Whether you are going after the fabulous nightlife, the modernist architectures of Antoní Gaudí, (Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Casa Mila), the rich museums and beautiful art galleries, or the sumptuous cosmopolitan food, you will keep coming back to the captivating Barcelona. In fact, anything about Barcelona is fascinating. Here are some reasons why Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in the world:
Barcelona has a rich history. With Castilian kings propelling cannonballs over Barcelona walls and revolutionaries differing in views on which shoulder to hang their firearms, it shrank behind the shadow of much greater powers and cities for centuries. But today it has triumphantly become one of the most important global cities.
Barcelona has a strategic location, which makes it very attractive to tourists. Set between the Montjuic hills and the Mediterranean seaboard, Barcelona’s location is truly desirable. Very few cities have over 4 km of pristine beaches at the heart of the downtown area. You can also enjoy hiking and skiing to nearby mountains – and even go for a short trip to neighboring France.
Unlike other people in Europe, Barcelona has a population of cool and likable people. They are interesting, have a great sense of humor, and artistic. We have seen this in many films. What’s more, Barcelona is a melting pot of different nationalities. This diversity makes the city so full of color.
You will surely fall in love with architecture. Here you will see traces of the Roman Empire and Romanesque churches. Gothic neighborhoods with intriguing streets, plazas, and churches built in the 13th to 15th centuries will also enthrall you.
Perhaps the most notable neighborhood is the Example, which showcases Art Nouveau buildings by Gaudí. The imaginative, vibrant, and curvy architecture by Gaudi and other masters define Barcelona’s unique artistic identity.
Museums and art galleries
If you are an art enthusiast, a trip to Barcelona can be your most pleasurable experience. For one, the city houses interesting major and minor museums. Some of the most popular are the National Museum of Catalan Art (Address: Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona / Phone: +34 936 22 03 60), the Joan Miró Foundation (Address: Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain / Phone: +34 934 43 94 70 / Hours: 10:00 am–2:30 pm closed on Monday), and the Picasso Museum (Address: Carrer de Montcada, 15-23, 08003 Barcelona / Phone: +34 933 19 63 10). Barcelona also has a great offering of art galleries to satisfy the craving of the art aficionado in you.
Mouth-watering Catalan cuisine
A visit to this city will thrill your palate. Yes, Catalan cuisine is one of the top attractions in the city. In fact, it gives French restaurants a run for their money and many cooking magazines have voted Barcelona as the eating capital of Europe.
Barcelona is a city that never sleeps. With fabulous bars and clubs offering the best drinks and playing great music, the nightlife is one of the most exhilarating scenes in this city that you should not miss.
Lapped by the Mediterranean, sun-kissed Barcelona is a city whose character bursts at all natural seams. It is one of the world’s most progressive cities, forever on the cutting-edge of Spanish art, cuisine, and fashion. The city is a dynamo that magnets foodies, architecture buffs, and night owls. This city is a delight for all the senses.
When it comes to aesthetics, Barcelona is perhaps the most enchanting and innovative of all Spanish cities. Life thumps at very high pressure through the streets. See for yourself the zest for life, sense of style, and artistic genius few global cities can match. This compact city appears as fit as in a continuous process of self-renewal. The skyline constantly changes as small districts display their unrivaled beauty.
A stroll through top attractions like the La Catedral (Address: Plaça de la Seu, s/n, 08002 Barcelona, Spain / Phone: +34 933 15 15 54) to Barri Gotic (Phone: +34 933 18 11 95) shows the Gothic legacy of the city’s medieval history. In the l’Eixample neighborhood, Antoni Gaudí’s hallucinatory masterpieces La Pedrera (Address: Carrer Provença, 261, 08008, Barcelona / Phone: +34 902 20 21 38) and Casa Batllo (Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona / Phone: +34 932 16 03 06) will surely amaze you. A sure crowd-pleaser is Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia (Address: Calle Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona), which is one of the most popular Catholic churches in the world.
Barcelona also takes pride in its Catalan culinary traditions. Sight-seeing can create a considerable appetite, and the city can give you the best culinary experience. Alfresco seafood eateries and traditional restaurants rub shoulders with new waves of designer dens operated by the city’s avant-garde chefs. The city will not let your hungry stomach and discerning palate down.
