It’s Friday— one week since the Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya kicked off and I’m still waking thinking I hear the Formula 1 cars screeching by. It’s like when you step off a boat and think you’re still swaying, just so much more thrilling. Anyone else who’s been to a race day or weekend probably knows what I’m talking about, the sound of motorbikes now transport me back the moment I hear their engines gurgle! This was my first Formula 1 experience and first time in Barcelona and it certainly won’t be my last. Here I wanted to give a rundown on what my experience was like and pass along useful tips for anyone thinking about attending next year. I wish I’d had a resource to read ahead of time to prepare for a couple of down-sides we encountered (it wasn’t for lack of trying but with Covid everything I read seemed outdated.) I hope this can be useful to someone!
But first, before I break everything down. Wow, just wow! Myself, my boyfriend and my brother went on this trip together, a surprise Christmas present to me, so a long time was spent counting down in anticipation! (And yes, what a Christmas present — I am very lucky!) I can wholeheartedly say it exceeded our expectations. You just can’t grasp the power and speed of the cars until you are track side inhaling the all-encompassing engine fumes, the vibration in your body and the intense hum through your ears as your head and neck do over-time looking left to right trying to keep up. It’s incredibly exciting, almost nerve-wrecking and just fills you with pure adrenaline as a fan. I felt so lucky to witness an entire weekend of racing having been a fan for the last two years and devoting as many Sundays as possible to cheering on Max, Perez and the team from the comfort of the couch. There’s nothing like sharing sport with thousands of others and getting to visit a new city at the same time is just the icing on the cake. It has reminded me how important and revitalising travel is as well as investing time in anything that makes you happy — be that hobbies, festivals or sporting events, you’ll never regret going! Now to plan which track we will visit in 2023.
Getting to Barcelona from Dublin, Ireland
As is the case with any large scale event such as the Grand Prix transport and accommodation prices will significantly jump around the days the event falls. My group chose to fly to Girona (GRO) via Ryanair which cost us approximately 300e less pp than flying directly into Barcelona. There are incredible views of the mountains as you fly into Girona and if you’re lucky enough to have a window seat — it will get you excited for the beautiful Spanish countryside!
You do need to factor in a bus journey of a little over an hour and quarter to get to Estacio Del Nord, a central Barcelona bus station, however it worked out very smoothly on our journey. Booking the tickets in advance and having no issues with boarding the buses both going from and returning to Girona airport worked well. You can book tickets through Sagales here.
We chose to stay in the city centre hoping to have the best of both worlds — having (easy-ish) access to the Formula 1 and exploring Barcelona in the morning and night before and after the racing. We stayed in an ideal Airbnb perfect for 3 people with air conditioning, two bedrooms, bathroom with washer/dryer, kitchen and living room as well as a balcony which looked toward the Sagrada Familia. The apartment was a 20 minute walk to the beach heading South, and a 20 minute walk to Estacio Del Nord heading North. Ideally situated for exploring I would highly recommend staying here.*
*One thing to note we could not get the elevator to work so you can expect to climb 4 flights of steep stairs to access this floor, bare this in mind.
Eat, Drink and See:
- $ Casa Cabo for amazing tapas. Try the Alcachofas Fritas (Aubergine crisps drizzled in honey — divine). First location choice would be Carrer de Ramon Turró however it is smaller so book in advance or expect a wait time with a beer and close second is Cabo Bar — Marina124 located on Carrer de la Marina which served decent paella
- $ TXIRIMIRI for simple tapas consisting of really tasty tomato bread and local sausages bursting with flavour
- $ Xurreria J. Argilés for custard filled churros made of dreams
- $$ Pastisseria Hofmann for croissants filled with marscapone and homemade jam and an array of delicate desserts, tasting of heaven
- $$ Bar El Tigre for the most different, mouth watering daquiri I’ve ever had
- $$ Chiringuito Mokai Beach for, well, beach and sea views and delicious cocktails
- Barceloneta Beach for swimming
- Ciutadella Park for walking, spotting animals and impressive monuments and fountains
- Cathedral of Barcelona for impressive architecture
- La Sagrada Familia for the most impressive architecture
Grand Prix Weekend
Be warned! Sagales, the same company mentioned above who can take you to and from the airport also do return trips to the track. We booked our tickets in advance and the buses departed from Estacio Del Nord every 20 minutes on Friday, 10 minutes on Saturday and 5 minutes on Sunday.
Ahead of the practice sessions we decided to aim for the bus around midday and were met with a large queue of people waiting at the three platforms. We were seated very quickly and it took approximately 30 minutes to get to the track.
Once you depart the bus — depending on your designated gate entrance, you can expect to walk anywhere from 10 minutes to 30 minutes around the exterior of the track. As we were at gate 7 — we had the longest walk! There is a lot of uphill walking to begin, which then evens out and begins uphill again. Some parts of the walk are more shady than others which is key on a weekend that was experiencing unprecedented high temperatures for the time of year. Once inside the track you can expect more hills and plenty of walking to find your ideal viewing point.
On Friday we left around 3pm as we were unable to get water or food from the vendors (I’ll touch on this later) and I’m guessing having left the track early therefor gained access to the bus within minutes, which took us home in approximately 50 minutes due to evening traffic.
Knowing it would be busier we aimed to get to the bus station around 11am. As predicted the queues were very long but we moved quickly and were on a bus within 15 minutes. The traffic was heavier and it probably took around 45–50 minutes to get to the track.
Walking towards our gate in the blistering heat we noticed a very long queue forming as we neared gate 6, assuming it was for that entrance we continued past it for another 10 mins only to realise it was the start of the queue for gate 7. Turning around we then faced a longer walk back to the end of the queue which was rapidly growing. It kept moving at a slow pace but at the hottest part of the day it was unpleasant, even with an umbrella and copious applications of sun cream. I would guess we spent 40 minutes queuing to gain entry that day.
Fast forward to the end of qualifying at the end of day 2 and we and every other attendee (approx 100,000 people) left the stadium at the same time it seemed. Walking back towards the bus it seemed inevitable it would be tough to get a bus home anytime soon but we were not prepared for what we came across. Zigzagging for miles around a block people stood with incredibly sombre faces as the reality of getting home seemed impossible due to standstill traffic. As it happens after trying to join the end of the queue unsuccessfully, even the bus drivers gave up trying to collect people at the starting point and turned the system into a free for all, where anyone who was in close proximity to an empty bus began wedging themselves/pleading/pushing others and doing anything in their power to get a seat. It was a chaotic nightmare. We managed to get on a bus — standing room only by the time we entered (a disaster in itself as we went home via the motorway, so if there had been an accident it would have been incredibly dangerous). Exiting the track must have taken 30 mins alone due to congestion, with a following hour journey crawling back to the city. It was torture but we got back, and we already dreaded what was to come for race day.
Leaving nothing to chance we aimed for the very first departure at 8am and managed to get on the bus very quickly, with the journey probably taking 30–40 minutes until we reached the track when it started to slow due to congestion of attendees. There was very little time spent queuing to get into our gate but the stream of people was non-stop considering how early we were, clearly everyone had the same thoughts!
Sadly because of the nightmare the day before myself and my brother decided to leave the race halfway through. Partly due to the fact we did not want to risk queuing for so long at the end of the day again and because we were satisfied with all we had seen plus were really feeling the effects of the heat that day as temperatures soared to 35 degrees.
I have never been so glad of a decision in my life! Baring in mind we left the Grand Prix (the biggest draw of the entire weekend for attendees) halfway through, we were not the only ones. Approaching the buses it was clear they had a better system in place than the day before with metal fencing to divert people into lanes in zigzags. All in all I would guess we queued while constantly moving for approx 20 mins and got a seat on a bus that wasn’t even full and were home within 45 minutes, tired, weary but thrilled with having seen our heroes race.
For my boyfriend however, he risked staying to the end of the race and left the track with every other fan around 5pm. I had warned him to keep an eye out for queues forming as he neared the bus pick up area and sure enough he suspected that a queue he was approaching might have been for the buses — even though he was unable to see the starting point he jumped in willing his decision to be right. Sure enough, he made the right move yet waited an astonishing 3 hours to even get to the bus door. Once on the bus it took a further 1.5 hours to get back to Barcelona. A ridiculous* amount of time for patrons to be standing in such high temperatures, however that was the only choice for bus-goers if they wanted to stay for the full race which they’d paid to see!!
*Speaking of ridiculous, we heard other horror stories along the way that on Qualifying day it took people 3–4 hours to get to the bus. It took 4–5 hours for people attempting the train journeys, and for those who wished to get taxis (if they managed to get to the track through the congestion) they too had to sit in hour long traffic just to exit the track and likely pay extortionate prices to get to their destinations.
Grand Prix Quick Tips:
For general admission attendees do not forget:
- Copious amounts of water (you can’t have too much)
- A peaked hat
- A towel to soak in water (your neck will thank you!)
- An umbrella
- Sun cream and sunglasses
- Light airy clothing
- Large blankets to sit on, folding seats and cushions would also be beneficial (you will leave with an incredibly numb bum otherwise)
- Food and drink for the day unless you love queuing for hours!
- Tissues in case they run out in the bathrooms
- Patience as queuing sadly seems inevitable at this particular track
~You will never regret being too early, thousands of other people have the same thoughts as you — secure your seat on the bus, on the grass and in the line to get food or even go to the toilet when you see a quiet window even if you don’t think you need to go before it gets busy and changes within minutes.
~If you think you’ve found a good spot to view the track don’t dilly dally or it will be nabbed very quickly! We learned this the hard way as suddenly you will find people appear in the masses!
~I would highly recommend finding a shady spot to set up camp, as the heat is very intense combined with the heat from the cars if you are close to the track.
~We were pretty shocked to be charged 45e for three pints of beer at a stand on the exterior of the track. Expect to pay anywhere upwards of 3e for a small bottle of water, 4e for an ice pop and 6–10e for standard hot dogs and burgers. This mightn’t seem like the worst pricing, but what you truly pay for is the time wasted queuing — anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour from what we could tell.
~If you see a queue forming at the track and are in a group, have one person join the queue even if you don’t know what it’s for until another member of the group finds out the situation further along — this will save you hassle later and reduce expending everyone’s energy
~Sadly, with my experience anyway, you might want to consider leaving the track at least 30–60 mins before the end of each race day to avoid hefty wait times both for public transport and traffic congestion leaving the circuit (unless you love queuing in the heat!)
~Put your phone away! Of course it’s exciting and you want to capture the moment for memories but the weekend and the cars speed by before you know it, use your own eyes to soak up the fun and don’t watch behind the lens for too long is my advice. Have a fantastic time!