Some people consider Barcelona to be overrated. I am the furthest thing from one of those people. Few cities out there know how to enjoy life as much as Barcelona. If you’re looking for an unforgettable destination that has it all, look no further than Barcelona. I’ve visited this vibrant city on the Mediterranean five times now and not once has it lost its luster. Barcelona is oozing with culture, mouthwatering food, stunning architecture, and sizzling nightlife. Whether you’re a first-time traveler or a seasoned veteran of the city, this travel guide will help you experience everything Barcelona has to offer, while sticking to a backpacker’s budget.
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Table of Contents
- Which Neighborhood To Stay in Barcelona
- The Best Hostels in Barcelona
- How To Get Around Barcelona
- The Best Things To Do in Barcelona
- Nightlife Guide to Barcelona
- Safety Tips for Barcelona
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Where To Stay in Barcelona
Barcelona is a huge city with a wide variety of neighborhoods to cater to any type of traveler. Each barrio (neighborhood) has its own unique atmosphere and attractions, so picking the right one is key. If it’s your first time in Barcelona and sightseeing is your main priority, then El Raval or La Barceloneta might be the one for you. If you prefer a more relaxed vibe with plenty of bars and cafes, try out El Born or Gracia. My personal favorite neighborhoods would be El Born, El Raval, and Gracia, but you truly can’t go wrong with wherever you choose to stay.
To start off your trip to Barcelona right, booking the right hostel is crucial. Barcelona is home to dozens upon dozens of hostels to choose from. From stylish boutique hostels to modern bar/hostel hybrids, there’s something for everyone in every price range. Keep in mind that prices go up exponentially during the extremely busy summer season, so booking a hostel in advance is important. Trust me, I usually wing it when it comes to places to stay. I made that mistake when I was left with only overpriced and poorly-reviewed hostels to choose from this past summer.
Barcelona’s hostel scene has got a lot of winners, though. Here are some of my favorites.
Best Hostels in Barcelona
St. Christopher’s Inn is just a few blocks away from Placa de Catalunya, putting you in the heart of Barcelona’s tourist center. It’s at the gateway of Las Ramblas, making it ideal for sightseers and first-timers to Barcelona. St. Christopher’s is one of the best hostel chains in Europe, and provides a great social atmosphere. They’ve got their own bar downstairs where it’s easy to meet your fellow travelers or partake in some pregaming before a wild Barcelona night out. They’re not strictly a party hostel, either, so it’s great for those who want to prioritize exploring.
A couple of blocks away from St. Christopher’s Inn is Toc Hostel. The hostel has amazing facilities, including a rooftop pool, outdoor terrace, bar, laundry room, common kitchen, and a beautiful common area for socializing or relaxing. I stayed here for over a week and it was a great mix of social and chill. I’d say it’s on the quieter end of hostels, but it’s a beautiful property and perfect for groups of travelers who might not prioritize meeting new people.
Generator Hostel is in the Gracia neighborhood, and wow, you’ll hardly believe it’s a hostel. It’s a modern, trendy property with some beautiful aesthetics. It is definitely on the pricier end, but if you are a little looser with your budget, it is worth splurging for.
Kabul Party Hostel was the first hostel in Barcelona, and with a history like that, easily one of the most tried-and-true party hostels in Europe. It’s located right off bustling Las Ramblas, so if you’ve got a high social battery and are ready for a good time, this is the one for you.
There are dozens more to choose from, but these three are some of the best. Personally, St. Christopher’s Inn was my favorite due to its location and social atmosphere that isn’t too heavy on the wild side.
How To Get Around Barcelona
No matter what neighborhood you end up staying in, Barcelona is well-connected and easy to get around. Take advantage of Barcelona’s fantastic public transportation system. It can get you anywhere in the city quickly and cheaply, so you won’t have to worry about getting lost or spending too much on taxis. Hostels within the touristic center can be expensive, so staying elsewhere isn’t an issue thanks to all the metros and buses that run throughout the city.
The nice thing about Barcelona’s public transport system is that there are plenty of bundles to help you save money, as opposed to paying for each individual ride. A single ride will cost you 2.40 euros, but buying a 10-ride pass will work out to just over 1 euro per ride. There are multi-day passes with unlimited rides as well, giving you options on how you want to bundle up and save money. For a full breakdown, you can check out this detailed post covering public transportation in Barcelona.
