15 lessons learned when traveling in Barcelona

15 Lessons I’ve Learned While Traveling in Barcelona

Recently we’ve been to Barcelona, the richest by money and amount of tourists city in Spain. I had to admit, that all the nice pictures on the internet and stories from people have made my reference point for this place very high. However, after being there I had a few realizations and prepared some advice for you to enjoy traveling in Barcelona even more.

1. Most of well-promoted and Google recommended attractions are usually less interesting and nice than the less known ones. 

We all saw those breathtaking pictures of Gaudi houses, Sagrada Familia and etc. However, when you actually come there, you are going to stay in the line for a few hours and then dive into a huge amount of people who, just like you, want to have a perfect picture for their Instagram. I am not saying that those places are not good. Just we’ve enjoyed much more walking on Passeig de Gràcia (long street connecting Gaudi houses, which actually has a very nice architecture of other buildings as well), in Parc de la Ciutadella or up on Montjuïc hill (not to the fortress, but where the park is and Olympic places). It was very calm, yet still beautiful. 

2. Nobody follows traffic laws + the crossroads are weird

It was interesting to see how both transport and pedestrians were going on the red light or just crossing streets wherever they want. On another hand, it is understandable, because sometimes it was very hard to find any crossroads or it was far away from the place it actually could be.

3. Benefits and unexpected of Hola BCN card

Barcelona is a huge city and if you plan to visit more places then you will have to use public transport. There are several options to “save money” in case you know you will travel quite often and one of them is the “Hola Barcelona” card which you can buy for 2-5 days and get “unlimited rides” on different transport as it is written on the official website (more information + buying with a discount you can find on the official website of Hola Barcelona card). I definitely recommend to count in advance your rides and see if it makes sense for you (this card does include metro and buses and probably even some trains, which we didn’t try, however, once we wanted to use it for one bus and the driver told us that we cannot go because this card is used only for RED buses, so we got very confused). Plus in the price, there are included Montjuic Funicular but be careful because it’s not the same as Montjuic Telerific or cable car which goes on the top to the castle. The Funicular goes on the ground and it brings you to the mountain Montjuic, where it is very nice to walk. But if you want to go for free with Hola BCN card to the castle, you can take a bus 150 after you have left the Funicular and it will bring you up there.

4. The best and the worst time to come to Barcelona is during a huge fiesta.

We were lucky enough to see the most cultural thing happening in Barcelona – a fiesta called La Mercè. It usually takes place at the end of September in order to say goodbye for summer days. We have seen famous Spanish Castellers or human towers and some traditional shooting on the main streets, but the best show was on the last day of the festival in the evening in front of Montjuic fountains. There was a huge firework accompanying with a mix of different music and fountain water color changing. It was very well prepared, however, the huge minus of all this festival is: people. A lot of them. We were smart enough to take a free walking tour into the Gothic part of the city on the last day of the Festival when Barcelonian people have an official holiday and not going to work. There were so many people on the streets that it was almost hard to breathe. 

5. Pickpocketing is a popular sport in Barcelona

Haven’t you heard that Barcelona is the number 1 city of pickpocketing in Europe? Well, with such a huge amount of people all around you it is pretty easy to steal something from your backpack. We actually became witnesses of one stealing during our trip in metro so I definitely recommend you watch your things.

6. The metro to the airport doesn’t have a driver

Lines 9 and 10 where 9 is going to the airport, are automated. This means that the trains have no staff on board: they are located, controlled and programmed from the control center. Trains run at the assigned speed and stop at stations according to a pre-set schedule.

Automated airport metro in Barcelona
Automated airport metro in Barcelona

7. When is the best time to eat?

It is a very good trick to know – in Barcelona people have lunch from 1 to 4 pm. So many restaurants at that time have “menu del dia” or basically business lunch or daily menu. Was interesting to see few differences with Slovakia: we use to have these kinds of menus from 11 to 2 usually, plus if in Slovakia it consist of some soup and main dish (usually drink or dessert you buy separately), in Barcelona you get first meal (Primeros) which can be some paella or salad or soup, then second meal (Segundos) which is basically can have same things, some meat or fish steaks. So for us, it is like to have 2 main dishes, but the portions of both of them are usually smaller. Then in the price, the drink and dessert are also included, which I found amazing because from drinks it is usually beer, wine or some soft drinks and then for dessert, you also are able to choose from few options or in case you are super full you can just get a coffee instead. We’ve got our daily menu once for 11 euros and once for 13 and both times it was just amazing.

