Table of Contents:
- Ciutat Vella (Old City)
- The Beaches
- Gracia and the Hills
- Montjuic and the South Side
Section 1: Introduction
I lived in Barcelona for 2 years from 2019-2021 while getting my MBA at IESE Business School. Having visited most all of the attractions in the city, I feel qualified to write this guide. I love Barcelona and am so excited to share my city with you!
The guide was mainly designed for tourists coming to Barcelona but can also be used by locals looking to explore new parts of the city – especially in the food section!
Section 2: Itineraries
Barcelona in 1 Day: Start with a pre-booked morning visit to Sagrada Familia, tapas for lunch in Eixample or Plaça Catalunya area. Afternoon in Ciutat Vella (Cathedral, La Rambla, Ciutadella Park, plus ample time for rambling). Dinner on Carrer d´Blai in Poble Sec for a pinxto crawl)
Barcelona in 2 Days: Same as Day 1, but add on Passeig de Gracia (for at least 1 Gaudi house) and Parc Guell in the morning/early afternoon. Paella for lunch and then head to Barceloneta for an afternoon on the beach. Get a fancy dinner at Boraz, Cera 23 or Asador de Aranda
Barcelona in 3 Days: Same as 2 Day itinerary but add on a full day on Montjuic Mountain and possibly a tour of Camp Nou for football fans.
Barcelona in 4+ Days: You have seen all the highlights. Take a day trip somewhere like Montserrat, Sitges, Tossa de Mar, or Girona! You can also stay longer to soak up the amazing vibes and dig deeper into the list of attractions.
Section 3: Attractions
Ciutat Vella (Old City):
Barcelona´s old town is one of Europe´s largest. This ancient maze of narrow alleys is mostly car-free. The Old City is broken up into 3 distinctive neighborhoods: Born, Gothico, and Raval.
Born is the trendiest part of the old city next to Parc de la Cituadella. It is full of cafes, boutiques, and bars.
- Palau de la Música Catalana (UNESCO World Heritage Site theater – see a show or take the tour)
- Picasso Museum (Picasso lived in Barcelona for a long time. This museum has a solid collection of his older pieces)
- El Born Cultural Center (huge building with ancient ruins underneath and the occasional exhibit)
- Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar (large Gothic church)
Parc de la Cituadella and Arco de Triunfo:
Next to Born is Barcelona´s main city park.
- The Grand Fountain (this majestic fountain is the undisputed highlight of the park)
- Barcelona Zoo (It is an average zoo and is not worth visiting as a tourist)
- Arco de Triunfo (this grand red arch once welcomed guests to the 1888 Barcelona World´s Fair. Almost any day, expect to see plenty of street performers and picnickers in the area.)
Gotico is the heart of the old city and home to many of Barcelona´s main attractions. Therefore it should be no surprise that this is the most touristy part of the city. Due to the number of tourists and sites, very few people live in Gotico.
- Cathedral (Barcelona´s gothic cathedral is a sight not to be missed. The interior and exterior are stupendous)
- Museu Frederic Mares (museum of…things. There are floors of medieval religious artifacts and secular items like keys. Very strange)
- Plaça San Jaume (center of the government of both Barcelona and Catalonia. Look for the famed Bishop´s bridge
- Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (another gothic church)
- Basilica de La Merce (Rococo church dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona)
La Rambla is the main pedestrian street in Barcelona. It stretches from Plaça Catalunya all the way to the harbor and separates Gotico from Raval. Expect to share the experience with hundreds of fellow tourists
- La Boqueria Market (Barcelona´s oldest and most famous market. It now caters exclusively to tourists. Watch out for pickpockers!)
- Plaça Real (beautiful plaza surrounded with a colonnade)
- Monument a Colom (enormous monument to Christopher Columbus, who first stopped in Barcelona on his grand return from the New World to meet with the Ferdinand and Isabella. You can take an elevator – Spain´s first – to the top for a spectacular view)
Raval is home to many ethnic minorities from Africa and the Middle East. It therefore has a very different atmosphere than the rest of Barcelona. While the neighborhood has a reputation for being a center of crime, it was significantly cleaned up for the 1992 Olympics, so don´t let that deter you from visiting its many sights and delicious restaurants.
