Photo Courtesy of HaSchelSax
Full of history of innovative spirit, this walkable Mediterranean city is all about work-life balance. Catalans love to work almost as much as they love to play, and, around town, visitors will find restaurants, cafés, and theaters packed with a mix of locals, expats, and tourists. The weather is mi…ld enough for palm trees and droves of parrots, and there are loads of experiences for travelers-outdoors enthusiasts, shoppers, foodies, and art aficionados.
What to know before you go to Barcelona
Barcelona is a great place to visit year-round. When to go really depends on the experiences you want to have. Want to soak up the sun on area beaches? May through August is your best bet. Interested in massive open-air music festivals? Spring brings big name acts at Primavera Sound and Sonar. Amazing architecture is ever present, but foodies may be more interested in visiting during spring or fall, when there’s an even greater bounty of seasonal ingredients. And don't be afraid to visit in the Winter, when the weather is still pleasant and the crowds have died down.
Wherever you’re located, chances are, you’re less than a few flights away from Barcelona. Low-budget airlines offer direct flights between Barcelona and many large cities in Europe and the Middle East. If you're already on the continent, know that buses and trains run regular routes. There are direct flights from the Eastern seaboard of the United States, and from elsewhere, U.S. and European carriers offer two- to three-leg trips.
Barcelona is very walkable. If you’re staying in the city center, most of the things you want to see will be within a 30- to 45-minute walk. When your feet get tired or you just want to make better time, public transportation is the way to go. A TMB 10 pass is a solid investment for most travelers, as it’s multiperson and works on all public transport.
Spend a day away from it all in Puig de Castellar Park. Take an hour or so to follow in the footsteps of Columbus at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra Monastery, where the explorer was received by the Catholic Monarchs; then head to Turó del Pollo to hike up to the Iberian ruins at Puig Castellar. During the week you’re likely to have the space to yourself, and the sweeping views of Barcelona are well worth the trip. This trip is kind of a pain on public transport, so you’re best off renting a car for the day. Experienced cyclists may want to rent a bike to use for part of the trip, instead of parking and hiking the rest of the way.
Barcelona is one of the best places in Spain to drink and eat. Beyond internationally renowned Spanish dishes such as paella and tortilla de patatas, you’ll find authentic Catalan cuisine as well as restaurants specializing in dishes from elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula and around the world. For serious spenders, there are close to 30 Michelin-starred restaurants in Barcelona, not to mention exciting, innovative restaurants helmed by famous chefs such as the Adrià brothers.
A walking (and tasting) tour of the Poble-Sec neighborhood, led by a food expert and arranged by AFAR’s touring partner, Context Travel, provides a tasty introduction to the Catalan culture of tapas, bodegues, and taverns.
The Catalan capital is heaven for culture-vultures. Art enthusiasts should hit the national art galleries in addition to Miró and Picasso museums. Archaeology buffs will find plenty of exhibits and ruins to explore, many of them Roman. And, stating the obvious,Gaudí’s buildings are a must for anyone who hasn't seen them before.
Locals love to celebrate. There's a holiday of some sort nearly every month. In addition to yearly neighborhood festivals (one of the most famous is Gràcia), watch out for Saint’s Day festivals, holiday festivals, and La Mercè, Barcelona’s weekend-long party complete with parades, dancing giants, fire-breathing dragons, and free concerts.
- Shops are closed on Sunday, and many on Saturday afternoon as well.
- The freshest produce is to be had at open markets and greengrocers, not supermarkets.
- Eat out in the middle of the day on a fixed-price menu. It’s way cheaper than whipping out your credit card for à la carte evenings.
- Never stumble around acting drunk, even if you are, or lay down a valuable object in public; it's an easy way to get robbed.
- And one last word to the wise: For the city’s biggest attractions, reservations—always.
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Chris Ciolli is a freelance writer, translator, and blogger based in Barcelona, where she writes about food, culture, and travel in Catalonia and the rest of the world. Her work has been featured in LaVanguardia.com, Sweet Lemon Magazine, Fathom, and The Barcelona Metropolitan, as well as other publications. Between projects, Chris paints, makes jewelry, and tries her hand at recreating the recipes she collects at every destination—available on her blog, Midwesterner Abroad.