Ultimate Overview Guide to a Barcelona Vacation

Ultimate Overview Guide to a Barcelona Vacation


Best Time to Visit Barcelona
What To Do In Barcelona
Bonus Catalan Tips

How do you properly pronounce Barcelona? Is it Bar-th-e-lona or Bar-seh-lona?

Barcelona is the capital of Spain’s autonomous community of Catalonia. Many Americans believe that Spain speaks only the one official language, Castilian Spanish. However, this is not true.

Many regions within Spain preserve and promote their regional language. Catalan is the language of Catalonia -- or Catalunya in Catalan.

Castillian Spanish and Catalan are similar, so if you understand Spanish, you will not be lost entirely. Yet, there are differences. For instance, Catalonia in Spanish is Cataluña.

So, to answer the question on how to properly pronounce Barcelona depends on which language you are speaking. The “th” sound for “c” is a Castillian Spanish sound. Catalan pronounces the “c” as “seh.”

When you are in Barcelona and the Catalonia region, use Bar-seh-lona. This will show respect to the locals.

Bonus tips -- Barça is shorthand for the Barcelona soccer (football) team. The locals call Barcelona, the city, Barna.

Best Time to Visit Barcelona

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city with over 1.6 million residents. As a year-round city, you can visit at any time and places will be open.

The best time to visit depends on your personal preferences. July and August are the warmest months, but they are also the tourist season. This can put you in queues outside for an extended period of time.

May and June or September and October are the shoulder season months. The prices are a bit lower, the crowds a bit thinner, and there is still the possibility of sunbathing on Barceloneta.

Flights to Barcelona

Depending on the time of year, there are several nonstop flights to Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN). The major airports near New York City, Miami, Los Angeles, and Boston offer flights which range from 9-12 hours.

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights options. It is an easy app to find cheap flights and allows you to search with the general term “USA.” If you do not have specific dates for your trip, I recommend searching by a month or using the cheapest month option.

Iberia, Spain’s national airline and Oneworld partner, operates LEVEL their low-cost carrier. LEVEL flies from Boston, Los Angeles, New York Newark, Oakland, and San Francisco.

A roundtrip search found a non-stop flight in May 2019 from Boston to Barcelona in Economy for about $260.

In October 2019 an economy seat on a non-stop flight from San Francisco costs about $375 on LEVEL.

Airlines to check for nonstop flights to Barcelona:

  • Air France
  • American Airlines
  • Delta
  • Finnair
  • Iberia
  • KLM
  • Norwegian Air
  • United Airlines

Top connecting airlines:

  • AirEuropa
  • Air France
  • Air Lingus
  • Alitalia Airlines
  • British Airways
  • Lufthansa
  • TAP Portugal
  • WOW Air
Barcelona Spain
Barcelona Spain

Popular Seasons & Weather

Mediterranean weather is one of the many draws of Barcelona. The best time to visit will depend partly on the type of weather you enjoy and the crowds.

January - March

If you want a budget trip to Barcelona, this is the time to go. You will need a jacket, but it’s not as cold as other areas in Europe. The weather from the Mediterranean can be unpredictable in the winter. You might awaken to discover an overnight storm ripped dead limbs off trees or bent street signs. (This has happened to me twice further down the coast.)

Mostly dry and averages 59 degrees (15 C) during the day and drops about 12 degrees during the night.

April - June

Sneak in a Spring trip to Barcelona in May or June to enjoy the city without the summer crowds. There are also several festivals and events that may interest you. Formula One Spanish Grand Prix happens in May and the Sonar Festival in June.

Each month averages less than 2 inches of rain and a high of 73 degrees (20 C). The night temperature drops about 15 degrees.

July - August

The height of tourist season. Tourist season premiums are reflected in the prices for airfare, hotels, events, attractions, and food.

While there is not a lot of rain, the summer is humid in Barcelona. The temperature averages 86.5 degrees (30 C) during the day and has a low of 70 degrees (21 C). While the day is hotter, evening temperatures may drop 17 degrees (-8 C). Yet, this does not mean the air will feel cooler.

September - October

Tourist “shoulder” season. The prices begin to reduce towards their off-season prices. You can often find an airfare deal.  The weather and water are usually still warm enough to turn some days into beach days.

The wettest months in Barcelona. September retains some of the summer heat with 80 degrees (27 C) and continues the rain with 3 average inches of rain. October receives nearly four inches of rain and the temperature drops to 72 degrees (22 C). The nights are in the 60s (15-19 C).

November - December

Barcelona is a favorite holiday spot for Christmas and News Years amongst Spaniards and other Europeans. Spanish cities, even the smaller ones, hold New Year’s Eve events.

The crowds gather very close to midnight in the major town square. (Both times I was in Spain for NYE people arrived 5-10 minutes to midnight.) Prior to midnight, the Spaniards have dinner with their family, usually at home. Then, everyone goes to the town square. At midnight, the tradition is to eat a grape everytime the clock chimes. Remember to buy your grapes before going to the plaza. Some grocery stores sell small bags of 12 grapes.

