Everybody Was Wrong About Barcelona: Tips for Enjoying Your First Visit

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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.

Plaza in Barcelona, Spain
I wasn't really interested in Barcelona… until I was.

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.


Because, as it turns out, everybody was wrong about Barcelona.

Casa Batllo in Barcelona, Spain
Casa Batllo

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.

Inside Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Inside Sagrada Familia

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

Barcelona Cathedral
Barcelona Cathedral in the popular Barri Gotic

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

Sagrada Familia i Barcelona
Skip Sagrada Familia? I think not!

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.

Door in Barcelona's El Born neighborhood
Head to El Born for a more local feel

For example:

  • 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!
Barceloneta Beach
Barceloneta Beach

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.

Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is big! Using public transit is smart.

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

Park Guell view in Barcelona
Park Guell definitely requires pre-booked tickets!

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.

Street scene in Barcelona

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?


Barcelona Travel Tips

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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83 Comments on “Everybody Was Wrong About Barcelona: Tips for Enjoying Your First Visit

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  1. After been to Barcelona and visited Sagrada n Barcelona Cathedral, I left my heart. When I arrived home I felt like going back again right then and get a flight back.

    It is a very beautiful Sagrada. The antiquity of Barcelona Cathedral caught my eyes. The one thing about Sagrada i love is knowing how Jesus Christ was explained in detailed. That seeing the Crucifixion, I appreciated everything Gid gave me, especially my life.

    My husband and I spent our 43rd wedding anniversary without spending an expensive dinner we stayed in Parallel and we sat down by the Pizza fast food and enjoyed every bite of it. How great the taste and not tasting these pieces of pizza salty at all.

    I love Barcelona I’ll shall return.

    All EVERYONE told me before I went is that I would be robbed. I became kind of scared to go. No one touched me or my stuff, can’t say the same for Ibiza though, where I was robber by the maids who cleaned my room

      I was told the same before going to Barcelona and (luckily) had no issues at all! Sorry to hear that you did in Ibiza. 🙁

    I fell in love with Barcelona, too! I went end of October for a long weekend (I live in the UK) and I didn’t really have high hopes for it, I just expected it to be a normal city with some nice buildings and like you – I almost didn’t go as I was so worried about pickpockets! I was completely overwhelmed with Barcelona. The moment I landed at El-Prat, I was already in love! So much beauty in one city! I love the markets, the parks (I could literally spend the whole day in Parc de la Cittadella, such a beautiful park) everything about Barcelona was just beyond my expectations and I’m so happy I went! Definitely a new fave city for me! I think the only thing I didn’t like about Barcelona was *thinks hard* Catalans don’t have dinner until late, around 8-9pm so it was difficult to find something to eat before then!

      Haha OMG, I’m totally with you on the late dinner thing! I’m not used to eating so late, either! Glad to hear you loved Barcelona, too. It’s definitely one of my favorite European capitals now!

    Great tips on your blog. Wondering if you can give us infoa nd tips. We will be in BCN on July 7-9 for our Carnival Cruise. We hv 2 days before the sailing, wld you recommend places to go to and restos and the safest place to stay.

      All of my tips really are in this post! I highly recommend visiting the Sagrada Familia. And I also enjoyed Park Guell – you’ll want to pre-book your tickets for both online, though. I’m not a foodie, but the best restaurant tip I can give is to not go where all the tourists are going. 🙂

      I liked the El Born neighborhood a lot, but if you want to be close to the city center and good transport, I liked staying at the Grupotel Gran Via 678: http://tidd.ly/97287038

    I’ll be there for a week and a half in December! Great tips, especially booking online in advance! Looking forward to exploring 🙂

      Enjoy! And yeah, definitely book ahead! It’ll save you a lot of stress. 🙂

    I love your photography, nice framing in each picture. Great information for the people who are going to visit Barcelona first time.

    I am very glad that I found your post because I was unsure if I want to go to Barcelona. People that I know and have been there told me the same things about the tourists and pickpockets. I believe that in every large city is kind of the same and I am really not afraid to go there! 🙂 I love Spain and if I didn’t have my own business in London I would straight move there! Thank you for the post!

      I mean, sure, you need to be careful, but I don’t think it’s any worse than the touristy spots in, say, Paris or Rome! If you want to go to Barcelona, do it!

    […] We meandered around El Born, him suggesting streets and shots based on what he thought we would find interesting. I took a ton of photos — photos so different from the “typical” touristy shots you usually see from Barcelona. […]

    A friend and I went to Barca a couple years ago in April and loved it. We also just wandered around and I would def. pay another visit 🙂

      Good to hear! I think wandering around in Barcelona definitely is one of the best ways to enjoy it!

    I lived in Barcelona for 6 months when I was student, absolutely loved it, such a cosmopolitan place and amazing nightlife. I think it’s a lot like London, in that there’s a very well defined tourist trail which you’d probably stick to if you only went for a week, but so many different, unique neighbourhoods to explore if you’ve got a bit more time, one of those places that’s constantly innovating and reinventing itself rather than falling back on past glories. Glad you liked it anyway!

      I think that’s a great comparison, Tom!

    […] falling in love with Barcelona and its awesome architecture, I was reluctant to board the morning AVE train bound for Seville. […]

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