- Palau Guell (Gaudi-designed palatial home)
- Maritime Museum (housed in an old shipyard, this massive museum contains an impressive history)
- MACBA (Barcelona´s modern art museum – purposefully placed in Raval so the cultural treasures of the city would be spread out around the city)
Barcelona has numerous beautiful Mediterranean beaches. Interestingly, beaches are a new phenomenon- having been created for the 1992 Olympics when city officials pondered the question “What does our city not have?”.
Barceloneta is a Barcelona´s main beach neighborhood. It has a unique street grid with very long but skinny rectangular blocks
- The Beach (Barceloneta has a wonderful stretch of sand)
- Beachfront path (a great place to stroll and take an exercise class. The area around the W hotel is especially lively)
- Harbor (ogle at some of the world´s largest yachts)
- Museu d´Historia de Catalunya (fantastic history museum of the region)
Off the tourist radar, Poblenou has become the city´s corporate center with many large companies setting up shop here in the many high rises i.
- Bogatell Beach (a less crowded, more local alternative to Barceloneta)
- Design Museum of Barcelona (museum dedicated to fashion, architecture, and decorative art)
- Torre Glories (iconic dildo-shaped skyscraper. Recently, an observation deck was installed 125 meters up)
Eixample (eh-sham-play) is a humongous neighborhood that surrounds the old city. It seemingly takes up half the city. Eixample contains Barcelona´s distinctive square block grid. Navigating Eixample can be disorienting since every block seemingly looks the same. Besides Google maps, one way to orient oneself is to look at the slope of the road: up slopes towards the mountains (and Gracia) while downhill points towards the Old City and the Mediterranean Sea.
While not an official dividing line, Eixample can be split roughly in half by the grand Passeig de Gracia
This is my name for the part of Eixample west of Passeig de Gracia. Most of my friends lived in this neighborhood and it is where I spent much of my social life.
- Centre Cultural La Model (maximum security prison that closed in 2017 now a museum),
- Plaça Universitat (popular square and an easy place to meet up and walk around)
My name for everything in Eixample east of Passeig de Gracia
- Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (Barcelona´s most famous attraction, Gaudi´s masterpiece and perhaps the world´s most beautiful church. Still unfinished after 120+ years of construction. If there is one thing to see in Barcelona, this is it. Reserve your ticket online in advance – UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Hospital de Sant Pau (Modernista-style hospital that is now a weird combination of museum and tech office space- UNESCO World Heritage Site)
Passeig de Gracia:
Barcelona´s premier shopping street and equivalent of Champs-Élysee, Fifth Avenue, Bond Street, etc
- Casa Mila aka La Pedrera (Gaudi-designed apartment building. This is my favorite Gaudi structure in all of Barcelona – UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Casa Batllo (Gaudi-designed private home that is open to the public. They also have cultural performances on the roof – UNESCO World Heritage Site)
- Shopping! (all the upscale global stores are here. Santa Eulalia is a 100-year-old local multi-brand boutique)
Barcelona´s main square. It links the old city/La Rambla to Eixample. Underneath is a large transit hub. You will inevitably end up here if you visit Barcelona. The square itself is not very pretty. Coming here is more of a means to an end.
Gracia and the Hills:
Inland from Diagonal, the city´s main street, the terrain slopes up towards the mountains. This is the location of Barcelona´s wealthier neighborhoods.
Once an independent city, Gracia is one of Barcelona´s most treasured neighborhoods. Narrow one-lane streets, fun restaurants and plazas are plentiful here.
- Park Guell (Gaudi-designed public park)
- Casa Vincens (Gaudi designed house. The outside is better than the inside)
- Bunkers Del Carmel (Civil War-era bunkers that now house the best view of all Barcelona. Very popular at sunset)
Off the tourist radar, Sarria and Sant Gevasi are upscale neighborhoods in the hills. Sarria has an especially lovely pedestrian main street and a lively local scene most evenings
- Tibidabo (amusement park and landmark church on top of the mountain – you can reach it by either a public bus or the Tibidabo funicular. Epic views)
- Bellesguard (Gaudi house that gets zero tourists because it is higher up in the hills),
- CosmoCaixa (museum on the earth that includes a mini Brazilian rainforest – go here instead of the Natural Science museum in Poblenou)
Barcelona´s fanciest neighborhood. Here, you can find the massive homes of the elite. Pedrables is also the home of IESE Business School where I obtained my MBA!
