10 things you need to know about Barcelona

Catalonia's capital is the most enigmatic city in Spain. We bring you the top things to know before you go...

The ultimate tourist city, Barcelona is a city that sizzles with sun-soaked Mediterranean charm. The historic and the contemporary blend perfectly in its traditional Catalan haunts, while the young population give this beachside city a festival feel every night of the week. Step in to Barcelona: historic, hedonistic and hospitable. 

1. Location

A little background on Barcelona. The city is the capital of the Spanish region of Catalonia, in the north-western part of the country. The region has long seeked to distance itself from the rest of Spain, with many of the inhabitants referring to themselves as Catalan rather than Spanish.

Spanish is not the city's first language so prepare your ears for a hybrid romance tongue. Catalan is a French-influenced language spoken in Barcelona, the Catalan capital. But don't worry as many locals speak English. Here are a few common Catalan phrases to help you survive...

M'agradaria un cafè, una cervesa, un got de vi negre.
I would like one coffee, one beer, a glass of red wine.

Si us plau/gracies
Please/Thank you

Una taula per a dos
A table for two

El projecte de llei , si us plau
The bill please

Quant costa?
How much is this?

¿ On és el metro
Where is the metro?

Casa MilaCasa Mila, source: Flickr/Rick Ligthelm

2. Architecture

Admired around the world for its unique architecture, Barcelona's distinctive style is definitely something you can't miss while exploring the city. 'Modernista', commonly known as Art Nouveauhad a huge influence on the architectural landscape of the city, and many of the older buildings are now world heritage sites.

The Sagrada Familia, (a large, Roman Catholic church) Barcelona's most famous unfinished work encompasses everything true to Barcelona Master Antoni Gaudi's style, a true symbol and a modernist gem.

Sagrada FamiliaSagrada Familia, source: Flickr/Moyan Brenn

3. Dinner is late

To really experience the best of Barcelona, one must adapt to the local culinary schedule. Similarly to rest of southern Europe, the Barceloni have their main meals at lunchtime and eat a lighter dinner later in the evening, around 10pm.

Similar to Madrid, many restaurants offer a glorious menu del dia* (day menu) which consists of at least three courses, and can take hours to complete. Perfect if you're entertaining and want to show clients the best Catalan cuisine Barcelona has to offer.

* The menú del día is one of the great culinary joys of Spain. They're lunchtime, fixed price meals that are traditional, filling and very reasonable. A good restaurant will charge you €10 including alcohol and an excellent restaurants will charge €15. 

archesAtmosphere in Barcelona, source: Flickr/Bert Kaufmann

4. Barcelona was made for nightlife

Barcelona truly is a city that never sleeps. With a laid back attitude, plenty of international students and characteristically Spanish tendency of having dinner very late, this sets the precedent for the night. Barcelona offers an eclectic variety of bars, lounges and clubs perfect for any niche.

The city also blends the sea and city well, with many of the best restaurants and bars stretching out along the coast. Hit the clubs along the beach for an endless night of dancing and music or explore hidden Catalonian pubs in the city's twisting cobbled streets.

Related: Barcelona's best rooftop bars

5. Las Rambla

Possibly the most emblematic street in Barcelona. No visit is complete without taking walk through the district of Las Rambla.

A tree-lined promenade, it stretches for 1.2 kilometres, connecting Plaça de Catalunya in the centre with the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell. It is the central most boulevard which cuts through the heart of the city and is a vibrant and lively, filled with the city's locals, shops, cafés are bars at their best. 

However, avoid spending too much time here, dining is often overpriced and of mediocre quality. Take in the sights and head for the lesser known and hidden Catalan cafes for the best drinks and tapas.

6. Beware of pickpocketing

It goes without saying in any major city, as a traveller, it is important to be conscious of yourself and belongings at all times. Regrettably, Barcelona has been known for its pickpockets. Keep your bag on you at all times, holding it on your lap when sitting or in restaurants. Be aware of your belongings especially while on the beach or metro and avoid tourist traps on Las Ramba and suspicious street shows and performers.

7. Vamos a la playa

Barcelona is known for some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe. With the warm season beginning in April, high temperatures often stretch late into September. Barceloneta Beach is only twenty minutes from the city center but often extremely crowded. Opt for a bit of a longer journey just outside the cities borders finding even more beautiful beaches and small towns.

Related: 5 places you didn't know existed in Barcelona

BeachBarceloneta beach, source: Flickr/Moyan Brenn

9. Siestas are sacred

Spain's famous afternoon naps bring a sense of calm after a hectic morning or long day at school for children. Because Barcelona gets so hot at midday in the summer months, children go to school around 7am and people start work early, finishing around 2pm. Often families will have a big lunch, then everyone rests to prepare themselves for an evening of socialising.

While the siesta is lovely for locals, it can cause many visitors frustration if they find themselves in need in the afternoon. Since there's simply no way around it, be organised and make sure to buy your newspaper and whatever else you might need before 2pm. If you make use of the expected napping time, you'll see the best of Barca's nightlife that doesn't really get going until midnight.

9. Spanish stroll

One of Barcelona's best qualities that sets it apart from many other European cities is its abundance of parks. Pick from one of the many take a romantic stroll or lounge on the turf, glass of sangria in hand. Specifically, Parc de la Cuitadella is an oasis worth visiting. Close to the centre of the city, this parc is most popular with locals and within its 17 hectares lies a zoo, the Catalan Parliament buildings, church and a lake; a frequent host to local activities.

parkPark in Barcelona, source: Flickr/jenny downing

10. Get lost

With so much to see, it's easy to get distracted rushing between Barcelona's major attractions but don't forget to take in the simple beauty of the city. There is so much more to this city than meets the eye.

Neighbourhoods bustle with life all hours of the day and are the best way to experience local culture in this popular tourist destination. Explore Gracia, voted best neighbourhood by city residents or take on the Raval, with an edgy and hipster feel.

Related: Sarria-Sant Gervasi, Barcelona: a shopping guide