Driving and parking in Barcelona

Many travel websites advise tourists against driving in Barcelona, primarily due to the high accident rates in the city as compared to all of Europe. However, the motorways in and around Barcelona are some of the best in all of Europe. For those brave travellers who are interested in driving in Barcelona, here are some tips for having a safe and enjoyable time on the road and in the city.

Barcelona is one of the oldest cities in Spain and is the largest metropolitan area on the Mediterranean with nearly five million people in the city and surroundings. It is one of the wealthiest urban areas in the European Union and has enjoyed incredible growth. Because of the age of the city combined with the growth, traffic can be very congested and navigation a challenge.

Three international driving routes pass through the Barcelona area. One route takes cars between Barcelona and Paris, another to Madrid and Lisbon and the third follows the coast towards Malaga. Fortunately, there are also several bypass routes for through-traffic and two fast highways that avoid city traffic as well. These routes help reduce traffic in the city significantly.

When driving in Barcelona, it’s advisable to always check the map to see if one of these fast highways, bypasses and major thoroughfares will take you to your destination. If the route takes you into the heart of the city, pre-plan your route and travel time and always have another route option available. Construction can be challenging and tourists often find detour signage difficult to follow and sometimes nonexistent.

The bigger consideration that quickly becomes apparent is the smaller lanes, turns, parking spaces and garage entries and exits. Many tourists perceive things to be moving at a much quicker pace, which in some areas they are, but much of the time, this sensation has more to do with the smaller gap between the vehicle and the narrow routes between tall buildings.

Driving in Barcelona isn’t the biggest concern or consideration for the traveler. In fact, parking in Barcelona poses a far larger challenge, especially without prior research and planning to avoid headaches, expensive parking costs and towing bills.

While Barcelona has an excellent public transportation system, many travelers want to see destinations scattered all across the metro area plus travel to nearby destinations. Public transportation can’t do this as efficiently as a rental car. After making the decision to drive to these various destinations, travelers to Barcelona must then plan their trips appropriately, taking into consideration the proximity to the other attractions, the time of day and day of the week you will be travelling in certain areas of the city, and available parking in the vicinity of the attractions.

Street parking can be very difficult to find and even when located, it may not be available to tourists for use. Many parts of Barcelona use a color-coded system to identify who can use various parking spaces. Blue spaces are for any vehicle and are a normal parking fee. Orange spaces are for special uses and generally cannot be used by tourists. Green spaces are resident parking and can be used by tourists driving in Barcelona, but the cost is extremely high to use these spaces.

There are many underground parking lots around Barcelona where travelers can pay to park. Underground parking is a great short-term option for visiting destinations as it can cost upwards of €2 per hour. When seeking hotel accommodations, look for lodging outside of the main city center as these hotels generally have free surface parking. Here is a list of hotels with parking in Barcelona. In addition, when mapping out travel destinations, research least expensive parking options nearby to minimize parking costs when street parking is unavailable.

With some careful planning, driving in Barcelona and parking near attractions and destinations can be far less painful than many European travellers report. This up-front work will allow you to enjoy the freedom to see more of the city in your own time.