I’m sure Barcelona has been on your bucket list for as long as you can remember. While it isn’t my favorite city in Spain, I think it is worth your time to solo travel in Barcelona once and is a great way to begin your vacation in this wonderful country.
I already have several different articles on how to visit this city, including 20 Essential Tips for your First trip to Barcelona. Still, I wanted to put together a guide for the solo traveler. Keep reading for my tips on how to prepare, the real conversations about what it’s like as a woman of color in Spain, and my advice for exploring the city itself while you are there.
If you are looking for a fully comprehensive guide to Barcelona and feel like diving into that research mode, check out the Matador Network. You will find endless articles and information about Barcelona from restaurants, museums, and specific Airbnbs and guided tours.
Your First Steps in Barcelona
How to Set Up and Sim Card and Get from the Airport to the City Center
Figuring out how to get from the airport to your Airbnb, hostel, or hotel can be overwhelming. The last thing you want to do after a long day of traveling is getting on the wrong bus or train and pay more or get lost.
Your first stop should be at one of the kiosks in the airport terminal to set up a sim card that you can put directly into your phone. Wi-Fi is available throughout Barcelona but is very slow and will not be helpful in the case of an emergency. Getting a rechargeable sim card is very simple and cheap. Plus, I can guarantee that you will use it more than once on your trip.
Once your sim card is set up, you can decide whether the train, bus, or taxi is the best way to leave the airport and head towards the city. In this article, I have broken down how to navigate all transportation out of the airport, where you will find links to timetables and connections.
Walking tours in Barcelona: Are they Worth it?
This city has impressive public transportation, but some neighborhoods and sights simply need to be walked. While there are many walking tours to choose from, I have created my own walking tour that will check off most of your Barcelona bucket list. It is complete with maps, packing lists, and additional links that hopefully will help with the rest of your adventures throughout Spain.
As you absorb the many options that Barcelona offers and begin to plan the days you have to dedicate to the city, consider looking at local sources for how they suggest you explore their city. My personal favorite is Spanish Sabores.
How to Prepare for Your Trip to Barcelona
When to Visit Barcelona
Now, let’s go back to the very first step: choosing the time of year to visit Barcelona. Weather in Barcelona is consistent and fairly predictable: winters are tame, spring and fall are beautiful, and summers are pleasantly warm. While weather makes this specific European city easy to plan around, there are some additional factors to consider.
Be sure to decide whether you want to participate in the events that bring the crowds or avoid them altogether. Countless festivities take over Barcelona with various celebrations, from rock concerts to traditional Catholic festivals. Check out Barcelona Life’s list of festivals to decide which you will enjoy the most. Of course, you can always avoid the festivals if you are more interested in experiencing the city in the off-season, including fewer tourists and shorter lines. Personally, I love visiting Barcelona in late September/early August as the overall tourist crowds start to diminish. However, there are still a few festivals to enjoy.
Where to stay in Barcelona
As you start looking at where to stay during your Barcelona vacation, consider looking for Airbnbs, hotels, or hostels in these three neighborhoods: El Born, the Gothic Quarter, and Gracia. Of course, you can look at the many other neighborhoods throughout the city. Still, I find these the safest, prettiest, and ideally located options for your stay.
El Born is a small neighborhood tucked behind Barceloneta. This neighborhood is one of the more active areas of the city, is lively throughout the day, and merges the old and new city energy. Make sure to download the map of this area as the winding streets easily become confusing. You will be surrounded by many restaurants, cathedrals, and museums during your stay. Airbnb’s range from $25-$50 per night.
The Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gotic, will also provide a memorable stay. It is right next to El Born and is close to many Barcelona attractions. If you stay elsewhere, make sure you dedicate an afternoon to wandering around this neighborhood. The narrow streets, Roman influence, and live music make it one of my favorite neighborhoods in Barcelona. Airbnb’s range from $30-$75 per night.
Gracia, or Barri di Gracia, is further from the city center but is the perfect location if you’re looking to stay in a different atmosphere than Barcelona itself. Originally an independent town in the 19th century, this neighborhood is now a hub for artists throughout Barcelona and is filled with galleries and music. Enjoy dinner, drinks, or dancing outdoors at the neighborhood’s plaças or wander through the sculptures up the hill at Guell Park. The best part is it’s even more affordable than staying in the city, and you can book an Airbnb for $14-$50 per night.
Pro Tips: Many apartments in Barcelona will not have elevators. Make sure you can comfortably carry your suitcase by hand or choose to travel with a backpack instead. If you are interested in the hostel experience, you’re in luck. There are over 100 hostels in Barcelona. They are incredibly affordable and provide a unique experience and community.
Safety Tips for Solo Travel in Barcelona
Barcelona is a fairly safe city. It comes with the dangers of every major city with large amounts of tourists. The largest risk is pickpockets, so plan ahead with a hanging wallet that will tuck inside your shirt or a fanny pack rather than a backpack. If you are staying in a hostel, consider a portable safe for your valuables if you plan to leave your things behind while exploring the city.
As a solo female traveler, my safety tips are similar to any advice I would give a woman traveling to any city. Pay attention to your surroundings, contact family or friends with your location, and always have a working cell phone. My most significant piece of advice is to listen to your instincts. If something tells you not to walk down that street or listen to that stranger, just walk away. Your intuition and gut are your best assets when traveling alone, so use them!
