Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. This stunning city on the east coast of Spain has everything you’re looking for in a city trip. There’s loads of history, a vibrant city life, more shops than you can count, it’s foodie heaven, it has perfect weather and there’s even a beach! There’s truly something for everyone!
You could probably spend an entire month in Barcelona and still have many things on your to-do list. But to help you out we’ve compiled a list of our top 10 things you should not miss out on when visiting Barcelona. We’ve even included a bonus day trip tip, so keep on reading!
Grab yourself a drink and a snack and find out all about our top 10 things to do in Barcelona!
1. Eat Tapas
Barcelona is the perfect destination for foodies! There are more restaurants, bars and cafes than you can count! And what’s better than one delicious plate of food? A whole table full of Spanish delicacies!
Tapas are the Spanish answer to mezze or finger food. Small plates of food you share with your table guests. Choose as many or as few as you like. Tapas are perfect as a little snack during the day or have yourself a feast and make a complete meal out of as many tapas as you want!
Here are some of our favourite tapas:
When in Spain you have to try some Manchego cheese, this cheese is made from sheep's milk. It’s a white cheese that’s usually cut into little triangles and it’s delicious with some quince jelly.
Iberico ham is another typical Spanish delicacy. You will find many little shops with giant hams hanging from the ceiling. The thinly sliced meat is slightly salty and will melt in your mouth.
One of our absolute favourite tapas was anchovies with vinegar (boquerones en vinagre). They are nothing like the super salty anchovies you might have tried before. These healthy little fish are cured in a mixture of vinegar and olive oil. The result is divine!
And don’t forget about the humble ‘pan con tomate’ or ‘pa amb tomàquet’ as this Catalan dish is originally called. A rustic piece of bread with tomato pulp, it sounds so simple but the taste is incredible!
These are only a few of the many tapas we tried in Barcelona. If you want to find out which authentic restaurants in Barcelona you shouldn’t miss out on, then sign up for our newsletter and be the first to know when our “Where to eat in Barcelona” article goes live!
2. Drink vermouth & cava
Now that we’ve talked about the food we should have a little chat about drinks. What drinks should you order with your tapas? Why not try a local tradition and have a vermouth in the afternoon? Vermouth is the drink of choice for many locals and you will find it on any menu!
This aperitif is a bittersweet fortified wine that’s infused with botanicals to give it a unique flavour. It’s usually served in a small glass with a big ice cube, an orange slice and an olive. It’s the perfect drink to pair with some hearty Spanish tapas.
If vermouth is not your thing then try some bubbly! Cava is Spain’s answer to champagne. Adding a glass of bubbly white wine to your midweek dinner makes it extra festive!
Most cava comes from the Penedès wine region in Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain near Barcelona. Many restaurants have locally produced wines and cava on their menu. Ask your waiter for advice, most of the time we found they were very happy to explain the local wines!
3. Shop ‘till you drop
Do you feel like going on a shopping spree? Then Barcelona has got your back! There are so many shops you might have to buy an extra suitcase to bring all your treasures back home. You’ll find boutique clothing and handmade craftsmanship alongside all the designer brands and luxury stores. Barcelona is a shopper’s paradise!
Passeig de Gràcia is the most famous shopping street in Barcelona. This luxurious promenade is about one kilometre in length. Along it, you’ll find stunning architecture, magnificent hotels and all the luxury brands you could wish for. Don’t be deterred if you’re not planning to spend any big bucks. A stroll along this street can’t be missed and you’ll also find many of the more affordable brand stores sprinkled in between the luxury brands.
We loved strolling around the El Born area. This trendy part of Barcelona is characterized by narrow medieval streets, charming old buildings and a more cosy atmosphere. Instead of the big designer brands, you’ll find small local boutiques, cafes and cocktail bars. You’ll find anything from high-quality clothing to handbags, handmade jewellery and even cute shops that sell unique interior pieces for your home. It’s also a great spot to look for non-touristy souvenirs and gifts.
While you’re in the El Born area you should not miss out on THE BEST croissant we’ve ever tasted! At Pasteleria Hofmann you’ve got the chance to go to culinary heaven. Their mascarpone croissants are legendary and for good reason! If you’re more into fruity flavours, go for one of their raspberry or mango-filled croissants. You won’t be disappointed!
