The Best Things to do in Barcelona, Spain
Ah, Barcelona. The coveted Spanish city on any travelers to-do list, it’s the city so nice you’ll want to see it twice. Seriously I’m not being biased when I say that. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone who’s been tell me they wouldn’t go back to Barcelona in a heartbeat. It’s a city that’s filled with a little bit of everything for everyone, and it’s one of the most vibrant cities in the world (ok, that might have been a little biased).
If you haven’t been, then this guide is the perfect place to start planning your trip. But before you read any further, I must suggest that you check out this list of Barcelona Do’s and Don’ts first. Ok, now let’s get this planning party started as I proudly present to you a local’s guide to spending 4 perfect days in Barcelona, Spain:
Day 1 – Plaça Catalunya & La Rambla
Sometimes the best place to start exploring is right in the middle of the city-centre.
I don’t usually like to be so traditional, but when it comes to exploring Barcelona I found the best way to see the city is from the inside, out. Plaça Catalunya and it’s neighboring area is known as the center of tourist activity in the city, but even still it houses some historic landmarks that you simply can’t pass up when you’re visiting for the first time.
Once you’re done exploring the plaza area itself, it’s time to kick this day into high gear. Head down the infamous La Rambla to experience the hustle and bustle that this city is known for. It’s here where you’ll begin to lay your eyes on captivating building facades, outdoor markets, street side cafes and a handful of side streets that you can explore. This is also where you’ll find La Boqueria – an outdoor food market with stalls that have any type of food your heart desires. It’s basically what I imagine heaven looks like to a foodie.
If you continue down La Rambla, you’ll soon find yourself seaside gazing upon the 200 foot tall Christopher Columbus Monument that overlooks a small port area. Once you’re waterside, you can continue down La Rambla del Mar which is like a boardwalk that expands into the sea with a small mall area at the end. Depending on where you’d like the day to take you, you can actually continue along the seaside to reach the Gothic Quarter and even further the Barceloneta beach area.
Since it’s your first day in the city, I recommend going to the Gothic Quarter. As it’s probably the most historic area of Barcelona (among other things, you can still see the imprints in the foundation from bombings hundreds of years ago). Whether you follow one of the side streets off of La Rambla or follow the sea either way you’ll end up in the same place. There are so many things to see in this area, but the two main sites you can’t miss are the Cathedral and La Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar.
To say the least, these two buildings are so stunning your jaw will actually drop in awe as you gaze at them (be sure to go inside too, it’s usually free in the afternoons after 5 pm). Leave yourself some time to explore and wander here as well. I think the best part of this area, and La Rambla, is that they’re very interconnected with tons of narrow side streets that you can wander about for hours, hardly seeing the same thing twice.
Insider Food Tip: Tapas from Ciudad Condal are a MUST. This was the first place I ever had tapas in Spain, and it’s still to this day one of the best tapas restaurants I’ve ever been to. It get’s very busy so be prepared for a crowd, but I promise you it’s worth the wait.
Day 2 – Plaça d’Espanya & Montjuïc
So, now that you’ve seen the city centre, are you ready for a hike?
Plaça d’Espanya is home to some lovely architecture along with plenty of stairs to climb your way to the top so you can burn off all those tapas you ate last night. It’s worth the climb, as every level has something different to marvel at, whether it’s a statue or a fountain. And once you get to the top you’ll forget all about dreading the climb up as you gaze at an epic view overlooking the city. If you go at night during the spring you’ll also be able to catch a fountain show that is quite magical and pretty much always brought me to tears. More on that here.
What I love about the top of this plaza area is that behind that gorgeous building at the top (also known as the National Museum of Art of Catalunya) is a mix of greenery and even more amazing architecture. If you venture to the right side behind the museum, you’ll find the old olympic stadium and previously used field where the Barcelona national fútbol team used to play.
Continuing up along that road (yes it’s all uphill from here) is a bit of a walk, but you’ll soon reach the castle of Montjuïc. An old military fortress that’s been around since the 1600s, the Montjuïc castle still stands tall as ever on top of the backside of the hill. If you thought the views from the frontside were awesome, just wait until you climb up and peer over these fortress walls. I don’t think the view of the Mediterranean Sea ever get’s old, but maybe that’s just me.
After you’re done exploring there, head down the backside of the hill and you’ll end up seaside once more as you enter into the backside of Barceloneta. Ending the afternoon with the stroll by the ocean is both refreshing and calming after a long day of sight seeing. This area is filled with restaurants, interesting people watching and constantly rotating art installations. It’s also where a lot of the main clubs are located (those Spaniards really know how to party), but more on that later.
Insider Food Tip: If all of that walking made you hungry for a hearty meal, stop by one of the restaurants located next to the W Hotel. They’re all very chic, right on the water and have amazing food. My personal favorite is Pez Vela, but Gallito is a close second. Also if you have time, come back to the W hotel at night and have a drink at their bar on the top-floor. It’s quite the experience.
Day 3 – La Sagrada Familia & Parc de la Ciutadella
After 2 days of sight seeing you’re properly warmed up to the city, so it’s time for some infamous Gaudí architecture.
You’ve probably already heard about La Sagrada Familia, you know that church that has been under construction since the late 1800s. This is definitely Gaudí’s most famous work. The two sides of the church are both very different and depict an epic, one-of-a-kind relationship between man, nature, life and the church. The best views of the backside (the more colorful side) are best seen from Plaça de Gaudí, while the front side can be seen from Plaça de Sagrada Familia. It’s pretty much always crowded in this area, so be prepare yourself for the tour groups and if you plan on going inside buy your tickets way in advance or you’ll be standing in line all day hoping to get in.
