Hola BCN or Barcelona Card? We review both to get from BCN El Prat Airport.

Barcelona offers two seemingly similar transit cards to help you get around this gorgeous city.

For us, our decision started at the airport for an option that would get us from the airport to the city and back for the three days we would be in Barcelona.

First, the basics…

Hola BCN
-€19.98 when purchased online (you can even do this the same day)
-Unlimited transportation within 72 hours
-Includes funicular up to Montjuïc
-No attractions or activities included
-Can be picked up at Metro station vending machines

Barcelona Card
-€41.40 for three days when purchased online
-Unlimited transportation within 72 hours
-No access to funicular
-Includes free or discounted admission to select attractions
-Must pick up at an official tourist office, such as near arrivals in T1 or T2

The view from Montjuïc 
First, we reviewed what attractions we might want to do. With limited time in the city, it quickly became obvious it would be a stretch for us to get enough value out of the Barcelona Card. Some of the most popular attractions we wanted to do weren’t included. At best we would break even and I didn’t want to be feel committed to race through something because we paid for it.

I also didn’t like that you had to pick up the Barcelona Card in person. Our flight was due to arrive at 6:30am. Even accounting for passport control, we would have to spend time waiting for the office to open or pay for transportation to our hotel and pick it up later. As it turned out, our flight arrived early and the immigration lines were short so we were through a bit after 7am.

The final decision maker for us was the funicular. We knew we wanted to go up to Montjuïc Castle. The funicular is included in the Hola BCN card, but not the Barcelona Card (editor’s note: the funicular was undergoing construction when we arrived, so we weren’t able to use it).

Decision made, I went online and purchased two Hola BCN cards. The system emailed me a confirmation number and barcode that I could use to obtain them when we arrived.

I then set out to decide whether to take the Metro or Rodalies.

Our hotel was located near Paral·lel. It would have been 14 stops on one subway and another nine stops on another. I was slightly comforted by the likelihood that we would get a seat on the first subway, but I realized it was unlikely on the second because of rush hour. Certainly not the easiest way with baggage. Further, the idea of lugging suitcases up and down Metro staircases wasn’t attractive to me.

Lots of empty seats
Instead, I looked at the Rodalies R2 Nord (aka R2N) train. It’s a suburban commuter-style train that starts its journey at Terminal 2. This means you’ll likely get a seat. Plus, the layout is more spacious than a subway, so we had no problem comfortably finding space for our bags.

After a (relatively) short transatlantic flight from New York to Barcelona, we took the free shuttle bus from Terminal 1 to Terminal 2 and used the bridge to cross over to the Rodalies. I made the mistake of trying to get my Hola BCN card from the Rodalies ticket counter, but the agent told me to go downstairs to the adjacent Metro station to obtain them.

I left Tara with the baggage upstairs and used a kiosk to get our passes. It was very efficient and, while there were no attendants, the staff had helpfully laid out several transit brochures and maps. I then returned to the R2N station and used our new Hola BCN passes to say “¡hola!” to Barcelona’s transit.

End seats have plenty of space for bags
I was on high alert for Barcelona’s infamous pickpockets or other scam artists who are known to work the big tourist stops. I spotted some transit security staff on patrol, but otherwise the station was empty given the early hour. A few minutes later our train rumbled in, let off the arriving passengers and then we boarded, along with security staff who continued patrolling the train as we left the station.

The R2N, bound for Sant Celoni makes just a few stops as it heads toward the center. While a few people boarded, the train stayed empty until we got off at Passeig de Gracia. This is a big station with convenient elevators at every point between the railway and Metro.

From there, we boarded the 3 subway for a quick four-stop ride to Paral·lel.

The R2N takes about the same amount of time as the Metro after considering the shuttle ride, but the trip was much less of a hassle and made for a great welcome to the city.

From there, we proceeded to use the city’s efficient public transit to get everywhere over the next three days.

Finally, it was time to head back to the airport for our flight to Sevilla.

This time, we would need to leave during the evening rush hour. We considered taking the Metro because we weren’t sure how crowded the R2N would get, but after seeing the packed subways, decided to chance the R2N.

Hola BCN will get you everywhere
Again, we made our way to Passeig de Gracia. Given the early hour of our inbound train, and the jetlag, I didn’t take enough mental notes to remember how to get between the metro and railway. It took a little navigating, but we finally got there just as a delayed train was departing. I wasn’t too upset because we were early and I’d rather make sure we’re going the right way rather than taking the wrong train.

After about a 15 minute wait, the R2N arrived. Do take the time to double check the train routing. Unlike the airport, multiple trains use the same platform. Only the R2N goes to the airport.

This time, the train was more crowded, but we still found seats. The train’s roomy interior again allowed us plenty of space for luggage, so we didn’t feel in the way. Less than a half-hour later, we arrived at Terminal 2, which is primarily used by low-cost carriers, and checked in for our Ryanair flight to Sevilla.

Finally, some travelers may find the T-10 card makes the most sense. It's a simple 10 rides for €10.20, but we decided against it because we didn't think we would hit exactly 10 rides to maximize its value.
Hola BCN or Barcelona Card? We review both to get from BCN El Prat Airport. Hola BCN or Barcelona Card? We review both to get from BCN El Prat Airport. Reviewed by Brandon on July 15, 2019 Rating: 5

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