Barca, barca, barca. After two visits to this captivating city, it’s abundantly clear to me that this classic destination is in a league of it’s own. My first trip to Barcelona was a weekend stint during my semester abroad in Florence back in 2013. This summer, I had the chance to revisit what is better known to locals as the capital of Catalonia. Of course, I revisited the classics like Barceloneta beach and the famous La Rambla, but I also got the chance to see some sights I missed out on previously. If you’re traveling to this vibrant region of Spain for the first time, you can’t go wrong with hitting up these spots.
1. Check out the street art
As soon as you step onto the streets of Barcelona, you can’t help but notice it’s bold personality– particularly, the quirky street art. From this funky lobster statue near La Rambla, to the many abstract Picasso works, you’ll be thoroughly entertained as you walk around the city.
2. Wander down La Rambla
Also known as the street that never sleeps, La Rambla may look like a place for a casual stroll in the photo below, but don’t be fooled– it is constantly busy! Countless street performers, artists, and various vendors line the street while hundreds of tourists and locals alike weave their way down the street. This is the perfect place to pick up an inexpensive souvenir!
3. Stop by the Barcelona Cathedral
This iconic church is also named the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. As the story goes, the cathedral was dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young girl who was tortured and eventually executed by the Romans for being Catholic and refusing to declare otherwise. Aside from the fascinating story, the church itself is insanely beautiful with its gothic architecture.
4. View the Arc de Triomf
Believe it or not, but the Eiffel Tower was actually supposed to go in its place, but the townspeople said there was no way something that ugly was going up in their city. Needless to say, they probably made the wrong choice. But then again, the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t have the same kind of charm in a city like Barcelona. The beautiful red-toned Arc de triomf fits in perfectly, marking the entrance to the city’s beloved Parc de la Ciutadella. We went here on our Fat Tire Bike Tour, which I highly recommend if you want to knock a ton of items off this list in a short amount of time while learning a lot about the history of Barcelona, Catalonia.
5. Ride bikes around Parc de la Ciutadella
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than this lush and expansive park. Once a fortress designed for soldiers to keep a watch over Barcelona and later a political prison, this huge area was demolished in 1869 and rebuilt to be what it is today. The Cascada (waterfall shown below) was built by Josep Fontsere with the help of his intern, Gaudi (yep, even he had to pay his dues). Within the park, you can also find a zoo, the Catalan Parliament building, museums, a small lake, and statues including a massive mammoth. I told you, Barcelona has no shortage of quirky art!
6. Get some culture shock at La Monumental
While you’re out and about, make a point to stop by Barcelona’s old bullfighting arena. Believe it or not, but bull fights took place as recently as 2011 when it was banned. I can’t even imagine what PETA would do if something like that took place just four years ago in the states! The building now serves as a bullfighting museum.
7. Indulge the senses at La Boqueria market
This is hands down my favorite spot in all of Barcelona, which is why it deserves so many photos! Seriously, this place can satisfy any craving. From sweets, to sandwiches, to the very popular smoothies and every type of fresh fish you can imagine, this is the ultimate market. It gets insanely crowded, so I recommend going early to grab breakfast and some snacks for the beach. It’s located right off of La Rambla, by the way!
8. Take a stroll near the docks
One of my favorite places to walk in Barcelona is near hundreds of the boats on the way to the beach. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the perfect place to people watch.
9. Chill out at Barceloneta beach
I bet you were probably wondering when I was going to throw this one in! Barcelona owes much of its notoriety to this widely adored beach. It truly embodies the personality and flair of Barcelona. First of all, it’s a topless beach. So if you’re looking to get rid of those tan lines and don’t mind the extra attention, make yourself at home. It’s also always busy. It can be pretty tough to find a spot, but it’s well worth the search. The water is crystal clear, and the ultra soft, dust-like sand is imported from the Sahara desert. Did I mention it’s a completely man-made beach?! It’s pretty hard to believe something this beautiful is artificial. The palm trees were also imported from Hawaii. Be prepared to be solicited by people selling everything from drinks, to tapestries, to massages. Definitely buy with caution! I tried a drink because it seemed like a good deal and I swear it had no alcohol in it. The tapestries are actually really pretty, especially if you don’t have a towel. Just keep in mind that you can easily talk them down to 5 euros if you haggle hard enough! Drinks at the beach bars are extremely pricey, so BYOB if you can.
