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Barcelona is Europe's busiest cruise port–-the fourth largest, in fact, in the world. Vessels dock at the Port Vell facility, which has seven terminals catering to cruise-ship traffic. All terminals are equipped with duty-free shops, telephones, bar/restaurants, information desks, and currency-exchange booths. The ships docking closest to the terminal entrance are a 10-minute walk from the southern end of Las Ramblas (the Rambla), but those docked at the farthest end require passengers to catch a shuttle bus (the Autobús Azul, a distinctive blue bus) to the port entrance. The shuttle, which runs every 20 minutes, links all terminals with the public square at the bottom of the Rambla. If you walk up Las Ramblas, after about 10 minutes you'll reach Drassanes metro station for onward public transport around the city. The shuttle runs about every 30 minutes. A single metro or bus ticket is €2.15; a day ticket (T-Dia) is €7.60.

If you intend to explore Barcelona, don't rent a car. Public transportation and taxis are by far the most sensible options. City buses run daily from 5:30 am to 11:30 pm; all-night buses (designated with the prefix N) depart from Pl. Catalunya on a limited number of routes roughly from 11 pm to 5 am. The FGC (Ferrocarril de la Generalitat) train is a comfortable commuter train that gets you to within walking distance of nearly everything in Barcelona; transfers to the regular city metro are free. The Barcelona Tourist Bus is another excellent way to tour the city. Three routes (Red, Blue, and Green) cover just about every place you might want to visit, and you can hop on and off whenever you want. Buses run from 9 am to 7 pm (8 pm in summer), and a one-day ticket costs €27; you can buy advance tickets online at www.barcelonabusturistic.cat.

If you plan to explore the Spanish coast or countryside, you would probably want a car, but even an economy model (diesel, manual transmission), with the cost of fuel and highway tolls, will set you back at least €50 a day. Allow for plenty of time to get back to your ship, as Barcelona traffic is always heavy.

Getting to the Airport

Barcelona's main airport is El Prat de Llobregat, 14 km (9 miles) south of Barcelona. If you opt not to buy airport transfers from your cruise line, the simplest way to get from the airport to the cruise port by taxi (about €35). There are public transport options, but transfers between bus, metro, or rail stations do involve up to 10 minutes of walking, and this may be impractical with many pieces of luggage. If you only have light baggage, this will certainly be a less expensive option.

The RENFE airport train is inexpensive and efficient, but runs only every 30 minutes. From the airport, the RENFE station is a 10- to 15-minute walk (with moving walkway) from the port gates. Trains run between 5:42 am and 12:38 am, stopping at the Estació de Sants. The one-way fare is €4.10.

Barcelona Guide Bureau (93/2682422 www.barcelonaguidebureau.com) provides private transfers between El Prat and the cruise port. A round-trip costs €31.35 per person.

Cruises

Barcelona is the cruise capital of Spain, and one of the largest in the world. Costa Cruises, Royal Caribbean, Holland America Line, the Norwegian Cruise Line, and Princess Cruises are among the lines with Mediterranean itineraries that include or originate here. Popular ports of call are Gibraltar, Málaga, Alicante, and Palma de Mallorca.

Cruise Lines

Celebrity Cruises. 902/345135; 800/647--2251; www.celebritycruises.com.

Costa Cruises. 93/214--2829; www.costacruise.com.

Crystal Cruises. 866/446--6625; 888/722--0021; www.crystalcruises.com.

Cunard Line. 902/999982; 0845/678--0013; 800/728--6273; www.cunard.com.

Holland America Line. 877/932--4259; www.hollandamerica.com.

Mediterranean Shipping Cruises. 877/665--4655; 91/203--5800; www.msccruises.com.

Norwegian Cruise Line. 93/176--3470; 0845/201--8900; www.ncl.com.

Oceania Cruiselines. 800/338--4962; 900/931397; oceaniacruiselines.com.

Princess Cruises. 800/774--6237; www.princess.com.

Regent Seven Seas Cruises. 2380/682140; www.rssc.com.

Royal Caribbean International. 866/562--7625; 900/374400; www.royalcaribbean.com.

Seabourn Cruise Line. 866/755--5619; 0800/008--6677; www.seabourn.com.

SeaDream Yacht Club. 601 Brickell Key Dr., #1050, Miami, Florida, 33131. 305/631--6100; 800/707--4911; 47/410--4022; www.seadream.com.

Silversea Cruises. 97/702428; 93/800--1962; 800/722--9955; www.silversea.com.

Star Clippers. 97/978400; 0845/200--6145; www.starclippers.com.

Windstar Cruises. 888/216--9373; 93/304--3211; www.windstarcruises.com.