Barcelona, Spain – Things to Do, Attractions and Safety
Barcelona, Spain, is one of the best cities to visit in Europe. Despite the popularity of cities like Paris or London, Barcelona maintains a strong reputation of culture, high-end food, nightlife, pristine beaches, history, and of course, all the things to do. It’s one of the safest cities in the world and is great for all types of travelers.
To help you plan your dream vacation to Barcelona, this travel guide will tell you everything you need to know about the best time to visit, weather, language, currency, the top attractions and things to do, the top beaches, where to stay, the best places to eat and shop, safety, transportation, covid-restrictions, things you’ll need for international travel, as well as other tips to make your trip the best it can be.
Things to Know About Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is rated one of the most “social” cities, with respectful and direct locals. It sees about 27 million visitors each year and is home to 1.62 million people. Barcelona is situated on the east coast of Spain, well known for its art and architecture, with beautiful Balearic beaches.
The city of Barcelona is home to the professional football (soccer) team FC Barcelona, which kept star player Lionel Messi for a few record-breaking years. Camp Nou, the football stadium, is the largest in the world.
While you wouldn’t always think of Barcelona for food, there are more than 20 restaurants with Michelin stars. It’s an old city with 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the only city to receive the Royal Gold Medal for Architecture.
Best Time to Visit Barcelona
Most tourists visit Barcelona during the summer, making May through September the busiest, and most expensive time to visit. These months tend to have the most tourist accommodations available, with much more to do during your visit.
The cheapest months to visit Barcelona are October, November, February, March, and April. These are the “off season” months and there will generally be less attractions and events during this time.
Weather In Barcelona
Barcelona has mild weather year-round, with shorter summers and longer winters. The hottest month is August, with highs around 85°F (30°C) and lows around 74°F (23°C). The coldest month is February with highs around 59°F (15°C) and lows around 47°F (8°C).
Barcelona has a lot of tree pollen April through June, so remember to pack allergy medicine. Barcelona receives an average of 90 days of rain a year but is otherwise mostly sunny.
Language in Barcelona
About a quarter of Spain’s population speaks some English, making it one of the most English-speaking friendly countries in the world. Barcelona, though, is more heavily focused on its official languages of Catalan and Spanish. Most tourist attractions are set up with consideration to English-speaking visitors, though knowing common phrases is considerate and helpful.
If you want to venture into the more “authentic” and less “touristy” parts of Barcelona, you will need to have some control over Spanish. If language is a problem, tours are available which are designed to help visitors fully enjoy Barcelona without a language barrier.
Cash and Currency in Barcelona
Spain uses the Euro, and you won’t be able to pay for things in any other currency. Banks and credit unions offer the best exchange rates, and it’s best to exchange money before you start your trip. Paying with a card is best for restaurants and hotels, but cash is more popular for small/less formal transactions.
ATMs in Europe are huge for scams and devices that steal credit-card information, so it’s best to avoid these if possible. Check with your bank to see about fees for using your card in foreign countries.
Attractions and Things to Do in Barcelona
Barcelona caters well to its visitors and offers year-round events, concerts, sports, parades, museums, bullfights, and shopping. We can’t list it all, so we’ve selected some of the most popular things to do and see that should make the agenda of any trip to Barcelona.
- Basilica de la Sagrada Familia
Perhaps the most well-known attraction in Barcelona is the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. One of the longest constructions of a Roman Catholic Church, the Basilica is still being worked on today. It is well known for its exquisite architectural style and design.
One of the most famous attractions in Barcelona, Park Guell catches eyes with its larger-than-life colors, designs, and child-like architecture. The whimsical walkways and colorful tiles that decorate nearly every square-foot are worth the time of any tourist. Be aware that your tickets matter with this attraction. While there is a free option, it lacks access to the most desirable parts of the park. Get tickets and be punctual.
- Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona)
Set in the Gothic temple architecture style, this beautiful, unique church is as beautiful as it is historic. The Cathedral is named Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saints Eulalia, Eulalia being a young girl who refused to give up her Christian faith to Roman rulers. The cathedral was built from the thirteenth through the fifteenth centuries and has been a renowned piece of Spanish architecture since.
Located next to the historic and popular, Parc de la Ciutadella, the Arc de Triomf is a well-known attraction that makes a great photo opportunity for natives and travelers. The historic arch acted as the main gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair and now serves as the entryway to one of the city’s greatest parks.
A trendy and fun place in the urban city, the gothic quarter is filled with streets and buildings from the past. Discover quirky bars and clubs as well as Catalan restaurants. You can also see the remains of the ancient Roman city.
- La Rambla Barcelona’s Social Hub
La Boqueria—one of Spain’s oldest markets—originated in 1217 but its modern look is vastly different from its humble beginnings. The market boasts over 200 stalls with various vendors selling their wares. Yet the experience here is best had by eating the fresh ocean fried delicacies paired with a classic fruit smoothie or glass of cava.
At 99,354 seats inside the stadium, Camp Nou is the largest stadium in Europe. Every seat is owned by season ticket holders but the tickets they don’t want are often released to the public—so don’t feel discouraged. For about $30, you can tour the stadium yourself which includes the field itself, Messi’s trophies, the tunnel the players walk through, and the bench of the first team.
