An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.
If you’re flying through Barcelona-El Prat airport (BCN) and have a layover, you’ll probably be tempted to try to duck into the city and look around. The good news is that as long as you have at least seven hours, you can do it. We talked to Paul Bennett of Context Travel—our Trusted Travel Expert for short, cultural experiences in cities worldwide—for tips on how make the most of your Barcelona airport layover:
How to get out of the airport:
Taxis: Taxis are plentiful at the airport. A taxi to central Barcelona should run about 25 to 35 euros. The journey should take 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the time of day..
Train: There is train service from the airport to the station Barcelona-Passeig de Gràcia in central Barcelona. The train line is the R2 Norte Aeropuerto – Sant Celoni / Maçanet Massanes. This train runs every 30 minutes for most of the day, and the journey takes approximately 30 minutes. You can purchase your ticket at the airport station before boarding. Finding your way to the train from the airport is easy—it’s clearly marked. The station Barcelona-Passeig de Gracia is in the heart of the Eixample district, where many of Gaudi’s works are located.
Bus: Try the Aerobus. There are two options—one leaving from Terminal 1 and the other from Terminal 2. The buses come frequently, every 5 to 10 minutes. They are affordable (about 10.80 euros per round-trip ticket), comfortable, and fast (35 minutes). You purchase your ticket from the driver while boarding or sometimes there is a person selling tickets at a kiosk by the bus (they are legit). The bus makes a few stops at various spots in the city—its terminus is Plaza Catalunya, which is ideally located just between the Gothic Quarter and Eixample district and is served by several metro lines. Its website is very easy to navigate. Don’t be alarmed if your bus is full when you arrive and you can’t get on, just remember that another one will come very shortly. It’s also very easy to find the Aerobus at the airport—it should be very well marked.
Note: The aerobus is generally easier to navigate than the train, as it’s designed for tourists. But if your time is very limited, or you have a very specific destination in mind, a taxi might be worth the extra cost.
What to do with your luggage: There is a left-luggage office in Terminal 1, on the first floor (Spanish floor 0) and it’s possible to leave luggage there for up to 30 days (fee per 24-hour period). If you’re arriving into Terminal 2, Terminal 1 is a short walk away. There is also a free shuttle bus that runs 24 hours a day. The charge for all or part of each 24-hour period depends on the size of your luggage: large locker (50x80x90 cm), €5.80; medium locker (35x80x60 cm), €5.10; small locker (35x80x45 cm), €4.50.
If you have a 7-hour layover:
Allot four hours for travel to and from the city in order to be back in time (two hours in advance) for an international flight. That will give you a nice three hours in the city, which is enough to get a feel for Barcelona’s medieval Gothic Quarter and its more gritty sister, the El Raval neighborhood.
Start with a quick look at La Rambla, the city’s ancient thoroughfare, which was once a stream located outside the city walls. (In fact, a “La Rambla” street exists in many cities and was derived from the Arabic word ramlah, meaning riverbed). If you’re hungry, head to the Boqueria to see the sites and smell the smells. It’s a tourist haven, sure, but it is a historic market worth taking in, with many authentic vendors and locals doing their shopping. Pinotxo bar is one of the best stands for regional specialties; try the bacalao (dry salt cod), which is ubiquitous. After a bite, wander briefly through the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets, staying especially attuned to the neighborhood’s ancient Jewish Call (the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 but there are still traces, however slight, of their existence in Barcelona). Then head over to El Raval, on the Boqueria side of La Rambla. It’s an area that was once grazing land for the walled city and has undergone great transformation over the centuries. The last century was hard on the area (it became the red-light district); however, in the 1990s the city poured money into developing the Raval, and it’s now a bohemian center. It’s home to the Richard Meier–designed Museum of Contemporary Art but still a haven for trendy artistic types (check out the street art).
For those interested in learning about the Raval’s history with an expert, you could skip the stroll through the Gothic Quarter and consider Context Travel’s three-hour history seminar of the neighborhood: Revealing the Raval.
If you have an 8-hour layover or longer:
Take a taxi to the top of Montjuïc hill for a spectacular view of the city and a bit of exploration. The area is home to a 17th-century fortress (the Montjuïc castle, Carretera de Montjuïc); two Olympic stadiums (1936 and 1992); the International Exposition (World’s Fair) of 1929; the Palau Nacional (built for the World’s Fair and intended to be a temporary structure, but now the Museum of Catalan Art; a museum dedicated to the work of Catalan artist Joan Miró; and quaint secret gardens along the hill’s side. Later, board the cable car (near the Funicular de Montjuïc’s Miramar station; walk about a half mile along Avinguda de Miramar in the direction of the sea (east), or take the #50 bus, for a thrilling ride down to the port, where you can stroll along the seaside promenade and stop for a relaxing drink or bite to eat in the sun. After this break, depending on how much time remains, explore the area of Barceloneta just next door. It’s a neighborhood created in the 18th century to provide housing for families who were displaced by the construction of the citadel in the Ribera neighborhood. Many of Barceloneta’s original 18th-century, two-story houses exist today, and its comparatively wide streets are a bright alternative to the dark and narrow alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. Stop in at the lively neighborhood tapas restaurant La Bombeta for some great snacks before taking a taxi back to the airport.
If you don’t have time to leave the airport:
There are a number of VIP lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders and open to other ticket holders for a small fee (26 euros per adult/12.50 euros per child). These lounges usually have food and beverage service, television, Internet access (sometimes even computers for use), newspapers, and books. The Joan Miró VIP Lounge in Terminal 1 is open to travelers flying only to non-Schengen countries and even has showers and a leisure area with pool tables.
There are a few play areas for children spread out around both terminals. They can be found on the interactive airport map.
The airport offers 15 minutes of free Wi-Fi to every traveler. Beyond that, it must be purchased.
More Layover Solutions: