Fall in love with the Catalan Capital with my in-depth guide
Offering the very best of Spanish city breaks with a distinct Catalan edge, Barcelona is a hub of culture, nightlife and shopping. Discover what it is that draws millions of tourists to this amazing city with my nifty guide to attractions, sights and experiences in Barcelona!
World-class culture, iconic architecture and trendy, laid-back vibes – for years now, Barcelona has been the top destination when it comes to city breaks in Spain, and in Europe as a whole. Mild climates ensure fantastic experiences all year round, and its landmarks draw countless visitors from all over the world. In short, Barcelona is a city of endless possibilities.
If you’ve yet to go on holiday to Barcelona, then it’s about time that all changed! To help you your trip to this wonderful city, I’ve taken the liberty to compile a list of helpful advice and insider tips to help you get the most out of the city. I’ll be honest with you – there’s so much to see in Barcelona that you’ll never do it all in one trip! But at least with my guide to the essential things to do in Barcelona at hand, you’ll be able to get stuck right in to the very best of the local heritage, attractions and even the best views of the city – and waste no time at all in getting a feel for what is truly a fascinating and diverse place.
Things to Do in Barcelona – my in-depth travel guide
One reason that makes a Barcelona holiday so popular is that it doesn’t take that long at all to get there from Ireland – just 2½ hours! Both Dublin and Cork benefit from direct connections to Barcelona, although the flights from Dublin are considerably cheaper. Ryanair offers the cheapest flights, with return flights starting from around €50pp. Other operators that offer flights for similar prices include Aer Lingus and the Spanish budget airline Vueling – from Cork it’s only Aer Lingus that operate direct routes.
When travelling from the airport to the city centre, there are several options you can take. Taxis cost around €25 – €30, but since traffic is pretty hectic within the city centre, it can actually be quicker to consider using other modes of transportation. For example, you could take the metro and use the L9 Sud line to get you to the centre, where you can then change and get to where you need to go – this costs €4.50 each way. Similarly you could use the local RENFE commuter trains – the L2 line connects Barcelona with the airport’s terminal 2, with services running every half an hour.
Barcelona is a city where old meets new – and that’s what gives the city its special flair. One piece of advice that I like to give when visiting Barcelona is to keep things nice and relax. Yes, there’s bucket-loads of things to see and do, but if you take the time to have a proper little stroll around it’s the perfect way to get a feel for the city’s many distinct neighbourhoods and spot all sorts of little places you otherwise might miss! Whether it be a peaceful square lined with palm trees and cafés or an awesome little record shop tucked away, you’ll always come across something that’ll catch your eye.
The sights I’ve listed below are the absolute basics – and the most popular. These all deserve a place on your to-do list if you’ve haven’t seen them already! I’ve also included a little list of sights and museums that I recommend checking out too. And here’s another super tip to discover as much of the city as possible in a short amount of time – if you get the Barcelona Card, you’ll receive numerous discounts and free entrance to various sights, as well as the use of public transport for free. Pretty nifty stuff in all fairness!
Gaudi’s Barcelona – the city’s most iconic structures
The Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and colourful Parc Güell – let’s face it, these are pretty much the first things that come to mind when people mention Barcelona! They characterise the city like nothing else. So what’s so special about these particular attractions? Well, all of these sights have one thing in common – they were designed by famous Catalan architect and designer Antoni Gaudí, who is one of the most famous figures of the 19th century Modernisme movement. It was one of the ways in which the Catalan people expressed their vision for the future and for the development of their region and national identity, and it draws a lot of parallels to other artistic movements at the time such as Art Nouveau or Jungendstil. I like to describe Gaudí’s style as ‘organic’ – there’s loads of curved, uneven surfaces that draw inspiration from nature. The colourful mosaics and patterns almost give the illusion that it’s made from coral. You just have to see it for yourself, really! Note that these sights are rather touristy, but since it’s such an integral part of local heritage, you should go and at least see some Gaudí’s masterpieces while you’re there.