- Monastir de Pedrables (Gothic monastery with impressive cloister and collection of religious artifacts)
- IESE Business School (my home for 2 years. Make sure to say hi to the turtles on South Campus)
- Barcelona Supercomputing Center (check out this MASSIVE computer open for 30 minute tours during the week)
Montjuic and the South Side:
Montjuic is a massive mountain park in the center of Barcelona that is covered in attractions. The nearby neighborhoods have some of Barcelona´s larger attractions as well as great restaurants
Literally “Mountain of the Jews” because it once was the location of a Jewish cemetery, Barcelona´s massive urban park covers an entire mountain on the city´s south side. With museums, gardens, and more, Montjuic is a must-see on any trip to Barcelona.
- Museu Nacional dÁrt de Catalunya (Barcelona´s main art museum is housed in the former Palau Nacional, the domed palace built for the 1929 International Exhibition. The museum itself has 4 wings. My highlight is the collection of Romanesque church frescos brought in from the Val d´Boi in western Catalonia)
- Montjuic Castle (17th century fortress with really nice views)
- Joan Miro Foundation (art museum with only works by the famed Catalan artist Joan Miro)
- Olympic Museum (artifacts from the 1992 Olympics plus general Olympics information),
- Olympic Stadium (huge athletics stadium that hosted the 1992 games)
- Jardins del Mirador (my favorite spot on Montjuic)
- Refugi 307 (a bomb shelter from the Spanish Civil War – public tours are only available on Sundays)
Barcelona´s second largest square, Plaça dÉspana is both a beautiful and functional part of the city.
- Plaça d´España (the plaza itself has a monumental fountain and two large Venetian-inspired towers)
- Arenas Mall (After Catalonia outlawed bullfighting, Barcelona converted its main bullring into a mall- the layout is weird, but the outside is cool and there is a roof deck),
- Magic Fountain (located at the foot of Montjuic, this fountain comes alive for a sound and light show most evenings around 8 or 9 pm – check online for the times. Expect a huge crowd)
- CaixaForum (Barcelona´s edition of a national chain of cultural centers with rotating exhibits)
Named for the Roman villas which once stood here, Les Corts is best known for being the home of FC Barcelona. There is no other real reason to go here, except to follow in the footsteps of one famous ex-resident: ME!
- Camp Nou (legendary home of FC Barcelona. If you can´t see a game, there is a comprehensive self-guided stadium tour)
- My Apartment (I lived at 297 Carrer Entença above the Dormity shop. Go take a picture and send it to me)
- L´Illa Diagonal (large upscale mall – check out the food court on the lower level and the enormous Cabrabo grocery store and be amazed)
Section 4: Restaurants
General Info on Restaurants in Barcelona:
In general, cheaper food in Barcelona is worse than average for Spain, but high-end food is better than average for Spain. Therefore, spend the money on the good meal if you can and avoid going to any random restaurant you see on the street. Google Maps is a great way to determine the quality of a restaurant. While not appreciated by tourists, one of the best parts of living in Barcelona is the ability to try many types of cuisines besides just Spanish food.
For lunch, restaurants will usually open at 1pm and will be busiest from 2-4pm. For dinner, restaurants will usually open at 8pm and will be busiest from 9:30-11:30pm.
Lunch is the biggest and most important meal of the day for Spaniards. Reservations are needed at most upscale restaurants, as they will only do one seating. Even if you show up right when a restaurant opens, there is a good chance you will be denied entry because the tables are all booked in 2 hours. Don´t get mad- just accept that this is Spain.
Also, Sunday is a very popular day for families to get lunch together. Typically, families will have long 3-4 hour lunches on Sundays. Because of this, most restaurants are open for lunch on Sunday, but many will close for dinner.
Credit cards are accepted basically everywhere and there is never a need to tip. Ever.
- Bar El Tomas de Sarria (Inconveniently way up in Sarria, but the place is known among locals to have the best patatas bravas in the city)
- Quimet & Quimet (the best cold tapas bar in the city – in Poble Sec near Carrer Blai)
- Taverna El Glop (In Gracia – one of the few truly delicious cheap tapas restaurants in Barcelona- check out their lunchtime menu de dia)
- La Cova Fumada (iconic Barceloneta tapas bar where the Barcelona´s most famous tapa, the Bomba, was invented. Their grilled squid is also incredible. Old school vibes.)
- Cerveseria Catalana (my favorite touristy tapas bar. There is almost always a wait to eat here, but it is worth it)
- Ciutat Comtal (very popular traditional tapas including some rarer seafood options like razor clams)
- Vermuteria La Guapa (superior quality tapas bar at average prices. Very popular with locals. Also, they make their own vermut)
- Cera 23 (one of the best mid/high-end restaurants you will every try – in Raval. Book about a week ahead. The owner is Galician so look out for the octopus and special wines. You can write your name on the wall so look out for my name on the wall in the back room I believe high up on the left side)
- Arume (Same owner as Cera 23 and located just a few meters away. Equally delicious. Make reservations)
- La Pepita (fun modern tapas at the start of Gracia)
- Cal Pep (There is no written menu – the move it to have them give you whatever they are making, and it will be good. Occupies a prime corner in Born across from Paradiso)
- My Fucking Restaurant (The name is gimmicky, but the food is actually really good. There are some clever takes on traditional Spanish food)
Blai Street Pinxto Crawl:
For first timers to Spain, my top food recommendation is the pinxto food crawl on Carrer Blai Pinxtos are a type of tapa from the Basque country that are held together by a toothpick. Prices are typically €1-2 for a basic pinxto or €2-3 for a fancy pinxto). A good starting point is Restaurant La Tasqueta de Blai. While not technically on Carrer Bial, do not skip Quimet & Quimet, the best cold tapas bar in the city.
- Can Culleretes (open on a tiny street in Gotico since 1786, this is the oldest restaurant in Barcelona. As traditional as it gets. The interior is gorgeous)
- El Xampanyet (very traditional Catalan food – located in Born)
- La Nueva Marquesa (solid menu del dia located right next to Camp Nou. If you are visiting the stadium, eat here)
- El Nacional (upscale collection of restaurants/food hall with a very cool interior. Some of the restaurants accept reservations – conveniently located on Passeig de Gracia)
- Botafumeiro (landmark very expensive seafood restaurant in Gracia. I ordered the seafood paella and liked it, but the real reason you go are for the seafood towers)
- LÓlive (upscale modern Catalan food. You can´t go wrong here)
- Can Travi Nou (Set in a 17th century farmhouse featured in Vicky Christina Barcelona, this traditional Catalan restaurant is famous for calcots, a special type of grilled green onion that is only available in the springtime. It´s a bit out of the tourist zone but eating calcots is a special cultural experience that should not be missed if visiting in-season).
Food from Other Parts of Spain:
- LÁrrossseria Xatia (Paella originates in the Valencia region just down the coast from Barelona and this restaurant is named for a famous town in Valencia. They serve more than 20 types of paella. This has always been my go-to spot to take visitors – because it is delicious, does not need a reservation and is 1 block from my apartment)
- Pulperia A Gudiña (Galician restaurant specializing in octopus. Galician food is popular all over Spain and there are many restaurants in Barcleona, but this old school place is my favorite. If you want similar food with a modern vibe, check out Can Lampazas across the street)
- Asador de Aranda (serves suckling pig and “lechazo – two rarely found regional dishes from Castille – in an epic castle setting. Expensive but worth it!)
- Maitea (Basque food is considered by many to be the best cuisine in Spain. Maitea is one of Barcelona´s most popular traditional Basque restaurants. There is both a pinxto area and sit down section)
- Santa Caterina Market (located in Born just down the street from the Cathedral, this is Barcelona´s newest and flashiest market. It has a mix of prepared foods and produce)
- La Boqueria Market (Barcelona´s oldest and most famous market. It now caters exclusively to tourists with prepared foods of various cuisines. The fresh squeezed juices are a highlight. The market is a haven for pickpockets, so always keep a hand on your wallet and purse!)
- Mercat de Ninot (Located in Eixample West, this is the real deal market where locals shop. Mostly produce, meat, and seafood, but there are a few stands where you can order prepared foods. There is a huge grocery store in the basement, which may seem odd but the two actually work synergistically and allow for a truly 1-stop-shopping experience)
- Boraz (My favorite meal of all time in Barcelona – high end but the price is better than similar restaurants since it has no Michelin star)
- A Pluma (Looking for a cheap and healthy lunch? A Pluma´s rotisserie chicken is a good bet – in Sant Gevasi near Diagonal)
- Restaurant BelleBuon (Spain has a similar culture and climate to Italy and therefore attracts a large Italian expat population. This is considered one of the better Italian restaurants in the city – near Hospital Sant Pau)
- Parking Pizza (the best pizza in Barcelona. I took an Italian friend here and she liked it)
- Yakumanka by Gaston Acurio (the best Peruvian food you willl ever have)
- El Raco de lÁvia Veneçolana (fun Venezuelan restaurant)
- El Pachuco (Mexican food in Barcelona is generally overpriced and awful, but this place is decent and will satisfy your fix. If you actually want good Mexican food, you´ll have to take the train to Madrid)
- IAKNI (hip and delicious Lebanese restaurant in Sant Antoni– a big step above the pack)
- Bismillah Kebab (This is where the Arab and Pakistani residents of Raval go to get their shawarma with tandoori spices. Very popular and rightfully so.)
- LÉstrella del Nord (Moroccan restaurant in Raval)
- Liuyishou Hotpot Restaurant (Barcelona has several Chinese hot pot restaurants – this was the one preferred by my Chinese and Taiwanese classmates)
- Mon Viet (best Vietnamese restaurant in the city – they do offer a menu de dia)
- Chennai Masala Dosa (Barcelona´s best and only South Indian restaurant)
- KimchiMama (Korean restaurant with exceedingly friendly staff- a rarity in Spain)
- Pasteleria Hofmann (bakery arm of a Michelin starred restaurant)
- Turris (the best bakery chain by a landslide. Delicious bread, baked goods, and pies. I lived off their lemon pies – many locations around the city…you´ll notice them from the big line)
- Puiggros (during the end of the lockdown, I would take morning excursions to find the best croissants in the city and this place was the winner)
- 65 Degrees (American brunch is a trending food genre in Barcelona and this place is by far the best place for it. The presentation of the food is incredible)
- Granja M. Viader (Churros in Spain are different from their Mexican cousin. They are thick and served with a cup of molten chocolate. Granja M. Viader is Barcelona´s oldest churro shop- having opened in 1870. While the shop has old school charm, Barcelona´s churros are not nearly as good as what you can find in Madrid or Sevilla)
- Xurreria Trebol (popular churro shop at the edge of Gracia)
- Orxateria Sirvent (landmark horchata and ice cream shop in Sant Antoni)
- DeLaCrem (Barcelona´s most popular gelato stand is next to a lively pedestrian street in Eixample – go during the daytime because the lines get long at night)
- Horchatería El Tío Ché (iconic 100-year-old horchata stand – in Poblenous near Bogatell Beach)
- Honest Greens (Fun fact: you can actually get a salad in Spain. This chain serves salads, juices, and heathy grain bowls – many locations throughout the city)
- Flax & Kale (Seemingly plucked straight out of Venice Beach. Medium priced. Sit down but they also have a large juice selection to go. Multiple locations around Barcelona and even one in the La Roca Village outlet mall)
- Teresa Carles (Flax & Kale´s vegetarian cousin- located at the edge of Raval near Plaça Catalunya– I loved their cava sangria. Perpetually busy but for some reason I have always been able to snag the last table. Every. Single. Time.)
- Addis Abeba (Barcelona´s top and only Ethiopian restaurants. Really nice staff. They did takeout during the pandemic and it was amazing)
- The Ranch Smokehouse (American BBQ, this is where I would take my friends to show them American food)
- Bo de B (cheap cash-only Mediterranean sandwich shop- an enormous sandwich is about €5-7. I personally think it is overrated, but everyone coming to Barcelona has been recommended it by their friend who studied abroad here so I feel obligated to include it in the guide)
Section 5: Bars and Nightlife:
General Info on Drinking in Barcelona:
Spaniards love to drink at all times and in all places. Alcohol is ubiquitous and very cheap (in some places cheaper than water). There is no stigma with drinking around children. Nearly every restaurant no matter how small will serve alcohol at any hour of the day. Want a whisky shot at the train station cafeteria at 7:30 am? No problemo!
