Magnificent Must-Dos in Barcelona

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So you’ve booked your trip to Barcelona, Spain. And now you have approximately 381 Barcelona pins on your Pinterest board called “Barcelona: trip of a lifetime”. Where to start? What’s are the must-dos in Barcelona? What’s the meaning of life? Relax, relax, I’m here to solve your existential problems.

So if you only have a few days, I’m sharing my Barcelona insider tips on where to go in Barcelona. As one of the top European destinations, the city is saturated with landmarks – that it’s hard to narrow down what to do in Barcelona in a short amount of time. Historic monuments, scrumptious tapas, and Instagrammable rooftop views, gah! You can have it all, my friend. 

Must-Do’s in Barcelona

To truly experience Barcelona like a local, but as a first-timer, here are some Barcelona tips:

  • You do NOT have to enter all of the top Barcelona attractions – it can be time-consuming, expensive, overwhelming, (and sometimes boring :-!)
  • Try real local Catalan and Spanish food and experience their eating rituals
  • Experience, what I like to call, the Holy Trinity of Barcelona scenery: city streets (flat), the beaches and seafront, and mountains
  • If you have a short amount of time (less than 3 days), stick to attractions around the city center so you can enjoy Barcelona and be less stress-free. If you have longer than 3 days, try the Park del Laberinth, or a day trip like Montserrat, or Sitges.

Now…Here my list of top things to do in Barcelona, Spain – to experience like a local:

Find the top things to see in Barcelona, Spain. Plan your trip by seeing the best Barcelona attractions and having an authentic "local" experience. Written by a local!

1. Go inside the incredible Sagrada Familia.

The Sagrada Familia: what to see in Barcelona as the number one attractions

The Passion Facade and Towers: one of Barcelona’s best sights

This spectacular basilica the hands-down, number one must-do in Barcelona. As you may know, the Sagrada Familia is a work in progress. And it’s expected to be completed in 2026, the 100th-year death anniversary of its famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. Its unconventional church façades leave visitors curious to see its extraordinary interior as well.

The Sagrada Familia interior is symbolic, intentional, and fascinating. It's one of the top 10 things to see in Barcelona, Spain.

The Sagrada Familia: Add this to your Barcelona must-see list, or die unhappy.

When you visit the Sagrada Familia, it’s helpful to purchase use of the audioguide, as you’ll learn the fascinating history and now how each aesthetic detail of the basilica is intentional and symbolic. In other words, it doesn’t bore you with cryptic-sounding historical facts! (Is that just me?) If you have extra euros to splurge, a guided tour would probably be best as there are so many intriguing details! 

Are the Sagrada Familia towers worth it? Yes, and maybe not. Here’s how it goes: you ride up via elevator, and come down through spiral steps. I’ve done it several times. I remember feeling a little nervous, but not over-the-top anxious. I took my time. If you’re worried, go first thing in the morning or at the end of the day when tower traffic is slowest. Buy your tickets online for cheaper rates and to skip the line. Be warned that it gets crowded in the summer, so be sure to buy your tickets a few days in advance! Which tower? Both are great. But the Nativity Tower access has better views. Book your entrance and Nativity Tower access now

To NOT visit the Sagrada Familia – or, at the least, see it on the outside – is, to me, the gravest Barcelona tourist sin you can commit. 

2. Wander the ancient streets of the Gothic Quarter and Born neighborhoods.

The Ciutat Villa is the oldest, central part of Barcelona, and this large area captures the contrasting energy of Barcelona: ancient and vibrant. The Ciutat Vella, is one the top places to visit in Barcelona for its narrow streets, grey medieval facades, and idyllic plazas. Note: be prepared for crowds!

Pass by the Gothic masterpiece, the Barcelona Cathedral, which opens to Plaça de la Seu. Stop at the Plaça del Rei, where Queen Isabel and King Ferdinand held court. Breeze by the Plaça de Sant Jaume and see the neoclassic buildings of the Barcelona City Council and Palau de La Generalitat. Sweep through the ancient street, Carrer Bisbe, the old Roman street.

Pass by the Picasso Museum on Carrer Montcada. If you go inside, it might be hard to find any recognizable works – as its sketches and artwork during Pablo Picasso’s early formative years. Don’t forget to see the somber and mysterious Santa Maria del Mar cathedral, an emblem of Catalan Gothic architecture. 

