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Barcelona city guide

Maria Mckenzie

Written by:
Maria McKenzie

With its spectacular mountain ranges, golden sandy beaches and vibrant nightlife, it’s no wonder why Barcelona is often called a ‘city of contrasts.’

This diversity allows you to be sipping a mojito on the beach one day, hiking through the Pyrenees mountains on the city’s outskirts the next, and enjoying the finest Catalan cuisine downtown by night.

But with so many things to see and do in and around cosmopolitan Barcelona, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

While most guidebooks point tourists in the direction of Barcelona’s biggest attractions – La Rambla and La Sagrada Familia – there’s a lot to be said for getting under the skin of a place by venturing beyond the top sights and exploring areas where the locals outnumber tourists.

This guide aims to help you enjoy a more authentic experience in Barcelona.

Our writer, Spanish-speaking Maria Mckenzie skipped the places overrun by tourists and wandered into the city’s diverse districts to uncover places worth scouting out on your next trip.

Her recommendations include shopping in a converted bullring, where to find good local produce and tapas in the city’s labyrinth of backstreets, how to zip around the city like a local and where to relax away from the city hustle and bustle.

Of course, you’ll also need a place to stay. We suggest some alternatives to hotels, including apartment and B&B options in the city.

Essential travel information

Before you visit Barcelona, don't forget to read this.

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Essential travel Information

Currency: Euro (€)

Best time to visit Barcelona:

May – September

The late spring and early summer months (May – early July) are a great time to visit Barcelona when travel rates are lower than during the peak summer months and the heat is most manageable. August and September are also good times to visit, but the humidity can make it unpleasantly hot.

Getting around: Taxi/bus/underground (metro)/ Tramlink (Tranvia)

With so many travel options, it’s easy to navigate around the city.

If you’re travelling by public transport, buy a Barcelona City Card. There are many to choose from and it can be confusing. The T-Dia will cover unlimited journeys on all modes of transport for one day, for one person. If you’re travelling in a group, the T-10 is a multi-person travel card, valid for 10 journeys. These can be purchased at any corner shop within the city.

Airport transfers:

Downtown is a 15-20 minute ride away from EL Prat Airport, the city’s main gateway. Budget around €25 for a one-way taxi.
An express Aerobus service also departs El Prat regularly and stops at Plaza Catalunya, Barcelona’s busiest square. At the time of writing, single tickets cost €5.30 (£4.20) or €9.15 (£7.40) return.

Renting: Car/bike/motorbike.

Although public transport is very efficient and well maintained here, you may want to hire a bike, moped or car to give yourself a lot more flexibility in and out of the city.

Be sure to shop around for the best deal to suit your needs and when driving, make sure you keep to the speed limits and always have your driving licence and car rental documents with you.

Time zone: (CET) Greenwich Mean Time +1

Dialing codes:

International country code: + 34 (Spain)
Area code: 93

Emergency numbers:

112.

Things to do in Barcelona

Escape the tourist bubble and do something different.

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Pyrenees Mountains day trip

Escape the city's hustle and bustle and join a guided hike in the mountains. This full day tour takes you north of the city to visit The Montseny, a natural park where wild boars, badgers and eagles roam freely. The next stop is the Romanesque Vic, an ancient settlement where you can wander the streets and marvel at the magnificent buildings. The guided tour continues along the Pyrenees Mountains to Queralbs, where you'll jump aboard a zip train to the stunning mountain valley of Vall De Nuria. Pack wisely: bring sensible footwear, sun cream, bottled water and your camera.

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El Poble Espanyol

Spain is a very diverse country. The quaint white cottages of Mijas in Andalucía are a far cry from the gothic buildings you’ll find in Catalonia. But seeing as you’re on Spanish soil, why not take the opportunity to extend your visit to other parts of Spain? This is exactly what you can do at El Poble Espanyol, ("The Spanish Village") and venture no further than the hills of Montjuic. This open-air museum has recreated the streets and squares of Spain where you can shop, stroll and photograph away. Who has to know that you never left Barcelona?

