Aerial view of Barcelona during sunset with views of Sagrada Familia

Barcelona Pre/Post Cruise DIY Must-See Attractions Guide

Set Sail with Confidence! Cruising from Barcelona is an unforgettable adventure, but don’t miss the chance to explore this vibrant city before or after your trip. This ultimate DIY guide unlocks the Best of Barcelona: Pre/Post Cruise experiences.

I’ll show you how to maximise your time before or after your cruise, hitting the must-see sights with tips on how to get around Barcelona efficiently using public transport. Still working out logistics for your transfers? Read my guides below:

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Barcelona (Spain) Cruise Port Guide: All You Need to Know

Currency: Euros

💶 Cash or 💳 Card in Spain?

  • 💳 Card: I had no issues paying with card 95% of the time, from train tickets, local metro/bus tickets to restaurants, convenience stores and museums. Taxis also take cards by law in Barcelona.
  • 💶 Cash: Smaller businesses, such as bakeries and market stalls will be cash only, so I would advise to carry some euros in cash. For example, many stores at Barcelona’s most famous food market, Mercat de la Boqueria, will be cash only.

Language: Spanish

Luggage Storage: Want to ditch your bags before cruise check-in? Use Bounce, as there’s lots of locations around Barcelona. I used one opposite the Sagrada Familia and visited the cathedral with just my purse. Get US$5 discount on your first luggage storage with Bounce with my referral link (min $10 purchase).

Recommended Transport App: Citymapper is my go-to resource for navigating public transportation in Barcelona and I recommend it! Google Maps also works well too! 

eSIM for roaming in Spain: For a great data connection without the huge roaming fees, use an eSim data pack from Airalo. I always recommend having a smartphone with a valid plan when you’re at port touring independently. Get US$3 off your first eSIM data pack from Airalo when you use ROXANN1666 when you sign up or apply it at checkout

Getting from Barcelona Airport (BCN) to City Centre: Your Options

1. Official Taxis & Ride Sharing (Uber)

  • Estimated Cost: A taxi from Barcelona Airport to City Centre will be around €30-35, depending on traffic. You can use the official taxi fare estimator to give you an idea how much your airport transfer will be in a licensed yellow taxi.
    • Supplement to/from Airport: An entry/exit supplement of €4.50 for rides to or from Barcelona airport applies. Check-in sized suitcases are €1 per bag.
    • Minimum fare from Airport: A minimum fare of €21 applies, for taxis leaving the airport, in case your hotel is close to the airport.
    • No fixed fare to city centre: Unlike the fixed fare from the airport to the cruise port, there are no fixed fares from the airport to the city.
  • Uber in Barcelona: While Uber exists in Barcelona, it’s less widely available than in the US. For simplicity, especially when coming from the airport, a regular taxi might be your easiest bet.

2. Aerobus to Plaça d’Espanya

The Aerobus service is an express bus from Barcelona Airport (BCN) to Plaça d’Espanya. In my experience, this is the fastest option. Board the Aerobus A1 (from Terminal 1) or A2 (from Terminal 2) outside the arrivals or departures level.

  • Frequency: These bright red buses run frequently (every 10-15 minutes)
  • Journey Time: Express buses take approximately 25 minutes to reach Plaça d’Espanya
  • Luggage: No issues bringing your check-in bags and hand luggage with you! There are luggage racks on the bus.
  • Tickets: Single Aerobus tickets are €6.75 one-way or €11.65 return. Purchase tickets from the vending machines at the airport or directly on the bus. If you’re not sure you’ll have euros in cash, you can also purchase your Aerobus tickets online (valid for 90 days). The Aerobus website does sell a combined Aerobus + one way Metro ticket for €8 but you still need to stop by a ticket machine to redeem the metro ticket, so it won’t save you any time! 
  • Transfer to hotel: Transfer via bus or metro at Plaça d’Espanya. Single tickets cost €2.55. On buses, tap your contactless card to pay. Metro station “Espanya” is on L1, L3 & L8 lines.
  • Save with a T-Casual 10-trip ticket: if you plan on using public transport during your pre-/post- cruise stay in Barcelona, purchase a T-Casual ticket from machines at metro stations (valid on metro and buses, with up to 3 free transfers within 75 minutes) for €12.15. This is significantly cheaper than single tickets at €2.55 each. Note that the T-Casual cannot be shared and isn’t valid for airport journeys.

