Barcelona is one of those cities that will surprise you. Before our trip, we’d heard mixed reviews about the city. No one genuinely loved it and a few recommended we skip it all together. Do not listen to those people! Barcelona is one of the most beautiful and friendly European cities we’ve been to and it is filled with tons of hidden gems that will keep you on your toes. To experience Barcelona to the fullest extent, and to help you learn from some of our mistakes, we’ve developed a list of 10 things NOT to do when you’re visiting this Catalan city.
1. Only see sites by Antoni Gaudí
Gaudí’s impact on Barcelona is evident with every turn and a lot of the big tourist spots are his architectural masterpieces. From La Sagrada Família to Park Güell to Casa Milà, everywhere you turn pieces of Gaudí appear. While his works are beautiful and original, there is so much more to Barcelona. Limit your visit to one or two of his masterpieces and then move on. Explore the Vila de Gràcia and El Born neighborhoods, visit the Picasso Museum, view the beautiful architecture and art at Palau de la Música Catalana, and take in city views from Castell de Montjuïc.
2. Take taxis everywhere
Our favorite and most memorable experiences in Barcelona were had while walking the beautiful streets. Each building – whether it’s a shop, apartment, or office space, is beautiful and unique. We took one taxi ride and realized how much we were losing while flying by neighborhoods we hadn’t had a chance to walk in. If walking isn’t practical, take a bike, bus, or the subway. We found the subway to be extremely easy to navigate, cheaper than a taxi, and just as fast as getting around by car. We were pretty nervous about walking in the city after reading so much about pickpockets, but away from the big tourist sites and Las Ramblas, we felt pretty safe. Follow the same street smarts you would use in any major city – which includes taking a taxi home after a night at the clubs – and you should be fine.
3. Wait to buy tickets to popular sites
The biggest struggle we had in Barcelona was getting into the sites we wanted to. We’ve been to big cities like New York, Rome, Paris, and Dublin and have never experienced the kinds of crowds and limited entry that we did in Barcelona. We headed some of the warnings of fellow online bloggers about La Sagrada Família and purchased tickets ahead of time. Other places, like Park Güell, we thought we could easily get into on the day of. Not so. Buy tickets to as many sites as you can online ahead of time. When visiting La Sagrada Família on a Friday, we heard the ticket counter turning away visitors because the site had been sold out through the weekend. At Park Güell, we arrived at 11:00 a.m. and the ticket-only portion was sold out for the remainder of the day. I can’t imagine coming all the way to Barcelona and not be able to see the sites you wanted to. The biggest difficulty with buying tickets ahead of time is that most sites are timed entry – meaning you have to arrive within a specific window of time, requiring your trip to be extremely structured.
4. Be afraid to speak Spanish
The official language in Barcelona is Catalan and Spanish, but we were warned that Catalan was the ruling language and locals would be offended if we spoke Spanish. While the two languages are similar, we were not familiar with Catalan and only had a few years of rusty college Spanish to fall back on. We wanted to try to immerse ourselves in the culture as much as possible, so we went for it and spoke Spanish throughout the city. The locals were so welcoming and patient with our slightly broken Spanish phrases and seemed to appreciate our attempt to speak the local language. Everyone we encountered knew Spanish and didn’t seem offended in the slightest that we didn’t speak Catalan. Don’t shy away from your Spanish language arsenal – if you have it, use it! (If you don’t, fear not. Many people speak English and French as well)
5. Wear flashy gear or dress like a tourist
While we didn’t experience or witness any blatant pickpoketing, it’s enough of a problem that warning signs are posted at some of the popular sites. Be a smart tourist and keep your flashy watches and jewelry at home. Use your street smarts. Try to take a target off your back by fitting in with the locals and following their dress. From what we could tell, many women do not wear shorts, instead opting for lightweight skirts, dresses, and pants. We did see men wear longer shorts and cropped pants. Barcelona was very fashion forward and locals didn’t walk around in leggings or workout gear. Summer scarfs, wedge sandals, and flowy fabrics reigned.
6. Spend all your time eating
The food is good and certainly indulge – after all, you’re on vacation! But there is definitely more to the city than food and you’ll miss it if you spend all of your time at the bars and clubs. When you do eat, find a rooftop that offers a view of the city or is hidden off on a random side street. Turn the food experience into something more, otherwise you’ll miss some of the charm this city has to offer.
7. Eat dinner before 8:00 p.m.
Speaking of eating, the Spanish siesta is alive and well. Most restaurants don’t open for dinner until 8:00 p.m. at the earliest, but the locals don’t start showing up until 9:00 or 10:00. We were so tired one night that we walked into a restaurant at 8:00 p.m. and were the only ones there. In order to make it to 9:00 for dinner, eat a later lunch or join the locals for tapas at a sidewalk shop.
8. Skip a glass of Spanish wine with your tapas or dinner
Every glass of Spanish wine I drank was better than the last. Don’t resist and don’t opt for mixed drinks that can be found anywhere in the world. Drink lots of wine and lots of Sangria.
9. Leave your sunblock at home
With all the rooftop, castle top, and hilltop views to be seen in Barcelona, sunscreen is a must. Even though the sidewalks are well shaded thanks to treelined streets, the sun is strong and warm everywhere else. It was the start of a seemingly never-ending sunburn we maintained throughout Spain.
10. Be afraid to get lost
We made more than a few wrong turns that turned us onto the most beautiful streets or, in the case of Park Güell, mountaintops overlooking the city. Let the adventurous side of you get out and the city will show you some of its most beautiful sides.