In 2014 I’ve traveled extensively by foot, car and bus throughout most of the Iberian Peninsula and while I’ve been awed by many parts of this country, I haven’t found anywhere the infectious energy of Barcelona. It has an electricity that just animates your body. Its historic streets intoxicating, and its people are full of life.
It’s easy to see why people love living in Barcelona, a cultural hub where there is always something going on, a place where things happen while you’re busy enjoying the everything around you.
Watch out, it’s contagious.
Barcelona is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia. Local people speak Catalan primarily, although they also speak Spanish. Greet locals with “Bon día” or a “¿Qué pasa?” could be a nice conversation starter. 🙂
There’s loads to do in Barcelona, especially if you’re on a budget.
Surely you will arrive from Barcelona-El Prat, a massive airport (with really cheap flights!) just a 20-minute bus-ride away from the city center. Before your departure, book your Aèrobus ticket online (€5.90 or €10.20 return ticket) – a fast way to get the city. If you’re not in a hurry you can also use the city buses – N.46 during the day or N. N16 and N17 during the night for the cheapest price of €2.15 for a run.
Once there, the city’s integrated system of buses and metro will get you anywhere, at a very low price, but obviously, you want to spend more of your time sightseeing and less of your time on a bus or metro.
With that in mind, I’ve put together what I think is a good overview of some of the city’s main sights that should take around 3 days of your time when visiting the city.
A T10 ticket costs €9.95 and gets you 10 journeys on the metro, bus, tram and local train within zone 1 (pretty much anywhere) and can be used by multiple people (check out the TMB site). The metro runs every day from 5am until midnight except for Friday (until 2am) and Saturday (24 hours).
Where to stay? in Gràcia.
As an Airbnb-lover, I choose this lovely apartment in Gràcia for just 39€ per night.
Gràcia is the smallest district by area size in Barcelona, but popular amongst locals to be out of the central tourist areas. We stayed there for 3 nights and we can assure that the neighborhood it’s a great place to walk and get lost and enjoy Barcelona without the crowds of the mass tour buses.
Day’n’night is very hip, with lots of great food alternatives, little boutiques, and lots of scenery. We walked around late at night and it’s not only very safe, it’s also very fun! Lots of people are still hanging out with their dogs in the middle of the night, older
couples, younger kids skating… very good for people watching. Close by there’s a market, a few plazas to have some coffee and relax and as a bonus, a cat cafe!
Go Dowtown Barcelona
Barcelona can be a tourist trap. Sometimes the streets smell and downtown Barcelona is known for its pickpockets. First rule: be careful with your belongings.
Barcelona is a fairly big city, divided into quarters (10) called ‘barris’. The ones I loved the most:
This is considered the old district which is also the heart of the city. It includes El Barrí Gotic, El Raval and El Borne. Those old quarters are full of history and charming places that you can explore.
El Born is one of Barcelona’s prettiest thoroughfares and it has two distinct personalities: one daylight, the other nocturnal. Here are a mixture of day and night locales, where everything fashionable – in art, clothes design, interior decoration, smart restaurants, cool cocktail lounges, chic wine bars and hip dance clubs – is happening now.
During the day there is a lazy, artistic vibe that runs in and out of shops. At night, the crowds flock to the Passeig de Born, the heart of Born’s vibrant nightlife.
Choose Plaça Reial as a place to meet up before venturing out in Barcelona. During the evenings the atmosphere is amazing.
Once you enter you will no longer want to leave. El Raval has awakened an inevitable attraction between locals and visitors who soon become entranced by their mixture of cultures and their frenetic energy. Here you will find the true spirit of Barcelona’s most underground neighborhood.
You’re going to head deep into the warren of narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic. This is the oldest part of the city, and has some of the highlights of Barcelona tucked away.
Here you can find Barcelona’s massive Gothic Cathedral. This is free to enter and worth popping into. Around you can find tons of things to see, unfortunately not for free but just for you to know: Gaudí Exhibition Centre, the first museum entirely dedicated to the works of Anton Gaudì, Picasso Museum, the magnificent Palau de la Musica Catalana and the Palau Güell, one of the earlier works by Gaudí in the city.
