10 Things You MUST Check Off Your Barcelona To-Do List
When my gal pal and I decided to cross the Atlantic and visit the city of Barcelona, Spain, we had absolutely zero idea what to expect. Neither of us had been to Spain, let alone Western Europe! That being said, our trip’s itinerary truly was “well, guess this will work.” Broken Spanish, eager appetites, and the ability to wing it was all we brought to the table. Oh, and we did our research (after we had purchased our non-refundable tickets).
After a week full of amazing food and architecture that took my breath away, I can confidently say that Barcelona is on my list of favorite places. If you happen to find yourself in Spain, or are looking for your next getaway, allow me to suggest some things for your Barcelona to-do list.
1. Park Güell
Might as well start with a “no duh” attraction, right? Park Güell was clearly a hotspot, crowded with tourists. It’s in the northern portion of the city, not necessarily close to the other things that we did - that being said, plan accordingly. We purchased our Park Güell tickets in advance - you purchase tickets for a certain time to enter the park, but once you’re in, you have as much time as you like.
While Park Güell was a cool lookout, with some neat tile work, we realized that you really don’t need that much time here - an hour is about what it takes to be thorough. Yes, you should do it, but don’t expect it to be the majority of your day.
This is the lookout that proved to be an AMAZING attraction. Not only does Sagrada Familia have an amazing history, and, HELLO, they STILL HAVEN’T FINISHED IT (literally blows my mind), but it is just a stunning piece of art. I was a fan. Our tickets allowed us to climb the towers, which was the real reason this attraction was in my favorites.
The view from the top of the cathedral is breathtaking. You get a true bird’s eye view of the entire city, making for a great photo-op, but also a good chance to assess your location. I personally love lookouts, so it was great—if you aren’t a fan of heights, be warned, this does place you “on an edge” of a fairly narrow staircase.
We purchased our tickets for Sagrada Familia about a week before we left for our trip—this attraction does sell out time slots!
3. La Rambla
La Rambla is one of Barcelona’s big, pedestrian-only roadways. It is a popular walk, with little cafes and markets along the side. While it is a place that you find on every Barcelona list, we used it more for functionality—it helped us travel from point A to point B, but we didn’t necessarily need to plan time to just look around. Still, we found ourselves cutting across La Rambla often, as it is near other areas we loved spending time in.
Make note, La Rambla is known for pickpocketing. We didn’t have any trouble with this—we both had cross-body bags with thick straps, but it’s something to be aware of.
4. Take a cooking class
My favorite part of our entire trip was the cooking class we booked through Airbnb Experiences. Our class was Food Experience BCN. The studio is run by Carmen and Angels, two sisters who grew up in Spain, cooking with their mom. Carmen ran our class, and she made our group of seven feel like family. We made (then sipped!) fresh sangria, shared responsibility of chopping veggies that were fresh from her mom’s garden (y’all, this produce was out of this world), and sat around the table in community. It was an amazing way to spend a few hours—we had full bellies and full hearts when we left the kitchen!
I would highly recommend Foodie Experience BCN to anyone looking for a unique, educational experience. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a city as you cook dinner with a local!
La Boqueria Mercat is off La Rambla, and it a huge, outdoor market, full of fresh meat, fish, produce, and little tapas stands. If you’ve visited Pike Place Market in Seattle, just imagine a similar setup that is five times as large, with even more fish flying around. It was a really fun place to wander around, as they do have so many stands—the seafood for the paella we made with Carmen was actually purchased in La Boqueria! This being said, the locals do still shop here.
The locals also eat here. That is one thing that I would be cautious about—if you’re looking to take a load off and enjoy a peaceful meal, La Boqueria is not the spot for you. Since it’s very crowded, finding a table is difficult, and the eateries are noisy and crowded. We actually visited Bar Pinotxo, which is on the front aisle of La Boqueria. Carmen had told us about it—the owner is this sweet old man, who never married and never had children, who now runs his little bar with his nephews. He was very sweet, and was actually the one who waited on us. He was also the one who told us we were ordering the baby squid carpaccio. After brushing my teeth for what seemed like hours, I think I got all the squid ink out of my mouth.
