Upon moving to Barcelona a common consideration is whether you need to have a car or not. This might be a more common question for people who come from smaller cities.
After spending a few days in Barcelona you will realize that the city has a very well developed public transport system. There are several options, and this variety is very important because particular modes of transport are preferable depending on the situation.
Let’s consider the various public transport modalities available in Barcelona.
The metro/tram system, run by the companies TMB and FGC, is very convenient and runs all over the city and surrounding areas. Zone 1 covers the city and outer areas, a considerably large area which will allow you to go as far south as Castelldefels for those summer beach trips.
The most popular ticket to buy for both tourists and locals is the T-10 ticket which gives you 10 trips and can be shared. It is priced at €9.95 which is very affordable. You can use it both on the metro/tram system as well as on buses, and it even allows you to change lines and from metro/tram and vice versa within one trip without paying extra.
Buses are modern and convenient especially if you don’t fancy going up and down the metro station stairs or enduring the elevated temperatures in the summer months. The stations themselves have no air conditioning systems but the trains do have, thank god.
City Bikes (Bicing)
We should also mention the Bicing system, which is a network of bicycles that is very easily encountered in the city. You need to be a resident to buy a card for using Bicing, but it’s a one time payment per year of €47.16 that gives you unlimited usage (for trips of up to 30min). The only exception is when using the electric Bicing bikes which will also incur a cost per trip. Overall it is very affordable and you will see many people cycling around on these bikes, especially in the center where there are no inclines and minimal effort is needed for pedalling around.
The bike lane network in the center is also quite good, although not comparable to other European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. If not using the Bicing network, many residents choose to use their own bike, however bike robbery is rampant and no type of lock will stop the determined bike thieves of Barcelona. The best option we’ve found is to buy foldable bikes that you can carry around with you, thus eliminating this risk.
In this city you will also have taxis which are moderately priced and comfortable. Taxi drivers are usually courteous, although most will not speak English, so if you haven’t learnt Spanish or Catalan yet it’s best to have written instructions on where you want to go. Of course, the main sights in the city will pose no problem for the taxi drivers even if you somewhat mispronounce them.
Wasn’t this post about whether we need a car or not in Barcelona?
Of course, however in order to decide we first had to understand what other options are available to us. Now that we know how easy it is to move around in Barcelona, we have to determine if the options described above do cover all the needs of our lifestyle or not.
For example, if you have a daily commute to an office on the other side of town, the number one option will be that of owning a scooter, especially if your home or office are not very close to a metro station or bus stop. You will get to your office faster and more comfortably, although in the winter months it does get chilly on a scooter.
For couples a car may be hard to justify, however if you have a family with kids things might make more sense. Using a scooter will be out of the question. If you need to drop off one or two kids to school on a daily basis and go on weekend trips outside the city, owning a car is of course a very good asset. In my opinion this is the number one reason for car ownership in Barcelona.
Of course, if you live outside of the city center in places like Castelldefels or Badalona and need to go to the city center daily for work then a car becomes almost a necessity.
Parking in Barcelona
Parking spots within the city center are certainly not abundant, so if you venture in with your car you will most probably use one of the underground car parks. These car parks generally charge around €1.70 / hour to €2.50 / hour to park your car. Your car is unlikely to escape dents and scratches as spaces are tight, so if you like keeping your car in top shape, prepare yourself for some stressful moments.
Another option to outright car ownership is a car sharing service. Avancar is the leader in Barcelona. Membership costs €5/month and usage of a car starts at €5/hour or €66/day (24 hours). The Avancar service includes gas, insurance and 80 kilometers. If you drive more than 80km on a single trip you will be charged extra by km. Avancar also provides a yearly subscription plan of €45 if you prefer that over paying a monthly fee.
This service is ideal if you need a car for shopping trips of 1 or 2 hours. For trips outside the city or circumstances which require a few hours of parking time before you return Avancar is not ideal. The reason is that you will be charged on the time taken for the car to be returned to its original parking space.
The decision about car usage is clearly an important one. This is especially true if you will be going down the ownership route which will require an substantial monetary investment. For lower budgets a cheap second hand car is the way to go. There is a yearly second hand car fair that is held in November and it’s the perfect place to view many used cars from reputable dealers. Otherwise, you can use classifieds websites such as Coches.net and Autocasion.com to find a good used car. If you are a traveller who stumbled upon this post while searching for some tips on where or how to rent a car for your holidays in Spain, check out my Guide to Renting a Car Abroad; you’ll find a lot of useful information that will help you to save some time and money. 🙂
Buying second hand is not only for those with a lower budget, many dealers will have cars of all price ranges, some of them with only a few thousand kilometers and a few months old, that you can buy at a very good discount when compared to a brand new car. If you decide to buy from an individual rather than a dealer, you will not get any guarantee or financing possibilities. There is also more paperwork, however you will get more leeway for negotiating. Of course, you will also need to get a trusted mechanic to review the car before you agree on the purchase. Personally, I would prefer going through a dealer as it will give you more peace of mind. Some dealers even offer a 14 day money back guarantee so if anything is wrong with the car you can return it with no hassles.
Car ownership will of course mean yearly costs like insurance and a road license, both of which are necessary for using a car in Spain. On top of that you will need to add the cost of gas and maintenance/repairs. In order to buy car you will need your NIE and a house rental contract of at least one year. Some dealers will also ask for the empadronamento certificate. For financing the car you will need to show the last three payslips. If you are not employed in Spain you will have to buy the car outright, which might be a considerable amount and therefore is also something to take into consideration when deciding whether owning is right for you at the moment.
As we have seen, most importantly, you will need to think about your lifestyle and needs before deciding whether you need a car in Barcelona. Public transport options are excellent, biking is fun and easy, and scooters abound in the thousands. If those options are still not ideal for what you do on a daily basis, then a car will make sense. You will then need to decide whether to buy a car or use a car sharing service, again depending on the frequency of usage.