I’m not just saying Barcelona is the best city in the world because it was my college study abroad location- it really is the best. Of all the cities I recommend to people crossing the pond for the first time, it is absolutely Barcelona. I spent four months learning this city and all of its chocolate croissants. Here are a few general points to know before you go:
- Barcelona has an extremely high pick-pocket rate. It is very important that you don’t not carry valuables in your pockets. You must be vigilant of this 24/7. I would even recommend an RFID credit card protector to keep from having your card scanned through your bag.
- Wine is cheaper than water, but don’t dehydrate yourself over it. It can be very attractive to get a one euro glass of wine every time you eat out but it catches up if you are exuding large amounts of energy touring the city. Drinks are cheap to pop in at convenience places and they love their lemon Nestea.
- Catalan is the common language of Barcelona, as well as the written language. I would say 90% of the population also speaks Spanish, and many even speak English. It was a terrible place to practice my Spanish because everything I read was Catalan and people would resort to English with me nearly every time. Speaking Spanish will definitely help you, but your speaking skills will not be enhanced.
- The abbreviation for Barcelona is Barna, not Barca. Barca refers specifically to FC Barcelona. It is a dead giveaway for who truly lived and breathed Barcelona if they call it by its correct nickname.
Bo de B– This little sandwich stop near the port is insanely popular. It will have a line down the road of people waiting for it to open when it is nice out. Sandwiches are cheap and the location makes it great to sit by the port and people watch. It is not overly “Spanish” but if you are in Barcelona for a while, it’s a good cheap option to eat something different.
Brunch & Cake– I usually stray from anything written in plain English when traveling. This truly is the bruncher’s paradise. Everything they serve is exceptionally Instagram worthy.
Las Fritas (Metro: Barceloneta)- This little stand might easily be the best snack I had in Barcelona. They hand you a funnel of fries with your choice of melted cheese poured across the top. I always did the Roquefort. Grab one of these bad boys and take a stroll down to the beach. Phenomenal.
Maoz (Green Line: Liceu)- There are 2 of these in the gothic area. It is a vegetarian falafel place with little room to eat inside. They only have 2 options of a salad or a pita for 4.50 euro but you can fill it up with toppings as many times as you would like. So cheap and so good!
Restaurant Japones Toyo (Green or blue line: Diagonal)- For 10 euro you can eat unlimited sushi from a conveyor belt. It is 15 euro on the weekends and for dinner. People line up outside before this place opens so you are looking to wait a while if you have a few people with you. Double check the times so you know when the dinner prices start and when they open because it is a little later than one might think.
Zodiaco (Green Line: Poble Sec)- This is THE pinxo place. Stuff-your-face pinxos. The best pinxos I have had in Barcelona and they are only 1 euro each which is a good average price. Pinxo means stick, and it looks like a little kebab stick through a piece of bread piled with toppings. Absolutely wonderful. Ask to have them heated up! It is also very close to Apolo nightclub so I would recommend getting pinxos here and then heading over to Apolo.
Markets/ Food Stores
La Boqueria (Green line: Liceau)- This open air market is a great place to stop and get a cup of fruit, or some chocolate covered strawberries. It is a very popular, busy market for tourists, but lovely to stop through nonetheless. Head towards the back and it tends to be slightly cheaper. The stuff in the front is very showy.
Mercadona– This particular chain of grocery stores was always reliable for me. There are some guidelines to know before shopping at a Spanish grocery that will make your life a little easier, and the locals less mad at you (oops). Take your own bag or backpack to carry your things in. They do sell bags but that is another issue to deal with if you don’t speak Spanish. Produce is cheap, but don’t buy your bread products here. Take advantage of the bread stands on the street! When buying produce, you must weigh it and put a sticker on it before taking it up front to pay. The fruit stand places on the street do it for you.
Corte Ingles (Metro: Plaça Catalunya)- I spent quite a bit of time here. When the sale season hits, take advantage because it won’t happen twice. I dearly miss this department store. They sell everything. You could literally live there. There is also a grocery store in the basement that is awesome. It’s pretty large and they have a few American things like peanut butter. There is a large selection of Lindt chocolate bars in multiple fun flavors.
L’Arca (Liceu)- I stumbled across this place one day in the boutique section of the gothic and had no idea the treasure I had just found. This vintage gown shop has an unbelievable claim to fame. They unknowingly sold an American girl a large number of vintage dresses years ago that later appeared in Titanic. That’s right. They were the suppliers of Kate Winslet’s iconic black and red beaded gown that won an Oscar for Best Costume design- and had no idea. Who wouldn’t want to shop in those footsteps?
Passeig de Graciá (Metro: Passeig de Graciá)- This is the ultimate shopping road in Barcelona that dead-ends at Corte Ingles. There’s upscale Burberry and Jimmy Choo, but also other great stores on the more affordable side that I loved, Stradivarius and Oysho. You could do some serious damage on this road.
Plaça Espanya, Las Arenas (Metro: Plaça Espanya)- There is a bull ring here that was turned into a mall but I didn’t find it to be nearly as amazing as walking Gracia. There were very few stores I was interest in. But there are some great little places to eat there!
Cathedral of Barcelona (Jaume I or Liceu)- Sagrada Familia might be one of the most iconic churches in Barcelona, if not the whole word, but the Cathedral in the gothic section was my absolute favorite. It is stunning, ominous, and open for regular services. If you attend one you will likely get to hear the incredible pipe organ.
Graffiti Tour- Find a real guide to take you on a graffiti tour of Barcelona, as it is the graffiti capital of the world. I took a semester long course on street art so I was fortunate to go on many trips with a professor. I cannot stress enough how amazing the art is. This was also how I first learned about Banksy!
Hospital de Sant Pau- This was the school I attended, which also happened to be an UNESCO world heritage site! Hopefully you will have a class here, too, if you study abroad. This is where all of my classes were and nothing made me feel luckier than walking through the beautiful tiled halls. It used to be a hospital and now it is a medical school. There is a side of it open for tours.
MACBA (Green Line- Liceu)- You don’t necessarily have to go into the museum. As soon as you walk up you will see a massive amount of skateboarders who are incredible. Skateboarding is illegal in the area except for on Tuesdays but they do it all of the time anyway. It’s a little hood but these dudes are the elite skateboarders. They worked their way up to board at the MACBA. It is worth going just to watch them.
Magic Fountain (Red line- Plaça Espanya)- At night during particular times, there is a light and music show in the fountain. It is worth seeing once but I wasn’t in love with it.
Museo Picasso (Yellow Line: Jaume 1)- This is an excellent little museum with a great gift shop in the middle of the gothic. It’s a great starting place and introduction to wandering around the old city. Free on Sundays!
Parc de Ciutadella/ Arc D’Triomph (Red line- Arc D’Triomph)- No its not the one in Paris, but yes it looks pretty similar (prettier in my opinion!) I bet you never realized that many cities have their own Arc D’Triomph! It stands as the opening to Parc de Ciutadella which is a gorgeous stroll with street performers, especially known for its big bubble blowers. Again, theft.
Parc Güell (Green Line: Lessops, then walk 1km)- While this must-do park is a fairly quick visit, it can take a while to get to. This is a stunning park but it is a bit of a walk from the closest metro. It does not take to long to do. Entry is only $8. Many millenials recognize this location from the Cheetah Girls movies.
Sagrada Familia (Blue Line: Sagrada Familia)- Sagrada is a must with any visiting family and friends. You can’t go to Barcelona and not go to Sagrada. I probably went three times between the class visits and people who visited me in Barcelona. Again, watch out for high theft in these tourist areas.
FC Barcelona Futbol Game- This may be one of the more pricey things to do, but you really can’t leave Barcelona without going to a game. This stadium is huge and the players are insanely famous. If you are really lucky, maybe you will catch a glimpse of Shakira cheering on her husband.
Movie Theaters– I loved watching movies in Spanish. I watched Deadpool and Bosque de los Suicidos. It was a fun way to practice Spanish and I felt like a local.
Roller Blading on Barceloneta– Do this early on because you will love it and regret not doing it earlier. Roller blading along the Mediterranean is relaxing and joyous. Watch Shakira’s music video for Loca before you do it. You will find yourself embodying Shakira and married to Piqué. It’s only 5 euros for 1 hour, so if you put them on and hate it, you are not out much.
Hotel Havana (Purple Line- Tetuan)- HIGHLY RECOMMEND This is a beautiful little hotel in the perfect location. Super central. It is very ideal for coming and going with close access to Passeig de Graciá, a major shopping road.
W (Yellow Line- Barceloneta)- This is a super nice hotel with amazing views, a first class breakfast, and great service. So much so that it has become an icon on the Barceloneta skyline. If you are looking for beach luxury, this is it. My only problem with it is that metro access it quite far away, rendering it less than ideal for running around the city. A taxi is the way to go here. DAY PASS ALERT!!! You know I love a good day pass.
Bar Marsella Carrer de Sant Pau, 65, El Raval (Green Line: Liceu)- ABSINTHE: apparently illegal in the United States so Americans go to try it here. This bar is well known for it. This place is from the early 1800’s and has not been updated since. The ceiling is pealing and there are bottles covered in thick dust and cobwebs. It is very authentic and rustic, but kind of a shady area.When you find yourself in a long creepy ally, you are in the right place. Travel with other people. Watch your belongings closely. Just get to where you are going and it will be fine!
