The best tips & ideas on what to do in beautiful Barcelona

Visit Spain, first stop: Barcelona

As you could read in my Introduction to Spain, we started our visit in Barcelona, capital of Cataluña. After which we continued on to Valencia, Úbeda, Granada and Sevilla.

  • Throughout this post you’ll find some affiliated links, provided by TravelPayOuts. Links that may help you plan your next trip to Barcelona. If you click on them & buy a ticket for a museum, book a tour or rent a bike a small percentage of your purchase will go to me (paid by by TravelPayOuts of course). To finance my work as a travel blogger.
A visit to Barcelona isn’t complete without seeing a Gaudí monument
Barcelona, home of Antoni Gaudí
TIP: Getting from/to the Airport

After studying all the options of getting from the airport to the city center, we chose to take a taxi ($40-$45). Although there are cheaper options (metro or bus), we preferred taxi mainly for two reasons.

  1. We would surely be tired of our flight from Quito to Barcelona
  2. … and because of our luggage.

If you like, you can arrange transport to/from the Airport beforehand (private car/bus shuttle) with: KiwiTaxi

Learn more:

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TIP: Use of your phone/access to the internet 

Buy a Prepaid Sim-card for your phone. On our first day in Barcelona we bought one, which easily covered the three weeks we travelled through the country.

We mostly used the internet to find our way (GoogleMaps in town, Waze on the road). But also, to get information about the attractions we wanted to visit. Besides that, to order a taxi through Uber or Cabify, or for our personal correspondence/social media. 

The Gothic Center of Barcelona 

The first full day of our visit to Barcelona we spent exploring the city center. First of all, we got to know the Gothic Center/Barri Gòtic (Catalan), which is really worth a thorough exploration. Its a beautiful labyrinth of small streets, squares or plazas, historic buildings, museums, little shops, (tapas)-bars and restaurants.

There are just too many things to mention. Just walk around, it doesn’t matter whereto or at what time. Look around, get the feel and imagine yourself in medieval times. 

We visited the Gothic Center on a daily basis – because our hotel was nearby – but we discovered something new every day.

A visit to the Gothic center of Barcelona
Gothic center of Barcelona

To really get to know this central historical area of Barcelona, I would recommend the following guided tour.

Learn more:

Historical museum/ Museu D’Història de Barcelona 

One thing we all wanted to visit in the heart of the Gothic Center was the Historical Museum of Barcelona.

This impressive museum brings you to a level underneath the actual city of Barcelona, where you’ll find its Roman remains. The Romans named this strategic post on the Iberian coast Barcino. It was founded by Emperor Augustus in 10 BC. For the history-buff, this museum is really a must. 

Instead of walking along a serie of artifacts that try to give you a feel of the past, you actually walk through the old foundations of the city. Through old streets, along houses, living quarters, former shops, old wine cellars, baths,… really impressive. 

A big part of the museum lies underneath the Plaza del Rey/Plaça del Rei. The place where Columbus supposedly met the Catholic Kings Isabella & Fernando after his first voyage to America (in April 1493). Imagine that? A visit to this ghostlike old square is part of a walk through the history of Barcelona and Spain.

A few other popular museums

Besides the Historical Museum, Barcelona has a lot of other museums to choose from.

One of the most popular is the Picasso Museum. So popular, I would highly recommend you to buy tickets in advance. Especially if you visit Barcelona during the high season (June-September).

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Another popular museum that attracts many visitors is the Barcelona Wax Museum.

Buy your tickets in advance:

TIP: Discount with Student card

If you have one, bring your Student card. Even our daughter – who’s studying in Quito, Ecuador –  got discounts on tickets everywhere. Entrances to museums, monuments, churches & other attractions we visited all over Spain.

TIP: Getting to the Jewish Quarter

Although we crossed the Gothic Center many times, without really going anywhere, it was only on the last day that we got to the heart of the neighbourhood, the Jewish Quarter. A heart that you can easily miss, although it is mentioned on every map you can get.

