The Ultimate Travel Guide to Barcelona, Spain
Ah, Barcelona. The first European city I ever visited and man, what a way to start. To date, Barcelona is one of the most romantic, architecturally intriguing, and tastiest cities I’ve ever been to. I love Spanish culture (read: tapas), siestas (read: mid-afternoon naps), and la playa (aka the beach). If you are looking for your next adventure, I suggest you consider Barcelona. It will not disappoint.
My first visit to Barcelona was over Christmas of 2014 and my second in February of 2016. Both were filled with lots of sightseeing, eating, and street wandering. Enjoy my complete travel guide to one of Europe’s top cities.
-People in Barcelona speak primarily Catalan and Spanish. English is also widely spoken. It is always a good idea to know some basic phrases in the home language so you can get around, read signs, and be polite to locals.
-Barcelona is a big city. The safety concerns are the same as other large European cities. Petty crime such as pickpockets and theft can be issues for tourists. Always be aware of your surroundings and practice safe habits.
-Siestas, the afternoon rest time of the Spanish. From 2pm-5pm (roughly) stores and restaurants close their doors to rest. Do not plan to go shopping during this time because shops will be closed.
Where to Stay
The Old City of Barcelona is very walkable, particularly the Gothic Quarter. The Gothic Quarter boasts cobblestone streets, the famous Las Ramblas, and endless tapas options. El Born’s streets are bustling with artists and quaint restaurants, and some of Barcelona's more residential neighborhoods like Eixample and Gràcia are also great areas to stay in. If you want a FREE custom itinerary, contact me!
El Born: This is my recommendation for the best place to stay in Barcelona. It’s close enough to the Gothic Quarter so you feel like you are close to the action but yet quiet enough to sleep at night (the Spanish like to party). The streets are lined with artisan shops, tapas bars, and clothing boutiques. David and I stayed in THIS Airbnb on our second trip to Barcelona. It was the perfect studio to come home to at night after a long day of walking and exploring. It looks like it is no longer available, but it will give you an idea of a good location to stay in El Born!
Gothic Quarter: For people who want to be right where the action is, stay in the Gothic Quarter. Filled with cobblestone streets, shops, and restaurants—this is the perfect central neighborhood to stay in. My family stayed in a cute Airbnb on my first trip to Barcelona and found its location the perfect home base for exploring different parts of the city. The metro is never more than a few blocks away making it easy to hop a train to explore more suburban areas of the city. Note: The neighborhood can be loud especially on the weekends. If you are looking for a quieter neighborhood, try Eixample or Gràcia.
What to Do
Explore the Gothic Quarter
This is a must. Some areas are touristy but it’s so easy to find hole-in-the-wall restaurants and boutiques if you just let yourself wander. Las Ramblas is on one side of the Gothic Quarter which is cool to walk down. Keep an eye out for pickpockets in this area as it can get really busy!
Explore El Born Neighborhood
As mentioned above, this is my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona. It’s really close to the Gothic Quarter but has a different, less touristy vibe in my opinion. A lot of my restaurant recommendations are in this neighborhood.
The most magical thing I’ve ever seen, truly. I highly, highly recommend making time to visit this iconic Barcelona sight. Admission is 15 euros and worth every penny. If you want an in-depth background on the basilica get the audio tour. It’s worth the money. If you are more interested in admiring the sight, skip the audio tour, and get a tour ticket which allows you to go to the very top. Spectacular views of Barcelona are to be had. The basilica is still under construction so some areas may be closed at the time of your visit. Click here for up-to-date progress on the construction!
Gaudi Houses (Casa Batlló and La Pedrera)
Batlló is my favorite and if you only have time for one I recommend this one. It feels like you are in Dr. Seuss’s mansion. I recommend getting the audio tour there, it made me appreciate the architecture and design a lot more. La Pedrera is also cool if you have time. The audio tour provides context for the houses and I found it very useful. Antoni Gaudi was an incredible architect and artist, and his history is fascinating.
