Instant Expert: Barcelona

06 Jun 2017

Sunshine, beaches, world-beating food, weird and wonderful architecture — Barcelona has it all. Just don’t expect to do much sleeping.

Barcelona at a Glance

Population: 1.6 million
Official language: Spanish & Catalan
Currency: euro
Flying time from the UK: 2 hours from London, 2.5 hours from Edinburgh
Time zone: CET (GMT +1)
Visas: No visa required for British citizens
Tipping: Relaxed. Most people will round up to the nearest euro in all but the smartest restaurants and bars

10 Things You Need to Know

1. Barcelona is Spain’s second-biggest city, but its population is half that of Madrid.

2. Despite its size it’s incredibly popular and is Europe’s third most-visited city after London and Paris.

3. It’s a great city to walk around and many of the streets are pedestrianised. But watch out for pickpockets, particularly on Las Ramblas (below).

4. There are nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites here. Gaudí’s iconic Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882. It’s now projected to finish in 2026, 100 years since Gaudí’s death.

5. The Eiffel Tower was originally supposed to be built in Barcelona, but was rejected for being “too expensive and too strange”.

6. The Catalan language is spoken by the majority of the region’s population and the flag is displayed proudly throughout Barcelona.

7. Barceloneans eat late. Restaurants don’t start getting busy for dinner until 9 or 10pm. That said, eating and drinking is relatively cheap in Barcelona — expect a glass of wine to cost 2€, a beer to be 3€ and a 2-course dinner for two to be around 40€.

8. All of the city-run museums (including the Museu Picasso, MUHBA and MNAC) are free to visit on Sunday afternoons from 3-8pm.

9. Parts of the Barrio Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) date back to the 12th century. Take one of the many free walking tours (donations for the guide are welcome), which depart from Plaça Reial.

10. In 2015, tour groups of more than 15 people were banned from Barcelona’s famous La Boqueria market on Fridays and Saturdays (8am-3pm) when it’s at its busiest. Mercat Santa Caterina (below) is equally impressive.

When to visit Barcelona

The Mediterranean climate means the winters in Barcelona are mild and humid, and the summers are warm and dry. So it’s ideal for late sun seekers from mid-September to December, or in spring from April to June. Summer can be extremely hot, with temperatures as high as 38°C in August, but the locals leave town so it’s quiet and many hotels discount their rooms.

Barcelona is Best For…

Beaches. Barcelona is one of National Geographic’s top 10 beach cities in the world, but five of the eight beaches did not exist before the 1992 Olympic Games. The imported sand totally revamped the industrial coastline and today it’s full of restaurants and bars.   

Park life. There are 68 parks, which cover an estimated 10% of the city’s land. Visit the 500-acre Parc de Monjuïc, which has panoramic views of Barcelona from its hillside perch. It’s best reached via the Montjuïc cable car with the added benefit of more of those views.

Architecture. It is the first and only city to have been awarded a Royal Gold Medal for Architecture, and it’s not hard to see why. Gaudí fans should make time for Park Güell, Torre Bellesguard, Casa Battló, and Casa Milà.

Cruise stopovers. Barcelona is home to Europe’s largest cruise port, with 3.6 million passengers passing through every year.

Football fans. FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium is the third largest in the world, with space for 100,000 people. The attached museum had more than 1.5 million visitors in 2014 — more than both the Salvador Dalí and Picasso museums.


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