We’re intrepid travelers ourselves so we know well the feeling of visiting another country for the first time. Different cultural habits, language, currency, food… Here’s a little head start and some basic notions of the do’s and don’ts, practical tips and where to search for more Barcelona useful information.
Population and Government
Barcelona is the capital city of Catalonia, an autonomous community of Spain since 1979, with an autonomous local government (Generalitat) under the rule of the Spanish Kingdom. With a population of 1.6 million people within its city limits and an approximate total population of 4.5 million within the wider metropolitan area, Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the 6th most populous urban area in the European Union.
Catalonia and its capital Barcelona have two official languages, Catalan and Castilian (commonly known as Spanish), although English is widely spoken in the main areas of the city.
Money and Currency
The actual currency in Spain is the EURO (€ or EUR) and typically no other currencies are accepted. To check the international currency rate you can visit www.xe.com. The best exchange rates abroad are typically using the ATM’s, although it is a good idea to bring some EUR in cash from your home country, just enough for a couple of days in case of any issues with your credit/debit card (check with your local bank prior to departure). All major credit cards are widely accepted.
The legendary daytime sleep of Spain lies in between myth and reality. As businesses close typically from 1:30PM to 4:00PM, this period is commonly called “siesta time” and although it’s mostly used for the local slow food rituals rather than sleeping, the unconditional siesta fans make sure to take a 20’ power nap if the opportunity comes. Bonus fact: originally, the word siesta derives from the Latin hora sexta, or sixth hour: counting from dawn, hence “midday rest”.
Blessed with beautiful Mediterranean weather, Barcelona is mostly sunny throughout the year and with an average annual temperature of 20C (68F). The warmest months are July and August, when temperatures typically swing between 25C (77F) and 31C (88F). On the other end, the coldest month is January when temperatures can drop to about 10C (50F) during the day. Rainfall averages only 55 days per year (that’s less than 5 days per month). On the summertime it’s highly recommend the use of sunblock and sunglasses. For the winter, given the temperatures of around 10C, it’s important to pack warm clothing, windbreaker jackets and scarfs, nevertheless, expect the city terraces to be bursting on every sunny day. The mild temperatures allow most of the local vegetation to remain verdant and fresh through the year and the Mediterranean Sea excellent to go for a swim from May until October.
Arriving from the airport
For the vast majority of travellers arriving to Barcelona by plane, the most common alternatives to get into the city from the airport are by taxi, shuttle bus or train. Typically one taxi can take up to 4 passengers and the taxi ride to the city should cost about €30-35 (each piece of luggage pays individually), the taxi counter should be always on.
Alternatively, the airport shuttle bus (AEROBÚS) costs about €5,90 for one-way and €10,20 for the round trip (Dec 2014 rates, for updated rates and timetables see aerobusbcn.com – buy your tickets directly at the bus). The AEROBÚS stops are easy to find, directly outside each terminal, and the ride to Plaza Catalunya takes about 35 minutes (bus departure every 5’).
The train station is just 200m away from the T2 airport terminal (if arriving on T1 terminal, needs to take the shuttle bus to the T2). With departures every 30 minutes in both ways, the trains stop in Sants, Passeig de Gràcia and El Clot stations. Train tickets can be bought at the airport train station and the stations in Barcelona city.
Barcelona Cruise Port
Getting to the cruise port of Barcelona is quite simple and quick, as the cruise port is exceptionally close to the city center: adjacent to the Old Port and within walking distance to the footstep of the famous boulevard Las Ramblas. With 9 terminals spread by 3 quays, it’s important to keep in mind where your ship is docked in order to guarantee an easy return to the ship. For the passengers arriving to Barcelona on ship and coming into the city without luggage, it’s just an easy walk to the center from nearest terminals: the ones on the WTC quay (from other quays, take the BlueBus shuttle to the WTC quay). If travelling with luggage, the transport to Barcelona cruise terminals from your hotel or airport, or the other way around, is easier with a taxi. The taxi ride to/from the city is about €10-15 and to/from the airport about €30-35 (one taxi can take up to 4 passengers, luggage pieces are paid individually).