First and foremost is, of course, the world-famous Sagrada Familia. This is the most famous landmark in the city, and it’s pretty much impossible to miss. Construction started 135 years ago, and it still continues to this day. Estimates place the date of completion to be in 2026, which marks the 100-year anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Take the time to have a look at the external façade and you’ll see the contrast been old, weathered sandstone versus the newer, whiter sections that were built more recently. An interesting side-effect of the building’s long construction process!
On the inside, things only get more breathtaking. Look up and you’ll be greeted with a sight so visually complex that it’s hard to know where to start! In contrast to your typical churches or cathedrals, the pillars and arches of the nave are made up of straight, sharp lines. In fact the many supports and pillars almost look like the trunks of old, ancient trees. The stained glass windows and amazing lighting only add to the experience.
Entrance currently starts at €15 for entry alone, with tickets costing slightly more for guided tours. There’s also the option to head up the spires and soak up views of the city centre which is pretty cool – this costs €29. All proceeds fund the construction of the basilica.
Another popular Gaudí landmark is Casa Batlló. For lovers of architecture who are interested in seeing some of Gaudí’s techniques up close, then I definitely recommend taking a little tour. This is actually a structure that Gaudí completely redesigned, installing a new façade and interiors which are fascinating to look at. One of the parts of the building that I find the most interesting is actually the inner courtyard – it’s a great example of how Gaudí takes natural light into consideration and adapts the building around it. The tiles that line the wall become a lighter shade of blue the further down you go, and as you go down floor by floor the windows get slightly wider. It’s so that people living at the bottom still feel like they’re getting as much light and brightness as those living at the top. Super simple stuff really – but it’s just so interesting!
I recommend buying tickets online at the Casa Batlló website – not only will you avoid the queues, but also avail of a small discount too. I particularly like the Evening Toast ticket – not only do you get a full tour of the house, but also get access to the VIP rooftop area and a complimentary glass of bubbly cava wine.
If you need a short break from the hustle and bustle, then there’s no place better than the wonderful Parc Güell. While it is pretty busy, you can go earlier or later during the day to avoid the crowds when they’re at their largest – or you can head off the beaten path and explore the countless paths their snake their way up and around the lush vegetation and hills. You’ll be able to get those iconic views of the city down towards the sea with the wildly colourful mosaics all around.
The best museums in Barcelona
Barcelona doesn’t just feature a ton of sights – you’ll also find a lot of famous museums. One example is the Museu Picasso, which mainly exhibits works from Pablo Picasso’s earlier days, as he spent several years of his youth in Barcelona. Another popular museum is the Museu de la Ciutat, which shows you the local history of the city, with exhibitions spread out across three storeys. Other popular museums which are worth seeing are the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Museu del Futbol Club Barcelona – don’t forget those tours of Camp Nou too! ;)
This club needs no introduction! For any football fans out there, Camp Nou is one of those bucket-list places. But you don’t have to fork out loads for a game here to experience the grounds of this iconic club. In fact, why not go behind the scenes by heading on a Camp Nou Stadium Tour? Tickets are €25 for adults and €20 for children aged between 6-13 and includes museum entrance and an audioguide. You can visit the players’ changing rooms, walk down the tunnel and look inside the press room, where press conferences for the managers and officials are held. Once you’re done, you can have a little look at the museum next door too!
The Gothic Quarter
Returning to the topic of the city’s museums. Many of Barcelona’s most popular museums are located in Barri Gòtic, also known as Gothic Quarter. If you’re visiting one of these museums, such as the Museu Frederic Marès, you should definitely take the time to look at the oldest city district in Barcelona. Here you can stroll through many narrow, winding alleys, which characterise the cityscape of the Gothic Quarter. You can also admire the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia and other historic buildings.
