7 top tips for a first-time visitor to Barcelona
Barcelona is a cosmopolitan city found along the Costa Dorada coastline of the Mediterranean Sea, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It has the best of both worlds with the combination of laid-back beach life, excitingly paired with the fast-paced fun of a city.
As the second largest city in Spain, behind Madrid, there is always a plethora of things to get up to in the city. Despite its size, it is in fact a relatively compact city, with all the best sights, nightlife, and gastronomy within easy reach.
As with any new city you visit, getting some know-how before you arrive is the best way to ensure a successful and memorable visit. Barcelona has so much to offer that there will simply be too many options to complete them all in one visit, hence why so many visitors come back for more!
To make your first trip to Barcelona an unforgettable one, these are our top tips to bear in mind on your visit to the Catalan capital.
Choose the time of year wisely
Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe, so can become rather busy in high season (June-August). The weather is hottest during high season, and it coincides with school holidays, so many visitors flock to the city to enjoy the summer heat of the city.
For fewer crowds to contend with, we recommend visiting either between April and May, or between September and October. During these months the weather is still comfortable and sunny most days, but there are considerably less queues for the major attractions and for bars and restaurants.
Stay in the city centre
An important factor to consider on a first-time visit to Barcelona is where in the city to stay. It makes life far easier to stay in the city centre, in easy walking distance of the best restaurants for dinner and just a stone’s throw from some of the most spectacular architecture on earth.
We recommend staying close to Plaça de Catalunya – the perfect location for sightseeing and is in easy access of the old town of Barcelona. There are also plenty of shops and restaurants nearby, notably on the luxurious Passeig de Gràcia avenue.
For a more authentic experience of Barcelona while remaining close to the city centre, we also recommend considering the Gothic Quarter or the El Born neighbourhood. These areas are found in the Ciutat Vella (old town) of Barcelona, so have breathtaking buildings and winding streets that transport you to another time.
Adjust your dining schedule
Spanish people in general have very different habits when it comes to dining times. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is usually taken from around 2-2:30pm but can be anywhere from 1-4pm. Traditionally lunch will be three courses, which is opposite to the UK, for example, where lunch is a much lighter affair.
Most restaurants will not open for dinner before 8-9pm in Barcelona, but many have adapted to tourists, and it is possible to find places serving from 7 onwards. This is the usual time for Spaniards to enjoy tapas in Barcelona, but it is also fine to take your main meal at dinner.
Do not worry about tipping
Unlike in countries like the US and UK, tipping is not necessary nor obligated unless there has been truly exceptional service. Even when the service has been excellent, there still is no expectation from servers to receive a tip, but usually only around 10%. This applies to taxi drivers, bartenders, servers, and so on.
Any tip should be given in cash directly to your server, as there is generally not an option to add a tip to the bill via card. Tipping concierges, housekeeping and bellhops is universal, in luxury hotels it would be sufficient to give a euro per piece of luggage.
Plan your itinerary in advance
Whether it is flights, accommodation, tickets for the main attractions – researching and booking in advance allows you to have the best choices that Barcelona has to offer.
Particularly for visitors in high season, it is essential to book the most popular sights in advance, such as the Sagrada Familia, to avoid long queues or the disappointment of not being able to get in. Similarly, attractions such as the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc takes place less frequently during low season, so some research is needed beforehand to avoid disappointment.
Head to a beach further afield
Barceloneta beach is the nearest stretch of sand to the city centre, and for this reason it becomes the busiest too. For a more relaxing experience at the beach in Barcelona, we recommend heading further up the shore to the other five beaches in the city: Mar Bella, San Sebastiá, Bogatell, Nova Icària, and Sant Miquel.
Our favourite beach to frequent is the Nova Icària beach, as it is clean, calm and only 25 minutes from the city centre by metro.
Go off the beaten path
Although visiting the iconic landmarks is on every first-time visitor’s list when they come to Barcelona, there’s so many more amazing places that are well-worth visiting but are often overlooked.
It is not easy to find hidden gems per se in Barcelona but getting off the main tourist routes will allow you to experience a different side to the city. For spectacular views of the Catalan capital, head to Bunkers del Carmel, an old antiaircraft warfare base used during the Spanish Civil War, that now offers one of the best Barcelona viewpoints.
Get lost through the El Born and Grácia neighbourhoods, which have beautiful, traditional winding streets lined with quirky bars, restaurants, and shops. The best way to make your trip memorable is to drop the map and just see what crosses your path on your first adventure to Barcelona (but certainly not the last).
Sandra Roig is Marketing Director at AB Apartment Barcelona. AB Apartment Barcelona is an apartment rental agency offering over one thousand short and long term apartments across Barcelona.