3. Suburban RENFE R2 Nord Train

The RENFE R2 Nord Line from the Airport Train Station (located outside Terminal 2 via covered footbridge) is a slightly cheaper option and slightly slower option due to less frequent services. Check whether your hotel is close by the stations below before deciding your best option.

  • Frequency: R2 Nord trains leave the airport every 30 minutes
  • Journey Time: Approximately 30 minutes to the city centre. If you’re flying into Terminal 1, add the transfer time on the free airport shuttle from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 on top. (The terminals are too far apart to walk!)
  • Stations: R2 Nord trains will stop at these Barcelona stations: Estació Sants, Passeig de Gràcia (interchange with L2/L3/L4 metro lines) and El Clot (interchange with L1/L2 metro lines)
  • Tickets: Integrated tickets from Barcelona Airport (including the airport supplement) is €5.50 one-way, with transfer via metro or bus included. If you’re staying in Barcelona for a few days, you can also get the 48h/72h/96h/120h pass which includes airport travel. More on how to navigate public transport in Barcelona below.

4. L9 Metro line

The L9 metro line stops at both Airport Terminal 1 & 2. This may be an easier option if you’re flying into Terminal 1, as it saves you the shuttle bus transfer to Terminal 2 to catch the R2 Nord Line.

  • Frequency: Leaves the airport every 7 minutes
  • Journey Time: Approximately 35 minutes to Plaça d’Espanya (Espanya metro stop, interchange at Europa Fira (not to be confused with Fira)
  • Tickets: Integrated tickets from Barcelona Airport (including the airport supplement) is €5.50 one-way, with transfer via metro or bus included. More on how to navigate public transport in Barcelona below.

Iconic Barcelona: Essential Sights for Your Pre/Post Cruise Trip

1. Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s Unfinished Masterpiece

Arches inside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
Inside Sagrada Familia, Photo by Tom D’Arby

Barcelona’s most iconic landmark, the Sagrada Familia, is a captivating testament to the visionary architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882, but unlike most architectural endeavors, the Sagrada Familia wasn’t built to a pre-determined blueprint.

Instead, Gaudi envisioned a living, organic structure that unfolded over time, mirroring the growth of nature itself. He dedicated the latter part of his life to the Sagrada Familia, constantly innovating and refining his designs.

His focus wasn’t solely on finishing the structure, but on creating a detailed and symbolic model for future generations to follow. This explains the intricate facade details and the meticulously planned Nativity Facade, which Gaudi himself meticulously oversaw.

Today, with the aid of modern technology and Gaudi’s extensive models, construction continues with the ambitious goal of completion in 2026 – a fitting tribute to Gaudi’s 100th anniversary of his death.

  • Pre-booking is a MUST: Tickets for this highly popular attraction sell out fast. Book your timed entry slot well in advance on the official Sagrada Familia website! Tickets typically go on sale 2-3 months in advance. At the time of writing (April 2024), tickets to till end of July are already on sale.
  • How to get there: Take L2 or L5 lines to Sagrada Familia metro station. There are lifts at this station. The main entrance is less than a minute away.
  • Want to visit the Towers? Tickets for the DIY tour (with included audio guide) and the guided tour do not include a visit to the Tower. If you want to go to the top of the towers (and walk down), then book the entrance with Towers ticket.
  • Weekend Surprise: If your visit falls on a Sunday, consider attending the free International Mass inside the Sagrada Familia at 9am or alternatively on Saturdays at 8pm
    • While less focused on sightseeing, it’s a unique opportunity to experience this architectural wonder as a working Catholic church.
    • Arrive Early: Capacity is limited! I arrived at 7:30am on a Sunday and people were already queuing! Fortunately, the gates were already opened and security were conducting security checks. I was inside just before 8am. By 8:30am, the church was full.
    • Entrance: Queue starts on the Nativity façade (Carrer de la Marina), 30 seconds from Sagrada Familia metro station (L2 & L5 lines)
    • Note: For obvious reasons, there is no sightseeing during the mass.

