Travel Guide | Barcelona

College Tourist Student Guide to Barcelona, Spain


Barcelona is not only the perfect city to visit, but the perfect place study abroad as well. Located in Catalonia, Spain, the city spreads from the coast of the Mediterranean to the mountains of Collserola. Along with the beautiful beaches and mountains, it offers amazing museums, churches, parks, shopping, and incredible architecture.

With a population of well over 1 billion people, Barcelona is a place with a wide variety of cultures. This makes the city super fascinating, with stores and food from all backgrounds. There are festivals to celebrate these cultures and many types of music to be heard throughout the city.

Catalonia is one of three autonomous states in Spain, the other two being the Basque Country and Galicia. These autonomous states are regions that have fought for independence from Spain throughout the last century. Because of this, Spain has four official languages: Castilian (Spanish), Catalan, Basque, and Galician. Although one might assume that Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in Barcelona, Catalan is more popular, especially as the people of Catalonia continue to push for independence. Many balconies in Barcelona have Catalan flags hanging from them, and in general, the Catalan people are very proud.

The city of Barcelona is a very popular tourist destination. For visitors with only a few days in the city and people spending a semester alike, there are a few places that are must sees throughout the city.

Must Sees

Park Güell: Often what people think of when they imagine Barcelona, Park Güell provides a breathtaking view over the city. It is located up into the mountains and allows visitors to walk along Antoni Gaudí’s beautiful creation.

Sagrada Familia: Another one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, Sagrada Familia, is a truly amazing sight. The basilica has been under construction since 1882 and still has at least 20 years left. There is more symbolism in Gaudí’s design than one can even imagine.

La Rambla: Although there is no doubt that it is a touristy place, La Rambla is something every Barcelona visitor must experience. It is a huge walkway, lined with stores, restaurants, and people from all across the world. Branch off the main walkway for smaller, more local shops and food.

Museu Picasso: A display of Picasso’s works and his passion for Barcelona, this museum is for everyone. It contains the most complete collection of his art, making it easy for one to lose track of time.

• Barceloneta: The most popular beach in Barcelona is a beautiful place to be, even if it is not warm enough to swim. A variety of restaurants, bars, and helado are can be found along the beach.

Other cool sights to see and things to do include Aquarium Barcelona, Montserrat, stores on Passeig de Gràcia, Montjuïc, Civil War bunkers, Barcelona Zoo, IMAX Port Vell, FC Barcelona soccer games.

Off The Beaten Path

One of the great things about studying abroad is that students are not tourists. They are part of the community, and it is fun to participate. In Barcelona there are several places that are not as well known to visitors, but are frequented my Spanish locals. Barri Gràcia is a great place for students to explore. The streets are narrow and windy; there are little pastry and coffee shops everywhere, along with unique clothing stores. The neighborhood has a sort of hipster vibe and there are several festivals throughout the year. These festivals range from parades through the streets in costumes to cookouts in the plazas at midnight. Gràcia is always a fun time!

Fun For Free

An afternoon spent exploring Barcelona is exciting in itself, but there are many places that are free to visitors and students. The modernistic architecture that dominates the city is incredible, even for people who may not be art gurus! Stroll through the cobblestone streets of Barri Gòtic, the historical Gothic zone of Barcelona. Wander the beaches and La Rambla at no cost. Right off La Rambla is Mercat de la Boqueria, a market filled with everything imaginable. Enjoy a fresh smoothie, a piece of jamón, or some delicious chocolate all in one place. Museu Picasso is also free to students and a perfect way to spend an afternoon.

Food and Drink

One of the best parts about Barcelona is the incredible food that can be found on every street. In a city with so many cultural influences, there are tons of options, whether you are looking for coffee, a meal, dessert, or some tapas; Mexican, Greek, Lebanese, etc.

Taller de Tapas: Tapas, basically small snacks, are a must in Spain and are eaten between lunch and dinner. This tapa bar is well known in Barcelona and conveniently located off La Rambla Catalunya. Taller de Tapas has a variety of delicious snacks to choose from for only a few euros, although most cafes throughout the city have at least a few tapas.

Marti: This quaint little coffee and pastry shop in the L’Eixample neighborhood is a favorite among locals and students. It is inexpensive, offers Wi-Fi, and upstairs seating, making it easy to stop in and get some homework done before class. Just try to resist having a pastry while you are there!

Mexcla: For those interested in a delicious Mexican meal, this is the place. Located in Barri Gràcia the restaurant is surprisingly small considering what a great reputation it has. Although a little pricier, it is worth the money to enjoy a meal of chips and guacamole, tacos, and a margarita.

