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Europe > Spain > Barcelona ( BCN )

Do you a car in Barcelona, or do you even think of it as Car-celona? Even if many people will suggest that there is anything but a need to get a car here, there are a few situations in which a rental car in Barcelona could still prove useful:

Do I need a car in Barcelona? Introduction

Why rent a car in Barcelona?

  • Green Catalonia — once you get beyond the dismal Barcelona suburbs, you are out into the verdant landscape of Catalonia, and as with anywhere, the car will give you much more freedom to explore.
  • Skiing — Barcelona is a major gateway to the Pyrenees. However, resort transfers can be split between the three Barcelona area airports, and also Perpignan and Toulouse in France, massively watering down their frequency. A hire car will give you a bit more flexibility, but it certainly isn’t an absolute need.
  • Andorra — the tiny principality of Andorra isn’t just a cheap ski resort or a duty-free haven, the scenery is superb in summer too, but the transport links are not. A hire car will give you the flexibility to drive around Andorra, choosing a different route in and out. Make sure you fill your petrol tanks there too!
  • Full Dali experience — to get the most out of a visit to Dali’s homeland (the Dali triangle), you can also visit the fishing port of Cadaques and the castle at Pubol. This is much, much easier to do with a car.
  • Beaches — although there are excellent beaches in the city of Barcelona itself, a car will give you much more access to beaches on both the Costa Daurada (west) and the Costa Brava (east).

Why not? Visiting Barcelona without a car

Barcelona without a car – within the city

  • Barcelona has it all — the city of Barcelona really is Europe’s great all-rounder, with something for everyone, whether your interest lies in food, football, music, art, architecture, or all of the above. There is just so much to see within the limits of the city that many visitors don’t even think about getting out beyond – whether in a hire car or not!
  • Spend as long as you want: There is simply so much to see and do, that you can spend several days, or even a week here, without wanting to leave town — a boast a few other European cities can make.
  • Excellent public transport — Barcelona has one of Spain’s best metro systems, rivalled only by the capital Madrid. This is supplemented by trams, frequent bus services on the main arterial routes, and a good network of suburban train services. All that is missing is a good central train station — Barcelona Sants, from where AVE trains depart from Madrid, is dingy — a Spanish version of Birmingham New Street!
  • Cable cars and funiculars — Barcelona has a variety of cable cars and funicular railways which supplement exploration on foot, especially if you want to hitch a ride to the top and walk down.
  • Barcelona’s answer to Cape Town – Montserrat: An excellent day (repeat – make a full day of it) excursion to make from Barcelona is the monastery community of Montserrat. This is easily done by train, combined with a cable car to the top and funicular railways around the site / back down again – so there is little point in driving there.
  • City of Beaches — in Barcelona, you are never far from the beach, and there are several metro stops which will take you straight there.
  • Architecture — virtually everywhere you look within the city of Barcelona itself (this doesn’t apply to the dreadful suburbs), you will see stunning architecture, especially in the Eixample district, best known for its Gaudi houses. Barcelona also has plenty of examples of modern architecture including prominent buildings by leading architects such as Norman Foster, Richard Rogers, Santiago Calatrava and Frank Gehry. Just don’t get as absorbed in it as Gaudi did, or you will end up being hit by a tram!

Barcelona without a car – beyond the city

  • Two city tour — a trip to Barcelona can easily be combined with a visit to one of Spain’s other great cities, especially Madrid or Valencia, which can both be reached by train in under three hours. It should be reasonably easy to book an outward flight to Barcelona and a return through Madrid or Valencia from many parts of Europe. However, there is more than enough in and around Barcelona without needing to venture to other places.
  • Figueras — Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueras can easily be visited by train from Barcelona, and the city of Girona can also be included on the same trip.The other two sites as part of the ‘Dali triangle’ are not as impressive as the Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueras, but can still be reached by bus with a bit of planning.
  • Nuria Valley — the railway line to Nuria is recognised as one of the most scenic in Spain, and it is certainly an easy way to explore the great scenery outside Barcelona itself without needing to bother with a hire car.

Barcelona without a car – practicalities

  • Parking costs — if you bring a rental car into the city of Barcelona itself, you’re likely to get hit with hefty parking charges (upto €30 per night), whether at your hotel, or in public car parks. Hotels on the edge of the city may have free parking, but they won’t provide such easy access to the city centre. On-street parking is expensive and puts you at a higher risk of car crime.
  • Easy airport rail link — trains are available directly from Barcelona airport into a number of different stations in the centre of Barcelona. If these are not within easy walking distance of your hotel, you can transfer by metro to a stop that is – or take the bus.
  • Car hire cost – if you are used to cheap car hire in places like Malaga, expect to pay a little more in Barcelona. Expect to pay more to pick up a hire car in Barcelona city centre, or to pick up a hire car at Barcelona airport and return it in the city or vice-versa.However, Barcelona is only expensive by Spanish costa standards, not compared to most places in Europe.

James says - a few trip notes:

Barcelona was one of the original reasons for setting up, when I heard from a friend who had picked up a hire car at Barcelona airport, driven it to the hotel, kept it in the garage for a week, and then driven it back to the airport.

Now this isn’t just a waste of money on car hire fees, it also means paying needless parking charges. Now, chances are, most people who get a hire car in Barcelona will actually drive it somewhere, but before doing so, we suggest reading our pros and cons. 

Conclusion — there is more than enough to see in and near to Barcelona itself to make it possible to get around without needing a car. Many of the excursions which can be done from Barcelona can also be done by train, so a car is only really useful if you intend to base yourself outside the city of Barcelona, and to travel around to different places during your stay.

Even those with itchy feet can still make three excellent excursions by train in different directions – to Montserrat, Figueres and Nuria, without needing to think about hiring a car.

Verdict — no

Note — this advice is based on picking up a hire car in conjunction with flights to Barcelona International airport. Girona and, to a lesser extent, Reus are sometimes marketed as alternative airports to Barcelona, although the budget airline Ryanair has recently started offering more  flights to Barcelona International. Coach services are available from both Girona and Reus airports into the centre of Barcelona, although it may be more tempting to pick up a hire car at these locations. That is fine if you aren’t going to spend much time in the city of Barcelona – otherwise it is best to endure the bus (or take local links to nearby stations in Girona and Tarragona respectively).

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