What makes Spain’s second largest city unique?
It isn’t the excellent museums or magnificent Gothic cathedral. Nor the wonderful parks, or the great restaurants, bars and nightlife.
It’s not even the fact that you can enjoy 2½ miles of beaches in the morning and go skiing in the mountains in the afternoon.
What makes Barcelona unique is its incredible Modernista architecture: most famously the buildings of Gaudí and his most ambitious creation, the stunning Sagrada Familia.
You won’t find buildings like these anywhere else in the world. They are a form of Art Nouveau that originated in Barcelona and became a symbol of Catalan nationalism.
My favourites are Casa Terrades, the Palau de la Música Catalana, Casa Vicens, Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau, Casa Batllò and Sagrada Familia.
Barcelona’s main airport, Le Prat, is around two hours flying time from the UK and eight miles from the city centre.
There are flights from all over Britain and if you want to go for the day here are a few options: arrival times are in brackets and all times are local.
The Aerobús shuttle bus leaves the airport every 6 to 15 minutes, depending on the time of day.
The journey to Plaça de Catalunya in the centre takes around 30 to 40 minutes, depending on traffic. Tickets are €4 and can be bought from the driver.
There is also a train service from the airport. A shuttle bus takes you from the terminal to the station in around five minutes, and RENFE trains run every 30 minutes into the city centre.
The train links up with the metro system, and the journey to Plaça de Catalunya takes around 25 minutes and costs €3.
If you don’t fancy waiting around for a bus or train, taxis should set you back €20 to €25 and take 20 to 25 minutes into the centre.
It’s a good idea to ask for a rough price before you get in the cab, make sure the meter is running, and get a receipt.
If you'd like more information on getting to Barcelona, take a look at our booking and travel planning section.
Most of Barcelona’s main sights are reasonable walking distances from the each other, but if you want to make the most efficient use of your time, the excellent metro is the fastest way to get around.
There is also is also a very good bus network. Tickets valid for the metro and bus cost €1.30 for a single journey. If you plan to make multiple journeys you might find the T10, a book of ten tickets, better value at €7.20.
A single journey can be a mix of metro and bus travel as long as the trip doesn’t exceed 75 minutes. A T-Day card provides unlimited public transport for one day and costs €5.50 for Zone 1 travel. For more information click here.
If you’re in the city for more than a day, a Barcelona Card is worth considering. It offers unlimited travel on public transport plus discounts on a wide range of attractions, shops and restaurants. A two-day pass is €23.
What To Visit
Sagrada Familia - after the jaw dropping impact of seeing this astonishing church up close for the first time, the first question most people ask is, “when’s it going to be finished?”
Lots of dates have been bandied about ranging from a clearly wide of the mark 2007 to a possibly optimistic 2030. The truth is no one knows for certain as the construction is entirely financed from public donations.
When it is finished, Gaudí’s masterpiece will be the largest basilica in the world and house 13,000 worshippers. If you only have time to see one thing in Barcelona, make it this. Map
Barcelona Cathedral is situated in the oldest part of the city, the Barri Gòtic. Work began in 1298 and the main building was finished in the mid 1400s. The beautiful Gothic façade was added in the 19th-century and the central spire was not completed until 1913. Map
Palau de la Música Catalana - this beautiful concert hall was completed in 1908 and is even more spectacular inside than it is out. It’s worth paying for the guided tour just to see the incredible stained glass, inverted-dome ceiling.
Alternatively, go and see a concert. It doesn’t really matter which one because you’ll probably spend most of your time staring at your surroundings. Map
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau is often overlooked by visitors, but this working hospital is one of the most inventive and colourful Modernista buildings in the city and anyone is free to stroll around the grounds.
It's well worth a visit in it’s own right but as it’s quite close to Sagrada Familia, it would be a shame to miss it. Map
La Pedrera, or Casa Milà, is probably Gaudí’s second most famous building in the Barcelona and was finished in 1910 and people still live in this striking apartment block.
One of the flats has been turned into a museum so you can get a good idea of just how grateful the residents must feel to live there. The roof is the highlight of any visit and not for the city views. Map
La Rambla - sooner or later most visitors end up in this historic avenue. And whatever time you step on to this massive pedestrian thoroughfare it seems as though everyone else in the city has had the same idea.
The atmosphere is intoxicating but you need to be especially vigilant because it’s also a favourite with pickpockets, thieves and conmen.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya is housed in the beautiful Palau Nacional on Monjuïc, the Jewish Mountain. As well as spectacular views over the city, the museum has one of the largest collections of Romanesque art in the world. Map
Parc de la Ciutadella is the city’s largest park and a great place to escape the Barcelona bustle.
It boasts two museums, a zoo, the Catalonian parliament building, the Modernista Arc de Triomf, and a boating lake with a huge cascade fountain that Gaudí helped design. Map
Parc Güell is north of the centre and well worth a visit, especially if you have kids.
