Difference between revisions of "Barcelona"
Revision as of 19:26, 24 November 2012
Barcelona is Spain's second largest city, with a population of nearly one and half million people (nearly five million in metropolitan area), 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 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
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 5 to 7 minutes, travel time 12 minutes).
T1, the new terminal, opened in June 2009 and hosts Spanair, Iberia, Air Europa and a variety of major international airlines, including Singapore Airlines, Qatar, Delta Air Lines, US Airways, American Airlines, Avianca, TAP, Lufthansa, Austrian, Air France, KLM, British Airways, etc.
Sectors A, B and C of T2 are all within fairly easy walking distance of each other. T2 B is used by a large number of smaller carriers and low cost airlines. T2 C is smallest and hosts EasyJet. T2 A is now only for some charter flights.
Please be aware that you can check in for your flight only at the respective terminal T1 or T2, and since they are 7 kilometres 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 12-14 km away from the city centre.
Bus and train: A cheap and fast option is the half-hourly RENFE R2 Nord suburban train line calling at Sants (travel time is 18 minutes), Passeig de Gràcia (24 minutes), El Clot-Aragó (30 min.) and more stations beyond Barcelona city limits. 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 airport train station has got facilities for disabled people: escalators, lifts, etc. A single ticket for the train is about €3.15€, but you can also buy a T10 travelcard (€9.45 for ten trips over any period of time; each of those trips includes 3 bus, metro, train or tramway transfers made within 75 minutes) instead. You can buy a T10 from the ticket vending machine at the airport station and at the tobacco shop in front of Terminal 2B. Remark: you cannot buy T10 travelcard at Terminal 1!
Also bus 46 runs every 20 minutes from both terminals (downstairs at T1) to Plaça Espanya (35-45 minutes).
Alternatively, the Aerobús A1 line takes you to Terminal 1 or the A2 line takes you to Terminal 2. It travels all along Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes to Plaça Catalunya (beside El Corte Inglés). Buses depart every 6-12 minutes, the published journey time is 35 minutes (although can take considerably longer during rush hour) and costs €5.30 one-way or €9.15 for return ticket, you can pay by credit card or cash. 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 Nitbús night bus service instead (line N17 to T1 or line N16 to T2, between 22.00 and 05.00 every 20 minutes. The ride from Plaça Catalunya to Airport El Prat takes about 40-50 minutes).
Taxis and transfer services: Airport transfers can be arranged for groups, taxis are available but expensive (€30-40 to the city centre). Taxis and Minibuses can be pre-booked online . Luxury car can book online on EuropeShuttle .
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. For more options in Terminal 1 go to 3rd floor: better food and restaurants, but more expensive.
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. It is located at the ground floor of Terminal 1. Remark: No luggage lockers or storage room in Terminal 2!
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 : 15 minutes for free if you click in the blue option. Or €7.5 for 45min, €9 for 1 hour, €15 for 24 hours. You must provide a valid cell phone number, to receive the password via Text Message.
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.
Overnight Trenhotel trains operated by Elipsos  runs daily from Paris-Austerlitz while depatures from Milan and Zurich are every second day. All trenhotels trains terminates at the Estació de França station. Prices starts at €74 for second class.
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 140km from Figueres to Barcelona are being built, Renfe is running two super-express "Enlace 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 with intermediate stops (11 trains a day) or 2 hours 30 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
Explore the city on a GPS guided Vespa. Choose from the tours or go explore on your own.
Parking around all major tourist destinations is expensive (€3/hour, €20-36/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 tourists, 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.
But if you have to take a rent a car there are several companies there to get great car rental rates like Sixt rent a car , Hertz, Europecar and more 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 languages is always appreciated. Most locals 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.
These issues regarding language, national identity, and politics are like politics anywhere, and there's no way to summarize here. Most catalans feel Spanish but there is a minority who are anti-Spanish (and feel opposed to Spain and the Spanish language). 60% of the people in Catalonia use Spanish as their first language whereas 40% use Catalan. Although the regional government is excluding Spanish from public schools and the administration. Spanish is still more popular even among young people.
In tourist areas, almost all shops and bars have some English speaking staff. People will generally make an effort to try to help you if you speak in English. If you are a native English speaker you will not have any problem as Barcelona is a very touristic city.
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 €30 and covering admission to seven museums.
Attractions spanning several districts
Gaudi architecture and Modernist Barcelona
Gaudi architecture includes the Parc Güell in Gràcia, the still unfinished (as of 2011) 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.
Take a walking tour
For those visitors who wish to get a real taste of Barcelona, you can join a group of English-speaking local guides for free sightseeing tours. In addition to exploring major landmarks and famous streets, you will also get stories, recommendations and tips that only a local could provide. These professional guides are passionate about their city and offer tours which are both educational and fun. These walking tours are based on a tip supported service.
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.
You can get food from any part of the world in Barcelona, but make sure you try some Catalan food.
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 Plaça 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 Gràcia and the Rambla Catalunya, just north of the Plaça 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.
Barcelona Wok - Comte d'Urgell 46 - 48. €9 per head all you can eat - great sea food.
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 'cafeteria'
Telephone and mobile services
There is a free internet service provided by the city council. . The password is "Barcelona WiFi". It's slow and with time and schedule limitation.
Prepaid portable WiFi Hot spot service is now available in Barcelona, and whole Spain (provided by local tripNETer) which allows the connection to any WiFi device: Smart-phones, Tablets, PCs…
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 be careful in tourist places.
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.
One guy acted like reading newspaper and about to go into the subway gate (he's scanning target). While you inserted the subway card to enter and before the gate opens, that guy immediately entered his subway card also (which will cause the gate to jam and alarm sound). Immediately 3-4 other people appear and while acting like trying to help (pointed to the gate telling you 'the door is jam'), then will try to snatch your backpack or wallet while you are still surprised. Check and make sure no one tailgate on you, or simply let the guy go first.
Some fake cops will show up after fake tourists asking for directions and ask to see your passport, then take your belongings when they can. Overall various scams happen in the city which seems always preformed by a group of professional scam artists. When it happens, it's pretty ok to just walk away instead of start any sort of conversations with them. Another trick is that one seemingly confused person will ask you for directions, diverting your attention and then suddenly fake police will appear asking for your ID. This is a co-ordinated move to divert the attention and steal whatever is possible. If such incident happens, just walk away, without listening to any of their conversation. Stay alert, especially in busy tourist area near the Sants station and Plaça d'Espanya.
Another popular scam happens in the metro. A group of scammers (often middle-aged women) will take advantage of the fuzz while people are entering the metro and surround a tourist, frantically asking for directions. Most tourists wont know what to say while one of the scammers empties their pockets. They will try to confuse the tourist while the metro stays in the platform, and will get out just before the doors are closed. When you realize you've been scammed, the train will have already left and they will be safely outside with your belongings.
There is also the "birdshit" scam. One or more accomplices will secretly spray or throw a smelly liquid on you. When you look up thinking a passing bird has pooped on you, they will run up to you and tell you that they saw a bird poop on you. They will offer to help you clean up, and while you are cleaning they will go through your pockets and any bags you have set down. It is wise to beware of anyone who is attempting to touch a complete stranger.
Choose an ATM in a quiet area to avoid being targeted.
Barcelona is particularly well-equipped with ATM points. Many ATMs 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 Port 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 one underneath Plaça Catalunya beside metro station, they have got translators for English, French, etc.
EU citizens can get free or reduced cost medical treatment on presentation of an EHIC card and passport.
Day trips from Barcelona include: