Barcelona is ahhhhhmazing – the beach, the city, the gorgeous parks, the sangria and tapas – so many wonderful things wrapped up in one beautiful city. So today, I will be going through my quick’n’dirty Stilettos’’ Guide to the Top 20 things to do, see and eat in Barcelona. My picks include links to some fantastic tours and ticket purchasing sites – I am picky about who I work with so the ones I include in this post are the very best (both in price and quality)!
1. Park Güell
You can’t go to Barcelona without seeing the amazing architecture of Antoni Gaudí. My favorite place in the whole city is Park Güell which was designed by Gaudí. The most famous places in the park include the mosaic salamander (known as ‘el drac’) at the main entrance, the stunning mosaic benches overlooking Barcelona (seriously amazing Instagram opportunity), and the unique bird nests built into the terrace walls. The mosaic tiles hidden everywhere (including on ceilings in the viaduct), the fountains, the views and the interesting buildings make this park a total must see when in Barcelona! Important information! They only allow 400 tickets per half an hour (to control the amount of people in the park), so make sure you get tickets ahead of time. To save time – try these Skip the Line tickets (which include a guided tour of the park which helps you pick up on all the hidden treasures).
Arguably the most famous of all of Gaudí’s work is the Sagrada Familia. Construction began in 1882 and guess what? It still isn’t complete! The annual construction budget is approx. 25 million euros and is funded almost entirely by visitor ticket fees. Construction is expected to be completed sometime around 2030 but TBD if that is accurate (knowing how construction is NEVER completed on time). The size of the Segrada Familia was always what impressed me the most – it is HUGE! Not only that but the façade looks like melting wax, which is pretty cool.
You have three options for access: go to a church service (free but no access to the towers), buy a regular ticket (you should buy in advance as tickets sell out) or buy a skip the line ticket. The price difference for the skip the line ticket (which includes a guided tour) is $10 and is totally worth it! It gives you access to the towers and the amazing panoramic views of the cathedral.
3. La Rambla
La Rambla is a pedestrian passage way that divides the Gothic Quarter from the Old City (Ciutat Vella). It is generally full of tourists and locals exploring the cafes and boutiques along the tree-lined street. If you are looking for bigger shops (particularly the Spanish ones like Zara), the northern end has a great shopping area. Do make sure you walk down the entire street all the way to the waterfront. Stop along the way to watch all the street performers, but definitely heed my next item on the list!
4. Watch out for pickpockets!
I have been to Barcelona several times now and without fail, every trip has resulted in one member of my travel crew losing their wallet, passport or both to wily pickpockets. Every damn time. While pickpockets are all over the world, Barcelona seems to be just a little bit worse so stay vigilant and make sure you are taking the necessary precautions (like leaving one emergency credit card and your passport in the hotel safe, rather than carrying it around town with you)!
5. Tapas all day, every day
I hope you have been on a diet before coming to Barcelona because tapas. Tapas on tapas on tapas – all day long. There are few that you MUST try when in Barcelona. First up – Patatas Bravas – little fried potatoes with either a spicy tomato sauce (salsa brava) or some sort of aioli. Next – Croquetas – usually filled with local ham, cheese and potatoes before being deep fried – so so good. Don’t be afraid of being adventurous – try things you wouldn’t necessarily try at home. I had fried anchovies (anchoas) and they were so delicious! And when in doubt, just get a huge meat and cheese board with all the amazing local delicacies – chorizo, jamon iberico, machego and maho!
6. La Flauta (Calle D’aribau, 23 near metro universitat)
I think I ate at this restaurant three times during a long weekend in Barcelona… it was AMAZING and that is an understatement. Their seafood is insane (razor clams, you must have the razor clams) and their sangria is on point. Not only is this by far the best restaurant I have been to in Spain, but also it is one of the most reasonably priced. Winning all around.
7. La Boqueria
La Boqueria is my favorite market in Barcelona and is definitely worth a couple hours of your time. One entrance is on La Rambla so it is central and easy to find! The market dates back to 1217 (so it is hella old) and for a long time it was just a pig market. Now it is home to all sorts of amazing food – fresh produce, vocal fishmongers, cured meats, fancy cheeses and all sorts of sweets. If you want to combine tourism and food, try this food walking tour of La Boqueria!
Montjuic is a large hill in central Barcelona that is home of the 1992 Olympic stadium and the Palau Nacional (which was the main site of the 1929 International Exhibition, now the National Art Museum of Catalonia). There are fantastic views of the city, but unlike the Park Guell, it is way too big to explore on foot. The top of the hill can be reached by a vernacular train and the very tip top by a gondola ride. I would recommend doing a bike tour of the area to see the buildings and hear all about the history of this area of the city.
