Mobile World Congress is coming back to Barcelona, but don’t worry about the reports of political instability. Barcelona is open for business, locals tell me, with thrilling new restaurants and gorgeous modernist buildings open to the public for the first time.
We’ve been updating our MWC travel guide for five years now (the base 2013 guide has more information). As always, we worked with Turisme de Barcelona to find out what’s new in town. This year, we also collaborated with ByHours, a local company that developed an app to let you reserve hotel rooms for a few hours at a time. It’s perfect for grabbing a place to nap when you arrive in Barcelona and can’t check into your conference hotel yet.
As always, start with the official MWC website for all of your MWC planning.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, which has been in a standoff with the Spanish government in Madrid over an independence referendum in October. Parliamentary elections in December returned separatists to power, although they got less than 50 percent of the popular vote. Madrid has been running Catalonia through “direct rule,” avoiding the region’s parliament.
That said, things on the streets of Barcelona are calm, according to Noemi Rosell of Turisme Barcelona. There haven’t been demonstrations since October and transportation, the airport, and hotels are running smoothly, she said. Unlike in previous years, we haven’t heard threats of transportation or workers’ strikes during MWC.
That said, there’s always some sort of shenanigans going on in town during the show. There will inevitably be someone with a banner making a statement, like in 2015 when members of the Femen feminist group protested Facebook’s photo censorship policies, or in 2017 when a Greenpeace protester interrupted the Samsung press conference to make a statement about recycling. Barcelona is a politically active town, and MWC is just too big a stage to turn down.
MWC is mostly held at the Fira Gran Via, which is out in the suburb of L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, between Barcelona and the airport. The Fira is an extremely efficient, well-laid-out convention center, but it’s also extremely long. If you’re headed to Halls 1-3 or Registration, you need to go to the South Entrance. If you’re headed to Halls 6-8, you need to go to the North Entrance. (Halls 4 and 5 are in the middle.)
You can pick up your badge and transit pass at the airport, so make sure to do that before heading into the city. The best way to get from the airport to the city center still isn’t the train, but the frequent and direct, E5.90 Aerobus to Placa Espanya and Placa Catalunya.
The relatively new Line 9 subway (shown above) runs from the airport to a stop directly under the Fira’s South Entrance and it connects with several other lines. But if you’re coming to the show from the Placa Espanya area and headed to the South Entrance, it’s still faster to switch at Espanya for the suburban trains, which go to the Europa-Fira station. Here’s a full Barcelona Metro map.
The train stations are a long way from the North Entrance and Hall 8. If that’s where you’re going, your best bet is still to take a taxi, or the frequent H16 public bus from Placa Espanya or Placa Catalunya to the corner of Passeig de Zona Franca and Foneria, which is close to the North Entrance. MWC will also run a shuttle between the North Entrance and Hall M8 at the older convention center by Placa Espanya.
Barcelona has also simplified its bus network in recent years, with new routes running more frequently in straighter lines. The most relevant buses for MWC-goers are the H12, which cuts a straight line from the South Entrance of the Fira, past the old Fira, down to the Placa Catalunya and beyond; and the aforementioned H16, which can take you to the Forum or to the North Entrance of the Fira. Here’s the new bus map.
Uber and Lyft are illegal in Barcelona, but you can still get a taxi using an app. MyTaxi is the dominant app in Barcelona, having subsumed Hailo last year. Taxis are relatively affordable, especially if you’re on an expense account. Tip by rounding up to the next euro. A MyTaxi from Placa Catalunya, in the center of town, to the Fira Gran Via should cost 15-20 euros. But traffic can get insane during peak hours, making the frequent and easy-to-use trains a speedier bet.
MWC also runs special shuttle buses from hotels in outlying areas to the event. In my experience, these buses often get stuck in very bad traffic, so if there’s a way for you to take the train instead, take it.
You’re going to eat a lot of jamon. But you don’t have to give in to the jamon entirely: Barcelona is a global food hub, known for exciting, cutting-edge cuisine. There’s a lot of Asian-European fusion going on around town right now. The city has also ramped up its international comfort-food options in the past few years—pizza and Mexican food, for example, have gotten much better.
The Culture Trip has a rundown of new restaurants in Barcelona; Asian, Indian, and pizza places take the lead.
Rosa Gonzalez of ByHours suggests heading to “elBarri,” a six-plex of restaurants all run by the Adria brothers, celebrated Barcelona restauranteurs. (One of the restaurants, Bodega 1900, is shown above.) The six restaurants are all within two blocks of each other by the corner of Carrer d’Entenca and Avenida del Paral-lel, just a short walk from Placa Espanya. The link above leads you to a site for all of them.
“At Bodega 1900 you’ll find a vermouth bar served with reimagined snack foods. You also have Tickets that’s a contemporary tapas bar. If you want to try an elevated Mexican cuisine you have Hoja Santa. In case you are craving Mexican food, but the traditional one? Then you have the Niño Viejo taco bar where you can eat delicious food for around €40.00 per person. Want something exotic? At Pakta you can have a taste of a Peruvian-Japanese food fusion,” she wrote to us.