Even small towns will have fireworks after the grapes tradition. The elderly head home and everyone else parties. Larger cities will host a concert, but some of the younger people head off to the clubs.

In recent years, the largest celebration in Barcelona has been in Plaça d'Espanya, along Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina, and at the foot of Montjuïc. There is a spectacular firework display and live music. Crowds may arrive earlier to this event, please don’t blame me if you get there 5 minutes before and it’s crowded.

Rains continue into November and December. The weather also cools down to 62 (17 C) and 57 degrees (14 C) respectively. Night can reach the high 40s (4 C).

What To Do In Barcelona

There is a lot to do in Barcelona. Unfortunately, Barcelona is very spread out. It will not be easy to walk from one place to another. The best way to get around the city is the hop on hop off buses. A single day pass isn’t really enough to see all of Barcelona. But, it can give you an overview to discover what you want to see the rest of your trip.

Barcelona was where I discovered the brilliance of these buses. I was sick when I first arrived. I had always believed they were a waste of money and used the metro or would walk everywhere. This might be okay in other cities, but Barcelona is enormous. If you want to see everything, then I recommend the City Sightseeing Barcelona Hop-On Hop-Off Tour because they go to all the tourist stops. It really helped me that day. I literally just sat on the bus because I had zero energy, but I got to see all of Barcelona. Since then, I have preached the wonders of the hop on hop off bus to everyone. I’ve converted even the most skeptical (also known as my sibling - YES Joe I am looking at you).

Barcelona Beaches

There are seven beaches along the Barcelona coast, which have been ranked as Top 10 Beaches in the world by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

The two main beaches of Barcelona are divided by Port Olímpic, a popular leisure destination. It was built in 1991 as a part of the city’s Olympic Games redevelopment for the sailing competitions. Known for its seafood restaurants, this is also where you will find El Peix, Frank Gehry’s golden fish sculpture, at the base of Hotel Arts.

Barceloneta beach spans from W Hotel Barcelona to Grand Casino de Barcelona at Hotel Arts. The sightseeing buses go past this beach year-round. It can also be reached by foot or the yellow metro line. Barceloneta was known for a long time as a designated nude beach. Since the W Hotel opened, it’s now known for its American-style restaurants.

Barcelona was not known for their beaches before 1992. The Olympic Games changed the shoreline of Barcelona. Prior to the games, the seafront was used primarily for industry. The nudists enjoyed the beach until 2009, when they were moved to Mar Bella beach, in case you were interested.

The other famous beach in Barcelona is Platja de la Nova Icària. Platja means beach in Catalan. This beach is on the other side of the Olympic Marina. Nova Icària is popular with families and those seeking water sports like kayaking or windsurfing. The yellow metro line stop Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica is the closest stop, a ten-minute walk to the beach.

Barcelona Restaurants

I decided to write about the best regional foods of Barcelona instead of specific restaurants. Mostly I did this because you can find thousands of blog posts, news articles, and lists all about Barcelona restaurants. Here are just a few of them…

Paella in Barcelona

You may have yelled, “Paella!” when thinking about Spanish foods. It wasn’t until a trip to Valencia that I learned paella was initially a Valencian dish made of rice, beans, and meat. As it became adopted by all the regions of Spain shellfish became the primary protein.

If you desire an authentic dish, try to find a way to get invited to a family dinner. That option aside, we scouted a restaurant for you. Unfortunately, you can’t just walk into any restaurant and order paella. The dish takes a long time to make, and most restaurants only serve it once a week.

Can Solé is recommended by several locals and is in Barceloneta, formally a fishing village.


Fideuà is very similar to paella, except it is made with thin noodles instead of rice.

La Bomba

Barcelona’s most iconic tapas has its roots in the Spanish Civil War. Handmade grenades were used to fight General Franco’s army and supporters in Barceloneta. La Bomba pays tribute to these anarchists. The bombs are potato croquettes served with a garlic aioli and spicy red sauce. These two sauces represent the light of a launched grenade and its explosion.

Other Regional Dishes

  • Bacallà a la llauna: Cod floured, pan-fried, then baked. It’s usually topped with tomato, garlic, red pepper, and laurel and white wine, then served with white beans.
  • Botifarra: Sausage made of pork and spices served with white beans.
  • Capipota: a stew made with Iberian ham, sausage, white beans, tomatoes, and pork, beef, or veal.
  • Esqueixada: a cold cod salad tossed with oil and vinegar dressing. The salad may also include tomatoes, onions, olives, peppers, or hard-boiled eggs.
  • Mar i muntanya: Surf and turf. Common pairings are chicken and lobster or chicken and crayfish.
  • Seitons: Known to Americans as anchovies. This fresh tapas dish serves the little fish marinated in vinegar.