2. Park Güell: A Whimsical Gaudi Wonderland

View of entrance to Park Güell by Antoni Gaudi, Barcelona
Entrance to paid “Monument Zone” of Park Güell, Photo by Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz

Escape into a world of vibrant colors and playful shapes at Park Güell, another breathtaking creation by Antoni Gaudi. Originally conceived as a residential garden city, Park Güell eventually transformed into the fantastical public park it is today. Gaudi’s work on Park Güell (1900-1914) preceded his all-consuming dedication to the Sagrada Familia, though the projects overlapped significantly.

  • Two Zones: Plan Ahead Park Güell consists of two areas: the free-access zone and the ticketed “Monument Zone,” home to the iconic mosaic lizard, serpentine benches, and the Gingerbread Houses. Pre-book tickets to the Monumental Zone well in advance through the official Park Güell website. At the time of writing (April 2024), tickets were on sale up to 90 days in advance.
  • Getting There: A Scenic Climb Reach Park Güell by metro (Lesseps or Vallcarca stations on the L3 line), followed by a 15-20 minute uphill walk. For a more direct route, Buses #24 and #V19 will drop you within 10 minutes’ walk from the entrance. Use Citymapper or Google Maps to help with routing.
  • Tip: For the best experience, visit during the quieter morning or later afternoon hours, and be sure to wander beyond the Monument Zone into the free-access tranquil park grounds and admire the panoramic city views. Download a handy park map here.

Sold Out Park Güell Tickets? This definitely happened to me on my last trip to Barcelona. If you can’t buy it from the official Park Güell website, then try your luck for a skip-the-line ticket here for €13.50 adults, €9.33 kids & seniors 65+

3. La Rambla: Barcelona’s Bustling Heart

La Boqueria Ramblero counter seating, Barcelona, Spain
Ramblero counter seating, inside Mercat de la Boqueria, Photo by Mihai Vlasceanu

La Rambla, a 1.2-kilometer tree-lined boulevard, is a quintessential Barcelona experience. This iconic street pulses with energy, a vibrant mix of locals, tourists, street performers, and buzzing cafes. While its reputation as a tourist trap precedes it, La Rambla remains an exciting introduction to the city’s infectious rhythm.

Stroll along La Rambla, and you’ll encounter the Mercat de la Boqueria – Barcelona’s most famous food market. Step into this sensory overload of fresh produce stalls, colorful fruit smoothies, tantalizing tapas vendors, and the aroma of sizzling seafood. Whether you’re tempted by a sampling of Jamón Ibérico or simply soaking in the atmosphere, La Boqueria is a feast for the senses.

Navigate La Rambla with a healthy dose of awareness! As with many crowded spots, be cautious of pickpockets!

Note: Mercat de Sant Antoni, a stone’s throw from Sant Antoni metro station (L2 line), is less touristy and is a good alternative to Mercat de la Boqueria if you find La Rambla too crowded.

4. Picasso Museum: Unveiling the Artist’s Roots

Dive into the formative years of one of the world’s most renowned artists at the Picasso Museum. Housed within beautiful Gothic palaces in Barcelona’s El Born neighborhood, this extensive collection showcases Picasso’s early works and his deep connection to the city.

  • What Sets it Apart: Unlike the Picasso Museum in Malaga, which focuses on the artist’s birthplace and family life, Barcelona’s collection reveals the evolution of his artistic style. Here, you’ll trace his journey from a skilled young painter to his experiments with cubism, blue and rose periods, and his interpretations of classical masterpieces.
  • Beyond the Masterpieces: The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into Picasso’s time in Barcelona. The collection includes personal artifacts, sketches, and early paintings, providing a deeper understanding of his creative development.
  • Pre-Booking recommended: I would recommend pre-booking tickets for the peak summer months. Tickets are €12 for adults and €7 seniors 65+. Kids under 18 are free.
  • Opening Hours: Open from 9am Tuesdays – Sundays & closes at 8pm except on Thurs/Fri/Sat at 9pm. Closed Mondays. Shorter hours during winter. Double check opening hours on website.