10. Take in the views at Montjuïc
For the best view of Barcelona, take the chairlift up to the top of Montjuïc. This is one of the attractions I missed on my first go around. I only suggest doing this if you have extra time, as the line can be pretty long. However, the views can’t be beat!
11. Marvel at the Sagrada Familia
Full (and very embarrassing) disclosure here. I didn’t see the Sagrada Familia on my first visit to Barcelona. If you know anything about how significant this church is, you know why that was such a tragic fail. Gaudi’s plans for this baby are so insane, that it’s been under construction since 1882 and won’t be finished until 2026! I can’t even begin to understand how it’s going to work, but it’s going to be twice as tall when it’s finished! If you have the chance, head up one of the towers for an epic view. (View from the nativity tower pictured in second photo). The interior of the structure resembles elements in nature. For example, the columns look like trees. Every inch of the Sagrada Familia is intricate and beautiful. There is truly no other church in the world that compares!
12. Check out mosaics at Parc Guell
When I first visited Parc Guell, it was free to enter all areas of the park. On my most recent visit, I was bummed to find out that it now costs money to enter the main area with the impressive mosaic tiles and beautiful overlook (pictured in the below photos). Even though it’s kind of ridiculous that they now charge a fee to view all of Parc Guell, I still highly recommend you visit. It’s one of the best places in the city for a colorful photo op, and the views are spectacular. Keep in mind that you’ll need to book tickets in advance, as you’re given a time slot for when you can enter the restricted area.
Within Parc Guell, you can also find Gaudi’s former home turned museum, where he lived for nearly 20 years.
13. See a Flamenco show at the Palau de la Musica
I truly can’t say enough good things about this building. From the stunning, colorfully detailed exterior to the mind blowing stained glass ceiling and stage, the Palau de la Musica has earned its title as one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Even Franco (dictator who hated Catalonia and is now deceased) agreed, as he didn’t tear it down even though it was a Catalan building. I saw a flamenco show here, and it was the highlight of my Barcelona trip!
14. Stand in awe at the architecture of Casa Batllo
I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of this building, but it’s one of the most iconic structures in Barcelona because of it’s classic Gaudi architecture and mosaic tiles. Definitely a must-see!
15. Enjoy traditional spanish cuisine
Barcelona is well-known for its fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Paella and various tapas like patatas bravas and croquetas are favorites among tourists and locals alike. Shy away from eating near the beach, as the restaurants are often overpriced and less authentic. Here are a couple of my favorite spots:
This is an extremely popular restaurant! We went right when it opened for lunch, and there was already a line outside the door. If you’re going for dinner, definitely make a reservation. The canelloni is not to be missed, and the sangria is really tasty!
Located right off of La Rambla is this very famous and authentic Spanish restaurant. You have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining area, and it smells amazing. The restaurant is famous for their caracoles (snails). This was my first time trying snails, and they were actually pretty good! If you like live music, you’ll love the three men who play guitar and serenade you while you eat.
16. Live it up at Barcelona’s hottest nightlife spots
Of course I have to address one of the main reasons why people visit Barcelona: the nightlife. My favorite spots are the bars versus the clubs, but obviously the clubs are more iconic.
Chupitos Shot Bar
Chupitos shot bar is the perfect little place to start your night. Beware, it’s called a shot bar for a reason! AKA you’re probably going to take four or five before you leave. There are a million to choose from, and they’re all extremely creative and fun. My favorites are the Willy Wonka, which is topped with a piece of chocolate; the Boy Scout, which has skewers and a flame to roast a marshmellow over (seriously too cute!); and the Harry Potter, which has magical sparks flying all around it.
This stock market themed bar is seriously a blast! It works exactly like the stock market: when a drink is in high demand, the price goes up. When a drink is in low demand, the price goes down. And of course, the stock market crashes throughout the night, meaning all of the drinks are extremely cheap!
If you’re looking for a true Barcelona clubbing experience, look no further than Opium. This place is absolutely massive and full of professional dancers and DJs. That being said, the guys are pretty aggressive, so be sure to look out for one another! Also keep in mind that everyone tries to stay out until sunrise, so if you want to make it, you need to pace yourself!
What are your top must-dos in Barcelona?
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