Difference between revisions of "Barcelona"
Revision as of 18:40, 27 August 2011
Barcelona  is Spain's second largest city, with a population of nearly two million people, and the capital and largest city of Catalonia. The city, located directly on the northeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, has a rich history dating back at least 2,000 years when it gained prominence as a Roman town under its old name, Barcino.
In 1992, Barcelona gained international recognition by hosting the Olympic games which brought a massive uptick to the tourism industry in the city. This had the effect of changing the city in ways that are still felt today with neighborhoods renovated (and in some cases leveled) and the intense focus of modern design permeating all aspects of life in Barcelona from public buildings to something as simple as a park bench or an event poster. For visitors, this has translated in to the very modern, yet incredibly old city you see now in the 21st century where the new elements work to both preserve and celebrate the ancient.
This beautiful city is full of what European cities are known for (outdoor markets, restaurants, shops, museums, and churches) and is fantastic for walking with an extensive and reliable Metro system for more far-flung destinations. The core center of town, focused around the Ciutat Vella provides days of enjoyment for those looking to experience the life of Barcelona while the beaches the city was built upon provide sun and relaxation during the long periods of agreeably warm weather.
When to visit
August is probably the busiest time in Barcelona; at the same time about 10% of shops and restaurants can be found closed from mid-August to early September, when the owners go on vacations. You'll find cheap accommodation and a much quieter city as a vast majority of Spaniards go on vacation in August. Business is low, people from Barcelona tend to be on vacation, hotels that remain open but don't have their business customers tend to lower prices and make offers. However there will still be plenty of tourists. Barcelona has decent enough beaches but the locals will really appreciate it if visitors do not consider it a beach resort and don't wear beachwear when visiting churches, restaurants, etc.
Barcelona is great off-season and is a lovely city even in winter months of January and February as long as the possibility of rain is low. Given the high humidity, 19-23°C is considered comfortable weather, which is normally the temperature between April and June and between late September-November. This is the best time to visit the city. Anything warmer than this can feel too hot.
Toddler happiness is considered a public responsibility in Spain: in any public place people around you put every effort into making your toddler happy: whenever he or she looks bored or is crying, everyone does their best to entertain or to calm them.
A tourist office is at Plaça de Catalunya, 17.
Low cost carriers operating to Barcelona include: Norwegian , Air Berlin , Monarch Airlines , Jet2.com  , Vueling  (a discount subsidiary of Iberia), Wizz Air, easyJet , Ryanair  , Blue Air , Transavia , Germanwings ,TUI Fly  among many others.
Barcelona International Airport
Terminals: There are now two terminals, T1 and T2, the latter with A, B, and C subdivisions. T1 and T2 are linked by a bus shuttle (every 6 to 8 minutes, travel time 10 minutes).
Sectors A, B and C of T2 are all within fairly easy walking distance of each other. T2 B is used by some Spanish carriers (Iberia, Air Europa, Vueling) and their partners (e.g., members of Oneworld alliance for Iberia). T2 C is smallest and used for all domestic flights, including the Puente Aereo (Air Shuttle) to Madrid. T2 A is used for all other flights except those now departing from the new T1.
Please be aware that you can check in for your flight only at the respective terminal T1 or T2, and since they are miles apart and there is little information available at the train station and bus stops, it's good to know which terminal you need before arriving at the airport. AENA provides information about the allocation of airlines to terminals .
Transfer to/from the airport: The airport is only about 10 km away from the city center. Airport transfers can be arranged for groups, taxis are available but expensive (€20-30 to the city center). Taxis and Minibuses can be pre-booked online . A cheaper and often faster option is the half-hourly RENFE R2 (Nord) suburban train line calling at Sants (travel time is 20 minutes, but up to 40 minutes if slow or late), Passeig de Gràcia (25 minutes) and El Clot in the city center. Please be advised that this airport train has changed, and no longer terminates at Estació de França (it now goes through the center of Barcelona and into the suburbs, so it is important to know at which station you should get off). The train terminates next to T2 by section B, with a connecting green colored bus service to T1 (plan for an extra 15 minutes of travel). The drawback of arriving at T2 by train is that you'll have several sets of stairs--think twice if you have huge luggage, a stroller or a wheelchair. A single ticket is about €1.45, but you can also buy a T-10 ticket (€8.25 for ten trips, including all bus and metro transfers made within 75 minutes) instead. You can buy a T-10 from the ticket vending machine at the airport station.
