Visiting Barcelona for both business and pleasure is easy to do. We have the sun, the sea, the mountains, great weather and world class events like Mobile World Congress, Cine Europe and an uncountable number of tech and start-up conferences. Whatever your reason for visiting be sure to check out my five tips from someone who is a local insider, and hopefully maybe we´ll see you at the next Barcelona Video Tech!
People often ask me about Barcelona and I always try to help them make the most of their stay. They may come for business on a regular basis, or they may have never traveled here at all. I always offer pretty much the same advice, so this blog post sums up my recommendations. I also cover some solid restaurants that are a few of our favorites. It's not a glitzy or trendy guide, merely a practical one.
Here are my five tips:
1) Plan wisely to avoid the crowds. Barcelona is crowded, especially La Rambla. As you saw last year, La Rambla is Barcelona´s most famous promenade. Located in the dead center of town, it is adjacent to the main central metro stop, Plaça Catalunya (Catalonia Square). You´ll recognise Plaça Catalunya immediately. It's filled with pigeons.
It's true that La Rambla was target of a major terrorist attack in August 2017. In a city of 5 million people, count an additional 10 million in annual visitors, and well, you do the arithmetic. August is high season and unfortunately La Rambla is not what it once was some years ago - a pleasant spot for a stroll and some shopping.
The main reason to visit La Rambla is for Barcelona's major food market, Mercat de La Boquería. It is a must see. Bring your camera, watch your wallet, and soak it all in. Eating there is not for the faint of heart, as the very busy and crowded cafes serve up the most scrumptious delights. Not cheap, but if you can manage to squeeze in, and overcome the language challenges, you will eat really, really, well.
Tip, if you are thirsty or need something cool, buy the colourful fruit drinks and cups you´ll see on ice as you enter, inside. Go a little bit further into the market, and you will find that they are actually cheaper there.
For a better "Rambla" experience, check out La Rambla de Poble Nou - located on the other side of town, in the tech heart of the city. This Rambla has a more traditional and leisurely feel. Of course, you're going to want to visit all the famous sights, such as the Gaudí buildings, the Gothic Quarter, El Borne. Enjoy, just be aware that there are going to be plenty of people milling around, just like you. You can also head out to markets like Mercat del Ninot or Mercat de Sant Antoni for a less chaotic but no less excellent food experience (links are below).
2) The weather does vary - especially in winter. It is true that we enjoy, for the most part, really great weather. Our summers can be diabolically hot, though, and usually winter is mild too. But winters can be quite variable here. This year during the annual Mobile World Congress (in March), it actually snowed. It was a really pitiful sight! I talked to visitors who had brought shorts and had plans to go to the beach. Bring a jacket from November to March. And for the reverse, be aware how absolutely brutal the heat can be in the midday during summer, from 12 to 5pm. (Note that most businesses close between 2 and 5pm partly for this reason, and partly so that they can go have lunch!)
3) We have wonderful tourist spots, but be prepared! Planning to visit La Sagrada Familia? Book it online first, else you'll be in line for three hours - especially in summer. Book ahead (go do it now) and pick the date and time you want to go. Simple!
Also for Park Güell, Gaudi´s famous park, note that 2d maps don´t fully convey the 3d reality of the city. Park Güell sits upon a small mountain. Accessing it from the nearest metro (Vallcarca), you will find a hillside of escalators leading you up. But you still have to go walk even further. The park is huge. (Also, you have to pay to see the best bits.) So, go, it's great. Just don't do what I did with my sister, and go at 12 noon in the hot July sun. We got up there, fried and nearly died. All because I had no idea it was situated on top of a hill.
4) Get out of the city. For a few bucks, in a conveniently comfortable air-conditioned bus, you can get to seaside towns like Sitges in about an hour. It´s got a very Mediterranean feel, a bit like the south of France. You can stroll around, have lunch, go to the beach, and then hop back on the bus to Barcelona. It makes a great day trip! The fare is 4.10 E at the time of writing, and there are several bus stops within the city center.
Alternatively, visit Sant Cugat (above). By train from Plaça Catalunya, hop on the "FGC" line (one of several distinct rail lines) and take any "S" train and in 25 mins you´ll arrive in the lovely town of Sant Cugat. Here you'll find a great Thursday morning market, tons of shopping and restaurants, and an amazing cathedral / monastery. Definitely less hustle and bustle there, and it is more green for sure than the center of the city. Don´t forget to buy a ticket for 2 zones!
Speaking of which, you should buy the T-10 ticket (one zone) for most of your travel inside the city. This allows you 10 single trips, and is very convenient. The ticket machines are in multiple languages, so they are very easy to figure out. (No need to go for one of those tourist ticket offers.) For travel only around Barcelona, take a T-10 ticket for one zone. But if you think you might go outside for just a single excursion, just buy one separate ticket for two zones (about 3E each way) to Sant Cugat. You also have a number of other excursions as options. If you have a car one nice day trip is Vic (the Saturday market is amazing, it dates back to Medieval times, and so does the one in Sant Cugat).
For more extended excursions by car, I recommend anywhere in the La Garrotxa region, near Girona (and don´t misss Besalú). It is about a 90 minute drive north of Barcelona. If you must, go visit the Salvador Dalí museum in Figueres which is nearby. But I'd recommend a better use of your time is a visit to the Costa Brava, for example, the seaside town of Tossa de Mar.
You can find a list of easy day-trips by car here. Other suggestions include the mystical mountain that is Montserrat or the funfair at Tibidabo which offers spectacular views taking in all of the city.
5) Eat your big meal of the day at lunchtime. Everyone in Catalonia eats lunch at 2pm. If you are looking for the best value keep your eyes out for restaurants that offer a menú del día (menu of the day). The menú del día is usually a three course affair, and if you´re lucky, wine will be included (though that may be a stretch in the touristic heart of the city center). A typical menu at a non-fancy restaurant is about 12-14 Euros, and you will eat very well. Bear in mind that the menú del día prices are much higher at the weekend and on holidays (that's just what they do here).
I have some restaurant suggestions below, but you won´t find anything trendy on our list. (I am sure you are going to find those places on your own!) If you are a foodie and are sucked in by all the blogs touting the latest spots to hit, all I can say is go for it and bring your pocketbook. Having a fussy Catalan foodie for a partner, we are very particular about restaurants, so here is our "list" that correlates to some of the places I mentioned above. Most of them are solid Catalan restaurants that offer a menú del día unless otherwise indicated.