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L'Estel Ferit

It's inevitable that you'll find yourself on the beach during your stay. While you're there, look out for L'Estel Ferit (which translates as 'the Wounded Star' in English). This sculpture, made up of four cubes stacked randomly one above the other, pays homage to the Barceloneta district. The cubes are thought to represent the 30m2 apartments (known locally as ‘quarts de pis') that were once inhabited by fishermen towards the end of the 19th century. Of course, the structure is always open to interpretation…

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Rent a Scooter

You can't escape the familiar sound of a scooter engine on Barcelona's streets, and that’s because everybody in Barcelona has a scooter. Everybody. That’s because they are the best way to city hop. So why not get in on the action yourself and rent two wheels? If you’re not feeling that confident braving the city’s chaotic roads, join a guided scooter tour. Tours will take you to the Guadi hotspots, the sites of Montjuic or along the beautiful Port Vell, depending on what you want to see. Just don’t forget your driving licence.

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Tapas Tour

The Spanish love their food, and so will you after you sample some of Catalonia’s best tapas bars. A selection of tours concentrate on a different district’s food specialty, from the best spots for those with sweet tooths in the born district to the Michelin star restaurants in The Old City quarter.

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Parc del Laberint d'Horta

Just a 30-minute subway ride away from the city centre, Parc del Laberint d'Horta ("park of the plant maze") takes its name from its main feature, the hedge maze. Designed in 1792, Barcelona’s oldest garden is home to the Torre Soberana, the summerhouse of previous Kings of Spain. Rich in plant life, waterfalls and mythical sculptures, the park is one of Barcelona’s most beautiful green settings.

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Las Arenas

Ever since Catalonia banned bull fighting, the government decided to put the rings to good use. In the case of Las Arenas, it’s shopping. After a complete renovation, the former bullring has been transformed into a modern shopping complex with boutique shops and a rooftop terrace bolted on, commanding 360- degree views of the city. Picture: Maria McKenzie

Best cafés and light bites in Barcelona

Where locals love to linger for lunch and latte art

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Hofmann pastry shop

For those of you with a sweet tooth, the Hoffman bakery is worth a snack stop. Sweeping our fascination with cupcakes to one side, Hoffman serves exquisite cakes, pastries and jams, cookies and macaroons, all baked on-site. If the smell of freshly baked treats doesn't tempt you inside, its range of melt in the mouth chocolate will, including the caramelised croissants and canned chocolate sardines.

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La Ribera SA

La Ribera SA is not only one of Barcelona's oldest shops, it's a great one-stop shop for all things Spanish, including local cheese, meats, wines and turrones (nougat). La Ribera is also worth stopping by for its variety of fresh olives, stored in huge barrels. Grab a tub and get choosing!

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Forn Mistral

Coffee is big in Barcelona and it's often teamed with a pastry. That is why you'll see locals flock to Forn Mistral (Mistral Bakery) in the early hours of the morning. This place has gained a local reputation for its croissants, which are among the best in the city (we can vouch for that). If croissants aren't your thing, Forn Mistral's range of sweet and savoury cakes and breads might be. The red pepper cake served with bacon is a recent addition to the menu and the Ensaimadas Cabell D' Angel (Angel hair pastries made with strands of pumpkin) are a local favourite.

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Granja La Pallaresa

It may be hard to find, but this small café is well worth the search. Offering a menu of only pastries, desserts and chocolate, it's one nobody will want to miss out on. Around for the last 70 years, Granja La Pallaresa has locals hooked on its creamy hot chocolate and sugary churros (a Spanish delicacy) as well as its Crema Catalana (a Spanish crème brulee) and fluffy muffins. Be sure to check the opening hours and try to get there early as it fills up with locals quickly!

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B My Bagel

Breakfast in Barcelona is typically a small affair, consisting of a cortado (coffee with milk). You can add a croissant or cake if you fancy it, but generally the Spanish aren't big on the most important meal of the day. if you can't skip breakfast, there's no shortage of places to grab a bite: you just need to know where to go. If you like your breakfast sandwich, B My Bagel serves up savoury and sweet bagels stuffed with anything you want– from the classic salmon and cream cheese to chocolate and coconut – alongside freshly baked breads and pastries.

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Quimet I Quimet

At first glance this little bar would pass as a wine cellar with whites and reds stacked from floor to ceiling. But it's not just the vast choice of wines that makes this bar special. Its range of tapas is well worth a try if you're open to its experimental menu. The montaditos (sandwiches) are stuffed with salmon and honey truffles or tuna with caviar and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. If you're feeling more conservative, try the cheese board served with fruit jelly.