Many tourists are attracted to this mountaintop fairground by seeing its color studded Ferris wheel and the famous statue of Jesus on the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. The views are breathtaking, the rides and fun of the fair offer a good time to all ages, and the high traffic tourist location means good food and shopping as well.
- Parc del Laberinto d’Horta
This archaic garden offers more than placid ponds, endless statues of figures from myths, and most famously, a winding maze of cypress foliage that is styled after the Greek myth of Theseus and a Minotaur he killed to win the love of Ariadne. While the labyrinth design seems youthful as it is inspired by this old tale and visitors are meant to tour the maze in hopes of finding the statue of cupid, the maze proves a fun challenge for all tourist alike.
Pablo Picasso was known for spending much of his youth in Barcelona with recurring trips back to his teenage home after he was an adult. The museum spans five palatial buildings and displays a myriad of his works. The museum is worth the trip for its stunning atmosphere and architecture alone but its collection of nearly 4,000 Picasso works also make it a popular attraction for locals and tourists alike.
While there are a multitude of cathedrals to visit in Barcelona, Santa Maria Del Mar is by far a favorite of locals and tourists alike. With earthquakes and fires under its belt, this cathedral maintains a stunning history alongside its monumental architecture.
- Santa Paula Art Nouveau Site
If you’re curious to see authentic Catalan Art Nouveau style (think-stained glass windows, towering pillars, and artistic domes), then this is the perfect site to visit. With the initial purpose of providing a serene place to heal, the building was constructed with prime sun exposure in mind as well as a calming atmosphere. While the building successfully fulfilled its original intent for many years, it now serves as an arts venue and museum which hosts the Fashion Week of Barcelona.
With verdant grass, a stunning monumental fountain, a zoo, and regional Parliament House, the Park del Ciutadella encompasses the bravado of Barcelona. Tour the Arc de Triomf and many iconic surrounding structures in this beautiful, calming park.
- Palau de la Música Catalana
Differing from other architectural styles in Spain, the Palau de la Música Catalana is built with a modernist style. With stunning chandeliers, stained glass roses, and breathtaking moldings of creatures and figures decorating towering pillars, the choir house is just as much a treat to watch a choir in as well as to listen. While the venue hosts the Orfeo Catala symphonic choir, they also host a myriad of other musical compilations and performances like opera and flamenco. The best time to visit for music is at night.
Enjoy sunny afternoons, a young and high-spirited atmosphere? Then Barceloneta is probably the beach for you. This strip of sandy beach offers culture diverse crowds, convenient access, and shops galore.
A privately owned museum by the city pastry makers’ guild, the chocolate museum is a wonder filled museum of chocolate sculptures that often take the shape of famous Barcelona buildings, well-known cartoon characters and more.
Often compared to the famous Monet painting, Water Lilies, Casa Batllo is a stunning home studded with pieces of stained glass and fashioned after the same style as Park Guell. In fact, Gaudí, the same designer of Park Guell, designed the home of Josep Batllo. What makes this home even more unique is the lack of straight lines; Gaudí claimed there are no straight lines in nature so there would be no straight lines within this home either. Located in the center of Barcelona, this masterpiece is hard to miss.
Beaches in Barcelona
Barcelona sits next to the Balearic Sea (connected to the Mediterranean) with 17 tan-white sand beaches. The waves are small and mostly free of dangerous currents. The beaches are clean and well maintained but are also popular and usually quite crowded. The water is a bit cooler in Barcelona than the Gulf of Mexico or the coasts of Florida, but warmer than in California.
On all of Barcelona’s beaches, it is common for women to be topless. Full nudity is only [unofficially] allowed on San Sebastian Beach and the LGBTQIA+ friendly Mar Bella Beach, though there is no actual separation of these beaches from other beaches, and nudists can be seen on all beaches. Nudity and toplessness are only permitted on beaches.
Top Seven Beaches in Barcelona:
- Llevant Beach
- Saint Sebastia Beach
- Mar Bella Beach
- Bogatell Beach
- Nova Icaria Beach
- Zona de Banys del Fórum
10 Best Restaurants and Places to Eat in Barcelona
- Maitea Taberna
- Flax And Kale
- Morro Fi
- Bar Ramon
- Nomad Coffee Lab and Shop
- Restaurant Mano Rota
- Els Sortidors del Parlament
6 Best Malls and Places to Shop in Barcelona
- Centre Comercial Diagonal Mar
- Arenas de Barcelona
- La Marquinista
- Galerias Malda
Is Barcelona Safe to Visit?
Barcelona, Spain, is ranked one of the safest cities in the world by The Economist Intelligence Unit. Tourists (whether traveling solo or as a group) are very safe, though pickpockets do tend to be a problem. Spain ranks incredibly high on the Global Peace Index, almost twice as safe as the United States.
Barcelona is safe for all types of visitors, including women traveling solo, families, couples, and groups. Barcelona is one of the most LGTBQIA+ friendly cities in Europe, with an open and respectful atmosphere.
