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Why Go To Barcelona
Barcelona contains both the authentically historic and the wildly bizarre. From the scenic trails of the colorful Park Güell to the romantic narrow alleys of Barri Gòtic; from the beachside nightclubs to the city's dozens of sacred churches and architectural marvels, this city by the sea seems to attract all types: the adventurer, the couple, the partier, the culture lover – and more – with an almost overwhelming variety of things to do. You could stay for a few days, but chances are you'll need a whole week to explore.
In Barcelona, even the beach is bustling, but it's really the cosmopolitan city that gets all the attention. Much of the activity revolves around Las Ramblas, a series of narrow streets and alleys packed with restaurants, nightclubs and a vibrant pedestrian market. But you should also take a tour of Antoni Gaudí's masterpieces; Gaudí is responsible for sites like Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia. You also shouldn't miss out on the eclectic shopping scene and the region's exquisite food and wine. You see why we suggest a week vacation? To get a lay of the land, consider signing up for one of the city's best guided tours.
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Best of Barcelona
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Barcelona Travel Tips
Best Months to Visit
The best time to visit the Barcelona is from May to June when balmy temperatures in the low to mid-70s mesh with a flurry of festivals that trumpet the advent of summer. The actual summertime is sticky with humidity – locals leave their beloved city in droves to catch a breeze somewhere else. They come back for the fall when the average highs drop back into the 70s. Winter is mild compared to other Spanish destinations, with highs in the high 50s. And while coming during the spring may seem like smart idea for avoiding crowds, April sees frequent showers, which may put a literal damper on sightseeing plans (most of Barcelona's top attractions are experienced outside). Keep in mind that no matter what time of the year you'll visit, there will be tourist crowds: Barcelona is the most-visited city in Spain.
Weather in Barcelona
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
What You Need to Know
- Don't visit in August Swarms of locals leave the city in August to catch some relief from the sweltering humidity. Likewise, some restaurants and shops are closed until September.
- Spanish vs. Catalan Many residents will refer to themselves as "Catalan" and speak the Catalan language among themselves instead of Spanish. But don't worry. Most of the residents are bilingual and the closer you are to tourist areas, trilingual.
- Cover up at church Religious sites, such as the Barcelona Cathedral and La Sagrada Familia ask that visitors cover up knees and shoulders when entering. If you don't have the proper attire on hand, you won't be admitted.
- Take a tour According to visitors, one of the best ways to acquaint yourself with the city is to take a guided tour .
How to Save Money in Barcelona
- Gorge on lunch If you eat your big meal at lunch, you can cash in on the Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day), which is usually an affordable and tasty three-course meal. A similar meal at dinnertime costs much more.
- Don't eat in tourist areas Eating areas like Las Ramblas are known to serve mediocre food at exorbitant prices. Instead, venture away from crowded areas and you will find something better for much less.
- Stay in an apartment Cut down on food costs by renting an apartment (rather than a hotel), where you can buy groceries and cook your own Catalan feasts.
Culture & Customs
Barcelona is part of the Spanish province of Catalonia, making its culture a little different from what you'd experience in Madrid, Seville or Granada. The most noticeable difference is the language. In Barcelona, both Spanish and Catalan are official languages. It's important to know that Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish. The language was derived from Latin during the occupation of the Romans several thousands of years ago. While in Barcelona, you'll see street and roadway signs in both Catalan and Spanish as well as some restaurant menus. As such, Barcelona residents tend to be bilingual. But don't fret about getting lost in translation in two languages. Residents don't expect tourists to know Catalan (the language is only spoken in the Catalonia region as well as in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, the country of Andorra and Alghero in Sardinia, Italy), so if you know some Spanish and would like to practice it, you won't run into any language confusion. However, considering Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe, you will likely find English speaking residents in hotels and tourist areas.
It's also important to know that Catalonia is an autonomous province in Spain, and you may find that some residents identify more as Catalans than Spaniards (the Catalonia flag can be found all over in Barcelona). The reason residents keep to their Catalan roots so tightly lies in a lifelong struggle for Catalonia to keep its culture from going extinct. When Spain initially became a country, Catalonia, which was incorporated, was subjected to significant cultural changes when Spanish was made the official language of both the court and literature. Over time, the province was able to reincorporate Catalan back into the literary culture, but during the Spanish Civil War in the mid-1930s, nationalist dictator Francisco Franco rose to power, took over democratic Spain and heavily restricted the expression of Catalonian culture. When Franco died, Catalonia was able to revive its language (it was banned under Franco) and become autonomous once again. Today, there is a movement in Barcelona (Catalonia's capital) to make Catalonia independent of Spain, but under the Spanish constitution, it's not possible.