Take in the view
Barcelona street life is irresistible, but sometimes you want to rise above the crowds. You can enjoy breathtaking views of Barcelona from different places:
Situated on the hills towards the north of the city, Park Güell is another of Gaudí’s works. It is a large park area with a number of installations to explore and visit. It used to be free to visit, but its overwhelming popularity led to a ticketing system being put in place.
This has timed entrances, helping to keep the park more pleasant for everyone to visit. You can visit parts of the park without a ticket, but the key attractions, known as the Monumental Zone, do require a ticket that you can buy here for 7€. Once there, walk up till the Mirador de Joan Sales and enjoy the view!
El Turó de la Rovira (Bunkers el Carmel)
Just a bus-stop far from Park Güell, you will arrive at the hill known as the Turó de la Rovira, that offers a 360º view of the city. It contained the remains of an anti-aircraft battery that helped to defend Barcelona from air attacks during the Civil War.
Easy to reach, get some beers and chips and come here for a pic nic.
Tibidabo Park and the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Tibidabo mountain it’s the highest point in Barcelona (512 meters). Its summit of the is occupied by the Sagrat Cor church and adjacent Tibidabo Amusement Park.
How to get there? Take the train (S1 or S2) to “Peu del Funicular”, then change to the funicular (for free, if you use a T10 ticket since this funicular serves as public transport), which takes us to “Vallvidrera Superior”. There, wait for the local bus (Nr. 111) or take a 20-minute walk to the peak.
Tibidabo has now over 100 years old and is one of the oldest Amusement Park in the world. Just next to the theme park, you can visit the Expiatory Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Entry to the Basilica and the crypt is free of charge. You need to pay 3€ to get access to the highest point of the temple.
The meaning of “Tibidabo” name fascinating me. It comes from the Latin phrase tibi-dabo, meaning “I will give to you” and is taken from a fragment of the Latin version of the Bible, in which Satan supposedly takes Christ to the top of the mountain and offers him the world with the words ‘Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’ (All this I shall give you if you kneel and worship me). The phrase Tibi dabo forms part of the inscription in the central dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
Barcelona’s not a city of big parks. Parc de la Ciutadella, just beyond the Born district, has plenty of grass, shade, spectacular fountains and some prime examples of modernism buildings. It invites you to relax, to rebound and to go for long walks, as well as for a picnic. You can also use a rowing boat on the lake.
Montjuïc is another hill in Barcelona. The most interesting thing you can see: Montjuïc Castle, Poble Espanyol, National Museum of Catalunya Art and Joan Miro Foundation.
If you’re interested in learning about the different regions of Spain, and in particular their architecture and food, then a visit to Poble Espanyol should be on your list.
This is a huge open air architectural museum, built in 1929, which consists of 117 full-size buildings representing fifteen different regions of Spain, many of which are replicas of actual buildings. It’s also home to local artists, restaurants and shops, and you can see everything from glass blowing to jewellery making.
Again, you could spend a few hours just wandering around here as there is a lot to see and do. It also regularly hosts concerts, gastronomic festivals and other events.
National Museum of Catalunya Art
An imposing building with a spectacular view over the city, the MNAC is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in the art of the Catalonia region.
Sunday is a good day to explore because shop shutters, the canvas for many an enthusiastic artist, are down.
The MNAC, CCCB and the Picasso Museum are among those that open their doors to the public on the first Sunday of every month all year round, and others do the same every sunday afternoon.
Be aware of the Gaudi spots throughout Barcelona. You’ll have to pay (and usually a lot) to venture inside the famous Gaudi apartments, cathedral and other spots.
If you’re planning to see the three big Gaudí sites – La Sagrada Família, Park Güell, or La Pedrera at Casa Milà — make sure you book your tickets online ahead of time to avoid being locked out of something you came all the way to Barcelona to see. As an extra perk, you’ll get to skip the long lines by planning ahead.
Get a sneak peek of Gaudi’s spectacular Casa Vicens, it will be open soon!