The Gothic Quarter is a hub of nightlife as well. You’ll find tons of bars and venues here that are well worth checking out, and as you navigate the maze of streets you’ll be bound to come across countless terraces and outdoor seating areas. The Gothic Quarter takes its name from the neighbourhood’s many examples of Gothic ornamentation and buildings. But you might be surprised to know that a lot of this Gothic architecture isn’t as old as you may think! Take the famous bridge that crosses the Carrer del Bisbe. This wonderfully ornamental structure looks Medieval, but it in fact dates back to only 1928. Or how about the Museu Picasso building? A lot of the structures were restored and rebuilt in the 1950s. The reason behind all this was the 1929 International Exhibition. The city had huge plans to restore the neighbourhood to its former glory, allowing Barcelona to essentially showcase Catalonia to the world. Even after the exhibition was finished, restoration and reconstruction works continued well into the 1960s. The result is this wonderfully diverse and magical neighbourhood that we all know and love today!
Shopping in Barcelona
If there’s one thing you can do well in Barcelona, it’s shopping. In fact it’s one of the best cities in Europe that you can go shopping in, up there with other cities like Milan and London. Chances are you’ll find some fantastic bargains along the way as well. Major thoroughfares such as Las Rables and Passeig de Gràcia feature loads of shops that range from major brands to smaller boutiques. In fact, if it’s trendy little boutiques you’re after then I can only recommend checking out the neighbourhood of Gràcia – don’t be afraid to turn off the larger streets as you’ll be guaranteed to come across some adorable little places along the way. From traditional, family-owned stores to independent vintage outlets, this part of town has it all.
There are also several markets in Barcelona that are well worth checking out should you fancy getting an insight into local life. The most famous market in Barcelona by far is the Mercat de la Bouqueria – it’s the one most frequented by tourists thanks to its location by Las Ramblas, but it’s worth taking a look around anyway just for the sheer amount of fresh produce on offer. Once you’ve had a little stroll around La Bouqueria, it’s time to go local. Markets such as Mercat de Santa Saterina, Mercat de Sants and Mercat de l’Abaceria are all smaller, but they’re great places to get a feel for the atmosphere in the different neighbourhoods, and if you’re self-catering then why not go and get your produce there? Mercat de Sant Antoni should also be on your list. While the main building is closed for renovation, there’s still awesome book fairs that take place every Sunday. You’ll pick up some great books for next to nothing.
One last tip from me – if you like your markets to be more on the trendy side, then I recommend checking out Palo Alto Market. The atmosphere is nice and laid back, the clientele hip and trendy, and you’ll love the street food and designer wares. Be sure to arrive early and buy tickets online!
Relaxing at the beach
Phew! After all that sightseeing and shopping, I’m sure your feet might be aching quite a bit by now. Not to worry – Barcelona has miles of sandy beaches for you to relax on and soak up some of that lovely sunshine. Playa de la Barceloneta is by far the most popular beach, drawing in plenty of crowds and featuring a lively atmosphere no matter what time of day it is. There is also a long string of beaches that lead their way along the district of Poble Nou until reaching the shipping harbour of Port Forum. Icària Beach is another popular choice, but just remember that Mar Bella Beach is for nudists (just so you’re not surprised!).
Breathtaking views from Montjuïc and Tibidabo
Sometimes it’s nice to see things from a different perspective. Cities are no exception – you spend all your time strolling through streets and squares, so why not see the city from a whole new angle?
Barcelona is surrounded by hills, and Montjuïc is one of the most famous ones in the area. Reaching heights of 173m, Montjuïc is an essential part of the city not just because of its geographical prominence, but also because of its role throughout history. The Castle of Montjuïc, perched on the top of the hill, has been watching over the city for centuries. And remember that 1929 International Exhibition I mentioned before? Well, a lot was going on here during that too! Make your way to the top and you can stroll through the lovely parks, check out the museums and simply let those views of the city sink in. There’s a funicular railway that can take you to the top, or you could opt for the no. 55 bus in case you don’t feel like walking.
