When I first visited Barcelona on an inter-railing trip through Spain back in 2014, I only got a surface level impression of the city. So I get it. It’s hard to know what else there is to do in Barcelona beyond the well-known touristy things. When I lived there for a year, I took every chance to discover something new about the Catalan kingdom. I came across amazing places that short-term visitors don’t know about unless they actually live there. Now, I know more about the city than my own (sorry Belfast), and I’ve written it all here in my detailed local guide to Barcelona so that you can plan your next trip like a local.
How to explore Barcelona like a local
How to get into Barcelona city centre
When you arrive at the airport, there are a few options to get into Barcelona city centre.
Aerobus: This bus takes you from Barcelona airport directly to Plaça Catalunya for €5.90. From here, get the green or red metro line (L3 or L1) to your accommodation.
Bus number 46: The public bus is a far cheaper option, priced at €2.15 for a single. Follow signs to the bus stop at any terminal and look for bus number 46. The journey into Barcelona city centre takes around 40 minutes and the bus stops at Plaça España. From here, get the green metro line (L3) to your accommodation.
Bus number N16: From terminal 2A, 2B or 2C, take the N16 night bus for €2.15 to Plaça Catalunya. The ride takes around 1 hour. Then get the green or red metro to your final stop.
Bus number N17: From terminal 1, take the N17 night bus for €2.15 to Plaça Espanya or Plaça Universitat (one stop after). The ride takes around 1 hour. Jump on the metro at any of these squares if you need to travel further.
R2 Nord train: From terminal 2B in Barcelona airport, take the R2 Nord train to either Sants Estacio or Passeig de Gràcia. Either buy a single ticket for €2.15 or a T10 (10 journeys for €9.95).
Extra information: Two trains run every hour from El Prat airport. Check the Renfe website for specific times. The journey takes 19 minutes from Barcelona airport to Sants Estacio and 26 minutes to Passeig de Gràcia. Also, it’s better to buy the T10 ticket straight away as you will most likely use it on public transport in Barcelona.
A meter taxi takes 30 minutes to get into Barcelona centre from the airport. The ride costs around €40. Order a taxi at +34 93 303 3033.
Which neighbourhood to stay in Barcelona
Barcelona has 14 main neighbourhoods, all of which have different characters, atmospheres and attractions.
Local neighbourhoods in Barcelona
Personally, I prefer the more local areas which have a more authentic feel yet are still close to the main attractions in Barcelona.
Gràcia: The most traditional Catalonian area in Barcelona. It has Parc Güell, petite streets with lots of plazas and local tapas bars. The yellow metro line (L4) is the most common in this area.
Eixample: I lived in this area and loved it! Home to the Sagrada Familia as well as Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Mila. The blue metro line (L5) is the most common in this area.
Central neighbourhoods in Barcelona
If you want to be more centrally located, search for accommodation in these neighbourhoods:
Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter): Known as the old city. The Gothic Quarter is full of cobbled streets and beautiful architecture such as Barcelona Cathedral.
Barceloneta: It has the most popular beach as well as lots of not so good clubs such as Opium and Shoko. If you’re travelling to Barcelona in summer, be aware that the streets in Barceloneta are noisy at night. Barceloneta can be a little bit dangerous at night.
El Born: Quite similar to the Gothic Quarter, with lots of authentic restaurants. El Born is near Ciutadella park.
Cheap neighbourhoods to stay in Barcelona
There are more affordable options too if you’re on a tight budget but they’re a bit further out from the city centre:
Vila Olímpica: A short walk to Bogatell beach and the Port Olímpic.
Poble Sec: Close to Montjüic and the Magic Fountain at Plaza España.
Basically the further out you go, the cheaper the accommodation. As long as there’s a metro or bus station nearby, it may be worth spending extra time travelling into the city to save money. For example, Badalona has super cheap accommodation on Airbnb and it’s a 30 minute ride into Barcelona city centre on the purple metro line (L2).
The cheap but slightly dodgy neighbourhood
El Raval: I just stayed with a friend in El Raval for a week and I have to admit that the central location and daytime atmosphere are great. It also has the main shopping strip, Las Ramblas. However, as a girl travelling solo, it’s not a good idea to be walking around these streets at night. It can be a bit dangerous and pickpocketers aren’t uncommon. From my own experience, the majority of people on the streets at night are men, and most of them have zero respect. Honestly, I have never been cat-called or whistled at so much in my life as I have in El Raval… Even in broad daylight. Even when I was wearing a baggy hoodie and jeans. Of course, not that that should matter. Some man even thought he could grab my arm until I gave him a look that sent daggers into his soul.