When in Spain, please, please, please have some sangria. Have a big old pitcher of it because it is fantastic. It is also cheaper than most other drinks (and it is more delicious). Plus it is full of fruit so you can get your five a day… vitamins and all! Try the various kinds available – you will have the choice between red and white but there may be more beyond that. Look to see what the locals are drinking!
10. Parc de la Ciutadella
This park is one of the most beautiful in Barcelona. It is green and idyllic with rowing ponds and a castle… so basically heaven. The Modern Art Museum is on the grounds of this park, as is the Catalan Parliament. Oh, and the Geological Museum and the Zoo can also be found here. There is basically an endless amount of things to do and see just in this park alone. Plan your time accordingly.
11. Placa de Catalunya
This is one of the largest squares in Barcelona and it is where La Rambla meets Passeig de Gracia (which I talk about below). It is at the corner of several different neighborhoods and the views for the square are indicative of the different areas of the city. Enjoy the fountains and sculptures while wandering through this square from one part of town to the other!
12. Palau Guell
Another incredible example of Gaudí’s architectural mastery – the Palau Guell was the home designed by Gaudí for the Guell family. The house was designed to host high society evenings and events, which was apparent in the ability for horses and carriages to be housed below the home while guests stayed late into the evening. The ceiling of the main room was designed to hold enough lanterns to make it look like a starry sky. It is definitely worth seeing Gaudí’s take on a home (in comparison to a cathedral or a park).
Top tip – the first Sunday of every month is free but you have to book your tickets here ahead of time! If you are interested in doing a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, plus going inside the Palau Guell, click here for tickets!
13. Passeig de Gracia
This street is the most expensive street both in Barcelona and in Spain. For years it was the home of the Catalan government but now it is home to excellent shopping and extravagant homes. There are beautiful buildings all along this street, in addition to luxury stores and hotels. I wouldn’t recommend looking for restaurants around here, but it is worth exploring for the wow factor.
Montserrat is definitely worth leaving Barcelona to see – it is a mountain top monastery about 30 miles from the city. It is a place of Catholic pilgrimage as well as a site for tourists from all over the world, and is most famous for its incredible views and its Black Madonna.
15. Columbus Monument and Waterfront
When you get to the bottom of La Rambla, make sure to look up at the top of the giant column – it is Christopher Columbus pointing towards the New World (well that was the intention… he actually points southeast towards Algeria…)! It was constructed at the end of the 19th century for the International Expo in Barcelona. It serves as a friendly reminder that Christopher Columbus, although originally from Genoa, Italy, reported to the Spanish King and Queen.
16. Placa Reial
Do not miss this – whatever you do! This is the cutest square, full of cafes and restaurants, just off La Rambla. Stop here, escape the busy streets of downtown Barcelona and have a few moments of quiet to appreciate the beautiful Spanish architecture. If you don’t have time, at least pop in for a picture!
If you go all the way to Spain and don’t have paella, the trip doesn’t count (and you have to go back). So make sure you get some of the good stuff while you are there. If you aren’t a huge seafood fan (shame) try the paella sans seafood. If you are feeling particularly adventurous, take a cooking class and make your own paella like a local! Click here for more info!
Barceloneta is a small neighborhood in the Old City which is right on the beachfront. It is one of my favorite places to people watch and share a pitcher of sangria with friends – all with my toes in the sand. You can find fabulous seafood restaurants and small cafes all along the waterfront here. There is also an aquarium, which is excellent when the weather isn’t the best (as rare as that may be).
I hate dinner shows, with a passion. I find the food to be below average and I find the experience to be hokey and overpriced. But the great thing about the musical and cultural scene is Barcelona is that you can find it all over the place, without signing up for some ridiculously priced dinner show. Look for local live music in the bars and restaurants around Barceloneta, Raval and the Gothic city – chances are, you will find something suitable! If you are more of the dinner show type, click here for the best one I have found (at the most reasonable price, and without some crappy dinner).
20. Get out of town – head south to the beaches of Sitges
I have been to the beaches once in Sitges but if you are looking to get out of the city – grab a train and head out of a town for a few days! You don’t have to go far either – you can find fantastic beaches just 20/30 minutes outside of the city by train. The beaches are less crowded and the experience is just a bit more authentic. If you are looking for a day trip to Sitges and Tarragona, click here. If you want to go all out and super bougey, here is a Sitges sailing trip! Enjoy the sunshine, sand and the seafood!
Don’t forget to check out my recommendations for finding the cheapest flights to Barcelona and the greatest (and most fiscally responsible) places to stay while you are enjoying all of the amazing and fun things to do in the region! Happy travels!