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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!