Most of the restaurants in La Boqueria are cash only—there is an ATM located near the front entrance.
6. Wander through the Gothic Quarter
My favorite neighborhood in Barcelona was the Gothic Quarter. The architecture looks like it’s taken from a movie, and holds such significance. You really can’t compare it to anything in the U.S.
We found ourselves in the Gothic Quarter multiple times—not only are there tons of cute cafes and shops, but the teeny-tiny streets allow you to get lost for hours on end! That being said, have a map on you, those little streets can really get you turned around if you aren’t careful.
Pro tip: The street names are on the side of the corner building, on a little plague that is the same color as the building. You have to train your eye to look for them, but they ARE there!
See also: A Foodie’s Guide To Barcelona Eats
We actually weren’t planning on going to this cathedral (since Sagrada Familia was our main focus), but I’m glad we did. It’s much more relaxed, and let’s you wander through the outside halls, as well as in the individualized rooms. There are still amazing stained glass windows, and the organ in this place is WILD. I mean, that music can send a chill down any spine. There are a few Saints and bishops buried in certain rooms or the cathedral, and there are 13 white geese kept in the courtyard (erm, excuse me, Gothic cloister), for the sake of symbolism.
There’s a ton of symbolism, it’s really quite impressive. You can read all about it here.
OK, yes, tapas—the Spanish tradition that everyone is obsessed with. I mean, why wouldn’t they be?! Hang out, drink some wine, eat some bites…all in the middle of the afternoon? What’s not to love?!
All good points, but you kind of have to “do tapas” correctly. Yes, there is a method. Step one: You need to order either beer, wine, or sangria, if you don’t have some sort of alcohol with your tapas, you’ll get funny looks (we got funny looks). Step two: You don’t have to order them all at once, but you can. Step three: Make sure you get a variety of tastes (and colors) of tapas. The first night we did tapas, we found we had a lot of starch and salt, with limited meats and cheeses. Help your tastebuds out and get a variety of flavors.
Lastly, do a little research on popular tapas so you can have a general idea of what “that” is—we found our go-to choices were croquetas (I think Shannon could easily live off these things), patatas bravas, tomato bread, a cheese plate, and fried squid or octopus. All of those are VERY user friendly. Start there.
See also: 36 Hours In Menorca, Spain
I don’t think we had “Passeig de Gracia” on our to-do list, but we really enjoyed walking up and down this highly populated, super neat street. It’s the street that one of our favorite restaurants, El Nacional BCN, was on, and had tons of cool shops! It is also the street where you can find Casa Batlló, a famous piece of architecture from Gaudí (the same dude responsible for Park Güell and Sagrada Familia—he had that whole city on lockdown).
Similar to La Rambla, this was a functional road for us, but we did like going into the cool shops that were less touristy and more normal retail. We compared Passeig de Gracia to New York’s 5th Avenue—the Mecca of shopping.
10. Arc de Triomf
We couldn’t forget the Arc de Triomf while we were in Barcelona! It’s clay-like color is so drastically different than the “other” arcs we see around the world, and it really shows Spain’s rich heritage. I’m telling you, the bright colors and extreme textures are things I adored about this city!
A little past the Arc de Triomf lays Parc de la Ciutadella, a giant park where you’ll find muscians, a few vendors, artists, and tons of grass to rest your feet. Since I obviously compare everything to NYC (a habit I’m sure the Catalans would scoff at), I immediately thought “Oh! Ok! Like Central Park!” It’s a cute park, and there’s a zoo, so if you want a little break, need a place to picnic, or simply want a change of scenery, it’s a great place to wander.
Are you ready to pack your bags, yet? Barcelona is an amazing place, with kind people, a relaxed lifestyle, vibrant buildings, and rich history. If you’re anything like me, you won’t want to come back to reality!
Happy travels, friends!