I fell in love with Barcelona, Spain’s Catalonia region, years ago – after watching Woody Allen’s film Vicky-Christina Barcelona. Shortly after I packed my bags and moved there for the summer, getting an apartment in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi. I spent months walking around the streets getting acclimated to tapas and vino and the metro system. The food, art, architecture, and the culture drew me in and fascinated me. Making new friends in Barcelona was easy, especially when you like Gin and Tonics and dancing.
There are so many things to do in this city so I’m going to break it down for you to maximize your time.
Sightseeing here is a must, the easiest way to do it is pre-book your tickets so you don’t have to wait in line. Tour around town via bicycle.
Parc Güell (Güell Park)
Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell is as whimsical as parks can get. The park was originally supposed to be a housing community for the rich, commissioned by Eusebi Güell. Güell hired Gaudí but the project eventually folded due to the land’s incompatible building conditions. Gaudí continued on, modeling the park after gardens he had seen in England (Güell means English in Catalan) and building around the natural elements of the land instead of tearing them down.
La Sagrada Família
From 1882 up until his death in 1926, Catalan Art Nouveau master Antoni Gaudí devoted himself to the construction of La Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family), a towering Gothic-style-with-a-twist church. And even then, he was unable to finish; Gaudí was known for saying “My client (God) is in no hurry.” The church, which is funded by private donations, is still under construction today and is said to be completed by 2026.
La Sagrada Família is not only considered to be Gaudí most recognized work, but also his best. Believe it or not, this church wasn’t always Gaudí’s. The architect that was first commissioned to do the church, Francesc del Paula Villar, was replaced after disagreeing with promoters of the church. When Gaudí took on the project, he changed it entirely. Instead of the original neo-Gothic style, he looked toward something more innovative. While the church does feature Gothic elements, there are plenty of unconventional details that deviate from that norm throughout, resulting in an eye-catching structure that is entirely one of a kind.
Casa Batlló is one of the two great buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí on Passeig de Gràcia, the other being La Pedrera.
From the outside, the façade of Casa Batlló looks like it has been made from skulls and bones. The “Skulls” are in fact balconies and the “bones” are supporting pillars.
Gaudí used colors and shapes found in marine life as inspiration for his creativity in this building e.g. the colors chosen for the façade are those found in natural coral.
Even if you’re not keen on visiting the touristy Las Ramblas, make the trek to the thoroughfare only for it to lead you to the foodie heaven that is the Boqueria Market. The Boqueria Market is Barcelona’s first local market, having opened in 1840. But its foodie history spans much earlier than that. The first food peddlers were said to have been around as early as the 13th century selling meat on the streets.
Today that tradition of hawking goodies lives on, and the covered marketplace treats visitors to the vibrant colors and enticing aromas of everything from fruit juices and wines to fresh fish, meats, produce and desserts. Make sure to grab Spanish specialties while you’re there, including jamón ibérico, manchego cheese and salted cod (or bacalao).
This bustling thoroughfare is one of the city’s major tourist hubs. So much so that if you’re visiting Barcelona, you’re bound to end up here eventually. Las Ramblas is a pedestrian-friendly pathway situated right smack dab in the middle of the city, so expect it to be busy all hours of the day and night. During the day, you can peruse souvenir stands, watch buskers and street performers, pick up some local art from artists selling on the street, or sit down and enjoy a light snack at one of the many alfresco cafes found here. When the sun sets, you should head here to start your night out, as many bars and clubs can be found in the surrounding area.
No place on earth can hold a candle to Barri Gòtic when it comes to a condensed amount of Gothic architecture. This is the most ancient part of the city, where labyrinthine streets empty into medieval plaças. Yet amid all the antiquity, Barri Gòtic boasts some of the city’s best shopping. Take home some handmade espadrilles. For more rare finds, wake up early on a Sunday morning to explore the Mercat Gòtic, where you can treasure hunt for antiques.
Pablo Picasso may have moved from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum which has 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso. The five adjoining 13th and 14th century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
Gràcia, like many of Barcelona’s neighborhoods, was once a small village that was incorporated into Barcelona. Unlike other neighborhoods, Grácia has retained that village feel, you will find narrow pedestrian walkways, rustic storefronts, and smiling locals as you walk through the neighborhood. Gràcia is home to young families and working artists, as well as several delicious restaurants and boutique shops, and Grácia’s most famous attraction is Gaudi’s Park Güell.
In Catalan, Eixample means ‘Expansion’. The reason for this name is that Eixample was built outside of the original Barcelona city walls to connect old Barcelona and the surrounding towns, like Gràcia. Plan to take a long walk in Eixample, perhaps from the Sagrada Familia to the other end of the neighborhood. The architecture is what brings so many tourists and locals to Eixample, many of Gaudi’s buildings and other modernists structures are here.
For those looking to stay in the heart of Barcelona, consider Barri Gòtic. The Gothic Quarter is the site of the old Roman village that once stood in present-day Barcelona. Ancient buildings alternate with recently built ones, making Barri Gòtic a blend of the old and new. It is hard to get bored in this neighborhood, as there are many bars, shops, restaurants, and clubs. If you aren’t staying in Barri Gòtic be sure to at least take an afternoon walk through it’s small winding streets, and you will eventually find little plazas called ‘plaças’” which are a fantastic place to relax and admire the classic architecture.
El Raval is one of the most authentic and vibrant Barcelona neighborhoods. Like Gràcia, it is a home to artists, but the artists in El Raval tend to be younger and more energetic, often performing or producing their art on the streets. The Museum of Modern Art is located in El Raval as well. Beyond the art scene, El Raval is home many authentic restaurants of many different cuisines. Though El Raval is a fantastic area to explore in Barcelona, it is also a place where you need to keep your eyes open and your wallet safely in your front pocket.
The neighborhood of El Born began as a site for medieval jousts, and though today it is much less violent, it hasn’t lost its festive character. El Born’s Passeig de Born is a nightlife hot spot in Barcelona, with many bars competing to make the city’s best mojito. There are plenty of things to do in El Born during the day. Culture lovers will find themselves at the Picasso Museum, and those more inclined toward leisure will be impressed by the boutique shops. El Born is a great place to stay while in Barcelona because there are plenty of cafes and restaurants, and it is only a 10-minute walk from the beach.
Barcelona’s famed seaside district may not have the city’s prettiest beaches, but what it lacks in natural beauty, it makes up for in liveliness. Kites fly, vendors call, music hums, waves crash— La Barceloneta is all about the action. After lounging on the beach for a few hours, you’ll probably be peckish. For fine maritime dining, head to Restaurante Barceloneta, whose kitsch nautical décor gets you in the mood for some of the city’s most pristine Catalan seafood.
Do the Vermouth
It’s an old-school tradition that’s enjoyed with friends before lunch where you have a couple of vermouths and light tapas. The locals call it “fer el vermut”, which basically means to “do the vermouth”
The Calçotada is a traditional Catalan feast held mostly in the second month of the year, but sometimes in March because it all depends on the early harvest! Early Spring might seem like an odd time for a harvest festival, but this celebration is all about Spring Onions!
This week-long carnival is Barcelona’s equivalent of Mardi-Gras (and it’s free to attend)! It’s a historical tradition that takes place on the streets of the city and has done since the 16th century. With over 30 parades, dancing and costumes, floats, orange balloons, a firework show and the ‘Arrival of the King’, you simply must take part if you find yourself in Barcelona at the end of February
Monegros is the biggest Electronic music festival and raves in Spain, and it’s held in the desert just outside of Barcelona. In a festival that’s been compared to Burning Man in Nevada for its intensity, attendees can expect to enjoy the fine company of more than 40,000 party people for over 22-hours of non-stop music.
Want to save money? Eat a big lunch. If you eat your main meal at lunch, you can cash in on the Menu del Dia (Menu of the Day), which is usually an affordable and tasty three-course meal. A similar meal at dinnertime costs much more.
Don’t eat in tourist areas like Las Ramblas which are known to serve mediocre food at exorbitant prices. Instead, venture away from crowded areas and you will find something better for much less.
Dinner is typically around 9 and 10 pm. Stores are typically closed for siesta around 2 pm. I miss those warm summer naps.
BE WARNED: The huge amount of tourists at Barceloneta attract the city’s best pick-pockets, so do not leave your bag, even for a second, not even to go to the toilet or to go in the sea. Also be wary of this in Las Ramblas.
ADVICE- Barcelona is a beautiful city. Take in the views, the architecture, art, and the food. Enjoy afternoon naps, and late night dancing. Then take a drive up the Costa Brava.