After spending over 6 months in Barcelona, I, as many others, have fallen in love with its culture and beauty. Traditional Spanish holidays, food, beautiful architecture, the beach, and the mountains are just a few reasons why you will fall in love with this city, too!
Here is what to see and do to enjoy Barcelona as local!
Barcelona is touristy and you may feel like you’re just in another European city. But, if you step outside of the crowd and follow my steps, you will fall in love with it as did I!
Where to stay in Barcelona?
Before you even start planning your itinerary, I think it’s best to start with your hotel/hostel/Airbnb choices. To help you find a place to stay, I just used the Google maps and circled the area where you shouldn’t get a hotel. This is the most touristy area in the city. If you stay there, you will have to worry about being pick-pocketed and about finding places to eat that are decent. If you stay anywhere else, you will enjoy your trip a lot more.
10 Things You Must Do in Barcelona
All of the experiences below are equally amazing and special, so don’t look at the order that I have them listed as! Instead, get inspired by all of the things that you can do and get ready for your adventure!
Stroll in Park Güell
A local or not, you can’t miss seeing Park Güell, one of Antoni Gaudí’s greatest triumphs in architecture. Using the Collserola foothills as the setting, Gaudí designed this park to look as an extension of nature. Columns will remind you of trees, arches look like caves, and fountains are filled with lizards. Read more about the history and origin of Park Güell on its official website to truly appreciate the work of Gaudi when you’re here! Walking in the park will provide you with gorgeous views of the city itself and it’s a great place to start your introduction to the city.
Pro tip: The tickets to the park are 10 euros, but if you come outside of the open hours, you can visit it for free. Depending on the season, it is open between 8 in the morning and 8 in the evening, so if you come in before it opens, you can enjoy the park and the sunrise over Barcelona for free and without too many people! Be sure to check the time on the official website.
Visit the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya
The National Museum of Catalan Art has hundreds of art pieces from the medieval age to the 19th century. This is a marvelous building overlooking Barcelona and it’s another place to see the city from another angle. It’s worth going up there just for the view and to see the main fountain lighten up in the evening. But, having said that, if you are going to go to any museum in Barcelona, go to this one. Here, you will find everything from Romanesque collection of mural paintings in the world, to Gothic, Modern and 20th-century Art. The collection includes works by El Greco, Velázquez, Gaudí, Picasso, Julio González, Dalí and many more renowned artists.
Pro tip: The best time to visit the National Museum of Catalan Art is on a Saturday afternoon. The museum is free on Saturdays after 3 pm, and after your visit, stay around Plaça d’Espanya and wait for the fountain show at the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, which usually happens around 8 or 9 pm. Check the time here.
Visit the Catedral de Barcelona
The Catedral de Barcelona was built as a monument to Eulalia, the co-patron saint of the city. Not many people know that its official name is Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulalia. On most days, there are masses in the mornings, but you can visit it for free in the afternoon. For 3 euros, you can take a lift to the rooftop, which is totally worth it. See more information here.
Pro tip: Afterwards, visit the courtyard with fountains and try to find all 13 geese, representing each year of Eulalia’s life before she was martyred.
A short culture lesson: Saint Eulalia was a 13-year-old Roman Christian virgin who suffered martyrdom in Barcelona during the persecution of Christians by the Romans. It is said that a dove has flown from her neck after her decapitation. Her body is in the crypt in the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia and she is commemorated with statues and street names throughout Barcelona. And every year, the city celebrates her with the festival of Saint Eulalia around her feast day on February 12.
See Sagrada Familia from Outside and the Inside
The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is a must-see for anyone who visits the city. The Church is on every postcard in the city and it is devoted to the Holy Family: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Construction began in 1882, based on plans drawn up by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. Antoni Gaudi was commissioned to continue the project in 1883 and it is still under construction. If you feel like traditional churches all look alike, you will be very impressed, and that’s another reason I urge you to go inside. The church’s arches look like tree branches and the stained glass here creates a rainbow effect you won’t forget.
Pro tip: The best way to get tickets for the Sagrada Familia is online ahead of time. The basic ticket starts at around $20 and gives you a certain time of the day for the visit. Do schedule it several days in advance!
Go Shopping and Enjoy More Gaudi Architecture at Passeig de Gràcia
Passeig de Gràcia is one of the major streets in Barcelona and one of its most important shopping areas, containing several of the city’s most celebrated pieces of architecture. It starts at Plaça Catalunya (in the very center) and it turns into Carrer Gran de Gràcia. As you’re strolling down and looking at the windows of designer shops, don’t miss Casa Mila and Casa Batlló, two more architectural pieces by Gaudí. They are beautiful from the outside and also amazing on the inside.
