Barcelona may not be the capital of Spain, but it certainly acts like it is. The city is big and loud and vibrant and full of cool things to do. But, if it's your first time in Spain's largest city, it may at first seem a bit overwhelming.
So, to help you out, here's a guide to your first time exploring the beautiful coastal city of Barcelona.
When it comes to architecture in Barcelona, there is one name that stands out: Antoni Gaudi. Gaudi is famous not only in Spain, but around the world for a unique style of architecture that he pioneered called Catalan Modernism. This is an Art Nouveau-style of architecture that is influenced by nature though, to be honest, it just looks entirely wacky in real life. Gaudi's most famous works can be found dotted around Barcelona, from the massive (and unfinished) cathedral the Sagrada Familia to Casa Batllo and the tranquil Park Guell.
A big tip for anyone who wants to visit these sites is to book timed tickets online ahead of time in order to skip the long lines that inevitably form every day. This is particularly essential at Sagrada Familia and Park Guell during the peak summer months.
Barri Gotic /La Rambla
Barcelona's gothic quarter is one of the most popular neighborhoods for tourists in the city. This is because of the neighborhood's iconic architecture and narrow streets and alleys full of hidden secrets. It's definitely worth a visit (you can't miss seeing the gothic Barcelona Cathedral, for instance), but it's almost always the most crowded part of Barcelona and the part of the city where you have to be the most wary of street scammers and pickpockets.
I won't say you should completely skip La Rambla, the wide pedestrian passage that cuts through Barri Gotic. But I WILL say that if you head to the upper part of the street (Rambla de Catalunya) instead, you'll find fewer crowds, cheaper tapas restaurants and a much less chaotic atmosphere.
If you only visit one non-touristy neighborhood in Barcelona, make it El Born. It's very similar to Barri Gotic with its narrow alleys and lots of character, but it's a much more lived-in part of Barcelona. You won't find many tourists or souvenir shops here, which gives you a much different glimpse into life in one of Europe's largest cities.
La Barceloneta /The Beach
Lastly, don't forget that Barcelona is located on the Mediterranean Sea. Blend in with the locals and head down to the beachy Barceloneta neighborhood for a walk along the boardwalk or to soak up some sun on the sand. Barcelona is known for having a lot of sunny days each year, and the beach is one of the best places to enjoy them. It's especially nice to be able to just hop on the metro and get from the city center to the sand in a matter of minutes.
Speaking of the metro, let's talk about getting around in Barcelona. The city has a good public transportation system made up of metros, buses, trams and regional trains.
If you'll be in the city for a few days, I recommend picking up an Hola BCN! card. You can buy them for 2, 3, 4 or 5 days, and the cards can be used on all forms of public transport in Barcelona. When I was there, I got a 2-day card for 14 Euro. Considering that a single metro journey is 2.15 Euro, simply taking 7 metro rides over 2 days saved me money (and I definitely took more than that).
You may have heard people talk about Barcelona being a dangerous city for tourists. I don't necessarily think this is true. Yes, people DO fall prey to pickpockets all the time, but I don't think the city is any more dangerous than other cities of similar size in Europe.
To stay safe, just be smart. Don't carry more cash on you than you need. Pay attention to your surroundings and don't flash valuables (like phones or iPads) around when you don't need to. And just generally listen to your gut to know when you need to be the most alert. Also be sure to take out the appropriate travel insurance policy for your needs.
Have you been to Barcelona? What else would you add to this list?
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Graduate student by day and avid traveler and blogger by night (and on weekends and during holidays), Amanda is just a small-town Ohio girl trying to balance a "normal" life with a desire to discover the world beyond her Midwest bubble. Amanda's adventurous nature and inability to say "no" have led her to some pretty amazing adventures all around the world. But she has no desire to stop exploring anytime soon. Read Amanda's blog, A Dangerous Business, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.
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