Making the Most of a Year Abroad in Barcelona

Thinking of a trip to Barcelona? Maybe even a longer stay? Whether it’s a stop-off on a trip around Spain or your new home, we’ve got you covered. Check out Nick’s top tips for living, working, and partying in the Catalonian capital right here. 

By Nick Field

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Why were you there?

I was in Barcelona for 5 months working at a PR/Communications agency. Overall, it was a good experience, stressful at times but I learnt massive amounts. It really helps if the company you’re working for doesn’t use English as their main office language, as speaking with colleagues every day is without a doubt one of the best ways to improve your language. Even if the placement might not seem exactly what you’re after, in the end, I’m sure almost any kind of work abroad will set you up well and will be a huge experience. 

I lived in Gràcia, in a shared flat I had found on the booking website Badi. Badi is great in Barcelona and really easy to use. My rent was €400/month which is good value, but my room was pretty small. I lived in an amazing area and had great flatmates though so I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

Definitely have a look on Badi or Spotahome for flat-sharing. An interior window room can get quite hot in the summer – it might be worth investing in a fan. Be prepared to only find something when you’re out there, as most people advertising a room to rent will only want to give it to you once they’ve met you! I’d advise against living in really central areas like El Gòtic, there can be a seedy atmosphere at times due to mass tourism and street crime.

Get to know your flatmates, and if you want to get to know the city, definitely try and live with locals.

How did you manage with the Catalan language?

I had been learning Catalan at uni anyway, so I was pretty happy when I realised the amount of Catalan spoken in my office and in the city. I had a great opportunity to test myself and improve. If you haven’t studied any Catalan, you can see it as a great chance to pick up a new language. But it isn’t something to be scared off by, just something to bear in mind…

Best nights out?

I used Resident Advisor a lot for events, but in terms of bars, there are too many to name. Gràcia, Eixample and El Born have some amazing little spots and in general, the nightlife is good. Throughout the summer each neighbourhood will throw their own street parties and they were always a highlight for me. Avoid the beachfront clubs by Port Olímpic, as they can be very tacky and overpriced. Nitsa, Moog, LAUT are good for electronic music, and Brunch runs some daytime open-air events throughout summer which are worth checking out. Sónar festival also gets in big acts every year, as well as Primavera Sound.

The 24-hour metro is handy on a Saturday night if you're out late, and there are some night buses too.

What are the must-see sights?

There’s so much to see in and around the city. Really cool museums like MACBA, viewpoint up at El Carmel and so many squares to sit in and enjoy. Despite being an expensive trip, Camp Nou is definitely worth it, a legendary stadium. As you’re on the coast, there’s a lot of options for going to the beach too – the further out of the city you get, the nicer the beaches are, as the city beaches can be really overcrowded and dirty.  Explore the coastline north of the city and make the most of the beaches there as they’re a short train ride away. The main sights in El Gòtic and Eixample are often unbelievably busy so try and strike a balance!

Bear in mind that Barcelona struggles with mass tourism and overcrowding, so avoid peak times and be sensible.

Best way to get about?

A lot of the city is walkable, depending on where you are. But if not, the metro is very extensive and buses can also be handy too. Using a T-10 gives you ten journeys worth of travel each time you top up and is the easiest way to get around. Some lines can be really busy at peak times. Transport is great in and around the city, so it can be just as quick to get out of the city to a nice beach as it is to travel down to Barceloneta on the metro. CityMapper works really well in Barcelona for transport times.

Any practical advice?

Pickpockets are often around in the centre of the city and on the metro, so always keep an eye on your bags and pockets, especially after having a few drinks! You always think it wouldn’t happen to you, but then it does… I always use a Caxton when abroad as it usually doesn’t get hit with ATM fees. It’s like a cashcard which you can top up from your bank account – using that meant that I wasn’t risking losing my bank card from home which would’ve been a hassle. Dodgy ATMs will charge a massive fee on your card, so try to avoid them. Go to banks like Sabadell, Caixa, etc. instead.

Top 3 tips?

  1. Watch out for the damage mass tourism can have on Barcelona, its people and neighbourhoods – try to be conscious of overcrowding/hotspots and respect the city that you’re visiting.
  2. Have a go at some Catalan, lots of courses are available but failing that, even showing some interest in the language will help you engage better with locals, so it’s worth a go.
  3. Get out of the city and explore the rest of the region; Catalonia has some amazing coastline and mountains not too far from Barcelona, so make the most of it.

Where would you go with your group of friends? Let us know!

Do you have any tips of your own that you’d like to share? Then let us know in the comments below or send us a DM @studenttraveltipsuk on Instagram.

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