Barcelona is one of my favorite European destinations. The city has so much to offer when it comes to sights, history, beaches, food, and of course, Gaudí. With so much to do and so little time, I have compiled a list of the top 10 things you can't miss in Barcelona.
1. Skip the Bus Tours
Save your 27 hard earned euros for some of the delicacies and meriendas (snacks) you will find in the city or your entrance fees to some of the world famous tourist destinations and forgo the bus tours. I can say from experience, that a trip to Barcelona, no matter the length, is better spent on foot or using the extensive metro system in the city. You can reach all locations on the bus tours via public transportation and the majority of the most visited sites are well within walking distance from Plaza Catalunya including Las Ramblas, The Picasso Museum, La Perdrera Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, the Cathedral, and the Mercat de la Boquería.
2. Alternative to Number 1: Buy the T-10
Instead of going on the dreadful “I’m a tourist” bus tours with your fanny pack, camera around your neck, and selfie stick in hand, grab a Metro map from your hotel, hostel, or the nearest station, and purchase a T-10 ticket. If you are going to use the metro more than six times, this pass is a better value than buying all of your tickets individually. The ticket can be purchased at any station and can be used to get to nearly all the tourist destinations you can imagine. The buses, trams, and trains in Barcelona are very clean and efficient making for a simple and cheap way to travel.
3. Go shopping on the Passeig de Gràcia
In Barcelona, Fashion week is every week. Whether it be running along the Barceloneta, enjoying a sunny day and a mojito on the beach, meeting friends for a three hour lunch break, or going shopping along the Passeig de Gràcia, locals and tourists alike are dressed to impress. The best place to find some last minute trendy items to fit in or stand out: Passeig de Gràcia. In addition to the most famous designers and brands worldwide, you will also find some of the most famous architecture in the city. If you get tired from all the shopping, relax on one of the ornate benches designed by Pere Falqués i Urpí, or visit one of the amazing buildings designed by Gaudí, including the most well known Casa Batlló or the arguably lesser known, less ornate, but very impressive rooftop terrace of La Perdrera.
4. Have a bite to eat in the Mercat de la Boquería
Forgo the tourist traps along Las Ramblas, and midway between your stroll from Placa Catalunya to La Barceloneta, stop at Mercat de San Josep de la Boquería. Although well known among tourists, the Mercat is also frequented by locals and is known to be one of the best places to find incredible tapas bars, Catalan specialties, local produce, exotic fruit juices, artisan cheeses, handmade chocolates, aromatic dried herbs and spices, fresh caught seafood and shellfish and so much more.
Whether you are interested in having an all afternoon lunch at one of the many tapas bars or a quick cone of chorizo to go, everyone you are traveling with will be sure to find something that appeals to their tastebuds. To see more about my favorite vendors and the one place you must have lunch in La Boquería check out my other post at the link here.
5. Get your Instagram on in Gaudí’s famous Park Güell
Barcelona truly was Gaudí’s home, and his presence and personality can be felt in all corners of the city. Gaudí’s most vivid and vibrant interpretation of nature is found here in Park Güell. In order to access the Monumental Zone, the part that everyone comes to see, it is best to purchase tickets online in order to avoid the lines and save a buck. Adult tickets are 7 euros online, and 8 euros at the park entrance. Try to visit the park earlier in the morning to avoid the crowds, or at lunch time when the majority of tourists will head out for tapas. Pack your lunch to go and before or after your visit to the Monumental Zone, enjoy a picnic in the free area of the park and admire amazing views of the city.
6. Be a true tourist at the Sagrada Familia
Whip out your fanny pack and selfie sticks for this one. Of course you can’t leave Barcelona without seeing the Sagrada Familia. But what is the right way to do it, and how much of it do you really need to see? Don’t be turned off by the common misconception that the Sagrada Familia is just like any other Basilica in the world, it is not. I agree, Church’s in Europe get a bit “typical” and they all start to look the same once you’ve visited 15 or so… but The Sagrada Familiais different.
