Barcelona is one of Spain’s blockbuster destinations. Home to 2,000-years worth of jaw-dropping architecture, a brilliant and burgeoning foodie scene, and 24-hour parties, it’s popular with everyone from gap year students to middle-aged culture buffs. But despite its wide appeal, there are a few mistakes that everyone seems to make on their first trip to the Catalonian capital. Planning your trip to the sun-soaked city? Make sure you take a look at our top tips on what not to do in Barcelona before you set off.
What not to do when visiting Barcelona
1. Fly into the wrong airport
This one might seem obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many people end up at the wrong airport. Barcelona has one international airport, but it goes by a few different names. Its official title is Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat, but it’s also known as Aeroport de Barcelona–El Prat, Aeroport de Barcelona, El Prat de Llobregat Airport and Aeropuerto de Barcelona. It’s located in a small town called El Prat de Llobregat, around X km away from the city centre. Look out for the initials BCN.
Despite only having one international airport, lots of budget airlines (Ryanair, we’re looking at you) misleadingly lump Girona (GRO) and Reus Airport (REU) together as international Barcelona airports, despite being located over 100 km outside of the city.
2. Spend the whole trip in La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Gothic Quarter’s supermodel-good looks are well worth spending some time exploring. Its higgledy-piggledy streets are bursting with old-world charm, works from Gaudi to Picasso, and some of the oldest and best-known restaurants in the city. But if you spend the whole time here, you’ll end up with a seriously skewed perspective and a lot left on your bucket list.
Firstly, you’ll miss out on the delights of Park Guell, the Sagrada Familia and the soaring Mont Juic. But you’ll also fail to get under the skin of the city. Most locals live on the outskirts, in neighbourhoods such as Sarrià, Poble Sec and El Clot. If you’re looking for the best tapas, markets and bars, head further afield.
3. Turn up to attractions without a ticket
Even if you’re travelling off-season, it’s wise to book a ticket to Barcelona’s star attractions, particularly the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and Palau de la Música Catalana. You can buy tickets easily enough online and you’ll save yourself time by avoiding the enormous queues too. If you’re really organised, you can even organise a private tour too, though most attractions now offer excellent audio tours for a small fee.
4. Take taxis everywhere
Barcelona is a highly walkable city, so pick up the pace and save your pennies for some extra tapas and wine. Traffic is slow-moving in Barcelona, so you’ll rarely save time hopping in a taxi either. If you’re travelling from one side of the city to another, try the metro or a bus. The city’s public transport network is well connected, easy to use, clean and reliable. The metro network consists of eight lines and more than 150 stations, so there’s nowhere you can’t go. Plus, a single-journey ticket will set you back a bargain of €2.20.
5. Spend all your time on La Barceloneta Beach
If you’re travelling from colder climes, it’s tempting to hotfoot straight to the beach for a dose of sparkling sea and vitamin D. But of all the beaches in Spain, of which there are many, Barcelona is by no means the best. The city’s main beach, La Barceloneta, is fun in small doses but it’s busy, touristy and pretty boisterous. Thankfully the whole of the coastline, which runs 360 miles from the French border to Ebro Delta in the South, is easily accessible by train. If you’re looking to spend a couple of days at the seaside, hop onto a train to the nearby Costa Brava or the golden sands of the Costa Dorada.
6. Speak in English
English-speakers are spoilt when it comes to travelling, but a few words in the local lingo can get you far. Plus, while English is widely spoken in shops and restaurants, don’t assume everyone speaks English. Speaking louder won’t help either. The local languages spoken in Barcelona are Spanish/Castilian and Catalan. You’ll notice that most signposts are written in both Spanish and Catalan too.
Hola (hello) and gracias (thank you), but try a few Catalan expressions to really make a good impression. Start with bon dia (good morning), bon tarda (good evening ) and gràcies or Merci (thank you).
7. Eat out early
At 10.30 pm in northern European countries, most chefs will be hanging up their aprons and getting ready to finish off for the night, but in Spain, it’s all getting started. Most people eat after 9 pm, and it’s common to see people rock up at a restaurant after 10 pm for dinner. So if you’re feeling peckish at 6 pm, get snacking. The only restaurants that will be open will cater exclusively for tourists.
Most people think that it has something to do with the hot afternoons or a more laidback lifestyle, but according to the BBC article, Spaniards have been living in the wrong time zone for more than 70 years. In 1940, General Franco changed Spain’s time zone, moving the clocks one hour forward in line with Nazi Germany. So, lunch and dinner shifted back an hour. After World War II, the clocks never changed back.