Portal de l’Angel is a pedestrian street and one of the most popular avenues in Barcelona. It’s always busy around this area because you’ll find many of the well-known brand stores as well as some smaller shops scattered around here. If you want to do even more shopping then along this street is where you’ll find the famous El Corte Inglés. This large department store is where you can find any kind of shop imaginable. There are several of these department stores around the city. The largest one with nine floors filled with everything from clothing to electronics and from beauty supplies to a supermarket can be found at the end of Portal de l’Angel across the Plaça de Catalunya. On the top floor, you’ll find a restaurant and cafe where you can enjoy a cup of coffee with a beautiful view across the city.
La Rambla is another famous (or maybe more infamous) street in Barcelona. This tree-lined pedestrian street stretches all the way from Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre to the Columbus Monument near the old port. This street is known for its street performers and pickpockets. You’ll also find many tourist shops selling you little knick-knacks and restaurants selling you overpriced and mediocre food. It can be fun to walk down this street to get a feel for it, but don’t sit down at one of the restaurants; they’re all tourist traps.
4. Visit the Sagrada Familia
Visiting the Sagrada Familia is a must when going to Barcelona. Gaudí began working on this cathedral in 1882 and his masterpiece is still under construction to this day!
La Sagrada Familia looks nothing like a regular church. Both the outside and the interior of this building are stunning and the longer you look at it the more curious little quirks you’ll find. Have you ever seen fruit or sea shells adorn the outside of a cathedral? Gaudí took his inspiration from nature and this makes his designs totally unique. It’s like something out of a fairytale!
If you have the opportunity then definitely take some time to check out the inside as well. Once inside your gaze will automatically go up towards the jaw-dropping ceiling design. On a sunny day you’ll be mesmerized by how the stained glass creates vibrant rainbows on the inside of the building. The interior is bright and colourful and wows everyone who enters this architectural masterpiece.
Make sure you buy your tickets in advance and go for the ticket that also gives you access to one of the towers. Just a heads up about the towers; you go up in an elevator, but you have to take a long and narrow winding staircase back down. We walked around with a digital guide which was a great way to take as much or as little time at each spot as we wanted. You can also get an actual guide if you want a more personal experience. Either way it’s a fun way to learn more about this stunning building and it helps you notice little design elements you wouldn’t have spotted otherwise.
Make sure to plan out at least one hour of your day to wander around this church and take in its glorious sights. You won’t be disappointed!
5. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter will take you back to medieval times and if you pay attention you’ll even come across some ancient Roman ruins! Barri Gòtic as this place is called in Catalan is the historic heart of Barcelona.
Roaming around the medieval-looking streets and alleys of the Gothic Quarter was one of our absolute highlights of this trip. The vibe of this place is insane! Around each corner, you’ll find a stunning street, an old building, a marvellous doorway or magical looking courtyard. Don’t worry about following a map or specific route, the best way to explore this neighbourhood is to let yourself go and get lost in the labyrinth of streets.
After sunset the gothic-looking street lanterns turn on, most of the tourists are gone and the vibe is hauntingly beautiful. Getting lost in this place and just breathing in the history and ambience will transport you to another time.
Some must-see tips in the Gothic Quarter:
Walk under the Pont del Bisbe. This ornamental ‘Bishop’s Bridge’ connects two buildings and is one of the most photographed spots in the Gothic Quarter. Make sure to look up when you walk underneath; there’s a skull with a dagger piercing through it!
Take a breather in the Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. Inside this quiet square, you’re temporarily sheltered from the hustle and bustle of this area. In the middle of the square, there’s a beautiful little fountain and even a small terrace where you can enjoy a drink or a bite. If you just want a quick visit we suggest getting an ice cream at ‘Un Gelato Per Te’ which is located in one of the alleys connecting to this square. Grab your favourite gelato and enjoy it while sitting on the fountain wall and taking in the surroundings.
Soak up some tropical vibes at Plaça Reial. This ‘Royal Square’ is adorned with tropical-looking palm trees and streetlights that were designed by Gaudí. This lively square is a hotspot for both tourists and locals.
Visit the courtyard of the Cathedral of Barcelona. We only noticed we could enter this courtyard on our second visit. You’ll find the entrance to the courtyard on the side of the building on the Plaça de Garriga i Bachs, a small square next to the cathedral. The courtyard looks quite lush with trees, a pond and even 13 geese! It’s not always open to the public so check the timetable.
6. Roam around in Park Güell
Park Güell is another Barcelona icon that attracts thousands of tourists each day. The park has some stunning architectural elements designed by Gaudí that make this park truly unique.
The first thing to know about Park Güell is that it consists of two zones: The Monumental Zone and the Forest Zone.
The Forest Zone can be accessed free of charge, this area consists of about 7 hectares of forest and nature where you can walk around and enjoy the tranquillity.
