There are so many Barcelona guide books on the market that it can feel impossible to choose the best guidebook for your trip to the Catalonian capital.
I’ve been to Barcelona several times, spending a total of nearly six months in the city. My most recent trip was just a few months ago!
Even though I know Barcelona like the back of my hand, I still love to prepare for my trips to Barcelona by reading lots of different guidebooks and compiling all of their top tips into one amazing itinerary.
To get ready for my next trip to Barcelona, I sat down with a bottle glass of Rioja and ten different Barcelona guidebooks, reading each one from cover to cover and making notes not just on what I wanted to see and do in the city, but also what I liked about each publisher’s Barcelona city guide.
I narrowed down my list to a select few must-buy Barcelona guidebooks, lots of guides that need only be borrowed from your local library, and even some guidebooks that you can simply skip altogether. I guarantee that you’ll find the perfect travel guide book(s) for your trip on my list!
Lonely Planet Barcelona – The Overall Best Barcelona Travel Guide for Every Kind of Traveler
I wish that Lonely Planet would publish a guidebook like this for every city! The Lonely Planet Barcelona is a comprehensive guide to everything the Catalonian capital has to offer. Lightweight and small enough to fit into a purse or daypack, this would be my top choice for carrying around the city during a day of Barcelona sightseeing.
The Lonely Planet Barcelona contains 258 pages of content, including a month-by-month guide to events happening in the city, day-by-day suggested itineraries, two-page spreads highlighting each of Barcelona’s top attractions and then specific sections for Barcelona’s best restaurants (including vegetarian choices!), bars, shops, entertainment, activities and hotels. At the very end of the book, full-color, easy-to-read maps guide you through El Raval, the Barri Gotic, La Ribera (El Born), Eixample, Gracia and Montjuic. The Lonely Planet Barcelona was updated in 2020, so you don’t have to worry about outdated advice.
Buy, borrow or skip? Definitely buy this Barcelona guide book!
Rick Steves Spain 2021 – The Best Barcelona Guide Book for First-Time Travelers to Barcelona (and Beyond!)
I feel like I was a little bit harsh when I reviewed the Rick Steves Germany guidebook. In my review of his Germany guidebook, I mentioned that I’ve never loved Rick Steves’ maps, and that his advice seems targeted towards an older and less-experienced demographic. I still stand by those statements, with a big caveat: those things matter a lot less in a Barcelona guidebook than they do in many other cities. With that in mind, I have no hesitations in recommending the Rick Steves Spain 2021 guide book.
The Rick Steves Spain 2021 guidebook clocks in at 1040 pages, which are published on Steves’ tissue-thin (but sturdy!) paper. This allows this Spain guidebook to be super-comprehensive without being super-heavy or super-thick. The book opens with the chapter on Barcelona, featuring 120 pages of updated information about travel in Barcelona. First, there are suggested itineraries for one-, two-, three- and four-day visits to the city, then this guidebook delves into Barcelona’s top attractions (with the Picasso Museum and Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia scoring the highest points), walking routes, hotels and restaurants. The Barcelona section is also peppered with helpful cultural tips, like what to expect when ordering in a restaurant and how modernism came to be such a powerful architectural movement in the city.
Buy, borrow or skip? If your trip involves travel to Barcelona and other cities in Spain, I would highly recommend buying this Spain guide book.
The Rough Guide to Barcelona – The Best Barcelona Guide Book for Budget Travelers
With a focus on having fun in Barcelona on a budget, the Rough Guide to Barcelona is a great Barcelona guide book option for backpackers, exchange students and other travelers with money on the mind.
Like most Barcelona guidebooks, the Rough Guide to Barcelona opens with a general introduction to the city, then explores each popular neighborhood in some depth, and finally ends with a directory of hotels, restaurants, activities and other Barcelona travel essentials. It really does have some fantastic additions for budget travelers, like a list of the city’s best cheap restaurants, comprehensive hostel reviews and a specific itinerary for budget travelers with free and inexpensive attractions.
The Rough Guide to Barcelona is about 275 pages long, and the back is filled with colorful, easy-to-read maps of the city. You could easily toss this Barcelona guidebook into your purse or daypack while you were out exploring the city. An updated pocket version was released in 2019 – it’s even smaller and it is very affordable on Amazon!
Buy, borrow or skip? Budget travelers should buy this one and bring it with them. If you follow the writers’ recommendations, you’ll earn back the cost of the book in savings (on accommodation, food and attractions) on just your first day.
