Getting to Barcelona from the airport
The best view you’ll get of Barcelona is not from Monjuic or Tibidabo, but out of the pokey window of the Boeing 737 as it cruises over the city and out to sea, before pulling a slightly dramatic U-turn at 1000 metres and hugging the city coast line on its way to El Prat airport to the west. This is when you’ll see it all; the glittering beaches; the glittering ports; the glittering neighbourhoods; the glittering hills. It’s probably worth paying Ryanair’s irritating exhortation to choose your seat just to get that right-sided window seat. You’ll spot the Sagrada Familia, the line of the Rambla marching up to Placa Catalunya, and the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts at Port Olympic. All these sights will really gee you up for putting on the flip-flops, sliding into that Hawaiian shirt and hitting the city hard.
But, before you can do that, you have to figure out how to get there. Because the plane doesn’t drop you off directly at your Airbnb. El Prat International airport is an international airport with two separate terminals about 15km away from the city. Terminal 1 tends to service longer-haul flights and national carriers, with Terminal 2 detailed to service the short-haul and low-cost airlines. There are some very important differences between the two.
Also known as ‘Terminal Turd’ (by myself), this terminal is confusing and not clearly marked. There are signs that give contradictory information, with two signs for the same gate pointing in opposite directions. The shopping area of the departure lounge is on a separate floor to the gates, but this is not clear. So you can follow signs to your gate not understanding that you’re on the wrong floor and only realise your mistake when the signs dry up and you hit a perplexing dead end. Then you have to double back on yourself entirely to the main escalators. Then you miss your flight. Also suffers because the train station is located at Terminal 2, requiring a shuttle bus to ferry you between the terminals.
Better in every respect. The number one advantage is the airport train station. The layout is simple and intuitive. You can’t miss a flight from this terminal.
In order to get to or from the airport, you have a few options:
Direct, quick and frequent. The current price is €5.90 and the bus will drop you (or pick you up from) Placa Espanya, near Placa Universitat and Placa Catalunya. It takes about 30 minutes, and there are two separate buses. The A1 bus goes to Terminal 1 and the A2 goes to Terminal 2. This is an important distinction that you need to pay attention to. This is a good, safe option, but not the most economical.
The metro link to the airport is a recent addition that has only been in operation a couple of years. The number one advantage of this is that, once you put your ticket through the gates and enter the system, you are able to get to just about anywhere in the city with that one ticket. Helpfully, of course, a metro ticket from the airport is inflated in order to rip off tourists, but that’s really just the way things are these days. You’ll pay €4.50 for your single ticket, whereas it would be €2.20 elsewhere.
Furthermore, the metro is a very slow option. It does not whisk you into the city centre, as you might have thought would be the reason they spent so much money building the thing. Instead it takes you on a leisurely and circuitous cruise through obscure suburbs before dropping you at Zone Universitaria, which is the very end of the green line and still a good 25 minutes from the city centre. Not a good option.
The train has a number of advantages and is possibly the mode of transport of choice for the canny Barcelona visitor. If you are flying from Terminal 2, it makes a lot of sense as the station is so nearby. You can get on or off at Sants Estacio, Pg de Gracia, Pl Catalunya, Arc de Triomf, Clot and even leave the city for the Costa Brava on the other side. One downside is that the trains are not so frequent, usually every 30 minutes, so you’ll want to check in advance which train is best to get if you are going to the airport. From Pl Catalunya the journey takes about 30 minutes.
Another advantage to taking the train, although not one you heard from this blog post, is that you can use your T-10 (10 journeys) ticket if you get off at Pg de Gracia, which doesn’t have a ticket barrier at the exit. At the other stations you’ll find yourself with a problem as a T-10 will not open the gate.
The mode of transport of choice for the loaded and the late. If your flight arrives late in the evening, and you don’t want to waste any precious sangria time, a taxi is a good if expensive option. Prices should be around €30. Airport taxi drivers are notoriously greedy and deceitful and just general c*nts, but I haven’t heard that about the El Prat taxistas. And if you’re late going to the airport, they will cheerfully risk their own life as well as yours by driving like it’s a computer game in order to get you on that aeroplane.
So, there you have it. Avoid the metro, the Aerobus is the safest and most reliable option, and the train the savviest. There are also regular public buses that stop at the airport, but AVOID THESE AT ALL COSTS. They are not intended for tourists and take hours.