Thinking about travelling to Barcelona by campervan or motorhome? In this guide, we’ll help you get the most out of Barcelona on a moderate budget. We look at how to get to Barcelona, where to park and how to get around the City. We also explore possibilities for dining, drinking and dancing and how to stay safe. Let us inspire you with our quick loadstar to Barcelona by campervan!
For my wife Lou and me, travelling to a city the size of Barcelona by campervan was a new experience. Our full-time campervan lifestyle means we live on a restricted budget and we steer clear of city parking. However, the reputation of the magnificent Catalan capital, coupled with a choice safe parking options, was enough to warrant us splashing out. We arrived on a Saturday in late October and the temperature was hovering in the low 20s. Perfect weather for visiting Barcelona by campervan.
Driving to Barcelona by Campervan or Motorhome
We drove from just outside Perpignan in France via the A9 which becomes the AP-7 when you reach Spain. This motorway is the most common route to drive from South Eastern France to Spain. You can also drive along the coastal road, (N260) which is much slower due to the number of twists and turns. On the motorway, we took approximately two hours to reach Barcelona in normal traffic. The N260 is more scenic, no doubt, but we were in a hurry!
Beware the Tolls
Driving to Barcelona from South Eastern France requires the payment of two road tolls. We had to pay the first toll shortly after the Spanish border (Frontera). 14.60 EUR felt a bit steep. More like a tax for entering Spain than a charge for maintaining the road. If your vehicle is over 3.5 tonnes you may have to pay extra. (Visit Spanish Motorways for more info). We then had to pay the rather obscure fee of 1.60 EUR at the end of the AP-7 before it becomes the C-33. So, it cost us 17.20 EUR to drive to Barcelona by campervan. Although, it is possible to avoid these tolls by taking the N260 coastal road.
Where to park in Barcelona
Lou and I have become reliant on the excellent ‘park4night’ app to help plan where we’ll stay the night in our campervan. We saw two options we liked the look of in Barcelona. A farm is located to the North of the city where parking is free. However, we would have had to get a bus to the Metro station to reach the city centre. As experienced users of London night buses, we wanted to avoid this. So, we picked a place located on the Eastern side of Barcelona’s centre.
Area BCN is a giant car park and truck stop located on the site of the old Coca-Cola factory in the La Pau district. It has a designated area for campervans and motorhomes which is guarded 24/7 and there are clean showers too. Our favourite thing about Area BCN was its proximity to La Pau Metro, just a few minutes walk. We felt this justified the price of 35 EUR per night, as we were only staying for a short time.
The entrance to Area BCN is not signed. Immediately after the Citroen showroom on your right is a very wide gateway. A concrete slope leads down towards the entrance barriers. Take a ticket to open the barrier and go straight ahead towards the back of the complex. The surrounding walls are covered in cool murals and graffiti. The parking bays are massive. Shortly after your arrival, the guard will come to greet you and take your details. If you do not need electric hookup you will be asked to park in the middle away from the murals.
Getting around Barcelona
The easiest way to get around Barcelona is to take the Metro. We each purchased a T-10 ticket from the machines, which cost 9.95 EUR and entitles you to ten journeys. Getting to and from our base in La Pau was a breeze because La Pau is on two lines. Both the L2 and L4 run through some of the major tourist attractions in around twenty minutes. What we loved was that the Metro in Barcelona runs until 2 am on Friday night and all night long on Saturday!
You could also explore Barcelona by bicycle. However, unlike many large cities do not expect to use the public cycle hire scheme (Bicing), which is open to locals only. Tourists have to take their chances with ‘Bicitours’ – various independent cycle hire companies. Make sure you look for a Bicitour with a reputation for hiring good quality, safe bikes on Tripadvisor or Google. Of course, the best way to explore any city is on foot. We took the Metro to La Barceloneta and wandered South in search of seafood before getting lost in the Gothic Quarter.
Places to visit in Barcelona
We only had 24 hours in the city and it was a great day for walking around so our sightseeing was based mainly outdoors. If it had been raining we would have visited MACBA and the Picasso Museum which is Free to enter on Thursday evenings from 6 pm and the first Sunday of every month. All City museums are free in the afternoons. Here’s what we checked out when visiting Barcelona by campervan:
La Barceloneta – Narrow streets in a grid pattern lead down to the sea. Lots of restaurants in varying price brackets. Fewer tourists. Feels more local.
Barrio Gotico – Walking around the gothic quarter feels like entering a fairytale where the buildings are characters turned to stone.
El Born – Romantic tree-lined streets meet high priced boutique shopping but not overtly commercial. Lots of eating options.
La Sagrada Familia – The quintessential tourist attraction. Gnarly stonework on one side, clean-cut on the other. Surrounded by cranes.
Where to Eat and Drink in Barcelona
Catalans eat their meals later than people in the UK or France. Lunchtime is from 1 pm until about half-past three. Dinner can start as early as 8 pm for tourists but the locals tend to dine around 10 pm. Unsurprisingly, the range of restaurants in Barcelona has a distinctly Latin feel with Tapas, Seafood (especially Paella), and Mexican dishes all featuring prominently. However, you can get pretty much any food under the sun.