Beer is the most popular drink of choice and the most popular size of a beer is a “caña” or slightly more than half a liter. Larger sizes of beer are doble, copa, or pinta. But be warned with the larger sizes because your beer will get warm fast in the summer heat!
Besides beer, the most popular drink is vermut or vermouth. Vermut is a sweet fortified wine. Unlike in the US where it is dry and mixed into cocktails, Vermut in Spain is drunk on its own and is much sweeter. If you have not tried vermut, it is definitely worth ordering a glass.
While most tourists think sangria is the quintessential Spanish drink, the truth is that it is not very common outside of touristic restaurants. The “locals” equivalent of sangria is “tinto de verano” which is a mixture of red wine and lemonade.
Nightlife in Barcelona is not for the faint-hearted. Clubs generally open at midnight or 1am. They get busy around 2 and close at 5 or 6. However, there are also afterparties that can go to 10, 11am. As Spain is the intersection of Europe and Latin America, clubs will generally play either some form of EDM (usually house) or reggaeton. If you are going out, try taking a nap beforehand and don´t plan on doing much the next day.
All that said, Spain´s most popular place to drink is in the streets or on the beach with your friends in what is called a “botellon”. People do this because drinks in clubs are expensive. Go to any city or town in Spain and you will see this phenomenon.
- Morro Fi (no more than a window on the street, this place serves some of the best vermut in Barcelona. Look for the crowd on the street)
- Senyor Vermut (this small restaurant serves cheap tapas – and good ones at that – but the real reason you are here is for their homemade vermut. Expect a line as soon as they open at noon)
- Bar Brutal (lively vermut bar in Born. Really great energy here)
- Vermuteria La Guapa (the popular Eixample tapas bar also makes their own vermut)
Lively Places to Drink Outside:
- Plaça del Sol (Gracia´s main square is ground zero for outdoor drinking. The square is ringed with liquor stores. Go in, grab a few beers and sit on the ground in the square with the masses. The party ends abruptly at midnight)
- Barceloneta Beach (late at night until the sunrise, hundreds of young people are drinking with their friends here)
- Carrer d´ Palament in Sant Antoni is a lively street with plenty of chill bars and patio dining
- Plaça Real just off La Rambla is an exceptionally beautiful square with a tourist crowd
- Paradiso (over the top cocktail bar ranked the third best bar in the world in 2022)
- Dr. Stravinsky (Victorian-chemist themed bar ranked the world´s 25th bar in the world in 2019)
- Kahala Barcelona (Barcelona´s only and best tiki bar. I lived very close by so this was my go-to bar)
- Skybar Iberostar (rooftop bars in Barcelona are very rare. This one is right in Plaça Catalunya. The menu is average and pricey, but the views are very nice)
- Bobby´s Free (speakeasy hidden behind a barber shop. The bouncer will actually first tell you that it is a barbershop, so you have to press him to let you in)
- 14 De La Rosa (upscale cocktails in Gracia with a Spanish twist)
- CocoVail Beer Hall (American-style craft beer bar that also serves chicken wings. This was the go-to spot for North American IESE meet-ups. Also this might be the only bar in all of Spain where you can order at the counter instead of having to wait for someone to serve you. Greatly appreciated!)
- Belushi´s (sports bar that shows American/British sports. Attached to a hostel so it has backpacker vibes)
- Fabrica Moritz (this is the brewery that makes one of Barcelona´s more famous beers)
- Bling Bling (the favorite club among IESE students. It is in Eixample just off Diagonal)
- Port Olympic (just north of Barceloneta Beach) is the main clubbing destination in Barcelona. The most popular clubs here are Opium, Shoko and Pacha. Expect to see more tourists than locals.
- La Fira Provença (Smaller nightclub in Eixample. There are actually two locations very close to each other, but this is the better location)
- Passeig del Born (in Born is a street full of bars and dance clubs. None of them are particularly exclusive or hard to get into so feel free to jump to a few during your night)
Section 6: Logistics
Barcelona´s single airport is in the city of El Prat just south of the city. The airport is one of the busiest in Europe and is well connected to everywhere.
