Barcelona lies on Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast and is the cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia. The city has become one of Europe’s most popular short break destinations thanks to its privileged location, its vibrant street life, its spectacular Gaudi architecture, its superb cuisine and its football team. There’s so much to see and do in Barcelona that in a weekend you’ll get enough of a taste for the city that you’ll be wanting to return over and over again. There are direct flights into Barcelona’s El Prat airport from all over Europe whilst some budget airlines offer services to Girona airport which is about 100km to the north.
Best Time to Visit Barcelona
Weather in Barcelona
Due to its location on the Mediterranean the weather in Barcelona involves pleasant temperatures all year round without the blistering heat of some other Spanish cities but certainly hot enough in summer for most people’s liking. It does tend to have a reasonable amount of rain throughout the year but there are also many clear, sunny days all year. The temperatures seldom if ever fall to 0ºC even on the coldest winter’s day and for a lot of the year you can eat and drink on the outdoor terraces of the bars and restaurants. The city has 4 kilometres of beach which you can also enjoy for most of the year with some good seafood restaurants along the front.
Festivals in Barcelona
Barcelona’s vibrant festival calendar celebrates Catalan culture and traditions throughout the year. Major festivities include the summer music blast of Sónar and concerts at the Grec Festival, the colourful street party of Gràcia Festival in August and the lively beachfront celebration of Sant Joan in June. September brings crowds for the spectacular fireworks of the La Mercè festival. Other highlights are the elaborate Easter processions of Semana Santa, the feasting and parades of Carnival, and the romantic exchange of books and roses on Sant Jordi in April.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
If it’s your first visit to Barcelona then you should look for accommodation near the Ramblas and the neighbouring Gothic Quarter just to the east. Avoid El Raval to the west as there are too many ‘unsavoury characters’ wandering the streets. Whilst there are plenty rooms available in the city you should try to book as early as possible because hotels and hostels in Barcelona often get full at weekends. This central district is a fine base from where you can explore the city’s main sights by day including Gaudi’s magnificent Sagrada Familia Cathedral and Parc Guell in the north.
Recommended 5-Star Hotels
Hotel Claris (Pau Claris, 150)
Superb luxury hotel with an excellent restaurant and a rooftop terrace giving fine views over the city. One of the best hotels in Barcelona.
Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina GL (Moll de Barcelona)
This deluxe 5 star hotel is located in Barcelona’s Port Vell, perfectly located to explore the city. It is built on eight floors and includes 38 suites and an incredible Presidential Suite on the top floor with a private terrace and spectacular views of the city. The hotel is elegantly decorated and provides a luxurious atmosphere in which to relax.
Majestic Residence (Paseo de Gracia, 68)
A charming hotel on the Passeig de Gracia with one of the city’s top restaurants and a superb rooftop swimming pool.
Fairmont Barcelona Rey Juan Carlos I (Avda Diagonal, 661-671)
Opened in 1992, the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos I is a member of “The Leading Hotels of the World”. It has since been enlarged and now rates amongst the top city complexes resorts in the world. Recent additions include the Royal Fitness, The Royal Catering and the Restaurant – Boîte Tatí.
Recommended 4-Star Hotels
Hotel Condes de Barcelona (Passeig de Gràcia, 73-75)
Excellent hotel in a beautifully renovated classic building on the stylish Passeig de Gracia.
Hotel Derby (C/Loreto, 21-25)
Very comfortable and welcoming hotel located in the city’s commercial district, away from the tourist centre. Ideal location for getting to FC Barcelona’s football stadium.
Hotel Rivoli Ramblas (La Ramblas, 128)
A charming hotel situated right on the Ramblas near Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the tourist centre of the city.
Hotel Gotico (Jaime I, 14)
A comfortable hotel in the Gothic Quarter which is perfectly located.
Hotel Colon (Avda Catedral, 7)
A superb hotel with a superb location overlooking the Cathedral square in the Gothic Quarter. Our favourite in this area.
Hotel Silken Ramblas (Pintor Fortuny 13)
Great value hotel with excellent central location. Superb panoramic terrace and swimming pool.
Hotel Avenida Palace (Gran Via Corts Catalanes 605-607)
Old style elegance just north of Plaza Catalunya at attractive prices compared with similar Barcelona hotels.
