Getting around in Barcelona


Public transport in Barcelona is efficient, affordable, well-maintained, clean, safe and most importantly - loved by expats. In fact, it probably won’t be long until you run into expat friends on the Metro - Barcelona definitely seems to be a small world!

tram transport in BarcelonaThe system in the city is multi-faceted, but regional trains and the more city-centre-focused Metro are the friendliest to foreigners, with signage and ticket purchase available in English.

Some expats find driving in Barcelona easier than in other large cities, but car commuters face heavy congestion and parking difficulties; not to mention, road signs and street names are in Catalan.

For the most part, expats moving to the city can plan to depend on public transportation, and even those some distance outside of city limits and in surrounding towns will find plenty of modes of transit available that are both affordable and convenient.

Finding an address can initially be difficult, and it’s recommended to master both the Spanish and Catalan translations for basic transportation vocabulary (street, avenue, passage, etc.)

Public transportation in Barcelona


Integrated Tariff System


The majority of Barcelona’s transportation services participate in an integrated tariff system. According to this policy, one fare applies regardless of whether you are taking the Metro (subway), Bus, NitBus, Tram and regional commuter trains (FGC and RENFE trains). If your journey lasts under one hour and 15 minutes you will only be charged one unit.

The entire Barcelona area is divided into six zones to calculate fares. Central Barcelona is in Zone One. Expats living outside the city will most likely live in Zone Two. Prices increase as the number of zones travelled increases. 

A range of ticket options exists based on the number of journeys or the number of days used.
  • Discounted tickets are available for people under 25 years old and for seniors (children under four do not need a ticket).
  • The T-10 ticket gives the user ten trips and the cost varies depending on zones travelled.
  • Monthly passes can be purchased based on unlimited use for thirty days or for fifty trips in thirty days.
  • A family pass allows multiple people to make a total of seventy trips on one ticket for 30 days.
  • A ninety-day ticket, T-Trimestre, is valid for unlimited use for ninety consecutive days.

Metro Train

barcelona metro mapWith six subway lines and one funicular train, Barcelona’s Metro (tmb.cat) is the best bet for stress-free travel. Service is far-reaching and user-friendly with signage in Spanish, Catalan and English. Automated ticket machines can be used in all major languages, though announcements are made in Spanish and Catalan. In addition to purchase at local stations, expats can also buy Metro tickets at ServiCaixa bank machines.

Bus

Learning the bus routes in Barcelona takes a little more practice and patience, but familiarising yourself with the extensive system (over 100 routes) is time well spent.

While the Metro may place you in the right neighbourhood or the general vicinity of where you need to be, the bus can bring you to your destination’s doorstep. Choosing between the two modes of transit often depends on how much you want to walk and comparing which option gives you the most direct route.

The Nitbus (night bus) runs every twenty minutes after 11 pm until 3 am or 5 am, depending on the line.

Bus stops have maps and a schedule posted in the bus shelter waiting area. If there is no shelter, there will be a street sign displaying the bus route. Since many different bus lines use the same stops, when you see your bus approaching (numbers are clearly displayed on the front of the bus), hold out your arm to alert the driver. On the bus, you can only buy single journey tickets.

Travel cards and monthly passes can be purchased at Metro stations.

Tram

Six lines make up the above ground, 0% emissions Tram system (trambcn.com) that extends to territory less covered by the Metro. Lines T1, T2 and T3 cover some popular neighbourhoods not well-served by the Metro, including Pedrables, Esplugues de Llobregat and Sant Just Desvern. Line T4 runs on the opposite side of Barcelona and has stops in Vila Olímpica and Diagonal Mar, areas where many expats choose to live.


Ferrocarrils Generalitat de Catalunya (FCG) Regional Trains

FGC (fgs.es) trains provide regional suburban service covering many of the areas popular with Barcelona expats: the Zona Alta (Sarrià, Sant Gervasi and Pedrables), Gràcia and towns surrounding Barcelona (such as Sant Cugat). While there are some stops within Barcelona, the FGC is mainly used for commuting to/from Barcelona to/from surrounding towns.

In Barcelona, FGC trains easily connect with Metro trains.

RENFE Train

Officially La Red de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, RENFE trains refer to the Spanish railway network. RENFE Cercanías are the regional commuter trains in Spain’s major cities. RENFE trains are part of the integrated tariff system in Barcelona. Non-integrated fares are also available. RENFE trains operate similar to the FGC trains, linking surrounding towns to Barcelona. Some RENFE stations connect with Metro and FGC stations.

Taxis

Barcelona’s black and yellow taxis are easy to hail and never in short supply; flag down a member of the fleet either roadside or at one of the taxi stands found in popular areas and main thoroughfares. Rates are reasonable and should be posted in the cab. Ensure the meter is reset before you begin your journey.

Tipping is definitely not required and will probably result in a surprised, but very happy driver. Some people will give the driver the remaining change or a very small tip, say five percent.

Drivers are generally trustworthy, friendly and reliable. While some may understand some basic English, to avoid pronunciation confusion it is very helpful to have your address in writing or to know a landmark near your destination.

Getting around Barcelona on foot


Walking the streets of Barcelona is not just a possibility, it’s an outright pleasure. Expats will find the city’s mild weather, amazing architecture and medieval alleys make for plenty of pedestrian opportunity.

Of course, in more transitional neighbourhoods, tourist hot spots and under the cover of darkness, expats should exercise more caution. Barcelona has been appointed one of the pickpocket capitals of the world, but apart from petty theft, expats need not be worried about more serious crime.

Biking in Barcelona


Bike lanes already exist on some of Barcelona’s main streets, and the city council is continuously working to make Barcelona more bike-friendly. It follows that bikes can be brought on the Metro, Trams and FGC dependingBicing in barcelona on the hour and commuter volume.

For expats who aren’t able to bring their bike abroad, but who still prefer to cycle, Bicing (bicing.cat) offers an alternative. The hugely popular sharing service has positioned bike stands throughout the city. 

To take advantage of the service simply insert your membership card at one of the designated stands, choose your bike from one of the many and get going. When you arrive at your destination, insert your card again, and drop off your bike. Charges are incurred based on the time you use the bike, as long as it’s under two hours.

Driving in Barcelona


Expats moving to central Barcelona may want to ditch the wheels and live car free. Parking is extremely limited, and those who do own vehicles in the city centre are often forced to hire a space in a private garage. Rates are typically expensive, but can vary greatly depending on the neighbourhood and the type of garage.

Drivers should also prepare themselves for their fair share of dents and scrapes. No matter where you park in Barcelona, the insanely narrow spaces and the congestion during crunch times means that no vehicle escapes unscathed for long.

“Stop” signs are in English and parking garages are labelled with a large “P” sign.

Many expats live in the city outskirts or surrounding towns (such as Sant Cugat) where a car seems like more of a necessity, but still, even here it’s not essential. For example, in downtown Sant Cugat it's possible to walk, bike, use local buses or even the innovative car-sharing programme to get around town.

Avancar, the community sharing program, allows you to rent a car for trips to the supermarket, weekends at the Costa Brava and anytime inbetween. Cars can be booked online and retrieved at a nearby parking garage.

Our Barcelona Expert

JenniferLoPrete's picture
the United States
Barcelona, Spain
Jennifer Lo Prete is a writer and marketing consultant. In 2009 she and her family packed their bags (ahem, entire house)...
JenniferLoPrete

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