8. IVA or how to avoid overpaying 

Even though I wrote the whole article about how to find the best and cheapest restaurants when traveling, and I am always prepared with restaurants for a trip, sometimes our plans are changing. It can be far and we are tired or very hungry, so we let ourselves just be caught by some more or less profitable place which we first see on our way. So we ate a very nice daily menu in one of such restaurants, however, were a bit surprised when saw in the bill “IVA 10%”. What is it, you will ask me? Well, officially IVA (Impuestos sobre el Valor Añadido) is a type of value-added tax and it should be included in price (only in the U.S. it usually doesn’t). However, in touristy places of Barcelona, this IVA not included happens quite often. It can be just for meals on the menu and then it has to be written there or also it can be for eating outside on the terrace, which was our case. Already after eating and paying I came to the table where was written daily menu and with very small letters down there was written “IVA 10% on the terrace”. So if you don’t want to be surprised in the end, always check it or ask in advance. 

9. Is there any difference between tapas and pintxos?

Hell yeah! So tapas is usually an aperitif for some drinks which come together on a small plate. Pintxos usually comes served on a piece of bread. So if you don’t see a piece of bread – then its tapas. If there is – pintxos. We tried the second one and it was just amazing!

Tasty pintxos in Barcelona
Tasty pintxos in Barcelona

10. If you are lazy to plan attractions and want to know some history and details about places use Free walking tours in Barcelona

I am a person who prefers to listen than to read so for me free walking tours work perfectly! They exist almost in every city in the world and you pay just tips in case you want to thank the guides. It is much better because you don’t need to plan and always check the map in order to find your next spot, plus you are getting to know the city by the eyes of local people and sometimes they share their personal opinion on things that are happening around so it is very good to know.

11. Don’t buy anything on Boqueria market or La Rambla street if you don’t want to overpay

Well, you decide if you want to pay 2-3 euros for small glass with fruits or a few slices of meat or cheese. But in my opinion for the same price, you can buy 2-3 times more things in normal shops which will more likely taste same or even better. There on the market, you pay for the brand and touristic attraction, not for the quality as such.

12. Motorbikers are crazy there

We were quite surprised by the number of motorbikes on the street we saw. Also, they are standing parked everywhere.

13. 1 euro, 1 euro, 1 euro!

In every famous public place, you will see those special guys with white carpets which they put on the floor and on them they have everything you only dream about: magnets, glasses, scarfs, some very useful toys and etc. Usually, they scream around: “1 euro, 1 euro”. But depends on what they are selling. I have to confess, we bought a few magnets from them just because in other shops it was much more expensive. But sometimes it might be very annoying. Also during the last day of the Festival I’ve mentioned we went for fireworks and there were guys who looked like they just went to the closest shop and now they are selling beers and water three times more expensive than in that shop. Nice business, huh?

Sellers in the streets of Barcelona
Sellers in the streets of Barcelona

14. It does not smell the best sometimes

Maybe that was just my feeling, but when I am walking on Bratislava streets near some trash beans I don’t feel that big smell as we were walking in Barcelona. Of course, the amount of people and mostly tourists plays a huge role there in the cleanness of the city, but I would not expect some tidy streets and the absence of the homeless while going there.  

15. How to fall in love with Barcelona and come back there again

Just go to the main street of Barcelona called La Rambla and find there drinking fountain “Font de Canaletes”. Folklore says that if you drink from this famous fountain at the top of La Rambla you will fall in love with Barcelona and always return to the city. We will tell you if it is true or not.

La Rambla - Font de Canaletes
La Rambla – Font de Canaletes

PS1: Let me know in the comments, if you’ve been to Barcelona and what you liked there the most!

PS2: If you like to read about our learnings in different countries and about different cultures, continue to one of the following articles:

15 Lessons I’ve Learned While Traveling in Macedonia

15 Lessons I’ve Learned While Traveling in Bosnia and Hercegovina

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