Also bus 46 runs from both terminals (downstairs at T1) to Magic Fountains (1 hour).
Alternatively, the Aerobús A1 line stops at T1 and between T2A and B and travels along Gran Via to Plaça Catalunya (at the El Corte Ingles). Buses depart every 11 minutes, the published journey time is 35 minutes (although can take considerably longer during rush hour) and costs €5.35 one-way (cash only). Buses are heavily air-conditioned in summer: have something extra to wear during the journey. Aerobuses stop running at midnight, but you can catch a Nit Bus night bus service instead (Nit Bus N17, between 22.00 and 05.00. The ride from Plaça Catalunya to Airport El Prat takes about 40 minutes).
Duty-free shops. Open from 6/6:30AM to 9:30PM (few to 10PM). Shops are numerous and some are hard to find elsewhere in the city. After security check, most shops are before the passport control; there are only one or two afterwards.
Tax-free shopping refund. Office closes at 10PM without compromises. After that time checks can be processed only by mail: complete your tax-free forms with your passport data and addresses, hvae them stamped by the customs office (a window next to arrivals gate door; they don't ask to see your purchases); put them into the envelope you were given in the shop--and wait for several months.
Cafes, pre-security check. Limited options, sub-standard fare. Food at Ars is awful and not cheap. Pans & Company have almost no hot meals.
Cafes, post-security check. Numerous options, all close at around some time between 10PM and 11PM.
Parking: Costs €1.35/hour, €9.45/day, €6.75/day from the 6th day.
Luggage lockers: Baggage storage is €4.60 per day for a large locker that easily fits 2-3 large suitcases. Left-hand end of Terminal 2B, behind the Ars cafe.
Departure gates: For T2, poorly conditioned at ground level (at least gate #57, sector 2A, after 11PM). T1 is hyper-modern and comfortable.
WiFi: Available throughout the airport, operated by KubiWireless : €7.5 for 45min, €9 for 1 hour, €15 for 24 hours.
Some low-cost carriers, notably Ryanair, use the airports in Girona, nearly 100km to the north, or Reus, around the same distance to the south, instead. Since Ryanair recently started operating at Barcelona El Prat (airport code BCN), you might be in the case mentioned above, but check using the three-letter airport codes where your flight actually goes. Girona's airport code is GRO and Reus's airport code is REU.
For Girona Airport  : The Barcelona Bus service runs a shuttle bus from Estació del Nord (which is walking distance to the Arc de Triomf metro stop) in Barcelona to Girona Airport and this ties in with various flight times. A one-way ticket costs €12 and a return ticket costs €21. The journey takes approximately one hour and ten minutes. Timetables are available online .
For Reus Airport, the easiest way is to get there is to take the bus run by Hispano Igualadina from the Barcelona Sants bus station to the airport. Bus departures are synchronized with Ryanair plane departures/arrivals. One way ticket costs €13 and a return ticket costs €24. The journey takes from 1:30 to 1:45 hours, depending on the traffic on the motorway. Timetables are available online . A slightly cheaper, yet longer option is to take a train from Barcelona Sants station to Reus and then the local bus no. 50 to the airport. The train costs €7.25 and then the bus costs €2.1. This takes roughly about two and a half hours. Train timetables can be checked at Renfe's website  and the bus timetable is availabe at the website of Reus public transport. 
Several trains per day (including overnight hotel trains) from other parts of Europe (via France) are regular & reliable.
Main train stations:
From Estació de Sants and Passeig de Grácia there are several connections per day to Cerbère (France), connecting there on trains towards Marseille and Nice. There are also 1-2 direct "Talgo" trains a day from Sants to Perpignan, Beziers, Narbonne and Montpellier in France.
From Estació de França, there are two "Trenhotel" overnight trains to Paris-Austerlitz and Milan-Stazione Centrale. Each arrives in their respective cities at 9:00 in the morning, and both have sleeping compartments.
There is also a less-well-known rail line over the Pyrenees to Toulouse. There are four trains per day to La Tor de Querol (Latour-de-Carol), where it is possible to transfer to a French Train bound for Toulouse. The journey takes 7-8 hours (including transfer) and costs roughly 30 Euros one way.
