An Essential Guide to Barcelona

As one of the most popular travel destinations in Europe, a city molded by art and architecture, with a turbulent and varied history colliding with traditional Spanish/Catalan values. Each area of the city has its own unique identity; this is one of the city’s best qualities, however as a traveller, it can be a tad overwhelming.

The list I have compiled in this article hopes to shine some light on the best that this amazing city has to offer in terms of culture and cuisine.
The items in each category are not a definitive list of things to do in Barcelona, but rather recommendations for activities and attractions which will provide a well-rounded and authentic experience during your stay in the Catalonian capital!

As always, if you feel like I have missed something important out, let me know by commenting below – I’d love to hear some suggestions!

1. WHAT TO DO

Sagrada Familia

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(I’ll not spoil the full view for you!)

Probably the city’s most recognisable piece of architecture, the Sagrada Familia Basilica stands above the Barcelona skyline, and can be seen from various points across the city. Construction began here 1882, and is expected to be completed by 2026.

Tickets to enter Gaudi’s masterpiece may be a little pricey, with €17.00 getting you the most basic ticket. Trust me when I say, it is completely worth it! Both inside and out, I was gobsmacked at how detailed and beautiful it was.

The area surrounding the Basilica is quite touristy, but it’s worth navigating your way through the hordes of tourists (affectionately known by locals as ‘guiris’.

TIP: Beside the Sagrada Familia, you’ll find a small pond; take a walk around this area and you will get the best photos of this Basilica!

Montjuic Mountain & The Magic Fountain

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(The National Catalan Art Museum)

While the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, or Museum of Catalan Art, will be a highlight for any art aficionado, visiting the hills of Montjuic hide more attractions than meets the eye.

Up here, you’ll find Montjuic Castle (I recommend trekking up instead of the cable cars!) and the Olympic Park with its many venues. However, the crowning jewel of Montjuic is the Fountain Show which takes places all summer. Themes of the show often feature movie soundtracks and the show is completely. Throw in some awesome views of Plaza Espanya and you have a truly unique experience.

TIP: The art museum at Montjuic has free entry every Saturday from 3pm onwards, as well as the first Sunday of every month! It has impressive Romaneque and Modernista collections which make this an integral visit for your time in Barcelona.

Free Walking Tour

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(Discovering the side streets of the El Born district)

As with most major European cities, Barcelona offers a wide range of free walking tours, all of which start within the city centre. The best thing about these tours in BCN is the huge variety which are available here. With so many different districts to visit, they are good way to orientate yourself within the city.

Whether you want to learn about Catalan history in the Gothic Quarter, Gaudi’s legacy in several key areas, or even street art in Raval, you’ll find a tour to interest you. Most of these tours are tipped, and the most common starting points are Plaza Catalunya or the Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter! Look out for the umbrellas advertising these tours.

2. WHAT TO SEE

Casa Battló / Gaudi Houses

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(Gaudi’s work is famous for all its natural forms)

Found on the city’s main shopping street, Passeig de Gracia, this Gaudi creation is a feast for the eyes. Being completely honest, I would say that the €25.00 entry is not worthwhile. The guided tour inside the house is nice, but the front facade of the building is by far its best feature and can be appreciated fully without stepping foot inside.

Besides, if you love discovering some modernist architecture, there’s plenty to see on Passeig de Gracia! Make sure to check out La Pedrera (another Gaudi construction), Casa Amatller and Casa Lleó Morera!

TIP: this area can be a little pricey for dining out, but once you walk to the end of this long street, you’re in the Gracia area. After taking in the sights, you can come here to find trendy bars and cheap tapas bars.

Los Bunkers del Carmel

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(Sunset at the Bunkers)

Once you’re done wandering around the city for the day, this is the perfect spot to see a beautiful sunset. Admittedly, this area has become much more touristy in the past few years, but to come up here, take in the city’s most amazing vistas and enjoy some music and beers.

You’ll be able to see all the major attractions of Barcelona from this spot, which served as a lookout spot during the Spanish Civil War.

TIP: the Bunkers are a hugely popular spot during the weekends, so if you’re looking for a quiet drink and breathtaking views I would suggest heading up here midweek for a more relaxing experience. You can reach here by taking the bus route 24 from Plaza Catalunya in around 40 minutes.

Parc Gúell

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(Views from the Turó de las Creus)

Another of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Parc Güell is slightly further out of the centre than some of the entries on this list, but it shouldn’t be missed! Tickets are around €10 but for first time visitors to Barcelona, I would say it’s worthwhile. The stunning architecture inside the main part of the Parc is matched only by the gingerbread-esque houses which line the front gates. Make sure to get your photo taken along the benches which look over the city!

TIP: If you don’t feel like paying the entrance fee for the park, the surrounding area which is just as picturesque is perfect for an afternoon stroll. Besides, you can view the inside of the park from several viewpoints along this path. There’s one spot called Turó de las Creus that sits above the park where you can enjoy views over the city.

3. WHAT TO EAT

Tosca

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There are a few Tosca restaurants in Barcelona, however, my favourite is in El Born. Located across the street from Gaudi’s Palau de la Musica Catalana, this is a perfect place for anyone looking to sample some of that signature Spanish cuisine.

I would definitely recommend the mini burritos, the meatballs in almond sauce, and of course the patatas bravas! They also serve a style of Sangria which uses Cava instead of wine – it’s amazing.

Spice Cafe

^^^^(Just follow the link above, it’s amazing!)

