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By Regina W. Bryan in Barcelona—
I’ve learned two important lessons about travel in Barcelona and Spain in general: 1) It will cost more than you think, and 2) It will take longer than you planned. With these golden rules in mind, I offer some tips for saving minutes while visiting Barcelona.
1. Know your restaurant and make a reservation.
This is especially true if you have food allergies or a special diet. There are many places to get the scoop on where to dine in Barcelona, from right here on EuroCheapo to sites like Yelp. Find something that looks appetizing in your neighborhood and book a table. This will save you lots of time wandering around looking for a place that fits your budget, has a menu you like and isn’t packed.
While booking a table is a good idea any night, it’s an especially wise move Thursday-Saturday when the locals go out. Also keep in mind that Sunday lunch is a popular time to eat out and plan accordingly.
2. No reservation? Eat “early.”
If you can’t make a reservation then just get there early. People in Barcelona eat lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m. Get there at 1 p.m. or 8:30 p.m. and beat the rush.
3. Grab lunch “to go” or at the bar.
Sitting down for lunch is a lengthy affair that can take hours. Service can be slow, and meals are served in courses stretching out the experience. This is something most of us love about Spain, the focus on enjoying one’s food, but if you’re short on time then it’s best to skip it.
Instead grab lunch in a cafe or simply get something to go and eat on a park bench.
In a cafe, if you sit at the bar you will get faster service as you are right in front of the barman. Most cafes serve sandwiches and salads plus an array of beverages.
What’s more, eating in a cafe is sure to be cheaper than sitting down for lunch in a restaurant. A sandwich and drink may set you back €5 where a “menu del dia” midweek at a restaurant will cost double or triple. Cafes and bakeries also have sandwiches ready to go around lunch time, so grabbing one of these on a sunny day will save you bundles of time.
4. Ask for directions.
Barcelona is a big city and it’s easy to get lost. While Barcelona locals are not known for being super friendly, they are sure to help the lost traveler as best they can. Just ask.
When I was recently in Dublin I was struggling with a map and a local came over and said, “Need directions?” I thought I was hallucinating. That sort of thing is not going to happen in Barcelona, but if approached, people will help.
Getting lost can take a lot of time out of your day plus make you feel frustrated and tired. Many people speak enough English to give directions in Barcelona so don’t let the language scare you off.
(P.S. A friend of mine always goes into hotels to ask for directions when she is lost in any European city. She figures they should know!)
5. Visit off season.
From May to August Barcelona is swimming with tourists. Everything is more crowded in the center of town and at popular monuments. If you want to experience Barcelona with less of a wait, come in the fall or winter.
Sure, it may rain and it might not be great swimming weather. But on the flip side, attractions will be easier to get into and hotels will be less expensive, offering low-season rates.
6. Understand and use the Metro.
Barcelona’s transportation system is really quite good. It’s on time (for the most part) and connects all points of the city. It is quite often the fastest way to get around because cabs are subject to traffic jams, as is the bus.
Get yourself a Metro map at the tourist information center in Pl. Catalunya and study it a bit to see where you can make transfers from one station to the next. It’s not hard once you get used to it.
Also, have a multi-ride Metro card (I recommend the T-10 for short visits to the city) for the Metro and bus. This will save you time in that you will not have to line up to buy a ticket every time you get on public transportation. (Read more in our “Getting Around Barcelona” article.)
Your time-saving tips?
What other ways have you saved time in Barcelona? We’d like to hear any additional tips! Share with us in the comments section.
Also in our guide: One sure way to save time before you arrive in Barcelona is to take our advice when hunting down an affordable hotel. Our editors have visited, inspected and reviewed the best budget hotels in Barcelona, all of them central, clean and cheap. Read more in our Barcelona guide.