After four days of visiting Barcelona in 2015, I was completely in awe of the city and knew I wanted to come back and live here. So, a year later, I did. While I’m obviously still technically a tourist in Barcelona, since I’m not from here and have only been here for four and a half months, four and a half months is a lot different than four days. So, knowing what I know now, here is everything I wish I knew before I went.
1. Spanish is not the main language spoken in Barcelona.
While 98 percent of Barcelona residents speak Spanish, 50 to 60 percent also speak Catalan. Therefore, most of the signs posted around the city/in restaurants (open, closed, no parking, please wait to be seated, etc. etc.) are in Catalan.
Both Catalan and Spanish (known here as Castilian Spanish) are the “main” languages spoken in Barcelona, but Catalan is the primary language taught in schools. Of course, knowing some Spanish doesn’t hurt, because locals are way more likely to speak Spanish than English.
2. Barceloneta isn’t the only beach in Barcelona.
You know the beach in Barcelona you see all the photos of, with the big half-circle shaped silver building on it? (See above if you have no clue what I’m talking about.)
That’s called Barceloneta Beach, and it’s essentially inevitable that you will end up here when you’re in Barcelona as a tourist.
Although it’s the one in all the pictures, there are many more beaches in Barcelona than Barceloneta, which is frequently so jam-packed during the summer that you can’t even move. However, between the vast amount of tourists from all over the world and people who walk the beach selling blankets and various beverages, Barceloneta is some of the best people-watching you’ll get in the city.
If you want a vaguely less touristy beach experience, walk down Barceloneta Beach towards the W Hotel–the aforementioned “big half-circle shaped silver building”–and you’ll find the nude area of the beach, which has less beach sellers and drunk English teenagers on vacation and is mostly full older locals letting it all hang out.
If you walk down Barceloneta Beach in the opposite direction towards the gigantic golden fish statue (see above), and keep walking down the boardwalk, you’ll find Port Olímpic, a much quieter beach where the water is much clearer and there are less people trying to sell you stuff.
The gigantic golden fish statue is also where all the beach clubs are. There are five (Shoko, Opium, Pacha, Carpe Diem, Catwalk) and they’re all pretty pricey.
3. Don’t buy the mojitos from the dudes wandering the beach.
This is a common bulletpoint in almost every “What Not To Do In Barcelona” list I’ve seen. (There are a lot.)
Although the lime green beverages being peddled by dudes carrying trays of them and shouting “sangria mojitos!” are admittedly super refreshing, they’re wildly overpriced and I’m not entirely positive that there’s actually any alcohol in there at all.
4. But also don’t buy the mojitos at the beach bars.
As someone who is guilty of having bought both the mojitos from the beach and the beach bars the first time I visited Barcelona, I can assure you that although they are on the whole more legit, the mojitos/other cocktails they sell at the beach bars are roughly three euros more expensive than the ones being sold right on the beach and have only a little more alcohol in them. (Read: one shot instead of none at all.)
If you’re on a budget and you want to get your drink on at la playa, you’re better off buying booze at one of the many supermarkets near the beach or from one of the dudes walking around selling beer.
5. It’s okay to buy the beers from the cerveza sellers.
Yeah, the mojitos are a scam, but it’s pretty hard to mess up a beer. Barceloneta aside, you can literally find a cerveza man everywhere you go throughout the city at any time of day or night, especially in the summer. Drinking in public is illegal in Barcelona, but you’re going to do it anyway, so you might as well do it cheaply. Just be warned that you might get fined if you’re caught with an open container in public, so avoid glass and don’t go waving your beer around in the air and screaming drunken nonsense.
6. Don’t eat on La Rambla.
Like Barceloneta Beach, La Rambla is full of people trying to sell you stuff. (Bulletpoint 6.5, don’t call it “Las Ramblas.” You’ll sound hyper-touristy.)