National Geographic Walking Barcelona – The Best Barcelona Guidebook that I’ll Admit I Didn’t Actually Read
I am not going to pretend that I read this Barcelona guide book, because I didn’t. Unfortunately, this Barcelona travel guide book was last published in 2014, and its local availability is very limited (although you can still find copies on Amazon for super-low prices). Still, I didn’t feel right making a list of the best Barcelona guidebook without mentioning the National Geographic Walking Barcelona.
I own the National Geographic Walking Berlin guidebook. In fact, it was my favorite guidebook out of all the books I read about Berlin, and I brought my copy with me to Berlin last summer. I carried it in my bag almost every day, and referred back to it frequently as I was exploring the German capital. Based on the high quality of the Berlin edition, I am very confident recommending the National Geographic Walking Barcelona.
You can expect the book to open with an overview of the city. The next section will feature themed walking tours based on interests like architecture, food, history and family travel, and the bulk of the book will be neighborhood-specific walking tours with easy-to-follow maps, highlights of lesser-known sights along the route, and suggestions about where to stop for food, drinks and shopping along the way. Although the most recent edition was published in 2014, I believe that nearly all of the information you’ll find in this book will still be up-to-date today.
Buy, borrow or skip? I recommend buying this book, especially if you can get a used copy in great condition from Amazon. I see used copies on sale for less than three dollars!
Insight Guides Experience Barcelona – One of the Best Barcelona Travel Guides for People Who Are Too Cheap to Buy a Barcelona Guidebook
Insight Guides tend to be passable crowd-pleasers that give a decent general overview of a destination, including themed sections based on traveler interests and neighborhood-specific overviews featuring attraction, hotels and restaurants. The Experience Barcelona Insight Guide checks those boxes, with brief discussions of the best things to do in Barcelona for lovers of art, history, family travel and gourmet dining, along with eight comprehensive explorations of the city’s most popular districts for visitors.
However, the Insight Guide Experience Barcelona does offer one very unique advantage over other Barcelona travel guide books: it comes with a 100% free eBook. All you have to do is download the Insight Guides app, scan a QR code from inside the book (it’s on page three) and register your account. This only takes two or three minutes, and when you’re done, you’ll be able to access the entire, complete guidebook on your phone or tablet! The app version is identical to the paper copy, complete with color photos, a hyperlinked index and easy-to-read maps.
Buy, borrow or skip? Budget travelers will definitely want to borrow this book from the public library, then download the electronic version onto their device for free!
Insight Guides Explore Barcelona – The Other Best Barcelona Travel Guide for People Who Are Too Cheap to Buy a Barcelona Guidebook
Insight Guides actually publishes two Barcelona travel guide books. In addition to Experience Barcelona (noted above), they offer a more traditional guidebook called Explore Barcelona.
The majority of the Insight Guides Explore Barcelona guidebook is divided into suggested walking routes, including two possible routes through the Barri Gotic, walks along the waterfront and Barcelona’s beaches, and even a football-themed walking tour. Some of the routes travel further outside the city, including to Sitges and Figueres, and vehicles are required for these Catalonia tours.
Again, like its counterpart, the entirety of Insight Guides Explore Barcelona can be downloaded via the Insight Guides app. If you like digital travel guides, I’d suggest loading both of these Barcelona travel guide books onto your phone or tablet before you depart.
Buy, borrow or skip? Again, borrow this one from the library and then download the free eBook!
Eyewitness Travel Barcelona & Catalonia – The Best Barcelona Guidebook for Pre-Trip Inspiration
There’s always something so excited about opening an Eyewitness Travel guide book. With thick, glossy paper, full-color photos, illustrations and cross-sections, and lots of information about local history and culture, skimming through an Eyewitness Travel Guide, with a cup of coffee in hand, is often the closest you can get to traveling without leaving home.
The Eyewitness Travel Barcelona & Catalonia lives up to the brand’s reputation. With a sturdy but flexible cover and 208 pages of engrossing text and images, this is a guidebook that will have you reaching for your credit card and searching for flight deals. This book focuses more on evergreen travel content than up-to-the-minute reviews of current hotspots. There’s a two-page spread of the flowers and birds of Catalonia that feels like something out of The Sound of Music (wrong country, I know…) and you’ll salivate over the two-page spread showcasing traditional Catalan foods like pan amb tomaquet and escalivada. I’m not too excited about the reviews of hotels and restaurants, but that’s information that I can easily find in one of the other recommended books, on my favorite travel blogs and from online reviews.
Buy, borrow or skip? Borrow the Eyewitness Travel Barcelona & Catalonia from the library… but be careful, because it will be impossible to resist booking a trip to Barcelona when you’re done reading!
Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Barcelona 2021 – The Best Barcelona Guidebook for Travelers with a Short Attention Span
A companion to the previous title, the Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Barcelona is another interesting option for some pre-travel inspiration. Laid out more like a magazine than a traditional guidebook, this small book is full of fast-reading snippets and eye-catching photos that skim over just about everything that Barcelona has to offer, without going into too much depth about any one topic.
There’s a lot of crossover in content in the Eyewitness Travel Top 10 Barcelona – for example, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) appears on the list of Top 10 Museums in Barcelona, and a few pages later is once again featured on the list of Top 10 Things to do in Raval. Someone who sets out to read the book cover-to-cover might get annoyed with this repetition, but someone skimming through sections in search of Barcelona travel inspiration will probably find the repetition helpful in narrowing down exactly what will appeal to them in the city.
Buy, borrow or skip? Borrow this one. The layout is much more conducive to trip planning than actually using while you’re out and about in Barcelona.
Rick Steves Barcelona – The Best Barcelona Travel Guide Book for First-Time European Travelers
Although Rick Steves managed to cram 120 pages of information into his Spain Travel Guide, that isn’t all he says to say about Barcelona. In Rick Steves Barcelona, he expands his exploration of the city to a thorough 368 pages, infused with expert travel tips, comprehensive reviews of attractions, hotels and restaurants, and insider advice gleaned from decades of traveling across Europe.
The Rick Steves Barcelona guidebook was recently updated for 2020. As always, the book opens with some background information about the city (including insight into the unique cultural identity of Catalonia) and tips for experiencing Barcelona like a local. From there, it shifts into a guide to the city’s top tourist attractions (going into more depth than in his Spain guidebook) and recommended walking routes, followed by a directory of Rick’s recommended hotels, restaurants, shops and activities. Throughout the entire book, you can find lots of asides about life, culture and travel in Europe, much of which will be very useful for first-time visitors.
Buy, borrow or skip? If you’re new to travel in Europe, this is a great Barcelona guidebook. Reading Rick Steves Barcelona will help you plan your trip, and it’s also a good size for carrying with you throughout the day. I would also recommend it as a safe (and surprising) gift idea for friends and family heading to Barcelona.
Fodor’s Travel Barcelona (with Highlights of Catalonia) – The Best Barcelona Travel Guidebook for Luxury Travel
Although many guidebooks have their roots in helping budget travelers make the most of their limited budgets, Fodor’s Travel has been in operation since 1949 (when international travel was the domain of the truly wealthy) and has always appealed to a more well-heeled type of traveler.
Fodor’s Travel Barcelona (with Highlights of Catalonia) contains 342 pages of content, including an overarching view of the city, neighborhood guides, and directories of restaurants, hotels, entertainment, activities and shopping. Following these sections, the book devotes about fifty pages to nearby destinations stretching as far south as Valencia then north to the French border. There’s definitely an emphasis on upscale travel opportunities, with features like a guide to reading a Spanish wine label (!) and the cheapest category of hotel encompassing everything under €125 (compared to the Lonely Planet, which considers a budget hotel to cost less than €75 in high season).
Buy, borrow or skip? It depends on your travel style. Budget travelers can skip this Barcelona guide book, mid-range travelers might want to borrow it to plan for a few splurges during their Barcelona visit, and luxury travelers will want to invest in this one so that they don’t have to sort through budget traveler hotspots like hostels and fast food restaurants.
Frommer’s EasyGuide to Barcelona and Madrid – The Best Barcelona Guidebook for People Who Just Can’t Be Bothered
Frommer’s tries to be everything for everyone. In fact, the cover of this Barcelona travel guidebook highlights the fact that the book is “quick to read, light to carry, for expert advice […] in all price ranges”… and did I mention that this book includes both Barcelona and Madrid?
The Frommer’s EasyGuide to Barcelona and Madrid is a lackluster dual-city guide with 246 pages of information that was last updated in 2015. The first half of the book is focused on Madrid, and the second half is all about Barcelona. Neither section is particularly insightful, and the lack of inspirational travel content is compounded by the fact that this book contains no pictures, and all of the maps are oddly colored in black, white and muted red. If this book does have a redeeming quality it would be the well-organized day trip and side trip information provided for each city.
Buy, borrow or skip? Skip it.
It’s no secret that I love Barcelona! Don’t miss my NEW list of the twenty-five best things to do in Barcelona.
I’ve also written guide to the city’s best neighborhoods (especially for solo female travelers, this will help you narrow down where to book a hotel in Barcelona) and compiled a list of my twenty favorite vegetarian restaurants in Barcelona.