Before starting out:
1. Check out http://www.tmb.cat/en/home. There’s a handy feature where you can put in a starting address and destination and they’ll calculate for you the best way to get where you need to go. For mobile users, the “where am I” feature is useful if you’re lost: just enter the address where you find yourself, and a map will come up showing exactly where you are and what the closest public transport is.
2. Pick up a metro map. They’re free in every metro station. If you don’t see one, ask the staff. It clearly shows all the metro lines and how they connect to each other.
3. If you think you’ll be using the bus, pick up a free bus map at any tourism office. It shows all the bus lines and timetables, and it also has a separate map for night buses.
There are loads of different options, but below I’ll outline the ones that are most useful for tourists. Keep in mind that the tickets are valid for all public transport types in Barcelona, with a few exceptions.
You can buy tickets in the machines in any metro station, at the airport train station, or at any Punt TMB (the public transport system’s info point). Individual bus tickets are bought directly on the bus.
There are different fares for each type, depending on the number of “zones” you want to be able to travel to. “1 zone” is all you will need for getting around Barcelona. The prices quoted below are the adult “1 zone” price.
Single metro ticket – €2.00
Valid for one metro journey only.
Single bus ticket – €2.00
Valid for one bus journey only.
T-Día – €6.95
This is a personal card (meaning you can’t share it with anybody else) and is valid from the time you first stamp it to the end of the service that day. Useful if you are in Barcelona for one full day and will be taking the public transport a lot.
2-day travel card – €12.80
3-day travel card – €18.50
4-day travel card – €23.50
5-day travel card – €28.00
This is a personal ticket valid for an unlimited number of journeys for the number of days indicated. Useful if you’re staying exactly 2, 3, 4, or 5 days.
T-10 – €9.25
This is a non-personal ticket (meaning if you are traveling with other people you can share it: just go through the metro entry and then pass it back to your friend) and is good for 10 journeys. Great option for two or more people traveling together for a few days.
T-50 – €37.00
This is a personal ticket valid for 50 journeys in a period of 30 days or less. Good for one person spending a few weeks in the city. This is what I got when I spent 2 weeks in Barcelona recently looking for new Cross-pollinate properties; I never thought I would use it up, but I actually did use the entire thing in 2 weeks of running around town.
There are monthly tickets, youth tickets, senior tickets, etc, as well — all the options are on the TMB website.
Using the metro:
It couldn’t be simpler. You just stamp your card, pass through the turnstile, then follow the signs in the correct direction. If you need to change lines, that is included in the price of ONE journey — just make sure you don’t exit and come back in. Everything is well-marked. On the platform, an electronic screen tells you how many minutes and seconds until the next metro comes (accurately!). They run pretty frequently during the day; at night they are less frequent but you’ll probably never have to wait longer than 10 minutes.
The metro runs Mon-Thurs and public holidays from 5 am to midnight. Fridays and eves of public holidays from 5 am to 2 am. On Saturdays and eves of 1 Jan, 24 June, 15 Aug, and 24 Sept, from 5am then continuous service (through the night). Sundays continuous service until midnight. 24 Dec: from 5 am to 11 pm.
Using the bus:
This one is a little trickier. The bus stops are generally easy to spot — a pole with a sign indicating the bus number, and often a covered bench with glass sides for those who are waiting. However, the bus stops don’t have a list of every stop the bus makes — just the route number, the stop name, and destination. That means it’s not immediately clear to Barcelona newbies where the bus is going to take you, and the exact route it’s going to take. Either consult your bus map, or ask a fellow passenger waiting (preferably not another tourist!) or the driver. Most buses run from 6 am to about midnight. After midnight, the night buses take over (with more limited stops).
Using the funicular de Montjuïc:
If you are going to Montjuïc park, you can take the metro to the Paral·lel station and then follow the signs for the funicular, a sort of cable car that goes up the very steep incline of the park. If you’re coming from inside the Paral·lel station, you don’t need to stamp your ticket again to go onto the funicular, so it’s included in the price of one journey. The funicular runs from Mon-Fri 7:30 am to 8 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am to 8 pm (autumn and winter), and Mon-Fri 7:30 am to 10 pm and weekends and holidays 9 am to 10 pm (spring and summer).
There are other forms of public transport in Barcelona (the tourist bus, the tramvia blau, etc), but they require a different, more expensive ticket and are considered ‘leisure transport’, so they’ll be addressed in a different post.
*Note: For those with reduced mobility, Barcelona is considered one of the most wheelchair-friendly cities in Europe. Since the 1992 Olympics, many metro stations have been refurbished to provide reliable elevator access for those in wheelchairs. The buses have all been adapted to allow for wheelchair access. You can see a map of wheelchair-accessible metro stations here.