Barcelona is an incredibly fun and vibrant city. I originally scheduled my visit to Barcelona for only three nights but soon extended my stay for an extra two. There’s so much to do, see and eat in and around Barcelona that you’ll want to keep coming back.
The sheer volume of options in Barcelona can be overwhelming, so here are my top six recommendations on what to do in Barcelona. You’ll discover the city and have a great time even if your time and money are limited.
1. Experience Gaudi’s Architecture
You can’t stay in Barcelona very long without hearing about Antoni Gaudi, who died in 1926. The outrageously creative modernist architect left an indelible mark on this beautiful city, and his work is one of the elements that makes Barcelona different from many other bustling European cities.
There are numerous opportunities to see and learn about Gaudi’s work, from touring two of the homes he designed to Park Guell, Sagrada Familia, and a vast array of guided tours at every price point. You could easily blow most or all of your travel budget on Gaudi alone. My advice? Choose one Gaudi work to visit and admire the others from the outside. And if you must choose one, choose Sagrada Familia, which a tour guide referred to as “The Never-Ending Story.”
This massive Catholic basilica was started in 1882 and is still under construction. It truly is a sight to behold. Book your ticket online the day before your visit to choose a time slot and avoid the long lines.
But don’t miss taking a look at Gaudi’s other masterpieces…
2. Take a Free Walking Tour
Barcelona is expansive and fast-paced, but a guided tour can go a long way in enhancing your familiarity with and understanding of the city. I love free walking tours, and I took two in Barcelona. The first, a “Gaudi and Modern Architecture” tour, was good. But the second was really excellent. It was an “Old City” walking tour conducted by Runner Bean Tours. The guide was entertaining and I really gained an appreciation for the city and its history. Well worth the time and tip money!
3. Visit the Boqueria Market
Situated adjacent to Barcelona’s famous “La Rambla” pedestrian thoroughfare (and another “must-visit” site), the Boqueria has been operating in this location since 1840. It’s an incredible feast for the eyes as well as the stomach, and it’s easy to eat cheaply in the market while enjoying the amazing experience! I purchased a large couscous and vegetable salad, a mango smoothie and a large cup of fresh fruit for about 7 Euro total.
4. Sample the Tapas and Sangria
When in Spain, the best cure I know for tired feet is a break for sangria and tapas. Barcelona is full of tapas bars, some of which tabulate your bill based on the number of empty toothpicks left on your plate! And any place you stop will serve sangria. Ahhh.
If you’re stopping at an odd time of day, go to a place where the tapas are made to order. Otherwise, eat when everyone else is eating and enjoy choosing from tapas on display at the bar (and consumed quickly).
5. Wander Historic Streets
The historic streets of Barrio Gotico and El Born are filled with interesting squares, shops, restaurants and street performers playing live music. When you wander without a real destination, you’ll often find great surprises and some of the most memorable travel experiences. While exploring these streets, I found a tiny local chocolate shop with the most amazing truffle I’ve ever tasted. (It had wine inside – of course!) I also happened upon an little art fair with artists at work, as well as a funny little performance with huge dancers. Take time to wander!
6. Escape to Monserrat…With Wine!
Monserrat is a Benedictine monk retreat in the mountains about an hour from Barcelona. The views driving through the mountains and from the top are spectacular. I took a small group half-day tour from Barcelona to Monserrat by coach bus. We visited the Basilica Monserrat Monastery and enjoyed the mountain views before heading to Oller del Mas Winery, (which is located in a 10th century castle!) for a tour and a wine and tapas tasting. The tour was conducted by Castlexperience, and was really fantastic. This tour was my biggest “splurge” in Barcelona, and well worth it. It was a wonderful afternoon.