Last week I traveled to Barcelona for my birthday and it was nothing short of AMAZING! My bf and I spent six days in this beautiful city and didn’t want to leave! Barcelona is such a vibrant city with tons to offer in terms of culture, sight-seeing, and (most importantly) food. I now see why it’s one of Europe’s top travel destinations.
Barcelona has been on my bucket list for many years, ever since I started studying Spanish in middle school. It was exciting to finally go and experience it for myself.
I have to say, I loved everything about it! The awe-inspiring architecture, the warm and friendly people, the natural beauty surrounding the city, and the food and drink. But more than anything, I loved the city’s laid back vibe. It’s like stress is not a part of their vocabulary. It’s an urban center, but doesn’t have that hustle-and-bustle atmosphere like other cities. On any given afternoon you’ll find locals enjoying a leisurely lunch (with wine of course) or having a full-on siesta. I could definitely get used to that lifestyle.
If you’re ready to start planning your trip, read on for my top things to see, do and eat in Barcelona.
1. Visit La Sagrada Familia
You cannot go to Barcelona without seeing the Sagrada Familia! This cathedral is a must-see and, honestly, pictures don’t do it justice. It is incredible! The amount of detail and intricacy is unbelievable. It’s one of the most renowned works of Spanish Architect Antoni Gaudi. Construction began in 1882 and is still underway, with an estimated completion date of 2026.
To go inside you must purchase a ticket, but it is so worth it. Make sure to get your tickets online in advance. When we first went, tickets were sold out and we had to come back the following day. But I’m glad we did! The stain glass is amazing. We went around dusk when the sun was setting and to see all the light shining through was spectacular.
2. Explore Park Guell
When you see all those colorful, mosaic-filled photos you’re probably looking at Park Guell. Another example of Gaudi’s unique and playful architectural style. This park contains buildings, statues and tunnels all designed by Gaudi. You can literally get lost in this park and there’s no shortage of things to see. You’ll have plenty of photo ops, it’s one of the most Instagrammable locations in Barcelona.
There is a cost to enter the main section of the park. We arrived as the sun was setting and to our surprise we found out that they open the entire park to the public after a certain hour (6pm when we went). So if you don’t mind a little less lighting, you can explore the park for free. This is a nice option as the cost to enter can be a bit pricey.
On the upper terrace, you can look out over all of Barcelona and enjoy an amazing panoramic view of the city.
3. Eat your way through La Boqueria
If I had to choose only one place to go for my entire Barcelona vacation this would be it. La Boqueria has EVERYTHING! It’s the largest food market in Barcelona and one of the most famous in the world. It’s the perfect place to sample fresh and local foods. You’ll find fresh fruits and veggies, homemade juices and smoothies, various types of meats and seafood, candies and chocolates, tapas, you name it!
We came to the market almost everyday because it was just a couple of blocks from our hotel and we loved sampling all the different options. My bf loved the anchovies and olives, which were surprisingly tasty. Nothing like the canned or bottled varieties you find here in the U.S. My favorite was the jamon y queso–slices of dry cured ham and manchego cheese served in a cone. The most unusual thing we tried there was cured kangaroo and ostrich meat…I was not a fan.
La Boqueria is also a great place to buy food-related souvenirs. We had to bring back some Spanish olive oil and saffron. Unfortunately, due to custom laws I wasn’t able to bring back any ham with me!
4. Wander down Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas is a giant street lined with shops, cafes, gelato parlors and more. It’s one of the city’s most popular attractions. It gets a bad rap for being a tourist trap, with high prices for low quality. While this is true of some of the establishments (and I know this from experience) it’s still a cool strip that’s worth exploring. It’s a great place to sight-see and people watch. If you go in December when we went, you’ll see lots of holiday lights and decorations.
