Ask an expert: Barcelona travel tips from Laurence Norah

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Laurence Norah

Laurence is an award winning travel photographer and writer from the UK. He’s proud to have seen his photos appear on the BBC, National Geographic homepage, and various media outlets around the world. He has visited Barcelona many times, and here are his tips for a first timer in the city.

What should I do on my first trip to Barcelona?

Sagrada Familia is Barcelona's most-visited attraction, and for very good reason — it's incredible. Go early (or late) to avoid the biggest crowds, but make sure it's on your to-do list. The masterpiece of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí, it's the most impressive building in the city, although the other Gaudí designs across the city are stiff competition. Step inside on a sunny day and the effect of the stained glass is mesmerizing.

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What are some hidden gems to see in Barcelona?

The Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, in Barcelona's Gothic Quarter, is definitely worth a visit. It's a 14th-century Gothic church with a massive bell tower you can climb. The views from the roof across the Gothic Quarter are excellent, and from here, you can get a feel for the different epochs the city has gone through since Roman times.

How much time should I spend in Barcelona?

You need at least two full days to see the city's highlights, but three days would let you add in a few of the hidden gems.

What food is Barcelona known for?

No trip to Barcelona would be complete without some tapas and, although tasty small plates might not have originated in the region, the city has fully embraced them. It's a great way to sample the city's signature dishes, like patatas bravas, squid, meatballs, and the ubiquitous pa amb tomàquet, a Catalan favorite of bread topped with tomatoes. Some of the best tapas bars are along Carrer de Blai in the El Poble-Sec neighborhood — book a tapas tasting tour for the best bars in town. For more traditional Catalan cooking and fewer crowds, head to the Gracia neighborhood.

What is the best way to get around Barcelona?

Most of Barcelona can be easily explored on foot, although the city has an excellent metro system that will get you around quicker. If you are aiming for the main attractions on your first day, don't think of the hop-on hop-off bus as a tourist trap — it's always one of my Barcelona travel tips as it's a great way to get around the city and has a logical route that hits up the main attractions.

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What are the best months to visit Barcelona?

Barcelona is great year-round, but spring and fall are the most pleasant for sightseeing and outdoor activities. The Mediterranean climate means the summer months are hot, but the city conveniently has lovely beaches so you can swim to cool off. The city hosts several festivals between April and June — like Primavera Sound, Sonar, and Pride in nearby Sitges — which makes it a great time of year to go.

What are the best neighborhoods in Barcelona?

The Gothic Quarter is perhaps the most interesting neighborhood in Barcelona for first-time visitors. The maze of winding streets is largely pedestrianized and packed with interesting shops, tucked-away churches, and restaurants. It's quite a maze, but getting lost will only uncover more hidden gems.

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What neighborhood should I stay in when I visit Barcelona?

The Gothic Quarter is centrally located and within easy reach of all the major attractions, plus plenty of bars and restaurants, making it a top choice for visitors. Eixample is a quieter, more family-friendly place to stay that is still very central. Or if you want to be by the beach, La Barceloneta is for you.

What Barcelona travel tips do you give to everyone who visits?

  1. Bring your swimwear and plan some beach time. If you're visiting Barcelona in the warmer months, the city is home to some gorgeous stretches of lovely sand which you can easily walk to.
  2. Book ahead. For Barcelona, this is particularly important travel tip as some of the most popular attractions are quite small and so they can sell out weeks ahead.
  3. One of my favorite parts of Barcelona are the dark narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, so wander around and get lost in them for an hour or two.
  4. Take care of your valuables. Pickpockets are common, sadly, so be sure to keep your money and other valuables safely zipped away, especially in busy areas and popular sights.

What is one thing that surprised you about Barcelona?

How late everything happens in Spain. Locals have an adjusted clock compared to my experiences elsewhere, so if you want to go out for dinner earlier than 9:00 PM, expect a look of surprise.

What are your top 5 favorite GetYourGuide experiences in Barcelona?