We introduce you to the 10 things you should definitely do when visiting Barcelona.
The order of our top ten is not random: it provides an introduction to the city’s history. We start with the Roman quarter at the basis of present-day Barcelona and end with its symbols of modernity and avant-garde.
Benvinguts a Barcelona (welcome to Barcelona)!
1. EL GOTICO
Our journey starts in the gothic quarter. El Gotico forms the historical heart of the city and lies next to the famous Ramblas. Here is where it all started 2,000 years ago when the Romans founded the city, which they called Barcino.
In the oldest quarter of Barcelona it’s enjoyable to get lost in the labyrinth of tiny streets and picturesque squares. This allows you to discover the essence of El Gotico. It’s a travel through time in an area full of Roman remains and gems of gothic architecture. The medieval churches and palaces are silent witnesses of Barcelona’s glorious past as the capital of a powerful empire.
But make no mistake: the gothic quarter is not a museum. It’s a very lively neighbourhood with tens of bars and restaurants, and shops, big chains and small boutiques alike.
TIP! In the evening, take a stroll in the area behind the cathedral. The streets and the lights give it a mysterious feel… Goosebumps guaranteed.
2. EL BORN
El Born, adjacent to El Gotico, is the city’s most trendy neighbourhood and the favorite place of every visitor to Barcelona.
Once home to rich traders and sailors, El Born has preserved the splendour of its medieval period, which is reflected in the gothic palaces in Carrer Montcada that now house art galleries and museums like the Picasso Museum.
El Born is constructed around the impressive gothic church, the Santa Maria del Mar, the people’s cathedral, built by the residents with their own hands.
A glorious past combined with a sparkling present. Today El Born is a mix of modernity, creativity, style and trends: elegant restaurants, cool bars, designer boutiques and terraces filled with trendy youth enjoying sophisticated tapas. This is the place where Barcelona’s avant-garde likes to gather.
Images by MorBCN (Market of Santa Caterina and local bar)
3. CATALAN MODERNISM AND GAUDI
Until the middle of the 19th century, the gothic quarter and El Born basically made up Barcelona. It was surrounded by high walls allowing the Spanish government to control the rebellious city. Finally, in 1854, Madrid consented to tearing down the walls. Barcelona could expand.
In the new quarter, called Eixample (‘expansion’), the very rich and art-loving bourgeoisie had their houses built by a generation of talented Catalan architects. The modernistic architecture inspired by nature would make Barcelona world-famous.
On the prestigious Passeig de Gracia, the street with luxury fashion shops, 4 gems of Catalan Modernism are a stone’s throw from each other: Casa Lleo Morera of the architect Domènech i Montaner, Casa Amatller of Puig i Cadafalch, Casa Batlló of Antoni Gaudí and across the street another Gaudi masterpiece, Casa Mila (locally known as ‘La pedrera’).
Images by MorBCN (La Pedrera and Casa Batlló)
A half hour walk from the city center leads to my favorite quarter. Gracia would only become part of Barcelona at the end of the 19th century and has preserved its Mediterranean village charm.
Here streets and buildings looking more like those of a village than of a city set the tone. The plazas are cosy and full of life at every hour of the day (and night). Don’t expect pretentious trendy businesses here. Only alternative boutiques, artistic cafes and small restaurants with cuisines from all over the world.
If you visit Barcelona in August, don’t miss the festa major of Gracia, the most important festival in the city. The residents decorate the streets and for ten days everybody gathers on the squares to celebrate, eat and drink.
TIP! On Sunday go for a brunch in Gracia. Have a seat on one of the cosy plazas and watch life unfold before your eyes.
Images by Oh-Barcelona
5. PARK GUELL
Architect Antoni Gaudi built Park Güell (1900–1914) for his best client and friend, the rich industrialist Eusebi Güell.
Park Güell was planned as an upscale residential area. But the project failed and the city converted it into a public park. Imagine a fairy tale forest: that gives an idea of what Park Güell looks like. Gingerbread houses, strong colours, bizarre shapes,… In short, pure fantasy. Add to that the spectacular views of the city and the sea, and you’ll understand why Park Güell is in my Bacelona top 10.