What is more, Barcelona’s energy is unparalleled, so prepare to party all night long. There is no better place to unleash the party animal in you than in Barcelona. At night, you can sip caipirinhas in designer cocktail bars before you hit the crazy clubs. If you want to party hard while having a bit of culture, you and your friends can pack century-old pubs.
As if the city’s buildings and exterior facades are not mesmerizing enough, you can also go indoors and see fine museums like the Fundacio Joan Miro (Address: Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona / Phone: +34 934 43 94 70), Fundacio Antoni Tapies (Address: Carrer d’Aragó, 255, 08007 Barcelona / Phone: +34 934 87 03 15), and Museu Picasso (Address: Carrer de Montcada, 15-23, 08003 Barcelona / Phone: +34 933 19 63 10) – pay homage to artists who have left their imprints in the city. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (Address: Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona / Phone: +34 936 22 03 60) boasts astonishing examples of Gothic and Romanesque painting. Add to these marvels concerts, special exhibits, and monthly film festivals.
There is so much to see and experience in Barcelona that you will soon realize it is impossible that this city will bore you. Actually, it is almost impossible to squeeze in all the activities in your schedule. A friendly warning: Plan your trip very carefully before traveling here.
Spain is a member of the 2000 Schengen Convention, an agreement whereby all European Union (EU) member countries (except Ireland and the UK) plus Norway and Iceland abolished checks at internal borders. EU, Icelandic, and Norwegian nationals do not need a visa, regardless of the purpose or length of their visit to Spain. But they need to register with the police if their stay exceeded 90 days.
Nationals of other countries such as the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Israel, and Switzerland do not need tourist visas for visits of up to 90 days in Spain. Nationals of Schengen countries who wish to study or work in Spain may need a visa. The standard tourist visa issued by Spanish consulates is the Schengen visa, which is valid for up to 90 days. They cannot be extended.
People of other nationalities who want to stay in Spain longer than 90 days must get a residence card (Tarjeta de residencia). You can also apply for residency if you are a non-EU spouse of an EU citizen residing in Spain. If this is the case, you are obliged to make the formal application in your country of residence. The process is lengthy so start the process in advance. Those who need to travel to Barcelona, Spain in the meantime who would normally need a visa could ask for a visa exemption (exención de visado)
If you need a visa, you must apply personally at your country’s consulate. You may need to provide hotel bookings or an itinerary, return tickets, proof of sufficient funds, and a letter of recommendation from your host in Spain.
Here are other points to consider when applying for a visa to visit Barcelona:
- The Visa application process usually takes at least six weeks – thus, you should have had this done at least 2 months before your scheduled visit.
- A tourist visa, which is valid for 90 days, does not allow you to study in Barcelona or the whole of Spain in general. This also goes to say that you cannot apply for a student resident permit (NIE) in the city in order to extend your stay for more than 90 days.
- Requirements for the application vary from country to country so directly get in touch to the Spanish Consulate.
Barcelona is the second-most populous city in Spain. The city council statistics estimate that it has a population of about 1.6 million. There are around 16,000 inhabitants per sq km, with Eixample as the most populated district. Most of the inhabitants (62%) were born in Catalonia whereas 24% came from the rest of Spain.
Barcelona is also a melting pot of nationalities: 14% of the inhabitants came from different countries. Most come from (in order) Ecuador, Peru, Morocco, Colombia, Argentina, Pakistan, and China. The population of foreigners in the city is still increasing.
Catalan is the major language in Barcelona. About 95% of the people in Barcelona understand the Catalan language, 75% can read it well, 74.6% can speak Catalan, and about 47.1% can write it. The city’s linguistic immersion educational system makes this possible.
Most of the residents in Barcelona say they are Roman Catholic. Other religious groups include Evangelical, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Buddhists. There are also many Muslims in Barcelona as a result of immigration.
In general, Barcelona has very friendly warm people. They are calm, non-aggressive, generous, and helpful especially if they have the time. Maintaining lasting relationships is far more important to most people in Barcelona than the desire for more material wealth. You can expect them to come up to tourists in the streets offering help if you need it.
They always greet foreigners and newcomers with much enthusiasm. Organizing festivals and events energetically and entertaining the citizens and visitors alike are second nature to the city’s people.
Barcelona is a city where people love to celebrate and party. So unleash the party animal in you when you come here. In addition, you can find the most artistic and free-spirited people there.