I’d also like to make a pitch for my current favorite Barcelona cocktail and tapas spot, Vivant (Carrer del Consell de Cent 394, 08009; +34 933 1588009). Vivant has a modern take on traditional tapas; they’re all recognizable, but they’re a cut above the preparations you get in the big Rambla de Catalunya tapas joints. They also serve gin and tonics in giant globe glasses.
Here are some other options: two more high-end recommendations, two inexpensive ones, and two unusual “modernista” experiences.
- Marea Alta. (Av. Drassanes 6-8) is undoubtably the most spectacular new restaurant in Barcelona. It’s on top of the Columbus monument at the bottom of the Rambla! Amazing views and nautically themed décor keep you busy while you await your excellent grilled fish. Yes, it’s an all-fish menu, with several options priced by the kilo. This isn’t cheap by any means (you’ll be lucky to get out at 60 euros/person) but it’ll be a memorable meal for sure.
- Kak Koy. (Carrer de Ripoll, 16) Koy Shunka is the best sushi restaurant in Barcelona, and its sibling Shunka may be the best overall Japanese. Kak Koy brings the same attentiveness to other Japanese preparations, most specifically charcoal-grilled sumiyaki meats, served in a small space along marble bar tables. It’s a hidden gem, although you should expect to pay between 50-100 euros per person.
- La Esquina Barcelona. (Carrer de Bergara, 2) It’s a nouvelle-English bistro with artisanal coffee and a 15-euro lunch set menu near the Placa Catalunya. It’s a lot like somewhere you’d find in a nice neighborhood of London or San Francisco, which may offer a refreshing alternative to the amount of jamon you’re going to be consuming this week.
- Parking Pizza. (Carrer de Londres, 98) Parking Pizza offers upscale pizzas and shareable dip appetizers at very reasonable prices of around 20 euros per person for a meal. You’ll find several traditional preparations with a little extra flavor, like adding fennel to a pepperoni pizza, or sage and shallots to a four-cheese pizza.
- El Mama/La Papa. (Passatge de Pere Calders 2) This dual restaurant/nightclub combines fusion cuisine with live cabaret shows. It’s “el mama” before 9 p.m., a more traditional restaurant, transforming into “la papa” at dinnertime. (Yes, they’re mixing up the genders on purpose.) Performers in elaborate costumes march out into the crowd as multicolored disco lights strobe, acrobats appear, and the food teeters between Spanish and global, with Thai influences claimed.
- Opera Samfaina. (La Rambla 51) is a Modernista experience with food, and it’s getting lots of buzz for its overall experience. It’s part food court, part theme park, part statement of cultural identity: everything in here is Catalan, down to the dreamlike, Dali-esque décor. There are four different bars, various tapas, and a sit-down dining space called Odisea where you enjoy a tasting menu while surrounded by a 360-degree projection of prominent Catalan chef Jordi Roca.
If you don’t feel like sitting after a day at the show, proceed on to Placa Europa for Meet & Eat, a food court and entertainment series run by a bunch of local L’Hospitalet restaurants. It’ll be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the show, with 16 food stands and live music. This is the third year for Meet & Eat, and I remember it being a buzzing scene, albeit with long lines for food tickets.
Looking for an event restaurant? Group Sagardi and AN Grup are two multi-brand restaurant businesses with high-quality spaces all over town. Sagardi is more upscale, while AN Grup is extremely affordable. Both are easy one-stop shopping for events.
If you haven’t been to the flagship Barcelona attractions like the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, and the Cathedral, you’ll have plenty to do in Barcelona. But if, like me, you’ve been coming to Mobile World Congress for several years now, you probably want some new things to do.
Several new, notable buildings have opened up in the past few years. The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site (C. Sant Antoni Maria Claret, 167), in a gorgeous old hospital, now offers tours of a reconstructed 1920s hospital ward. Tickets cost 14 euros.
From a hospital, let’s head to a prison—a Modernist panopticon prison. The “model prison” in Barcelona was closed in June 2017 and reopened for tours earlier this year on Fridays and Saturdays. Tours run every 15 minutes from 3-8 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Just stop by the prison at Carrer d’Entença 155, 08029.
The touring exhibition of official Game of Thrones props and sets is in town while we’re at Mobile World Congress. They have costumes, props, weapons, armor, and sets. It’s down at the Maritime Museum on the waterfront, and timed tickets cost 15.50 euros. Tickets sell out, so buy in advance, if you can.
That all sounds a little stressful, right? Let’s go to a home instead. Casa Vicens, an early Gaudi house, opened to the public just before MWC 2017, so you probably haven’t seen it yet. The house is in the Gracia neighborhood, which has been called “Barcelona’s Greenwich Village” for its small shops and boutiques. Entrance costs 16 euros.