Although the long-awaited AVE line to Southern France is not completely built, it is scheduled to be completed by 2012. However, the high-speed line to Figueres from Perpignan is running and brand-new (Opened 21 December, 2010), with two TGV trains per day from Paris to Figueres-Vilafant. While the last 100km from Figueres to Barcelona are being built, Renfe is running two super-express "Enclace Internacional" (International Link) trains to Figueres-Vilafant per day, which link up to TGVs running to Paris via Perpignan, Montpellier, and Nimes. The trains to Figueres take 1h40m and arrive 20 minutes before the TGV departs. The total trip to Paris takes a bit less than 8 hours from Barcelona-Sants to Paris.
The long-delayed AVE high-speed train line to Madrid finally opened in February 2008. Travel time is 3 hours 23 minutes with intermediate stops (11 trains a day) or 2 hours 38 minutes non-stop (6 trains a day during morning and evening peak hours).
The city's port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean. It supports both ferries and cruise ships. Large cruise ships dock 1-2 kilometers to the southwest. Many offer bus-shuttles to points near the south end of La Rambla.
Contact Barcelona Nord for all bus connections, national (e.g. 18 buses per day from Madrid) and international.
There are several main roads leading to Barcelona from France and Spain and traffic is usually relatively light outside of peak hours. It is possible to find free parking spaces a few metro stops from the center of the city.
Blue parking spaces are paid between 9am and 2pm and between 4pm and 8pm Monday to Saturday. At some crossroads the pay time starts at 8am. Anyone can use a blue space but they aren't that easy to find. You pay at the meter and put the ticket on the dashboard. Green parking spaces are for residents only. White parking spaces are free at all times but there aren't any in the city centre.
The city car parks have some special offers for tourists.
The department store El Corte Ingles publishes a helpful (and free) street map for tourists. You can pick a copy at the store, or from most hotel front desks. They're also available at the tourism information offices (including one at each terminal at Barcelona El Prat Airport).
By public transport
Parking around all major tourist destinations is expensive (€1.5-2.5/hour, €20/day) and the spaces are difficult to navigate, as there are several classes of public parking spaces, with complicated rules for each class. Barcelona is plagued with the same problems that plague other major European cities; massive traffic jams and extremely narrow streets in some areas, coupled with a very complicated road system. As such, driving yourself around is not recommended for toursits, especially those with no driving experience in large cities. Public transport will get you to all the major areas, and you should use that as your main mode of transport.
Having a driving map is essential - plan your route before you set off. Navigating with an average tourist map is frequently misleading: many streets are one-way; left turns are more rare than rights (and are unpredictable). As an example, Gran via de Les Corts Catalanes is technically two-way, but in one direction supports only minor traffic: after every crossroad you'll find the traffic light on the next crossroad turns red by the time you reach it.
Some free parking spots reported by travelers are:
Getting around by car makes sense if you plan to spend much more time driving outside the city borders than inside it - and ideally if you don't plan to park overnight at all. Otherwise, for purely in-city transportation, consider renting a scooter, or using public transportation instead.
Barcelona's official languages are Catalan and Spanish. However, most signs are indicated only in Catalan because it is established by law as the official language. Yet, Spanish is also widely used in public transport and other facilities, though announcements in the Metro are made only in Catalan. As in most other cities, any attempt by visitors to use the native language (in this case Catalan, not Spanish) is always appreciated. Most Catalans are bilingual in Catalan and Spanish, and instinctively address foreigners in Spanish. Catalan is a language, not a dialect, and sounds closer to Italian, Portuguese, and French in many ways. Avoid referring to Catalan as a dialect, which will offend Catalans.
The issue regarding the language is intertwined with Catalonian nationalism. Around 70% of local people consider Catalonia to be a separate nation, with its own culture, history and traditions, different from the other regions in Spain. Contrary to stereotypes, bullfighting and flamenco are not so popular in this region (as in many other Spanish regions), but there are also quite a few other differences. The identity subject might be a very sensitive one among certain traditional Catalans. Moreover, speaking in Catalan to Spanish-speaking Catalans might also be a sensitive issue.
These issues regarding language, national identity, and politics are like politics anywhere, and there's no way to summarize here (nor is it necessary in a travel guide) all the views that exist. While a significant number of Catalonians are anti-Spanish (and feel opposed to Spain and the Spanish language), many are simply indifferent.
In tourist areas, almost all shops and bars have some English speaking staff. However, like in the rest of Spain, English is not widely spoken, though it's still more widespread in Barcelona than in the rest of Spain, and you are more likely to encounter an English speaker in Barcelona than in Madrid. People will generally make an effort to try to help you if you speak in English, but their vocabulary will be very limited. If you do find a fluent English-speaking Barcelonian, the person is most likely to be born or have lived outside of Spain, usually a European or North American immigrant (both groups being a very significant part of the city center inhabitants along with the not-so-very-well-integrated Asian and African immigrants, who, of course, also often know English).
