Like many other cities on the Mediterranean, Barcelona was founded by the Romans. The original settlement, called Barcino, was a small port located on the same spot as today's cathedral. The town was overshadowed by Tarragona, the capital of the province. Both the Visigoths and the Moors invaded Barcelona; however, their influence was not as important to the future of the city as the arrival of the Franks in the late 9th century. It was at that point that Barcelona and Catalonia started shaping their own identity, different from the rest of Spain.
This is most apparent in the language – Spanish, or Castilian, has many Arabic words, while Catalan has many French words instead. So Catalan is not a Spanish dialect, but a language in its own right, related to other Romance languages.
Barcelona's history is seen everywhere in the city. The oldest areas are located by the sea, including the shopping enclave Barri Gotic. On the other side of the main boulevard, La Rambla, lies the legendary Raval district. Until the 1980s this was the slum area, home to the city's own Chinatown (Barrio Chino) and the red light district. Today, designer shops and cafés have moved in. Further north is fashionable Eixample, the area created as a result of the 19th-century expansion of the city.
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Barcelona's impressive range of sights caters to all tastes – whether you are an architect, a designer, a football fan, a historian, or even a city planner – there is something for everyone in the most self-assured city on the Mediterranean.
You can start your day by losing yourself in the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter, then take a stroll on La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, and why not enjoy the Meditteranean sun in one of the city's many stunning beaches?
Just be sure to visit some of Gaudí's masterpieces, including La Sagrada Familia, Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, and the mesmerizing Park Güell.
So here's a list of the best things to do and see in Barcelona:
The easiest thing is to divide Barcelona's overwhelming range of restaurants into two categories: the new and the old. Some of the world's most modern restaurants, managed by the world's most innovative chefs (the most famous is Ferrán Adrià) can be found here, but there is also traditional Catalonian cuisine, which, despite being heavy on occasion, includes very good vegetable dishes: samfaina, a kind of ratatouille; escalivada, grilled, peeled peppers, aubergines, and onions; espinacs a la Catalana, spinach fried with garlic, pine nuts, and raisins, among others. Best known is the simple rustic pa amb tomàquet: a slice of bread with olive oil, salt, and freshly crushed tomatoes.
"The new ones" in particular may be expensive, but many of the best-known chefs' apprentices have now opened their own lower-priced restaurants. Generally speaking, "the old ones" provide better value for money, although even the traditional restaurants know how to charge. You should always reserve a table in Barcelona, and dinner here is not served until 9pm.
Below is a list of the best places to eat in Barcelona:
Barcelona's café culture is half Italian and comes with its own set of simple rules: café con leche (cafè amb llet in Catalan) is for breakfast, preferably with a croissant; mid-day, especially after a meal, the locals have an espresso, café solo (un cafè) or a cortado (un tallat), which is an espresso with milk (café Americano is what some would call watered-down versions of the two first coffees); in the afternoon, or after dinner, order a café solo corto, a strong espresso, or a carajillo—a café solo with Spanish brandy.
And since you are in Barcelona, you cannot leave the city without having some crispy churros with a hearty cup of hot chocolate.
Here are some of the best coffee shops in Barcelona:
Shopping in Barcelona offers lots of interesting browsing. Unusual shops can be found in most parts of the city, but those who want to be efficient should focus on Plaça Catalunya and the Gothic Quarter. This last one offers plenty of shopping opportunities throughout its maze of medieval streets – souvenirs, clothing, shoes, quirky shops, and everything you can think of, you will find here.
For those into high-end fashion, head to Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona's version of the Champs-Élysées. Shopping malls abound around Barcelona, El Triangle and Maremagnum are the most popular ones among tourists due to their central location. The gigantic department store El Corte Inglés is located at Plaça Catalunya. Come here for the wares, but also for the people-watching.
Below is a list of the best places for shopping in Barcelona:
Best Time to Visit
Barcelona, the second-largest city in Spain, is the first tourist destination of the country, ahead of its rival Madrid. The city is particularly appreciated for its climate because it enjoys beautiful and sunny days eight months per year. It is popular with tourists from around the world during the two summer months because of its high temperatures, which can reach up to 37°C. The many nearby beaches are perfect for a swim after a long day of sightseeing but expect a busy crowd.
Spring and autumn are, therefore, the best time to visit Barcelona. During these seasons, you can enjoy the sun and the beautiful and shining days away from the holidaymakers of July and August. Besides, the prices are more affordable, so it is easier to find a place to eat and sleep.
