We spent a couple of weeks in Barcelona and managed to fit a lot of day trips and activities into that time. So we’ve compiled a few things to do if you’re ever spending a day in Barcelona.
Barcelona is one of the biggest tourist spots in Europe and definitely in Spain. You constantly read about the number of cruise ships and flights and tourists commuting through the different ports in Barcelona. Spain welcomes roughly 80million visitors a year of which Barcelona is responsible for 32million.
So getting there is not an issue, flights, trains, buses, cruises and of course by car. The thing I love most about Europe is that it doesn’t matter what your budget. There’s a way for you to travel to your destination from almost anywhere in Europe. From budget train and bus services to first-class short-haul flights.
We flew 27 hours from New Zealand including a 3-hour stopover in Dubai. Then stayed in Barcelona for a week and then went on a Mediterranean Cruise for 12 days. Returning to Barcelona for a week and then started our adventure around Europe.
How to get around?
The Metro is probably the best way to get around for a day in Barcelona. There are stations everywhere you need to go and it doesn’t take much to navigate the metro lines. Pick the colour line your stop is on or where you need to change over to the right colour line for your stop. The direction of the train is indicated by the last stop on the line. So if you have the right colour and the final stop on your line. You can’t go wrong.
There are a plethora of ticket options, single-ride tickets for €2.20 or a T-10 ticket that’s valid for 10 rides. There are also other integrated tickets like the 50/30 – which allows 50 rides in 30 days for €43.50 or a card that allows unlimited journeys for a month for €54.
Check out the Barcelona Metro website for all the information around tickets and make use of the journey planner to figure out your closest stations and best options to get to your destination.
Other options to help you with the best transport options to get around town with any form of public transport is City Mapper. It’s an app and it’s available for multiple cities around the world. From which form of public transport would best suit your travel, to where the best place is to stand on the platform so when you get off the train you’re closer to your correct exit. Nice!
There are over 1000 buses that service 100 bus routes in Barcelona. Single ride tickets are €2.20 and there’s a T-10 option like with the Metro. The service starts at between 5 am and 8 am every day and finishes at 10-11pm depending on where in Barcelona you are and services run every 20-30 minutes.
There is a night bus service that runs less frequent and from 10.30pm until 6 am.
There are thousands of black and yellow marked taxis in Barcelona. There are dedicated taxi stands, but you can also call them to book or wave one down on the street. Taxi fares in Barcelona are very reasonable. Especially compared to Auckland where we have caught plenty of taxis in the past.
Our first taxi was a big van from the airport. There were 6 of us with all our luggage and it included an airport surcharge and to central Barcelona was €33. We caught another taxi van from the port to central Barcelona for €12.
We chose to travel by taxi at times when we had lots of luggage or travelling with Nana and the kids. It can get a bit too much having to organise everyone onto a train or bus with luggage and bags etc. Travelling by taxi is probably a little more expensive, but it provides some comfort, peace of mind and the ability to get off right at your door.
Traffic and congestion is sometimes a problem in Barcelona, but as long as you’re aware that there could be more traffic around the times when people are going to work, going home from work or when schools finish. Try and avoid those times and you shouldn’t have any problems.
We made good use of Cabify to help us book taxi’s for specific times or when we had to be somewhere important for a flight, booking or the cruise. Maybe a bit overkill if you’re only spending a day in Barcelona.
Alternatively, click here to book a taxi anywhere in Barcelona.
With all the public transport options, having a car in Barcelona is almost completely unnecessary. Especially if you’re only spending a day in Barcelona. We picked up our rental car a few days early. I wish we hadn’t. Parking around Barcelona is a nightmare. I’ll try and decipher some of it here.
First off. In Barcelona, if you park illegally you WILL get towed. If your meter runs out, towed. Park in a no parking zone, towed. Park on a delivery or residential zone when you don’t have a sticker, towed.
Blue lines mean paid parking. If you can find a park, you need to look for a machine and pay for parking. This parking is usually free between 6 pm and 6 am and free on public holidays and weekend.
Green lines are residential parking. Only if you have a residence sticker in your car are you allowed to park here. These parks also change sides of the street they park on daily. So you have to swap your car to the other side of the road every day or risk getting towed.
White lines are free parking. Apart from a couple of public parks and sports grounds. I didn’t see any free parking. Supermarkets and shopping centres in central Barcelona does not have parking.
Yellow zig-zag lines are “drainage”. These are to be kept clear in case of rain, it helps the water runoff better and stops flooding happening in the streets. These are usually also for delivery people to stop for a short amount of time to load and unload goods.