Hotel HCC Regente (Rambla De Catalunya 76)
Another excellent choice if you want to be where the action is. A hotel with plenty character located right on the Ramblas. Great views from its terrace and outdoor pool.
Grand Hotel Central (Via Laietana, 30)
This elegant hotel is located in the Gothic Quarter within easy walking distance of the Ramblas and the main museums. It has an on-site restaurant, roof top swimming pool and gymnasium.
Hotel H10 Montcada (Via Laietana, 24)
Located directly opposite the cathedral in the Gothic area this hotel has easy access to all the main sights. There is a roof terrace with incredible views of the city plus a jacuzzi and small gym on the same floor.
Hotel Pulitzer (Vergara, 8 )
This is a modern hotel located on Plaza Catalunya at the top of the Ramblas, within easy reach of all the main sights. It is very stylish and has a roof top terrace for guests.
Recommended 3-Star Hotels
Hotel H10 Raco del Pi (C/ del Pi, 7)
Located in a fully renovated old building in the heart of the Gothic Quarter this is a perfect spot to explore Barcelona from.
Hotel Suizo (Plaça del Àngel 12)
Superb location in the heart of the Gothic Quarter and just a stroll from the Ramblas. Comfortable and convenient rather than remarkable.
Hotel H10 Catalunya Plaza (Plaza Catalunya, 7)
Located right on Plaza Catalunya at the northern end of the Ramblas. Ideal base from where to explore the city.
Hotel Rialto (Carrer Fernando, 42)
This comfortable hotel is one of the best choices in the Gothic Quarter and is perfectly located for seeing all of the sights of Barcelona.
Hotel Nouvel (C/ Santa Ana, 18-20)
With its 19th century ambience, this attractive hotel set just off the Ramblas in a quiet side street in an ideal location for seeing the main attractions.
An interesting alternative to staying in a hotel in Barcelona is to book an apartment for your stay. There are apartments to cater to the needs of all visitors to the city ranging from small two person flats to larger apartments suitable for families and groups of friends. A great advantage of the apartment option is that you don’t have to eat out all the time and if you find one near the Ramblas you can go shopping at La Boqueria market for a great selection of fresh produce.
Barcelona Hostels and Backpackers
Traditionally, family-run hostels in Barcelona have offered comfortable accommodation to the budget traveller. However, in a city with such an enormous demand for rooms many of the older places have undergone major refurbishments and now compete with small hotels at the lower budget end of the market leaving few cheap options to the visitor. Room offerings vary greatly from simple, shared dormitories to tasteful, en suite double rooms.
Here are a few recommended hostels:
- Generator Hostel Barcelona (Carrer de Còrsega, 373-377)
- Casa Gracia Barcelona Hostel (Passeig de Gràcia, 116)
- St Christopher’s Inn Barcelona (Carrer de Bergara, 3)
- Be Sound Hostel (Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 91)
- Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia (Carrer del Freser, 5)
Getting Around in Barcelona
Most visitors to Barcelona begin their sightseeing with a walk along the Ramblas and the neighbouring Gothic Quarter. Many are also happy to walk north from Plaça de Catalunya along Passeig de Gràcia to visit Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and La Pedrera or head south of the Ramblas to Port Vell.
However, Barcelona has many tourist attractions which aren’t easily accessible on foot so some form of transport is recommended for going further afield to the likes of Montjuïc, Park Güell and FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp football stadium.
Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Service
The hop-on, hop-off bus service is the best way to visit Barcelona in a day or two with all tours beginning from in front of El Corte Inglés in Plaça de Catalunya. You can get on and get off the bus at any one of the programmed stops (listed below) on the three routes which include stops at nearly all of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions. Buses come every 20 to 30 minutes. Tickets are valid on all routes and can be purchased online. Tickets are delivered directly to your mobile phone which you simply present to the driver as you get onboard.
Metro de Barcelona
The Barcelona underground rail system is an extensive system of around 125km of lines connecting all parts of the city. The Metro is probably the easiest way to get around the city but you may need buses or suburban trains to reach some places. It’s a good idea to buy the 10 journey “Targeta T-10” which gives you ten single journeys within Zone 1 in the central area of Barcelona. This ticket provides worthwhile savings over single tickets and is valid on the Metro system, RENFE local trains, city buses and FGC suburban trains. It can be used on the RENFE airport train but NOT the airport bus.
