Choosing the right Barcelona accommodation for your short-term vacation in Barcelona or business trip is not as straightforward as most people believe it to be. Most people automatically look for a hotel directory to find their accommodation, but there are several alternative options that might better suit your needs.
Not only can these offer you a greater degree of comfort, but can also be considerably less expensive that hotel accommodation - a factor that is assuming increasing importance in today’s economic climate. The major business and vacation accommodation alternatives that Barcelona has to offer are:
There are literally hundreds of self-catering apartments for short-term let in Barcelona. Many people shy away when they read the words ’self-catering’, but what is a hotel? If you prefer to eat out you can do so just the same with self-catering accommodation as you can do with a hotel. However, the former allows to put together a sandwich or even a steak for supper should you want to do so, that no hotel room enables you to do. OK there is room service - but at what price?
With prices commencing at 70 Euros a day there need be no explanation for the reason for their popularity. There are many vacation apartments all over Barcelona, including the centre of the city such as the holiday apartments in Las Ramblas and Barrio Gotico. If you prefer luxury, then Eixample and Vila Olimpica offer you an excellent choice of luxury apartments for short-term let.
Even business people are now looking to apartments rather than hotel rooms because of their convenience and economy. Even the classy luxury business apartments close to the Congress Centre and the Fira De Barcelona Fair are economical compared to hotels. They also offer multiple rooms at a lower price than most hotels do for one room! So, if you have a party from your company visiting an exhibition or conference, then an apartment offers the same degree of luxury as a hotel room, but for more people and at a lower price.
You get what you want in Barcelona, and the city can offer both inexpensive and higher priced luxury short-term rental accommodation, plus anything between the two. Before deciding, just consider the advantages that a fully fitted apartment offers over a hotel: cooking facilities when you need them, dishwasher and laundry right on the premises at no extra cost and you can bring in your own drinks at a fraction of the price of hotel bars.
You can also have broadband internet access, and many offer a safe for those valuables that you don’t want to carry about with you. Finally, an added financial benefit is that while you each pay full price for your separate rooms in a hotel, apartments are priced differently. Hence, if you pay 90 euros for two people, three can cost only 100 euros and so on. That should keep your accountant happy!
With over 400 hotels (these are denoted with H), you won’t be short of hotel accommodation in Barcelona. Every hotel is en-suite, and they come in a range of prices and grades, from one to five stars. You get what you would expect from hotels, and the more stars the more you pay and the more luxury and comfort you get. You can expect the five-star hotels to be truly luxurious, with superb facilities and a high level of service. Four-star hotels will be almost as good as the accommodation first-class, while a three-star hotel will cost appreciably less.
Many hotels in Barcelona are built around an inner courtyard, and rooms overlooking these will be quiet but can be gloomy, but they all tend to have air conditioning to keep you comfortable during the hot Spanish summers!
Public areas in the lower-graded hotels can be fairly sparse, and some of the lower graded or ungraded hotels will not offer restaurant facilities. However, if you tend to spend the vast majority of your time out of your accommodation that should not worry you.
These basically take the form of small apartments within hotels, and are a relatively new accommodation development in Barcelona. They usually offer a room or two and an equipped small kitchen with cooking facilities and crockery that enable you to cook your own meals if you wish. They are like a mini-apartment and good for families or small groups visiting Barcelona on vacation or for meetings.
They combine the benefits of a hotel and a short-term rental apartment without fully realizing the benefits that either alone can provide. However, they are a new idea to Barcelona and fine for short-term visits.
4. Hostales and Pensions
A ‘hostal’ (in Spanish) and a ‘pension’ in Spain are fundamentally the same, being equivalent to a guesthouse or small hotel. They are frequently family businesses, generally without the facilities of full hotels. Few offer restaurant facilities, and many do not offer breakfast. The cost would be expected to be a third to a half of that of a hotel, and a hostal or pension is a cheap alternative when you have to keep an eye on your expenditure.
They are graded from one to three stars, and while a 3-star pension is equivalent to about a 2-star hotel, the facilities and amenities offered are not represented by the star rating, and neither are the prices charged.
5. Youth Hostels
Youth hostels are cheap accommodation for younger people with a common bathroom, and normally common sleeping areas. They generally have few or no comforts or amenities apart from toilet facilities, and their prices reflect the fact.
In general, people normally go for hotels or Barcelona apartment rentals, and the luxury Barcelona apartments especially are becoming increasingly more popular because they are less expensive and better appointed than the same luxury hotels, offering more options at lower cost for groups of holidaymakers and business-people. Beach apartments are also popular, though many prefer the Las Ramblas apartments and Barrio Gotico apartments due to their proximity to the city centre.
It should be stressed that all accommodation in Catalonia is regulated by the Generalitat, or regional government, so that you can be sure of a reasonable standard that should reflect the price that you pay. That price, however, will vary according to the season, and is generally higher in summer, Christmas and Easter. They can also increase during fairs and festival projects, and during local holidays when the local population tend to take many of them up.
Here are 10 tips on booking an apartment for a vacation in Barcelona, and also some general holiday advice which I would strongly recommend to anyone considering booking a short-term apartment rental. In no particular order, here are my top ten tips for checking that your apartment will not disappoint:
1. Carefully study the photographs and dimensions of the apartment you want to choose.
Admire the photographs of your accommodation by all means, but also check the measurements of the rooms. Many pictures are taken with special lenses which appear to magnify the room, leading you to assume the space is larger than it really is.
