1. Parc Guell
Parc Guell is one of the city’s biggest draws for visitors but is equally popular among locals, who make grateful use of the green space for picnics, afternoon strolls and sneaky outdoor naps when the summer heat is too much to bear.
Views of the city are spectacular and in among the greenery is a liberal sprinkling of works by Gaudi – including the Gaudi House Museum and the much-photographed lizard fountain at the foot of the steps.
Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece is well worth a visit to see the skeletal building being filled in a little at a time. The stark white interior contrasts sharply with the blazing colours of the stained glass and the rough-hewn shell that is slowly but surely being moulded into what will surely be one of the world’s most colourful cathedrals (eventually).
3. Gothic quarter
Take a few hours to wander around the heart of old Barcelona. You will get lost, but don’t worry – that’s all part of the fun. While you’re there, be sure to swing by the Call (old Jewish quarter), lovely Plaza Sant Josep Oriol I Pi (with art market every Saturday and Sunday) and the old Cathedral complete with resident geese. This is a good area to eat – try Bar del Pi for traditional tapas or Caelum for tea and cakes made by nuns from across Spain.
4. Las Ramblas
The iconic boulevard that runs from the central Plaza Catalunya down to the Columbus monument and the sea beyond. We would recommend arriving either early or late to avoid the worst of the crowds, and maybe stop in at Cafe de l’Opera for churros and chocolate. It is worth taking a look at the Virreina art gallery (excellent temporary exhibitions, especially photography) and dipping in to the lovely Plaza Real a little further down.
5. Paseo de Gracia
Barcelona’s chicest shopping street – this is where you’ll find all of the big name brands as well as some world-beating architecture (including Casa Batllo and La Pedrera). Also in this area are the Museu Egipci (Egyptian Museum) and the Fundacio Antoni Tapies. For a quirky place to drink, try Les Gens Que J’Aime or the hidden Bar Metro 1.
6. Montjuic and the MNAC
Montjuic – a hill just south of the city centre and a welcome green space in the middle of the city – has it all. Take the cable car from Barceloneta for a spectacular ride across the harbour and up to the castle. For one of Barcelona’s best art hits, try MNAC – the Catalan national art museum. A fantastic permanent collection is particularly strong on Medieval and Gothic art as well as local heroes of the 19th and 20th centuries (think Fortuny, Casas, Rusinol and Picasso). It’s easiest to get there from Plaza Espana – and the views from the top are well worth the walk up the hill (and if you’re not impressed, there’s a bar that does a mean G+T).
7. Museo de Picasso and El Borne
El Borne is the Gothic Quarter’s slightly better-heeled younger brother. This ancient area of the city is popular with trendy young things and home to the world-renowned Picasso museum – be sure to book well ahead to avoid the ridiculous queues. Another highlight is the recently-renovated El Borne market, where you can see the excavated remains of a medieval settlement.
8. Miro Museum
For a whole building dedicated to the strange shapes and bright colours favoured by local artist Miro, head to the Fundacio Joan Miro. The collection of 14,000 pieces (including paintings, drawings and some phenomenal sculptures) is displayed in a simple, modern complex atop Montjuic.
9. Museu Arqueologico
A small but exquisitely curated museum also on Montjuic with interactive exhibits and a child-friendly atmosphere. Especially strong on palaeopathology and local history.
10. Barceloneta beach
After all that, you will need to kick back and relax. Head down to Barceloneta beach to paddle and drink mojitos with the city’s beautiful people. If you prefer a quieter vibe, keep heading north to find quieter bays (as well as some good seafood shacks).
Cover Photo: Flickr / Moyan Brenn