Barcelona

Where to Stay, When to Go, Why Pick Barcelona - Tips from a Digital Nomad

Barcelona — a city that has it all. This culturally rich, cosmopolitan city is known for its architecture and art, but Barcelona also boasts sandy beaches, wild parakeets, boutique shopping, and outdoor adventure. Quite simply, it’s a bustling metropolitan paradise where city life and beach life are wrapped up in one glorious package.

Barcelona has a thriving expat and digital nomad community, and with the innovative startup scene exploding in recent years, it’s an exciting city to work from. With hundreds of coworking spaces available, meeting like-minded people is easy, and there is a wide range of English events, lectures, and meet-ups to keep you engaged and inspired.

It’s important to remember that Barcelona is first and foremost Catalonian rather than Spanish. There are two official languages: Catalan and Castilian Spanish. English is also widely spoken, particularly by the younger generation. While Catalan is primarily used in offices and schools, more than 50% of people in Barcelona speak Spanish, so don’t worry about having to learn an entirely new language; just practice some token words and phrases in Catalan, and you’ll be welcomed into the city with open arms.

Barcelona is a culture vulture’s dream come true, containing the world-famous Sagrada Família and an array of other must-see Gaudí architecture. The Picasso Museum, the Fundació Joan Miró, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, and the National Art Museum of Catalonia will have art lovers wondering where to start. Even the zoo has been named among the best in the world!

For those who prefer to be outside, there is a wide range of outdoor activities for sports enthusiasts or adrenaline junkies: kite-surfing, biking, kayaking, beach volleyball, hiking, canyoning, and skiing are just a few of the pursuits you can enjoy. Solitude in nature can also be found just 20 minutes away from the city center in the Collserola Hills.

So, if you’re seeking a metropolitan city in which you work to live rather than live to work, you’ve found the right place. Barcelona might not be the cheapest location to base yourself, but compared to Paris or London, it is very favorable; plus, it boasts one of the most diverse landscapes in Europe. The extensive public transport system makes it easy to move around both within the city and throughout the country, not forgetting that the rest of Europe is just a short and inexpensive plane ride away.

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Where to Stay in Barcelona

Barcelona is a truly unique city. Situated two to three hours from the French border, its location and the surrounding landscapes mean that city residents can enjoy a blend of mountain and ocean, hills and beaches, all the while basking in the almost perpetual sunshine. Previously known for its cheap cost of living and low rental rates, in recent years, Barcelona has undergone a significant renewal and renovation process, which has raised housing prices and led to pressure on authorities to start rent control measures.

Barcelona is officially divided into 27 districts, most of which are served by an efficient public transportation system, and commuter cycling is popular in most areas, too. Due to developing trends in tourism and various gentrification projects, choices in property type can vary across parts of the city. As a general rule, however, the more central areas of the city offer mostly apartment-type accommodations, although there are choices regarding style: for example, loft, studio, or the number of bedrooms. The further toward the outskirts of the city one travels, the easier it is to find larger properties, which can even be houses with gardens. What’s more, each district is very distinct from the next, so it’s up to you to decide on what balance of hustle and bustle in this lively city suits you best.

[Top Pick] El Raval: Considered by some to be Barcelona’s most “controversial” neighborhood, El Raval does indeed boast a somewhat debauched history. Formerly part of the city’s red light district and known for its many cabaret houses and drinking dens, over the years, El Raval has undergone various urban regeneration projects and is now regarded as the cultural hub of Barcelona. Here you can find Barcelona’s Museum of Modern Art, the Maritime Museum, and the Centre for Contemporary Culture. The district still retains its old authentic charms, however, and provides a colourful backdrop for a diverse and multicultural melting pot, embellished with edgy street art and a vibrant social scene.

[Second Pick] Gràcia: Culture-oriented and family friendly, the neighborhood of Gràcia appeals to a variety of Barcelona’s residents, as it offers a fine balance of bohemian attitude and traditional values. The district starts in the hills surrounding the internationally renowned Parc Güell and hosts numerous arts and cultural events that contribute to its lively atmosphere. With green spaces, good transport links, and lots of independent, boutique stores and markets, Gràcia offers plenty to explore.

[Third Pick] El Born: A district that takes up a wide stretch of the lower parts of La Ribera, El Born is a fashionable part of the city with a thriving creative community. The wealth of cultural attractions found here makes for a very international ambience, as tourists and locals alike soak up the history at the Santa Maria del Mar (the Catalan Gothic church) or El Fossar de les Moreres. The streets outside are brimming with lively venues that come together to create an eclectic bar and club scene. As one might expect, the cost of housing in the area is high, with older buildings and less spacious apartments.

