In a city that lives and dies with tourism there’s going to be a lot of scrapping for your money.
From paltry paella propositions in the middle of the street to state sponsored museums that’ll bore you all the way back to the office you’ll need to choose your visits wisely.
So here’s a simmered down list of things to do in Barcelona perfect for city beginners.
Things to Do in Barcelona
Stand in Awe of Sagrada Familia
Just look at any postcard in the city. This is the crown jewel of Catalan wonder architect Antoni Gaudi‘s architectural empire and one of the most spectacular basilicas in the world.
For those tired of traditional churches you’ll be positively refreshed. The church’s arches are modeled after tree branches and the stained glass here creates a rainbow effect you won’t soon forget.
To fully appreciate it make sure you shell out the extra €12.00 and get a guided tour – the details you’ll be shown unlock the madness and brilliance of the place.
Get Some Fresh Air at Park Guell
A dreamy urban park floating above the city which was once a utopian vision of rich industrialist Eusebi Guell in the early 20th century.
It was originally intended to be 60 luxury homes on the city’s most prime piece of land, far away from the smoke stacks of the city. Only three were built. Today the entrance and its ginger-bread house-like porter’s lodge and emblematic mosaic lizard are a highlight.
Tourists sit on the mosaic benches (remember Vicky Cristina Barcelona?) and take in amazing views.
Hit up a Barrio Festival
When Barcelona looks for fun things to do it usually cuts off the streets from traffic, puts up a stage with live music, and gets the wine and music flowing.
The eccentric European block parties that honour patron saints, long-dead political prisoners, and even local green onions are the closest a tourist can get to real Barcelona.
Go for Tapas
Have you ever been at a restaurant and can’t decide what to order? Then Spain is for you.
These small-portioned savory snacks are ordered in the city’s amazing tapas bars in rounds of 5 or 6 and are shared by friends over cañas (a small draft beer).
Patatas bravas (pictured) and pan con tomate (crispy bread rubbed with tomato and garlic) are automatic – but pulpo a la gallega (octopus with potatoes and paprika) and gambas al ajillo (garlic prawns) are where dreams are made.
Admire Casa Batllo
A colourful mosaic mansion whose every last detail down to the doorknobs was designed by Antoni Gaudi. Visiting Barcelona without at least passing by this modernist landmark is criminal.
Here it’s a constant ode to nature with jaw bone balconies, mushroom-shaped smoke vents, and tropical fish based radiators.
The ceramic tile shards on the facade (a style known as trencadis) were taken from broken cups at local factories to create a unique colour play.
Have a Vermut
It’s not just a tradition… it’s a lifestyle! This tasty and inexpensive wine is fortified with all sorts of spices and botanicals like cinnamon and chamomile.
One of the great cheap things to do at only €1.50 or so each.
Tradition holds that one must consume (at least) one at la hora del vermú (vermut time, 12 noon) before eating lunch. It’s as sacred as the Spanish siesta so if you’re looking to fit in – drink up!
Don’t be afraid to order this drink (pronounced bear-MOOT) at any time of the day though – just make sure it comes with an anchovy-stuffed olive and a slice of orange.
I go for mine at Tasca El Corral.
Get Lost in the Gothic Quarter
Most of the area is cut off from cars and that means winding roads and tight alleyways opening up into majestic squares like Plaça Reial, Plaça del Pi, Plaça George Orwell, and Plaça de la Seu.
Nowadays it’s a hot spot for some of the city’s best bars.
Check Out La Pedrera
This unconventional Antoni Gaudi apartment block built for the city’s richest industrialists is without a straight line and more wobbling jell-o than building. From above it’s actually built in an asymmetrical 8 shape.
It’s also possibly the most spectacular roof terrace you’ll ever see with its 28 guardian warrior chimney stacks that are more Darth Vader than anything else!
Maybe they’ve got an apartment for rent on floor 3, doesn’t hurt to ask 🙂
Put Down Some Paella
This classic rice dish from Spain was invented by servants using the leftovers from royal banquets – and you’ll feel like royalty by the fork full!
Though technically from nearby Valencia (where the rabbit and chicken version reigns supreme) you’ll find the mixed seafood paella to be the go-to for Barcelona paella restaurants.
For couples visiting Barcelona this is a great option as it’s usually served in portions of 2.
Make sure to scrape the soccarat (toasted, scorched rice) off the bottom of the pan – flavour town!
Kick Around Camp Nou
Arguably the most historic football stadium in Europe and home to FC Barcelona.
Visiting the stadium means living the glory through overloaded trophy cases and an interactive museum offering a Mecca-like experience for football fans.
If you take a tour you can even walk onto the field yourself via the players tunnel, seeing 4 Champions League trophies, sitting in the visitor’s dressing room, and Messi’s Ballon d’Ors.
Here in football season? See about getting yourself tickets for the matches.
Walk Las Ramblas
While this is in fact tourist trap central you can cut to the chase by finding Gaudi’s lanterns in the picturesque square Plaça Reial.
In Pla de l’Os you’ll find a brilliant pavement mosaic by Joan Miro – the site of the city’s old gate.
Chow Down at La Boqueria Market
Easily Barcelona’s best market.