<<Want to see a full itinerary? Check out Day 1 (Ciutat Vella) of my 3-day Barcelona itinerary!>>

What to see in Barcelona: quaint, chill plazas.

Barcelona is full of cool plazas

3. Walk down Las Ramblas.

While I wouldn’t say this Barcelona attraction is a breathtaking place, it’s so historic and iconic that you couldn’t leave without seeing it. It’s the main artery of Barcelona that was built between the 15th and 16th centuries and divides the Raval and Gothic Quarter neighborhoods.

It’s also a wild open-air museum — you’ll see flower vendors, sketch artists, human statues, and random spectacles of breakdancers. One of the most popular Barcelona tourist attractions on this street is the food market, La Boqueria. At the end of Las Ramblas the Christopher Columbus monument, which you can go up in an elevator for 6 euros.

Las Ramblas: One of the top sights in Barcelona, Spain

Me circa 2013 with a bestie, Las Ramblas

4. Visit a local food market.

La Boqueria, also called the Sant Josep Mercat de la Boqueria, is the most famous food market in Barcelona. It’s fascinating to visit to see the impeccable displays of fruit kabobs, fruit structures, and jamon serrano (Spanish cured ham) served in a paper cone. But know that a lot of the displays are “for tourists” i.e. lots of them aren’t even local produce! Go towards the back to get a better idea of what the market is really like, where local grandmas are choosing their solomillo cuts of meat, or ordering ham bones to prepare a slow-cooked meat broth.

Note on visiting La Boqueria: a few years ago, the absurd amounts of tourists – combined with these tourists treating the market like a free-for-all museum – sparked protest among the local shoppers and vendors. Understandable, right? So if you like to wander like I do and take photos, be sure to ask before snapping pics up close. Buying something helps too! I like to indulge in a 1.50 euros smoothie.

Barcelona, things to see: La Boqueria of colorful fruits, meants

La Boqueria: overly perfect displays of food

Alternative: If you don’t go to La Boqueria, Barcelona has other richly visual food markets – and are some of the best places to visit in Barcelona for an authentic experience of local life. The one nearby my home is undisturbed by tourists but has a wide array of locally sourced foods and restaurants and bars. Try the local Santa Caterina market, or the newly renovated, Sant Antoni market for architectural gems. All of the food markets are beautiful and a feast for the eyes!  

5. Check out the colorful Park Guell.

Art imitates nature, and nature imitates art, according to Park Guell’s design genius, Antoni Gaudí. Natural materials make beautiful, organic structures where rock ceilings whirl upward around like tornado spirals, diagonal pillars support tilted walkways, and a curvaceous bench imitates a sea serpent. The colorful tile work, wavy buildings and paths, and gorgeous views of the city make it a fun, playful place for everyone. Spend at least an hour here and try not to Instagram a photo. Also, it’s worth coming here for the views! 

What to see in Barcelona, Spain: Park Guell, Gaudí and modernism

Parc Guell, a playground for kids and adults.

Be sure to buy your ticket in advance, especially in the summer. You’re expected to enter during a time window. But once you’re inside the Monumental Core (the main area where you get the cool pics), you can stay as long as you want. It’s 8.50€ to enter for adults. Kids ages 0-6 enter free, but you still have to buy a ticket to enter. Buy your ticket through Ticketbar (Buy your Park Guell Tickets here) or park entry is included in the Barcelona City Pass! Buy your Barcelona City Pass here

See Park Guell: one of the best things to do in Barcelona

You’ve got to pay to get this view.

6. Check out Barcelona’s seaside area and beachfront.

Barcelona has over 4.5 kilometers of beaches. And did you know, there was no beach in Barcelona before the 1992 Olympics? One of the most popular beaches is La Barceloneta. It’s fun to see (but in my honest opinion, it’s chaotic and overcrowded). The Barcelona seaside is a huge draw for tourists, particularly it’s sandy beaches, bustling Port Olímpic, or Port Vell.

The Mediterranean Sea is part of the essential places to visit in Barcelona.

Cross the bridge, the Rambla de Mar.