TIP! Visit the park in the early morning. In the mid and high season (from 29th March till 24th October) the park opens at 8 am. You are almost alone and nobody gets in the way of your beautiful pictures.
Images by MorBCN
6. SAGRADA FAMILIA
The Sagrada Familia is Gaudí’s masterpiece; he spent his whole life working on it. The first stone was laid in 1882. If everything goes as planned, it will be finished in… 2026.
This would be exactly 100 years after the Master’s death. During the last years of his life, Gaudí lived in his workshop next to the Sagrada Familia. Every evening he would walk down to the Gothic quarter to pray in the church of Sant Felip Neri. On one of these walks he was caught by a tram. Gaudí was severely injured and died a few days later, on 10th June 1926.
On the outside, work is still in progress, but at the inside the church is finished. If you think churches are boring, then try the Sagrada Familia. You’ll end up in a wood of stone trees. The sun peeks through the canopy and illuminates the space with all colours of the rainbow. This is true art and magic.
TIP! The lines to get in to the church can be very long. That’s why you should buy your tickets beforehand online. You can then skip the lines and walk in without queuing. Online tickets koop je hier.
7. PICASSO MUSEUM
Pablo Picasso probably doesn’t need introducing. He is considered one of the most influential artists of the 20th century.
The world famous Spanish painter lived in Barcelona during his teens and early twenties. At that moment, Gaudí was at the height of his fame. Picasso wasn’t a fan. “Send Gaudí and his Sagrada Familia to hell”, he is said to have stated.
The Picasso museum contains mainly works of the beginning of his career. It’s incredible to see how talented he was at such a young age. The museum is hidden in the heart of the picturesque medieval quarter of El Born.
TIP! Before or after your museum visit, have a drink or dinner in the neighborhood or do some shopping. El Born is the most trendy area of Barcelona.
8. PARC DE MONTJUIC
The hill Montjuic is an oasis of calm and green at only half an hour walk from the city center. The huge park offers a surprising mix of nature, culture and spectacular views.
On the hill top stands the Montjuic castle. From the rooftop the views of Barcelona and its surroundings are amazing. TIP! To enjoy great views avoiding the steep climb, take the cable car to the castle.
The impressive National Palace was built for the World Expo in 1929. Today it houses the MNAC (national art museum of Catalonia). It is a must for art lovers, just like the museum of the Catalan artist Miró.
On weekend evenings, at the foot of Montjuic, you can enjoy the show of the Magic Fountain. A unique spectacle of water, colours and music. Not to miss!
Images by MorBCN (National Palace of Montjuic and Magic Fountains)
9. BARCELONETA & SEA & BEACHES
Five minutes walking from the gothic quarter or El Born bring you to the seaside, in the quarter of Barceloneta (‘little Barcelona’).
Thirty years ago, Barcelona only had a very small piece of beach, that moreover was filled with cheap dining places. The rest of the coastline was covered with factories.
In the framework of the Olympic Games that Barcelona organised in 1992, the coast line was completely renewed. The factories disappeared and the Barcelonans got back their sea.
Today it is one of the nicest places of Barcelona. Wide beaches, blue sea, the sun that almost always shines… Lovely! The tapas bars in Barceloneta are always full; in the trendy lounge bars at the beach you can relax with a cocktail. And when the sun goes down, the sofas go aside and you can dance until the morning.
Tip! In Barcelona you can borrow a bicycle at many places. It’s lovely cycling on the beachside. Sun, sea breeze and little bars and chiringuitos for a drink or a snack.
Image by Mislav Marohníc
10. FC BARCELONA & CAMP NOU
Barça is “més que un club” (more than a club). It is the national pride of the Catalan people.
Even if you are not a football fan, attending a live game is something special. Watching world stars like Messi or Neymar together with 100,000 football crazy Catalans… A dream come true for many people.
On non-match days you can do a tour in the stadium, the ‘Camp nou experience’. It offers a unique look behind the scenes of the Catalan superpower.
Image by Jonathan Vitela
DO YOU WANT MORE TIPS ON BARCELONA?