and the patio is lush and beautiful! They are very well known for their steak, but my favorite part of the meal was the salad. By the end of our trip all we wanted to were vegetables and we LOVED the salad, haha! This is great for a last meal when you’re sick of Spanish food and want some meat and veggies!
One of the oldest Catalan bakeries, you MUST get a traditional pastry––the Xuxo de Crema. It is TO DIE FOR.
A good friend said he had the best meal of his life at this tapas spot! Sadly we didn’t make it this trip, but it’s high on our list for next time!!
A visit to La Colomena is a MUST. I’m still dreaming about Xuxo de Cremas!
An up-close of the Xuxo de Crema––a famous Catalan doughnut filled with custard.
Above: El Xampanyet, our #1 favorite tapas bar. We went back twice!
Above: La Xampanyeria––a definite must!
Favorite bars in Barcelona (Tapas and other!)
Our favorite spot of the whole trip––go for lunch/snack/daytime. It’s a tiny tapas place (show up when they open around noon before all the locals show up and it gets crowded!) Everything is good, but you MUST order their house sparkling wine. The best Cava we had the whole trip! It’s family-owned and they know every local in there, but also treat tourists like family as well.
Also a tiny tapas place––but much busier. Also good for lunch/snack/daytime drink. There are no tables––standing room only. You have to push your way to the front and shout your order. Get a bottle of the pink cava to split! We also got two burgers, which were good––different, but good! A very fun and hilarious experience.
Les Gens Que J’Aime:
A super quirky, cozy basement bar with a half speakeasy, half “this might be your crazy great aunt’s living room” feel and fun cocktails. Fabulous people watching––a great late-night spot! Snag a seat at the tiny bar if you can! Bartenders were really friendly.
Hotel Claris rooftop:
We went here for a drink before our last dinner (it was only 9:30pm so there wasn’t a soul there) ???? It had such pretty views and a great vibe!
This came highly recommended, but we sadly never made it there!! A dark and cozy cocktail bar with wild drinks!
This was also recommended by Miguel for the cocktails and atmosphere, but we never made it!
The cutest little courtyard with a little coffee shop/bar. Part of the theatre. (Thus, the name. Obvi.)
A late-night drink at Les Gens Que J’Aime
Pre-dinner drinks at the Hotel Claris rooftop
The courtyard at Antic Teatro is a perfect spot for a drink day or night!
Other things to know about Barcelona:
Be smart and aware:
The city is known for HIGH, HIGH petty crime rates. Stealing anything under $500 in value is **not a punishable offense** so seriously, this isn’t to scare you, but just pay attention. If you’re at a restaurant, keep your bag on your lap (not on the back of the chair or on the ground). Do NOT leave your phone on the table. Don’t take your phone or wallet out on the subway or in a crowded area. If someone tries to stop you on the street, keep walking, and stay away from Las Ramblas, which is pickpocketing central.
For the most part, everyone speaks English:
You shouldn’t have too many problems with the language barrier in Barcelona. And if someone doesn’t understand English, they will probably understand your broken Spanish, even though Catalan is technically the official language of Barcelona.
The food scene is INCREDIBLE:
My one knock on Italy, for example, is that you literally cannot get anything other than Italian food anywhere. Aside from the occasional Kebab stand. In Barcelona, they have ALL kinds of food, and the culinary scene is world class.
Remember, you’re on Spanish time!
The pace here is slower, and LATER. A normal time to go to dinner is 9 or 10pm. (Which is our preferred dinner time anyway, haha!) You may find that it’s hard to get into a hot restaurant at “American” dinner times becuase those are the times all the tourists are fighting over, but if you eat on Spanish time, you’ll have an easier time getting in along with the locals.
Develop a love for gin tonics:
Much like I wasn’t a Spritz fiend before our Italy trip, I was not a gin tonic lover before Spain––but that all changed! A spanish gin tonic comes in a giant glass with lots of delicious accouterments like cucumbers, herbs, citrus, and the like. It’s the perfect refreshing drink on a hot day in Barcelona!
The best time to visit Barcelona:
We were really glad we decided to visit in late September, because it’s gorgeous weather but not too hot, and being a shoulder season, it’s far less touristy! If you can swing it, this is the time of year I’d recommend, but of course, there is no bad time to visit a beautiful city like Barcelona!