Pro tip: If you’re trying to decide which of the Gaudi buildings you should visit, I would highly recommend visiting Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. If you want to see more, you should consider Casa Mila, Casa Batlló and also Bellesguard, located at the top of the city.
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Have a Picnic in Parc de la Ciutadella
Running around Barcelona on foot can be tiring. To relax and have a snack, head to Parc de la Ciutadella, my favorite park in the city built over the previous site of a military citadel. After a walk under the trees or a relaxing boat ride in the lake, take a few minutes to admire the handiwork of the central fountain, designed by Josep Fontserè. The Arc de Triomf, a triumphal arch built by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. Stroll around the park, and it will continue to surprise you!
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Well, now that you’re rested, you must be ready to climb a mountain! Towering above Barcelona’s northern part, Tibidabo is arguably the best spot to take in panoramic views of the city. There are several ways to make it to the top of the mountain: if you would like a little exercise, you can climb it by foot, which usually takes me about 2 hours. Or, you can take the funicular at the Avenida Tibidabo brown line metro station. Once you’re on top, be sure to visit the Tibidabo’s retro theme park and, of course, the Tibidabo Cathedral del Sagrat Cor. This is the cathedral that you see from almost anywhere in the city and it’s another church that took time to build since the construction started in 1902 and was finally completed by the architect’s son Josep Maria Sagnier i Vidal in 1961.
Pro tip: For your way up to Tibidabo you can also use the Vallvidrera Funicular. From Placa Catalunya take S1 or S2 to Peu del Funicular, change to Vallvidrera Funicular and afterward continue on Bus 111. This scenic ride is also the cheapest way up the mountain since you just need one normal metro ticket!
Go Shopping at the Boqueria Market
Located in the very center of Barcelona, this is the best market in the city. It’s a fun place to visit while you’re out and about, exploring Barrio Gotico. Don’t leave before trying one of their €1.00 smoothies and take some fresh fruit or marzipan treats with you!
Pro tip: la Boqueria is closed on Sundays, make sure to plan your visit around its open hours. Also, don’t be afraid to shop around for a better deal on fruit and veggies, some places certainly overcharge. And, instead of grabbing overpriced lunch at one of the cafes, get a few snacks from the stalls.
Relax on the Beach at La Barceloneta
I like to combine a visit to the Boqueria Market with a trip to Barcelona’s famed beach. Take some of that fruit with you, lay down and enjoy the sun, the sounds of the waves with the music hums – Barceloneta is all about the action.
Eat as Many Tapas as You Can in Gràcia
Leave the metropolitan Eixample district and head to Gràcia: there are no English-menus or chain stores, here you will feel true Barcelona’s culture to mom-and-pop joints and hip cafés. In the evening you will see locals having drinks and having tapas and you should absolutely join them.
Pro tip: Aside from its exciting culinary scene, Gràcia is best known for the Festa Mayor, a Bacchanalian street fair that takes place every August.
What Tapas to Eat in Barcelona
Patatas bravas (potatoes with spicy sauce) and pan con tomate (crispy bread rubbed with tomato and garlic) are a must – but pulpo a la gallega (octopus) and croquettas (cheese and meat balls) are also in order!
Foodie tip: No foodie trip to Spain would be complete without a paella! This iconic rice and seafood dish is actually from Valencia. In fact, it was originally made with beans and chicken instead of shellfish. Today, in every corner of Spain and, especially, Barcelona, paella is a must for important celebrations and family occasions. Some of the best places to have paellas in the city are by the Barceloneta district and in Gràcia.
Take on Barcelona Lifestyle by Drinking Vermouth
It’s not just a drink… it’s a lifestyle! This tasty and inexpensive drink is fortified cinnamon and chamomile. It’s one of the best drinks to try in Barcelona along with Cava and Sangria.
Another foodie tip: Find a place for lunch that has an oferta: a meal with dessert and a drink. Then, have a bottle of house wine, included with your meal – it’s a tradition, so don’t stand out! And then you will understand why siesta is so important in Spanish culture.
What Not to Do In Barcelona
MOST tourist guides will tell you that if you’re going to Barcelona, you have to go to Las Ramblas. Don’t listen to them. Las Ramblas is a street that connects Placa Catalunya with the waterfront and the only reason you should walk along it is if you like to be pushed around in the crowd and to overpay for an icecream. If you would like to go shopping, instead, head over to the Avinguda del Portal de l’Àngel, or better yet, visit the local shops in Barrio Gotico on the Carrer de Avenyo. They are hard to stay away from. And be sure to check out Desigual and Ivori, two of my favorite brands from Barcelona.
I have so many more tips for your next trip to Barcelona! Don’t forget, it’s my favorite city in the whole wide world! I hope you will find all of these useful and enjoy your trip!