5. Gothic Quarter: Journey into Barcelona’s Medieval Heart

Bishop's Bridge in Gothic Quarter, Barcelona
Bishop’s Bridge in Gothic Quarter, Photo by Татьяна Щебланова

Step back in time as you explore the labyrinthine streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic), the historic center of Barcelona. Dating back to Roman times, this atmospheric neighbourhood is a captivating mix of ancient architecture, hidden plazas, and lively bars and cafes. There are lots to see in the Gothic Quarter:

  • Barcelona Cathedral (La Seu): A majestic embodiment of Catalan Gothic architecture, with sky-piercing spires reaching towards the heavens. Intricate stonework depicting biblical scenes adorns the facade, while fantastical gargoyles stand guard.
  • Plaça del Rei: A picturesque medieval square surrounded by historic buildings, including the Palau Reial Major, former residence of Catalan counts.
  • Plaça Sant Felip Neri: A quiet square with a poignant history from the Spanish Civil War and a beautiful church bearing the same name.
  • Jewish Quarter (El Call): Explore the remnants of the medieval Jewish quarter, one of the oldest in Europe, with its narrow alleyways and historic synagogues.
  • Roman Ruins: Spot traces of Barcelona’s ancient Roman city, including remnants of the Temple of Augustus hidden away in a courtyard.
  • Plaça Reial: A vibrant square adorned with palm trees, elegant arches, and bustling restaurants with outdoor seating.

How to get there: The closest metro stops are Liceu (L3) and Urquinaona (L1 & L4 lines).

Logistics: Getting Around Barcelona & Making the Most of Your Time

Barcelona’s well-connected public transport makes it a breeze to explore, especially when you’re short on time. Here’s how to maximize your sightseeing experience:

  • Embrace the Metro & Local Buses: Barcelona’s metro system and buses are (mostly) clean, efficient, and reaches the majority of the major attractions mentioned above
  • T-Casual Ticket: Your Best Friend: Purchase a T-Casual ticket which allows for 10 journeys on the metro, bus, and some tram lines for €12.15. This cost-effective pass is perfect for cruisers with a short timeframe. Free transfers (within 75 minutes) are included. I recommend this as the best option if you’re taking the Aerobus into town, as the Aerobus ticket is not included in any of the unlimited passes.
  • Hola Barcelona Travel Cards: Taking the train/metro into city instead? Then the Hola Barcelona Travel cards can be useful, as it includes the airport supplement. 48/72/96/120h cards are €17.50, €25.50, €33.30, €40.80. My take: The 48h version is good value – as it is on par with getting a T-Casual – but you’ll need to ride a lot to make the longer duration cards worthwhile.
  • Hop-On, Hop-Off: Barcelona Bus Turístic is the official hop-on hop-off bus in Barcelona. I’m not a big fan on HOHF buses in general, especially in large cities. Services are rarely as frequent as public transport, not to mention the risk of being stuck in traffic. Tickets are €30 for 1 day pass and €40 for 2 day pass, which make the HOHF fairly expensive compared to Barcelona public transport.
  • Embrace Walking: Barcelona’s central areas are highly walkable. In some parts of Barcelona, distance between metro stations are fairly far apart. So don’t forget to pack comfortable walking shoes!

Now that you’re armed with this ultimate pre- or post-cruise Barcelona adventure guide, get ready to embrace the city’s contagious energy! I hope this itinerary inspires you to make the most of your time before or after your cruise. If you found these tips helpful, please share this blog post with other Barcelona-bound cruisers. ¡Buen viaje!

Featured Image by Aleksandar Pasaric

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