"Milan has great food... but Barcelona has great energy." - Stefon Harris
Barcelona is known for its widespread influence in commerce, education, entertainment, media, fashion, and science. Founded as a Roman city in 15 B.C., it quickly rose to become one of the most culturally significant cities in the world, and a major destination for tourists. To help you navigate this rich and complex city, here are my top 10 things to do in Barcelona, Spain.
FOR A LIST OF MY FAVORITE STREET FOOD SPOTS AND RESTAURANTS, CLICK HERE
1. THE GOTHIC QUARTER
The Gothic Quarter is located in the heart of the city. Tourists flock there for its medieval architecture and historic shops. I love places that are interesting without one specific attraction. In other words, you don't need a plan when you get there. This helps combat some of its touristic nature, and gives it a much more intimate feel. You can wander through its medieval plazas and winding streets, discovering places that few tourists go (most stick to the guide books!).
That's exactly what the Gothic Quarter is, or rather can be if you aren't afraid of the road less travelled. A great place to spend an hour or two just walking around and enjoying the city.
Hours: Always Open
Address: Mediterranean Seafront to Ronda de Sant Pere, Ciutat Vella, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
2. CIUTADELLA PARK
Right next to the Gothic Quarter is Ciutadella park, which for a while was the only "green" spot in the city. The park is over 70 acres and is home to the city's zoo, boating lake, and botanical gardens. My favorite part about the park is that it's always full of street performers showing off their craft. Jugglers, musicians, and slack-liners are among those performing here and each act is better than the last.
This is where most Barcelonians go to relax and is just a cool spot to hangout, taking in the city's street scene.
Hours: Always Open
Address: Passeig de Picasso, 21, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Photo by Roman Czubak
3. MERCAT DE SANT JOSEP DE LA BOQUERIA
The Boqueria has been in operation since 1217, providing Barcelona with fresh fish, meat, and produce. Hailed as one of the best markets in Europe, La Boqueria is always bustling with activity. A place where locals come to buy fresh food from over 200 different stalls, and tourists come to get a taste of the city.
In addition to selling fresh foods, the market also has some decent restaurants located inside. Personally I would wait to find a more authentic restaurant outside the market, as most of the ones inside are targeted towards tourists.
Hours: Daily 8:00am - 8:30pm
Address: La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
4. SAGRADA FAMILIA
The Sagrada familia is the masterpiece of the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction was started in 1883 and won't be completed until 2028! When asked about the projects proposed construction time, Gaudí remarked, "My client is not in a hurry." When he died in 1926, the church was only 15 - 25 percent complete.
The roman catholic church is over 560 ft tall, and has a capacity of 9,000 people. The entrance fee of $17 helps fund the annual construction budget of $28 million.
SAGRADA FAMILIA IN 1905
Price: See website
Hours: November to February, 9 am to 6 pm | March, 9 am to 7 pm | April to September,
9 am to 8 pm | October, 9 am to 7 pm | December 25, 26 and January 1 and 6, 9 am to 2 pm
Address: Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
5. ARC DE TRIOMF
Just down the street from the Ciutadella park, is the Arc de Triomf. Built as the main gate for the 1888 world fair, this 91 ft arc can be seen for miles around and is an impressive testament to Neo-Mudéjar architecture.
At the foot of the structure are several stalls that sell a variety of food and gifts, while street performers showcase their talents nearby.
Hours: Always open (best to go at sunset)
Address: Passeig de Lluís Companys, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Photo by DiscoverFrance
6. TAPAS (Food!)
Spain, and Barcelona in particular, is renowned for its food scene. From tapas to Crema Catalana, there's a lot to unpack here. That being said it wasn't necessarily easy to have a good meal in Barcelona, and there are a few things you should look out for to get the best food experience.
The first are restaurants that put things on the menu specifically because they know tourists will order them. This can be difficult to spot but there are two ways of avoiding this. The first is to eat at restaurants where there aren't any tourists (a no-brainer in my opinion), and the second is to order not from the menu, but from what other people are having around you. Chances are, the locals eating there will know what to order a lot better than you will.
If you want specific restaurant recommendations check out my world food map for my favorite street food stalls and restaurants in Barcelona: CLICK HERE
7. PARK GUELL
Park Guell is another famous work of Antoni Gaudi, built in 1914. It kind of looks like someone gave Dr. Seuss access to a construction crew, a lot of money, and then was left to his own devices. There's really no other way to describe it.
The park was built during Gaudi's "naturalist" phase, when much of his inspiration and style came from organic shapes. The result is a massive compound filled with round houses, mosaic salamanders, and... bird nests? Yeah, he built some of those.
Hours: Always open
Address: Carrer Olot 5, 08024 Barcelona, Spain
Photo by Amarante
8. MONTJUIC CASTLE
The Montjuïc Castle is an old military fortress overlooking Barcelona's main port. Constructed in 1640, the castle played a crucial role in several major wars including the Catalan fight for independence from Spain, the British invasion of 1705, and defense against the Napoleonic Wars of 1803.
It has since been converted into a military museum and is open to the general public. With the best 360 degree views of the city, this is a natural stop on your trip to Barcelona. (Bonus: If you're skilled in the art of archery, you'll find the range located here to be one of the most beautiful places you'll ever shoot at!)
Price: €5 (about $5.59 USD)
Hours: 10:00am - 8:00pm
Address: Carretera de Montjuic, 66, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
9. CASA BATLLO
If I had to bet, I'd say you've never lived in a place called the "house of bones". Regardless, this is the last major Gaudi attraction in the city. If I asked you to picture what it might look like, even having seen some of his other work, there's absolutely no way you would ever come close to the real thing.
The five storey building is covered in colorful mosaic with tall oblong windows looking outward and a dragonback rooftop. The destination is extremely popular with tourists and can get pretty hectic, so be prepared for throngs of tour groups and families on vacation (still totally worth it though!).
Price: see their website for ticket prices (I recommend buying it online)
Hours: 8:30am to 9:00pm
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Photo by ABbarceolona
10. STREET FESTIVALS
If you happen to visit Barcelona in August, definitely check out the district of Gràcia. They hold a yearly festival where you can meet and party with locals! The festival is put on by residents in the neighborhood that actually compete with each other to see who can create the best decoration. You can expect floats, street food markets, shopping stalls, musicians, and the craziest party in Barcelona!
Even if you aren't there during August, various other barrios in Barcelona hold their own street festivals throughout the year (although Gràcia's is definitely the largest).
Hours: All day, all night.
Address: The Festa Major de Gràcia starts August 15th in the Gràcia Barrio
WHERE TO STAY?
The Gothic Quarter is the best place to stay due to its central location and price. Lined with shops and restaurants, there's a lot to do here and it's all within walking distance. Another option is El Raval which used to be a rougher neighborhood in Barcelona but has since become more upscale with restaurants and galleries opening up. Don't be fooled though, there are still rough areas of this neighborhood that give it a little more grit and authenticity compared to the rest of the city (yes, I am saying its "roughness" is a plus).