One of the top 10 things to do in Barcelona: hit the beach!

Sand + sun: the beaches are one of the hip places to see in Barcelona.

7. Walk down Passeig de Gracia to see Casa Batlló and La Pedrera.

In 1860, the city of Barcelona expanded beyond the Cuitat Vella, and voila the beautiful Passeig de Gracia was built. This is where you’ll find elegant modernist buildings lined with trees and streetlight-benches made of trencadís, beautifully broken tilework.

Passeig de Gràcia, one of the most beautiful places to go in Barcelona, Spain.

The most beautiful streetlight-bench in the world? You decide.

Around Carrer Consell de Cent is a famous cluster of modernist buildings called the Manzana de la Discordia, three sets of buildings designed by different architects such as the Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Amatller (which has a beautiful chocolate shop inside), and of course the Casa Batlló designed by Antoni Gaudí.

Casa Batlló: Undeniably, one of the Barcelona top attractions.

Casa Batlló. Like the Eiffel Tower, people used to scoff at this “ugly” building.

<<Want to go inside? If you’re short in time, skip going inside. If you have time for one building, I recommend Casa Batlló, which is more interesting and detailed. La Pedrera is interesting, but the rooftop of La Pedrera is the most interesting part.>>

What to visit in Barcelona: La Pedrera by Antoni Gaudí

Fun fact: there are no 90º angles in this building. I dare you to find one!

Walk towards Carrer Provença, and you’ll also come across the Casa Milà, also called La Pedrera. A UNESCO Heritage site, this residential building was constructed between 1906 and 1912, and has wavy shapes, iron balconies, and medieval warrior chimneys on its rooftop.

As you walk away from Plaça Catalunya (towards Gràcia), there’s a hidden gem on the Passeig de Grácia. It’s the neoclassic Palau Robert, a mansion constructed in the 14th century with a peaceful garden in the back, perfect for taking a quick break of Barcelona sightseeing.

Last but not least, Passeig the Gracia as one of best shopping places in Barcelona as well, where you’ll find flagship stores of Chanel, Gucci, Nike, Jimmy Choo, and more mid- to upscale brands and restaurants.

8. Visit Montjuic and get a panoramic view of Barcelona.

To catch some altitude and see Barcelona from above, head to Montjuic. You can start from the Plaça Espanya (metro stop: Plaça Espanya) and walk down Avinguda de la Reina María Cristina towards the Museum of National Art of Catalunya (MNAC). Climb up some steps (with the help of a few escalators) to reach the museum. From there, you can get a nice view of Plaça Espanya!

From MNAC: one of the best places in Barcelona to get a nice view.

City sightseeing: Barcelona from MNAC

Alternatively, head to the Montjuic Castle for some panoramic views! From the Parallel stop on the green line (L3),  can have a mini-adventure on the funicular to reach Montjuic, an expansive hilly area with beautiful panoramic city views. The MNAC museum, Poble Espanyol, and the Olympic Stadium are all located here, although they’re spread out. There’s also enough room to stretch your arms and find a quiet place for an afternoon siesta.

Montjuic, Barcelona, what to see when you want to get away from the crowds.

Montjuic: one of the best places in Barcelona to get away from the inner-city pressure

9. Eat like a local and have Catalan food.

A delicious traditional rice dish that is not typical of Barcelona, but you can find is the paella, a slowly-prepared rice dish. For a paella restaurant, try Xiringuito Escribà or L’Arrosseria Xàtiva. Try Can Paixano (which is mostly a crowded, stand-only bar but fun). Or for a more relaxed environment, try La Puntual, or Els Sortidors del Parlament among dozens. For fun, drink out of a porron (it’s definitely NOT an everyday thing, but it’s a unique, traditional, and fun way to drink wine). There are innumerable fantastic places to eat in Barcelona:

What to order: croquetas (breaded croquettes), la bomba (a round potato croquette), esqueixada (salted cod salad), pà amb tomaquet, (bread with tomato), crema catalana (Catalonia’s creme brulee)

Eating your way through tapas bars: Top fun things to do in Barcelona

Patatas Bravas: wedges of potatoes never tasted so good

Whatever you do, don’t just wing it as you’re hungry because you may be sorry. Case in point, some visiting relatives of mine decided to eat at La Boqueria at a bar there because it looked good. They were stiffed with a 40 euro bill – for breakfast! Ouch.

