10 Things To Know Before Traveling To Barcelona
When my gal pal and I decided to go to Spain, we had approximately zero idea what we were doing. We had plane tickets. I speak two dozen words of Spanish. And that, my dear reader, is what we were working with.
Thankfully, both of us happen to be fairly flexible, logical humans who can figure things out on the fly, so we didn’t face any major obstacles in our travels. That being said, there are some things we didn’t think about (that we probably should have) before we boarded the plane and flew to what quickly became my favorite vacation destination.
Before you go to Barcelona — which you really should — here are 10 things I want you to know.
1. The people will love to help you
The people in Barcelona are full of joy. They will embrace you, kiss you on the cheek, and then fill your plate with as much food as you can handle. I love them and want them to adopt me. This friendliness did not just stay within our Airbnb host families. Everywhere, the people in Barcelona want to make you feel at home.
We had a restaurant owner let us in half an hour before they opened for dinner, so we could sit and drink some water instead of stand outside. Our Airbnb host didn’t speak a word of English, yet worked through a conversation with us and then set us up with our early morning taxi to the airport. If we needed directions, any shop owner, baker, or person on the street helped us. We took a cooking class with the sweetest host, who gave us recommendations for the rest of our trip and answered all of our questions. All in all, the people are so nice and you better be ready to feel the love.
2. Take a bus or use your feet
I know, public transportation can be intimidating if you aren’t accustomed to it, but unless you want to hike two miles uphill when you book a hotel on the northern side of the city, use the bus system! Or bring good walking shoes — up to you.
If the bus is a no-go for you and yours, Barcelona is a very pedestrian-friendly city. We walked most of the trip, aside from our post-dinner, last night, “my feet will fall off if we walk any more” bus ride. Walking now only allowed us to see every nook and cranny of the city, but it gave us a great sense of where we were in relation to other parts of town.
3. Take a nap
When in Spain, right? I thought my Papaw was exaggerating when he said that town took a nap in the afternoon and shops closed up…then we wondered if the apocalypse had occurred while we were at the water front. It’s a ghost town in the afternoon, which means you can either use the empty sidewalks to see more sites (like we did), or you can join in the tradition and take a nap.
On hindsight, our tired feet would have LOVED a little snooze!
4. Lunch is lengthy
In Spanish culture, the midday meal is traditionally the largest meal of the day. This is actually an excellent way to live, because it gives you more time in the day to digest your food, and it sets you up for great afternoon napping success!
It was so humorous to arrive at a restaurant, sit, take our time eating, and then leave — all without the people around us (who had been there longer) leaving. They really took their time! Don’t order all your food at once — we learned that this helped us fit in with the locals’ clock a little more.
5. Don’t assume everyone speaks English
When you’re an English speaker, traveling to a foreign country, people tell you not to worry. “Everyone speaks English, it’s the universal language!” they’ll say. While that IS the case for most big cities, that doesn’t mean every citizen speaks your language, or speaks it fluently. Our first Airbnb host family didn’t speak one word of English; this was news to us upon our arrival. Yet, much to my surprise and delight, we had no problem communicating with the family through hand motions, a few Google Translate conversations, and many “cómo estás?”
Communicating with our lovely host family was actually one of my favorite parts of our trip. It was a beautiful thing to understand someone, without sharing the same native language. Not to go full hippie dippie on you…but our differences make us special!!!
6. Be ready to purchase water
Whenever I’m traveling, I use my main meals to really hydrate. Waiter, keep that water coming! But remember, in Barcelona, that water isn’t free — you will always have to buy a bottle of water for the table (still or sparkling). While this is only a couple of Euros, which we split between the two of us, it did add on to each of our meals. This also meant we did not gulp down our glasses as many times as we would have if the water had been free — we then had to make sure we stayed hydrated during other parts of the day. Thankfully, a bottle of water at a bodega was never more than a dollar or two, so it wasn’t a huge spend.
7. Don’t bet on AC (or ice cubes!)
If you don’t sleep well when you’re warm you either need to go to Spain in a cooler season, or make sure you get a hotel with air conditioning (I wouldn’t bet on an Airbnb). We are so very luxurious with our amenities in the States, that the lack of cool air provides a surprise! Just accept it as part of your Spanish getaway and move along.
The same surprise may come to you in form of ice cubes…or lack there of. When we were brought these lovely water bottles we purchased at each meal, they were lukewarm! There was no ice to be found. This also applies to the soda — no ice! If you want a cold beverage, grab a beer! Or I suppose you can go get a water from the cooler or a bodega…to each their own.
8. Stay alert
One thing people tell you — especially when you’re two twenty-something females traveling alone — is to watch out for pickpockets. There are some areas of Barcelona to be wary of, mainly the large markets where there are tons of people (La Rambla), or on small side streets at night.
If you can, stick to the main streets that are clearly marked, especially when it gets dark outside. If there’s more people around you, you’ll probably feel safer. But no matter where you are, stay alert! We were followed back to our Airbnb, but thankfully we noticed quickly, which encouraged our shadow to stop what he was doing. Being alert really is the best safety precaution!
9. Breakfast tastes like dessert
If you’re someone who loves a hearty dose of protein for breakfast…bring a pack of protein bars. We lived on a solid diet of croissants and cappacinos when it came to the most important meal of the day, aside from one morning at Tropicó (where we had smoothie bowls) and one morning at a little cafe in Menorca.
The Catalan people are very clear — lunch is the main event! So you can have a pastry and cafe at breakfast, but save room for the midday meal. Also, breakfast cafes don’t open until 9 or 10 a.m., so no rush getting ready in the morning.
10. You aren’t a grandpa, you won’t eat dinner at 5 p.m.
I know, most of these tips have been about food…but, if I’m being honest, most of our Barcelona experience was about food! The Spanish culture really priorities meals as a means of gathering people together (yes, I AM ready to move there). As far as dinner is concerned, due to the large, late lunch you can assume you’ll be eating some tapas later in the evening. Many restaurants are closed from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. (chefs have to sleep, too!), so make sure you double check before you head out any earlier. If you do happen to get there half an hour early, maybe a nice owner will let you sit and bring you a glass of water while you wait for the cook to wake up from his siesta!