Dow Jones/ George Payne/ D9/ The Room– These are all popular places to pregame and do American activities. That being said, do not waste your time here. You are in Spain. You do not want to look back and remember all of the American things that you could have done at home. By the end of the semester, I had branched out so much and people still invited me to these places. There are so many great rustic bars, I had no desire to go to these places. It was disappointing to me that students in our program did their same American things night after night.
Espit Chupitos- Carrer Aribau, 77, L’Eixample (Blue Metro: Provença)- Over 200+ 2 Euro shots, but I recommend Harry Potter and Boy Scout. The secret hack here: order a Monica Lewinsky as a prank on someone. Don’t let someone order it for you, though. I don’t want to spoil the fun, so just trust me on this one.
Lime House– Talk about off the beaten path, this is a true local bar specializing in mojitos of every flavor. The ambiance is dim but comfortable. Travelers who go received local knowledge on this one.
Tree Bar (Green line: Liceu)- The place looks like Neverland. There are fake trees on the inside and little waterfalls. It is kind of magical. They have my favorite sangria in all of Barcelona!
Plaça Reial (Green line: Liceu)- This is a great starting place, but I recommend gothic bars in general. There are some great ones to bar hop around. They are very unique and very local. Plaça Reial is also gorgeous at night. Our program directors told us not to go to this area at night but we felt fine. We also didn’t stay in these areas past 1:00 a.m.
Clubbing is a huge deal in Barcelona. It can be the best night of your life or the worst. When you see a sign that someone famous (i.e. Soulja Boy or Jeremih) are playing at a club, it is most likely not them. It is their DJ. Not always! But be skeptical.
Sometimes there are older Spanish men at the clubs and they will try to dance with you. If you turn around and tell them NO they will move on. You must make it very clear or they will harass you.
The people who hand out flyers might rob you. We watched it happen to one of the guys in our group. Be very cautious at these places as they are American traps with tight spaces and people who are intoxicated.
Dress code: you do not have to be skanky, but dress nicer if you want to get in without a cover. No jeans for girls. Dark colored clothing is always a safe option. Guys, leave your frat star outfits at home. Khakis are maybe the worst thing you can wear. Super dark wash jeans and a solid color button up are ideal enough. If I had just brought one pair of black jeans a black top, I would have worn it every single time I went out and nobody would have been the wiser.
Apolo (Purple Line- Parallel)- My FAVORITE club. It is a very local place with two floors that have different types of music on each floor. Check what is going on that night before you go, sometimes there are different things happening. When I went, there was a cover charge. Sometimes you can sign up for a list to get in early for free, but we never figured that out. But it is 100% worth the cover charge. I would pay it every night (well. That might be a lie. But I would not think twice if people asked me to go.) Sometimes they have swing dancing and other special events. One night the theme was Needles and they played the Beach Boys and classic rock. People could sign up to get free tattoos on stage and we watched a guy get his butt cheek tattooed. I love this place.
Opium/Shoko/Pacha (Yellow Line- Ciutadella/ Vila Olimipca)- These places are all pretty much the same, but Opium is definitely the elite. Saying “Aashi” or any other club promoter who you receive an invite from actually does work. I thought it would be a joke but it works every time- at least for girls. It is always a good idea for guys to walk in with some ladies. If you are a guy without any girls, just ask some girls in line if you can join them to get in. They understand.
W (Yellow Line- Barceloneta)- Remember that distance I mentioned before with this hotel? It is literally a 25 minute walk down the boardwalk from the closest metro. It is better to take a cab from the metro to the W than walk it. It would not be more than 5 euro. This place was not ideal for us as fresh 21-year-olds. I would only go when there is an event targeting young people if you are looking for more of a college crowd. The one time I went it was only hotel guests and older people. It was very awkward and kind of comedic. My parents would have fit in.
Weekend/ Day Trips
Cordoba– Cordoba is a cute, medieval sort of town. Game of Thrones fans would be eager to visit some of the filming locations here.
Granada, The Alhambra– Southern Spain is stunning and far unlike Barcelona. It has more of an Arabic feel, which is especially evident at the Alhambra. Tickets sell out far in advance so book them online before you get there. This is another location with many Game of Thrones filming sites.
Montserrat- Every good, old city has a monastery. This one in the mountains is very cool, but it can be hidden by fog fairly easily. Take transportation up to it and have some cash to buy a little goat cheese from one of the many vendor stands. Real, authentic, Spanish cheeses.
Pyreness/ Andorra– The Pyrenees mountains are a manageable bus ride from Barcelona. It is also one of the easiest ways to visit the small country of Andorra, though it is quite expensive and there isn’t much to see. The “Utopian” rules of the country almost make it interesting enough to visit on a tour.
Salvador Dali Museum– This was absolutely my favorite museum I went to in Spain. It’s not too far outside of the city and showcases phenomenal pieces in a very exotic style. You will know you are in the right place when you see a pink “castle” with eggs on top.