Little by little we realised that we wouldn’t get there just wandering around. So, on the last night we decided to actively look for the Jewish Quarter. Surprisingly it was just a question of rounding a corner we hadn’t turned before. It “turned” out to be a beautiful, mysterious part of the city center. Worthwhile enough to leave you the tip.

The Jewish Quarter in the heart of Barcelona
The Jewish Quarter, Gothic center

Visit La Rambla, Barcelona

The Gothic Center is a welcome escape from La Rambla (also called Las Ramblas). La Rambla is the central avenue that crosses the whole center of Barcelona. It attracts thousands of tourists, but – for us – wasn’t really that interesting.

The main attraction probably are the many people – from all over the world – that you encounter on La Rambla. I would recommend you avoid eating or drinking something on La Rambla. Generally it’s very pricy & of poor quality.

TIP: Visiting La Rambla?

The truth is, when you visit the central part of Barcelona, you can’t avoid La Rambla. Somehow you end up on that street anyhow and probably several times. So, knowing that, if you do walk this world famous “runway” – 1,2 km or less than a mile – look out for the big mosaic of the Barcelona artist Juan Miró. Not just an artwork to walk by or over and admire, but also a place to remember. 

mosaic by Juan Miró on La Rambla, Barcelona
The Juan Miró mosaic on La Rambla

On August 17, 2017 there was a terrorist attack on La Rambla. A fanatic drove his van over the middle of the walkway, killing sixteen tourists and wounding many many more (physically & mentally). After about half a kilometer the van finally came to stop. Just on the mosaic of Miró, after which the terrorist got away on foot. He was killed four days later by the police.

During our visit – on August 17, 2019 – we witnessed a ceremony on the spot, commemorating the victims. Impressive for the many journalists, photographers and authorities present. But more so, because of the presence of people who lost their loved ones & the many witnesses who were obviously still traumatised by the tragedy.

A visit to other parts of the city of Barcelona

Although we spent a lot of time in the old neighbourhood, Barcelona is a much bigger city. To get to know it, you have to make use of the public transport. We mostly did travel around by metro and sometimes by bus – fast, safe and cheap.

TIP: Getting around Barcelona 

Probably the best tip I can give you is to buy the Barcelona Transport Pass before you travel to Barcelona. It includes Airport transfer, use of bus, metro, tram & urban railway transport (including a useful Audio Guide app + 10% discount on most attractions).

Buy now:

Buying the Barcelona Transport Pass beforehand avoids a lot of stress.

We only learned of this special Pass when we were there a few days already – too late – using the metro often, but also the bus sometimes, for example to get to the nearby beach.

* Another useful tip concerning public transport is to download the TMB-App (Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona), that provides you with a users guide. That is, … all you need to know about getting from A to B, maps, timetables and tickets.

Gaudí-Day in Barcelona

The second day we planned to visit some highlights left by the famous Barcelona-architect Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). Reason why we baptized it Gaudí-day. In the morning we planned a visit to Park Güell. In the afternoon Gaudí’s main project, the cathedral of the Sagrada Familia

Park Güell

We bought the tickets for Park Güell in advance, because it’s always busy at the entrance.

If you go by metro, head to Alfons X (Line L4), and from there – preferably – take a bus uphill (included in the Barcelona Transport Pass). A good idea, because its a steep climb up to the park from downtown. Knowing that the park itself runs uphill too, it’s better to save some energy. More so, on hot summer days. 

By the way, the upper part of Park Güell (the green zone) is free for everybody. It won’t be a surprise that the higher you climb this natural area, the better the views you get of the city of Barcelona and the sea behind. 

This means, your entrance ticket give you access to the lower part of Park Güell where you’ll find several remarkable buildings designed by Gaudí. One of them, the house where he lived in for many years (until his death in 1926). This house nowadays is the Casa-Museu Gaudí.

Park Güell, Barcelona
Park Güell

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La Sagrada Familia

In this blog I won’t get into details about Antoni Gaudí, because there are already so many interesting sites about him. However, I have to say that Gaudí is part of Barcelona’s history as much as – let’s say – the Roman remains in the Gothic Center or the glorious soccer team of FC Barcelona.

The main building he left his native city is the Sagrada Familia. If you want to get to know Barcelona, you can’t do without a visit to this impressive monument.

