Public transport in Barcelona is efficient, affordable, well-maintained, clean and safe. Regional trains and the more city-focused Metro are the friendliest to foreigners, with signage and ticket purchases in English.
Expats moving to Barcelona's city centre can definitely depend on public transport to get around. Those in surrounding towns will also find plenty of affordable and convenient modes of transit.
Some expats find driving in Barcelona easier than in other large Spanish cities, but drivers face heavy congestion and parking difficulties. Expats should also keep in mind that signage and street names are in Catalan.
It is advisable to master the public transport and driving vocabulary, such as 'ticket' and 'addresses' in both Spanish and Catalan.
Public transport in Barcelona
The majority of Barcelona's transportation services participate in an integrated tariff system known as T-mobilitat. One fare can be used for the subway, buses, trams or the regional FGC and RENFE commuter trains. If the journey lasts for less than one hour and 15 minutes, only one trip will be charged.
The wider region 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 rise as the number of zones travelled through increases.
A range of ticket options exists based on the number of journeys or days used. Discounted tickets are available for people younger than 25 and seniors, while children under four do not pay. Monthly passes and multiple-trip tickets are also available.
With six subway lines and one funicular train, Barcelona's Metro is the best bet for stress-free travel. Signage is posted in Spanish, Catalan and English. Automated ticket machines can be used in all major languages, though announcements are made in Spanish and Catalan. Metro tickets can be purchased at local Metro stations and at ServiCaixa bank machines.
Learning the bus routes in Barcelona takes practice and patience, but familiarising oneself with the extensive system of over 100 routes is time well spent.
While the Metro might place commuters in the general vicinity of where they need to be, the bus can bring them to their destination's doorstep.
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. Many different bus lines use the same stops, so when someone sees their bus approaching, they should hold out their arm to alert the driver.
Single journey tickets are available upon boarding, while travel cards and monthly passes can be purchased at Metro stations.
Six lines make up the above-ground, zero-emissions tram system, which extends to a larger area than 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 stops in Vila Olímpica and Diagonal Mar, areas where many expats choose to live.
Officially La Red de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, RENFE trains refer to the Spanish railway network. RENFE Cercanías are regional commuter trains that operate in Spain's major cities. RENFE trains are part of the integrated tariff system in Barcelona, although non-integrated fares are also available. These trains link surrounding towns to Barcelona, while some RENFE stations connect with the Metro and FGC.
Barcelona's black and yellow taxis are plentiful and easy to hail. Rates are reasonable and should be posted in the cab. Expats should ensure the meter is reset before they begin their journey.
Tipping is not required and will probably result in a surprised but happy driver. Some people give the driver the remaining change or a small tip of around five percent.
Drivers are generally trustworthy, friendly and reliable. While some may understand some basic English, it is very helpful for expats to have their destination in writing or to know a landmark near it to avoid pronunciation confusion.
While lift-sharing services have been banned in the past, this has changed recently. Therefore, Uber is available and is a convenient way to avoid pronunciation or fare confusion.
Walking in Barcelona
Walking the streets of Barcelona is an outright pleasure. Expats will find the city's mild weather, amazing architecture, and medieval alleys make for plenty of pedestrian opportunities.
Of course, expats should exercise more caution in transitional neighbourhoods, tourist hotspots and under cover of darkness. Barcelona has been appointed the pickpocket capital of the world, but apart from petty theft, expats need not be too worried about serious crime.
Cycling in Barcelona
Barcelona has recently become much more bike-friendly and accommodating to cyclists. With designated lanes, signs and traffic lights in the city centre, cycling in Barcelona has never been safer. Bicycles can also be brought on the Metro, Trams and FGC during non-peak hours when there are fewer commuters.
Buying a bicycle is not a necessity as the city's popular Bicing bike-sharing service offers a practical alternative with bike stands positioned throughout the city.
To take advantage of the service, riders simply insert their membership card at one of the designated stands, choose a bike and get going. When people arrive at their destination, they re-insert their cards and drop off the bike. Prices are charged based on the amount of time the bike is used, and the service doesn't allow bikes to be rented for longer than two hours at a time.
Driving in Barcelona
Expats moving to central Barcelona may want to reconsider buying a car. 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 vary greatly depending on the neighbourhood and the type of garage.
Prospective drivers must be ready to deal with the notoriously challenging Catalonian bureaucracy when buying a vehicle, as expats will be required to produce an NIE number. Drivers should also prepare themselves for their fair share of dents and scrapes. No matter where a person parks in Barcelona, the insanely narrow spaces and the congestion during peak times mean no vehicle goes unscathed for long.
Many expats live on the city outskirts or surrounding towns where cars seem more necessary, but even here, it's not essential.
Ubeeqo, a car rental service, allows residents to rent a car for trips to the supermarket, weekends at the Costa Brava and anything in between. Cars can be booked online and retrieved at a nearby parking garage.
See Transport and Driving in Spain for more on securing a driving licence in Spain as a foreigner.