Gaudí obviously gave his imagination free rein designing this 50-acre park - not that he seemed to keep it on too much of a leash for anything else - and the result is easily his most flamboyant creation.
The park also contains Gaudí house, which is now a museum dedicated to him. The closest metro stops are Leeseps and Vallcarca. Map
Casa Vicens and Palau Reial de Pedralbes are more or less on the way to the park so you might want to check them out at the same time.
If you want to find an address that’s not listed on this page, click here.
The Catalan region has its own distinctive cuisine, which many regard as the best in Spain. Whether this is true or not doesn’t really matter as Barcelona boasts some of the best restaurants in the country.
The dialling code for Spain is 0034 - tips and services charges.
Agut is a cosy and atmospheric family-run restaurant in the Barri Gòtic. It was founded in 1924 and has been delighting food lovers ever since. Set lunches from €15 - closed Sunday evening and Monday. Map
Tossa - you’re unlikely to find this unassuming but excellent tapas bar by accident, but if you’re hungry after visiting Sagrada Familia it's just seven minutes away. Even if you’re not sight-seeing locally, it's still worth a visit. Eating and drinking here is wallet friendly and there’s outdoor seating if you don’t want to miss the sun. The service is friendly and attentive but it’s not a place to go if you’re in a hurry - 19 Avenida Marquès de l'Argentera. Closed Sundays - 0034 934 576 510 Map
7 Portes - this stylish restaurant serves some of the best Catalan food in the city and offers an excellent selection of wines. It opened in 1836, making it one of the oldest eateries in the city, and it’s certainly one of the best known. It’s always busy but if you don’t have a reservation and they’re full, you probably won’t have to wait long for a table. Map
El Pintor - this former painter’s workshop, just around the corner from the cathedral, specializes in traditional Catalan cooking. The rustic décor - exposed brickwork and wooden beams - is cosy and relaxing, and the food is distinctive, delicious and good value. Map
Café de L'Academia - this charming and romantic restaurant in a 15th-century building in the heart of the Barri Gòtic serves excellent Catalan food at reasonable prices. Set lunches from around €20. Closed weekends. Carrer dels Lledo 1 - 933198253. Map
Taller de Tapas - there are several branches of this tapas bar and restaurant in the city centre, all serving excellent Catalan cooking at reasonable prices, mouth-watering daily specials and multilingual menus. The original opened in Plaza Sant Josep Oriol, just a short walk from the cathedral. Map
Cal Pep is one of the best places in the city for tapas, and one of the liveliest. In addition to all the tapas staples, including some wonderful cured hams, there is always a wide variety of daily specials on offer - closed Sunday, and Monday lunch. Map
Orio - this restaurant serves traditional Basque-style dishes and pinxtos - essentially tapas on bread. The food is excellent and good value, the house wines are inexpensive and very quaffable, and staff are friendly and attentive. Fresh oysters are a house speciality and they serve some of the best croquetas in the city. Map
Irati - this inexpensive eatery off La Rambla - Cardenal Casanas 17 - was reputedly one of the city’s first tapas bars. In the stand-and-eat bar you simply ask for a plate and help yourself to the delicious food. Everything comes on a cocktail stick and these are counted to calculate the bill. There’s also a restaurant area at the back. Closed Sunday - 902520522. Map
Like most European cities, Barcelona is generally quite safe. But you should be wary in quiet streets and passageways after dark, especially in the Barri Gòtic.
Thieves and pickpockets tend to work in groups and you should be particularly careful in crowded areas such as La Rambla.
Beware of smiling strangers pointing out alleged stains on your clothing and itinerant flower-sellers who stand very close - these people are most likely about to pickpocket you.
Don’t flash your cash in public or leave valuables such as handbags, cameras or jewel-incrusted mobile phones unattended or exposed: especially in bars, cafés and restaurants with outside seating areas.
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat, buy gifts, change currency, or generally spend money, try not to do it on the main drag of the La Rambla.
This is one giant tourist trap and, with a few exceptions, almost everything on offer here is overpriced and/or extremely underwhelming.
Also be aware that the locals go for their holidays in August and many of the shops, restaurants and bars will be closed.
If you’re wandering the city on a Monday some of the main sights and museums will be closed - including Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró. So check opening times to avoid disappointment.
All major credit cards are widely accepted throughout the city, and there are plenty of ATMs and places to change money.
Tips and service charges - tipping is not expected but most people round up their restaurant, cafe, bar and taxi bills. If you do want to leave a tip, 5 to 10% is the norm depending on how you rated the food and service.
Spain's currency is the Euro; and for local time and other useful information click here.
Learning the language - if you'd like to brush up on your Spanish, or you'd just like to learn some basic phrases, you might find these free sites useful.
BBC Languages - multimedia courses for beginners and the more advanced.
Fodors - a range of useful phrases with audio and written pronunciation guides.
Ielanguages - basic to more advanced Spanish with pronunciation guides.
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