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5 things that surprised me about Barcelona

Surprises can be a good or a bad thing when you’re travelling abroad but what’s so great about them is that you become a more informed and experienced traveller in the process. Having never been to Barcelona and I came across a few…

1) It’s not as expensive as everyone says

Everyone I spoke to about Barcelona prior to going said that it was expensive and I will gladly debunk this rumour my friends! We found a great deal on accommodation by sharing an apartment through Airbnb and flights were just over £100 return for three nights. Even with food and drink (arguably one of the biggest expenses on holiday), we found that restaurants prices were standard (no more than in the UK) and cheap food alternatives were everywhere. From ‘mini supermarket’ vending machines in the metro to daily food markets we could always get a meal for under €10.

Lesson Learned: Don’t always listen to other people’s opinions on a place, even if you’ve never been there before. I estimated how much I would need with excursions and food and was fine. I was pleasantly surprised by the cost effective restaurant alternatives that Barcelona had to offer and didn’t end up over spending.

To save money on food and drink abroad check out my top ten tips here.


Giant €5 pizza anyone?

2) The language divide

There are two languages that are spoken in Barcelona, Spanish and Catalan. Don’t be fooled by the fact you’re in Spain and therefore everyone will speak Spanish. Barcelona is in the Catalonia region of Spain so Catalan is the dominant language. I did know this before going to Barcelona, but (and this is a big but) the language spoken depends on what part of Barcelona you’re in, which is what caught me off guard. When we tried to speak a little Spanish we were greeted in Catalan and when we weren’t sure if they were speaking in Catalan we felt guilty responding in English.

Lesson learned: Learn some core sentences in both languages before arriving in Barcelona so you are comfortable with the basics like ordering food in a restaurant or asking a shop owner a question. The people of Barcelona are friendly and used to tourists so they won’t hold it against if you don’t know the languages, but it still doesn’t mean you’ll understand each other when you’re trying to communicate!


3) Just how hot and humid it is in the summer

Now I know you’ll be saying, “well duh!” but trust me, I was brought up in the UAE desert, heat doesn’t tend to bother me. But Barcelona seemed to be scorching! I was expecting the weather to be hot (being Spain in July n’all!) but when my friend Tami text after arriving in Barcelona the day before me saying, “dude it’s bloody roasting out here”, I thought, “nah, nothing can be as hot as Dubai in Summer.” How wrong I was. Even in the mornings we had on our lightest clothes, hats and sunglasses and we were sweating just stood still. Although the temperature didn’t seem that high when I looked before we went, the humidity was a killer.

Lesson Learned: Barcelona is beautiful all year round, so avoid the summer months (June-August) particularly if you are there for a city break only. The weather was perfect for when we spent a day at the beach but we struggled during the day when sightseeing as it was largely too hot to walk around for long lengths of time.

Sweltering in Parc Guell

Sweltering in Parc Guell

4) Siesta time could be ‘any’ time!

Siesta in Barcelona is typically between 1.30pm and 4.00pm however we found that shops and restaurants (even in tourist dense areas) could be shut for longer through the day or not be open at all. In other places in Europe there are usually standard business hours of 9-5, Monday- Friday but in Barcelona, shop keepers and restaurant owners make up their own timetabled hours! Everyone in Barcelona is really laid back so although we thought “oh it’s siesta of course the shops are closed” it could be 5pm on a Monday and the big supermarket on the corner of our apartment block would be closed.

Lesson learned: Make sure you get shopping in to last for a couple of days so you don’t need to go hunting for a shop when you need something small and plan your rest stops around siesta time. Food places around excursions such as the Picasso Museum and Sagrada Familia should stay open but plan ahead just incase you’re caught off guard and end up starving during your explorations.

Las Ramblas

The one exception to the rule: Las Ramblas!

5) How spread out things are

A lot of the main excursions such as Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, Barceloneta Beach and the Gothic Quarter are spread out across Barcelona so you can’t walk from one to the other, you need to take the metro. We take for granted in the UK that cities like, London and Manchester have everything close together. You can travel from one end of a city to the other fairly quickly which is great if you change your mind and want to head somewhere else but was not the case in Barcelona.

Lesson Learned: When arranging activities for each day, plan your routes the night before which includes, the lines you need to take on the metro and the walking route from the station to the excursion. We misjudged the walking distance from a metro station we thought was near to Sagrada Familia and ended up walking 20 minutes in the midday sun to find that it wasn’t quite as near as we thought! We had a nice scenic route on the way though ;)


Which stop is it??

So those are the 5 things that surprised me about Barcelona, do agree with my list? If you’ve been to Barcelona, was there anything that surprised you when you went? Comment below :)

Mel x

About the author

Hi, I’m Mel! The adventure-seeking vegan travel blogger behind Footsteps on the Globe. On this blog you'll find my latest adventures, travel inspiration as well as tips and tricks on how to be vegan around the world. You don’t have to give up being vegan to follow your travel dreams and I’m here to show you how!