Your first experience when travelling to a new place is paramount in how you see it from that moment on. This is why the right “glasses” are needed to begin your trip. Knowing a little about the culture, language and customs will help you understand a place from a more local perspective and give you a leg-up with the ins and outs. Here are 10 things we think you should know before your first trip to Barcelona!
Catalonia is not Spain
Well, technically yes, it is, however, Barcelona is located in – and is the capital of – the province of Catalonia. If you’re expecting to see flamenco dancers, paella and bullfights (they’re actually illegal in Catalonia), then head South – you’re not in the right place. The people of Catalonia have their own history, culture, and even language, which is why you’ll see most of the signs around the city written in 3 languages: Catalan (usually first), Spanish (more correctly called castellano – “Spanish” doesn’t accurately represent the language of the entire country), and English. If you want to show that you understand this distinction, try using a few Catalan words in your lexicon: merci (thank you), bon dia (hello), si us plau (please), adéu (goodbye).
Sunday really is a day of rest
Keep in mind when visiting Barcelona that on Sundays, most things will be closed. This includes major shopping streets and centres, restaurants and supermarkets. There are a few exceptions, but for the most part, Barcelona respects Sunday as a day to relax. Think ahead if you are planning to cook or shop for specifics and enjoy a real Sunday.
Get the nickname right
People often incorrectly refer to Barcelona as “barça” or “barca”. Barça is the name of the world-famous football team, while barca is simply a boat. Although it may not roll off the tongue as well, the correct short name for Barcelona is Barna.
Adjust your schedule
Just as when travelling to a Caribbean island, you slowly conform to the “island time”, you can do the same for Barcelona and “Mediterranean time”. Expect all meals to run a bit later. Usually, people have lunch (the most important meal of the day) around 1:30-3:30 in the afternoon. You’ll find most restaurants empty or even closed around 6 pm. The average time for dinner is around 8:30-10:30 in the evening. If you’re looking for a disco, most don’t even open their doors until midnight.
Watch out for pickpockets
One could say that Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. With millions of tourists touching down in the city every year, the more opportunities thieves will find in the crowded spaces. For this reason, you should really take care when visiting the most popular and congested areas of the city. For more information on how to be street-smart, check out our post 8 Tips on Being Street Smart in Barcelona.
The T-10 is your friend
Barcelona’s centre is quite small in area making it easily walkable. If you plan on visiting anywhere outside of the core, you can make use of the great transit system. Instead of purchasing a one-way ticket for the bus, tram or metro, get a T-10 ticket (10.20€) from any TMB ticket machine to use for 10 75-minute rides between the first and last validations. This handy pass can also be shared and is not restricted to just one person. Just be sure to swipe or validate it for each person using it and for each different mode of transportation you are using.
Each country has their own customs when it comes to greetings. The people of Barcelona are no different. When being introduced to a local, it’s customary to kiss twice – two women, or men and women will touch cheeks while making the kissing sound. First the right, then the left. When two men are meeting, a simple handshake will do.
Stay away from Las Ramblas
The most famous promenade in Barcelona will undoubtedly be the most crowded. It’s a beautiful sight to see, but don’t plan on eating at the restaurants or shopping in the stores. Most are just taking advantage of the typical tourist and once you’ve seen it you can move on (with much more personal space) to other neighbourhoods. The central neighbourhoods surrounding the Ramblas (el Born, Gótico and Raval) are the most visited, but if you’re looking to get a more residential feel, check out Gràcia, Poblenou or Poble Sec.
Be mindful of the neighbours
Sadly, Barcelona has become known for some negative tourism which includes a large drinking and partying culture. It’s not uncommon to see men relieving themselves (sometimes not so discreetly) in alleyways. The unlimited cold cans of beer distributed in the streets at night make it even easier to indulge in imbibing. Please, don’t be one of “those” tourists. Keep the noise to a minimum, no matter how excited you are to be here.
You won’t be able to see everything on your first trip
Barcelona is one of those cities you will need to return to, perhaps many times, in order to get the full experience. There are a myriad of museums, events, architectural wonders, and beaches to explore and even on a 5-day vacation, you’ll probably leave wanting more.
Hopefully, these few tips come in handy before your first trip to Barcelona!