Barcelona truly has something for everyone. Whether you’re visiting for Messi, the mercados, mato or Miro, Spain’s second largest city won’t disappoint. Should you want to take things low and slow, and get immersed in the big BCN like a local, then you’ve come to the right place; our 10 IDEAL things to do in Barcelona.
TAKE YOURSELF ON A SELF-GUIDED GAUDI TOUR
Strolling down Barcelona’s grand boulevards is one of the best things to do in the city. Combine that with taking in the majestic and masterful works of Gaudi, the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, and you’re in for a treat. If you’re as uncomfortable as us amongst a group of strangers, getting herded by a megaphone wielding guide, then take yourself on a self-guided Gaudi tour instead.
For this one, you’ll need planning, preparation, strategy and foresight to make the most of things. Gaudi’s works are quite spread out, so should your legs be failing you, a quick hop on and off the city’s metro system is easy and cheap. If you want a more succinct and streamlined sightseeing tour, there’s a high concentration of Gaudi’s stuff in the city. Five that you can’t miss are Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, La Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló, Park Güell.
TAKE A PICNIC TO THE PARK
Whether or not architecture is your cup of tea, a picnic at the Gaudi designed Park Güell should definitely be on your agenda. Enjoying the panoramic views of Barcelona and beyond from the park’s many vantage points is reason enough to visit, but when combined with surreal, fairytale-like landscapes full of strange shapes and magnificent mosaics, a visit here should be top of your itinerary. Set off in the morning when the temperature is still cool, bring a backpack, stop off at La Boqueria or any deli and buy some cured meat, cheese, bread and a bottle of wine, and you’re all set for a divine day.
The walk up to the park from the city centre is fairly easy, however, the incline up to Carmel Hill where the park sits is pretty steep. Thirsty work, to say the least, so make sure you pack some water and wear comfortable shoes. If you decide to take public transport instead, it’s Metro L3 (the green line) all the way to Vallcarca or Lesseps. After that, just follow the crowds. Park Güell has two different areas: the Monumental Core, which requires a ticket, and the free access area which is open to all visitors at no charge and the best place to enjoy your picnic. If you plan on buying a ticket, get it ahead of time otherwise you’ll waste most of the morning in a queue.
VISIT THE MARKETS
Perhaps the biggest reason to visit Las Ramblas – scrap that – to visit Barcelona, is La Boqueria. Often billed as the world’s best market, this is one place not to be missed and undoubtly one of the best things to do in Barcelona. And while that may be a bold claim indeed, when you’re sitting side-by-side with a companion at one of its long, convivial bars, quaffing cava and watching chefs work wonders with phenomenally fresh produce, you might agree Barcelona’s La Boqueria is just that. You’d be foolish to make this the only mercado you visit during your trip, though; the city is home to some other crackers. We particularly love Mercat de Barceloneta, where the freshest fish gets peddled to the restaurants of the city.
EXPLORE THE CIUTAT VELLA
Set aside a whole morning to get lost and then find your way around the Ciutat Vella (‘old city’ in Catalan). Start your journey of exploration at Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona’s natural focal point and a large central square where two of Barcelona’s main streets (Passeig de Gràcia and the iconic Las Ramblas) meet. Head down Las Ramblas with real intent and then wander off into Barcelona’s three neighbourhoods that make up the city centre – the Gothic Quarter and El Born (to the left) and Raval (to the right). It’s impossible not to get lost in the narrow, winding streets, but just let it happen; that’s where the fun lies.
STROLL DOWN LAS RAMBLAS
Speaking of Las Ramblas, it deserves its own paragraph. Yes, it’s terribly touristy and over-crowded, and yes, it might be full of tat and prone to pickpocketing, but it’s a fun experience nonetheless. There are plenty of points of intrigue along the way, including a Miro mosaic (close to Liceu metro), Liceu theatre and Font de Canalates, to name but a few. The pleasure, though, is in the madness of the street; there is always something going on, day and night. They say you’ll never feel lonely on Las Ramblas, and in our experience, that’s certainly true.
A TAPAS & CAVA CRAWL
With a plethora of old school tapas bars, exciting gastronomic restaurants and world-class markets, when it comes to food in Barcelona, there is so much to see and do. And eat, of course.
One of the best ways to experience the unique food culture of the city is via a tapas and cava crawl. Though this might sound like a stags-on-tour vibe, it’s very much how the locals do it; the perfect excuse, then, to overindulge. Perhaps the best spot in town for cava and a few light bites is El Xampanyet. You can’t book, you can’t sit, you won’t be able to move your elbows, but it’s all worth it; the barman tops you up periodically, sends a few plates across, and conviviality fills the air. Just amazing.
Stumble out and onwards to Quimet y Quimet, around 20 minutes on the hoof, for more of the same, but with the added appeal of their ‘conserva’, a huge library of pickles, ferments and preserves that form the backbone of the bar’s tapas offering.
But without doubt, half the fun is stumbling across and making your own discoveries, so just follow your nose and the sound of people having a good time and you’re sure to find happiness. Remember to carry cash on as most of the smaller establishments don’t take cards.
PEOPLE WATCH AT PLACA REIAL
By day this is a great place to have a coffee and people watch, come evening it’s the anchor to Barcelona’s nightlife, with some great bars on the square and some of the grooviest dancefloors just a short stroll away. Start your night by congregating around the square’s fountain with a few tins of Estrella (other beer brands are available) and just see where the night (or the other hedonistic types you’ve met) takes you.
VISIT THE PICASSO MUSEUM
Spain’s most famous son in the country’s most famous city (Madrid, don’t @ me), it’s just got to be done. Museu Picasso de Barcelona is home to one of the largest collections of Pablo’s work in the world; 4251 pieces at last count, and with entry under a tenner, it’s a real bargain to boot.
TAKE A TRIP TO THE BEACH
The seaside neighbourhood and historic fishing district of La Barceloneta is famous for its beachside bars and seafood restaurants serving up some of the best paella in the city. In the hotter months, the open air-theatre is a summer tradition definitely worth checking out, too. If you’re in the area, La Cova Fumada, a small and unassuming tapas joint should not be missed. Owing to its proximity to the sea, fresh fish and shellfish are the main draw. It’s also the place where reputedly La Bomba was invented. Oh yes.
STAY CENTRALLY IN STYLE
Airbnb in Spain just ain’t cool; it’s prohibitively expensive and its legality murky. Fortunately, Barcelona is home to some seriously cool hotels, with some of the finest positioned bang amongst the action. We’re big fans of the sleek, sophisticated, hip as handlebars Hotel Bagues, right on Las Ramblas. This small, yet perfectly formed 5* boutique hotel is the ideal place for a stylish stay in the city’s centre, and while we hate to roll out the cliches, an oasis of calm in the chaos of Las Ramblas. After a day’s sightseeing, the rooftop terrace and pool offers a refreshing retreat, readying you for a night on the tiles. Time in the hotel’s sauna the next day will help you sweat out the ills accrued on that night.
For somewhere more budget situated on the world-famous street, Hotel Exe is a comfortable, secure launchpad from which to explore the old town. Make sure you request a room overlooking La Boqueria, as the hustle and bustle of the morning’s set up is an awesome, invigorating thing to wake up to.