Another must eat in Barcelona is paella, and almost every restaurant serves it. Although it originated in Valencia, Spain, it is very popular in Barcelona since the city is right on the coast and the plate usually contains seafood. There are many versions of paella however. It always consists of rice, but can vary in the other ingredients: chicken, pork, shellfish, squid, fish, eel, and vegetables being common.

After Dark

It is no secret that Barcelona is known for its vibrant nightlife! The city offers bars, clubs, and dancing for people of all ages.

Club Opium: Opium might just be the most popular nightclub in Barcelona, especially for study abroad students. Located right off the beach in Barceloneta, it is the perfect place to have a wild night dancing. As popular and big as it is, Opium still stays exclusive and enforces somewhat of a dress code, asking its visitors not to wear sneakers or shorts. Fun fact about Opium: this March 6-9 it will be hosting one night of Abroadfest for study abroad students from all across Europe!

Le Cryanos: This place in L’Eixample seems to be a must for visitors and locals. Believe it or not, at Le Cryanos they let customers pour their own drinks. And it is surprisingly affordable, most alcohols and mixers costing under five euro. For those interested in this bar, be sure to get there early—any time after midnight and there are no open seats!

Le Journal: Located in Gràcia this is a bar that will most likely be filled with locals. It is small but has a great vibe. For people looking to meet Spanish people and embrace the culture, this is a good bar to do so in. Monday-Thursdays mojitos are only 3.50 €, although they are so popular in Spain most places have mojito specials on weekdays.

Chupitos: Chupitos is a definite must in Barcelona, with a good mix of locals and visitors. Mainly a shot bar, they have over 700 different combinations. And nothing boring either! Chupitos is known for lighting drinks and the bar counter on fire. It is a dark and crowded place though, so usually people do not hang around long. Shots cost 2-4 €, but Monday nights shots are all 1 €.

Almost every restaurant and café in Barcelona also serves sangria. It is a delicious drink containing wine and fresh fruit, and usually with juice, brandy, or soda as well. Sangria is a must while in Spain, although definitely on the sweet side!


There is really no need for a car in Barcelona: there is public transportation everywhere!

Metro: With metro stops everywhere, this form of transportation is easy, quick, and cheap. Tickets can be bought for one trip, five, 10, 30, etc.

Bus: The bus is another great option, especially for late at night if the metro has stopped running. Also a very cheap form of transportation!

Taxi: Taxis are everywhere in Barcelona so it is never a problem to catch one. Although they may be a little more expensive, it is still a bit safer to take one late at night rather than walking or riding the metro alone.

Train: While not as common of a form of transportation within the city, train rides are available to the outskirts of Barcelona, as well as surrounding towns and cities. Just be prepared to spend a little more money!


Local Knowledge

There are a several qualities that make Barcelona unique and Spain in general, but there some in particular that can take visitors by surprise. Here are a few things visitors should expect:

“Vale:” All across Spain and definitely in Barcelona, everyone uses the word “vale” (pronounced ball-ay). It means okay/sure/fine, and is seriously used all the time. It is only used in Spain though, and not in other Spanish speaking countries.

Siesta: Siesta is a couple hours after lunch that the Spanish use to relax, sleep, and grab a coffee. It is more likely that small shops and stores will close during siesta rather than places right in the city center. Siesta can range anywhere from about 1-4 in the afternoon.

Dinner time: One big adjustment upon moving to Spain is how late the Spanish eat dinner. At the earliest, restaurants open at 8 pm, but even 10 pm is a very common time to feast. This is why tapas are so popular, and are usually eaten around 5 pm.

Pickpocketing: Barcelona is literally the number one city in the world for pickpockets, and it is an issue particularly in touristy places like La Rambla. Pickpockets often work in groups to distract the people they steal from, even acting like tourist themselves to try and gain trust. To avoid getting pickpocketed try to blend in with the locals: always walk with confidence and do not stop to read a map, it makes it obvious who is a visitor!

Barcelona is a truly incredible city. Not every city offers mountains and a beach, museums and parks, shopping and athletics. It is a wonderful place to vacation but an even better place to spend a semester!

Morgan Juraco

Iowa State University | 5 stories

I am a junior studying Journalism, Business, and Spanish at Iowa State University. This semester I am studying abroad in Barcelona, Spain, where I live with a host family and have plans to travel throughout Europe. After graduation I want to work in Public Relations in New York City. Follow my journey on Twitter: @mejuraco and Instagram: morganjuraco

One response to “College Tourist Student Guide to Barcelona, Spain”

  1. […] For more information on Barcelona check out our Barcelona City Guide […]

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