Barcelona is one of those destinations that everyone needs to visit at least once. Between the food, architecture, nightlife, beaches and history, it’s got something for everyone.
It can sometimes feel overwhelming trying to plan a vacation to a destination that has so many options, especially when most of us only have so much time away from work! We want to help you narrow it down. In Barcelona, there are a lot of must-dos and must-sees, but here are our top 8 that you simply can’t miss.
Get lost in the Gothic Quarters (Barrio Gótico)
It was mostly built in the late 19thand early 20thcentury, with some buildings even dating back to medieval times. With a labyrinthine design, you could quite literally spend the day walking through this old neighbourhood and never take the same route twice. The streets are mostly closed to regular traffic so you can enjoy the scenery at your own pace. If you’re not the type who likes to explore without a plan, make sure to take a walking tour! It’s a great idea in a place like this, where there is so much going on you might miss something if you’re too busy following a map. The two biggest tourist draws are the cathedral and Plaça Reial, but there are so many wonderful squares (plaças), restaurants and shops that you can get a taste of everything.
Embrace your inner tourist along La Rambla
A visit to Barcelona is not complete without a visit to La Rambla. A busy 1.2 km (0.75 mi) street in the centre of the city, it forms the boundary between the Gothic Quarters to the east and El Raval to the west. Although it’s true that it can feel a little touristy (beware of the tourist traps and pickpockets), it’s still a must-see, and with a little effort you can find plenty of authentic things to do during your adventure. Cutting through the heart of the city, La Rambla is lively and vibrant, with narrow traffic lanes on the edges and a broad pedestrian boulevard in the centre, which is almost always full of tourists and locals alike. Because of the abundance of tourists, it’s packed with pavement cafes, souvenir stands and buskers, but you can also visit some landmark buildings, like the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the Palau de la Virreina, and the can’t-miss Boqueria Market (coming up next!). Spend some time enjoying this sensory overload. We promise it’s worth it.
Eat your way through the Boqueria Market(Mercat de la Boqueria)
After walking through the Gothic Quarters and up and down La Rambla, you’ve surely worked up an appetite. Good news – about two thirds of the way up La Rambla you can let your taste buds experience all that Spain has to offer at one of the continent’s largest and most popular food markets! The first mention of the Boqueria market was in 1217, when tables were installed to sell meat. Today, you can walk through the grand iron entrance and be blown away by the colours, sounds and variety of treats – fruits and vegetables, breads and cheeses, fish and seafood – all fresh and under one roof. Many of Barcelona’s best restaurants come here for their produce, so you know you’re getting the good stuff – just make sure you bring your appetite.
Check out anything and everything Gaudí
Antoni Gaudí was a Spanish Catalan architect, most famous for La Sagrada Familia, the most visited monument in Spain. Whether you know what Catalan Modernism is or what the Modernistamovement was (we don’t), you can still appreciate the beauty and passion that emanates through his individualized and distinctive style. With more than 10 churches, buildings, parks and structures in Barcelona alone, you can easily create your own Gaudí day (or go on a guided tour) and check out some of his best work. Start with La Sagrada Familia then make your way to Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Milá, and you’ll soon be able to pick out his unmistakable style.
Be amazed by the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (Font màgica de Montjuïc)
Once the sun goes down, make your way over to Barcelona’s biggest ornamental fountain for a show you won’t forget. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc was built in 1929 during the Great Universal Exposition, a year after Carles Buïgas began designing it. Many believed his plan was too ambitious for the time available to complete it, but with the help of over 3,000 workers, the fountain had its first performance on May 19, 1929, the day before the start of the Exposition. Today, the fountain is a whimsical display of music, water acrobatics and lights (8 main colours that generate over 50 shades and hues!). Performances include film, classical and modern music, every 30 minutes Thursday to Sunday in the summer months and Fridays and Saturdays throughout winter. With 3,620 water jets, 29 water arrangements, and 4,760 lights, the fountain definitely lives up to its name, so be prepared to witness magic!
Get to the heart of tapas
After the magic show, make your way over to a tapas bar or restaurant, to “tapas ‘til you tap out.” Somewhere in between a snack and a meal, tapas are a wide variety of appetizer-like dishes in Spanish cuisine that, when combined, create a full (delicious!) meal. More than anything, they encourage time well spent sharing with friends and family. Tapas are more about sociability than belly fuelling; think sharing a table full of apps and a bottle of wine while catching up with old friends. You can find tapas in every major city in the world, but you won’t find variety like you do in Barcelona. So whether you order them cold or hot – or both! – be sure to set time aside to experience something so truly and authentically Spanish.
Enjoy the nightlife: Dance until your feet hurt
The Spanish really know how to enjoy life, huh? Eating late, drinking late and partying until the sun comes up. With a population of close to two million, Barcelona’s nightlife is diverse, ranging from cozy, traditional Spanish bars to loud, brightly lit all-night raves, and everything in between. In true metropolitan fashion, Barcelona’s nightlife isn’t strictly designated to weekends or holidays – you can find bars and clubs pumping music any day of the week. If you happen to find yourself looking for something to do on a Wednesday night, all you have to do is go for a stroll and you’ll likely return with a handful of flyers or cards offering you a selection of places to check out that night, most offering free entry before a certain time or discounted covers. If you’re visiting during the summer months, look for open-air cinemas, rooftop DJ sets, and beach bars popping up all over the city.
Relax (finally!) on one of Barcelona’s beaches
If you’ve done everything we’ve suggested so far, you’re probably looking for a little rest and relaxation by this point. What better place to lie down for a quick siesta than on a beach? One of the best parts of visiting Barcelona is that you can follow the excitement of a day spent sightseeing in the city with a nap on the beach – without having to drive miles out of the city. In fact, Barceloneta Beach is only a 15–20 minute walk from the city! (Talk about having the best of both worlds.) There are 4.2 km (2.6 mi) of sandy beaches, with four main beach areas. The swimming season is generally from May to mid-September, when the sea temperatures are most comfortable. If you’re looking to do some people-watching, head over to Barceloneta. For an escape from the city, check out Bogatell Beach. If you’re travelling with family, we recommend Nova Icaria. And if you’re really looking for an adventure, there are two nudist beaches in Barcelona – Playa de Sant Sebastia and Mar Bella.
What are your favourite things about beautiful Barcelona? Share your story with us.