The Monumental Zone is around 12 hectares in size. This is the part that is declared a world heritage site by UNESCO and this is where you can find the designs by Gaudí. Here you can find unique mosaic-covered buildings and monuments such as the Dragon Stairway with its world-famous salamander. The iconic mosaic serpentine benches with a view of the ‘gingerbread’ houses and the city behind them is always a popular spot for photos.
Make sure to plan your visit to this park. Buy an online ticket with a date and time slot so that you are assured of entering the park when you want to. You have to enter the park at your booked time slot, but once inside you can stay as long as you like and take in all the sights. Don’t forget to wander around the rest of the park, it will reward you with some panoramic viewpoints across the city.
Note that the park is not near the city centre of Barcelona. From the Gothic Quarter, it would take you about an hour to walk to the park. Keep in mind that the road is partly uphill and it’s mostly through residential areas that aren’t that interesting. We went in the morning and took a taxi to get there, which still took us almost 30 minutes, but gave us the opportunity to rest our feet and take in the sights from the luxury of a back seat. Definitely take a taxi or another form of public transport to get to and from this park.
Final tips: Bring some water and comfortable shoes. You'll be doing a lot of walking in this park and some of the steps and walkways can be a bit uneven. There’s a small supermarket opposite the taxi stand near the entrance where you can buy water and snacks.
7. Visit Casa Milà aka ‘La Predrera’
Casa Milà also known as ‘La Predrera’ (The Stone Quarry) is one of the many architectural masterpieces of Gaudí in Barcelona. This building is truly a work of art. Gaudí took his inspiration from nature and a guided tour will point out all the intricate design elements that will leave you feeling in awe of this place.
There are several ticket options to choose from. We chose a combo ticket that included both a daytime and nighttime visit. Our ticket came with a digital audio guide during the day, which was a great way to visit the building at our own pace. Gaudí’s design uses natural daylight in a lot of areas so a daytime visit really lets you see the building in all its glory. Also note that ‘the Tenants’ Apartment’ is only accessible during daytime visits. 'The Warrior Rooftop' with the iconic chimneys shaped like knights standing guard also gives you a stunning 360 degrees view of Barcelona. The rooftop is wavy has many steps going up and down so keep an eye on where you’re going.
The nighttime visit is in small groups with a guide who made the building come to life by telling you all the secrets this building has to offer. You get to enjoy a stunning rooftop light show and the evening visit is rounded off with a glass of cava and a sweet treat in 'the Butterfly Courtyard', one of the two inner courtyards of La Predrera. Walking around this beautiful building at nighttime felt truly magical.
All in all, we really liked the double visit and we spent the hours in between by strolling around the Passeig de Gràcia and having a bite to eat. (You can also plan the day and night visit on different days). Whatever you do make sure to buy your tickets online before you go. This way you can skip the line and avoid a long wait at the ticket windows.
8. Visit Casa Battló
Casa Battló is impossible to miss when walking down the Passeig de Gràcia. The outside of this magical building, designed by Gaudí, is covered in blue and green stones with skull-like balconies. The inside is like something straight from a fairytale. If you have to choose between visiting Casa Milà or Casa Battló then go for Casa Battló. Upon entering this building you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a magical dream world.
The attention to detail is incredible. The colourful windows, wavy ceilings, mosaic inlays, even the doorknobs and handrails are unique! A fun option when visiting Casa Battló is choosing the virtual reality tablet as your guide. This will make the building truly come alive as you point the tablet at furniture, windows and other points of interest that will trigger an animation on your tablet.
We visited in June and during the summer months Casa Battló offers ‘Magic Nights’. This includes an evening visit that ends at the rooftop where you get to sit down and enjoy a live rooftop concert with a glass of cava. We would absolutely recommend going for this option to make your visit extra special!
Before leaving the building you get to experience Gaudí’s Cube. You walk into a square room which turns out to be a 360 degrees movie screen. On all six sides of the room (including the floor and ceiling!) you are now shown an impressive digital projection that immerses you into Gaudí’s genius mind.
9. Stroll around Montjuïc
Montjuïc is a hill right outside the city centre that offers a charming escape from the city chaos. The hill is called Montjuïc (Catalan for ‘Jewish mountain’) because of the Jewish cemetery that was found there during medieval times.
On this hill you will find several worthwhile points of interest you’ll want to visit on your trip to Barcelona.
At the foot of the hill, you’ll find The Magic Fountain. This large water fountain offers a music, light and water show in the evenings that you can watch for free! Unfortunately, the fountain was turned off during the day when we visited in June. Make sure to check the schedule online for current show times and information.