The “Targeta T-10” allows you to transfer between different modes of transport within a 1hr 15mins period on the same ticket. Therefore, you can leave a Metro station then jump on a bus provided the journey is completed within the time limit. Buses run along most city routes every few minutes. You can also buy one ticket and share it provided you pass it back to the other person as you go through ticket barriers so it isn’t necessary to buy two tickets for two people.
Tickets are sold at all Metro stations and at the airport as you approach the train. The “Targeta T-DIA” is an alternative ticket that you might be interested in which allows for unlimited travel on all these forms of transport for one day.
Barcelona City Taxis
Because of the time spent sitting in traffic jams and the relatively high cost of taking taxis they can’t be recommended for getting around the tourist sights. Tourists can flag down these distinctive black and yellow vehicles all over the city or can take one from a taxi rank (there’s one in Plaça de Catalunya and at the bottom of the Ramblas near Plaça de Colom). Taxis fares include a basic charge as soon as you get in the taxi then a meter charge per kilometre. Be sure to check that the taxi meter is reset when you get in the vehicle. Please note that when taking a taxi from the airport there will be an extra charge for any luggage which is placed in the boot. Many drivers will not speak English.
Barcelona Tourist Attractions
One of the lasting memories of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics is the view of the Sagrada Familia in the background as the diving event took place in the swimming pool in Montjuïc. That sight alone inspired millions of travellers around the world to add the city of Barcelona to their ‘bucket list’. Today Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece is the city’s most visited attraction with more than 3 million annual visitors. There are currently plans in place to complete the structure by 2026 in order to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of its architect’s death.
Other Gaudí Buildings
For more information on essential Gaudí buildings please refer to our in depth article recommending the most important things to see in Barcelona.
Barcelona is the city that shaped Pablo Picasso’s youth and this museum is the result of his wish that after his death his art would have a permanent impact on the city. Housed in a medieval palace complex in the Gothic Quarter, the Museu Picasso is one of Barcelona’s most visited tourist attractions. Much of the museum is devoted to Picasso’s early works and the chronological order of the exhibits allows visitors to appreciate the artist’s development. His most famous works remain in Madrid but this museum is still one of themost important collections in the world.
National Art Gallery of Catalunya
The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is one of Europe’s greatest art museums exhibiting works of Catalan art from the Romanesque period to the mid-20th century. As well as displaying the best collection of Catalan modern art in the world the museum is also worth a visit simply to see the magnificent Palau Nacional building in which it is housed. This palace was built on the Montjuïc hill for the 1929 World Exhibition providing breathtaking views of the city of Barcelona down below.
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
The Museu d’Art Contemporani (MACBA) has been the catalyst in the urban regeneration of the El Raval district of central Barcelona, just off the Ramblas. Even if you’re not particularly an art enthusiast it’s well worth a visit to the MACBA although you might find some of the exhibits rather strange. The building itself is an impressive work of modern art contrasting sharply the the rundown neighbourhood which surrounds it. The main attractions amongst the exhibits are works by prominent Catalan artists such as Antoni Tàpies and Miquel Barceló.
Barcelona Attraction Tickets
Whether you choose to take the hop-on, hop-off tourist bus or prefer to travel around the city on foot or by public transport you’re going to need entrance tickets to the main tourist attractions. Due to the popularity of the city and its many sights there are often significant queues at the ticket office of many of these sights. For this reason it is strongly recommended that you Order Skip-the-Line Attraction Tickets. These tickets will be issued directly to your mobile phone so you simply show your smartphone at the venue and you get in ahead of all those people waiting to buy tickets.
Things to Do in Barcelona
Take a Tour of the Gaudí Buildings
Go Shopping in L’Eixample
Plaça de Catalunya is a good place to start if you’re interested in shopping in Barcelona. Its enormous FNAC and Corte Inglés department stores will keep you busy for a good while. And whilst you’re in the Corte Inglés head to the café on the 9th floor for a great view across the rooftops of some of the Modernist buildings along Passeig de Gracia. Afterwards you can take a stroll along Passeig de Gracia from Plaça de Catalunya which will take you into an area where you’ll find some of Barcelona’s most exclusive and expensive shops.