An unspoken rule in Barcelona and most of Europe. You can stop just about anywhere if you put your hazards on. Double park, triple park, stop in a doorway or loading zone, wherever. Put your hazards on and you’re good. We’ve never tested to see how long this would work for, but if you’re not blocking the whole road, it seems there’s no time limit.
What to do?
There are so many things to do with just a day in Barcelona, but you could also spend a month in Barcelona and not get through all the sights, museums, attractions and adventures on offer. So I’ve made a list of things we did and things you can do if you only have a limited amount of time or budget.
La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family)
If you only have a day in Barcelona, do this. It’s not even necessary to go inside (but please do if you have the opportunity).
Gaudi’s greatest project, hands down. We’ve been to plenty of Cathedrals and Basilica, but not one has had the amount of thought and attention to detail that this has. Gaudi thought of every little thing, every detail. From the enormous towers and what the represent, the stain glass windows and the light they cast throughout the inside at different times of the day. To the thousands of characters outside and the scenes and how it ties into religion and the people of Spain, Catalunya and Barcelona.
I could spend days talking about every detail and space or scene that makes up this magnificent project, but until you see if for yourself. I couldn’t do it all justice. We stayed a block away from La Sagrada Familia and we had the joy of walking past it every day for a week while we made our way to breakfast or the metro or almost anywhere we went. Every pass exposed new scenes and sculptures we didn’t notice before and it left us in awe.
A basic ticket is €17 per person and doesn’t include an audio guide or access to anywhere but the cathedral. For us, the best option was €25 – which includes entry and an audio guide. Walking around the cathedral at your own pace and being guided through most of the processes, ideas and sculptures and scenes, inside and out of the cathedral. There is also a €32 option to climb one of the towers in addition to entry and the audio guide. The views are absolutely mind-blowing.
Book your tickets well in advance. There are tickets available for certain time blocks every day. We turned up at midday and there were no tickets available for the next few time blocks and we had to wait until 2.30 to be able to enter. It’s the most visited sight in Spain. So be prepared for lots of people and lines.
Also, take care of your belongings. There are plenty of pickpockets working the main tourist attractions. Keep your bags in front of you and don’t have any valuables in your back pockets. They are very skilled, unfortunately. We had one person tell us they threw something in the air. He thought they were birds and was distracted by the movement near his face. He didn’t realise until he got home later that day, that they had swapped his wallet out of his back pocket with an empty wallet.
A great way to spend half a day, especially with kids. There’s plenty to do and learn at the Barcelona Aquarium. The aquarium opens at 10 am, every day of the year. The closing times vary between 7.30pm and 9 pm, depending on the time of year, public holidays and weekends.
There is plenty of information and the kids really enjoyed the different feeding times – especially the penguins. Also being able to buy their own fish food and feeding the Koi fish in the pond by the cafeteria was a treat. There’s an interactive area for the kids to get up close with different creatures from the sea.
We stopped at the cafeteria for a quick lunch and some chocolate stuffed Churros. Can’t go wrong.
Hop-on Hop-off Bus
One of our favourite ways to explore a new city and Barcelona was no different. It’s a big city and it has three different routes to explore different areas in Barcelona. It’s very easy to spend a whole day on the bus and getting off at a few sights and attractions for photo’s or to explore a bit more.
There’s no better way to explore Barcelona if you’re trying to see as many sights as possible. The audio guide is available in several languages and has plenty of information on all the stops, sights and important areas and people in the history of Barcelona.
Tickets are €27 for an adult for one day or €36 for a two-day ticket if you want to break it up into two days. Child tickets are €16 for one day and €21 for a two-day ticket. Kids under 3 are free.
Nou Camp (Barcelona Football)
Arguably the most popular club in the world. Doing a tour of this impressive facility, museum and stadium is fantastic, not even just if you’re a sports fan. The amount of time, effort and money that goes into a sports club like Barcelona is mind-blowing.
The hop-on-hop-off bus will do a drive-by of the stadium and there is a stop here too. There are a lot of tour options available ranging from a basic €26 tour for those that are just curious, to an audio guide tour for €35 which includes a virtual experience.
Then there’s the ultimate fan experiences. €149 for a players experience tour, where you basically experience all the things a player would on match day, tour the grounds, walk the pitch, have professional photo’s taken, go into the locker rooms and press room.
They also offer a matchday experience for €99. Which includes a VIP pass, access to the press zones, a walk on the pitch, a personalised pass and access to exclusive player zones.
A day in Barcelona…
As part of our wedding anniversary, we celebrated with a luxury open-top bus tour of Barcelona, a helicopter ride with views of the city from above and a boat cruise along the coastline.