On top of the hill behind the Magic Fountain, you’ll notice impressive steps leading up to a magnificent building. This beautiful building is the Palau Nacional and houses the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC). From the front of this building, you’ll see one of the best panoramas of Barcelona.
If you want to go on a quick trip around the world then visit the Botanical Gardens. Spread out over 14 hectares you’ll find a collection of plants from all the world’s continents. You have to pay a fee to enter, but if you’re planning on visiting the Montjuïc Castle as well you can get a combo ticket at a discounted price! There are also several other gardens on this hill that you can walk around free of charge.
At the top of Montjuïc, you’ll find ‘Montjuïc Castle’. This fortress has been a strategic military point for centuries. Inside the fortress, there’s an exhibition that will explain the history of this place. You can visit the top of the fortress for a 360 degrees viewpoint of Barcelona and its surroundings.
If you haven’t seen enough stunning views yet then take the Montjuïc Cable Car (Telefèric de Montjuïc) for an amazing bird’s-eye view. The glass cable cars are suspended in the air and will show you spectacular views of Barcelona from the sky. We bought a one-way ticket to get from the castle back down, but you can also buy a round ticket to skip on some of the walking.
10. Visit a food market
Pretend to be a local and visit one of the food markets. Here you’ll not only find fresh produce but also small restaurants where you can have lunch or a snack. Many of the vendors also sell small tasting cups or plates so you can taste your way around the market.
Mercat de la Boqueria is the biggest food market in Barcelona. It’s well-known and has become a little touristy as a result. Inside you’ll find over 300 stalls with everything from fresh fruit to fish, cheese and other local products. Take in the sights, sounds and smells and enjoy all that this market has to offer.
Mercat Santa Caterina is another food market that has kept more of its traditional vibe. It’s smaller than the La Boqueria and you’ll find more locals at this place. The prices are also slightly lower. It’s a great spot to buy lunch or collect some bits and bites to create your own picnic.
Tip: If you want to enjoy a picnic with all the deliciousness you bought at one of the food markets then go to Parc de la Ciutadella. This idyllic park in the middle of Barcelona is a green oasis filled with trees, fountains and even a small pond where you can go for a ride in a rowboat! It’s the perfect spot to wind down and relax. Sit down on a bench or on the grass beneath a tree and nibble on a piece of manchego cheese and bread while watching the world go by.
Now that you know all about what to do in Barcelona here’s a BONUS tip for a day trip away from the city!
11. Go to the Montserrat Monastery
Montserrat Monastery is only about 50 km (30 miles) away from Barcelona, making it the perfect day trip destination. You can get there on an organised trip, by rental car or by train from the city centre. We rented a car which allowed us complete freedom on our day trip. The trip itself was beautiful and driving from Barcelona to the mountain was easy and fun!
The monastery itself is pretty, but it’s the scenic mountain views that really blew us away. Montserrat means ‘serrated mountain’ in Catalan. This is the perfect description of the rough-looking mountain edge that surrounds the monastery.
The monastery dates all the way back to the 10th century and it’s actually still inhabited by monks to this day! You can visit the inside of the monastery and look at the ornate decorations. There is also an art museum that houses work from famous painters like Picasso and Salvador Dali.
We suggest visiting the monastery first, we found the art museum surprisingly interesting! Then grab yourself a bite to eat and bring an extra water bottle to go on a hike on the mountain. There’s a cafe and a small supermarket next to the monastery where you can buy something to eat.
From the monastery, you can take a funicular to get even higher up the mountain. From there you can follow a trail to reach the very tippity top of Montserrat. A word of advice; wear practical shoes and channel your inner mountain goat. Seriously… The first part of the hike up the mountain is all fun and games with a wide walkway and stunning views. The final part is a bit more precarious with loose rocks, ancient carved-out steps and a super steep incline. However, if you manage to reach the top the view is absolutely insane! If you’re afraid of heights you might want to skip the final climb.
To get back down the mountain you can either walk back to the funicular and take it back to the monastery or walk down and enjoy some more views on the way there. The way back is about 45 minutes, but keep in mind that it is all downhill so it can get a bit hard on your knees.
A complete guide with all the tips and tricks for an unforgettable day trip to Montserrat is coming soon! Sign up for our newsletter to be the first to know when this article goes live!
More Barcelona Travel Inspiration
Now that you know all about what to do in Barcelona check out our Complete Barcelona Travel Guide for all the tips to make your visit a massive success!
- Barcelona Food Guide: Where to eat the best Authentic Tapas
- The perfect day trip from Barcelona: Montserrat Monastery