Designer Stores: For fashion items the city has become well known for for its own Custo Barcelona brand which has branches scattered around the city. More mainstream fashion stores for women include the Zara and Mango brands which both have shops on Passeig de Gràcia. Another Spanish brand is the shoemaker Camper that has an outlet at Carrer Elisebets, 11 in El Raval. Although shopping for designer gear is concentrated mainly in the L’Eixample dsitrict and Avinguda Diagonal districts, there are trendy boutiques geared towards the younger market around the El Born area of La Ribera.
Porcelain and Leather Items: Another well known Spanish brand for shoppers worldwide is the porcelain figuerine producer Lladró which you’ll find on sale in the El Corte Inglés stores and in speciality shops on Passeig de Gràcia. Kastoria (Av. Catedral 6-8) in the Barri Gòtic is an official Lladró stockist and is a good choice for leather products which aren’t the bargain that they once were in Spain but are still much cheaper than in northern Europe for high leather items. The Loewe shop is another favourite for leather products and is on the shopper’s circuit at at Passeig de Gràcia, 35.
Barcelona Markets: If you enjoy wandering around flea markets then head for the Els Encants Vells on Friday or Saturday but don’t expect to find much of interest. More covenient a venue is the Barri Gòtic which hosts various speciality markets including the coin and stamp collectors market in Plaça Reial on Sunday mornings and a art and craft market at Plaça de San Josep on Saturday and Sunday.
La Boqueria Food Market: No mention of shopping in Barcelona would be complete without reference to the Boqueria food market (La Rambla 91) which is an absolute must for anyone visiting the city. It is a plethora of noise and colour, packed with fresh fruit and vegetable stalls, fish and meat vendors and all kinds of other food related merchants selling local cheeses, herbs and spices and a range of ethnic products. There are also some typical Barcelona tapas bars at the back serving great tapas all day long.
Opening Times: On average, independent shops open from 10am to 8pm with maybe a three hour break in the afternoon (2pm-5pm) The large department stores and shopping malls don’t take this break. Saturday is the main shopping day though smaller shops may not open again in the afternoon whilst most places, apart from tourist shops on La Rambla, will close all day on Sunday.
When are the Sales?: You can pick up some bargains in the winter sales which start in early January and in the summer sales during the first week of July.
Watch FC Barcelona at the Nou Camp
Football fans should plan their visit to Barcelona to coincide with a FC Barcelona football match at their 98,000 seater Nou Camp stadium. Even if you can’t get to a match you should visit the FC Barcelona museum and take the stadium tour which is one of the city’s top attractions.
Eat Paella in La Barceloneta
In the evening there are plenty cafés and restaurants around the Ramblas but you might like to head down to the harbour to dine at Port Olímpic or in a traditional paella restaurant in the La Barceloneta area. You should also try to dine at one of the more traditional restaurants in Barcelona where you can sample the best of Catalan cuisine.
Day Excursions from Barcelona
There are so many sights in Barcelona that most visitors find that they don’t have time to consider any day trips beyond the city limits. However, if you do have time available you really should consider taking one of the many day trips from Barcelona to exciting destinations which lie within close proximity of the Catalan capital. Some of the most popular ones are as follows:
Lying 65km north-west of Barcelona this Benedictine Abbey is tucked away in the mountains of Montserrat. Its main attraction is a 12th-century Black Madonna located on the basilica’s altar. A visit to Montserrat is the most popular short excursion from Barcelona. There are plenty coach excursions to the monastery or you can get there by train.
Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres
Located 175km north-east of Barcelona, the Dalí Museum in Figueres is one of Spain’s most visited museums. It can be reached by train or on coach tours which often include a visit to the nearby city of Girona.
Take a Wine Tour to Penedès
The Penedès wine growing region is centred on the town of Vilafranca del Penedès which is just 55km from Barcelona. Nearby is Sant Sadurní d’Anoia which is home to the main Cava bodegas. Visitors can get there by train or bus from Barcelona but organised wine tours are recommended.