10 Things to Know Before Traveling to Barcelona

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!

Find out all the 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.

Learn about the basics with these things to know before traveling to Barcelona.
The Catalan language is everywhere in Barcelona!

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!

Learn tips and tricks with these important things to know before visiting Barcelona!
The term Barça actually refers to the soccer team, not the city! Photo Credit: Oh-Barcelona.

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!

Pickpocketers are abundant in Barcelona! Learn this and more with these important things to know before traveling to Barcelona.
Barcelona is a very safe city, but it’s a good idea to always have a close 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.

Come to Barcelona with all the insider knowledge... Read our tips on things to know before traveling to Barcelona!
You won’t see any bullfights in Barcelona. One of Barcelona’s old bullfighting rings, La Monumental, is now a museum! Photo Credit: Tony Hisgett.

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!

Don't visit Barcelona without these essential tips!
There is so much stunning architecture in Barcelona! Of course check out Gaudi’s masterpieces, but go further with incredible buildings like Hospital Sant Pau.

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.

Take these tips and tricks with essential things to know before visiting Barcelona!
These streets may be beautiful but they are also noisy! Photo Credit: Ok Apartment.

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.

We have many tips for you--read up to have all the things to know before visiting Barcelona!
The beautiful Park Guell! Book in advance to avoid painful queues!

11 Comment

  1. brigette says
    September 16, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    Thanks for the email there was a lot of great information.

  2. Tall Boy says
    October 2, 2018 at 3:51 pm

    Good stuff… I will spend 3 weeks there. Have no plans or don’t speak Spanish. Just going to explore. I have read up on the pickpocketing & dinner times. I will reference back to this article while on my journey.

    I went to a FC Basketball game last year pretty exciting but I am more interested in how the locals live.

    1. Devour Tours says
      October 3, 2018 at 12:00 pm

      Sounds like you’re in for a wonderful three weeks!! You’ll definitely get a sense of local life during that time—just get off the beaten path and into the residential neighborhoods like Clot and Les Corts!

  3. Mariona Garcia says
    October 12, 2018 at 5:21 pm

    Nice blog and great tips for travelers and locals as well! but sorry to differ on section #1. Catalonia is NOT Spain. Once you know the history well, the politics, and have lived in the country to know, understand the context and what happened and what has been happening for returnees you will know and see. Catalans have been oppressed by the Spanish governments and the Monarchy for centuries. Catalonia centuries existed before the creation of Spain and when Spain was created, the problems started. They always have hated Catalans and Catalonia. In c. XVI-XVII they closed all the Universities Catalonia had except 1, they forbid Catalan, they also closed the Catalan government, La Generalitat, the origins of it C. XIII ( http://web.gencat.cat/en/generalitat/historia/historia_1/).
    learn about Spain and its politics as well when we try do have a peaceful referendum last year: Oct 1st and what Spain and the kind of Spain approved: this is a documentary done by foreigner journalist:

    1. Devour Tours says
      October 15, 2018 at 3:11 pm

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment Mariona. With a team made up of people from across Catalonia, Spain, and beyond, we are completely respectful of everyone’s differences and love getting to share the real Barcelona with visitors every day.

  4. December 7, 2018 at 1:15 pm

    Wonderful article, I will definitely use your tips. I’m planning my first time solo travel to Barcelona.

    1. Devour Tours says
      December 10, 2018 at 11:47 am

      Awesome, happy to help! Here’s a post of ours on solo travel in Spain: https://madridfoodtour.com/solo-travel-in-spain/

  5. Sue says
    January 18, 2019 at 7:36 am

    Is a car necessary in Barcelona? I don’t want to rent a car and don’t want to deal with public transit. Is it possible to see the main touristy stuff by foot? I don’t mind taking a cab if necessary.

    1. Devour Tours says
      January 21, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      You’ll be just fine without a car! You can get to lots of sites by foot, but some are farther away, like the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. Cabs are always an option. Here’s more on getting around Barcelona: https://devourbarcelonafoodtours.com/how-to-get-around-barcelona/

  6. Sabrina Plourde says
    September 28, 2019 at 10:15 am

    Hello! Thank you for your blog. Me and 2 of my friends (48 to 50 yrs old) are staying in Gothic Quarters. Is there some local family owned restaurants that might have some vegetarian dishes you can suggest and possibly a fun hip joint with a little older crowd? We will be arriving Oct 9 to the 15th. Thank you so much!

    1. Devour Tours says
      October 1, 2019 at 9:43 am

      Hi Sabrina—one of our favorite locally owned vegetarian restaurants is the Tallers location of Flax & Kale (http://teresacarles.com/fk/index_eng.html#sec1) which is very close to the Gothic Quarter. The head chef, Teresa Carles, also has another vegetarian restaurant nearby (http://teresacarles.com/#teresa-carles). Picnic (http://www.picnic-restaurant.com/) in the nearby Born neighborhood is run by a husband and wife team and has a great selection of vegetarian options as well. Our vegan and vegetarian guide to Barcelona (https://devourbarcelonafoodtours.com/complete-vegan-and-vegetarian-guide-to-barcelona/) has even more suggestions. We hope this helps—enjoy Barcelona!

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