It is also possible to explore the Catalan capital during the winter because the climate is cool, but the temperatures are still mild. You will not find negative temperatures or frosts at this time of the year.
Frequently Asked Questions about Barcelona (FAQs)
Is Barcelona a safe city?
Yes. Although Barcelona is a big city – the second-largest in Spain and the most visited city in the country – it is still considered a fairly safe place for tourists. However, as with most popular tourist destinations, such as Paris, pickpockets and bag thieves are the biggest concerns here. So be careful when walking around and taking pictures near major tourist attractions, such as La Rambla, Plaça Catalunya, and La Sagrada Familia.
What is Barcelona famous for?
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is famous for its remarkable architecture, gold-sand beaches, vibrant nightlife, world-class cuisine, and of course, its local football team, commonly known as Barça.
Is Barcelona expensive?
Yes, Barcelona is quite expensive to visit but still more affordable when compared to other European destinations, such as Paris, London, and Rome. As of today, the average cost per traveller in Barcelona is between €90-120 per day.
How many days do you need for Barcelona?
First-time travellers should try and plan around 4-5 days – enough time to visit the city's main attractions, explore its characterful neighbourhoods and still have time to kick back and relax at the beach.
Passport / Visa
Spain can be visited visa-free for up to 90 days by citizens of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Malaysia, Israel, UAE and most countries in America. If you are unsure whether or not you need to apply for a visa, we recommend contacting the embassy or consulate in your country. International (non-Schengen) travelers need a passport that is valid for at least 3 months after the end of their intended trip in order to enter the Schengen zone. Citizens of Schengen countries can travel without a passport, but must have a valid ID with them during their stay.
Barcelona El Prat Airport
Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN), Barcelona’s main airport, is located 13 km southwest of the city centre.
Aerobus serves both terminals every 5 minutes before leaving for the city centre with stops at Plaza Espanya, Plaza Universidad and Plaza de Catalunya Square. A one-way Aerobus ticket costs 5.90€ (10.20€ for a round trip) and the trip takes about 25 minutes to reach the city center.
Local trains leave for Barcelona every 30 minutes (from the train station next to terminal 2). From terminal 1 to terminal 2 there is a free connecting shuttle bus that takes around 10 minutes. The train takes about 30 minutes to Barcelona's Sants station and the ticket costs 4 €.
Taxis are available just outside the terminals. Price depends on traffic, luggage, day of the week and time. The average price is around 35 €.
Consult the airport website to learn more about other public transport routes servicing the airport.
Address: Barcelona El Prat Airport
Girona-Costa Brava Airport
Girona airport lies about 100 km from the centre of Barcelona, and there are three ways of getting between the two places.
Buses will take you to Estacio d’Autobusos Barcelona Nord. They depart on a schedule based on the flights arrival times. Prices for a one-way ticket start from 16 €.
A taxi to Barcelona city centre may cost around 125 €, so a better option might be to stay overnight at Girona and travel by bus the next day.
There are also trains to and from Barcelona from central Girona but you will have to find a solution to get from Girona train station to the airport.
Address: Girona-Costa Brava Airport
Phone: +34 913 21 10 00
Tickets for the underground and trams can be bought from travel information booths and from stations. They are valid for one trip. Bus tickets are bought from the driver. There are also a selection of different travel cards to purchase if you know that you will be travelling a lot.
Barcelona’s black and yellow taxis can be hailed on the street, at stations or called by telephone. Standard fares apply between 6am and 10pm from Monday to Friday. At all other times, including public holidays, fares are higher. Remember that drivers often have minimal small change and do not take credit cards.
Most known taxi compagnies:
Barnataxi: +34 933 22 22 22
Fonotaxi: +34 933 00 11 00
Ràdio Taxi: +34 933 03 30 33
Phone: +34 933 22 22 22
The post offices in Spain are called "Correos" (Correu in Catalan). Stamps can be purchased from post offices and kiosks - "Estancos". The main post office is located at Plaça d'Antonio López, near the Barceloneta metro station, and it is open from Monday to Friday 8:30am to 8:30pm.
Address: Plaça d'Antonio López, s/n, Barcelona
Phone: +34 934 86 83 02
Pharmacies in Barcelona take turns at operating the after-hours service. The nearest pharmacy that is open at night will be posted on the door of an adjacent pharmacies. Pharmacies with 24-hour service are:
La Rambla 98
+34 933 01 28 43
Carrer d'Aribau 62
+34 934 53 92 20
Address: La Rambla 98, Barcelona
Phone: +34 933 01 28 43
Country code: +34
Area code: 93
220 volts (125 volts in some older buildings), 50 Hz