As many of you probably know, Gaudí himself never saw the result of his unique design. In fact, the fulfilment of his dreams is still going on.

The plan is to finish the cathedral in 2026, exactly hundred years after Gaudí’s death. The principal work that is left, is to finish the towers that still have to go up higher – “up until the heavens”.

These towers are going to make the Sagrada Familia the highest building in Barcelona. (Which doesn’t mean it’s going to be the highest point in Barcelona. In Gaudi’s mind the church couldn’t be higher than the natural surroundings made by god, like the hill of Montjuich.)

TIP: On visiting the Sagrada Familia  

The first tip must be common knowledge by now, but you never know. Because of the millions of visitors every year, you must buy entrance tickets to the cathedral beforehand. That sometimes actually means, months ahead. It’s best is to buy them online.

Buy now, to avoid waiting in line for hours:

Many visitors are of the opinion that you can skip the towers (extra time, extra money). I partially agree, but if you’re finally there …. why not? (* Update April 2022: As they are working on the towers at the moment, it isn’t possible to visit them.)

You can’t skip the museum though (no extra cost), which gives am interesting historical overview of the construction. There is also a worthwhile museum shop

A last useful tip is to visit the Chapel at the back of the cathedral (free entrance). Here you’ll find Gaudi’s crypt, the builder. As well as the tomb of Josep María Bocabella (1815-1892), who got the original idea of building the Sagrada Familia. You have to leave the main building, to get to the chapel.

Our Late Afternoon visit to the Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

We visited the Sagrada Familia in late afternoon. Because it was a little later in the season, a perfect time. Mainly because after a certain hour the sunlight starts playing a game through the stained-glassed windows and on to the interior walls. A game no visitor present will escape. For Gaudi the main objective of this effect was to underline the presence of god inside the cathedral.

A believer in the Christian god or not – we were there with people from all over the world, many of whom weren’t born Christian – you won’t forget a visit to the Sagrada Familia. (My daughter Lisa, as a student of Architecture got really emotional walking into this brainchild of Gaudí).

To resume, we had a perfect Gaudí-Day, combining Park Güell & the Sagrada Familia.

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Other Gaudi-landmarks

Surely, the Sagrada Familia is Antoni Gaudí’s most famous landmark, followed by the beautiful Park Güell.

However, there are others you can visit in Barcelona, like the following three houses:

  1. The first house built by Gaudí was Casa Vicens (the first one build by Gaudí)
  2. A later one & nowadays more famous was Casa Batlló
  3. Finally, there’s Casa Milà (popularly known as La Pedrera).

All worthwhile your visit, when in Barcelona.

Learn more:

A visit to the Hill of Montjuich, Barcelona

On the morning of the third day in Barcelona we went to the Montjuich/Montjuïc, the birthplace of Barcelona. This impressive hillside accommodates several attractions. There’s the old castle of the same name, as well as several museums, some beautiful gardens, and of course many viewpoints. 

After my daughter brought a short visit to the small, but impressive Pabellón of Barcelona – designed by Mies van der Rohe for the 1929 International Exposition – we decided to walk up the hill.

However, when we got to level of the impressive Museo Nacional de Arte de Catalunya, we noticed it was still a long way up to the top of the hill.

TIP: Transport to top of Montjuich

So we decided to head down and take the metro to the top. The funicular car starts from Metro station Parallel (Line L2) and takes you up in few minutes.

Alternatively, you can go to the top with a cable car. Actually, two. Although the Telèferico is more expensive, it provides some attractive stops & spectacular views of Barcelona. 

Book now:

Well, nice views is what you get anyway when you finally get to the top of Montjuich. It’s best to take your time on one of the terraces overlooking the city of Barcelona and its surroundings. We ended up at the Mirador Miramar, with a drink, a bite and impressive bird-eye views.  

Overview of Barcelona from Montjuich
View over the city of Barcelona and its harbour

Take a break during your visit to Barcelona

Barcelona has so many attractions, you can’t visit them all in few days. Besides that, visiting the city in the middle of summer takes more of your energy than you sometimes want to.