If you have a real sweet tooth/ coffee addiction, then this should be included on your list. Spice cafe is packed full of fresh, homemade cakes and mouth-watering desserts. Matched with one of the nicest café con leches you’ll find in the city, there is always something new and exciting each time you visit here.

TIP: There is two cakes in particular that are incredible. Their carrot cake is the nicest I have ever tried. Also, they offer a chocolate, baileys and Guinness cake… Addictive.

Calle de Blai

Located in the Poble Sec district, this street is a foodlover’s paradise. Every bar on this street will serve some style of ‘Pintxos’, a Basque style of tapas. Simply pick whatever you like from the wide variety of pintxos available and at the end, you’re charged €1-2 for each pintxo ordered.

Personally, my favourite place in this area is La Tasqueta de Blai. They have some incredible dishes available, such as BBQ Pork, spanish omelette, chilli prawns plus mini tacos. This is honestly my favourite place to grab a quick bite in Barcelona!

Raspall

Ok, so this is not a bar which will appear on many Barcelona tourist guides, but it should. It is a small, cosy bar nestled in the middle of the Gracia district, and has so much going for it. Once again, you’ll a large variety of pintxos to accompany your drinks (a wine or beer with a pintxo is €2.50).

It is super easy to spend an entire night here drinking and eating away, and it is the perfect place to finish your wander around Gracia.

TIP: If you are thinking of trying this place out, make sure to check the bar’s instagram for their daily pintxo menu!

4. WHAT TO DRINK

Leche de Pantera

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(My favourite bar in Barcelona)

Unique to Barcelona, I have only ever seen this cocktail in 2 places in the city, both within the Gothic Quarter – if you google ‘leche de pantera’, it’ll bring you straight there. While the recipe is top secret, it tastes like an alcoholic milkshake topped with cinammon. It has to be tried to be fully appreciated.

I spent the evening here during my first weekend living in Barcelona and it is somewhere I always bring friends when they come to visit, because it is so good.

Only €10 for a full bottle, this bar’s decor as well as selection of bar snacks available make this an essential stop on your Barcelona night out. On weekend evenings, the place becomes a lively party place full of both locals and internationals alike.

Vermuterías

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(Patatas Bravas from La Guapa)

Scattered throughout the city, Vermuterías are probably the most authentically Catalan experience you’ll have while out drinking in Barcelona. Vermouth is a aromatic wine, flavoured and served over ice with an olive.

While most bars here will have some form of Vermouth available, there are a few specials bars I love going to for this tasty Catalan treat.

Both located in the Eixample area of the city, Senyor Vermut and La Guapa are two of the most authentic and ‘non-touristy’ places to chill with a drink. Also, La Guapa is another place you need to try the Patatas Bravas. They are more like potato wedges, incredible.

Joaquin Costa

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(A night out in Casa Almirall)

Everybody has their favourite bars in the city centre, but no other street has quite as many popular spots as Joaquin Costa. If you are staying anywhere near La Rambla, or even further out, then you need to make a stop here on your night out in city centre.

Places like 2 Schmucks offer some unique and jaw-dropping cocktails (the Curry Colada is probably the highlight), while 3345 have a more chilled, indie vibe. Beirut is a lively atmosphere, but the interior is hard to describe…You need to check it out yourself!

Our personal favourite is Casa Almirall, an art nouveau-style bar ideal for a chilled group hangout!

La Fianna

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(The decor inside this cocktail bar would remind you of Gaudi’s Parc)

If you’re more into sampling some classic cocktails in a very unique setting, then this is the place for you. Dimly lit with very chilled music, there is a slightly Gaudi-esque vibe to the bar. But the cocktail menu, where everything is €4, serves a whole host of well-known classics, but done so well. This is an ideal location for anyone visiting Barcelona on a budget!

5. WHAT TO AVOID

Barceloneta

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(Sunset over the beach in Sitges… Much better than Barceloneta)

While the biggest and closest beach in the city might seem tempting, the hordes of tourists and people offering you massages/mojitos/beer are a major put off for visiting. It’s not completely awful, as there some nice views to be found, and it can make for an enjoyable afternoon.

Instead, I suggest heading a bit further north, to the beach at Bogatell and continuing on. It’s just a bit quieter and nicer I find.

Alternatively, I would definitely recommend a day trip out to the lively beach town of Sitges. Picturesque and less hectic than Barcelona, a walk through its old streets and a wander down its beachfront and beaches are a much better option than a day spent on Barceloneta beach… and for less than €10 for a return ticket!

La Rambla

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(Why not wander round this hidden cactus garden up on Montjuic, away from the centre?)

While you should walk down the most famous street in Barcelona at least once, it’s so easy to get stuck in this area of the city without venturing out to see what else is on offer. It’s not a bad area, but the unending souvenir shops and expat bars leave much to be desired.

Instead, why not wander around the grid-like streets of Gracia with its varied bars and restaurants, or even the hipster area of El Born; trust me, you’ll have a much more enjoyable time.

Taking a Taxi

There has been a lot of debate about this in the past few months (taxi drivers vs. Uber), but whatever your opinion, I think it’s always better to take public transport. Barcelona has an impressive public transport system and really, there is no need to take a taxi anywhere in the city.

Getting a T-10 metro ticket is a better way of getting round the city without breaking the bank. For around €10 you get 10 journeys, which helps you get to all the major attractions which Barcelona has to offer.

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