April 17, 2024

Moving to Barcelona: 8 tips to transform from tourist to local

You’re hugging family and friends goodbye, squeezing your life into a suitcase (closing that zipper is hell!) and moving to Barcelona

Moving to Barcelona was my BEST. DECISION. EVER. 

Living in that buzzing city means mystery, history, art, culture, opportunity, sunshine, mountains, beaches, and an almost-sleepless social life! I lived in Barcelona for two years. I stayed in Urquinoana, Placa Espanya, Santa Eulalia, and Verrei Amat, on many friends’ couches and even under the stars (a park bench). Learn from me to save money, avoid months of mistakes, and looking like an idiot.


Tip 1: Catalan vs Spanish – Know the History as a Foreigner.

Most locals’ mother tongue is Catalan. Speaking Spanish helps, but mindfulness of Barcelona’s deep cultural roots sets you apart. Catalonia has a history of civil war and cultural clashes with Spain. In 2017, Catalans protested the Spanish government’s control and voted for Catalonia’s “Independencia”. I was (literally) stuck in the middle of this historic moment. 

Catalans won’t appreciate being called Spanish. I wish I had known this before accidentally insulting someone like that. Locals engaged with me in Spanish, but speaking Catalan (or trying to) won hearts. They’re proud of their culture and language. “Adeu” is a common Catalan expression. It’s “adios” (goodbye) but can mean more. Learn Catalan. I made many more friends by knowing the basics.

Local tip: Two Catalans shouted “adeu” (pronounced ‘a-day-you’), walking past one another without stopping. They pretty much said: “Hey! How are you? All good? I’m great. Just busy. Chat soon!”.  

All in one action-packed word.


Tip 2: How to Feel the City and Move Around Barcelona.

Ditch the map. Embrace wandering. Walk or ride a bike. 

I must’ve walked every street, nook, and crevice. I went far in an hour, appreciating Barcelona’s beauty and street art, especially in:  El Poble Nou, Gothic Quarter, El Born, El Raval, Sant Antoni, and surrounding neighbourhoods. I once encountered a hidden cocktail bar inside a shop, buying a sandwich. I found Barcelona’s secrets on foot.

Public transport is great for far or fast distances. We’d get on metros at Placa Catalunya’s station and leave the city. We’d randomly stop and experience an area’s people, parks, cafes, bars, restaurants, and parties. These areas are much cheaper, with cool things to see! Find ticket options to suit your transport budget and needs. Ask the office inside a station, or visit the transport authority website.

Local tip: Don’t jump the turnstile and risk a 100-Euro-or-more- fine. It irritates locals too. Lost your ticket or can’t buy one? Ask for help (in Catalan!). People are kind.


Tip 3: Adeu Siesta, Hola Fiesta!

Barcelona’s party scene is loco. I partied like the world was ending tomorrow. Nights are wild, Monday -Sunday.  Going for “chilled Tuesday-night beers”? Anticipate arriving home at 3 am. From vibey clubs and bars to booming street festivals, talented musicians and artists – the excitement swept me up and left me puzzling how I was so drunk on a Wednesday morning. 

When moving to Barcelona, forget afternoon naps. Siestas aren’t usual but they’re more common in Southern Spain and also decreasing with changing lifestyles. 

Local tip: Drinking at bars and clubs is expensive. Buy drinks at supermarkets, and pre-drink at the hostel or home to avoid my notorious “why did I spend so much money” mornings. Also, partying before 11 pm makes you like a “guiri” (tourist).


Tip 4: What to Know About Everyday Social Life and People Watching.

Socialising in Barcelona is both laidback and energising. I spent afternoons soaking up the sunshine (RIP to my once-upon-a-tan skin). 

Al fresco dining (outside dining) is fun and typical. Most hostels have terraces. Restaurants and bars do too. Compared to crowded streets, terrace spaces are freeing and refreshing. Balconies are also beautiful for this purpose. I spent hours overlooking city streets, enjoying a coffee (cortado) or beer (Estrella – the best local beer!), chatting with friends and watching people go about their weird and wonderful ways.

The parks aren’t just for picnics. Walk down from the Arc de Triomf to Ciutadella Park and find a hub of communities. People take their dogs, go on dates, and do activities like yoga, tightrope walking, frisbeeing, games, reading, listening to music, medicinal-herb testing (cough), and chilling out. Cultures collide in parks in extraordinary ways. I made fascinating friends there.

Local tip: Don’t be rowdy. Terraces and parks are where people get away from noisiness. Chill out (tranquillo), man. Also, Catalans (Spaniards) are candid. It’s not rudeness. They tell you like it is and don’t always say please or thank you.


Tip 5: Eating (Much) More than Just Paella and Tapas.

I loved paellas and ate a million tapas – no exaggeration. But Barcelona is a foodie’s paradise, be it the sloppy kebabs going home after a party or sitting with good company enjoying a potato tortilla (with bacon). Your next meal is always a drool.

I ate bread 3 times a day. Baguettes are often sliced, sprinkled with olive oil, rubbed with raw tomato, and served with “jamon” (ham or cold meats) as “bocadillos”. Try Calcotada, a Catalan culinary tradition involving onions from January to March, and the chestnuts of La Castanyada at the start of November.