One of Gaudi’s masterpieces in park form. The park is a metro ride from the Old City but worth the trek. If you have the time, take the afternoon to visit the park, have a picnic, and enjoy the 180-degree view of Barcelona. The park itself is free to enter, but there are attractions at the park that cost a fee: Gaudi museum and walking into the center of the park. The museum is small but interesting and area in the center of the park is beautiful but not a must-see in my opinion.
La Boqueria Market
Located in the Gothic Quarter. It reminded me of the Central Market in Florence, Italy. The market is lined with fresh produce, meat, candies, and fresh foods. One of the most interesting parts of the market is seeing the fresh meat hanging from the stalls. This is definitely worth walking through and stopping for a light snack. Food stalls line the perimeter of the market and sell everything from fresh stir-fry to fruit smoothies.
There are lots of shows in and around Old Town and you should have no trouble finding one. I went to one in El Born. The setting was a ruined cathedral which made for an extra cool and interesting atmosphere. The show was intimate with only about 25 people in the room and lasted about 1.5 hours. Book the show here!
From the El Born neighborhood, the beach is about a 20-minute walk. I cannot speak to the atmosphere in the summer months, but I imagine it is busy and full of locals and tourists soaking up the sun. In the winter months, there are people walking along the boardwalk, playing games, and riding bikes. The beach is located in the neighborhood Barceloneta which is known for its outstanding fresh seafood.
Day Trip to Montserrat
If you have a free full day I highly, highly recommend taking the train to Monseratt. This was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. It is a monastery on the side of a mountain. The train ride from Barcelona was about an hour. When you buy your ticket for the train you also buy your ticket for the cable car to get up the mountain. The cable car ride is terrifying if you don’t like heights. It takes about 15 minutes or so to get to the top. You can visit the monastery, museum, and cathedral. There is also a funicular at the top to take you to the very top of the mountain where there are walking and hiking trails. I have seen some amazing photos taken from the top, although we did not have time to make it all the way up. I would recommend going to Montserrat if the weather is nice because the majority of the activities are outside and I can’t imagine taking the cable car if it’s windy or rainy. If you end up going, please let me know your thoughts.
Where To Eat
*A note about tapas: Tapas is everywhere. Literally, everywhere. Most of my dinners in Barcelona consisted of stopping in a place, ordering a drink (cava) and a few tapas, walk for a little while and then stopping again when I got hungry. I found this way of eating to be so fun (and affordable).
Make Sure to Try:
-Tomato bread (pan con tomate)
-Shrimp with garlic (gambas al ajillo)
-Churros with European sipping chocolate (possibly tailored for tourists but still amazing)
Cal Pep: This restaurant came highly recommended by locals. David and I arrived about half an hour before they opened on a Saturday and there were already people waiting. It is a cozy restaurant and seating fills up fast so I recommend getting there early if possible. The server asked us how many plates we wanted and if we have any dietary restrictions/preferences. We never saw a menu but I believe it changes daily. We ordered five plates between the two of us which was perfect, and the server chose all of our dishes for us. Most was very fresh seafood: friend shrimp and squid, two kinds of steamed mussels, salmon tartar (which I normally do not enjoy, but it was phenomenal), and then we got a polenta/egg pancake. If you are willing to try different things and like seafood, definitely go here! I think most of the plates were $7-$12. In El Born neighborhood.
Tapas 24: Near Casa Batlló. One of the “fancier” tapas places I have tried. The lentil chorizo stew was amazing. I would go back to Barcelona just to eat that.
Euskal Extea: A hole-in-the-wall bar in El Born. My dad stumbled upon this place on our first trip to Barcelona. It is always packed with locals so don’t be surprised if you have to stand outside to drink their house made cava (which I recommend-but then again I recommend all cava). They also have a good selection of tapas and olives.
Duane's Irish Bar and Restaurant: This is an English pub where the Gothic Quarter and El Born meet. It had such a fun atmosphere, possibly the best chicken curry I’ve ever had, and great live music. It is a fun place to stop by if you’re looking for some nightlife or a break from Spanish food (but Spanish food is amazing so chances are you won’t need a break).
I hope you find these recommendations helpful, and feel free to leave a comment or contact us if you need help planning your trip! Barcelona is magical, so enjoy!