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Milk Bar

This bar-café-restaurant in the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) offers a wide menu – from snacks to smoothies to dinner. By infusing different flavours in the food, Milk Bar's owners have created a distinctive menu, with the added bonus of the produce being locally sourced. Milk Bar's ‘Recovery Bruch’ offers a host of breakfast options, including pancakes, Spanish tortillas (omlettes) and hearty fry-ups, giving you a great excuse to start on the cocktails early!

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Can Paixano

Can Paixano is popular with locals, who often spill outside. But don't let the crowds put you off. This restored 19th Century bar serves up some of the best Spanish delicacies in Barcelona, including cured meats, sausages and sobrasava (sausage pâté), alongside a wide selection of sparkling wine and cava. Pick one that takes your fancy and try out your Spanish on the locals.

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Puda Can Manel

Barceloneta, also known as the Fisherman's quarter, is the obvious place to head for decent seafood. Puda Can Manel is a favourite with locals, if you can look beyond the bland façade. It's one of Barceloneta's oldest restaurants and has been serving the district since 1870. The friendly staff will serve you decent portions, including classic Spanish fish dishes such as chiperones (baby squid), pescafritos (whitebait) and raee (monkfish).

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La Muscleria

Seafood fans w to summon a table at La Muscleria, where diners don’t come here for paella but to enjoy a Belgium delicacy: mussels. Try them cooked in blue cheese, mushroom, curry sauce or even allioli (a garlic-mayo sauce), a Spanish favourite. Portions are generous and arrive on your table with frites. The informal and lively atmosphere makes it a good spot to kick back, with a glass of Spanish wine or Sangria. Get there: Carrer Malloca, 290.

Best places to stay

Hip places to hibernate – no chains allowed.

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Casa Camper

Taking over a 19th century building in the El Raval district, Spanish shoe brand Casa Camper has designed a hotel that clearly embodies the Camper ethic. The result? Sleek, minimalist interior design that doesn’t compromise on quality or comfort. The Camper slippers and hammocks in the ‘mini lounge’ area make you feel comfortable - which can only be a good thing after all the city sightseeing. Complimentary Wi-Fi, breakfast and 24-hour snack buffet is also available.

Get there: Carrer Elisabets, 11.

Photo: Casa Camper

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Bonic Hotel

Bonic guesthouse is a charming alternative to hotels on the well-trodden tourist trail. Its central location makes it a great base for sightseeing and its six individually designed rooms offer a comfortable place to lay your head. Priding himself on the intimate and friendly ambience of the hotel, owner Fernando will do anything to give you a unique Barcelona experience, and yes, that includes a drink on arrival…

Get there: Carrer de Joseph Anselm Clave, 9.

Photo: bonic-barcelona.com

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Hostal L’Antic Espai

Nestled in the Eixample district, Hostal L’Antic Espai, which translates as ‘The old Space’ in English, oozes charisma, retaining its charm of the 1900s while offering guests the standard 21st century amenities. Eclectic antiques are dotted around the property, elegant chandeliers hang from the ceilings and walls are adorned with works of art, giving the guesthouse a distinctive character. Friendly owners complete the experience, making this one of Barcelona’s most original places to stay.

Get there: Gran Vía de les Corts Catalanes, 660.

Photo: anticespai.com

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39 Steps

39 steps lead the way to your very own one bedroom, chic city centre apartment - housed in a 200 year-old building and tucked away on a quiet street just off Placa de Catalunya. This stylish, self-contained space features a fully equipped kitchen, power shower, spacious bedroom and trendy living/dining area decked out with TV, DVD player and ipod dock. Free Wi-Fi is also included. Pack light: those 39 steps are narrow!

Get there: Carrer del Bonsuccés, 6.

Photo: 39 Steps

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The Mirror

Barcelona is a city that raises the design bar high. The Mirror Hotel just happens to raise it higher; all white walls, floors and sparkly mirrors. The cutting edge design isn’t limited to the bedrooms. Statues of angel winged men (designed by Christop Mertens) are placed throughout the property, bringing an avant-garde twist to the hotel. The service is friendly, and the location is central: just be prepared to see yourself from every angle!

Get there: Carrer de Còrsega, 255.