Among the famous people who came and/or live from and in Barcelona are Antonio Gaudi (1926) (renowned Catalan Art Nouveau architect), Jorge Luis Borges (1986) (short-story writer), Pablo Picasso (1973) (painter), Salvador Dali (1989) (Surrealist and artist), Joan Miro (1983) (abstract Surrealist), and Pablo Casals (1973) (Catalan cellist).
Much of the adventure of a journey comes from immersing to a foreign culture whose traditions and customs may vastly differ from your own culture. Sure, facing the unknown can be very exciting. But too much of it is undesirable. You may say ignorance is bliss. Well, not always, especially if it means blindly stumbling around a different culture like a raging bull in a porcelain shop.
Whether you travel to Barcelona for pleasure or business, offending your host’s sensibilities is not a good thing. At best, your host may dismiss you as an insensitive or uncouth foreigner, which can damage personal relationships. At worst, your business partner may turn you down or, in some countries, even provoke violence if you walk on some respected local customs.
Like all cities in the world, it also has its own customs that make it unique. And you will need nuts-and-bolts of information to survive and be accepted in the city. Here are some things that you should know before traveling to Barcelona:
Posters in travel forums on the Internet say that Barcelona people would rather speak English than Spanish to visitors. This is partly true, but not due to the political reasons many of you may think. If you are a foreigner and ask something in English to a person on the streets of Barcelona, and it happens that this person speaks English, then yes, he/she would probably prefer to speak English. In any case, this rule of thumb usually works: be polite and flash a beautiful smile.
There are no special customs in Barcelona regarding dress. With the exception of some places, very warm dresses are usually not necessary. So it is a good idea to check the weather forecast to areas you will visit beforehand.
When on the beaches of Barcelona, do not be scandalized – do no even stare! – to see women going topless as the women in the city are used to it.
Also, because nightlife and parties are a great part of Barcelona culture, you do not need to dress formally when you go to a theater or when having dinner. Its people are laid back and love to have some fun, so you do not have to worry about clothing.
Probably because of the great climate and the very long hours of sunshine in the city, people in Barcelona tend to wake up late in the morning and stay out late at night compared to the rest of their European neighbors.
Lunch and dinner
Lunch and dinner usually start later compared to other European cities. Most people usually have their lunch from 2 pm to 4 pm and dinner from 9 pm to 11 pm.
Tipping is a custom in Barcelona that you should not ignore. While virtually all establishments in the city include a service surcharge, it is common to leave a tip. Most of the high-end class restaurants in Barcelona charge 10% tax to the bill; while budget restaurants already incorporate it into the prices in the menu. In some restaurants, this additional fee does not cover the service charge yet. If this is the case, a tip of 5% is acceptable. The Spanish government, however, requires restaurants as well as hotels to already include the service charge – which goes about 15% – to the bill.
When taking the cab, an additional 10% of the fare shown in the meter is the usual tip for the driver.
Legend for Tourists
There is a legend in the city that if you drink water from the fountains close to the top of Las Ramblas, you will get to come back in Barcelona someday (so make sure not to miss this – and drink lots of it!).
The official languages of Barcelona are Catalan and Spanish. But you will see that most signs in the streets are indicated in Catalan because the law establishes it as the indigenous preferential one. But the Spanish and English languages are also commonly used in public transportation and other city facilities.
As in most countries in the world, any attempt by foreigners to speak the native language, Catalan and Spanish in this city, is always appreciated. But you will observe that most Catalans in the city instinctively address visitors in Spanish.
Here’s one thing that you should know: Catalan is a language. It is not a dialect, as many people would think. It sounds close to French and Italian in many ways. So do not call Catalan a dialect; doing so will probably insult Catalans.
About 30% of local people regard Catalonia as a nation that has its own culture, traditions, and history. To them, Catalonia is different from the other Spanish regions. The subject of identity is a very sensitive issue among many traditional Catalans. In addition, using the Catalan language to a Spanish speaking Catalan is also a sensitive issue.
Nearly all shops and bars in tourist areas employ some English speaking people. But the English language is not very popular among Barcelona people. While their knowledge of the English vocabulary is very limited, the people are kind and will make some effort to help you if you speak in English.
Here are some usual vocabulary in Catalan (Spanish in brackets)
Yes – Si (Si)
No – No (No)
Good morning – Bon dia (Buenos dias)
Good afternoon – Bona tarda (Buenas tardes)
Hello – Hola (Hola ¿qué hay?)