The Best Things To Do in Barcelona
Now that your accommodation has been sorted out it’s time to hit the streets. Traveling on a backpacker’s budget doesn’t mean sacrificing an amazing experience in Barcelona. With so many things to do, see, and eat, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant city. Start by wandering around the city and taking in all the sights. Amble slowly down Las Ramblas or Passeig de Gracia, long, lively streets filled with beautiful architecture, museums, and shops. Wind your way through the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter, taking every opportunity to get lost and stray off the beaten path.
The Must-See Sights of Barcelona
The most iconic landmarks in Barcelona are the colorful Park Guell and breathtaking La Sagrada Familia. Despite being very touristy places, both are totally worth the visit.
The interior of La Sagrada is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Those stain-glassed windows are simply a masterpiece. Park Guell is also a work of art in itself. Every aspect of the park is intricately detailed. Be sure to book tickets to these in advance as they can be fully booked if you try to book the day of. This is especially true during the busy summer season. If you want to avoid waiting in line outdoors in Barcelona’s sweltering summer heat, book those tickets in advance. It wasn’t until my third time in Barcelona that I actually visited La Sagrada and Park Guell, all because I procrastinated buying tickets until they were all sold out for the entire duration of my stay in Barcelona.
Close to Park Guell, you’ll find Carmel Bunkers, one of my absolute favorite sunset spots in the world. Hike up the small hill for some stunning panoramic views of the city and the coastline. It’s a great spot for sunset with amazing vibes all around. There’ll be plenty of other people there, but it really adds to the atmosphere as it’s buzzing with music and people just having fun.
There is so much more to Barcelona than just the main attractions. While Barcelona has become more expensive over the years, there are plenty of activities that you can do that won’t put a hole in your pocket. Take a bike tour of the city, or go to one of Barcelona’s many flea markets. Ciutadella Park is perfect for a chill day spent relaxing in a green area with some beautiful architecture. Take a look around and you’ll be sure to stumble into Barcelona’s ubiquitous street art scene, or escape the city and head up to Montjuic Castle. If museum-hopping is your thing, Barcelona’s got you covered there, too. The Picasso Museum and the MOCO (Museum of Contemporary Art) are two essentials. From the lively nightlife scene to the stunning architecture of Antoni Gaudi, you won’t be disappointed by the endless array of things to do. Be sure to take advantage of Barcelona’s extensive public transportation system to get around easily and maximize your time.
Food and Markets in Barcelona
Finally, don’t forget to sample some of Barcelona’s cuisine. From local tapas bars to Michelin-starred fine dining, you’ve got options in Barcelona. While my broke backpacker ass can’t tell you anything about those Michelin-starred restaurants, I can tell you that staying fed in Barcelona can be done on a budget. While it may cost more than street food, eating out at local restaurants is still relatively affordable compared to other cities in Europe.
Budget eats include the 100 Montaditos chain with several locations throughout the city, all home to cheap beer and tapas. Another favorite of mine is Can Paixano in El Born, with cheap bottles of wine and a variety of cheap tapas and bar snacks.
El Xampanyet is just down the street, and a lively spot with great food and cheap-ish drinks, although the food is a little pricier. If you feel like splurging, Canete is one of my favorite spots on the pricier end. I wish I could list a few more restaurants, but the only other ones I have saved on Google Maps are Miss Simona right next to La Sagrada, and Bar Jai-Ca over in Barceloneta.
There are an overwhelming amount of options for dining in Barcelona, and if the first thing that came to mind was a chain restaurant with cheap beer, then I’m not sure I’m in a position of authority to tell you where to eat in Barcelona. Nightlife, on the other hand, I’ll cover that later.
Food markets are also a great option for eating cheap on the go. A popular market for tourists and locals alike is La Boqueria, offering fresh seafood, fruit, meats, and plenty of ready-to-eat tapas and snacks. Being right off Las Ramblas, it is quite touristy and packed, but they offer a wide variety at relatively decent prices. El Mercat del Ninot is another food market, similar to La Boqueria in some ways but noticeably more local. Over in Gracia, you’ll find Mercat de l’Abaceria, another food market. Be sure to stop by as it’s just a short walk from La Sagrada. If you’re sticking to an even stricter budget, buying groceries at a supermarket and cooking at your hostel kitchen will help save even more money.
