Best of Barcelona: Your Ultimate City Guide

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Barcelona has eight UNESCO sites, beaches, mountains, a beautiful historic center, tons of restaurants and boutiques, and art everywhere you look. No wonder that it’s one of the most visited cities on Earth. On the Postcard Academy podcast, Paulina Grzeszczyk, of Devour tours, shares her insider tips to beat the crowds and discover the best the capital of Catalonia has to offer. 

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Barcelona must-sees

You can’t miss Sagrada de la Família, designed by Barcelona’s most famous modernist architect Antoni Gaudi. This epic church is still under construction, with a slated completion date of 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi. Paulina says nature inspired Gaudi, though his designs look more like mind-melting psychedelic nightmares to me (in a good way).

Rich people also hired Gaudi to design beautiful houses, like Casa Batlló, Casa Milá, and Casa Vicens, which you can tour today. 

Gaudi designed the Park Güell, perhaps Barcelona’s most iconic postcard image.

Gaudi designed the Park Güell, perhaps Barcelona’s most iconic postcard image.


Gaudi also designed the Park Güell, a World Heritage Site. “It's really worth to see for its beautiful views. Lots of art, lots of symbolism there,” Paulina says. 

If you like to be up in the mountains, take the funicular up to Montjuic, where you’ll find a castle, the Museum of the National Art of Catalunya (MNAC), and a heap of other things to see. 

But for the very best view of the city, head to the Civil War bunkers. “The spot is beautiful to see the sunset and  to meet with your friends.” There aren’t any cafes up there so bring your own snacks and beverages. 

“Of course, you must see the old town, the Gòtic neighborhood,” Paulina says. “This is the oldest part of the city constructed, imagine, 2,000 years ago by the Romans. And then the Born neighborhood, that is the medieval neighborhood…and just get lost in these neighborhoods.” Don’t miss Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and Passeig del Born, a hipster square loved by locals and scene of jousting competitions in medieval times.

Twee Muizen  is one of Paulina’s favorite shops in Barcelona.

Twee Muizen is one of Paulina’s favorite shops in Barcelona.

Best shopping districts in Barcelona 

La Rambla (referred to locally as Las Ramblas) is Barcelona’s most famous boulevard and is packed with tourists. Check it out briefly, then head to more laidback neighborhoods.

“Almost every neighborhood has its own rambla,” Paulina says, “the main streets but in different different neighborhoods.” Instead of Las Ramblas, she recommends heading to the neighborhoods of Born, Poblenou, Raval, Gràcia. and Sant Andreu.


“The Born neighborhood (where you’ll find Passeig del Born) is really nice to walk around. It's the Medieval one and it's full of small shops, small boutique, some restaurants, bars. It’s a really cool neighborhood to hang around in, to get lost in the labyrinth of the streets.” 


Lola Flores performing at RAI. Photo by  RAI .

Lola Flores performing at RAI. Photo by RAI.

Best cultural experiences in Barcelona 

“What I really like here is like the alternative culture,” Paulina says. “There are lots of cultural associations.” Her favorite is RAI.  “They organize lots of things: concerts, theater, circus. They have a bar and they sell food that they make.”

For theatre, “Teatreneu in the Gracia neighborhood is really nice, and they have the spectacles in Spanish or in English sometimes.”

You’ll find art everywhere in Barcelona, in the streets and also the museums.

You’ll find art everywhere in Barcelona, in the streets and also the museums.


Best museums in Barcelona

You’ll find more than 50 museums in Barcelona, and a lot of them are free on Sunday after 3 p.m. and/or the first Sunday of the month. Buy tickets online to skip the queue. Some highlights:  Museum of the National Art of Catalunya (MNAC), CaixaForum, MACBA, Joan Miró Gallery.


The restaurant Teresa Carles makes a vegan version of the fried potato ‘la bomba,’ with artichokes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and olives. You can’t really see it here, but the round potato bomb is usually sitting in a spicy sauce with a strip of aioli dripping down the side that looks like a fuse. A Barceloneta bar owner named Maria Pia came up with this dish when anarchists were literally bombing Barcelona. Photo by  Teresa Carles .