Photo: themirrorbarcelona.com

Best bars and clubs

A roundup of rooftop bars, cool clubs and evening spots

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Les Gens Que J'aime

Tucked away in the Eixample district, Les Gens Que J'aime is a small basement bar that's brimming with character. Easily missed due to its tiny entrance, the narrow wooden staircase leads you to an intimate bar that's popular with locals. Pull up a seat and muse over the authentic vintage paintings and photographs, chat with the resident fortune teller perched under the stairs and order something alcoholic from its extensive cocktail list. Get there: Calle de Valenica, 286.

Photo: Les Gens Que J'aime

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El Bosc De Les Fades

Twisted branches, tables perched under the trees, thunder storm effects and rustling noises all come together to make you feel like you're sitting in an enchanted forest. El Bosc De Les Fades – which translates as 'the fairies' forest' - is a charming indoor bar hidden in a side street just off Ramblas. Catering to all ages, it's a great spot for evening drinks, cocktails or a couple of tapas – in a magical setting. Get there: Rambla de Santa Mónica, 4.

Photo: El Bosc De Les Fades

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Dos Trece

If art and music is your thing, then this hip cocktail bar and lounge is for you. Upstairs the Gaudi style bar features pop art, spotlights and quirky furniture. It may seem a strange combination, but somehow it works. The Moroccan-style basement lounge regularly hosts club nights promoting local talent. Drinks are fairly priced, so be warned: you might be leaving a little worse for wear… Get there: Carrer del Carme, 40.

Photo: Dos Trece

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Barroc Cocteleria

Nestled in the lively Born district, this cocktail bar infuses the old with the new. The dark stained wooden floors, antique furniture and grand mirrors all work together to create an intimate ambience, while the bar offers an extensive list of experimental and original cocktails. The Barroc mojito is superbly made, infusing the classic mint recipe with fresh berries and even more alcohol. Sushi dishes are also on the menu. Get there: Carrer Antic de Sant Joan, 10.
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L'ascensor

Step inside the L'Ascensor (that's the lift to you and me) to indulge in some classic cocktails made with nothing but expertise (and lots of alcohol!). This watering hole is tricky to find as it's hidden in the back streets of the Barri Gotic, but well worth the effort. Popular among the younger crowd, L'ascensor is full of character and its Cosmopolitan is worth coming back for, not to mention the Pina Colada… taxi! Get there: Carrer de Bellafila, 3.

Photo: L'ascensor Facebook

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Absenta Bar

As the name suggests, this bar focuses on serving Absinthe, with no less than 20 varieties of the liquor on the menu. Look a little closer and you'll discover that this bar is so much more than just a place to slug back absinthe. Its selection of Argentine empanadas (stuffed pastries), wide variety of teas, tapas and cocktails pull in the locals again and again. While its regular art exhibitions, live music and short film projects make this bar a local talking point. Take a seat on the sunny terrace, enjoy a drink or two and you'll be leaving in high spirits. Get there: Carrer de Sant Carles, 36.

Photo: Absenta Bar Facebook

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7 Sins Lounge

Restaurant by day, bar by sundown and club 'til sunrise, this lounge - which spills over two floors - is super glam and sexy, (the red décor and furnishings dominate) and is decked out in chandeliers and comfy chesterfield sofas. It's popular with locals in search of a good night out, and diners also come here for the house specials: gourmet burgers and gin and tonic. Get there: Carrer de Muntaner, 7

Photo: 7 Sins Lounge

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Lletraferit

Lletraferit is the perfect spot to read a novel or ponder over the day's news with a glass of wine or something caffeinated. The bar is stocked with reading material from novels and newspapers to encyclopedias, all neatly arranged in towering bookcases. Pick one that takes your fancy and indulge in a bit of ‘me' time…

We strive to make these guides as informative as possible, to ensure that your travels are as enjoyable as they can be. While we take every precaution to ensure the accuracy of the information in this guide, Terminal U provides no guarantees, nor accepts any responsibility for factual inaccuracies. If you spot a mistake or error, please let us know by contacting us here.

What others have said

  1. I’ve been in La Muscleria and it was good, but in my opinión the best one is Tenorio restaurant, it’s amazing food and service.
    I stayed in Hotel Me, I liked a lot.

  2. I will say only 3 things:

    Bosc de les fades is one of the best places that I have been, W Hotel or Hotel me to rest, and Nello’s Bar to eat a great hamburger!

    • El Bosc de les fades is a lovely place! The W has amazing views over the city and barceloneta and their terrace parties in the summer months are a great place to chill out. Where did you stay? Hope you had a brilliant time!

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