Where to stay in Barcelona
Decent hostels cost between €10 and €15 a night during low season. Prices double in the summer to around €20 a night!
I’ve found that when I rent an entire flat on Airbnb, the accommodation is incredible. For group travel, I recommend renting out an apartment and splitting the cost between everyone.
Couchsurfing is free accommodation where you apply for people to host you. Most of the time, your bed will be a sofa. But you’ll save a large amount of your budget. Also it allows you to meet a local who can give you tips on unique things to do in the city!
Where to eat in Barcelona
There are nearly 10,000 restaurants in Barcelona. With such a variety of cuisines, you can find whatever it is that you’re craving (even if it is vegan and gluten-free). I was honestly never stuck for choice when eating out.
Some of my favourite restaurants include El Tianguis (Mexican), El Xampanyet (tapas) and The Veggie Garden (vegan).
What to do in Barcelona
Barcelona is a metropolis with over one and a half million residents, surrounded by both mountains and sea. It’s really no surprise that there are so many things to do. Here’s my in depth local guide to Barcelona:
Spend the day at the beach
Walk, skate or cycle along the promenade at Barceloneta, the main beach in Barcelona. You can also sunbathe, swim or play volleyball. If you want a quieter, less touristic and cleaner beach, check these out:
- Platja de la Nova Icària
- Platja del Bogatell
- Platja de la Mar Bella
- Platja de la Nova Mar Bella
- Platja de Llevant
- Badalona beach (last stop on the purple metro line L2)
I prefer travelling a bit further by train for even nicer beaches:
- Platja de Sant Sebastia
- Platja de Morer
- Platja de Sant Simó
- Cala de l’Home Mort
- Les casetes del Garraf
With a huge coastline, Barcelona offers different water sports such as surfing, paddle boarding, paragliding and jet skiing.
Read on the pier
If you don’t like to get sandy, just head to one of the piers along Barceloneta or the first list of beaches I mentioned above. Chill out, sunbathe, read, repeat.
Tip: Make sure you bring something to sit on or you might not be able to feel anything when you stand up.
Sail on a yacht
When I lived in Barcelona, my roommate asked me if I wanted to go sailing on a yacht that day. Of course I said yes. He found the offer on MeetUp to sail from Port Olímpic for €25 each.
It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in Barcelona because it gave me a completely different perspective of the city. We spent 2 hours chilling on the sea, drinking beer and steering the boat (under the limit).
I skated down to this park at least three times a week if not more. It’s easily one of my favourite parks in the world. Not because it’s overly beautiful, but because of the incredible atmosphere. Every day, people are doing their own thing… Dancing, juggling, doing acro yoga, drumming, playing guitar, slack-lining and making ginormous bubbles.
Bring a blanket, music, snacks and drinks and chill on the grass. Admire the 19th century Cascada. Walk past the Catalan Parliament buildings. Rent a small rowing boat for 30 minutes (€6 for 2 people, €9 for 3 people and €10 for 4-5 people).
I seriously recommend AGAINST visiting Barcelona Zoo in Ciutadella park. Personally, I don’t agree with funding the imprisonment of exotic animals such as elephants, bears and giraffes in such a small, confined and polluted area. The animals don’t belong to us and they’re obviously not happy. As travellers, we have the choice to help or hinder the culture we visit. Before paying into this complete tourist trap, please don’t be ignorant and make the ethical decision to think beyond your ego. Travel is a luxury, and to use that in a way that hurts nature and other living beings is misuse of our privilege. TRAVEL RESPONSIBLY. Rant over.
Check out the Arc de Triomf
Barcelona has its own Arc de Triomf, a really impresive structure that was built by Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas as a gate to the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. Definitely photo worthy!
Watch a magic fountain show
The magic fountain puts on a show with lights, colour, motion and music. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday, and show times vary every other day depending on the month.
Montjuic is a huge complex on top of a hill with phenomenal views of Barcelona city. There are a few different ways to get there:
- Take the funicular from Parallel metro station, and then walk through the gardens to the top (preferred by me) or take the Montjuic cable car for €8.20 (single) or €12.50 (return).
- Take the bus number 150.
- Get the metro to Barceloneta metro stop (yellow line, L4), then walk 15 minutes to Barcelona’s Port Cable Car on Avinguda Miramar. A one way ticket cost €11 and €16.50 return. After this, walk through the gardens to the top of Montjuic or pay extra for the Montjuic cable car.