An exceptional and slightly different way to spend a magical day in Barcelona. We started the day on a luxury open-top bus tour with a personal guide, talking us through some of the amazing sights around Barcelona and taking us for a visit of the outside of La Sagrada Familia and providing even more information around the build, design and inspiration behind the cathedral.
We visited several other sights before making our way to the port for an aerial view of the city with a helicopter ride and then to the port where we hopped on a boat for a cruise of the harbour and the Mediterranean. Enjoying some drinks and beautiful views of the harbour, the beaches and the city.
A wonderful and exciting way to spend half a day discovering the sights and views of Barcelona in a completely different way.
What to eat?
Blai Street and Tapas
You’ll find “tapas” almost anywhere you go in Barcelona, but for a true Spanish Tapas experience. You can’t miss Blai Street (Carerr de Blai). A street filled with the best Tapas we’ve ever tried. If you need somewhere to sit and try the best. Make your way to Blai 9 and the best Tapas on the street. For an even better experience. Start at one end, pick a bar or tapas that tickle your fancy and have one or two tapas with a drink. Then walk along and repeat the process until you can’t possibly eat any more.
The Tapas aren’t expensive. Depending on what they consist of. They range from €1- €4. Normally you’d eat 2 maybe 3. If you’re trying lots it may be a couple more. They’re very filling and as a normal meal 3 would do the trick. Depending on the topping and the size of them.
Most places along Carerr de Blai work with a “plate” or “toothpick” honesty system. Toothpicks or plates that come with the Tapas are marked in different colours. Representing different prices. For instance, green is €1, blue is €2.50 etc etc. You keep your plates or toothpicks at the table until you’re finished and then a waiter would come and tally up your plates and drinks etc and bring you the bill (La Cuenta),
The Ramblas is one of the most visited areas in Barcelona. It’s filled with high-end shops, markets, street vendors, boutiques, cafes, restaurants, pub, bars and anything you can think of.
To eat here, especially at the restaurants that line the street on either side. Can be a very expensive outing. The food is beautiful and if you don’t mind paying then, by all means, do so. By far the best option for us was La Boqueria Market (Marcado De La Boqueria). Stalls of fresh food, baked goods, fruit, vegetables, fish, meat, pastries, pizza, frozen drinks, hot drinks. Cuisine from a multitude of other countries and surrounded by coffee shops and cafes.
The markets are an experience in itself. The food is delicious, inexpensive and there is so much to choose from. The markets are open from 8 am till 8.30pm Monday to Saturday. Make sure to get there in the morning to get the full effect of the hustling and bustling of this incredible market.
For something a bit quieter. We enjoyed lunch at Nuria near the top end of the Ramblas and Plaça de Catalunya. To try as many of the foods as possible. We selected a Tapas menu. We picked 7 or 8 plates ranging from chicken pieces to fried peppers and spicy potato or crispy octopus. They were all very very good, the kids – to my surprise – especially liked the deep-fried artichoke hearts. High on the list of favourites around the table.
There are thousands of other options, no matter where you go in Barcelona. The golden rule being – the closer you are to a tourist attraction or the better the view. The higher the price usually is. At times, you pay for the location, not necessarily the food or drinks. Sometimes it’s worth it and sometimes it’s better to get a cheaper takeaway and walk around or find a nice bench to sit at.
The Good and the Bad
There are so many good things about Barcelona. We spent a fair bit of time here and we loved it. As far as big cities go, it’s one of our favourites. The food, the culture, the energy that seems to flow through the whole city and its people.
Some not so good things come with any big city filled with tourists. Pickpockets and non-violent crimes are rife. Especially during the tourist season. A police officer I spoke to said they had reported cases of minor crimes and robberies of around 300 a day.
This doesn’t make you feel unsafe at all. It’s not violent aggressive crimes. These are opportunistic thieves that look for those tourists or people that don’t keep their belongings safe. So here are a few tips :
1. When there are lots of people around, carry your bag or backpack in front of you
2. Never carry anything in your back pockets
3. When sitting at restaurants, cafes or on the metro. If you put your bag down, always make sure you have hold of it. I like to put my leg through the back straps and slide it under the table. Be aware if strangers try and join your table.
4. Thieves use distraction as a method to take your attention away from what’s really happening. If something seems out of place or over the top. Make sure to check your bags, belongings and pockets.
5. We were robbed by two men on small motorbikes. They targeted us because we had foreign plates on our rental car. They punctured our tire at the traffic lights and flagged us down and one pretended to try and assist us while the other was taking or bags (camera, laptop, GoPro etc).
We never felt in danger and didn’t even realise what happened until well after it had happened. More than anything, you feel stupid for falling for it. We lost some photos and videos, but apart from that – we had insurance and possessions can be replaced.