My favourite food was “fuet”. It’s the Catalan version of rolled salami – on steroids. Few things are better than South African droewors, but fuet is. I was a famous fuet-eating freak. I got funny looks because I’m a big mayonnaise guy, so guess where the fuet went… Most regions do hand-made fuet differently. I had them all, or I was definitely close. Once, I ate fuet for a week and lived to tell the tale.

Local tip: Food quality, authenticity, and hygiene are questionable if a restaurant has a picture menu outside. 


Tip 6: Must-Have Experiences of Moving to Barcelona.

Landscapes: Barcelona teems with natural wonders. Waveless beaches, breathtaking mountains, age-old landscapes. Hike Mont Juic and Tibidabo, or head to the Bunker’s del Carmel for an impressive free view of the entire city!

Cultural: Spend the night on the beach with friends for the St. Juan festival (23 June). Buy roses and books for your crush on St Jordi  (23 April). Join a Castellers group (human tower). Get involved in Catalan customs!  See the Contemporary Art Museum. Fun fact: They allow skateboarding outside because it’s considered contemporary art. Make sure to buy authentic foods from the street markets.

Urban: Check out Girona, Badalona, Tarragona, Costa Brava,  and Sitjes.

Mountains: Explore Montserrat and Pyrenees regions like Camprodon, Mollo with its wild horses, Monsteyn, and Gosol. Small towns (pueblos) have rich history and culture (and fuet). Picasso spent a few formative years in Gosol.

Bars: Go to La Ovella Negra (The Black Sheep – there are two – both are awesome), La Surena (5 Euros for a bucket of beer), Mint bar, The Limehouse, L’antic teatre, El Jardi, and rooftop bars for the views. 

Clubs (discotecas): Razzmataz, Jamboree, Moog, and Poble Espanol parties. 

Local tip: Living in Barcelona means living a beach life. There are nudist zones where locals let it all hang out (ahem). Don’t stare. Wear shades. Play it cool. 


Tip 7: Touristic Traps to Avoid Like the Plague.

Tourism is an enormous part of the local economy. Here’s how to keep money in your pocket when moving to Barcelona.

Las Ramblas: Stroll and see it. DO NOT sit down to eat or drink anything. Go to quieter areas. Also, guys will offer you every illicit substance you can imagine; ignore them for your own good. Las Ramblas party tours are a letdown. You’ll be overcharged, bored, and unhappy the next day. 

Sagrada Familia: It’s an incredible sight to see from the outside. But I wish I didn’t spend 35 Euros entering. Apparently, if you attend the church services, you can go in for free. 

1-Euro Bar (Tot 1 Euro): Everything, 1 Euro?! Sign me up. Stop. It was overcrowded. You wait forever for service. I swear the alcohol is mixed with moonshine. I always felt awful the next day after one or two drinks.

Barceloneta Beach: Experience it, don’t spend the day. Barcelona has a beautiful coastline. Locals go to other beaches. Barceloneta is basically Britian. Plus, lots of theft. 

City (Shitty) Hall: If you’re staying at a hostel, they’ll take you there because Hostels have entrance arrangements. This club is bad. If you go, go with friends. 

Local tip: At Barceloneta Beach, you’ll be offered drinks. Never drink the “mojitos”. EVER. If you must, get something in a sealed can. It’ll be overpriced, but negotiate with them. Or rather bring your own drinks. 


Tip 8: Personal Security Precautions to Take.

Barcelona is notorious for petty crime but can be more dangerous. Here’s how to stay a step ahead (I was never robbed). 

Don’t be flashy or become an obvious target, especially after drinks. Thieves usually work in pairs or groups and see you coming miles away. They distract you by asking, “What’s your favourite football team?”, “Do you have a lighter?”, “What’s the time?”, “Do you want (something)…” to start a conversation. Don’t let any stranger touch you! They act fast and disappear with your valuables. 

Thieves rarely use serious intimidation tactics, but it happens. Walking in groups with guys is a deterrent for gangs of opportunists – who prefer easier targets. If they taunt you, ignore them. They want a reaction and then they rob you.

Thieves are getting smart at Hostels; don’t leave your bags lying around. Put them in your room, and be wary of lockers. Make sure staff or other Hostelers don’t know your code. Also, keep a copy of your ID with you wherever you go.

Crime sucks. Don’t let it scare you. Just have your wits about you. You’ll be fine. 

Local Tip: Stay alert on public transport. As the doors close, thieves snatch necklaces, purses, phones, etc. and run so you can’t chase them. Never sleep on trains or buses or get your pockets slit open (sorry, Patty).


Closing Thoughts On Moving to Barcelona.

Living in Barcelona isn’t cheap. Cut costs by going where locals go and doing what they do. Uprooting my life and heading to a foreign country wasn’t easy, but it was worthwhile. 

There’s stuff you can research before moving to Barcelona. Then there’s “whoa” stuff you learn in the deep end. This was mostly the “whoa” stuff. The scary thing is I’ve just scratched the tip of the iceberg here. Living there, you realise that, like gravy, the plot thickens quickly. 

Many people that moved to Barcelona with me have stayed because Barcelona’s quality of life is rare, valuable, and surprising in the best ways. 

Making friends with a crew of Catalans enriched my experience! 

See for yourself. 


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