2. The selection of the neighborhood is critically important..
The location of your apartment rental is likely to play a large role in whether or not you enjoy your stay in Barcelona. It’s important to choose carefully … and wisely. And your choice should be based on your individual likes and dislikes. For example:
If you’re interested in exploring historic Barcelona, it makes perfect sense for you to select an apartment in any one of the five districts of Ciutat Vella (old city). Districts such as Barrio Gotico, El Borne and Raval are alive with activity during the day and in the evenings, as well. Famed for their Gothic architecture, each of these neighborhoods is dynamic, always-crowded with people … and packed with a broad range of fun and exciting entertainment options.
Prefer first-class accommodations away from the crowds and the tourists? Consider Eixample, particularly the section of this fine neighborhood that is closest to the center of Barcelona. There you will find easy access to public transportation (metro, buses and even surprisingly affordable taxis) that can get you to Plaza Cataluna and Las Ramblas in just a few minutes. In fact, the trip is even short enough for those who prefer walking.
Beach lovers would be wise to consider a stay in Vila Olimpica, Barceloneta or even Poble Nou. Each of these neighborhoods will enable you to enjoy the blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea and bright sunshine at such relatively tranquil beaches as Nova Icaria and Bogatell. A word of caution: Barceloneta is a public beach and often overcrowded in summer.
If you’re coming to Barcelona on a business trip, you should look no further for your apartment rental than Sants or Les Corts. Each of these neighborhoods is ideally-suited for business travelers because both are located near the Fira Barcelona Fair and the Congress Centre. This is Barcelona’s business hub and public transportation is readily available. In fact, you can get on the metro and, after a short ride, get off at Plaza Espana, which is right at the doorstep, literally, of the Fira Barcelona Fair.
3. What to do if you are traveling with senior citizens or children.
If you have children, seniors, or those with any kind of mobility problem, check that your accommodation has an elevator. Remember, many of the buildings here are 100-200 years old, and set very closely together. As a result, entranceways can often be quite narrow and up a flight of steps, and inside there may well be no elevator, so check this first. It’s too late to find this out when you get there.
4. Air conditioning … a “must-have” for every vacation and business traveler.
If you are booking a vacation in Barcelona for the summer period, remember that it is almost always hot and humid. For this reason, and for your comfort, check that your accommodation has adequate air conditioning. If not, you are likely to be uncomfortable at night, and this could spoil your holiday.
5. What you need to know about check-ins and check-outs.
Make sure you find out what the check in and checking out times are. Hotels usually have a fixed time for this, but apartments can vary quite a bit. Checkout times can often be 11 am, although if you have a late flight, facilities for storing your luggage can be arranged. Checking in times can vary from between 2 pm and 4 pm.
6. Make sure you know about additional charges – in advance
When booking online you’ll usually assume that all charges are included in the price, but make sure you find out about any additional charges, such as late checking in or checking out surcharges. Many people take advantage of the low-cost flights to Barcelona, but as these often arrive late at night, people can find themselves facing a €20-€40 surcharge for collecting keys between 10 pm and 8 am. Remember, apartment lets don’t usually have a receptionist.
7. Plan your trip when there are no fairs, conferences or conventions.
Avoid any times when there are major fairs or conferences in Barcelona. The city of Barcelona is well known throughout the world for holding some of the biggest trade fairs and conferences in Europe, and at these times anything up to three million extra visitors come flooding in to the city. Not only does this add to the crowds, but also accommodation can be difficult to find. In addition, prices usually increase at these times, which means that booking a vacation in Barcelona can cost a good deal more than you might otherwise expect to pay.
8. Discuss “special requirements” with your rental provider while you are planning your trip.
Think about any special requirements which you may have, and make sure that you discuss these with the rental provider well in advance. For example, if you are traveling with a very young child, and will need things such as a cot or crib, a high chair and so forth, then you will need to speak with the agency beforehand. Usually such facilities can be provided, but don’t assume that they will be left available in the property unless you ask for them.
9. Look for special offers and discounts.
Check out any special offers or discounts which might be available. If you can be at all flexible with your holiday dates, and aren’t tied to the usual weekend-to-weekend times, then have a look at the special rates and discounts which agencies can usually offer. You might be surprised to discover that very often savings of between 20%-40% aren’t unusual.
10. Make sure you choose the apartment rental agency carefully.
Most agencies are highly reputable, but it always pays to do a little homework first, rather than rushing in to making a booking as you are caught up in the excitement of the whole experience. Look at their website and ask yourself how well laid out it is, how helpful, and how clear the images are. Can you find the contact details easily? Why not send them an email with a few questions, and see how quickly they respond, and how helpful their advice is?
Remember, any internet booking agency based in Spain must be legally registered, which will mean that they will be using the letters S.L. or S.A with the business name, as well as including legal information on the website. If this isn’t apparent, then you might be best looking elsewhere.
It’s always good advice to try to obtain some testimonials about either the letting agency or the apartment itself. The agency might be able to provide these on request if they are not already included on the website, but don’t forget to use independent review sites which are increasingly popular on the web.
Bearing these 10 tips in mind will almost certainly help to ensure that booking your holiday in Barcelona is thoroughly enjoyable, and your apartment is comfortable, suitable and just what you were expecting.