For years, I felt ambivalent about visiting Barcelona.
Fellow travel bloggers didn't seem that into it. Friends told me they weren't all that impressed. And then there was also the constant “you'll get robbed” warning that came up ANY time I heard or read anything about the city.
Barcelona seemed daunting and not that appealing; I was in no rush to visit for years.
But then suddenly I found myself with nearly two weeks of free time to spend in Spain.
I honestly contemplated skipping Barcelona altogether and splitting my time between Seville, Granada, and Cordoba in the south instead. But the draw of Gaudi architecture and cheaper flights between Bucharest (where I'd be flying from) and Barcelona than anywhere else swayed me. I decided to spend a couple days in Barcelona after all.
And I'm SO FREAKING GLAD I did.
Because, as it turns out, everybody was wrong about Barcelona.
Yes, Barcelona is a large city. Yes, there are some very touristy parts. And yes, like in any large city, tourists are often targets for pickpockets and scam artists. But, honestly? I didn't once feel unsafe in Barcelona – and the touristy parts didn't really turn me off at all.
In fact, I LOVED Barcelona.
Though, as I found out as soon as I started professing my love for Barcelona on social media, apparently I'm not alone. Clearly I was just talking/listening to the wrong “everybody”s before.
After spending a total of 4 days in Barcelona, I brainstormed some theories about what contributed to me liking Barcelona so much.
And here are some tips I came up with to ensure that you, too, love your first visit to Barcelona.
Tips for visiting Barcelona, Spain (and actually loving it)
1. Go at the right time of year
I went to Barcelona in late April/early May – before the tourists crowds and summer heat really set in. The weather was warm but not too hot like it can be mid-summer. And there WERE some lines at the major tourist attractions, but once inside things didn't feel too crowded.
I think the time of year definitely can make a difference when it comes to visiting Barcelona and enjoying it. Generally the shoulder seasons in Barcelona are April-early June and September-October, when you'll find comfortable temperatures and fewer tourists.
2. Mix touristy with less-touristy adventures
I couldn't go to Barcelona and NOT see the Sagrada Familia or Barri Gotic or Park Guell, and wouldn't recommend that you skip them, either. The “top sites” in Barcelona really are recommended for a reason – they're all pretty awesome (especially the Gaudi architecture).
But if you JUST focus on Gaudi houses and La Rambla, I guarantee that you'll get overloaded on tourist crowds.
Barcelona isn't a place where you're ever going to get completely away from people, but there definitely are places you can go that are less touristy.
- Instead of eating along touristy (and expensive) Passeig de Gracia, head one parallel street over to Rambla de Catalunya. It's actually the upper part of La Rambla and has the same wide pedestrian section filled with tapas places in the middle, but it's way less crowded and the prices are much more reasonable.
- After you've had your fill of jam-packed Barri Gotic, head to the nearby El Born neighborhood. It has the same narrow streets and Barcelona character, but you'll find few tourists wandering around.
- Take a walk to the beach via the Barceloneta neighborhood. This beachy part of town feels completely different than the center of the city!
3. Get a transport card
On my first day in Barcelona, I bought an Hola BCN! card from a metro station, which covers unlimited rides on all public transport in Barcelona (metro, bus, tram, regional train – even the metro from the airport!). You can buy these cards for either 2, 3, 4, or 5 consecutive days and then never have to worry about paying for public transport.
If you plan to travel a lot around Barcelona, this will likely save you money! Plus, it means never having to pull out your wallet in a metro station.
4. Stay in a good location
I'm definitely of the belief that good accommodation in a good neighborhood can make or break an experience in a new city. I was lucky enough to have some great accommodations in a nice Barcelona neighborhood. I stayed in an apartment rental in the Eixample neighborhood – close enough to everything, but away from all the crowds.
The apartment had a great terrace with a view out over Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and was within a 5-minute walk from a metro stop and quite a few restaurants/cafes.
Other good neighborhoods in Barcelona include El Born, Gràcia, and El Raval.
5. Book things in advance
Even though I visited before the start of high season in Barcelona, I still discovered that most of the popular sites (like Sagrada Familia and basically all the other Gaudi sites) were extremely busy at all times of day.
Just like everywhere else these days, you need to pre-book tickets for all the top sites online. Sometimes well, well in advance.
6. Build in time to wander
Lastly, allow yourself some time to just wander in Barcelona.
I made very few plans before arriving, meaning I could be slightly more spontaneous. (It also meant I could keep circling back to my favorite Gaudi buildings to take way too many photos, but that's beside the point.)
Barcelona is a big city, and it's MUCH more than just Barri Gotic and Passeig de Gracia. I think it's much more enjoyable when you do a little further wandering.
Like I said earlier, I ended up LOVING Barcelona. It's a city I will definitely go back to again, and hopefully enjoy just as much a second time around.
Everybody that told me it was “meh” and dangerous was wrong. I found it to be a beautiful city – and I didn't feel like it was any more dangerous than any other large city I've been to in Europe.
But, of course, you probably shouldn't listen to me, either. Instead, go to Barcelona and see for yourself!
What's YOUR take on Barcelona? Love it? Hate it? Never been?
LET'S PIN IT!