By Regina Winkle-Bryan
A pet peeve of mine is ‘traveler discrimination’. This is when types of travelers or tourists are discriminated against by other travelers because of the way they roll. If you’ve ever backpacked across (insert landmass of choice here) ______, then you know what I’m talking about. Somehow certain categories of travel aren’t ‘real’ or ‘raw’ enough to get you in with the cool crowd. “I toured the Mediterranean Sea with my Aunt Sally on a cruise!” will get you some disapproving looks from hipster travelers.
I’ve never been on a cruise, and it’s not high on my list. But if Aunt Sally invited me to float around the Mediterranean I’d say, “Oh hell yes!” and pack my suitcase. As my friend Robert from Oregon once told me, “Try everything once; twice if it doesn’t hurt.” Cruise ships may be too touristy for some travelers, but they still get people out TRAVELING. Moving, meeting, seeing, experiencing…that’s the goal. I don’t care how you do it as long as you DO it, and aren’t hurting anyone in the process.
This is all a longwinded way to come to the point of this post: touristy offerings in Barcelona. The same traveler who mocks my voyage with Aunt Sally will also frown upon Barcelona’s many services for visitors, used almost exclusively by tourists. Mr. Backpack-Across-Europe will not take the cable car up Montjuïc, nor will he buy the ArTicket for Barcelona’s museums, and he definitely won’t be on the Bus Turístic, the hop-on-hop-off bus that loops around the city. Instead, he’ll walk, or take the metro or public bus like locals do. Fine, fair enough, and let’s face it – he’s saving money by using public transportation.
The thing is though, that some of the city’s tourist services are useful and, well, fun. I’m a big fan of the Montjuïc cable car and have bought the ArTicket a couple times when friends came to visit. I’ve always been interested in the Bus Turístic but until recently did not want to pay the €26 for a day-pass (from €23.40 with Iberica Travel). A few weeks ago my family came from the United States to visit, and on their first day here – jet-lagged and disoriented – we took a ride on the Bus Turístic. It was the perfect way to spend their first day in Barcelona. Let me tell you why.
If you’re flying in from the Western United States, or some other destination that requires a 20+ hour plane trip, you’re going to be tired and weary when you arrive in Catalonia. If you don’t speak the language and don’t have much experience with using a subway system, jetting around on the metro might be a daunting task. Taking the Bus Turístic means you get on the bus, put in your headphones/earbuds, and enjoy the spin. There’s no walking or negotiating the metro. The other thing to keep in mind is that Barcelona is BIG. You can easily walk most of central downtown, but the rest of the city and especially the Olympic area, is not a cinch to get to. The Bus Turístic will give you an idea of just how large Barcelona is and a lay of the land.
On our outing on the Bus Turístic we didn’t hop on or off, we just rode and took in the scenery. We did the Red Line Route which goes through the metropolis’ most impressive zones, including the Gothic Quarter, the port, the Olympic area, Montjuïc Mountain, the beach, Plaça Catalunya, and Passeig de Gràcia where most of Gaudí’s buildings are. We also did a bit of the Green Line which passes by the beach down to the snazzy new Forum neighborhood. My family got an idea of how Barcelona is spread out and what neighborhoods they wanted to spend time in. Later in the week they went back to the Gothic Quarter and Passeig de Gràcia to visit a few of the museums.
My family and I did not ride the Blue Line, but it might be the best deal of the three routes the Bus Turístic offers, in that the Blue Line stops are the furthest away from the center of town. The Blue Line goes by Gaudí’s Park Güell, passes the Tibidabo tram stop, goes through the adorable and overlooked neighborhood of Sarrià, and makes a stop at Barça soccer headquarters, the FC stadium. These are all spots in the city fairly difficult and time-consuming to get to, especially Park Güell, and the Bus Turístic makes the journey less of a hassle.
If you have a few days in Barcelona and the money, buy the 2-day pass which costs €34, just €10 more than the 1-day. Use the Bus Turístic to see your list of ‘musts’. My list would look something like this:
Red Line, hop off at:
-Barri Gòtic (for a wander around the 1st-century Roman walls)
-Pg. de Gràcia – La Pedrera (Gaudí sites)
-MNAC (Best art museum in the city)
-Museu d’ Història de Catalunya (a good place to look at the old port and visit La Barceloneta)
-Port Olímpic (beaches)
-Parc de la Ciutadella (walk the park, see the Born neighborhood, skip the zoo)
Green Line, hop off at:
-Cementiri del Poblenou (Art Nouveau cemetery)
-Poblenou (authentic neighborhood, good for lunch)
Blue Line, hop off at:
-Sagrada Familia (Gaudí sites)
-Gràcia (authentic neighborhood, good for lunch)
-Park Güell (Gaudí sites)
-Tibidabo (and then take the tram up to the top of the mountain)
-Sarrià (authentic neighborhood, good for lunch)
If you decide to ride the Bus Turístic, keep these tips in mind:
-On nice days you’ll sit in the open-air section of the bus. Bring sunscreen and sunglasses.
-If you plan to ride all day bring a coat, the weather got chilly while we were on our tour.
-To make the most of the Bus Turístic ticket cost, it’s best to get an early start and use the service all day.
-Don’t throw your headphones on top of the bus stops…I don’t understand why riders feel the need to do this.
-There are other tourist bus services in town so make sure the one you purchase is called the Bus Turístic with the big ‘eye’ on the side of it.
The only part of the Bus Turístic experience that disappointed me was the audio guide, which I listened to in English (they offer the guide in many other languages). The information on the guide was ‘light’, and didn’t go into detail about the city’s history or the many fascinating monuments we passed on our loops. Granted, I know quite a bit about the city, but my family did not and they also felt that the guide was a bit of a waste. It would also be nice if they sold water on the bus. If the Bus Turístic improved their audio guide, they’d have a 100% winning product.
All in all, I obviously think the Bus Turístic is worth it. Do you look like tourist zipping around on the open-top Bus Turístic? Uh, yeah. But you are a tourist. Even Mr. Backpack-Across-Europe is a tourist, though he doesn’t want to admit it. Some touristy stuff just makes good sense, and this bus is one of them. Eating on La Rambla, on the other hand, or buying and wearing a Mexican sombreo on La Rambla, are tourist sins I can’t stomach. I draw the line at sangria glasses larger than my head and frozen paella.
Want more local tips on Barcelona and how to eat like a local? Look no further than Eat Guides: Barcelona! Get your copy here on Amazon.
*I was a guest of Iberica Travel. All the opinions here are my own. We keep it real.