At Montjuic, you can visit the 17th century castle between 10am and 8pm for €5. I actually never did this to save money. Instead, I walked the Camí de Mar route which links lookout points and offers spectacular views of Barcelona.
Poble Espanyol is an open-air architectural museum with 117 old buildings to represent the culture in Spain. It opens Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 12am, Monday 9am to 8pm, Friday 9am to 3am and Saturday 9am to 4am. Tickets cost €13 during the day and €7 at night.
Personally, I don’t think it’s worth spending that much money to see Poble Espanyol when there are so many other better free things to do in Barcelona. You pay a lot of money just to get inside the town and it’s mostly full of shops and restaurants.
A better way to get a feel for Poble Espanyol is by going to La Terrrazza open-air nightclub or Brunch music festival on any Sunday during summer. The festival lasts from 1pm to 10pm and tickets cost anywhere between €11 to €20.
Piscina Municipal de Montjuic
Head up to the huge pool in Montjuic for a swim with an amazing view of Barcelona. The swimming pool is open from 1st July to 3rd September between 11am and 6.30pm. Entrance costs €6.50.
Take a free walking tour
Learn about the history of Barcelona by taking a free walking tour. Free?! Yes, free. Although it’s always good to tip the tour guide. Ask your hostel if they know of any free walking tours, or research different companies online.
Watch a football game at Camp Nou
I don’t really like watching football, but watching FC Barcelona play a live match is exhilarating! Honestly, I just went to watch Messi do crazy leg magic…
Camp Nou stadium also has a museum if you’re into football.
La Sagrada Familia
The enormous unfinished Roman Catholic Church designed by Gaudí is a must-see (and I was hungover when I went so that tells you just how impressive it is). Buy tickets online to save time queuing. A basic ticket cost €15 but the ticket including access to the towers is €29 (worth it for the view).
La Sagrada Familia is 10 minutes from where I used to live in Barcelona, so I used to run past it all the time at night. I never got bored of the sight!
Witness more of Gaudí’s excellence by taking a tour of Casa Mila for €22, Casa Batlló for €23.50, Casa Ametller for €17 and Casa Les Punxes for €12.50. Personally, I’ve never paid into any of the houses because of the price. I’m sure it’s worth it if you love architecture though!
The incredibly designed mansion was built by Gaudí in 1888. Tickets to Palau Güell usually cost €12. Admission is free on the first Sunday of each month.
Another masterpiece created by Gaudí, Park Güell is a must-see. Tickets into the mosaic part cost €7. If you’re travelling on a strict budget, walk around the free part of the park and climb up to the three crosses for an amazing view of Barcelona.
The closest metro station is Alfons X (yellow line, L4) but it’s still a 20 minute walk from here. If you don’t want to walk, take the bus number 24 or 92 instead.
Hire a bike
With hundreds of weaving streets, there’s no better way to see Barcelona than by bike. Most of the ground is flat so you probably won’t break a sweat (unless you’re Irish like me and can’t handle the heat). Either hire a bike by the hour or for the whole day for as little as €10.
Skate through the streets
Skaters say that Barcelona was made for skating. Rent a skateboard, longboard or rollar blades and let loose on the city. The best places to skate are Plaça Universitat, Sants Station, Barceloneta promenade, Macba and Forum.
Buy food at La Boqueria market
The public Boqueria market in La Rambla has a diverse range of Spanish produce. It opens from 8am to 8.30pm everyday apart from Sunday when it’s closed.
Sit in a square and have a caña
Barcelona has many plazas which are perfect to chill out and have a small beer (caña). One of the best squares is Plaça de la Marcè in the Gothic Quarter. My other favourites are in the Gràcia neighbourhood:
- Plaça del Diamant
- Plaça del Raspall
- Plaça del Poble Romaní
- Plaça Rius i Taulet
- Plaça del Sol
- Plaça de la Revolució
- Plaça de la Virreina
- Plaça del Nord
- Plaça de Rovira i Tries
Play ping pong outside
Another amazing characteristic of Barcelona is that it has ping pong tables dotted about in each neighbourhood. My favourite place to play is in Joanic square.
Tip: Buy a ping-pong set at Decathlon for around €10.
Los Bunkers del Carmel
When I lived in Barcelona a couple years ago, not many people knew about the bunkers lookout point. When I visited for a week in October, it was absolutely packed with both tourists and locals. Still, it’s amazing!
To get there, take the V17 bus, get off at the last stop and walk for 10 minutes to the Bunkers. It’s best to head up there for sunset. Make sure to bring a jumper, drinks and snacks.