See my map of recommended places to eat.

Or book a food tour! If you’ve never been on one, they’re a great way to try the local Catalan food, experience unique eating rituals, and understand the history behind the gastronomy. I recommend Eye on Food Tours Barcelona. They’re a fun company that knows their food and history. It’s a food tour with the perks of learning history. Or a history tour with the perks of eating food! Book your food and history tour with Eye on Food Tours. I promise you won’t regret it.

BONUS ALERT!

10. Have some oozing hot chocolate con churros.

I wasn’t sure if this is a “must do in Barcelona”…but why not?  Maybe I’m biased towards fried dough that’s sprinkled with sugar. But come on, I can’t be alone on this! One of the fun things to do in Barcelona is to eat dessert! 

Try a suiza: hot chocolate topped with real whipped cream. And of course, churrrros…

Note that oftentimes the hot chocolate is almost like a melted, unsweetened semi-dark chocolate bar. Yup – unsweetened, which is why they give you 2 packets of sugar with it! If you have churros, often the sugar in the churros is enough to make the blended delicacy sweet. Kids may not like it because it could be too thick and dark. That means you could lick up their share bwahahaha! Try La Pallaresa, Granja Viader, or La Nena in Gràcia. 

Where to Stay: Recommendations

I can also recommend the Barcelona Catedral Hotel near the Barcelona Cathedral. It’s near all the main Barcelona attractions, BUT it’s tucked away on a tiny street so it’s not noisy. It also has a rooftop pool and a very cool restaurant / bar. Book your stay at the Barcelona Catedral Hotel

Hotel Barcelona Catedral, One of the best hotels in Barcelona city centre

A family member stayed at the B-Hotel with her husband, and she enjoyed it. Located near the Plaza Espanya, the B-Hotel is a great place to stay if you want to stay near Montjuic. Nearby is the old bullring, now the Las Arenas Shopping Center. The eighth floor has a stylish terrace-solarium with a pool. Book your room at the B-Hotel



Booking.com

More Barcelona Tips

  1. Don’t get robbed. When you’re hanging around the Barcelona tourist sights, be very mindful of your wallet and/or purse. Summertime is prime time when pickpockets prey on tourists, although it happens year-round. Sadly, if your stuff gets stolen, it’s unlikely that the police will care that much if you report the theft.
  2. To get around Barcelona, the cheapest and easiest way to get around is using a T-10 ticket. You can buy it at metro and tram stops. It’s valid for the metro, bus, and tram. Public transportation works smoothly here, so you won’t have any problems getting around. At night, the metro closes except for Saturday nights when it runs all night.
  3. Catalan is the official local language in Barcelona, although Spanish (also called castellano) is spoken widely as well. I can’t speak Catalan, although I understand it. English is not as universal here as it is in other parts of Europe, but you’ll be able to get by as a tourist.
  4. In general, Barcelona is a safe city to travel for solo women. Just practice common sense – don’t go down dark streets, don’t drink too much if you’re by yourself, don’t flash your boobies (oh wait…). The only neighborhood to practice extra precaution is El Raval. While some call it hip, cool, and up-and-coming, there are still some shady areas of drug wars, prostitution, etc. Daytime is perfectly fine to visit – just note it’s “gritty”.
  5. The tourist crowds are incredible in the summer. Getting that perfect shot off Park Guell is pretty cutthroat. Be prepared for that. As I mentioned above, buy your tickets to Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and possibly other Gaudí buildings days ahead. You don’t want to miss out!

The problem of traveling here is is choosing the must-see places in Barcelona. Have you been here before? What’s on your “must-see” list? Any questions?Where to go in Barcelona, Spain. It's hard to narrow down the must-sees in Barcelona. As a local, these are the top things to do when you're in the Catalan capital.

Find the top 10 Barcelona things to do. Barcelona, Spain, has it all: beaches, mountains, world-class gastronomy. Find the best activities to visit like a local!

