Barcelona. I am yet to meet one single person who did not fall in love with Barcelona. With its vibrant nightlife and endless list of must-see sights, resist booking your next location because you’ll no doubt want to extend your time here!
How to get there
Barcelona is located in the north of Spain, just over the border from France. Direct trains run regularly from neighbouring French cities of Marseille and Montpellier taking between 3 and 4 hours. Barcelona is 6 hours from Paris by train.
Barcelona is located 2 hours by train from Madrid, and 5 hours from San Sebastian. You can find routes and times here. Buses take considerably longer and tickets cost around the same amount, so I would recommend catching trains when travelling internally in Spain.
However coming in to Spain, I would recommend Flix Bus. There are many direct routes from neighbouring countries such as France, Italy, Romania and Germany starting at €9.
How to get around
Like most major cities in Europe, Barcelona is very well connected by their underground metro system. Tickets cost €2.20 or if you’re planning on moving around a lot, get the Hola BCN travel card – you can make an unlimited number of journeys over 2 days for €15, 3 days for €22 or 4 days for €29 or 5 days for €35. Buy online for a discount and then pick up your travel card at any metro station.
Barcelona is a large, sprawling city. I would definitely recommend getting one of these travel cards!
Where to eat
Situated in the Gothic Quarter is possibly one of Barcelona’s best hidden gems. This cosy, hole in the wall bar offers free tapas if you order a drink – a Spanish practice that is becoming increasingly harder to find in popular cities like Barcelona. Make sure you try the homemade meatballs.
Like many other countries in Europe, Lunch Sets (or menu del día) are common in Barcelona restaurants and perfect if you’re not fussy on what you get. La Polpa, El Jardia, NAP, Luki, La Singular and El Clandestino are my top picks for restaurants offering set three course lunch menus, costing between €10 – €12. This is the perfect solution if you’re wanting to dine out without blowing your backpackers budget.
Located throughout Spain, the 100 Montaditos franchise dishes up tapa-sized sandwiches, at a tiny price. And yes, there really are 100 varieties to choose from, and on Wednesday and Sunday, every sandwich on the menu is €1. Take a menu and fill in an order form, take the form to the counter and pay, then wait for your name to be called! And don’t worry, they also have an English menu if your Spanish isn’t up to scratch.
Bar La Plata
Bar La Plata is a tiny restaurant on the corner of a small street in the Gothic Quarter, which has been serving exactly the same menu since it opened its doors in 1945. And that menu is literally four items long – perfect if you’re not too good at decisions.
A Tu Bola
Right near Rambla de Raval lies this little gem, serving up cheap but delicious pita bread pockets or plates. The kitchen is open plan and in the middle of the restaurant, and you can get a freshly made pita and a drink for €6.50.
This huge public market has history dating back to 1217, and still operates today selling a rainbow selection of fruits, smoothies, sweets, fish and meat.
Where to stay
If you’ve read my Hungary or Prague guides, you’ll know how much I love the HostelOne group, and HostelOne in Barcelona is no different. There are three to choose from; Sants, Ramblas or Paralelo, and Sants is my favourite. As soon as you walk in you’ll feel at home – welcoming and friendly staff, comfortable rooms, nightly pub crawls, a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy a sunset sangria, and the best of all: free dinner.
An idea of costs for one day in Barcelona
€45 per day
– Hostel: €17 per night
– Homemade breakfast at Hostel: €5
– Tapas & drink for lunch: €5
– Margarhita on beach: €5
– Free Hostel Dinner
– Drinks/entry on night out: €15
How long to spend here
Don’t restrict your time here – allow at least 5 days. Barcelona is one of those cities where you can easily spend a week or more, there is so much to see and do plus the buzzing, lively atmosphere makes it hard to leave.
What to see and do in Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is the most popular attractions in Barcelona and attracting nearly over two and a half million visitors each year, despite the fact that it is still being built. Construction began in 1882 and still continues to this day – it is due to be completed by 2050. This large and intricate cathedral is the work of famous artist Antoni Gaudi, and is one of his many famous pieces in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is awe-inspiring – not only in the sheer size and scale of the building but the intricacy and detail built into every space of the church. Tickets start at €15 and you need to book in advance online and allocate a time to attend. Aim to go around 2pm to see the best afternoon light glowing through the multi-story stained glass windows.
Located just in front of the Palau Nacional is the Magic Fountain. Showing off an impressive display of light, colour, and music, and looks even more magical at night. Note that the Magic Fountain is closed on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday so make sure you come on the correct day otherwise, it’s just a normal (albeit pretty) fountain!
Tibidabo is the tallest mountain in this region, and overlooks the city. Located at the top is a famous Catholic church called the Temple de Sagrat Cor, famous for its large statue of Jesus towering above, visible from almost every point in the city. You can either hike to the top of the mountain following the main roads, or catch the Tibibus, running every 20 minutes from Plaça de Catalunya. You’ll also find a cute amusement park at the top of the mountain – treat yourself to a fresh churros as you enjoy the view.
One of the most Instagrammed spots in Europe, Park Güell is another of Gaudí’s masterpieces. Originally an estate for the wealthy, this area became a public park and recognised as an artistic monument in 1969. Make sure you take your time strolling through the gardens and taking in all the amazing mosaic detail – the park gets exceptionally busy in the middle of the day so aim for morning or evening. Opening hours change depending on the season, and you should book a ticket before you go to avoid the lines and allocate your entry time – a general ticket is € 7.50. See information here.
La Boqueria Food Market
When you're hungry, make sure you visit Europe's largest food market. Tourists and locals alike bustle between the stalls selling seafood, bread, meats and fruit, both fresh and dried. The floors are slippy and the noise echoes under the loud tin roof, and you'll be sure to leave full!
Barcelona is famous (notorious?) for its vivid nightlife. World famous DJs are regulars at the many clubs throughout town. Razzmatazz, Moog and Lolita are among the best of the clubs for elecro dance and for the best retro party tunes you can’t miss Sala Apolo. Housed in a former theatre, you’ve got to head there for their famous “Nasty Monday” – it certainly won’t disappoint! I’ve never seen a club so packed on a Monday, and the night really gets going at about 2am.
Parc de la Ciutadella
This beautiful, lush park is just a short walk from the city centre. Make sure you stop by the beautiful Cascada Fountain, and the Arc de Triomf (Paris isn’t the only one with one of these!)
Casa Mila or La Pedrera is yet another beautiful creation of Gaudí. While the view from the street is gorgeous in itself, the building and rooftop is open to the public.
FC Barcelona is arguably the best soccer team in the world. If you’re lucky enough (and willing to splurge) to be in town during a game, grab a ticket and gape in awe at the almost-100k seating stadium of Camp Nou – and it will be sold out. The stadium is the largest stadium in Europe and one of the largest stadiums in the world.
Barceloneta in Ciutat Vella
Head to the streets of Barceloneta in Ciutat Vella district – this area is filled with tapas bars, restaurants and shops, and it’s great to just walk around and take in the atmosphere. This area is lively with something always going on!
Somorrostro Beach is located right next to the city and definitely the most popular with tourists. There’s plenty of action to find here, with locals playing soccer games, sunburnt tourists roasting in the sun, and venders selling souvenirs, food and even fresh mojitos. The sand was actually shipped in from Egypt in preparation for the 1992 Olympics!
If you’re wanting something a little more low key, Sitges Beach is situated just outside of Barcelona. You will need to catch a train from Sants Station, however it is definitely worth it to escape the crowds.