There are two terminals. Terminal 1 is the newer and nicer terminal and contains most airlines including Vueling. Terminal 2 houses mostly budget carriers such as RyanAir.
To get into the city from the airport, the easiest and cheapest way is via the Aerobus. Look for the blue logo. The bus costs about €6 one-way and stops at Plaça España, Plaça Universität, and Plaça Catalunya- all right in the center of the city. All these stops are major transit hubs with taxis and the subway. Buses leave every 5 minutes.
Train connections to the airport exist, but are inferior to the bus.
Taxis from the airport are expensive – expect to pay €40 to reach the city center. I would only use one if you are in a group of 3 or more. For groups of 2 or less, take the bus to the city center then take the taxi.
Barcelona´s main train station is called Sants.
Long Distance Trains: All long-distance trains to the rest of Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Girona, San Sebastian) as well as from France arrive and depart from Sants Station. Long distance trains (especially the AVE to Madrid) should be booked ahead of time online as they can sell out. If you are considering a last minute train trip, try leaving in the early morning because Catalans are not early risers.
Regional Trains: Catalonia has a robust regional train network to all parts of the Autonomous Community. The train network is called Rodalies and are numbered R1-R17. These trains do not need to be booked in advance, but it is worth checking the schedule if venturing to a further station because there might not be many trains each day. All lines leave from Sants Station, but some trains coming from the south will also stop at Passeig de Gracia and Estacio de Fracia in the Born neighborhood. Catalonia´s transit systems are all integrated, so Metro cards theoretically work here, but be careful about the zones.
There is also a small Suburban rail network that leaves from Plaça España. The only reasons you would take this train are to visit Montserrat mountain or Colonia Guell (an obscure Gaudi site in the suburbs).
Barcelona´s subway system is called the metro. There are 12 lines, and it goes just about everywhere. From Sunday-Thursday, the metro runs from 5am until midnight. On Friday night, the metro runs until 2am and on Saturday night the metro runs 24 hours. Tickets are €2.40 for a single ride but are much cheaper if you buy a pass. Trains run every 3-5 minutes.
Barcelona has a robust public bus system and tickets can be purchased onboard for €2.40 (credit cards with the contactless tap feature only). Buses are useful when going into the hills where the Metro can´t reach. When trying to navigate the city, Google Maps´ transit directions are very helpful.
Barcelona´s stellar bikeshare program is, sadly, only open to residents.
Where to Stay:
The city is very well connected. If you are near a metro station and outside of Raval, it really does not matter where you are staying. City officials have been cracking down on illegal AirBNBs. If you book an AirBNB, make sure that the listing mentions the License number. Otherwise, you might be in trouble.
Barcelona and the surrounding region speak a unique language called Catalan. The language is a Romance language but is different enough from Spanish (called Castellano) that you will likely not understand it. All announcements on public transportation are made in both Catalan and Castellano. All street signs and store signs are also in Catalan. Everyone also knows Castellano, although some hardcore independists will refuse to speak it and will reply in Catalan.
As Barcelona is a large global city with a huge tourist industry, many people speak English too including nearly everyone in the tourist/dining sectors. All museums have displays in English. You will have no problem getting around only speaking English.
Approximately half of Catalonia wants to secede from Spain and create an independent country. This is the most pressing political issue in Catalonia and supersedes the liberal/conservative political divide.
The decision on whether to be independent is very heated and it is best not asking people where they stand on the issue.
When political events occur, they are typically disruptive but not dangerous. Best to stay away.
Like the rest of Spain, Barcelona has a unique set of times. Almost nothing in Spain is open before 10am with the exception of schools, so don´t bother getting an early start.
Many businesses (but not all) and museums will close between 2-5pm and then will reopen until 8 or 9pm. Before you go, look up the hours online. The siesta is more common in rural areas. Nightclubs typically open at 1:00 am and stay busy from 2-5am.
While most of Spain shuts down on Sundays, most of Barcelona will remain open in the city center.
August is the vacation month. Most businesses will close for part or all of August and the ones that stay open will have limited hours. Try to avoid Barcelona in August and instead go to the Pyrenees or the Costa Brava.