Although Barcelona is rightfully considered a walking city, with a total surface of 99 square kilometers, transportation can be nearly inevitable to get to many parts of town. The good news is that Barcelona also offers a fantastic public transportation system that is clean, punctual, friendly and easy to use. The subway (locally known as Metro) is the fastest, easiest way to get around and reaches most areas in town. With over one hundred stations and growing, the subway network is vast and should suffice for most travellers’ needs, but if necessary it combines with the bus, tram or ferrocarril to reach virtually everywhere within the city limits. The taxi system is also quite well developed and taxi rides within the city center are usually below €15 rate. It’s possible to call a cab from the hotel/apartment, walk to the nearest taxi stop or just waive at any taxi circulating with the green light on (indicator is on the rooftop of the vehicle), which means it’s available.
Going outside of Barcelona, the national railway also offers clean, safe and punctual transportation to many other Catalan and Spanish cities, hence a great alternative to buses and airplanes. In fact, with the introduction of the AVE high speed trains, the usage of trains for long distance national travels has increased very significantly in recent years and has become a major alternative for short flights (the trip from Barcelona to Madrid takes less than 3 hours, from city center to city center). For more info on railway routes, prices, timetables and tickets: www.renfe.com.
Violent crime is nearly unknown in Barcelona and most of the crime goes as far as pick-pocketing, bag-snatching and opportunity stealing. Naturally, heavy concentrations of people play in the favor of the thief: subway, markets, Las Ramblas or the beach area are the natural habitat for these city pirates.
Barcelona is a great city to walk and should be strolled at ease but keeping in mind it is a major city and same general safety rules apply as in any other big city: leaving as much as possible at the hotel safe box, not displaying large amounts of cash, not leaving the personal belongings unattended (terrace alert: special attention to cellphones on top of the tables or purses by the feet), avoiding isolated dark alleys or excessive people jams (like subways and trains) and being extra vigilant with the unusual characters: overly helpful locals, rose sellers, street games performers, begging kids, charity petition volunteers, people asking for directions, map sellers or anybody overly insistent on establishing a conversation.
Just a bit of awareness should be enough to enjoy the stay in the Catalan capital without any unpleasant experiences. In the city there are police officers at sight nearly everywhere, call them if necessary – they are on your side and usually speak reasonable English.
Restaurants and gratuities
Typical lunch time is between 1:00PM and 3:00PM and dinner from 9:00PM to 11:00PM, nevertheless restaurants open normally at 12:00AM and 8:00PM and various restaurants remain open through the day (especially true for tapas restaurants). Gratuities are not included in the bills and although not compulsory they are common and appreciated.
Business hours are usually between 10:00AM to 1:30PM and 4:30PM until 8:30PM, on Sundays the vast majority of shops and shopping malls are closed. Banks usually open from Monday to Friday from 08:30AM to 2:00PM and they are the most recommended and reliable establishments to exchange foreign money if you need to.
Concerts, Exhibitions and Cultural agenda
Barcelona offers a huge cultural agenda and no matter what time of the year, there will always a concert, exhibition, fair or festival on offer. To keep up with what’s going on in Barcelona the city hall official cultural guide is the 1st option: guia.bcn.cat/?idma=en
Football Club Barcelona Tickets
For Barcelona football match tickets the safest option is to go straight to the source and make sure to avoid the abundant online scams: fcbarcelona.com/info-tickets
Call 112 from any phone.
United States Consulate General Barcelona: (+34) 93 280 22 27
Canada Consulate in Barcelona: (+34) 932 703 614
United Kingdom Consulate in Barcelona: (+34) 933 666 221
Australia Consulate of Barcelona: (+34) 93 362 3792