a colorful tiled bench in a city

Prior to arrival, I wasn’t sure this trip to Barcelona was going to be worth it. I wanted a getaway and booked flights and hotels without looking too much into the current state of things. After some Googling, my enthusiasm was sincerely curbed.

I’d read reports about hotels remaining closed, almost everyone still wearing masks outdoors, many of the best restaurants shutting for the season and other elements of the status-quo, which might hamper the trip.

I can now confidently say, that’s total nonsense.

Barcelona is almost ideal right now. The good stuff is open, getting in the country is extremely orderly, and there are better hotel deals than ever. Proving my vaccination status was a breeze too.

If you’re thinking about a trip to this Catalan paradise, here’s a few things I wish I’d known before I got here, and some clarity about what to expect.

a building with graffiti on the side

Arrival Into Spain Is Super Orderly

The arrival processes for getting into Spain are really well done right now.

I was worried about proving my vaccination status, traveling as an American with a flimsy piece of paper, but of the many countries I’ve visited since the beginning of the pandemic, Spain is among the most streamlined.

Fully vaccinated visitors are not required to test before arrival in the country, which removed one pesky hurdle in the process of actually going somewhere.

Regardless of vaccination status, all visitors must fill out Spain’s travel locator form, which was relatively quick and easy to fill out, and is essential before arrival. Just have your vaccination card and passport handy, as well as any flight details when you do.

You can’t start filling out the form until you’re within 72 hours of departure. Once filled out, you receive a QR code, which is 100% checked upon arrival at the airport, after the immigration process, during a brief temperature check before you grab bags.

Spain cleverly keeps the health part of the process out of the hands of border officials, so they strictly analyze your passport for admission, without needing to ask for things like vaccination status or QR codes, which slows down entry.

That info is collected in advance anyway, and my passport stamp was as simple as “hello”, and onward past the gate.

From there, you continue through, toward baggage claim until a second station of health officials checks your QR code before you exit into baggage claim. It was all very fast and impressive and I was out of the airport less than 20 minutes after landing.

It’s a bit more work before you fly, but the arrival experience into Spain is seamless.

a beach with people walking on the beach

Barcelona Is Lively And Lovely

Knowing what’s open, what’s closed and whether a destination is at full speed is a tricky hurdle in travel planning during these ever changing times. It’s just not that easy to get information on the current state of affairs.

I’d read varying alarmist reports that Barcelona’s restaurants, shops, bars and hotels were still largely closed. That’s really not the case. At all.

I’ve yet to really see one closed, in any area where locals live. Even the more touristy beach and park areas seem to be fairly busy, and by lunch time most shops and dining options are at full tilt. Without quite as many cruise tourists, I also find walking to be more pleasant.

No doubt, some tourist tat shops might not be experiencing the seasons of old, but anything worth going into is open, if its still around. I chose to stay in Eixample, and the food scene, little boutiques and nightlife is as buzzy and wonderful as ever before. Our Barcelona hotel, the Hotel Alexandra, was almost fully booked.

What About Masks In Barcelona?

I’d say about 90% of people aren’t wearing masks outdoors, which is perfectly sensible. Indoors, it’s expected that everyone wear a mask in any shop, or to take a seat at their table in a restaurant or bar.

Once seated, everyone takes masks off and returns to normal. Like in many other major cities around the globe, I’ve just made a habit of walking around with a mask in my pocket, and if I’m headed indoors, I just pop one on. I’d say everyone working in shops is consistently wearing one.

I was a bit worried before the trip, having read mixed reports that it’s the cultural norm to still wear masks outdoors, which I honestly wasn’t looking forward to. It’s simply not the case here, in any neighborhood I’ve been in. Some people still wear one outdoors, but it’s the exception, not the rule.

Basically, i’d say Barcelona feels like New York, even beyond the gridded streets!

a sign on a building

Dining Out In Barcelona Right Now

Dining out in Barcelona is still pretty straightforward. Thanks to the weather, outdoor seating remains easy for those who want to enjoy it, or feel most comfortable outside. Inside dining has mostly returned, and there’s no fuss about entry procedures.

If you want to sit in, you generally can, and it’s a lot easier to get a table inside than out on a nice night. Eating outside certainly has its advantages these days, but I felt quite safe eating in, and in most places staff are all masked up, for peace of mind.

An Aperol Spritz in the sun is as easy to acquire as ever, as is a great glass of vino or cold beer. A lot may have changed over the last couple years, but enjoying a fantastic drink in this city has not.

Crucially to me, the coffee scene has improved so much in the last three years, since my last visit. So many on trend, ultra refined coffee bars have popped up, brewing the best roasts and V60, alt milks and all the things a coffee snob cares about. Shout out to Roast Club, Onna Coffee, La Papa and Vita Brevis for the quality drip!

Getting Around The City

Common sense applies here. One of the glorious things about Barcelona is the easy grid to follow. You can always find a landmark and then pretty much follow the grid as your compass. As far as transit options…

Uber is still largely “not” a thing in Barcelona, but Cabify and other operators are. You can download the app before arrival, to help smooth out any arrivals process. Taxis are very easy to hail and now all of them take contactless or card without hassle.

In many ways, the pandemic has made getting around the city much more seamless, since everyone enjoyed a technology upgrade during the downtime. Leaving Barcelona airport, there’s really no need to pre-book any car services, unless you want to.

As for zipping around, mass transit is still in service, including trams, busses and underground. There’s also no shortage of scooter and moped ride share options, so you can really take your pick. It’s such a world class city to walk or bike, it’d be a shame not to, if you can!

Barcelona: Visiting Right Now

I loved getting back to Barcelona and have faith that anyone else would too. I think there’s a great vibe here now, with both locals and visitors flocking back to the city center to reestablish old habits and visit favorite places.

For a “foodie”, it’s just really hard to find more than a handful of cities which offer as much to sample. Tapas is such a fun style of food because you get to try so much, but few dishes are ever “expensive”, at least in US or UK terms.

If you’ve been thinking about a trip, but had read things which left you feeling a bit hit and miss, it’s so much more hit than miss here right now, and there’s a magic to any trips right now, before the mass tourism returns.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Sounds good.
    Five more years before the mask silliness, testing, and vaccine mania starts to wane.

  2. Nice review. We just spent 4 days in Barcelona and really enjoyed it. Similar experience to yours and the TAP was not halfway as bad as we expected.

  3. What a FABULOUS, informative, timely article !!! YOU HIT THE SPOT ! I have been in angst over all the potential required test results and you put me back in calm mode. MERCI ( or Gracias !) Barc is my favorite city on the planet. So far, no other city has replaced them in 1st. Can NOT wait to dine, meander, adore, recollect and just BE there. YIPPEE !! On the Epic Oct 31st ( Gonna be THE BEST Halloween !!! )

  4. 100 per cent echo this, we’ve just returned from the most brilliant, chilled trip to BCN. It was perfect and felt very safe and organised too.

  5. We went to Barcelona in August. Within my first hour there I was pickpocketed. It colored the rest of the trip. I hope someday to return and experience a different vacation!

  6. We will be in Barcelona October 31 – November 5th. This article got me excited that tourism is down but the city is open and getting back to normal. Lots to see without the crouds

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