Recinte Modernista Sant Pau
A relatively new opening to Barcelona visitors, is quickly becoming one of Barcelona’s more popular attractions. San Pau was originally built as a hospital, this series of buildings is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Europe, and has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status.
Two words: Vermouth and tapas!
Tourists generally come to Barcelona wanting to have the typical spanish sangria and tapas, but this is not the typical place to have it.
You can find good tapas and terrific Sangria here, but too many people get sucked into tourist traps on Las Ramblas where the paella is frozen and the sangria comes from a carton that you could buy for less than a euro at the supermarket.
Shop at the local markets! Fresh foods can be bought for super cheap at some of the daily markets in the city.
Mercat de la Bouqueria
La Bouqueria it’s a massive tourist draw, so it’s super busy, but it’s still a nice experience.
Here you can have fresh fruit juices for just 1€. Don’t miss it!
I also tried El Quim de la Bouqueria, local and suuuper tasty!
Which places do I suggest?
Flax & Kale for a sunday brunch.
A health-focused, trendy “flexitarian” restaurant. When I came on a Sunday, it was a 20-minute wait.
Here, 80% of the offer is plat-based. The vegan and vegetarian menu, everything made with organic ingredients. It is a great place to go and still be healthy, it has such a varied menu with reasonable prices!
It has a lot of space. There is an outdoor terrace, an upstairs terrace, and the inside restaurant area.
Whether you are vegan, vegetarian, omnivore, celiac or anything else – I can’t recommend this gem in Barcelona! More info here!
Best sushi in town? Monster sushi!
After a long morning up and down around Barcelona’s hills, we found this sushi restaurant and we tried it! After some hours a friend of mine revelead me that, that was the best japanese restaurant in town!
Even there, with 15€ you can get a tasty salad or an amazing sushi mix with a glass of beer. The salmon literally melted on the tongue. Certainly, it’s not local cuisine, but Monster sushi totally worth it!
A fancy dinner for 15€? Ajoblanco!
I wanted to try this restaurant because “Facebook Places” reported Ajoblanco as one of the restaurants more visited by locals in Barcelona. Since when you arrive at the terrace you can understand that it is a very elegant place, and inside it is even more. But do not be fooled by the look!
It combines amazing dishes, local foods, and magnificent cocktails. I had my plate and my glass of wine for 15€.
A real tapas bar
Bar El Tropezon it’s a must! In the gothic quarter, not too far from Barceloneta, there is this authentic old tavern with wooden benches, great relaxed atmosphere, and great local staff.
Tapas are delicious, served in big portions, wine is good, the price is low – this is what I love!
Around us, there were only Spaniards, very few tourists. I think it can be considered as a quality index.
Typical drinks of Barcelona
What about sangria? That’s actually a specialty of southern Spain and it’s only served because tourists ask for it… and it’s rarely made well in Barcelona.
Barcelona’s drinking culture is refreshingly relaxed and open. The police don’t exactly “love” seeing people drinking in the streets or at the beach, but as long as you’re sensible, they’ll leave you to it.
Make the most of this hedonistic outlook by going to a corner store or supermarket and buying a few cans of Estrella Damm beer (€1 each) or a bottle of vino (€3-€10), and finding a spot at the beach to enjoy the view.
Try Cava, a sparkling wine like Champagne, might as well be the official drink of Barcelona.
We appreciated a lot Sol de Nit in Plaza del Sol. Good cocktails, nice Spanish music and friendly people!
Drink catalan vermut, a fortified wine spiced with herbs, is Vermouth’s down-and-dirty cousin. It fell out of fashion 50 years ago but is now making a remarkable comeback and vermuterías are some of the city’s trendiest drinking spot. Red, bittersweet, irresistible. Try it!
These are the best travel tips and tricks I have gathered along the way. I hope you will have a good time in this city and I wanna leave you with a pair of good tracks to listen to while walking through the streets of Barcelona.
and, last but not least, a quote from one of my favorite book “The Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón:
“This city is a sorceress, it gets under your skin and steals your soul without you knowing it.”