10 Things to Know before Studying Abroad in Barcelona
Barcelona has everything you could possibly want in a study abroad destination. It has the beach, great nightlife, awesome food, cool buildings and sites to tour, and is an easy place to travel to different parts of Europe. It was my first time in Barcelona and although I had the best and most rewarding time of my life, there were some things I wish I would have known beforehand.
1. It barely rains
If you’re trying to decide what is crucial to pack before coming to Barcelona, let me give you a tip: leave your huge rain boots at home. Over the entire semester, I only had to pull out my rain boots once and it wasn’t worth the space wasted in my suitcase. Do yourself a favor and leave them at home and enjoy the wonderful weather Barcelona has to offer.
2. Don’t feel like you have to overdress
I had the idea in my head that Europeans always dress way fancier than Americans do, and that’s usually the case during the day, especially for students. You won’t find locals wearing sweatpants or workout clothes unless they’re actually at the gym, and you won’t find many girls wearing heels when they’re out either. The style is more laid-back when it comes to the nightlife, and dark colors are a must in Barcelona.
3. Get familiar with the Metro right away
A lot of Americans make the mistake of using the cabs for the first week or so when coming to Barcelona, or any other European city for that matter. Please save yourself the euros and learn the metro right away. It can be intimidating and confusing at first but once you get the hang of it you’ll be happy you did. You’ll be able to get everywhere and anywhere around the city. Invest in a monthly metro card (52 euro) that is unlimited compared to spending 10.30 euro for every 10 rides – you’ll use that up quickly, believe me.
4. Don’t bring your iPhone/any other smart phone out with you
This was my biggest advice I got from everyone I’ve known that’s been to Barcelona and what I gave to everyone that came to visit. It is just not worth it. Everyone wants to bring their phones out to take pictures but most of them time you won’t have a phone at the end of the night to look at the pictures anyway. The best way to avoid this is by taking pictures beforehand and leaving your phone at home. Barcelona is a big pickpocketing city, and especially at nightclubs it’s easy for Americans to be targeted. If you do decide to bring your phone out: ladies bring it in a satchel and keep it in FRONT of you at all times, guys: keep it in your front pocket and never in the back. That being said, Barcelona isn’t a scary or dangerous city by any means. I never felt unsafe at any point in my semester, but it is just best to stay aware of your belongings at all times – this is good tip for any place you visit in Europe as well.
5. Pick a meeting spot
I’m sure we’ve all done this with our families or on a class fieldtrip and whether or not you’ve been that person that’s been separated, trust me you’re going to want to adopt this trick when you’re abroad. Whenever you and your friends decide to venture out whether it’s on a tour or going out at night, or just going to the beach: pick a meeting spot. This can be crucial if anyone gets separated from the group, especially if someone doesn’t have a phone with them or one that doesn’t work without Wi-Fi. It’s the simplest and easiest thing to do and can save you from panicking and time searching for each other. My best advice for when going out to always meet at the bathroom area if anyone gets lost from the group. Being in a foreign city can be overwhelming so make sure you and your friends come and leave together.
6. Plan trips ahead
Traveling around Europe can be expensive but if you pay attention to flights and pick the right hostels, you can save a lot of money (Bus2Alps is a great resource). Try to space out your trips and go on only the ones that you feel the most excitement for. There’s a crazy number of places and countries you can go to, but believe me when I say you’re going to want to have enough time in Barcelona as well. I ended up visiting 9 other countries and I loved every second of each one but I regret not spending more time in the wonderful city of Barcelona.
7. Make friends with locals
There’s no more rewarding experience than meeting locals in Barcelona. It is a big tourist city so locals are used to Americans, but it is the coolest thing getting to know someone from the area. They can tell you so much about their history and traditions. It is always fascinating to witness first-hand the culture similarities and differences between Americans and Catalans. A class I took that I got the most out of this is Communication & Global Competence. You’ll learn all about Barcelona’s culture along with many other places and get paired up with a local. If you have space in your schedule, I highly recommend taking this one.
8. Go places by yourself!
This is a huge must and it took me awhile to do but once you do, you feel so much more like it is your home. Take the metro to the beach, walk alone to the grocery store a couple blocks down, window shop in Las Rambles. Whatever you do by yourself, just make sure you do it. Listen to the locals interact, try to practice your language skills by asking directions (even if you know where you’re going), just go out there and explore Barcelona. Take the time to be by yourself and get familiar with your city.
9. Day trips/Weekend trips with CEA
When you first get to Barcelona, CEA will have day trips and weekend trips you can sign up with them. DO IT. I missed the chance to sign up for anything and it’s definitely one of my biggest regrets. All my friends I made there would be going to a FCBarcelona soccer game, Madrid for the weekend, or would be wine tasting in the mountains. It is a great way to meet people and make the most out of your weekends. This is one of the best features of CEA so make sure you take advantage of that when you arrive.
10. Must-sees in Barcelona
– Sagrada Familia. It is Gaudi’s most famous piece of work and one of the most visited churches in Europe and for good reason. If you don’t get the chance to go inside and see this masterpiece, make sure you at least walk around the outside of it. It is the most incredible piece of architecture I have ever seen and it is still in the process of being built (for over 100 years that is). Make sure to get your tickets ahead of time to skip the usual hour-long line.
– Parc Guell. This is also by Gaudi and is a good trip to go earlier in the day if you’re there during the hotter months. It costs only 7 euro to tour this park and get some of the best views of all of Barcelona.
– Travel to Montserrat. It takes about 1.5 hours by metro & train and it isn’t too expensive if you already have your metro ticket. Take the day to go see it and enjoy the beautiful mountainous views.
– Tibidabo. This is another good place to get the views of Barcelona, it’s just a little more expensive to get to. Make sure to take the day for this one and enjoy all there is to offer. It even has a small theme park at the top.
– Montjuic. This is yet another place to get views of Barcelona but it is also a great place for a show. The Montjuic fountains offer an experience you can’t get many other places. Make sure to stop by to see them when they are showing at night and become enchanted by the dancing water.
Barcelona has so much to offer during your semester abroad, and it takes a lot of planning to get it all in before you leave. It is a unique city that will make you happy to arrive back to no matter what place you visit for the weekend, and it will be the hardest goodbye when you return back to the USA. Make the most out of your time in Barcelona by using these tips and appreciate every second of it because you’re going to miss it more than you expect when it’s over.
Kelly O’Sullivan is a CEA alumna (Barcelona FAll ’14). She is an Alumni Ambassador and junior at High Point University.