[Fourth Pick] La Barceloneta: A laid-back seaside neighborhood with all the good vibes that come with the beach life, La Barceloneta is a favourite among travellers, expats, and locals alike. Those into fitness can walk, jog, cycle, or skate down the boardwalks that line the beautiful stretches of beach, while those after a little relaxation can bathe before visiting one of the many excellent al fresco seafood restaurants. A host of casual bars keeps the activity buzzing well into the evening, providing the perfect backdrop for visitors and residents to soak up the old-world charm.

El Poble-sec: El Poble-sec is another of Barcelona’s neighborhoods to transition out of its long-standing, seedy reputation; now, the district is widely regarded as a pocket of security and tranquility and is one of the oldest parts of the city. While El Poble-sec neighbors the elegant Montjuïc, the district itself offers little in the way of tourist attractions, but it can lay claim to an excellent dining and theatre scene. Heralded as a downright mecca for the foodies of the city, El Poble-sec is home to an exciting variety of upscale restaurants, traditional bodegas, classic tapas bars, and other eateries that exist only in a genre of their own.

Sant Antoni: A small neighborhood of the Eixample district, the trendy Sant Antoni is now very popular with the city’s hipster crowd, having undergone something of a style revolution in recent years. The streets follow a simple grid pattern and are lined with speciality coffee shops and bars, creating a very attractive atmosphere of pavement culture. This neighborhood has the advantage of being centrally located, but far enough away from the tourist crowds that a bit of peace and quiet is readily available, and being further away from the centre means that if you’re renting, you can find some great deals.

Barrio Gótico: Translating into English literally as “the Gothic Quarter,” Barrio Gótico is a labyrinthine melting pot of medieval and modern, traditional and contemporary. A veritable maze of tiny streets bursts with the music and community of a thriving bar and club scene, with some excellent Catalan restaurants thrown into the mix. As part of the Ciutat Vella, the Gothic Quarter is one of the oldest areas in the city, and home to the stunning Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona. There’s also good shopping here, with galleries and boutique stores tucked away into the spectacular architecture.

Ciutat Vella (Old Town): The physical and historical centre of the city, Old Town is often regarded as the “heart” of Barcelona. With a wealth of cultural attractions to explore, this district can get very busy with tourists, especially during peak seasons. While the choices of restaurants, bars, and pubs are superb, and options for nighttime entertainment extensive, very few of the other services here are aimed at local or long-term residents. However, some of the accommodation options can be cheaper in this part of the city, and it grants easy access to the beautiful Parc de la Ciutadella.

Eixample: North of Old Town lies the famous district known as Eixample, which is home to some of the city’s most iconic landmarks and distinctive architecture. The influences of Gaudí and the Art Nouveau movement are visible throughout the impossibly scenic streets of this neighborhood, whose higher rental prices reflect the pleasant, upmarket atmosphere. Regular markets provide a good balance of hustle and bustle, but it’s easy to find more peaceful areas, too.

Sants-Montjuïc: A great neighborhood for those who love the outdoors, Sant-Montjuïc is home to the city’s botanical gardens, the enormous Montjuïc Park, and former Olympic sports facilities. The district offers more than just good opportunities for exercise, however; the former Olympic stadium hosts a wide range of events throughout the year, and the district is home to one of the longest shopping streets in Europe. There is no access to the beach, as the container port takes up most of the area.

Sant-Martí: Sant-Martí is considered by most to be an attractive neighborhood, partly due to the renovation efforts put in place for the 1992 Olympics. While this means that there are plenty of modern new developments, many older buildings and traditional architecture remain to preserve the authenticity of the area. It provides easy access to the city centre and to the beach, making it an appealing option for swimmers, surfers, kiteboarders, and cyclists. Sant-Martí also has its own array of good bars and restaurants, so head to Rambla del Poblenou to check them out.

Les Corts: This upmarket residential area is generally popular among expat families due to the number of international schools scattered throughout the district. It’s also near the financial district, making for an easy work commute. In fact, having a car here can be useful, for unlike other areas of the city, there’s a lot of dedicated parking available. The surrounding countryside is also easily accessible, so there are plenty of opportunities to get outside in the Barcelona sunshine.