Your best goodwill in communication would be to try speaking in Catalan if you can. The locals learn both Catalan and Spanish in school (and are completely fluent in both), but Catalan is definitely the preferred language. Even for those who do not support independence from Spain, clearly Catalan is the first language, and if you can communicate with the locals in Catalan, this is really appreciated. While most locals understand that Spanish is more prevalent and are willing to converse with outsiders in Spanish, any attempts to speak Catalan will be met by smiles and encouragement, by and large. As such, visitors should make an attempt to say some basic greetings in Catalan, even if the rest of the conversation is held in Spanish.
Walk around the winding streets and hidden squares, fountains and palaces in the Barri Gòtic (Ciutat Vella).
If you are thinking of visiting several museums, an "articket" will save you some money. It is a combined ticket costing €20 and covering admission to eight museums.
Attractions spanning several districts
Gaudi architecture and Modernist Barcelona
Gaudi architecture includes the Parc Güell in Gràcia, the still unfinished Sagrada Família in Eixample and the houses La Pedrera/Casa Milà and La Casa Batlló both in Eixample. The Ruta del Modernisme  run by Modernisme Centre (Pl. de Catalunya, 17, subterráneo; phone +34 933 177 652): guidebook and discount voucher book for €12. Takes you round all the best Modernisme (art nouveau) buildings in Barcelona. The main part of the route can be walked in a couple of hours, providing you don't stray too far from the main routes. The Tourist Offices offer a pack that includes discounted tickets to many attractions such as La Pedrera and La Casa Batlló. All can be seen from the outside for free.
Festivals and events
Barcelona hosts a number of annual fiestas, many of which are unique to Catalonia and offer an insight into its distinctive culture.
During festivals and especially during mobile world congress which is a major trade show at the Fira, accommodation in Barcelona and especially near the Fira is much more difficult to find and more expensive than usual.
For those wishing to make a real attempt at learning the language, there are plenty of Catalan and Spanish language schools in Barcelona.
Most shops and shopping malls are closed on Sundays because of law restrictions, but not all. In Ciutat Vella you will find plenty of small fashion shops, souvenir shops and small supermakets open on Sundays. The souvenir shopping scattered throughout the Barri Gotic and all along La Rambla are tourist traps, none of them sell Catalan or Spanish products but the typical array of Chinese general souvenirs, they should be avoided. Moreover on the the Port Vell, right at the end of The Ramblas there is Maremagnum, a shopping mall that stays open all Sundays.
Barcelona's cuisine is inconsistent in quality, as with all highly touristic cities, but good food does exist at reasonable prices. The golden rule of thumb applies well in Barcelona; to save money and get better food, look for places off the beaten track by fellow travellers and seek out cafes and restaurants where the locals frequent. A good idea is to avoid restaurants with touts outside.
If you're looking for a place where everyone can choose their own meal, ask for restaurants that serve platos combinados, which is the closest thing to an American/Northern European meal.
Smoking: Is not permitted in restaurants anymore.
The selection of seafood is consistently great, although not a lot of it is local (this part of the Mediterranean is pretty well fished-out).
A treat to try that no travel guide mentions is waffles sold at street stands. They will tempt you with their mouth watering smell and taste.
Even though tapas restaurants are now all over the city, tapas itself originated in Andalusia in the south of Spain and is NOT native to Catalan cuisine. Catalans generally eat three course meals (appetizer, main dish and dessert) and would more likely go for a pre-dinner drink and pintxos (Basque counterpart for tapas) at a Basque taverna than for a meal consisting entirely of the new trend in tapas-only dining. As you travel to smaller towns in Catalonia outside of Barcelona, it is less likely that you will find tapas and more likely to see restaurants serving traditional Catalan food in three courses.
Areas to eat
Depending on where you are in the city, there may be restaurants galore, or none at all. The following areas tend to be restaurant "hubs", with a large variety of restaurants to choose from:
Around Plaza Catalunya there are dozens of restaurants serving excellent tapas.
For budget eating you may choose "menu del dia" in small bars on the Avinguda del Parallel for €9-€11 per person. Be aware that sometimes the menu and the staff are only in Spanish.