Mount Tibidabo has a strange mixture of a rip-off touristy amusement park and a beautiful Roman Catholic Church, Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. It’s worth going to see the church which has free entry but save your money on the amusement park! The elevator to the top of the church cost €2.
To get to Tibidabo, either take the T2A bus from plaza Cataunya for €3 (recommended) or the funicular.
Carretera de les Aigües
I prefer this less well-known part of Colserola Hills compared to Tibidabo. Take the metro to Diagonal, then the train to Peu del Funicular and finally the Vallvidrera Funicular. From here, you can walk the 10km long Carretera de les Aigües trail or up to the Torre de Collserola (big needle on the hill) and through Font de la Budellera garden (where you can see the back of Tibidabo).
Serra de Collserola Natural Park
I came across the perfect escape from Barcelona by accident one day when hiking above Horta. It’s now my favourite part of Collserola.
To get there, take the 45 bus until the very last stop. Then follow the road up the hill, or the dirt trail through the bushes to the Mirador de Horta for an alternative view of Barcelona. If you want to go up further, find the entrance to Collserola Park on the opposite side of the road. Follow the trail until it leads off to the left up the mountain. You’ll come to a big tree. Keep following the dirt path until you come to the second tree (which used to have a swing). This is a perfect spot for a picnic. You can also go further into the park from here.
Tip: Wear suitable trainers. When climbing up to the trees, the path can get quite steep so be careful getting down again. If you’re climbing down in the dark, make sure you have a torch or light on your phone. Bring plenty of food and water.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta
There’s a reason why they named it Horta Labyrinth Park… The big maze! To get there, take the green line (L3) on the metro to Mundet and walk 15 minutes to the park. It’s a really spacious and beautiful park, but be aware that there isn’t any grass to lie down. Opening times are 10am to dusk and tickets cost around €2. There’s free entry on Wednesday and Sunday.
Palau de la música
Many different art forms take place in this concert hall such as Flamenco dancing and opera. There’s also a one hour guided tour available which costs €18.
Watch a flamenco show
The most well-known Flamenco show takes place in Tablao Flamenco Cordobes in La Rambla. It’s been running since 1970. However, it’s priced quite steeply at €44 so research other venues to find a show that matches your budget.
Listen to live music
One of my favourite things to do in Barcelona is to go to Jamboree on a Monday for their jam sessions. The music is mainly jazz, with bits of funk and hip-hop. Tickets cost €4 online or €5 at the door. The event starts at 8pm and ends at 10pm.
Other jazz bars include JazzMan, Little Italy Jazz, Harlem Jazz Club, JazzSí Club, Cafè Salambó, Cafè Vienés, Cocktail & Swing, Milano Cocktail Bar and Los Robadores.
If you prefer something different, go to Panela de Barro in Gràcia on a Sunday after 2pm for live Brazilian music.
Chill out on a rooftop bar
I enjoy nothing more than having a drink with a view. It also gives me that refreshing feeling of escaping the bustle of the city below. If you need inspiration for ideas, check out this list of rooftop bars.
Make your own bar crawl
Don’t get lured by PRs offering free shots for touristy bar crawls. Look up well-rated bars on Tripadvisor, make a list and do your own bar crawl with friends! I like bars such as Limehouse, Never Mind, Rubí Bar and El Bosc de Les Fades.
If you like generic music and 17 cocktails, go to the beach clubs like Opium and Shoko. To be fair, Shoko hosts a free Erasmus dinner with an open bar (wine and champagne) once a week. So get in, get free drinks and head somewhere else afterwards. However, if you want something more authentic, head to Apolo, La Terrrazza or Razzmatazz.
There’s a huge range of art, history and science museums in Barcelona:
- National Catalan Art Museum
- Picasso Museum
- La Virreina Centre de la Imatge
- Museu d’Historia de Barcelona
- CosmoCaixa Museu de la Ciencia
- Museu Frederic Marès
I love going to the festivals and events in Barcelona because it’s always a big party to celebrate different cultures:
- Barcelona Carnival
- Festa de Sant Medir (the sweet festival)
- Festa de La Mercè
- Feria de Abril
- Festa Mayor de Gràcia
- Festa Mayor de la Barceloneta
- Brunch in the Park
- Circuit Festival
- Barcelona Beer Festival
Take a day trip
Barcelona is in the perfect location to take a day trip from the city. My favourites are Montserrat, Tossa de Mar and Girona.
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