Nou Barris: This district was formerly populated mostly by immigrants and Barcelona’s working classes, and the lower rental prices still reflect this. There are some upmarket areas, however, and some parts have been recently been redeveloped, while others retain their original 18th and 19th-century architecture. With bus and metro connections, it’s easy to find somewhere to suit most budgets and tastes in Nou Barris, which gets bonus points for its great selection of smaller bars and eateries and the easy access to the Collserola nature area.

Horta-Guínardó: Known to be one of the ”greener” neighborhoods in Barcelona, this tranquil residential area is built into the hills that stretch from the centre all the way to the Collserola nature reserve. Many of the streets are extremely steep, so cycling is not recommended, and they’re often very narrow, which can lead to congestion. However, there is easy access to the motorway, and metro and bus services connect to the centre. Residents of Horta-Guinardó also enjoy numerous shops and restaurants and plenty of public gardens and outdoor recreational areas.

Sarrià-Sant Gervasi: Now one of the largest and most prosperous neighborhoods in Barcelona, the upmarket Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is peaceful and mostly residential, with many independent stores and boutique shops offering a refreshing shopping experience. Because the district is well-removed from the centre, at the northwestern edge of the city, it’s more common to find larger apartments and houses with gardens here. You can also find a number of international schools in the area, making it a good choice for expats with families.

Here’s a map of the most popular neighborhoods in Barcelona:

Barcelona Neighborhoods -Where to Stay

Best Time to Visit Barcelona

Undeniably, it’s the Mediterranean climate that draws many people to Barcelona with its mild winters and hot summers. The best time to visit is in spring or fall when the weather is pleasant, yet the city isn’t suffering from the crowds of summer. Summers are hot and humid with 13 hours of sunlight each day, while in winter, it’s chilly rather than properly cold, snow being rare and sunny days mingling with overcast days.

January-February: The coldest month in Barcelona is January, though temperatures rarely reach freezing and can seem positively mild. Both months see a mix of bright and sunny days and wet overcast days, but there are enough festivals to keep the winter blues away. After New Year celebration, January 5th brings parades to the city to celebrate Three Kings’ Day aka Día de los Reyes Magos. This period marks the start of the winter sales, which continue until the end of February with up to 70% off of goods. Later in January, the traditional Catalan festival, Festa dels Tres Tombs, takes place, and around February 12th, the biggest children’s festival lasts 4 days with puppet shows, kids concerts, and general family fun happening all over the city.

March-April: March welcomes longer days and the smell of spring in the air! April showers and the occasional thunderstorm should be expected, but temperatures rise daily. Be careful not to accidentally get caught up in the Barcelona Marathon which takes place mid-March and draws nearly 20,000 runners to the streets! Holy Week is a big celebration in Barcelona with many unique traditions taking place, as well as religious ceremonies ending with the Easter procession. If you’re in Barcelona on April 23rd, you will get to celebrate a 2nd Valentine’s Day thanks to the festival of St Jordi.

May-June: Spring showers can last into early May, but June is the driest month and brings increasingly warm weather. An array of festivals take place during this time, including Primavera Sound, the world’s biggest indie and alternative music festival. The city parties on June 23rd for The Night of Saint Joan when bonfires are lit on the beach and fireworks are set off in the street.

July-August: These are the hottest months and the busiest time for tourists due to European school holidays. Nighttime temperatures don’t drop much below daytime temperatures, and the high humidity makes the narrow streets uncomfortable. People head to the beach to escape the worst of the heat, and many locals leave the city altogether to enjoy their own summer vacation. For those not on the beach or battling the long queues to see the sites, the summer sales can be enjoyed from the 2nd week of July until the end of August. The festival season is also in full swing with the Rock Fest in July, the Música als Parcs (free music concerts) running from June to August and the 9 day Festa Major de Gràcia.

September-October: In September, the crowds leave, the locals return, and the temperature becomes bearable again. As the month progresses, the weather becomes more unpredictable with rain and storms mixed in with warmth and sunshine. September 11th is La Diada de Catalunya, the National Day of Catalonia, when the city celebrates the region’s autonomy with cultural events. Towards the end of September, a grand 4 day festival called Festes de la Mercè takes place to honor the city’s patron saint with parades, races, concerts, and feasts taking place. As the days get shorter and the temperatures slowly drop, the Barcelona International Jazz Festival starts, running from October to December.

November-December: November sees a chill in the air and a definite reduction in visitors, which can make the city feel very homey. December might be the month with the least sunshine, but temperatures tend to be cool rather than cold, and Christmas festivities, such as the big Christmas market and switching on the Christmas lights (a superb light and sound show) bring excitement.

Barcelona’s Best Festivals

There is no better day than one spent strolling down the sunny streets, taking photos of people around, and absorbing the atmosphere. And it’s fine to do it all as you just drop by for the weekend, but why not combine the trip to Barcelona with some of amazing festivals that happen all across the city, all year round? There is a mix of traditional celebrations and modern music/art events for the most acquired tastes. Almost every month in this realer-than-real city, you can find a pocket of human existence being celebrated in festivals that represent Barcelona’s cultural diversity, its mainstream, and grassroots movements.

[Top Pick] Three Kings Day | Epiphany (January): If you happen to be in Barcelona for New Years Eve, you might want to extend your stay till the 6th of January ,when the Catholics celebrate the arrival of the Three Kings. What happens is nothing what you’d expect on this holy day. The Kings arrive onboard the ship to Port Vell, and from there take it to the streets, parading with elves, clowns, acrobats, elephants, and what not. The parade is a feast of light, dance and music, with fireworks and cannons. This early January festival is one of the most celebrated throughout the whole country. As you might expect, there will be food and drinks all around you.

The Calçotada (February): Nothing gives better insight into Barcelona’s culinary history than a Calçotada, or Catalonian barbeque, celebrated during the colder months of January and February. The feast begins with the ritual eating of specially-grown spring onions, or calçots, which are traditionally roasted over an open fire and eaten dipped in a special sauce.

[Top Pick] Barcelona Carnival (February/March): Costumes, parades, music, dance and food—welcome to the Carnival in Barcelona! The festival is a week-long celebration of historical prominence, manifest in exuberant parades and performances throughout the streets of the city. Starting with Greasy Thursday, which takes its name from stuffing yourself with fat foods, the Carnival proceeds to multiple colourful and noisy events, the highlight being “La Taronjada“ – a friendly battle, historically with oranges, today with orange confetti and balloons. Ready your camera for all the players in their mind-blowing costumes.

Barcelona Beer Festival (March): A three-day celebration of beer held in the suburbs of Barcelona, the Barcelona Beer Festival showcases as many as 450 artisan craft beers from around the world, aiming to represent the culture and history of beer. The event is centered around a long bar equipped with 100 beer taps. The price of a ticket includes an official Barcelona Beer Festival glass, an information booklet, and two beer tokens.

[Top Pick] Festa de Sant Medir (Candy Festival) (March): 60 tons of sweets – basically that’s what the day is all about! Once upon a time, a man cured of his illness began yearly pilgrimages. While walking, he was handing out sweets and treats. Centuries later, to commemorate both the man and the saint to whom he was walking, the Saint Medir parade takes place in the streets of old Gràcia (part of Barcelona). In the processions of horses, carriages, and lorries, the candies are handed out. A lot of candies… This festival translates into English as “The Candy Festival” and certainly lives up to its name. Also known as “la Festa més dolça”or “the sweetest festival,” children in particular enjoy this parade – about 60 tons of candy is given away during the colourful processions that occupy the streets, culminating in the evening parade in the Gràcia district.

Feria de Abril (April): Barcelona’s April Fair is held annually at the Parc del Fòrum festival area in the Diagonal Mar district. It’s an Andalusian festival of music and dance and promises all the attractions of a good, traditional fun-fair, including rides, games, and a feast of traditional foods and snacks.

Primavera Sound Festival (May/June) – A music festival for open-minded, great sounds lovers. It takes place in a perfect location, at the northernmost end of the city – Parc del Fòrum. This spot was built especially to host events like this. Primavera SF gives you a mind-blowing lineup of all music genres, be it alternative, indie, pop, electro, jazz, folk or any other you might have in mind; with names like Arctic Monkeys, Björk, Nick Cave, and younger, but purely great discoveries like Lykke Li, Kings of Convenience, or Warpaint – there is very reach line-up that you need to look up. The festival itself takes up one weekend, but you’ll find many events across the city on both ends of the three days to fill up the whole week with some unforgettable performances.

Festival Sant Joan (June): Saint John’s Festival marks the arrival of the summer solstice, celebrating Midsummer’s Eve and the shortest night of the year. It is generally considered to be a family festival, where families gather to eat outside and set off fireworks or construct enormous bonfires. This is the reason for the festival’s most common name, which translates into “Night of Fire.” If you’re new in town, head to the beach for the party.

