Destination guide: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Spain and Europe.

Barcelona offers an endless number of tourist attractions, such as the Gothic Quarter (where civic activities are carried out and where you can visit the remains of an ancient wall built during the Romen Empire), Gracia Street (built by Gaudi, who infused the city's streets with a touch of Modernism), the Olympic Port and, of course, the nightlife that makes this city so much fun.

Plan your trip to Barcelona and get ready to enjoy the mildness of its Mediterranean climate, the charm of its historical sites and a diverse cultural scene.

  • Barcelona - Practical Information

    Orientation

    For barcelonins, the barri (barrio in Spanish), meaning 'local district', is everything. Those born and raised in them are proud to say ' Sóc del barri!' ('I am from this neighbourhood!'). A barri has little to do with official municipal boundaries (Barcelona is officially divided into 10 districts); in fact, it can often be a vague term that might mean just the surrounding few streets.

    We start in the Barri Gòtic and La Rambla, the medieval heart of the municipal district known as Ciutat Vella (Old City), which also covers edgy El Raval and lively La Ribera. El Raval stretches southwest of La Rambla, Spain's best-known boulevard. For years hip bars, restaurants and hotels have been springing up all over, along with art galleries, university faculties and, in the years to come, the brand new Filmoteca de Catalunya. The southern half of La Ribera was medieval Barcelona's financial district, where bars have long since replaced the bourse. La Ribera was cut off from the 'Gothic Quarter' by the creation of the rumbling traffic corridor of Via Laietana in 1908.

    The old town is fronted by Port Vell and La Barceloneta. The 'Old Port' is a combination of pleasure-boat marina and leisure zone with restaurants, cinemas and bars. A brief, sunny stroll takes you into the narrow lanes of the one-time working-class zone of La Barceloneta, a cauldron of seafood eateries with clear signs of gentrification. Beyond its narrow streets, the Mediterranean laps the city's crowded central beaches.

    Where La Barceloneta ends, a new chapter in Barcelona's urban history begins. Port Olímpic, El Poblenou and El Fòrum reflect contemporary Barcelona's drive to renew itself. The port was built for the 1992 Olympics, as were the apartments stretching behind it in the southwest edge of the city's former factory district, El Poblenou. The hi-tech tenants are moving into a growing array of shiny new buildings as the mammoth task of remaking this extensive one-time industrial district continues. Long shunned as a place to live, its warehouse lofts and big apartments have increasingly attracted homebuyers' attention since the late 1990s. Crowds flock to the nearby beaches that stretch northeast of Port Olímpic. The strands peter out in El Fòrum, a residential, business and pleasure district where skyscrapers sprouted out of nothing in the first years of the 21st century.

    The last time Barcelona went on such an urban-planning drive was towards the end of the 19th century, with the creation of L'Eixample. Its Modernista treasures, from La Pedrera to La Sagrada Família, attract hordes of visitors to its gridded streets, which also hide countless gems for foodies, drinkers and shoppers.

    L'Eixample filled the gap between Barcelona, Gràcia and Park Güell. Originally a separate town, with its sinuous, narrow lanes and web of lively squares, Gràcia retains an atmosphere utterly its own, with Park Güell a Gaudí fantasy to its north.
    From here, the city rises up towards the hills of Parc de Collserola. The slopes of Barcelona in the district of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi are known as La Zona Alta (meaning 'The High Zone', synonymous with snobbery) and take in sought-after Pedralbes and Tibidabo, with its amusement park. 

    Finally, we visit Montjuïc, Barcelona's Olympic hill and green lung; El Poble Sec, a once-poor area now home to a growing Latin American population; and Sants, a busy working-class neighbourhood that offers little for visitors but is full of life.

    Currency

    Euro

    Language

    Spanish, Catalan, Gallegan

    Timezone

    UTC/GMT +1

    Weights & Measures

    Metric

    Visas

    Spain is one of 25 member countries of the Schengen Convention, under which 22 EU countries (all but Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the UK) plus Iceland, Norway and Switzerland have abolished checks at common borders. Cyprus has signed the Schengen agreement, but full membership has been postponed until at least late 2010.

    The visa situation for entering Spain is as follows:

    • Citizens or residents of EU & Schengen countries No visa required.
    • Citizens or residents of Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, NZ and the USA No visa required for tourist visits of up to 90 days.
    • Other countries Check with a Spanish embassy or consulate.
    • To work or study in Spain A special visa may be required – contact a Spanish embassy or consulate before travel.

    Customs

    Duty-free allowances for travellers entering Spain from outside the EU include 2L of wine (or 1L of wine and 1L of spirits), and 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco.

    There are no duty-free allowances for travel between EU countries but equally no restrictions on the import of duty-paid items into Spain from other EU countries for personal use. You can buy VAT-free articles at airport shops when travelling between EU countries.

    Business Hour

    • Banks: 8.30am-2pm Mon-Fri; some also open 4-7pm Thu and 9am-1pm Sat
    • Central Post Offices: 8.30am-9.30pm Mon-Fri, 8.30am-2pm Sat
    • Nightclubs: midnight or 1am to 5am or 6am
    • Restaurants: lunch: 1-4pm, dinner: 8.30pm-midnight or later
    • Shops: 10am-2pm & 4.30-7.30pm or 5-8pm; big supermarkets and department stores generally open 10am-10pm Mon-Sat

    Electricity overview

    European plug with two circular metal pins

    Electricity overview (european)