5. Grab churros and hot chocolate
Churros in Barcelona are nothing like the ones you get here. They’re sooo much better! Please don’t leave Barcelona without stopping in a churreria for fresh churros and hot chocolate. The churros are fried to perfection, and crispy yet airy inside. You can even get them stuffed with chocolate or Nutella. The hot chocolate isn’t what you’d expect. It’s a thick melted chocolate sauce that more so for dipping than drinking. But I’m pretty sure either is acceptable!
If you’re in El Raval, check out Petritxol-Xocoa, a cute little bakery with these giant cookie dough balls and my favorite churros!
6. See the Magic Fountain
If you’re looking for a fun evening activity, catch a performance at the Magic Fountain in Montjuic. From Thursday to Sunday there are several 15 minute fountain shows each night. 3,620 water jets erupt in a display of dancing water to a soundtrack of classic and pop hits, lit up in every color of the rainbow. It’s like a more colorful version of the Bellagio Fountain show in Vegas.
It’s a lot of fun to watch, however it can get very crowded. If you want a good spot, get there a little early. But there’s plenty of space to see the show even if you’re not up close. No ticket required, this event is completely free!
7. Bike to the beach
Barcelona is a very bike-friendly city and many people use bikes as their primary mode of transportation. We decided to get a little adventurous and explore Barcelona like the locals.
We rented our bikes from Green Bikes rentals. It was very easy to do and reasonably priced (2 € per hour/10 € per day). Bikes, locks, and helmets (if you like) were all included. I will admit, it was a bit of a challenge at first–riding through narrow alleys and roadways, weaving through pedestrians, all the while attempting to follow a GPS–but it was such a fun and memorable experience.
Even if biking isn’t for you, Barceloneta beach is definitely worth visiting. Even in the winter! It was lovely strolling down the board walk and seeing another side of the city. Aside from swimming, there’s lots to keep you occupied: restaurants and bars, vendors, street performers, elaborate sand creations and so many cute dogs!
8. Taste authentic paella
You can get paella almost anywhere in Barcelona, but finding authentic paella is a little more tricky. There are many tourist traps that will serve you frozen food that looks more shrimp fried rice than paella. I did a little research and found some great restaurant recommendations and tips on how to find the good stuff. Some things to avoid are picture menus, waiters standing in front the restaurant, serving size for one person (there is usually a two person minimum for paella), and extremely low prices. The average cost for paella is 15-25 € per person, so keep that in mind.
We decided to try Xiringuito Excriba, a local favorite set right on the beach. We had the sea and mountain paella and it did not disappoint! So fresh and flavorful! Don’t forget to try the cava sangria!
Where to Stay
Although it’s fairly easy to get around Barcelona via metro, bus, or taxi/Uber, staying in a central location will make life much easier. You’ll be in walking distance from many of the popular attractions, saving time and money. We found it really convenient to be able to walk to most places on our itinerary. And we got to take in all the sites along the way. By the end of the week we felt like locals, getting around without even using a GPS.
We stayed in El Raval–a newly revived neighborhood known for its trendy, eclectic atmosphere and diversity. The hotel was called Barceló Raval, located right off Las Ramblas. It was affordable and offered us easy access to the city sights. I loved the playful decor and the breathtaking views from the hotel’s 360 roof top lounge.
Before leaving we were a little concerned about the weather and how to pack appropriately for this time of year. Luckily, winters in Barcelona are milder than most other European cities, so we didn’t have to pack any major winter gear. During our trip (in early December), the weather was actually very pleasant in the 50s and 60s. I packed a fleece jacket, a lightweight down jacket, and a vest, along with a few sweaters and that was perfect for me (as someone who gets cold very easily).
Both Spanish and Catalan are spoken in Barcelona, so it’s a good idea to learn a few key words and phrases in either of these languages. However, you definitely don’t need to be fluent to have a smooth and enjoyable trip. Many of the attractions you’ll visit have signs written in Spanish, Catalan, and English and restaurants will have translated menus available. I speak a little Spanish and it came in handy in a few instances, but for the most part I was able to get by using English. It was nice, however, to practice my Español!
I hope this list helps you plan your next trip to Barcelona. It’s an incredible city and I can’t wait to go back!