However, if those views aren’t enough for you, I recommend making your way to the nearby mountain of Tibidabo. Tibidabo is the tallest mountain in Barcelona, measuring 512m at its summit. It offers fantastic views across the entire city and the region as a whole – if the weather’s clear enough, you can even see out towards the famous Montserrat Monastery. At the top of Tibidabo you’ll find an amusement park as well as the breathtaking Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor church, a beautiful Gothic-style church that’s topped off with a statue of Jesus at the top – almost like Barcelona’s answer to Christ the Redeemer! You can reach Tibidabo via the L7 metro line, which takes you to Avinguda del Tibidabo. From here, you can take the 192 bus line or the cable car. From Placa de Catalunya, it takes about three-quarters of an hour, depending on the connection.
Catalan cuisine – dining in Barcelona
A city break isn’t just about the sights and sounds – it’s about taking your taste buds on an adventure and trying your hand at the local specialities! Catalan cuisine has a lot in common with its Spanish counterpart, but there’s plenty of incredible dishes, snacks and sweet treats that set the two apart. In addition to your usual tapas you have loads of seafood, stews, salads and beautiful fideuà, the Catalan answer to peaella. You’ll even find meat and seafood served in the same dishes – pretty much heaven for any self-confessed foodie!
If you want to enjoy an authentic Catalan meal, then you’ll be glad to know that there’s countless restaurants serving up local specialities. The Gothic Quarter in particular has a high concentration of them. Restaurants such as l’Antic Bocoi del Gòtic, Agut and Cafè de l’Acadèmia are some wicked choices that I can definitely recommend. Should you be hankering for tapas, then be sure to check out Quimet i Quimet and La Esquinica – the later is a little further out from the centre mind you, but it is so worth the journey.
Nightlife in Barcelona
We now come to the last, but for many, the most important aspect of Barcelona: the nightlife. If you have enough time, a night out in the colourful city of Barcelona should definitely be included on your itinerary. For many, it’s even the highlight of a trip to Barcelona! Important to know: most clubs in Barcelona don’t open until 12:00 am, but they usual fill out by 2 am. This means that you should have for plenty of time to spruce yourself up and enjoy a drink (or two) in the meantime!
Cosmo Cafè & Galería de Arte: Scandi vibes meet modern art
Numero Nueve: Trendy crowds and fantastic great cocktails
Plaza del Sol: Not a bar, but this square in Gràcia is filled with bars where a lot of local students go to enjoy a beer
Betty Ford’s & 33/45: Two bars close to each other – the former is popular with students, the latter is lovely and chill
El Ciclista: Quirky bike-themed bar with a top-notch drink menu
Chupitos is a very popular bar in the Gothic Quarter. It attracts a lot of party-goers due to its huge selection of shots and fire displays. Here you can try the craziest types of shots for just €2! If you prefer cocktails, then the Negroni Cocktail Bar or the Bloody Mary Cocktail Lounge will be more to your taste. However you’ll quickly realise that it doesn’t really matter where you go in the city – there’s so many bars everywhere you look!
So if you’re still in the mood to party after midnight and want to take to the dance floor, head to the party hotspot of Port Olimpic. The trendy club, Pacha, with its popular DJ acts and Ibiza themed parties, is located here. It will make you feel as if you were in the middle of the Balearic Island! Sutton Club is somewhat more chic and extravagant. It is slightly more expensive, but has a unique atmosphere and music to suit all tastes. And if you don’t want to party far away from the centre, then Otto Zutz Club is recommended. Here you can expect good music on two floors, a stylish ambience and a friendly crowd. It is a club which is well suited for all music tastes, as well as all age groups.
Plan your city break to Barcelona
Wowzers – quite a lot to take in! Barcelona has such a ridiculous amount to offer that I believe it’s definitely one of those cities that you can just keep coming back to again and again. Whether it’s exploring the traditional architecture of the Gothic Quarter or hanging out with the hip crowds in Gràcia, life in Barcelona is incredibly diverse and you’ll find yourself swept off your feet.
If you want to start planning your own adventure to Barcelona, then simply check out the handy links below – or have a little browse through my Barcelona city break deals. I often find fantastic Barcelona deals so be sure to keep checking back on a regular basis!
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