 


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About the Author Justine Ancheta

California native, churro aficionado, and mom of 3, Justine Ancheta writes fervently about Barcelona and Spain. Since 2008, she's been eating burnt onions (calçots) and tripping on cobblestones in the Gothic Quarter. She shares tips on popular attractions, exposes offbeat non-touristy spots, and gives insight on exploring Barcelona with kids. Her next Catalan culture challenge: top level of a human castle (castellers).

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6 comments
lynn says November 12, 2015

hi justine, i’m also from california (socal) and a newbie to your blog. i’ve enjoyed all your posts and so thankful that i stumbled on it in search for anything about barcelona. i will be travelling with my 3 teenage boys to barcelona next week…just a brief 3 nights before we fly to rome as our final destination. how is the weather like there now? should i pack raincoats, wintery coats or just light sweaters for layering? i’d love to know your thoughts and more tips, please. 🙂 thank you!

Reply
    Justine Ancheta says November 13, 2015

    Hi, Lynn! The weather has been gorgeous lately — in the high 60s but sunny. We’ve had sporadic days of rain, so check the weather forecast a day before hand just in case! I wouldn’t pack raincoats…if anything you can buy a cheap umbrella if need be. But yes, dress like an onion and think layers. Maybe a light long-sleeve top, then bring a sweater and light jacket to layer OR just a heavier jacket. A heavier jacket meaning, “wintery” for Southern California weather LOLOL. We don’t wear real winter coats there, right?

    Reply
      lynn says November 15, 2015

      Thanks Justine! I appreciate all your input. Surely helps me a lot to finalize our packing. No heavy wintery jackets for sure in our luggages, yayy! And, yes you’re right about us not wearing real winter coats here 🙂 Actually, yesterday was low 80’s midday. Btw, how are you coping with this recent tragedy in Paris? Barcelona is so close to Paris. You know, we booked a day trip to Paris from Barcelona. We arrive in Barcelona at 10am on the 20th and the following day, the 21st, we fly to Paris on an early morning flight, 6:45am, then back to Barcelona at 9:50pm. Please tell me, are we nuts or what? Should we just have stayed in Barcelona and taken more local tours to see more of the city? Before the Paris mayhem, the allure of going to Paris especially for my teens who haven’t been there was so much fun. They’ve been wanting to visit the Louvre. So I saw the opportunity of the close proximity of Barcelona to Paris and didn’t think twice to make a run for it. But, now with this tragedy, I’m so lost…don’t know what to do. We also booked a Montserrat tour with a skip the line La Sagrada tour on the 22nd. Then, on the 23rd we have all day in Barcelona before we board our flight to Rome at 9:50pm. I’d love to know your thoughts again. And if you need to slap me for skipping Barcelona for a day to visit Paris, go ahead cyber slap me. 🙂

      Reply
        Justine Ancheta says November 15, 2015

        I know, it’s hard not to want to do it all since everything is so “near”. I do think that Paris for a day is maybe a little crazy, but maybe you like adventure like that! Were you thinking of returning your tickets? If you’ve spent the money and can’t return flight tix (or it’ll be real expensive), I’d say enjoy the ride and do it. If your kids have been itching badly to go there, let them enjoy. But remember that you’ll have jet lag, even if you did sleep on the plane, your mind and body will be out of whack.

        It is a LOT of traveling, for sure. I find that we Americans like to get the most bang out of our buck — we wanna see it all when we’re in Europe because it’s not like it happens all the time. Be at peace with your travel plans, I say. It IS a lot. But enjoy and go with the flow. If you don’t finish Barcelona (which you won’t), you’ll have a reason to come back. 🙂

        I just hosted some relatives here, we traveled a lot and were exhausted. But it was still worth it!

        Reply
          lynn says November 18, 2015

          Thank you for all your thoughtful insights, Justine! I really really appreciate it. In God’s good hands and mercy, we are good to go. I hope we can meet up briefly if your schedule allows it. 🙂 I’ll be reading up your blog the entire night to pick up more tips. 🙂 Please don’t hesitate to share any thoughts that you may have, be it fun or cautionary. I’m all ears. Again, thank you!

          Reply
Summer in Barcelona - Tips From A Local - The Globetrotter GP says February 5, 2019

[…] if you’re visiting for the first time, the most essential things to do in Barcelona include seeing the Sagrada Familia and other modernist […]

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