[Top Pick] Sónar Festival (June): Electronic arts go on night and day for the whole weekend. Founded in 1994, the internationally-renowned Sónar Festival is a three-day extravaganza of electronic and advanced music. “Music, creativity and technology“ is the official festival slogan. It might be the most important experimental music festival in the world. Day and night rave throughout the city – in the festival main venues (La Fira Montjuïc, Fira de Barcelona) and multiple additional locations. Take a look at the lineup, and you’ll want to go! The festival prides itself on its solid reputation as a festival of creativity and technology, offering new trends and experimental tastes, as well as established industry leasing names. It is primarily divided into two locations, which host “Sónar by Day” and “Sónar by Night,” respectively.

Grec Festival (June-August): Often referred to more simply as “El Grec,” The Festival Grec de Barcelona is one of the city’s summer highlights, where locals and tourists can enjoy a spectacle of dance, music, theatre, and circus. Events take place in venues throughout Barcelona, but the main stage is located at the Teatre Grec, an open-air, bowl-shaped auditorium on Montjuïc Hill.

Cruilla Festival (July) – Again, Parc del Fòrum welcomes the greatest music performances —over 40 shows, on several stages near the sea. What better idea to spend a midsummer weekend than to see David Byrne or Damian Marley live in this great city? The Cruilla Festival is known to host artists of all and any genres, so you might say it’s simply for everyone. And if you want to broaden your music views or find some new music to love, we’ll see you there!

[Top Pick] Circuit Festival Barcelona (August): Not to be missed in the landscape of Barcelona in the summer. Also called “Circuit Party,” this annual celebration is one of the biggest international gay and lesbian events in Europe, drawing tens of thousands of visitors each year. Organized over 10 days, this celebration of diversity and sexuality sees parties held in bars and venues across the city, including an Opening Party and a Closing Party. Perhaps the pinnacle of the entire event is the Waterpark Party Day & Night party, where people dance and splash away two days in a water theme park.

[Top Pick] Fiesta de la Mercè (September): Devils take to the streets of Barcelona! It’s the official celebration of the city’s patron and so the whole city just …parties. The biggest festival in the city’s calendar, this three-day event – often referred to as the “Festival of Festivals is held every September in the honour of the Virgin of Mercy and is the zenith of Barcelona’s festivities. Up to 500 events take place during Fiesta de la Mercè, some of the most famous of which include the legendary Castellers, or “human towers.” Performances take place in front of thousands of people in the Gothic Quarter. Expect the parades and free concerts, street theatres and performers, look out for the human towers and get out of the way of correfoc runners – the devils with fireworks and bangers on the 10 km race. And then hug your dog, as some amazing fireworks are expected.

In-Edit Beefeater (October): Off the beaten track of Barcelona’s already eclectic mix of festivals, you will find the intriguingly named “In-Edit Beefeater,” which takes its place in the crossover between music and film. A festival specializing in musical documentary, it promises a series of thought-provoking screenings in cinemas around the city.

L’Alternativa | Barcelona Independent Film Festival (November) – There is so many film festivals these days. But not all of them have the courage to aim for “shaking you up.” So if you’re looking for some meaningful cinematography, if you’re curious about new, but already powerful directors’ work – this is the place to be. It’s a full week of screenings, workshops, discussions, and performances. Come over, whether you’re a movie maker, a film student, or cinematography fan. And if you happen to just be in Barcelona at the time, pop in too—this will be a great bonus for your trip!

New Year’s Eve (December): Barcelona’s official New Year’s celebration is an event called The Barcelona New Year Chimes, and is held at the Font Magica de Montjuïc (Magic Fountain of Montjuïc). This event is free and open to everyone, including families with children, and features live music and fireworks at midnight. Other private venues across the city host their own New Year’s events and celebrations, so be sure to check out what’s going on if you’re in Barcelona to ring in the bells.

Note: Some of the dates and locations may change. Be sure to double check the exact dates before planning your trip.

* * *

FREE Guide to the BEST of Barcelona

Wouldn’t you want to save time and discover the absolute BEST places in Barcelona? – Cafes, accommodation, coworking, gyms, yoga & more

There are many travel guides for tourists who want to visit Barcelona.

Barcelona Secrets is different. Get it here…

* * *

Author

Tal Gur is a world traveler and personal development enthusiast. An adventurer at heart, after trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, Tal spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey continues as a location-independent blogger, lifestyle entrepreneur, and coach. Tal’s published two books: One Year to Freedom, a 1-Year Roadmap to Living Life on Your Own Terms; and, his most recent book and bestseller, The Art of Fully Living – 1 Man, 10 Years, 100 Life Goals Around the World.

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