Barcelona's official currency is the euro (EUR). Since the euro to U.S. dollar exchange rate fluctuates often, be sure to check what the current exchange rate is before you go. Major credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops. Like the rest of Spain, tipping is not common in Barcelona. Depending on where you dine, a service charge may be added to your bill. However, if you do want to tip, 10 percent is more than sufficient. Also similar to the rest of Spain, Catalans eat late and party even later. Restaurants are typically open for lunch between 1 and 4 p.m. and for dinner from 8 to 11 p.m. However, that doesn't mean all restaurants abide by those hours. Because Barcelona is such a popular tourist destination, you are likely to find establishments that don't close in the afternoon between lunch and dinner, so you should be able to find somewhere to grab a meal if you're hungry. For locals, dinner usually starts at 9 p.m. at the earliest, going out starts at 12 a.m. and clubs stay open until 5 or 6 a.m. If you're meeting a Catalan in a social situation, don't be alarmed if they reach out to kiss you on the cheek. Dos besos, or two kisses, one on each cheek, is the equivalence of a handshake or hug when greeting friends or meeting new people. If you are uncomfortable, simply reach out your hand when meeting someone new.
What to Eat
In Barcelona, expect to find a mix of traditional Spanish dishes along with Mediterranean-infused Catalonian classics. While here, make sure to sample Spanish staples including jamón ibérico, manchego cheese, tortilla española (potato omelet), gazpacho (cold soup), and patatas bravas (sautéed potatoes typically served with a spicy aioli). And considering the city borders the Mediterranean Sea, you should indulge in paella accordingly. But when in Catalonia, try the Catalan versions of paella. There's arròs a la catalana, which features much of the same ingredients of paella except the dish doesn't use saffron, a key ingredient in Spanish paella. Fideuà is another paella-like dish with a Catalan spin, only instead of rice you get noodles.
Catalonian cuisine is big on meat and fish. And while that may not sound too far off from the rustic, meat-heavy fare found throughout the rest of Spain, the difference here is that the Catalans like to mix both of them together in one dish. Mar i muntanya is the name of the phenomenon, so don't be alarmed if while in a restaurant, you notice a dish coming out with chicken and shrimp together on a plate. If that sounds too heavy for your liking, there are plenty of lighter options that are quintessentially Catalan. Grilled vegetables are surprisingly big for a place that loves pork. (Sausage is another staple here. Instead of focusing on chorizo, go for the regional botifarras sausage). One of the most traditional Catalan dishes available is escalivada, which is grilled eggplant and red peppers mixed with olive oil and garlic (sometimes with anchovies) served on top of bread. There's also the vegetarian-friendly, and favored pa amb tomàquet snack, or bread spread with a mix of olive oil, garlic and crushed tomatoes. And if you're visiting from December to early May, seek out a calçot cookout. Calçots are a type of spring onions native to the province, and it's a Catalan pastime to char them on a grill and dip them in romesco sauce. Also part of the pastime? Wearing bibs (often emblazoned with calçots) and eating outside, where the grilled calçots are spread among newspaper. (If that sounds familiar, it's the same way crab and lobster is consumed in the USA.)
Whatever you decide to eat while in Barcelona, make sure to leave room for dessert. Crema catalana is the Catalan version of creme brulee. Cheese is also dessert here. Mel i mató is a goat cheese drizzled with warm honey and accompanied by walnuts. Cava, or Catalan sparkling wine, goes great with these too.
Barcelona is a major tourism hotspot and pickpockets know it. Be mindful of your surroundings especially while touring Barcelona's major attractions. The city sees a moderate rate of conventional crime and principal tourist areas and metros are often the most targeted spots. Men should keep their wallets in their front pockets and carry backpacks in front when traveling on the metro and women should make sure their purses are zipped or secured as best as possible.
You should also lookout for your body. Rich cuisine and an abundance of wine can make some travelers sick, so be sure to moderate your eating habits. And be prepared to experience lots of sunshine and heat, especially when traveling in the summertime. Remember to apply sunscreen regularly and stay hydrated.
Getting Around Barcelona
The best way to get around Barcelona is by Metro. A handful of numbered and color-coded lines weave throughout the city, making stops near many of the city's most popular attractions as well as the Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN). City buses are also an option for getting around the city, but be aware that ever-present traffic jams make commuting this way rather time-consuming. You could hail taxis on the street, but if you want to burn a few calories, conduct your tour on foot or by bike. Driving is not recommended.
Entry & Exit Requirements
A passport is required for entry into Spain. The passport must be valid for three months beyond your departure date. Tourists from the United States can stay for up to 90 days without a tourist visa. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. Department of State's website.
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