Since La Sagrada Familia is a little bit off the beaten path in relation to other tourist attractions, you’ll need to take the metro to get to and from your next destination. The metro system is Barcelona is extremely easy to navigate and you can get 10 rides for a very reasonable price (better than the tourist 1,2 or 3 day passes, those are the biggest scam). The fastest way from La Sagrada Familia to Parc de la Ciutadella is via the purple line – get on at Sagrada Familia, take that to Clot, exit and transfer to the red line then get off at Arc de Triomf. Or if that sounds like too much work, then just hop in a cab and you’ll be on your way.
Whichever mode of transport that you choose, make sure that you start your journey through the park walking through the Arc de Triomf. It’s what I imagine walking down a red carpet feels like, only better. Parc de la Ciutadella begins on the other side of the arc, and it’s basically the Central Park of Spain. There are statues everywhere, tons of rotating art exhibitions throughout the year and one of the most epic fountains you will ever lay eyes on. Situated near the front left of the park (if you’re entering from the Arc de Triomf side) is the Cascada Monumental in all its glory. To give you just a slight hint at how awesome this fountain is, I’m just going to say this: there are gold dragons that spit water. It’s insane and it’s no wonder because it was designed by one of the best, Antoni Gaudí himself.
There’s also a lake where you can rent a row boat, a zoo and a variation of other museums, gardens and buildings to see. If you fancy a picnic or an afternoon lounging in the grass drinking sangria while you’re visiting, then this is best place to do it (if you can believe it, it’s actually more relaxing than the beach).
Insider Food Tip: When you exit the park, be sure to leave on the opposite side that you came in so that you wander right into one of the trendiest and up-and-coming districts in Barcelona, El Born. There are tons of bars and restaurants situated throughout this neighborhood. One of my favorites is, ironically, an Italian restaurant called Little Italy. But the food and drink possibilities in this area are truly endless, so you can wander along to find which one is best for you.
Day 4 – Parc Güell & The Bunkers
The best way to end any trip, is with some of the best views.
Parc Güell is the obvious tourist destination choice, as it has a plethora of Gaudí architecture, colorful mosaic artwork, greenery and stunning views of the city. I don’t usually like to heavily encourage paying to go inside tourist attractions, as you can usually enjoy the bulk of the beauty from outside, but this attraction on the other hand is well worth the ticket price and the possible wait to get in. (I paid twice while living in Barcelona and it was worth it both times).
To be honest, no amount of me gushing over it is going to make it anymore beautiful and breathtaking than it already is. I don’t want to say too much more about Parc Güell, because the photos say a lot and it’s really the type of place you have to see and experience for yourself.
What most people don’t know is that if you walk about 15 minutes east of Parc Güell, you’ll happen upon another stunning lookout point over the city that is a little bit less artsy and a little bit more rugged. The hill itself is called Turo de la Rovira, but the viewpoint area is known as “Bunquers del Carmel.”
It’s home to abandoned bomb shelters that have since been decorated with street art and offer some of the best panoramic views the city has to offer. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the top, but once you’re there the view is something that you’ll surely never forget. For an easy route to the top, avoid going through the park and try to find the staircase that’s located on the left side of the mountain (when you’re facing it from the bottom).
If you’re looking to catch a sunset and a view of the city skyline at night, then this is the place you’ve been searching for. And since it’s off the beaten path, it’s both less crowded and completely free to enjoy. The neighborhood isn’t the best though, so try not to stay too late if you’re by yourself or in a small group. Just saying.
Insider Food Tip: There aren’t a lot of restaurants in this part of town that I can recommend, but I can recommend eating somewhere on Passieg de Gracia for your last night in the city so that you can see Casa Battló at night. If you’re looking to eat your weight in tapas before you leave, Tapa Tapa is very good, and Txapela as well as they are both affordable and have a lot of options.
Additional Suggestions and Final Thoughts:
Since I started writing for A Traveling Bee while I was living in Barcelona, I have a LOT of content already available to anyone looking to travel there (lucky you!). Even still, this was one of the most challenging posts I’ve written yet as it was beyond difficult to try and cram everything that Barcelona has to offer into just 4 days. With that being said, I highly suggest breaking the “you only need 4 days to see a city” rule and planning for more than 4 days here because trust me, you’ll need it.
And if you do end up having more than 4 days in Barcelona, then you have to take a day trip outside of the city. There are tons of sites to see and they’re all easily accessible via train. For a full list of the best cities for day trips read my post There’s More to Catalunya than Barcelona.
However on the off-chance that you have less than 4 days in Barcelona, then the best way to see the city is via bike. I took a bike tour my second day living in the city and it was one of the highlights of my 6 months there.
If it hasn’t already been obvious, let me take a second to clarify: I am still head over heels in love with this city. Also, it’s only right that I do my due diligence as a travel blogger and share with you all the insider knowledge I have on the city to guarantee that you can live it up every second of your trip.
So if you don’t do anything off the list provided above, at least make sure you either go out to a club one night (see: A Complete Guide to Barcelona Nightlife for free club entry) or eat brunch out one morning (see: Travel Guide to Brunch in Barcelona for the best food) and thank me later.