Lunch in La Barceloneta
We headed to this popular seaside neighbourhood in search of some freshly fried fish or just some yummy tapas. We looked for ‘cheap eats’ listed on Tripadvisor and found a couple of local eateries (cantinas), that looked authentic and had good reviews. Arrived at Can Mano around 2 pm. Big mistake! The place was packed and there was a queue spilling out on the street. With our bellies rumbling we tried Jai-Ca round the corner. We made it through the door but there wasn’t even a space at the bar. Do not turn up to a popular restaurant for lunch in Barcelona later than 1 pm!
Giving up on TripAdvisor recommendations, we wandered through the streets of La Barceloneta for a further ten minutes before we came across an unnamed restaurant with seats at the bar. This tiny cantina, located on Carrer de la Maquinista was inhabited strictly by locals and offered an incredible 10.95 EUR lunch deal where you get three courses and a bottle of wine included! We didn’t need that much food though so we ordered a couple of tapas dishes and a beer each. The quality of the food was just average with Gambas al Ajillo (prawns in chilli oil), and basic potato croquettes from the freezer. We paid 14 EUR including drinks.
Snack in El Born
The tapas didn’t keep us full for long so we strolled northwards to the upmarket El Born district. A friend recommended to us a restaurant called Cal Pep which looked lovely but was way out of our price range. Thankfully there’s no shortage of eating holes in El Born and despite the area’s plethora of on-trend fashion outlets, competition keeps the prices down. We plumped for a simple place called La Pizza del Born. Here, a slice is only 2.10 EUR and they also do Empanadas – pastry shells stuffed with minced meat or veg. They’re a bit like mini Cornish pasties. Very informal.
Nothing reminds you you’re abroad like being able to dine outside at night. For dinner, we wanted a place that served light meals and good cocktails, at a not too crazy price. Using Tripadvisor we picked Carabela Cafe, a Tex-Mex restaurant with a big outside terrace. The clientele were mainly younger groups of tourists, so not the place for an authentic Catalan experience. However, it lived up to its promise, with well-mixed cocktails for 7 EUR each and offerings of burritos, tacos and nachos starting from 5 EUR. We ordered the nachos with chilli beef (very good quality), which was too much for two people. We were amazed they only called last-orders for food at midnight but the air was warm and the night still young.
Where to go Dancing in Barcelona
Lou and I hadn’t put on our dancing shoes since we left the UK, five months before visiting Barcelona by campervan. One of our DJ friends recommended us a club called MOOG which has lots of international artists and DJs perform. Moog doesn’t open until midnight but when we got there just before 1 am it was already busy. We were surprised how compact the club is. The crowd was a mixture of locals and tourists all getting down to the sounds of melodic techno. Upstairs they had another room playing commercial pop music. Beers were 5 EUR and Shots 2.50 EUR.
Staying Safe in Barcelona
Unfortunately, Barcelona has its fair share of criminals, much like any big city. On the Metro, particularly on the L4 line to Sagrada Familia, you will hear announcements warning you to take precautions against pickpockets. A friend of a friend was pickpocketed four times in Barcelona and had another friend who had her bag snatched. We were on our guard. Here are the precautions that should work for you:
- Keep nothing in your pockets.
- Wear a money belt or bum bug.
- Use a backpack rather than a handbag.
- Wear your backpack on the front or keep a rain cover on it.
- Don’t hang around clubs chatting to people.
- Plan your routes to the Metro late at night.
How we nearly got mugged
We were chatting to a friendly African guy outside Moog club. After about half an hour some local youths, who’d been hanging around amongst the unlicensed beer vendors, approached us claiming the African guy stole a wallet from them. They shouted a lot in Catalan. Then the kids turned the accusation on me. The African guy was translating for them. It’s possible they were working together. Lou and I walked down the passage to the main street followed by one of the youths who said he was going to take us to the police. (There was a police car parked ahead of us with no one in it). We kept walking.
Now outside in a public space with quite a few people nearby, his mates joined us to repeat their claim that I had stolen this wallet. They were feeling our pockets to check their contents. Of course, I had secreted my phone and cash in a money belt. Maybe they were hoping I would take out my wallet as proof and then snatch it. Or maybe they were just trying to intimidate us into giving them money. I simply shouted ‘No Tengo’ (I don’t have) loudly and repeatedly to draw attention. That seemed to freak them out. They looked confused. We carried on walking to the Metro and eventually, they went away.
The quantity of alcohol we’d consumed probably made this event seem less scary than it was. If they had pulled a weapon of any kind it would have been a different story. What was noticeable was the amount of feeling of pockets going on. An undershirt money-belt is the best tool you have against these thieves. So, if you’re visiting Barcelona by campervan or otherwise, learn from our experience!
Overall feelings on visiting Barcelona by campervan
Barcelona is a place dripping with colour and character. It’s unmissable. Despite the crime problems common to most big cities, Barcelona is a definitely a place you can do in a campervan. Area BCN offers secure parking for campervans and motorhomes in a fantastically convenient location. What you spend on parking you can save by simply walking around the pretty, cobbled streets and absorbing the vibes of this beautiful place. If you haven’t made up your mind about travelling to Barcelona by campervan, as full-time vanlifers, we strongly recommend it!
Thanks for reading ‘Barcelona by Campervan – A Quick Loadstar’. We hope you enjoyed it. We would love to hear from you so please feel free to email us on antlou [at] vanutopia.com and don’t forget you can stay right up to date with all of our antics by following us on social media: Facebook; Instagram; Twitter and subscribing to our YouTube channel.
Ant & Lou