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It’s not a surprise that after my first trip to Barcelona, I was completely smitten with the place. This first-timer’s guide to Barcelona shows the best of this energetic city and what you have to see on your first time there.

The First-Timer's Guide to Barcelona

Barcelona is a destination that is easy going, where you can spend hours roaming the Gothic quarter, getting lost in each nook and cranny that the city has to offer. I often say that you can go for the sights, but it’s the food that will make you stay. A food scene unlike any other I’ve encountered in Europe, the mix of Catalan cuisine and fresh ingredients from the ocean, creates an oasis for culinary creations. The best part? You can get a taste of it and not empty your bank account.

The First-Timer's Guide to Barcelona

Along the way you’ll find that the architecture seems to dwell and surround itself on all things Gaudi. Was there anything he didn’t touch? Of course his masterpiece La Sagrada Familia is something that can’t be missed, but look for his hand in other pieces like Casa Calvet or Casa Vicen. Either way you go, ending the day at Park Güell will surely not disappoint.

Short on Time? Here Are My Top Picks for the Best Hotels in Barcelona:

  1. Kimpton Vividora, for the best new boutique hotel
  2. The One Barcelona, for the best design and eco-friendly hotel
  3. Casa Neri Apartment, for the best apartment-style hotel
  4. Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, for the best luxury hotel

The First-Timer’s Guide to Barcelona


What to Know Before Visiting Barcelona

  • The city is easily explored by foot, uber which is convenient or taxi. I would not recommend renting a car unless you have plans to explore the surrounding areas.
  • For getting into the city, the fastest and cheapest way from the airport (BCN) is by taxi for a fixed rate of 30 euros to the main area of town.
  • Though it’s a modern city, there are many restaurants that only take cash as well. So be prepared to have a few euros.
  • The city is more formal than I found in Europe, so I’d suggest a bit of an elevated dress while there.

Where to Stay in Barcelona

Barcelona Hotel Recommendations

There are plenty of great hotels to choose from and I’d recommend to be as central as possible. Either the Gothic Quarter run or north of the Rambla is great. Here are my top picks for the best hotels in Barcelona:

  1. Kimpton Vividora, for the best new boutique hotel
  2. The One Barcelona, for the best design and eco-friendly hotel
  3. Casa Neri Apartment, for the best apartment-style hotel
  4. Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, for the best luxury hotel

Barcelona Airbnb Recommendations

If you’re looking for an Airbnb, here are 10 flats under $100 to consider. My three favorite hotels are Cotton House Hotel for upscale/luxury, Margot House for boutique luxury, and Praktik Rambla for one that won’t break the bank.

The First-Timer's Guide to Barcelona

Where to Eat in Barcelona

To start, I have an extensive guide on where to eat in Barcelona. A few of the highlights include:

  • El Quim De La BoqueriaThough the market may be tourist central, this gem hidden in the middle is a place I would fly in for their iconic breakfast of baby squids and two fried eggs.
  • El Nacional: Come here for the most beautiful space consisting of multiple restaurants and bars.
  • El Xampanyet: It’s an institution to the tradition of tapas, and this lively and often at first very intimidating bar is home to incredible food — don’t mind the brisk servers and do as the locals do. Get the house cava, pan con tomate, “lard pillows,” and the octopus.
  • Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria): Come here for a down and dirty eat. Get the lomo, add cheese, get a bottle of house cava, and enjoy one of the best eats in town.
  • 7 Portes: A solid choice for paella.
  • NomadMy favorite coffee shop in Barcelona.

What to Do in Barcelona

  • Explore all things Gaudí: like Park Güell, La Sagrada Familia, and Casa Batlló.
  • Walk by foot through the Gothic Quarter to see beautiful architecture.
  • Head to the W Hotel for a beautiful view from the top.
  • Experience Picasso’s life at the Picasso Museum.
  • Take a day trip to Girona to see a beautiful small town.

For tours in Barcelona, head here:

 
The First-Timer's Guide to Barcelona

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PS — Are You Booking a Trip Soon? Use My Booking Checklist!

These are the sites I use most to book my own trips. Using the links below is a great way to support Bon Traveler’s travel journalism at no extra cost to you. If you need help organizing your itinerary, get my free travel itinerary template here.

1. Book Your Flights

Use Skyscanner to find the best flights. It searches 100s of airlines and websites across the globe to ensure you’re not missing out on any route options or deals.

2. Book Your Accommodations

Use Booking.com for hotels and guest houses. They have the biggest inventory and consistently offer the best rates.

3. Book Your Tours & Experiences

Use Viator or Get Your Guide to find the best tours and experiences. They are my favorite tour search engines. I always check both as their inventory varies depending on the destination.

4. Book Your Car

Use Discover Cars or Rentalcars.com to find the best car rental deals. I recommend comparing rental agency reviews on Google to ensure you are booking with the best company in that destination, as the reviews are often more accurate than the car rental search engines.

5. Don’t Forget Airport Lounge Access

Get a Priority Pass membership to gain access to 1,400+ VIP lounges and airport experiences worldwide. The Priority Pass app is the first thing I check when I have a layover. I’ve been a member for over a decade, and having a comfortable place to relax before and between flights makes air travel so much more enjoyable.

6. Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

I never leave the country without travel insurance. It provides comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong (ie. illness, injury, theft, and cancelations, etc.). I use it frequently for my travels to stay protected.

My favorite companies that offer the best coverage and rates are:


Xx,
Jessica

9 Comments

  1. I definitely recommend eating at Teresa Carles too! It’s an upscale vegetarian restaurant near Placa Catalunya that has communal tables for diners to make new friends over their amazing set lunch menus (they change every week depending on what’s in season AND they come with organic wine!).

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Love all of these tips! I can’t wait to go back and need to check out these places!!

  2. Hello,

    Just looking at your Barcelona guide and you mention that if there is one restaurant to plan a vacation around…it’s this one….but I can’t see that you mention the name of the restaurant. Am I missing it?

    • Jessica Wright Reply

      Hey Rita, it’s the bolded word before – “Tickets” is the name of the restaurant 🙂

  3. Stephanie Burbank Reply

    Do you mean 7 Portes for solid Paella? I looked up what you wrote and this is what comes up. I’ve dined here several times and really like it but was wondering if that is what you meant?

  4. Dear Jess, Where did you take the lovely photograph of the three arches and the cafes that you use as the pic for your blog? It is really beautiful? Thanks for a great post, the advise was great!! we’ll spend 2 days in Bar elona next year before heading on a Med Cruise.

  5. I really thank you for all the great advice on restuantes, and hotels, we will be going and staying 2 days just before going an a cruise.

  6. Ana @labellesociety Reply

    Super helpful post. I’ve been living in Barcelona for 3 years and I have to say this is very well written and informed. Have you ever eaten a paella at Arume? to me it is by far the BEST. Both duck and seafood paella are to die for, honestly. I totally recommend it, especially considering how hard it is to find good paella in Barcelona.

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