What’s the first thing any tourist asks for upon arriving in a new city? Ok for a small, but still alarming, amount of philistines it is “Where’s the nearest Irish pub?”, but for most of us – especially those too poor to afford an iPhone – it is “Dear Mr. Receptionist can I have a map of Barcelona por favor?”
Understandable really. Whilst we might like to imagine we’re born with an innate sense of direction, the biological compass of a prize-winning homing pigeon who only needs to sniff a magnetic field to find his way back to the nest, the truth is most of us would get lost in the hotel itself if it wasn’t for the signs plaqued up on the walls.
As a responsible Barcelona blogger it behoves me (sorry, too much Scrabble over Christmas = surfeit of archaic words in posts) to investigate which maps are available in BCN, and of course whether or not they’re worth the paper they’re printed on.
Impartiality Disclaimer: I should probably point out, and regular readers will no doubt have noticed already, that this blog is in some small and insignificant way affiliated with Barcelona Life, whose recent map will form part of the list below. Naturally I promise that this post however will remain as unbiased and fair as an American trial of Julian Assange no doubt will be.
El Corte Ingles Map
This freebie map sponsored by the Spanish department store chain, El Corte Ingles, is the most readily available in the city and a damn handy resource. Most of the info is in both Spanish and English.
Pros: It’s free, you can pick it up anywhere, and the El Corte Ingles promo/adverts aren’t too overbearing. Good level of detail, whole city coverage and a metro map.
Cons: A little bit unwieldy when folded out, my biggest gripe is that the key area of the Old Town is almost impossible to read – you have to flip the map over and refer to the enlarged version of it on the other side. Even then the big graphics of every cathedral, palace and Roman relic obscure many of the roads. The tourist info is about as uninspiring as it gets.
Verdict: 4/5. Best for locals who know pretty much what they want and where they’re going, and who just need a hand getting to that houseparty in Horta.
Barcelona Life Map
A brand new maroon monster of a map that first hit the streets in December of 2010. (English only).
Pros: Definitely the looker of Barcelona maps, BL have pulled out all the stops to make this particular plan particularly pretty – and hopefully Barca FC won’t sue them for using a two-tone deep red and blue that works a treat. The map side covers all the vital areas (with the notable exception of Gracia) and has some handy recommendations on where to eat, sleep, drink, shop etc. Plus a metro map. The flipside has an events calendar, some practical info, language tips, a feature article and a smattering of photos, making it as much a guide as a map.
Cons: Ironically a manageable size when unfolded, when folded the Barcelona Life map is a trifle large on the pocket.
Verdict: 4/5. With its focus on just the key areas and plenty of useful suggestions/info the Barcelona Life map is perfect for tourists. Locals will need a bigger map, especially as most can’t seem to get their head around the vertically-displayed metro plan.
City Spy Map
Yes the keen eye of the City Spy franchise has long been scrutinising Barcelona… (English only).
Pros: If the Barcelona Life map is the Scarlett Johansson of the city’s street plans, then the Spy Map is the Penelope Cruz… not as visually striking at first glance, but cool and quirky-looking, and as it turns out every bit as sexy. Colourful and full of cartoon-style sketches this is definitely a map full of personality – as the sometimes fruity, and usually very funny, writing also attests to. Folds up like a beaut.
Cons: Not sure how many of these things they print but they seem rarer than a rainy day in Barcelona! No metro map is a serious omission.
Verdict: 4/5. Shares many of the same pros and cons as the BL map, as it also covers just the touristic areas and also benefits from some handy eating and drinking suggestions. Has a young zesty feeling and is aimed squarely at backpackers, meaning mature folk may feel they’ve picked up the wrong guide.
Not one map, but a series of maps, each covering a hip district of Barcelona. They are Circuit Gracia, Circuit MACBA (which covers Raval) and Circuit Born.
Pros: A great idea, it’s nice to have a bit of focus on three of the best areas of BCN…
Cons: …however that’s about where the compliments end. The black and white design is uninspiring to say the least and the text – clearly supplied by the advertisers – switches from English to Catalan to Spanish at seemingly completely random intervals.
Verdict: 1/5. A good idea which really hasn’t come off I’m afraid. Some laughably low res photos on the front panel of these leaflets says it all. (To make your own mind up check their website however).
Barcelona City Tour Map
Another freebie, this time handed out on the Barcelona tourist bus, and one or two other locations.
Pros: Basic at best, the map gives you a sense of orientation in the broadest sense… the major sites are well sign-posted.
Cons: But that’s about it. 99% of the streets in the Old Town are not labelled, the paper is cheap and nasty, and there’s a surfeit of advertising for big brands like Starbucks, Subway and the Aquarium.
Verdict: 1/5. Pretty much useless apart from for navigating the bus routes themselves which are of course drawn on the map.
So there you go. I’ve discovered three good Barcelona maps so far, and the rest are sadly best put to use as emergency toilet paper. If I have forgotten about any good ones please comment below… or any bad ones which we can include for completeness sake.