So, better take a break once in a while. Besides relaxing at night, having a bite and/or a drink in one of the many restaurants and bars, we found two places were we ended up in the afternoon to relax for a while. 

Taking a break and a beer in central city park

Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona 

Several times we ended up in the Parc de la Ciutadella. The most central park in town, with enough space to sit or lie down, have a picnic or a quick nap (siesta).

In the middle of the park you find a nice terrace to have a drink or a snack. Besides that, there’s a zoo, and the building where the parlement of Catalonia houses.

Buy your tickets in advance:

While there, we saw a  lot of “rent a bikers”, who were also looking for a shady place to relax a little from the warm, busy city center. 

Reserve you bike now:

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To get to the park from the city center its best to take the metro, bus or taxi. The main entrance is at the Arco de Triunfo, a most impressive gate to your well deserved break. 

El Arco, entrance to the city park of Barcelona
El Arco

The Beaches near Barcelona

On others days we ended up at the beach.

While on our way the first time, we had a quick look into the Maritime Museum/Museu Marítim. We found it a little chaotic, hopping through time as quick as you can walk, but found some real highlights.

First of all, a map that was owned by the famous Italian navigator Amerigo Vespucci. Vespucci, who worked for the Spaniards discovering new parts of America, accidentally lending his name to the whole continent.

Further on, we encountered an impressive real size replica of a vessel from the 16th century called the “Juan de Austria”.

Maritime museum of Barcelona, picture of the “Juan de Austria"
Maritime museum

Almost in front of the museum you’ll find the famous statue of Christopher Columbus, still pointing out to sea. At the entrance of the museum you’ll find a beautiful small replica of this statue.  

TIP: Free entrance on Sunday afternoon

Some museums – not all – are free to visit, after 15:00 hours on Sundays. The Maritime Museum is one of them.

After the Maritime Museum we had to see the real deal and headed out to the sea front of Barcelona. Well, foremost the beaches… to relax a little.

The nearest beaches to the city center you’ll find in the neighbourhood.of Barceloneta

Near the museum, at the southern end of La Rambla, we hopped on the bus and were there in 10 minutes. We went to these beaches twice and it was full of people – mainly local people, because of the weekend. 

The beaches are rather small, but fine for a fast escape from the summer heat. And if you want a quick dive in the somewhat wild Mediterranean sea. 

The nearest beaches of Barcelona

Tours from Barcelona

My visit to Barcelona wasn’t the first time. I was there once before when on vacation with my girlfriend & parents-in-law.

That time, we visited Barcelona only briefly, while staying in one of the many beach towns along the beautiful & relaxing Costa Brava.

This time, staying in Barcelona, we didn’t feel the need to Tour the country-side or go to the beach (besides the one near the town center, which I described earlier).

However, if you want to visit the countryside around Barcelona, there are some beautiful options:

  • Beach-tours there are several, which might include a visit to an authentic place like Sitges, an ancient fishing village.
  • Another tour brings you to the wine fields around Barcelona, which – obviously – includes a lot of tasting.
  • Finally, a very popular tour, brings you to the the mountain range of Monserrat with its historic monastery. Although I was there many years ago, I still remember that visit very well. An impressive site.

On eating out in Barcelona

I don’t plan to give too much eating-tips in this blog. Only if I really think it worth to mention a certain place or restaurant, I will. I would recommend everybody though to avoid eating/drinking on La Rambla. Generally it’s less quality for more money and no guarantee for a better service. 

Tapa-bars

Besides a visit to a restaurant or a food-stall at the market, Spain is famous for its Tapabars. Every Tapa-bar has its own rules, but generally a tapa – “a tasty bite” – comes with a (alcoholic) drink you order.

Usually the tapa “belongs” to the drink you ordered – that is, it comes with the drink for free. Other times though, you have to pay for it. 

In Barcelona we visited several Tapa-bars and had to pay for both drink and food. When we got to the south of Spain (Andalusia) we noticed that in many bars the tapas came with a beer or a glass of wine…. that is for free.

Probably, this difference has to do with the region you are visiting. (It are mainly the Basques who are known for their tapas or pintxos). Or else, with visiting a tourist area or not.  

