Getting Around Barcelona

by Gray Cargill on February 7, 2012

Barcelona from Parc Guell

Barcelona from Parc Guell

There are so many reasons to visit Barcelona, Spain, from its gorgeous architecture and location as a port city on the Mediterranean to its museums and pretty Spanish plazas. When you start planning your trip to Barcelona, one of the first questions you’ll probably ask is: What’s the best way to get around the city? That depends on where you stay and where you plan to go. Unless you’re going to rent a car, vespa or bicycle, your transportation options fall pretty much under these categories:

Walking

Assuming you have no mobility problems, Barcelona is a very walkable city. There are many sights you can see on foot if you stay in a central location (or if you’re in port for the day). I stayed at a fairly central hostal near Placa Catalunya and walked to Passeig de Gracia to see Casa Battlo and Casa Mila; all the way down Via Laietana to Port Vell; to the Picasso Museum and the City History Museum; down La Rambla; and to the Maremagnum.

Hop on hop off bus

Typical hop-on, hop-off bus

The Hop-On, Hop-Off Tourist Bus

There are two companies that offer hop-on, hop-off (HOHO) tours, and both offer at least two routes that will take you to the major tourist sites in the city. This is the easiest option for tourists, and also one of the more expensive. Keep in mind the hours are limited and you’ll waste a lot of time compared with taking the metro, because you’ll have to sit through the whole route (even after you’ve seen everything you want to see). Both depart from Placa Catalunya, where you can buy your tickets.

The Barcelona Metro

Next to walking, the metro is always my preferred mode of transportation in new cities. But I’ll admit, I was a little intimidated by the scores of reports I’d read online about how rampant pickpocketing is there. I had all sorts of visions in my head of going down into some subterranean Mad Max-like landscape if I took the metro. Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Don’t get me wrong: Pickpocketing is prevalent here. But if you take precautions to secure your valuables (a money belt, a sealed inside pocket, a travel security bag like PacSafe, or this neat trick I just read over on TravelDudes.com), you’ll be fine. Other advice that worked for me was:

  • If you’re buying tickets on the spot, make sure you have your money ready in advance, so you’re not digging through your bag for it;
  • Study your route before you get there; and
  • Wait at the center of the platform rather than the end, since pickpockets tend to stick close to the exits.

My actual experience with the Barcelona metro was one of pleasant surprise. It was clean, it was easy to get around (far less walking than the Paris metro!), the signage was good, and the ticketing machines had an English option, which made them very easy to use. No one bothered me, followed me, or tried to pick my pocket, and I was always able to get a seat. The metro is a real time-saver, and I recommend using it–just do be sure to take the precautions noted above.

Barcelona

Barcelona

The most useful metro lines for visitors are:

  • The L3 Green Line, which will take you to Montjuic (including the Olympic Stadium, Montjuic Castle, the Spanish Village, and the National Palace/MNAC), the Magic Fountains, Placa d’Espanya, Sants Station (where you can catch the AVE train to other cities in Spain), the Port of Barcelona, the Maritime Museum, the Aquarium, the Barri Gotic district (the old city), La Rambla, Parc Guell (with a 20-minute walk up a steep hill), Casa Mila, Casa Battlo, and Placa Catalunya, a central plaza in the city. (Placa Catalunya is also a hub station, linking to other lines.)
  • The L4 Yellow Line, which will take you to the City History Museum, the Picasso Museum, and Barceloneta Beach.
  • The L2 Purple Line, which will take you to La Sagrada Familia.

City Bus

The bus system seemed more difficult to figure out than the metro, so I didn’t use it. If you’re not going to be in Barcelona very long, you can probably live without it. Or you can find routes and schedules at their website.

Taxi

Taxis are quick and direct, but also more expensive. I’d recommend it if you have a lot of luggage or to save time getting directly to Parc Guell. Taking public transportation to Parc Guell can be complicated and involves walking up hill. There are always taxis outside the Parc to take you wherever you want to go next.

Cable car to Montjuic

Cable car to Montjuic

Funicular and Cable Car

If you’re going to Montjuic Castle, there is a funicular that will transport you from the L3 Metro: Paral-lel station to the cable car. There is also a cable car from the Port of Barcelona to the Miramar gardens on Montjuic.

As you can see, you have plenty of options for getting around Barcelona. It’s not as spread out as you think, and most of the sights you’ll want to see as a visitor are in fairly compact areas. Personally, I recommend walking as much as possible and taking the metro as a backup. But most of all, I recommend visiting Barcelona!

Gray February 26, 2012 at 9:56 pm

kristaspurr, I know exactly what you mean. And I’ll bet money those same people would later claim they were being “careful” and “can’t figure out HOW anyone could have robbed them without them noticing.”

kristaspurr February 25, 2012 at 8:15 am

Great post! I only used the Metro when I was in Barcelona, even though I was equally concerned after reading all of the pickpocketing reports. Just do as the locals do: be aware of your surroundings and keep your bag in front of you at all times. I saw so many travelers deeply engrossed in guidebooks or talking to their friends with their bags hanging off of their backs – it just screamed “rob me.”

Gray Cargill February 15, 2012 at 6:05 pm

Hi, Michael – Did you too? Glad to hear it! The architecture there is fantastic. I wasn’t there long enough to really take advantage of the book of tickets, but agree–it’s a bargain.

Michael February 15, 2012 at 2:17 pm

You certainly had your fill of architecture in Barcelona, Gray. And so did we. I totally agree with you about the metro trains and stations of the city. Buying their version of the French carnet gives you big savings as opposed to buying it singularly. Even getting to the airport cost way way cheaper than in Paris.

Gray February 13, 2012 at 10:10 pm

You’re very welcome, Karla.

karla February 13, 2012 at 9:41 pm

Barcelona is one of the best tourist destination. Because of the beautiful sights here. I will definitely visit this beautiful city someday. Thanks for the post.

Gray February 13, 2012 at 6:51 am

Good plan, Samuel.

Nomadic Samuel February 13, 2012 at 12:30 am

I’m personally a big fan of hop on and off buses; however, in a city this gorgeous (time permitting) I would walk mostly 🙂

Gray February 12, 2012 at 4:43 pm

That was pretty much my experience, too, Rem. I’d rather go the direct route with metro, but different strokes….

Rem Anon February 12, 2012 at 2:59 pm

I actually just went to Barcelona in September and tried the Hop-On, Hop-Off buses. I wasn’t impressed – you have to wait in long lines to get on the buses every time you get off, and their routes are so sprawling that you can end up spending an hour going who knows where and another hour back with no recourse because the buses travel in a one-way loop. It was a bit expensive, too. Better off taking the city buses and the metro – as long as you’re alert and smart about your belongings, pickpockets aren’t a problem.

Gray February 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm

They’re definitely the easiest option, Sabina, that’s for sure.

Sabina February 10, 2012 at 1:43 pm

I like those HOHO tours a lot. I’ve done them in London and New York, but haven’t taken one in years. I wouldn’t hestitate to do so again, though, if it was the best way to see a city I was in. They’re so efficient, relaxing and comprehensive. If you have the money to spend, it’s the way to go, I think.

Gray February 7, 2012 at 6:33 pm

@John – I agree. The Barcelona metro is very easy to figure out.
@Candice – You should!

Candice February 7, 2012 at 12:37 pm

Barcelona has never really been on my “must-see” list, but this looks awesome! I should probably reconsider.

John February 7, 2012 at 11:47 am

Metros are always a little intimidating to me at first. But for some reason I felt right at home on the one in Barcelona. I felt like it was easy to use and it just made sense.

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