Today – Avui (Hoy)
Yesterday – Ahir (Ayer)
Tomorrow – Demà (Mañana)
Please – Si us plau (Por favor)
Thank you – Gràcies (Gracias)
You are welcome – De res (De nada)
Goodbye – Adéu, Areveure (Adios)
Sorry – Perdoni (Perdone, disculpe)
Traveling to an unfamiliar city is an adventure. Getting lost is part of the experience. But it can be a pain sometimes. So if you want to travel to Barcelona, you will need maps to guide you. Here are a few maps that will help you explore the wonders of the city:
Street Map of Barcelona: The City Council’s street map is a very helpful one. It allows you to familiarize yourself with the outline of particular streets, locate all karaoke bars, and pinpoint all museums. You name it, you will find it here.
You can also locate the following services: accommodation, public administration, education, public leisure, sports, shopping centers and markets, restaurants, places of worship, health care, and many more.
Map of tourist bus routes: The tourist buses are an excellent way of exploring the city. This map will help you with getting around Barcelona and reaching the city’s major tourist destinations. From experience, I suggest you wear a hat and apply sunscreen if you choose to sit on the top deck.
Map Metro Barcelona: This map will guide you in case you take the metro. The city has a fast, cheap, and first-rate underground service. The metro operates from 5 am to midnight. It operates from 5 am to 2 am every Friday, Saturday and the day before a holiday.
3D street map: QDQ offers a 3D street map of the city. This service allows you to run a local search in a modeled 3D City to get your bearings better. You can also get results by proximity to an address or location. The service enables you to surf freely and intuitively through Barcelona in just a click.
Interactive map: Hot-maps brings you this interactive map of Barcelona. Plan your trip to the city here. This map will help you find hotels as well as popular sights to see. This map is detailed and easy to use. It is in English but you can switch it to Spanish and other languages. It features color print out, street search, zoom, and pan.
Barcelona, Spain is more than just a tourist destination. It is a representation of the rich culture and colorful past of the country. If you do not have the luxury to explore the city for a long period of time – say you only have a week or weekend in the city, you’ll still have the chance to get to know more about in reading books about Barcelona. Flip through the pages to unravel the secrets, mysteries, beauty, and marvel of this fabulous city. It can be fiction or non-fiction but these books will still give you a different facet of Barcelona. Happy reading!
Safety & Emergencies
Compared to other major urban centers, Barcelona is not a dangerous place. In fact, few violent crimes are committed compared to major cities, for example, in the United States. But petty crimes are quite prevalent.
Petty thieves are particularly aware of the city’s visitors. They are experts at taking advantage of the visitors’ naiveté in terms of caring for their belongings. Thieves attack especially in tourist areas like Las Ramblas as well as crowded places like buses and metro cars.
While you should not walk the streets of the city in fear, it is very important that you are aware of the people and things that happen around you. Be smart about how and where you carry your wallets and bags. For instance, a wallet in your back pocket attracts someone to just snatch it. A much safer option is the front pocket if you need to keep your money in your pockets.
Take care of your belongings
Keep all important items like credit cards, large sums of money, and your passport in some kind of pouch underneath your shirt. Be cautious when wearing a backpack because it is extremely vulnerable. So it is a very good idea to lock any pouch that contains valuables. Or at least bury valuables in a hard-to-find interior pocket.
If possible, if you have a sling bag or a shoulder bag, wear them strapped diagonally over one shoulder, and have the bag in front of you rather than on your back.
Use your common sense
Here is the rule of thumb when it comes to taking care of your things: Use your common sense and always be on guard. Petty thieves in the city are experts even at stealing from the most aware visitors. So be particularly careful in tourist areas.
If you are victimized by a petty thief and want to report the crime, go to the national police. There are many police stations in Barcelona. There is one near Las Ramblas at the metro Paral.lel on Carrer Nou de la Rambla 80.
Emergency numbers to call
Here are some of the most important numbers to call in case of emergency:
Catalan state police (Mossos d’Esquadra): 088
National Police (Policía Nacional): 091
Local Police (Guàrdia Urbana): 092
Military Police (Guardia Civil): 062
Hospitals: 93 454 60 00 / 93 418 34 00
Dental emergencies: 93 227 47 47
Fire Department (Bombers): 080, 085
EU standard emergency number: 112