It’s basically a long street that starts near the harbor and ends at Plaça Catalunya, which is a big square with two fountains and is next to a Hard Rock Café, just as every good tourist hub is. La Rambla is also lined with restaurants that look super appealing because of their outdoor seating and big signs promising 2 tapas, a cerveza and paella for only 18 euros!!!
However, since La Rambla is possibly the most touristy street in all of Barcelona, most of the restaurants located directly on the street will charge you an arm and a leg for some mediocre food.
If you want food that tastes good and doesn’t break the bank, head to less touristy areas for your paella. As a general travel rule, restaurants next to massive tourist attractions in any city aren’t going to be great.
While we’re on the topic, paella is kind of an “omg we’re in Barcelona we should totally get paella” thing, so if you want a less touristy eating experience, try tapas (appetizers) or pinchos (appetizers attached to pieces of bread) instead.
Also, many restaurants offer “menú del dia” in the middle of the day, which is when you get a main course and a salad and usually bread and a drink for a set price, which is usually between 6 and 12 euros. It’s a cheap way to eat a lot of food. (But again, don’t try to do this at restaurants on La Rambla).
One more thing, most “Things to Do in Barcelona” lists I’ve seen on the Internet say to check out La Boqueria, which is a super big market near one end of the La Rambla, but in reality it’s essentially a massive tourist trap. You can get some decent fresh fruit juices there for a euro, but in terms of getting actual groceries you’re better off shopping at the Dia (a cheap supermarket) or the Simply Basic (another cheap supermarket), so I’d say skip it.
7. Taking taxis everywhere is unnecessary and expensive.
If you read my caption on the picture of my hand holding a pricey cocktail up in front of the sea, it says that I took a taxi to Park Guell, since I was a silly little tourist and didn’t know anything. Taxis aren’t that expensive in Barcelona in comparison to other cities, but it’s still a lot cheaper to walk or take the metro, and Barcelona is a pretty easy city to do both of these things in.
To be fair, Park Guell is super far from the beach, which is why Tourist Jessica thought she had to taxi there, but just don’t plan to go Park Guell on the same day you check out the beach. Simple as.
It makes a lot more sense to take the metro from Sagrada Familia to Park Guell, which brings us to…
8. Buy a ticket for the Sagrada Familia ahead of time.
I can’t say this enough. La Sagrada Familia is hands-down the coolest building I’ve ever seen and I’m not even super into architecture. You 100 percent have to see it if you’re in Barcelona, and you 100 percent have to go inside to check out the amazing stained glass situation, and while you’re inside you might as well climb up the tower for one of the best views of the city. (That’s where I took the picture that’s at the way top of this page.)
It costs roughly 18 euros to go inside, but I promise it’s worth it. If you’re broke and can afford to do one expensive touristy thing when you’re in BCN, make it be this, seriously. Book your ticket online ahead of time so you don’t have to wait in line, because nobody likes lines.
9. Contrary to what the Internet tells you, there isn’t someone waiting to rob you at every turn.
A lot of articles about Barcelona on the Internet make it sound like unless you have one of those dorky under-the-jeans tourist belts that nobody actually uses unless your name is Hank and you’re a 55-year-old white man from Massachusetts, your stuff is likely to get stolen everywhere you go.
Yes; people do get robbed in Barcelona. (I’m sorry to say it happened to me.) But people also get robbed anywhere. Just like when you’re anywhere else in the world, keep an eye on your belongings, don’t wave your brand new iPhone around in public or keep it in your back pocket while you’re dancing at a club, and don’t walk around late at night on your own in a shady area. Boom.
10. It’s going to be really hard to leave.
Even if you don’t drink from the Font de Canaletes, which is located on La Rambla and apparently makes everyone who drinks from it fall in love with the city, there’s a good chance you’ll just end up not leaving.
I get all of my water from 30 cent big-ass bottles I buy in the supermarket, and I’m still head over heels in love with where I live. Barcelona has that effect on people.
TL;DR: Don’t be surprised when all the signs are in Catalan, don’t eat on La Rambla, walk or take the metro instead of taxis, and be careful, because Barcelona makes it hard to leave her.