The Scoop: Barcelona
...such a beautiful horizon!
With its unique city-meets-beach vibe, it’s hard not to fall for the youthful energy and immersive culture of this cosmopolitan capital of Catalonia.
Situated on Spain’s North East Mediterranean coast, the city basks in warm sunshine for much of the year with peak averages between 26 - 30°C in August and September. Rarely even dipping below around 14 - 18°C in winter, it’s easy to understand Barcelona’s attraction.
Spanish: Descubrí mis vacaciones a través de Travelscoop.
And Catalan: Vaig descobrir les meves vacances a través de Travelscoop.
Of these, Spanish is the most widely spoken and understood. As with many tourist destinations, in Barcelona you can also largely get by in English. But knowing some key phrases in the primary native language will be appreciated by the locals.
When to visit
The best times to visit Barcelona are September to October and April to June when daytime temperatures are milder and nights are cooler. While a little rain might be more expected, the city itself can also be somewhat quieter which, in combination with mostly warmth and sunshine, offers a perfect climate for sipping a sangria on the beach or for relaxed al fresco dining in the city.
September also offers up Les Festes de la Mercè (Festival of the Virgin of Mercy). Usually around the third week of the month, Barcelona’s biggest fiesta incorporates hundreds of events around the city including free concerts, a swimming race across the harbour, the Festival of the Sky, castell (groups of people compete to form the highest human pyramid, often up to eight storeys high!) and the correfoc (fire run). Barcelona is fab all year round, but for the greatest enjoyment it is best avoided during the height of the summer months when the majority of its eight million yearly visitors are about and all vying for the same touristy hotspot selfies.
Due to its popularity flights to Barcelona are always relatively cheap. But the cheapest deals can usually be found from mid-September to October. For peak season, flights are best booked early in the year. Flight times to Barcelona International Airport (BCN) which, at 13km, is the closest to the city centre, average around 2 hours 5 minutes from London airports, 2 hours 20 minutes from Manchester and Birmingham, and 2 hours 45 minutes from Glasgow.
easyJet, British Airways, Ryanair, Norwegian Air, Vueling and Iberia fly non-stop to Barcelona. Of these, Norwegian Air comes out cheapest at £67 return mid-week from London Gatwick for a week in mid-September. Ryanair is close behind at £68 return from London Stansted, and Vueling at £68 return from Gatwick.
Note: Double check the small print because you might end up paying a premium for your baggage with the cheaper deals!
While you’re there
With an abundance of cultural and architectural sites and museums, a vibrant food scene, and top quality nightlife, no visitor to Barҫa is ever short of fun stuff to see and do. The city is mid-range in terms of costs, neither noticeably cheap or expensive - but it is always advisable to stay wary of budgets, and particularly with a city and a beach scene to think about.
Average daily budget, accounting for some major attractions, public transport, a night out, some food and drink and a bit of retail therapy, is likely to set you back about €100.
If time or budget is limited, the standout must-see attraction is the Sagrada Familia, ranked as Lonely Planet’s 16th “ultimate place to see in the world”. The Antoni Gaudi-designed Gothic-style cathedral and it’s 18 towers dominate the Barcelona skyline giving that awe-inspiring Insta #wowfactor #bucketlist moment. Space inside is surprisingly small, but paying to go in does considerably elevate the experience, enabling visitors to gawp open-mouthed at the incredible intricacy and scale of the work and its symbolism. Be sure to book tickets online well in advance or face mammoth queues! Prices are €18 on site or €15 online (add extre for audio guides and ascending the tower), so they’re also cheaper when bought beforehand. One final warning: don’t expect to get a perfect “crane-less” cover photo: the Sagrada Familia is a work in progress even 100 years after Gaudi’s death and is expected to be completed sometime between the 2020s and the 2040s. But that’s part of it’s charm, right?
Park Guell – a public park system and UNESCO World Heritage Site designed by Gaudi, built between 1900 and 1914. A short bus ride from the city centre.
Museo Picasso – large collection of the art master’s paintings, primarily from his early years, spread across five stunningly beautiful medieval stone mansions. Arrive early to beat the crowds.
Las Ramblas – A popular and vibrant tree-lined pedestrian street in the centre of Barcelona stretching for 1.2km and connecting the old and the new parts of the city. Street performers and a cafe culture have ensured that the northern end remains busy well into the evening. The street gets very crowded, particularly in high tourist season, and has become a mecca for souvenir shops and pavement cafes attempting to cash in on its clichés. Still a free must-do but beware of pickpockets who thrive at the most touristy times.
The Gothic Quarter of Barcelona is not so much of a hidden gem but it does contain many beautiful, surprising and awe-inspiring encounters with Barcelona’s wondrous art and architecture. At Calle Paradis 10, for example, you will encounter four columns which once formed part of the Temple of Augusto. More than 2,000 years old and measuring 9m high, down a nondescript street and inside a little patio, the discovery seems somehow breathtakingly personal.
My personal highlights
The beaches – a short walk from the city centre, completely natural and seemingly like an oasis, ultimately bestowing Barcelona with its unique party atmosphere and a feeling of “having something for everyone”.
Parc Montjuic – the location for the 1992 Olympic Games evokes memories of glories past and is also a lovely area to walk around, less busy with tourists. From its vantage point on Montjuic Mountain, it offers some stunning vistas of the city below. Admission to the Olympic Stadium is free and it opens daily from 10am. For an even better view of the city, be sure to ride the Montjuic Cabe Car, one of the big highlights of my time in Barcelona.
Be careful not to stay too far out of the city – although it can be cheaper, there is less to keep you occupied in the evenings on the outskirts and public transport costs can mount with frequent journeys to the city centre. Equally, staying too centrally means that escaping the crowds and bustle of the city is harder. Buying a T10 (multi-person Metro and bus ticket - €9.95 from Metro stations) proved beneficial in allowing me to get around the city fairly easily.
Girona and Sitges are both around 35 minute train journeys out of Barcelona and well worth a trip if you have the time.
The Perfect Book
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell - a gripping account of Orwell’s experiences in the Spanish Civil War fighting Franco's fascists.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – A beautifully written page-turner of a novel about a boy who discovers the last surviving book by an author in the ‘Cemetery of Lost Books’, a mausoleum for out-of-print works in the back streets of Barcelona. On further investigation he uncovers a plot to completely eradicate the author’s work by a mysterious figure who features as the Devil in the book, thus throwing himself into danger.