Introduction to Barcelona
Background and Basic Info
Barcelona, the capital of Catalunya, suffered during the long years of Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975). It was a city struggling to maintain its own culture and politics despite repression from the central government. Since the death of Franco and hosting the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona has not only rooted itself in the global psyche, but has moved to the forefront of Spanish business, theater, and design, while simultaneously heading the Catalan thrust for a separate identity. Barcelona’s extensive historical heritage ranges from Roman ruins to state-of-the-art contemporary architecture, with a little Gothic and modernista (Catalan art) in between. Twentieth-century artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, and Antoni Tapies have museums dedicated to the display of their work. The city recently underwent an extensive gentrification project to clean up its center, the tourism industry is booming, and there is no better time to visit this culturally dynamic city than right now. Keep in mind, however, that Barcelona’s plunge into modernism sets it apart economically, politically, culturally, and socially from the rest of Spain; and more accurately, even from the rest of the Catalan region. It is important to realize, therefore, that Barcelona alone cannot represent Spain as a country. I spent ten months studying and touring the various regions of Spain, and can attest to their complexities. Hands down, Barcelona should not be missed, but I do recommend venturing to other locations in Spain as well. I think you will find that it’s a country you’ll want to return to again and again.
How to Get There
From North America, Delta, United Airlines, American Airlines, and the Spanish national carrier Iberia offer flights from most major US and Canadian cities via Madrid. There are no direct flights from the USA to Barcelona. Consider buying a cheap ticket to London and then getting a flight to Barcelona with a ‘no frills’ airline. If you travel via Madrid, there are regular shuttle flights to Barcelona with Spanair and Iberia. For price and reservation information, visit airlines and travel agents via the web.
Barcelona’s international airport is in El Prat de Llobregat, 7.5 miles south of the city. Terminals have tourist information booths, rental car offices, ATMs, bureaus de change, cafés and some shops. There are luggage lockers in Terminal B (€4.50 for 24 hours). For flight information, call T93-298-38-38, or visit www.aena.es. The airport is connected to the city by train or bus. The airport trains (€2.25 one way) depart for Plaça de Catalunya and Sants train stations every 30 minutes from 0613 to 2340 (journey time about 25 minutes). The A1 Aerobús (€3.50 one way) departs from both terminals for Plaça de Catalunya, with stops at Sants train station and Plaça déspanya (daily 0600-0000 every 12 minutes). There are taxi ranks outside both terminals; count on paying €17-20 to the center of town. Fares increase after 2200 and during weekends. There are also supplements for luggage and pets. Use the taxi ranks outside rather than those that approach you in the arrival halls. Trains and buses from the airport stop operating at around 0000.
The main access road into Barcelona is the A-7 autopista, which crosses the eastern Pyrenees and runs down past Giona and Figueres. High tolls means that the other main access road, the N-II, is clogged with traffic most of the time.
The main train station for international, regional, and local trains is Estació-Sants, metro Sants. Many trains often stop at Passeig de Gracia station, which is more convenient if you’re headed for the city center. For RENFE information, call T902-240-202, or log on to www.renfe.es for timetable and price information in English.
How to Get Around
The main hub for buses is Plaça de Catalunya. Bus stops display maps listing the stops made on each route. You can also pick up a map from the information office. Single tickets cost €1.10. Buses run Monday to Saturday 0600-2230, and less frequently on Sundays. The night service bus (nit bus) runs nightly, 2230-0400. All 16 night routes are prefixed with N. Most night buses pass through Plaça de Catalunya, arriving every half hour. Single tickets are €1.10; discount passes are not valid. For maps and information in English, visit the TMB information office under Plaça Universitat, call T93-443-08-59, or go to www.tmb.net.
Driving in Barcelona is not recommended due to its small, clogged streets and the difficulties associated with parking. If you do decide to drive, never leave valuables inside your vehicle, as rental cars are prime targets for thieves.
There are few cycle lanes in Barcelona, so if you venture to tour the city on two wheels, watch out for kamikaze drivers on and off the roads (the Spanish don’t think twice about using the sidewalk for parking or as an extra lane). Venture towards Parc de Collserola, behind Tibidabo, for some fun off-road cycling. You may also enjoy cycling along the seafront, from Barceloneta, along the Port Olímpic, and out to the beaches of Mar Bella.
There are six metro lines in Barcelona, open Monday to Thursday 0500-2300, Friday and Saturday 0500-0200, and Sunday 0600-0000. Each line is identified by number and color. A single ticket costs €1.10. Frequent traveler options include: a T-Dia for €4.60, which allows unlimited transport on the bus, metro, and FGC trains for one person during one day; or a T-10, which offers ten trips on the bus, metro, and FGC trains for €6 and can be shared. For maps and information in English, visit the TMB information office under Plaça Universitat (T93-443-08-59, www.tmb.net).
FGC trains are useful for getting to the less central sights in neighborhoods like Gracia or Tibidabo. Stations are marked with a white interlocking symbol on a dark blue background. They have an information office at Plaça de Catalunya FGC station (T93-205-15-15, www.fgc.catalunya.net). RENFE also runs local trains which can be used for crossing the city as well as for making daytrips to outlying areas. RENFE stations are marked with a white circular symbol on a red background. Main central stations include Estació-Sants, Plaça de Catalunya, and the Passeig de Gracia. For more information, call T902-240-202, or check www.renfe.es.
City taxis are yellow and black. A green light on the roof means that they are available for hire. There is a taxi stand on Plaça de Catalunya, across the street from the main tourist information office. To call a taxi, try these numbers: Barnataxi, T93-357-77-55; Fono-Taxi, T93-300-11-00; Radio Taxi, T93-225-00-00; or Taxi Radio Móbil, T93-358-11-11.
Touring Barcelona on foot is probably the best way to see the city’s charm; although be aware that some sites such as Eixample are far from the center. The tourist office sells a good map of Barcelona for €1.50, and believe me, when push comes to shove (and every street begins to look alike) this is one investment you’ll be glad you made. There is also a useful interactive Barcelona street map at www.bcn.es/guia.
The main tourist information office is located at Plaça de Catalunya (open daily from 0900-2100). It has a bureau de change, an accommodation-booking service, and a gift shop. You can also book tours and buy various discount cards here. The office at Palau Robert (Passeig de Gracia 107, T93-238-40-00, www.gencat.es/probert) is open Monday through Friday 1000-1900 and Saturday 1000-1430, and has information on the entire region of Catalunya. The Centre dínformació de la Virreina has details of concerts, exhibitions, and festivals throughout the city (Palau de la Virreina, Las Ramblas 99, T93-301-77-75, open Monday-Saturday 1000-2000 and Sunday 1100-1430). For information via telephone, call T906-301-282 within Spain, or T+34-93-368-97-30 from abroad. There are details on www.barcelonaturisme.com and www.bcn.es as well.