Gaudi isn’t the only Modernist with a relatively fresh new building open. Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa de les Punxes (Av Diagonal 420, +34 930 185 242) opened in 2016. It’s not Gaudi, but Puig i Cadafalch is a major Barcelona figure in his own right. The house is full of gorgeous architectural touches and themed to the legend of dragon slaying Sant Jordi, complete with an “interactive experience” on the main floor.
Barcelona Turisme also has a great brochure on “new attractions”, which have opened since 2013, including a quartet of design museums and the Born Cultural Center, which has swiftly become one of Barcelona’s most-visited sites. If you feel like Barcelona’s paths are well beaten, the dozen new attractions in this brochure will give you fresh ideas.
Barcelona has a slow, citywide Wi-Fi system that works throughout the city and is plumbed into the public buses. Connect to the “Barcelona Wi-Fi” SSID across the city.
If you want to use your phone on 4G in Spain, you need to have LTE bands 3, 7, and 20. Use FrequencyCheck.com to see if your phone supports those bands. All iPhones back to the 6, along with the iPhone SE, will work fine; Android phones vary model to model.
Your first stop should be your US carrier’s roaming plan. AT&T and Verizon both let you use high-speed data as if it’s coming from your plan allowance at home, at a rate of $10/day. Sprint gives you free data at 128kbps, with high-speed data costing $5/day or $25/week. T-Mobile gives you unlimited 256kbps data and charges $20/1GB of fast 4G data.
You can save money by using a local SIM card, although then you lose your US phone number for the duration. Vodafone Spain’s Tourist Plan offers 2GB of data and 50 minutes of calling for 15 euros. You can get it at any Vodafone store in town; there’s one in the former bullring, “Arenas” shopping mall across from the old Fira on Placa Espanya, as well as one in the El Corte Ingles department store on Placa Catalunya.
With the demise of XCom, we’re still picking My Webspot (shown above) for the best 4G hotspot deal. They’ll give you 1GB per day for E9.90 per day, and they’ll deliver to your hotel.
7 Barcelona Apps You Need
All of these apps are available on both iOS and Android. Seek them out in your app store.
- MyTaxi—The indispensable Barcelona taxi app, and pretty much the only one that works any more.
- Citymapper—The most efficient transit app for getting around in Barcelona, if you have data.
- HERE WeGo—Offline maps, plus transit and walking directions, make this a great mapping app if you have no or slow data.
- Glovo—An absolute lifesaver, Glovo will deliver almost anything to you within an hour for 5 euros.
- ByHours—There’s always a place to crash on an exhausted day in Barcelona with this app, which lets you grab three-hour blocks at local hotels.
- XE Currency Converter—Our favorite free currency converter app has useful Android widgets.
- Google Translate—Google’s translation app handles both Catalan and Spanish like a charm.
ByHours provided us with this MWC afterparty and event list, with events from Sunday through Thursday. Some of these require tickets, some are invitation-only, but you should never be alone on an MWC night in Barcelona. Longtime tech PR fixture Karen Thomas also has her own list, which includes some events that aren’t on ByHours’ list. (We aren’t going to steal Karen’s list, just link to it.)
Mobile Sunday 2018 with Tech.eu (Sunday, 25 February from 6 to 10 p.m.)
Don’t miss the most important networking event before the Mobile World Congress in collaboration with Tech.eu. You’ll take a look at the future of mobile and the current trends from some of the world’s leading entrepreneurs, startups, investors and corporations.
Meet the Editors & Analysts (Sunday, 25 February from 7 to 8:30 p.m.)
Join Light Reading, Heavy Reading, Telecoms.com, and Ovum, and about 100 service providers at a cocktail party, where you will taste the local beverages and finest tapas with the team of editors and analysts.
IoT Garden Party (Tuesday, 27 February, 4 to 6 p.m.)
The IoT Garden party is the only dedicated IoT Networking event at the Mobile World Congress 2018. Go to meet the leading lights of the global IoT industry.
IoT Stars (Monday, 26 February, 7 to 10 p.m.)
IoT Stars is an event for IoT companies to pitch in front of a top international jury and for companies to connect to a C-level audience of entrepreneurs, developers, designers, investors, industry players, press and media working in the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem.
Mobile Marketing Mixer 2018 (Tuesday, 27 February, from 8 p.m. on)
Network with the high-fliers of mobile marketing at this year’s Mobile World Congress. It will be hosted by Masterclassing and Mobile Marketing Magazine at the old Moritz beer factory.
#MWC18 – Networking Event By TechTribe (Wednesday, 28 February, from 7 to 11:30 p.m.)
Tech Tribe is a community with the vision to share knowledge through interactive events that combine multi-disciplinary talent and thought speakers who inspire, educate and bring people together. Go and network with international talent from different fields, local and foreign startups.
QUOBIS tapas party (Wednesday, 28 February, from 8 to 10:30 p.m.)
Enjoy the Quobis party at the MWC Barcelona with some delicious tapas and a glass of wine.
Out of Metrics (Dunne&Raby, Thursday, 1 March, from 7 p.m. on)
This is an event series curated by FAD to discover the work of international designers and architects working at the intersections of design, technology, and the environment.