The large cafes that line the Passeig de Gracia and the Rambla de Catalunya, just north of the Plaça de Catalunya, offer a variety of acceptable tapas. This part of the town is quite touristy and a bit expensive.
€10 is the lowest price for a standard menu del dia; for less it can be only canteen or budget-style eating--or fast food.
In several supermarkets you can find a wide stall with a great selection of ready-to-eat dishes. You can get a two-course lunch for less than €5.
Traditional Catalan cuisine
Try a "café con hielo" an espresso with a drop of milk served with a glass of ice cubes on the side and any local 'bar de cafe'
Telephone and mobile services
There is a free internet service provided by the city council. http://www.bcn.cat/barcelonawifi/en/. The password is "Barcelona WiFi". It's incredibly slow!
There is an internet provider called "free", which may cause some confusion if you see "freewifi" come up as a network on your device.
Barcelona is Europe's pickpocketing capital. As always, be alert in crowded places, such as public transport, train and bus stations, La Rambla and Raval. People may approach you asking for change, or to change money. Just ignore them. If you are asked to change money, then official looking police may approach you afterwards to 'check' your wallet for ID, etc. These are not police, so be at your most vigilant or you might find they have taken a few cards or cash upon returning your wallet.
Pickpockets use the football trick as the local specialty. At certain tourist hotspots, there are people who will try to show you a 'magic trick'. This involves tying a piece of string around your finger. While you are distracted (and your arm is effectively disabled), an accomplice will pickpocket you. It is also possible that criminals will pose as tourists and ask directions to approach their victims. Keep your distance and, likewise, try not be offended if you find it difficult to engage passers-by in busy situations as they have likely learned their lesson the hard way.
The subway is a hotbed for pickpocketing activity, which can range from simple opportunistic thefts to coordinated attacks. Be especially wary on the subway platforms at Sants train station and Sagrada Família. A group of men will come out of seemingly nowhere while you attempt to enter a subway car and block your entrance and exit in a coordinated manner, effectively pinning you against the doors while they close. They will act as if the car is just crowded and they are trying to get on as well, but, in reality, they have already gone through your pockets.
Once they take stuff, they quickly return to the platform and walk off calmly while you are trapped in the departing subway as they make sure they exit just before the doors cannot be reopened. Violence in these situations is rare, and in most cases the goal of the thieves is to rob you undetected.
Never keep your wallet, cash or important documents in trouser pockets or in bag pockets: a money belt is an easy and inexpensive way to prevent being robbed.
Stay vigilant: do not leave anything in a back trouser pocket (except maybe a map of the city). Hold on to your bag or purse at all times. Do not leave anything unattended while you sit in a cafe or restaurant.
Choose an ATM in a quiet area to avoid being targeted.
Barcelona is particularly well-equipped with ATM points. ATMs labeled "Servired" offer a wide range of services (withdrawals, transfers, mobile credit recharges, ticketing, etc.) and accept credit cards of various banks.
There are also people holding petitions to install a wheelchair lift in locations with a lot of stairs. Once your signature is obtained they will then aggressively ask for a donation. Sometimes there can be crowds of children demanding money with hardly anyone else in the area, making it difficult to get away.
Areas of caution
Women traveling alone should exercise caution while exploring the more isolated parts of Montjuïc. The city beaches, particularly the ones adjoining Barceloneta, have proven to be quite lucrative for bag snatchers. Anything that one would rather not lose is best left, locked, in one's hostel or hotel.
Men traveling alone should expect the prostitutes on Las Ramblas in the early hours to be very aggressive and in league with pickpockets and robbers.
Also, people need to be careful when leaving the bars of the Olympic village late as there are many pickpockets around.
Women should be wary of wearing exposed jewellery such as gold chains and necklaces. People walking down a street may be attacked from behind by a thief who may grab the necklace and try to rip it off the woman's neck before quickly running away, often down a convenient side street. This can even happen in daylight hours and in the full sight of others on the street.
In the event of such a robbery, people will need to find the local police station to report the incident, especially if a travel insurance claim is going to be made.
Parts of Barcelona are covered by closed circuit TV surveillance, but only the more popular spots.
If you need to report a crime (for example, to claim on travel insurance), be prepared for the reality that in the downtown police station, officers may not speak English, despite that fact the official theft report form is in both English and Spanish. The police station most often used to report theft is the Mossos one, near Les Rambles.
EU citizens can get free or reduced cost medical treatment on presentation of an EHIC card and passport.
Day trips from Barcelona include: