Barcelona El Prat Airport (BCN) is just 9 miles (14km) southwest of Barcelona’s city centre. It’s a great place to find yourself with time to kill, or to actually plan your trip with a layover in what is one of Europe’s greatest cultural cities. From the historic Barri Gotic to the legacy of Gaudi’s Modernist buildings, Barcelona’s architecture is unsurpassed. Add in some beautiful parks, world-class museums, delightful shops on the Passeig de Gracia, pavement cafés on La Rambla and even a sandy beach and you will understand why visitors want to spend time in this vibrant city. Whether you have a couple of hours or a whole day to fill, check out our Barcelona Layover Guide below to see what to do and how to get there.
Barcelona Airport is a major airline hub serving 37 million passengers each year. It has two terminals connected by a shuttle bus. The main shopping area and restaurants are on Level 1 in the newer Terminal 1, which serves most international flights. Terminal 2 is divided into three interconnected sections – 2A, 2B and 2C – which serve mainly budget and regional carriers.
Due to the proximity to Barcelona city centre, Barcelona El Prat does not offer a range of services for passengers on layovers. Shops offer duty-free goods, gifts, fashion, jewellery and Barcelona Football Club merchandise along with a beauty spa/hair salon. Restaurants and bars are limited to the 24-hour Caffe di Fiore, La Cerveseria bar and the Michelin-star Portagaig restaurant and snack bar. Getting out and doing some sightseeing during your Barcelona airport layover is a no-brainer! But if you prefer to stay at the airport, explore our Barcelona El Prat Airport Guide for information about that to do while you are there.
A few essential sights:
Barcelona’s #1 attraction is the magnificent cathedral, the Sagrada Familia, which is still a work in progress. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, it has become an icon of the city. Work began on this magnificent building in 1883, but the death of Gaudi, lack of funds and civil war have slowed the progress of this engineering masterpiece. The church is covered in symbolic carvings and topped with ornate spires covered in Venetian mosaics. Spiral staircases allow visitors access to the towers and upper galleries with marvelous city views. The apse is one of the completed sections and leads down to the crypt where Gaudi himself rests in peace. In peak season you need to book tickets and guided tours well ahead to skip the lines. If you only have time to do one tour as part of your airport layover, make it the unforgettable Sagrada Familia!
Time required: Allow 2-4 hours to get the most from your visit. Guided tours take approximately one hour, excluding the towers. Alternatively, self-guided audio tours allow you to explore at your own pace within your own timeframe.
How to get there: The Sagrada Familia is a 30-minute walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya. With time at a premium, hop in a taxi or use the Metro Blue Line 5 or Purple Line 2 which both have stops outside the Sagrada.
The pedestrianised La Rambla is one of the most famous streets in Spain, lined with old mansions, shops, hotels and pavement cafés. It’s a great spot for people-watching with flower stalls down the centre of the street and many street entertainers looking to earn your loose change. Some of the highlights to stop at as you walk down the mile-long street towards the port include Gaudi’s neo-Gothic mansion, Palau Guell which is open for tours. You can’t miss it! At the bottom of La Rambla is the Mirador de Colom, a 60 metre-tall column with a statue of Christopher Columbus on top. Ride the elevator to the viewing gallery for stunning city and sea views.
Time required: Allow at least an hour to walk down this lovely street, stopping for shopping, refreshments and attractions along the way.
How to get there: The airport Aerobus will drop you at the Plaça de Catalunya at the top of the La Rambla. Alternatively, take the Metro to Drassanes, Liceu or Catalunya stations, all within easy reach of La Rambla.
Just off La Rambla is the famous food market known as La Boqueria or Mercat de Sant Josep. It’s a great place to pick up deli items for lunch in the park, such as tasty Iberico cured ham, local cheese, artisan breads, salads and fruit. However, be aware of airline policy when making purchases. For example, meats, cheese and fruits are not allowed to be carried into the USA, and liquids are limited to 100ml in your hand luggage. Even if you don’t buy anything, a peek at the magnificent iron and glass structure of this is worth the detour. This lovely building was constructed around 1840 on a site that has been a market for over 2,000 years.
