Barcelona has this reputation as a glamorous, beautiful, fun destination to visit. The name conjures images of tapas by a sunny beach, a leafy boulevard, or the crowded medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter. The city is vivacious with personality bursting out of every street and alleyway. It’s no wonder nearly 10 million tourists visit Barcelona each year, not including day trippers and cruise guests. If you’re planning to become one of them, here’s what to do to make your trip go smoothly.
Why Barcelona is Perfect for Seniors
There are many reasons to visit Barcelona if you’re a senior. Of all the cities in Spain, or even the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona is perhaps one of the most experienced with tourists. That doesn’t mean it feels like a tourist trap, but rather it has the right infrastructure (hotels, airports, tours, and guides). It’s a well-trodden path that makes for an easy, relaxing, and invigorating vacation.
The Mediterranean climate keeps the weather fairly warm year round, at least compared to much of the United States. This makes Barcelona a great “any time” trip. The city is not massive, only 38 square miles, making it very walkable (especially in the city center). Despite this, it also has a well-run public transit system with metros, buses, and more. These options can get you to whatever site, event, or adventure you desire in Barcelona. Not only do you have the beaches and the nightlife that many adore Barcelona for, but surprises for art-lovers, food-lovers, sports-lovers, and lovers of life.
An Important Note
Barcelona is a beautiful city with so much to offer. This draws in huge crowds of tourists, many of whom are looking forward to a relaxing holiday where they can turn their brains off and just enjoy their time in the city. This makes them prime targets for pickpockets, and, sadly, Barcelona has a real problem with pickpockets. We don’t want to scare you, and you shouldn’t feel unsafe or scared in Barcelona. Violent crime is still very low, like throughout Europe, but Barcelona is famous for pickpocketing.
Stay aware of your surroundings and keep your wits about you to prevent yourself from being a target. This is especially true in tourist areas like La Rambla or Sagrada Familia. Don’t put your phones on the table while you eat. If you’re not comfortable, avoid dark streets with few people or walk in groups. Use some commonsense guidelines, and your trip to Barcelona should create nothing but good memories.
Where to Stay
Barcelona is a city with many different accommodation options, which can make it difficult to choose where to stay. It’s not the smallest major city in Europe, but it’s also not the largest, meaning you’ll have many different districts crammed together, further making your choices feel like splitting hairs. There are some areas of the city that have a distinct personality of their own that make them ideal places to stay.
The Gothic Quarter and El Born
While the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) and El Born are technically two different districts, they’re right next to each other and similar enough to suggest jointly. The Gothic Quarter is the historic center of Barcelona, originating as a Roman settlement and maintaining a medieval charm. Wandering the narrows streets, you’ll find great restaurants, museums, shops, and more. El Born lies just North-East of the Gothic Quarter, stretching to the Parc de la Ciutadella. These two barrios are some of the trendiest, most iconic sections of Barcelona.
We couldn’t discuss iconic areas of Barcelona without also naming La Barceloneta. Once the home of those who worked in Barcelona’s fishing or metal industries, La Barceloneta is now popular with people looking to relax in the sun. A small, triangular strip of land jutting out into the Balearic Sea located just south of the Parc de la Ciutadella. Here, you’ll find beaches, hotels, restaurants, bars, and anything else you could want. While you should explore some of the city, it’s entirely possible to barely leave this neighborhood if what you’re looking for is a relaxing and fun beachside retreat.
Moving to the north side of the city, our next neighborhood is the artsy, independent heart of Barcelona — Gràcia. Less touristy than the parts of Barcelona that lies to the south of this neighborhood, you’ll find a quieter, more authentically Catalan atmosphere. This can also mean there are fewer pickpockets targeting tourists, though you should always be aware. In Gràcia, it’s not uncommon to find restaurants or bars with menus in Catalan only, which can be a good sign for a restaurant. That’s not to say guests aren’t welcome, as the area is becoming more popular with those visiting Barcelona and for a good reason.
What to Do
Barcelona isn’t just a world class tourist destination because of the famous beaches or nightlife. Nor do you have to be a soccer fan, we recommend watching a game from one of Barcelona’s two teams (FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol). While those are things many associate the city with, we’ll focus on some other ways you can get a real feel for Barcelona.