An important part of safety in Barcelona that I find important to address is the topic of racism. If you were to ask a local if there is racism in Spain, they would most likely say no. This is simply an example of the lack of conversation around the racism that exists throughout Europe, Spain included. From microaggressions to blatant racism, discrimination against people of color exists in Barcelona. I don’t bring this up to discourage you from traveling to this city, just to be honest about the current state of politics and society. With this in mind, most of the people you will meet in Barcelona are warm, kind, and extremely welcoming. For more information about racism in Spain, read my article about my experience in Spain as a woman of color.
Spanish vs. Catalan in Barcelona
Most tourists will study a bit of Spanish before making the trip to Spain without realizing that half of the residents of Barcelona don’t speak Spanish as their first language. Catalan, or Castellano, is the second official language of Barcelona and is so widely spoken throughout the city that it is actually the primary language taught in the city’s schools. Contrary to popular belief, Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish but another language entirely. It is as different from Spanish as French is to Portuguese.
Don’t feel pressure to master both Spanish and Catalan before your trip to Barcelona, but consider looking into some basic phrases to use during your stay. As you explore the city, it will become clear who is speaking Spanish and who is speaking Catalan, and this will help immensely as you meet and interact with locals. Saying “si us plau” instead of “por favor” to someone who has just greeted you in Catalan will be more respectful and friendly.
How to Pack for Barcelona
You will be happy to hear that packing for Barcelona is fairly easy. You won’t experience drastic weather changes, so outfit planning is simple. You will want comfortable walking shoes, a shawl or light sweater for after sunset, and sunglasses – especially for summer. Of course, make sure you have a portable battery, a power adapter, and a VPN – if you plan on streaming anything while traveling.
Also, consider getting travel insurance before you leave for your trip! The best travel insurance differs from person to person, but you can use this comparison tool to find the right fit for you.
You may also like my complete packing list for your summer vacation in Spain.
Top 5 things to do in Barcelona as a Solo Female Traveler
Wander through Park Guell
Antoni Gaudi’s Park Guell is one of the most unique and impressive parks globally. Originally designed to be a neighborhood for sixty families, though since 1923 it has been city property, this park is best described with one word: playful. The massive archways, colorful tiles, winding stairs, and one-of-a-kind structures fill this nearly 30-acre park.
It is a UNESCO world heritage site, so you have to buy a ticket to wander the “garden city.” Consider also a guided tour so you can learn the stories behind Gaudi’s fun design and layout.
Take a guided tour of the historic La Sagrada Familia
One of the most famous parts of Barcelona that are undoubtedly already on your list is La Sagrada Familia. This basilica is one of Antoni Gaudi’s impressive works and, though it’s been in construction for 140 years, is still unfinished. The “Church of the Holy Family” holds a history that reflects the modern history of Spain and is also breathtaking to walk through.
Pro Tip: Plan ahead! Book your ticket at least a week in advance. This UNESCO world heritage site is one of Spain’s most popular tourist destinations. While it is absolutely worth it, there’s a way to be smart about your visit. Make sure to buy your ticket from the La Sagrada Familia website rather than external sites. Consider purchasing the fast-track ticket to skip the lines.
You may also like 4 more mistakes you want to avoid when visiting La Sagrada Familia
Take a Stroll down Las Rambles
Las Rambles is high up on their Barcelona bucket list and a convenient strip of restaurants, shops, statues, and sights for many tourists. To the locals, it’s the equivalent of Times Square in New York City. Everything is geared towards tourism, overpriced and overcrowded. Basically, it’s worth seeing on your first trip to Barcelona, but that’s about it. Las Rambles is a long strip that runs through the city’s center, is lined with beautiful trees, and sprinkled with historic statues and structures.
I suggest you take an hour out of an afternoon, stroll down the picturesque strip, take some photos and move on. Don’t plan to eat or shop here as everything is overpriced! If you are looking for a great Tapas spot less than a 20-minute walk from Las Rables, try Tapeo in the Gothic Quarter.
View the city from the top of Casa Mila
At this point, you may think this is just advice on how to see all of Gaudi’s creations throughout Barcelona. In a way, this is true. In my opinion, the strong presence of Antoni Gaudi’s work is the one thing that makes Barcelona different from any other major European city. Otherwise, I probably wouldn’t be suggesting this city at all.
Casa Mila, or La Pedrera, was built in 1910 and is used as a residential building today. It is possibly the weirdest apartment building you will ever see! It was nicknamed La Pedrera, Quarry House, back when it was first built, and the name has stuck to the odd structure. This is one of my favorite stops in Barcelona simply because the view from the top of the building is absolutely worth every step!
Watch the sunset from Bunkers El Carmel
Speaking of incredible views, my final suggestion is the Bunkers del Carmel. Located to the north of the city, the bunkers were built during the Spanish Civil War almost 100 years ago. Today, they serve as one of the best vantage points to see the entire city of Barcelona with the Mediterranean as your backdrop. This is one of the best spots for sunset!
Once you feel ready for your time in Barcelona, look at nearby cities and towns that you may want to visit. There are so many underrated towns throughout Spain that I personally enjoy much more than Barcelona. Then, as you plan your trip throughout Spain, check out my article for additional tips for solo female travelers.
If you’re looking for any additional advice on your travels throughout Spain, you can peruse the rest of my articles on this wonderful country. Still nervous traveling alone? You can find the rest of my advice and tips here for all solo travelers. If you’re interested in further discussing traveling as a woman of color, click here to hear more of my story and insight.