The restaurant Teresa Carles makes a vegan version of the fried potato ‘la bomba,’ with artichokes, mushrooms, tomatoes, and olives. You can’t really see it here, but the round potato bomb is usually sitting in a spicy sauce with a strip of aioli dripping down the side that looks like a fuse. A Barceloneta bar owner named Maria Pia came up with this dish when anarchists were literally bombing Barcelona. Photo by Teresa Carles.

 

Best places for lunch and dinner in Barcelona

For bars and tapas head to the Sant Antoni and Poble-Sec neighborhoods, or if you want the old city, to Gòtic or Born.


For lunch, Paulina’s likes Cova Fumada in the beachy Barceloneta neighborhood that’s popular with seafood lovers.


If you want to try traditional Catalan food, you’ll find many options in Gracia, including the restaurants Cal Boter and Llar de Foc For dinner, Paulina loves Bar del Pla, which offers a modern twist on Catalan cuisine. Conveniently, it’s located on the same street as the Picasso museum. 


Many visitors seek out paella, which is actually a rice dish from Valencia and not Catalonia. Want something local? Try fideuà, made with vermicelli noodles. But really, you’ll find whatever you want in Barcelona. 



“Barcelona is a city of so many different cultures,” Paulina says. “In the 50s, there was a big immigration from different parts of Spain, from the south of Spain, from the north…so they brought lots of culture here.”



Paulina moved to Spain from her native Poland seven years ago. Even though Barcelona is a big, cosmopolitan city, she says visiting the different neighborhoods gives it a small town feel. Photo provided by Paulina.

Paulina moved to Spain from her native Poland seven years ago. Even though Barcelona is a big, cosmopolitan city, she says visiting the different neighborhoods gives it a small town feel. Photo provided by Paulina.

Best bakery in Barcelona

Baluard. “They’re making the best bread and pastries. I used to live very close and every day was checking if they have their cheese cake with raspberries that is mind-blowing.”



Best coffee shop in Barcelona

Bon Mercat. Not only do they make good coffee, they also donate money to save orangutans.



If you like wine tastings, check out Bodega Maestrazgo.  Photo credit to them .

If you like wine tastings, check out Bodega Maestrazgo. Photo credit to them.

Best place to drink wine in Barcelona

Go to a bodega, a wine shop, where traditionally people have gone with empty bottles to fill directly from the wine barrels. “There’s still some of the traditional traditional bodegas in the city, and the one that I really love is the Bodega Maestrazgo. It’s in the Born neighborhood. You can still get the wine from the barrel and the price, it’s pretty crazy because for 2 euro you can get a liter of wine.”

More than 30 million people visited Barcelona last year, many arriving by cruise ship. A common complaint about the cruise industry is that people flood a city for a few hours without enough time to appreciate it or to buy anything to support local shops and restaurants.

More than 30 million people visited Barcelona last year, many arriving by cruise ship. A common complaint about the cruise industry is that people flood a city for a few hours without enough time to appreciate it or to buy anything to support local shops and restaurants.

Best beach in Barcelona

Barcelona created two miles of beachfront with imported sand from the Sahara desert for the 1992 Olympics. If you don’t have much time, go here in the Barceloneta neighborhood. But for a more relaxing experience, Paulina recommends taking the metro out to Badalona, where you can chill out without the crowds.

Best souvenir to remember Barcelona 

If you like functional momentos, Paulina recommends buying a porron, a vase used for the communal drinking of wine (it’s not supposed to touch your mouth).


Where should I stay in Barcelona? 

Head away from the center and stay in a neighborhood like Poble-Sec  or Sant Antoni, where you can experience local life more. Heads up that Barcelona has a major beef with AirBnB, which is working with the city to limit the number of rooms/apartments available. 


Culture tips to consider before going to Barcelona

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain that’s actually trying to succeed from the rest of Spain (the population is split on this). They have their own Catalan language and different cultural traditions. Barcelona is the third most-visited city in Europe and there’s been a backlash against tourists in recent years. To be a good visitor, patron local shops and stay in officially recognized hotels and AirBnBs, which is more heavily regulated here than in other cities.


 

 

 


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If you found this article useful, please share it, and subscribe to the Postcard Academy podcast. Each week, expats and adventurers share their insider travel tips on the best food, nightlife, and cultural experiences in the most interesting places around the globe. I’m your host, Sarah Mikutel, an American who's spent the last 7 years living in, and traveling around, Europe.