Safety Tips for Visiting Barcelona
Just because Spain is low on crime doesn’t mean you should be careful. Scams and theft do occur. Criminals are opportunists, so the best precaution is to stay alert and avoid looking like a target. There is some rising anti-social sentiment in Europe, so be respectful or potentially face heavy fines. Remember to keep ALL beachwear–including shorts–for the beach.
Card skimming, as in many places, is common in Europe. Consider getting a card with limited funds/low spending limits for travel purposes.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
There is no “best” place to stay in Barcelona, nor any particular areas that you absolutely avoid. There are, however, certain neighborhoods with slightly different accents. We’ve listed the most popular neighborhoods tourist stay in to help make hotel booking a little easier.
Safest: Eixample, Poble Sec, and Poblenou
Most walkable: Barri Gotic and El Born
Closest to Beaches: Barceloneta, Poblenou
First-time Visit: Barri Gotic, Eixample
Local Culture: El Raval
Romantic: Barri Gotic
Family Friendly: Barri Gotic, El Raval, Gracia, Barceloneta
Food and Restaurants: All are great.
Nightlife: Poblenou, Barri Gotic, El Raval, El Born, Eixample
Sightseeing: Barri Gotic, Eixample, Poble Sec
Budget: El Raval, El Born
Local Fashion: Gracia
Barri Gotic is the historical heart of Barcelona with medieval architecture and plenty of bars, restaurants, and plazas. It’s one of the most walkable areas, with narrow streets. It’s close to everything and has the most options for hotels.
With a much more artistic vibe, El Raval is home to most Barcelona’s big museums. It still has a lot of nightlife (both the kind to enjoy and the kind to avoid), and lots of high-end cuisine.
El Born is a quieter area with tons of smaller shops, restaurants, and bars. The streets are a bit of a maze here, adding to the boutique vibe.
Eixample features designer vibes and modernist architecture. It’s one of the more high-end luxury neighborhoods of Barcelona, but one of the more iconic parts of the city. It’s one of the safer areas.
Barceloneta is right on the beach, with great seafood and low-key shops and attractions. It’s more popular among solo travelers and families and is better for those who want to spend a little more time outside the busy parts of the city.
Poble Sec is the liveliest of Barcelona’s neighborhoods but is less popular among tourists for its lack of well-known attractions. It is a trendy area with plenty of live music venues. It does lack budget and luxury accommodations.
Popular among business travelers and partygoers, Poblenou is home to Barcelona’s best beaches and most vibrant club and bar scene. It is far from most attractions but does have plenty of good food and high-end hotels.
Areas of Caution in Barcelona
While the risk of violence in any part of Barcelona is low, there are three neighborhoods that have a shady reputation. Laws are a bit different in Europe than in the U.S., where prostitution is legal (and mostly unregulated), and the legal drinking age is 18. Drug laws are a little vaguer and more uncontrolled. These three areas, while still safe and full of tourist attractions, have spots that are less friendly. While in these areas stay alert and stay in areas with plenty of other tourists.
While the risk of crime remains low, Raval has a high concentration of prostitutes and drug dealers who try to vend right on the street. The areas Carrer d’En Robador and Ronda Sant Antoni are particularly infamous.
- La Mina and Sant Adria de Besos
These areas are particularly dirty and mostly deserted at night, making the neighborhood popular among homeless and alcoholics.
- La Rambla and El Born
These are the biggest hubs for prostitution which makes it a bit dodgy. Stay away from the darker alleys.
How to Travel Around Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is one of the most walkable cities in Spain, with most landmarks seated close to one another. If you want to see a little bit more of the city or country, the easiest way to travel is on public transportation. The Metro, tram, and FGC (trains) are cheap, reliable, and quick. Buses, taxis, and ride share services like Uber and Lyft are also popular for tourists.
If you are a foreign citizen and plan on renting a car, you will need both a valid driver’s license from your home country and an International Driving Permit.
Things You Need for International Travel
As a first step before traveling anywhere, make sure to check out local news and your country’s embassy page about safety warnings and precautions.
Barcelona only has one international airport which is about 8 miles (13km) from the city center.
U.S. citizens traveling to Spain will need:
- A passport that will remain valid at least three months beyond your period of stay.
- Proof of sufficient funds.
- A return ticket.
- A tourist visa only if you stay longer than 90 days.
Things to Pack for Barcelona
- A nice bathing suit
- Urban-casual, dark/subdued colored clothing (bright colors are out)
- Comfortable walking shoes
- An umbrella/rain jacket for April, May, September, October trips.
Covid Restrictions and Guidelines
Spain still has some travel restrictions which you’ll need to know before planning your trip. 86% of Spain’s population is vaccinated, but there is still risk of exposure.
- Travelers from EU or Schengen are not subject to any Covid-19 entry restrictions.
- All other travelers (over 12) must provide at least one of the following: a certificate of full vaccination, a negative PCR or rapid antigen test, or a certificate of recovery.
- Last dose of vaccination must be within the last 270 days.
- Face masks are not required in public spaces but are still required on all public transportation.