Visit the Parks
While the footprint of Barcelona isn’t massive, the city has devoted a commendable percentage of it to public parks. The aforementioned Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona’s largest at over 17 hectares, is a massive park that has a lake, fountains, arches, sculptures, and even a zoo. In Gràcia is Parc Güell, another large park that’s been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984. Though you have to pay to get into the monumental zone where many of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces are kept, it’s certainly worth it. The Parc de Montjuïc, which is sometimes called the park of parks, has numerous gardens and green areas spread over the slopes of the hill that offer excellent views of Barcelona. The parks also contain several museums, the stadiums used in the 1992 Olympic Games, the Montjuïc castle, and the Magic Fountain. These aren’t the only parks in Barcelona, and each has their own individual charm that makes them worth exploring.
See the Art
One attraction of Barcelona that isn’t discussed enough is the surplus of museums scattered throughout the city. Any kind of art lover can find a museum that appeals to them. Some are devoted to a single artist, like the Museu Picasso, the Joan Miro Foundation, or the Museo Banksy — Barcelona. Others focus on types of art, like the MACBA, MEAM, or the MOCO Museum Barcelona (which feature modern and contemporary art). Of course, Barcelona also showcases the work of local and regional Catalan artists at museums like MNAC or the Museum of Modernisme, to name only a few. The works of Gaudi can also be seen around Barcelona, especially the still unfinished Sagrada Família church. Barcelona isn’t only populated by art museums, with other historic or quirky museums calling the Catalan capital home.
Take in Barcelona
Part of the joy of being in Barcelona is enjoying the scenery and architecture. It’s a great city to walk around and experience. La Rambla, a major street in central Barcelona, is great to take a leisurely walk. Along the street, you’ll find restaurants, bars, and shopping that you could easily fill your entire trip with. The streets of the Gothic Quarter are breathtaking and have something to discover at each turn. The different neighborhoods of Barcelona have something interesting to offer those looking to explore. Be open to what the city has to uncover, and you’ll have an unforgettable trip.
What to Eat
Barcelona is a city so accustomed to tourism that it can be difficult to find a restaurant that isn’t touched by the industry in some way. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make research more important. Luckily, general tourist trap signs apply. This includes gig pictures of food, menus in all English, hawkers outside trying to get you to come in. If you find a place located around major tourist attractions, this can also be a sign, though not always. You should certainly avoid restaurants that don’t have prices on their menus unless you do plenty of research in advance. This can be an opportunity to overcharge you for food.
Do a little research online or follow your nose and the crowd. If it looks busy or you hear lots of Spanish or Catalan, it may not be a tourist trap. For example, Can Fisher is a restaurant overlooking Bogatell Beach that has an English menu and serves paella every day. These are usually bad signs, but the restaurant is well-priced and delicious. Similarly, Tapeo del Born, a tapas restaurant near the Museu Picasso, could be mistaken as a tourist trap, but is popular with locals and well worth a meal. While we’re naming restaurants, you can’t spend a better evening in Barcelona than at the Paella Club, a fun cooking class with delightful and informative hosts.
Day Trips Around Barcelona for Seniors
While you could spend your entire trip in Barcelona, there are a number of fun day trips that you could take. The capital of Spain, Madrid, is only around two and a half hours away by train, placing it right on the edge of a day trip (though Madrid is worth a few days of your trip). Andorra and southern French cities like Toulouse and Montpellier are also a bit too far for a day trip, but worth vising if you want a few days of retreat from Barcelona.
Of course, there are destinations closer to Barcelona that could make for a perfect day-long getaway. Only an hour a half by train to the east of Barcelona is Zaragoza. The capital of region of Aragon, Zaragoza is an ancient city that mirrors the rich mixed cultural heritage of Spain. You’ll find Roman ruins, UNESCO-designated Mudejar architecture, and two Catholic cathedrals in the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and La Seo del Salvador. Even closer is the city of Girona, only 38 minutes away by high-speed rail. This beautiful medieval city is famous for its historic Jewish quarter and defensive walls. Fans of HBO’s Game of Thrones may recognize Girona’s ancient streets as it appeared in several episodes of the show. The city is also home to the Roca brothers, a famous trio of brothers whose flagship El Celler de Can Roca has earned three Michelin stars and may be worth the trip on its own — if you can snag a reservation. If you haven’t gotten enough of the beach in Barcelona, Girona is also in the Costa Brava region that boasts some of the best beaches in Spain. For a total change of pace, book a tour group trip or head on your own to Montserrat, a nearby mountain with hiking, an art museum, and a monastery. Climb above the clouds to get an unforgettable look over Catalonia.
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Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Once you’ve been there, you can totally understand why. While influenced by Spain, Barcelona is totally unique in its Catalan flair. Whether it’s fun in the sun, taking a tapas tour, or rambling down La Rambla, Barcelona doesn’t disappoint.
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