Barcelona is also home to a big flea market scene that can be fun to explore or shop on a budget. Mercat del Encants and El Rastro del Virgen are the most famous ones, full of quirky trinkets and vintage clothing to be uncovered.
The Beaches of Barcelona
Of course, Barcelona’s location right on the Mediterranean can’t be ignored. While Spain boasts dozens of more beautiful beaches than those in Barcelona, a walk along Barcelona’s lively and bustling beachfront is still a vibe. Barceloneta Beach is one of the city’s most popular beaches. Although often crowded, it has plenty of space and easy access to restaurants, bars, and shops. If you’re looking for something more low key and off-the-beaten path, try out Bogatell or Badalona instead. Both are great places to relax away from the hustle and bustle of the city center. For even more solitude, head outside the city where you’ll find plenty of options along Spain’s famed Costa Brava.
Take a Day Trip to Montserrat Monastery
One of the best day trips from Barcelona is the Montserrat Monastery and the nearby hiking trails. Getting to Montserrat is easy enough, although a guided tour like this one might be the most convenient way to visit. If you want to visit on your own, just buy a combined train + cable car ticket from Plaza España’s metro station. It costs about 25 euros for a return trip and the hour-long journey will take you right to the doorstep of the hilltop monastery.
While there, one can visit the monastery or go hiking. We opted to skip the monastery, although roamed through the grounds for a little bit. Our main priority was hiking, and it took about three hours total to hike up to Sant Jeroni, the highest point in the area. It’s a beautiful hike, and the landscapes and geological formations are truly unique. The trail is easy to follow and well-maintained. Just keep in mind that there will be a lot of steep stretches. There is an option to take a funicular to the trailhead, although we decided to punish ourselves with 30 minutes of nonstop stairs to get to the starting point of the hike. It’s a beautiful way to spend a day outside of the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.
Take a Day Trip to Girona
If you’re looking for another great day trip from Barcelona, then head to Girona. This city is one of the most beautiful and historically rich towns in Catalonia. You’ll find several medieval monuments such as the Cathedral of Santa María de Girona and the Monastery of Sant Pere de Galligans. You can also explore the Jewish Quarter, shop at cute boutiques, or take a stroll throughout Parc de la Devesa. If you’re feeling adventurous, take a hike up Montgri Mountain or go kayaking on Río Ter. Whatever you do, don’t forget to grab some lunch at one of Girona’s many cafes and restaurants. They offer some of the best Catalan cuisine around. And hey, you might even consider extending your day trip and spending a night or two there.
Take a Day Trip to Andorra
If you’re feeling really adventurous, it’s possible to pop on over to Andorra for the day. To be honest, I don’t know how you’d sort this out on your own, and I’d recommend spending at least a full day or two exploring Andorra. I understand that Barcelona attracts many short-term travelers, though, and collecting another passport stamp by visiting Andorra can easily be done from Barcelona. Here’s a guided tour option that will take you to three countries in a day.
Nightlife Guide to Barcelona
Like I said, I might not be a culinary expert, but I do know where the party is. Barcelona’s nightlife is legendary, and there’s no shortage of fun to be had after the sizzling Spanish sun sets. From buzzing clubs in El Raval to chic rooftop bars in El Born, you can find something for every taste and budget. Barcelona is good for the soul but tough on the liver.
In El Born, I’m a huge fan of Can Paixano and El Xampanyet. They are perfect for cheap drinks with good food. With 1.70 euro glasses of cava, it’s easy to get drunk on a budget at Can Paixano. El Xampanyet is a little on the pricier end, but the food is incredible and the drinks are still quite cheap. For cocktail bars, you’ve got quite a few options in El Born. Mariposa Negra and Bar Brutal are some good spots with a unique vibe, and of course, there’s Paradiso.
Paradiso is a must-visit, once named the best bar in the world. It’s home to some crafty bartenders that cook up unique cocktails. It is quite popular, so expect to wait in line or come back when it’s less busy. Paradiso is quite pricy, so I’d recommend just getting a cocktail or two for the experience. On that same list of best bars, you’ll find Sips sitting at third place. While I didn’t visit, it’s pretty centrally-located and should be worth checking out.