The quality of the fruit, meat, and fish here will amaze you and its infectious energy is something to be seen: don’t leave before trying one of their delicious €1.00 smoothies.
Get Cultured in El Raval
For those looking to truly discover the city you need to see a bit more than just the main attractions and postcard streets – so why not do it in Barcelona’s most unique and diverse neighbourhood?
Make sure to walk the famous Rambla del Raval to see Botero’s Cat (above).
See a Magic Fountain Show
This enchanting fountain and light show uses 3620 water jets and 4760 lights to create over 7 billion combinations in what amounts of be one of the best free things to do in Barcelona Spain.
The show is set to beautifully choreographed music ranging from classic to swing to modern hits. Just make sure you gauge the wind before picking your spot – you might get soaked!
Shows go Thursday to Saturday (Sunday in high season) and you can get all the info on my article on Barcelona’s Magic Fountain Show.
Peep the Picasso Museum
If you’re looking to fill up an afternoon, especially when it rains, you can start with over 4000 permanent pieces of his art. Here it mostly showcases the early years of the world-renown artist when he was based in Barcelona.
Discover Spain at Poble Espanyol
Here’s what to do in Barcelona if you want to see all of Spain in one afternoon.
Built for the 1929 World’s Fair, this mock Spanish town has 117 full-scale replica buildings representing the architecture of all 15 of Spain’s regions.
Here you can see the emblematic white streets of Andalucia, Pre-Roman Austurias, and all sorts of Castillian classics.
It also has over 20 artisan craft shops for some great jewelery, handbag, and glass shopping.
Gear Down in Ciutadella Park
Here you’ll find a ton of open space, the zoo, and a great artificial lake for rowboat rides.
I also suggest heading up La Cascada (pictured) which is a fountain loosely based on the Trevi Fountain in Rome. From here you’ve got a bird’s eye view of the park’s personality – which also includes a ton of musicians, street artists, and the odd marijuana brownie salesman.
Marvel at MACBA
The modern art museum.
If you want things to see in Barcelona you’ll get it with over 5000 pieces from well known 20th century artists. Check out the mesmerizing photography, sculpture, painting and more.
Discounts can be had by buying the Articket BCN museum discount card.
The Barcelona Cathedral
Another great sight that costs nothing: this fantastic neo-Gothic cathedral is notable for its gargoyles and domestic and mythical animal rooftop. It is dedicated to the co-patron Saint of Barcelona Eulalia, who was martyred by the Romans in 303 AD.
Make sure to see the cloister that is home a small garden with orange and almond trees, a pond, and 13 geese – one for each year of life lived by Eulalia.
Rides With a View at Tibidabo
Of all the fun things to do in Barcelona this is the only one at the top of a mountain.
Tibidabo offers some incredible views from the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus church – not to mention the super geeky retro amusement park with 100 year old Ferris Wheel that’s the perfect spot to visit with family.
Get up their with the super, almost San Francisco-like Tramvia Blau for extra extra effect.
Take in a Concert at Palau de la Musica
The explosion of colour and chandelier centre piece (pictured) are world class.
If you’re interested in seeing a show check out the calendar of events.
Get Elevated at Turó de la Rovira – “The Bunkers”
The highest point (560 feet) above metro Barcelona was once an anti-aircraft bunker defending the city against Spanish Civil War bombings.
Today it’s a great museum and picnic spot with an insane panoramic view and a great option for budget conscious nature lovers. For young adults this is the weekend hangout spot.
Grab bus 22 from Plaça Catalunya and get off at the last stop.
Take a Trip to the Dali Museum
This fantastic museum dedicated to the surrealist genius Salvador Dali actually finds itself 140 km from Barcelona in his hometown of Figueres.
It’s a can’t miss for fans of the man and insanity in general.
Two favourites here are the Spectre of Sex Appeal (1932) and The Basket of Bread (1945).
Sit and Sip the Squares of Gracia
One of Barcelona’s best neighbourhoods is full of cool décor bars, quirky shops, and street musicians. The bohemian atmosphere makes it the perfect place for a coffee or beer in squares like Plaça del Sol, Plaça Vila de Gracia, Plaça de la Virreina and Plaça de la Revoluciò.
A great outdoor spot with homemade tapas is Sol Soler.
The vibes here are as local as it gets and it’s one of the great things to do on Sunday.
Nature offers a great escape from the urban hustle at 1236 meters: the highest point in the Catalan Lowlands. Here you get the most breathtaking jagged mountains around.
Some highlights are the Benedictine monastery and its Black Madonna statue, while the less religiously-inclined usually head to the Sant Jeroni lookout.
Make sure to check out my article dedicated to Montserrat for more visiting info.
Get at Me in the Comments Below
If my list of things to see in Barcelona Spain just wasn’t enough then tell me – what exactly are you looking for?
Any questions about your Barcelona holiday will be answered in the comments – in the meantime let me know what worked for you and what didn’t so we can get this list as fine-tuned as possible.
Also don’t be afraid to join the Barcelona attractions discussion in my new Facebook group called I’m Off to Barcelona – here you can ask any questions, air out grievances, chat with fellow travelers, and more – anything goes!