Time required: 30 minutes will give you time to browse, take photographs, taste samples and buy some delicious local produce. Allow up to 2 hours if you plan to have lunch there.
How to get there: La Boqueria is just off La Rambla near the Liceu Metro Station. It is a short walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya.
Where better to stretch your legs and enjoy some fresh sea air than on Barcelona’s lovely sandy beach near the port at La Barceloneta. Rent beach chairs on the sand, take a dip in the warm Mediterranean, play beach volleyball or buy drinks from some of the enterprising locals who stroll up and down selling beers and mojitos. Walk along the promenade and stop for a delicious meal of tapas at a waterfront restaurant or visit the Aquarium. Expect to see cruise ships, fishing vessels and luxury yachts in the nearby port.
Time required: Anything from one hour to all day, depending on the time of year and your personal schedule.
How to get there: La Barceloneta is on the north side of the port. It is a pleasant way to conclude a walk down La Rambla from Plaça de Catalonia. It can also be reached by Metro; the nearest stations are Selva de Mar and Maresme Forum.
Passeig de Gracia
This main shopping street is lined with department stores and boutiques selling the latest European fashions. Visited by over 7 million tourists each year, this paseo is considered the heart of Barcelona.
Time required: At least 2 hours.
How to get there: Passeig de Gracia is a 10 minute walk from the Aerobus stop at Plaça de Catalunya. It can also be reached from elsewhere in the city by Metro; the nearest stations are Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia.
No stopover visit to Barcelona is complete without a tour of one of Gaudi’s Modernist creations. Casa Batlló is an extraordinary six-storey home on the Passeig de Gracia with extruding balconies, irregular windows and a roof designed like a dragon’s back.
Time required: Tours take one hour.
How to get there: See Passeig de Gracia above.
Bus: For less than 6€ each way, you can take the Aerobus service from Terminal 1 (service A1) or Terminals 2B and 2C (service A2) into the heart of the city. Get off at the Plaça de Catalunya to visit the Barri Gotic, Casa Batlló, Sagrada Familia, Museum of Contemporary Art and the beach at Barceloneta. The stop at the Plaza Espanya is convenient for visiting Camp Nou football stadium, the cruise port and Montjuic attractions.
Train/Metro: Trains into Barcelona city centre currently run from Terminal, 2 but there is a planned connection to Terminal 1 in 2016. Meanwhile, use the inter-terminal shuttle bus if necessary. Once at T2, follow the green line along the covered walkway to the train station where tickets can be purchased from machines using credit card or cash (euros). Ride as far as Barcelona Sants station for Plaça Espanya or to connect with Metro lines L5 and L3. The Passeig de Gracia station is close to Plaça de Catalunya, shopping and La Rambla. Public transport options include:
Taxi: Taxis provide an affordable 15-minute service from the airport and will drop you right outside your chosen attraction. Taxis are metered and booking ahead is not necessary.
Car: It’s very easy to pick up a hire car from the airport and follow signs to the Gran Via from the C-31 or C-32. However, parking can be a problem near the main sights in Barcelona, and many areas are pedestrianised.
Before You Go: Layover Tips
Now that you are motivated and excited for your mini layover vacation, just make sure to check a few final logistical concerns off your list before you fully commit.
- Do you need to organize a visa to leave the airport? Requirements change frequently and for each nationality, so be sure to seek out current details on the availability, cost and procedures of obtaining a transit visa.
- When is your next flight’s check-in time? Make sure you double check with your airline exactly when you need to be at the airport – and plan your layover accordingly.
- What are security wait times like at the airport? Some airports are notorious for long security wait-times, so be sure to do a bit of research in advance and factor that into your overall time-budget.
- What’s happening with your luggage? When you check in to your first flight, be sure to confirm whether your luggage is checked through or needs to be picked up between your connecting flights.