A short walk from El Born is the Gothic Quarter. While El Born is perfect for cozy bars with unique vibes, the Gothic Quarter is home to clubs and parties that go late into the night. Jamboree is quite popular among backpackers and travelers, partially thanks to its location right next to Kabul Party Hostel. Surprisingly, it’s still a pretty-frequented spot by locals as well. It’s a guaranteed good time if you’re unsure of where to go. Marula Cafe might be my favorite nightlife spot in the Gothic Quarter. They often have live performances before a DJ comes on and spins house and latin beats late into the night.
If you’re looking for a wild night out, there are the massive mega clubs near Port Olimpic. Opium, Shoko, Pacha, and Carpe Diem are places to experience at least once during your visit to Barcelona. Just be prepared to spend quite a bit of money unless you’ve pregamed beforehand. The crowd is mostly young tourists, but occasionally, they’ll have some big name DJs or artists that attracts a more diverse crowd. I’ve been to most of the big clubs in Barcelona, and I think they’re worth going exactly once.
For a more relaxed vibe, head over to Gracia. Gracia is a more residential neighborhood, but has no shortage of cozy bars and cramped dance floors to enjoy. El Ciclista is a cocktail bar with $5 gin and tonics, but personally, I think Gracia is perfect for sipping on a beer in a plaza before finding out where the party is. Virreina Square, Plaza de la Revolution, and Plaza del Sol are home to a number of bars with outdoor seating before getting the party going. I salsa-ed the night away at Gracia Latina before stumbling down to a hole-in-the-wall rave in a place whose name has been lost in the abysses of a boozed-up backpacker’s brain. After browsing through Google Maps, I believe it was called Switch.
Located in Poblenou, another lively place to visit is Razzmatazz, a huge nightclub often home to live music or artsy shows. Book your tickets in advance, though, or else you’ll have limited chance of actually making it in. World-renowned electronic DJs, reggaeton superstars, and artists of every genre play shows at Razzmatazz regularly, so keep an eye out to see who’s around the same time as you are. A couple of blocks away, you’ll find Wolf, which is an adequate backup plan.
If you’re traveling solo or simply don’t know where to start, head over to your hostel’s pub crawl as they’ll be sure to take you on a club-hopping adventure to (not) remember. I have a love/hate relationship with hostel pub crawls, but can’t deny that they are a great way to meet people. I’ve done a few in Barcelona. They don’t necessarily take you to the finest establishments, as admittedly, the nicest clubs don’t need hostel pub crawls for business. However, if you have a good group of people all sharing the same goal of having a good time, then any floor can be a dance floor.
Safety Tips for Barcelona
While Barcelona is generally safe for visitors, there are still some important safety considerations to keep in mind.
From experience, I can tell you that Barcelona is pickpocket central. Keep an eye on your possessions, because if you aren’t, someone else is. Drunk tourists are an easy target, but even if you’re sound of mind, you are far from safe. Be extra careful on public transportation, making sure to hold on to your bags and phones at all times. Same goes for eating out, especially outdoors. Try to keep your backpack or purse attached to you, because these guys can be really sneaky.
Scammers are another thing to beware of in Barcelona. Of course, there’s always a tourist tax so things will typically be pricier as a tourist than as a local. However, you’ll likely encounter some new, creative ways that people will try to separate you from your money. I’ve also experienced this firsthand with some crooks asking me for small bills to pay for their taxi. They handed me a counterfeit 100 euro bill and I gave them a pair of 50s hoping it would help. I quickly realized my mistake, but they were long-gone by then. If something seems off, then it probably is.
From pickpockets to scammers, it pays to stay alert and aware of your surroundings while exploring the city.
Barcelona is your oyster. It’s home to such a wide variety of activities and unique places that it’d be impossible to craft a perfect itinerary. Each individual is different, and Barcelona rewards the independent traveler looking to make their own way. This guide is a good place to start, but I implore you to go beyond travel blogs and guidebooks and discover Barcelona for yourself. You’ll fall in love with what you’ll find.
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