The Markets of Barcelona

One tip to all visitors of Barcelona – and many other places in Spain – is to visit the local produce market. One of the most famous one in Barcelona and mainly for tourists is Mercat de la Boqueria (in the neighbourhood of El Raval, but on La Rambla).

The Boqueria deserves a visit, because you get to see and taste a collection of the finest products of the region and country. Besides the famous serrano ham, you’ll find many kind of cheeses, olives, spices, bread, fruit, coffee, sweets & drinks. We even found a famous Dutch cheese (Maaslander), we couldn’t resist (living in Ecuador). Don’t miss the experience. 

Besides the Boqueria, we visited the Mercat Santa Caterina, also central in the town center. This market is more modern and also had all the mentioned products, but for us didn’t have the same ambience or attraction as the Boqueria.  

La Boqueria, a must visit in Barcelona
Mercat de la Boqueria

Cooking classes, food tours, the best tapas & others…

Alternatively you can “eat out” in a completely different way, like:

  • Receive a class in preparing the recipes you always wanted to learn
  • Go for a food-Tour, getting to know the best places for tapas & other local delicacies
  • Visit the best roof-top bars & restaurants
  • Finding healthy, vegetarian or vegan places to eat

If you like the idea, visit EatWith to get to know the different options. A great way to get to know excellent food & other people.

Learn more:

TIP: Shopping on Sunday

In this blog, I don’t plan to say a lot about shopping either, but I will give you a good tip concerning Barcelona.

Beforehand, we planned to visit some stores in Spain that we miss in our homecountry Ecuador. So, in Barcelona we planned to visit the main shopping area in the neighbourhood of L’Exaimple, mainly the Passeig de Gràcia.

Originally we planned to visit this famous shopping street on Sunday, but noticed – just in time – that most stores are closed on that day.

Just something the real shoppers have to know, ….!

I have no idea if this fact repeats itself in every town in Spain? But be warned, better inform yourselves if you plan to go shopping on a Sunday. 

To put our visit to Barcelona, Spain in a few words

Every day we were in Barcelona was filled to the last hours. We enjoyed the city tremendously. And we weren’t the only ones. Millions of tourist visit Barcelona every year. Besides that, Barcelona is a multicultural metropolis in itself, as are many big cities in Europa nowadays. In the city center you hear more foreign languages than Catalonian or Spanish. Even most locals, who attend you at the main attractions, in restaurants and shops, often open the conversation in English. For us, living in South America, that wasn’t really necessary, but for many tourist surely good for a sigh of relief.   

The monument of Columbus, at the end of La Rambla, Barcelona
The Columbus monument on La Rambla.

To us, Barcelona, Spain is worth another visit, because we missed out on many other attractions. Just to name a few: the Picasso Museum, the Nou Camp soccer stadium of FC Barcelona or Historical Museum of Catalunya.

We planned to go the artistic festival that was held in the Gràcia-neighbourhood at the time, but unfortunately didn’t find time, nor the energy to go there, … instead decided to relax at night at a restaurant or bar. Next time though…

In all, we spent 5 nights, 4 whole days in Barcelona, but if you want to see the whole city and do all the things we didn’t get to, it’s better to stay longer: a week, ten days … Or even more, to get to surrounding areas as well.

All in all, a perfect start of our visit to Spain. A trip that continued on to Valencia, Úbeda, Granada and lastly Sevilla.

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Find the best & cheapest flight to Barcelona + the right hotel to stay

Book a flight:

There are many sites to find the best & cheapest flights to your chosen destination.

The one I recommend is CheapOAir.

Search for cheapest flight:

Reserve a hotel:

Although specialised in flights CheapOAir can also help you out in finding the best hotel or to rent a car.

Alternatively, you van visit Expedia to find the right place to stay (Click on ad below to start your search):

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Another option is Hotellook (in cooperation with booking.com):

Final message for fellow travel writers & bloggers: TravelPayOuts is a global integrated affiliate program focused exclusively on travel offers. If it works for me, it will probably work for you too: TravelPayOuts.

For an overview of all travel posts of my blog, go to: the Home Page.

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