Rookie mistake: GO INSIDE! It is well worth the money and time to go inside this unfinished masterpiece. My preferred option for tickets is the Sagrada Familia with Audio Guide and Tower (21 euros for Students and 24 euros for Adults). The Audio Guide will allow you to listen to what you want to hear and ignore what you don’t lending a bit more freedom to your experience. Buy your tickets online to avoid the lengthy queue that can wrap around the entire block and try to choose the earlier visit times for the Tower. Seeing as less people will want to wake up early you will be treated to a much better view of the city with a few less heads in your way.
7. Eat The Best Gelato in Barcelona
I am a self proclaimed ice cream, gelato, helado, froyo, yogurt, smoothie, and custard connoisseur. No matter what you call it, I love it all and I will try it all. I have never met a frozen dessert that I don’t like. My absolute favorite spot in Barcelona, VIOKO Gelat Xocolata (Passeig de Joan De Borbo, 55). You can spot this delectable heladería and chocolatería from down the street by looking for the moose overhead.
Vioko’s specializes in creative and strong flavor profiles in both their ice creams and their chocolates. In order to do this, they choose from the best products all over the world, including pistachios from Iran, chocolates from Belgian, and rose petals from France, constructing the absolute perfect scoop. Be sure to ask to try the flavors that attract your attention before placing your order. Some of my all time favorites: Mojito, Roses and Raspberry, Whiskey and Walnut, and of course the traditional Chocolate Vioko.
After grabbing your scoop…or three… head over to the Barceloneta to watch the sunset, enjoy the beach side entertainment, or explore some of the boardwalk shops.
8. See why the Magic Fountain is so magical
The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc was designed for the Great Universal Exhibition in 1929 and to this day exhibits an incredible performance of color, music, waterfalls, and water fountains that can’t be missed. The Magic Fountain is easily accessible from the Placa de Espanya Metro Stop and runs all the way to the Palau Nacional atop Montjuïc. Perfect for a romantic evening or a night out with friends, but be sure to check the schedule! The Magic Fountain is closed for a few weeks yearly in the winter for maintenance, but otherwise runs pretty regularly Thursday through Sunday evenings with performances beginning every half hour throughout the year.
9. Visit Barrio Gótico and El Born for Tapas and Drinks
Tapas, tapas, tapas. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of food in Spain is of course, tapas! Spain is well known for their tapas, but it is always difficult to distinguish good tapas from “so so” tapas until you’ve had a taste. The Barrio Gótico is the oldest area in Barcelona and the history can be felt in both the architecture and the food.
Although this area has some of the best food in the city, it is also cluttered with overpriced and underwhelming tourist traps. Stick to the places that look busy and always be willing to try something new. Don’t feel pressured to say yes to a woman shoving a menu in your face or a waiter coming to your table with no price list and asking what you would like. Feel free to ask questions, talk to other customers, and watch what is coming out of the kitchen before placing your order. Often times I feel rushed and pressured to order especially knowing that the waiter may not come back for another ten minutes, so order a drink to make your waiter happy and take your time choosing your dishes.
10. Go clubbing like a local
Barcelona night life is well known for their over priced, over touristy, and over crowded seaside bars and clubs. Although these clubs are one of a kind and include the best international DJs and performances, they can become a bit cliche after a visit or two. Definitely check them out if it is your first time in Barcelona, but if you want to club “like a local” head over to Carrer d’Aribou or Carrer de Tuset in Gracia off the well known Avenida Diagonal for an equally lively evening. Although there will be many international students there, who may be a bit too young, there are also some bars and clubs with 21+ or 25+ age requirements. Two of the most popular and lively clubs in this area include Sutton and Bling.
Rookie mistake: Don’t go to the club until 2 am, Spaniards may start partying around 10 pm, but they will not head to the club until well after midnight. In the meantime, nearly all the bars surrounding these clubs will be packed with well dressed people, serve much more reasonably priced drinks, and many even have a dance floor and DJ to get your night rolling.