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11 Essential Tips for First-timers in Barcelona

Picture of Tara Jessop
Updated: 28 February 2018
Combing great food, stunning architecture, great nightlife and even a beach, Barcelona is a top travel destination for good reasons. Like in every place though, there are a few tips and tricks which will help you get to know the city and enjoy your time in Barcelona even more.

Do your research

Barcelona is one of the biggest tourist destinations in Europe and as such there are inevitably going to be people looking to take advantage of unknowing travellers. Doing a little research into what to look out for will quickly pay off and help you avoid any unpleasant experiences. Paying over the odds for frozen paella, ready-made sangria and a poor attempt at a flamenco show on a side street of La Rambla is not going to get you off to a good start with the city.

Look up

Barcelona is a city famous for its architecture: from the Modernist designs of the late 20th century to more recent buildings by top international architects. While some of these monuments are clearly marked out, other more anonymous masterpieces need to be looked out. Be sure to keep your eyes open as you explore the city and remember to look up every now and again as you may just be passing by the most amazing house you’ve ever seen.

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Central Barcelona | © Kirkandmimi / Pixabay

Show a little cultural sensitivity

Like each of Spain’s autonomous provinces, Catalonia has a strong local identity with its own cultural traits and traditions. Show a little sensitivity to this when you speak to locals and when you plan your trip: bullfighting, for example, is now banned in Catalonia and many Catalans are strongly objected to it. Equally, although there are many places offering flamenco shows in Barcelona, this is an art-form native to the south of Spain and does not have the same history of tradition in Barcelona.

Use your feet

The Catalan capital is best explored by foot, especially if you’re visiting the historic city centre. The narrow roads of the Gothic Quarter are not suited for cars or buses so your feet will be your best ally when getting around these iconic neighbourhoods. Plus, this way you’ll save money, do the environment a favour and have more time to admire what’s going on around you.

Walking through the Gothic Quarter | © Tokyographer/Flickr

Tune in

Barcelona is very much a musical city, whether it’s classical music at the Palau de la Música Catalana or electronic music at the likes of Moog. Attending a concert, DJ set or even one of Barcelona’s world-famous music festivals is a great way to experience the city and rub shoulders with some locals. The spring and summer are the best time for open-air events including Barcelona Jazz Festival and Primavera Sound, but during the cooler months you’ll find great line-ups at Barcelona’s many nightclubs.

Ditch the sangria

You may think of sangria when you imagine relaxing with a drink in Spain but this isn’t really the tipple of choice in Barcelona. For an aperitif why not try a glass of vermouth, a fortified wine which has very much made a come-back in Barcelona. Alternatively, try a glass of Cava, the local sparkling wine which is made with the same stringent process as French Champagne.

Try a traditional vermouth | © Michael Meraner/Flickr

Keep your bag close

Unfortunately, Barcelona still struggles with a pick-pocketing problem with thieves primarily targeting travellers. Avoid yourself the long queue at the police station by keeping your belongings in a closed bag and always keeping your bag within sight. Also avoid keeping your mobile phone or wallet in your pockets or putting them on display on the table when you’re at a restaurant or bar.

Run for the hills

One of the best ways to enjoy spectacular views of Barcelona is to get out of the city centre and head for the nearby hills. From the top of Tibidabo you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city with the Mediterranean on the horizon. More easily accessible, Montjuïc is within close walking distance of the city centre and is home to some beautiful parks and gardens with pleasant vistas of the city.

The view from the top of Tibidabo | © Tiburi / Pixabay

Go for a tour

A walking tour of Barcelona is a great way to get to know the city and its history. There are a number of excellent tour guides providing commented tours of Barcelona which take into consideration your particular interests. There are history tours which provide a wealth of information on Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War. There are also tours which take you through one of the city’s famous fresh food markets and teach you how to cook your own Spanish dishes afterwards.

Try the seafood

As a city on the shores of the sea, Barcelona is home to some excellent seafood restaurants. Here you’ll find classic dishes such as lobster, mussels or clams, but also more unusual seafood such as goose barnacles, sea urchins and razor clams. What’s more, a lot of these can be sampled without breaking the bank as you’ll find them on offer in tapas bars across the city.

Fresh fish at the market | © Michele Ursino/Flickr

Look past the most popular sites

There are some incredibly famous monuments and landmarks in Barcelona and while these are all worth checking out at least once in your life, there’s a lot more to the city than La Rambla and the Sagrada Família. Lesser well-known neighbourhoods like Sants or Poblenou have a lot going for them, from authentic bodegas to cool art projects or indie music venues. Be prepared to venture off the beaten track and you’ll be rewarded with some great experiences.