Confusingly Named Foods

If you are an American who loves Mexican food, then you need to know…

  • Tacos are not Mexican tacos. They are foods served in cubes, also called Daus. Tacos de queso are cubes of cheese. Tacos de jamón are cubes of Iberian ham.
  • A tortilla is not the yummy Mexican bread. It is a potato and onion (usually) egg omelet. It is frequently served by tapas bars accompanied by bread with tomatoes (pa amb tomàquet). The tomatoes are typically crushed and mixed with olive oil, garlic, and salt.
PARK GÜELL, Barcelona, Spain
PARK GÜELL, Barcelona, Spain

Park Güell

One of the most iconic pictures of modern Barcelona includes Park Güell. The park sits high above the city, giving you a view across the city to the ocean.

Originally conceived as a residential development for the upper class, the construction began in 1900 and was designed by Antoni Gaudí i Cornet. His architectural work and association with entrepreneur Eusebi Güell can be seen across Barcelona. So, if you cannot climb the hill at the park, you still have a chance to see his work.

Park Güell opened in 1926 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It’s an open-air museum with two areas to the park: Monumental Core and the rest of the park. Monumental Core requires a paid ticket. These are timed entry tickets to help preserve the park. You cannot enter the core until your assigned time, and you only have 30 minutes to enter.

The Passatge de Sant Josep de la Muntanya entrance has an escalator to take you up. If you have reduced mobility, the park offers a recommend map on their website. It can be found here.

Sagrada Familia Barcelona Spain
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

La Sagrada Familia

Gaudí's most famous mark on the city is the giant Basilica in the center of Barcelona. Most people believe that it is undergoing renovations. It is actually still under original construction. It has been under construction since 1882. In 2015, it was announced that construction was 70 percent complete. The hopeful completion year is 2026 to mark the centenary year of Gaudí’s death. However, the decorative elements are not expected to be completed until 2032.

If you are interested in seeing the inside, then buy your tickets in advance. Ticket queues can be hours long, and they only sell a limited number each day. They also limit the capacity of visitors - each day and at any given time. A “fast track” ticket guarantees entry even if they have reached capacity.

Gothic Quarter, Barcelona Spain
Gothic Quarter, Barcelona Spain

Gothic Quarter Barcelona

The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona sits between Plaça de Catalunya and Maremagnum at Port Vell. The area is bordered by La Rambla, the famous tree-lined street, and Via Laietana.

Plaça de Catalunya is the tourist hub in the city. It is here you will find the originating points for the hop on hop off buses and the airport bus.

The narrow, winding streets of the Gothic Quarter create a labyrinth around remnants of the ancient Roman village. When navigating around by foot, make sure you look up and take time to relax in one of the many small squares (plaças).

The main attraction is the Cathedral of Barcelona. Before going visit their website for the tourist hours. They are typically open to the public between their morning and evening worship hours.

The Gothic Quarter is also known for its nightlife and shopping. When walking along Las Ramblas know that it is a significant tourist destination. You may find that the prices are bit higher here for food and goods. It also means that you need to be more aware of your surroundings. Pickpocketing frequently occurs on this street. While being less than a mile long, there are also good and bad parts. Avoid the southern end, near Port Vell, in the nighttime. This area becomes a red-light district.

You may notice on maps Las Ramblas is called La Rambla. That is because there are 5 districts to La Rambla (Las Ramblas is the plural form).

  • Rambla de Canaletes: the fountain Font de Canaletes
  • Rambla dels Estudis: the location of the former an open-air small pet market
  • Rambla de Sant Josep: an open-air flower market
  • Rambla dels Caputxins - The Gran Teatre del Liceu opera house
  • Rambla de Santa Mònica - Centre d'Art Santa Mònica (Arts Santa Mònica), a free venue exhibiting traveling contemporary art
Casa Milà, Barcelona Spain
Casa Milà, Barcelona Spain

Bonus Catalan Tips

The following words are different from Castillian Spanish:

  • Please -> Sisplau (sees-PLOW)
  • Thank you -> Gràcies (GRAH-syuhs)
  • My name is ____ -> Em dic ____
  • Excuse me (getting attention) -> Excuseu-me (ucks koo-zehw-muh)
  • Excuse me (begging pardon) -> Perdoni (puhr-THOH-nee)
  • I'm sorry -> Em sap greu (uhm sahp greh-oo)
  • Goodbye -> Adéu-siau (formal) (uh-THEH-oo-syah-oo)
  • Good morning -> Bon dia (BOHN DEE-uh)
  • Good afternoon -> Bona tarda (BOH-nuh TAHR-thuh)
  • Good evening (when it's dark) -> Bon vespre (BOHM BEHS-pruh)
  • Good night -> Bona nit (BOH-nuh neet)

Peter Shaw

I was top 5 #digitalnomad influencer, but now living the #expat life.
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