This blog post was originally posted on October 7, 2016 and was updated on September 11, 2017.
Heading to Barcelona? Arm yourself with information! Whether you’re coming for business or pleasure, read up on ten essential things to know before traveling to Barcelona!
1. Barcelona is the Capital of Catalonia
The first thing to know before traveling to Barcelona is that it’s the capital of Catalonia, one of Spain’s 17 different autonomous communities. The word Catalonia has a lot of weight in Spain right now. Beyond being a very proud region with a deep-rooted culture that differs in many ways to the rest of Spain, there is also an important movement for the independence of Catalonia, as many Catalans simply don’t consider this region, or Barcelona, to be part of Spain.
Dig deeper: Join us on our Tapas, Taverns & History of Barcelona tour to dive deep into Barcelona and Catalonia’s history, and how the independence movement came about.
2. There are Two Co-Official Languages in Barcelona
In Barcelona, you will see and hear everything in two different languages, Spanish and Catalan. Catalan is similar to Spanish in that it shares the same roots, yet it is an entirely different language much like French or Italian. Locals speak Catalan in their daily lives, and children learn the language at school. That said, everyone is bilingual so if you speak some Spanish, people will still understand you!
Local’s Tip: Are you curious about Catalan? Saying hello and goodbye is enough to put a smile on any local’s face! Take a crash course in Catalan with our short and sweet blog post on the topic.
3. It’s Not Barça
If you hear people talking about Barna, you didn’t mishear them! Barna is the nickname for Barcelona, and if you refer to the city as Barça, you are the one who is mistaken! In actual fact, that is the endearing nickname of the FC Barcelona football team!
4. Pickpocketers are Professionals
There are of course, lots of things you should know before traveling to Barcelona, and this is one of the most important! Yes, you’ve probably already heard the rumors. Watch your stuff! Barcelona is a very crowded city, particularly between May and September, and petty thieves are everywhere. That said, it’s easy to avoid unfortunate situations, just always keep an eye on your things!
5. This is Not Your Stereotypical Spain
Barcelona is a far cry from the stereotypical image of fiery flamenco dancers and bullfighters. In fact, bullfighting has been banned in Catalonia for years! Though you can see some great flamenco shows around town, it’s not as embedded in Catalan culture as in places like Madrid or Seville.
6. The Schedule Might Take Some Getting Used To
Of all the things to know before traveling to Barcelona, possibly one of the most important is that Spaniards have very specific dining times! The schedule in Barcelona and Spain is unlike most other places in Europe. Lunch is usually around 2:30 p.m., and dinner no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s a good thing to keep in mind as if you show up to a restaurant for dinner at 7 p.m., they might not even be open! However, when you do eat—make sure that you eat well. Take a look at our top 5 must-try dishes while in the city!
7. Gaudi is Great, But There’s So Much More!
No visit to Barcelona is complete without seeing the Sagrada Familia or Parc Güell, but what many visitors don’t realize is that there are loads of other beautiful modernist gems, designed by other architects, decorating the city. For example, the Hospital Sant Pau, of Lluís Domènech i Muntaner, is just up the street from Sagrada Familia and possibly one of the most impressive set of buildings in Barcelona. The same architect’s Palau de la Musica is also worth visiting, especially so if you can see a concert there! In short, don’t stop yourself short with Gaudi!
8. Be Aware of Your Presence
Especially for the old city center, which is called Ciutat Vella, be aware that noise travels up and echoes everywhere among the narrow streets. If it’s late in the evening, keep voices down and please, refrain from singing! It’s not uncommon for disgruntled neighbors to dump buckets of water out their balconies over unsuspecting visitors, who are often unaware of how noisy things can get in the labyrinth of Ciutat Vella.
9. Things Are Very, Very Laid Back
Depending on where you’re coming from, things might seem incredibly relaxed in Barcelona. Slow down and enjoy it! Don’t expect speedy service at restaurants and bars—if you want something, you may need to wave someone down for a good while before getting help.
10. Book in Advance!
Barcelona is a hugely popular tourist attraction, so don’t be surprised to see crowds and queues at important monuments around town. That said, you can avoid the queues if your planning on traveling to Barcelona by booking your tickets online in advance for these places before you fly! Whether it’s for the Picasso Museum or the Sagrada Familia, you will save yourself a lot of time and hassle.