Welcome to Gusto Guides‘ top 10 things to do in Barcelona (and, yes, we’ve included our favourite eateries on the way so you know where to stop for a refill).
It’s easy to understand why Barcelona is such a popular city with tourists: dreamy architecture, great food and a decent city beach all squeezed into a city that is easy to navigate on foot or by bike. Check out our list of must-see attractions and explore for yourself.
1. La Boqueria – This cavernous market (officially known as the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria) is a great place to stop for a glass of cava and super-fresh tapas (we liked Quiosc Modern for its fresh seafood and relative lack of tourists).
The best time to arrive is first thing in the morning, when staff from the best local restaurants buy fresh ingredients every day – see our interview with one of them.
2. Las Ramblas – The leafy Rambla runs from the heart of the modern city at Plaza Catalunya to the famous Columbus statue and the Mediterranean sea beyond.
Be sure to take in the La Virreina gallery (which often hosts excellent exhibitions – recent years have seen the likes of Ai Wei Wei and Claude Cahun) and the pleasant Plaza Real.
3. Passeig de Gracia – Another of the top things to do in Barcelona. The city has many different characters and the Passeig de Gracia exemplifies the elegant area of the city known as the Eixample, where apartment blocks are arranged into neat blocks, and the ladies wear furs from October through to March.
The Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are architectural gems that can be enjoyed from inside or out – that is, if you aren’t too busy browsing the high end shops and wondering who actually buys all of these leather tracksuits.
4. MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) – This is a real treat for art lovers. With a world-class collection that still maintains a very local flavour, it’s worth the steep climb up from Plaza España (But don’t worry! There are escalators to help!).
The museum is on the hill known as Monjuic, home to a fistful of other attractions including the castle and the small but perfectly formed archaeological museum.
5. MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona) – Known by locals as much for the (awesome) skateboarders who frequent the square just in front of the museum, the MACBA is still worth a visit.
The collection tends to favour the conceptual side of modern art, and there is a varied programme of temporary exhibitions both here and in the next door CCCB.
6. Parc Guell – Right at the top of the town, this iconic park features work by Gaudi and exquisite views down across the old city and to the sea beyond. The central area of the park (where most of the famous buildings and monuments are) has in recent years been gated off and tickets are sold on a time order – be sure to check the small print and arrive on time so as not to miss your slot.
7. Barceloneta – Yes! We restrained ourselves until number 7 to mention the beach – but here it is!
This man-made beach is located in the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta, where you can still find some of the best seafood in the city (try Rey de la Gamba for fideua or foot-high plates of unidentified sea creatures).
Things can get busy in summer, so consider heading further North to the quieter beaches of Bogatell and Poble Nou – it’s a pleasant walk or bike ride (cycle paths are good).
8. Picasso Museum – With Picasso Museums springing up all along the Mediterranean coast from Malaga to Antibes, it’s sometimes hard to work out where to start.
The Barcelona Picasso Museum is home to one of the biggest collections of Picasso’s work, and the collections focuses on his relationship with Barcelona, where he lived as a youth. Book ahead if you can to avoid the queues, and grab a hot sandwich from the quirky Poc a Poc round the corner if you run out of steam. If you’re more hungry, head up to nearby Sant Pere and the wonderful Bar Mundial.
9. Sagrada Familia – The iconic image of Barcelona, Gaudi’s work-in-progress cathedral the Sagrada Familia, is a must-see of the the list of things to see in Barcelona. Again, queues are long and entrance is by time-limited slot, so you need to be organised to get the most out of your visit.
10. Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) – This neighbourhood, at the heart of the city, is a great place to spend an afternoon wandering.
Layer upon layer of history can be found here – from the Roman temple hidden away on Carrer del Paradis to the old Jewish quarter of El Call.
There are still pock-marks from the Civil War on the walls of the hauntingly beautiful Plaza de San Felipe Neri, and the old cathedral is still home to thirteen geese, one for each year of Santa Eulalia’s life.