Barcelona was the first place that I traveled solo. For anyone that is looking to do solo travel in Europe for the first time, I highly recommend putting Barcelona at the top of your list as well.
Barcelona aka Barca aka Barça has something for everyone and is worth visiting any time of the year. It rained the entire time I was there my first time and I still loved it. The list below is a strong sampling of things to do and places to see in Barcelona. Below you’ll definitely see the most commonly Barcelona sights like The Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas, and all things Gaudí. I also tried so sprinkle in some Barcelona attractions and locations others may not have mentioned like cooking classes, pintas bar hopping, and underground Roman ruins.
Please leave comments at the end with any tips you might have or comments on what I mentioned. This list is always growing as I visit Barcelona more and plan more itineraries so check back often!
Things to Do in Barcelona
Be Inspired by Gaudí Architecture
I’m just going to knock out some of the Antoni Gaudí places right away. You can’t go on a vacation to Barcelona without seeing at least 2 of the 4 places below. I’ll be honest and say I did not know much about Gaudí before I went to Barcelona. All I knew was he was a famous architect. Almost every building designed by Gaudí is in Barcelona, so if you want to witness his spectacles you’ll have to go there to understand how impressive and magical his buildings are.
Unfortunately I did not get to see Park Guell on my trip. This was one of the top 3 things I wanted to see in Barcelona, but it rained the 3 days I was in town. I kept putting it off hoping the rain would clear up so I could fully enjoy it in the bright light. I had to change my plans last minute instead, but this is one of my first stops on next trip to Barcelona. This area was originally planned as a housing area for the wealthy. The wealthy neighborhood idea was abandoned but not before Gaudí had a chance to create a Dr. Seuss style world with roads, gardens, monuments, and art built into the city park.
Address: 08024 Barcelona, Spain
Gaudí 2 – Visit Casa Batlló
This house is considered Gaudí’s masterpiece by many. It is a 5 floor home that has barely any straight lines, color changing stained glass, and a dragon on the roof. Usually guided audio tours are pretty cheesy, but this was something special. Upon entry you’ll get an iPhone that uses augmented reality to show you how the rooms used to look when the house was being used in the early days. You’ll get clued in on the thought process he used to mix art with functionality and see some of the building come alive on the phone’s screen. It really helps bring the building to life. The ticket price is a little steep, but totally worth it. It’s definitely worth it to escape the rain like I was doing.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: L’Eixample District
Gaudí 3 – Visit the Sagrada Familia
Odds are whenever you plan on visiting The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (long name) it will be under construction. Why do I say that? Construction started on this magnificent cathedral in 1882. The plan is to have it completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death, but we all know how contractors like to hit dates on time. Next time I’m in Barcelona I think I need to spend at least half a day exploring. I spent a good 15 minutes just staring at one tower and looking at the intricacies and details of the symbols that my little mind couldn’t fathom.
Address: Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: L’Eixample District
Gaudí 4 – Casa Vicens
If by this point you’ve fallen in love with the architectural prowess of Antoni Gaudí, then you might want to stop at Casa Vicens. This is where it all began. Casa Vicens is the first major work completed by Gaudí. It was a private residence until recently so not a lot of people have been able to visit this museum. It was purchased in 2014, renovated, and opened to the public in November 2017. Honestly, I didn’t know it was open until I was about to fly to Rome and met someone at the airport that was mildly obsessed with Casa Vicens.
Address: Carrer de les Carolines, 20, 08012 Barcelona, Spain
Take a Paella Cooking Class
This might have been my favorite part of my entire trip to Barcelona. There are lots of cooking classes in the city to teach you about Spanish dishes. The main Barcelona cooking classes you’ll find are tapas, ceviche, and of course…paella lessons! I signed up for a paella cooking class through Airbnb Experiences with Just Royal BCN and I cannot shut up about how much I loved it. Even if you don’t like to cook, you’ll have fun doing this. There is wine.
Go to Barça Futbol Game at Camp Nou
There really is not such thing as a small game for Barcelona. The Barcelonians love their soccer team, and for good reason. Barcelona is consistently one of the top teams in the world. Since 2009 they have won 3 Champions League titles and 3 FIFA Club World Cups. As of this writing, they have at least 3 players that are commonly ranked in the top 10 players in the world by many sources. That includes Lionel Messi who many believe to be the best soccer player ever.
If you plan on going to a game, make sure you save some money and buy your Barcelona jersey before you go to the Camp Nou stadium where the prices will be way higher.
Address: C. d’Aristides Maillol, 12, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: Les Corts
Walk Down La Rambla
I’ll be honest and say I did not really get Las Ramblas. It was on everyone’s list of places I needed to go in Barcelona, but I wasn’t that impressed. I’d still say go there to find out what I missed, but also because there is a lot just outside of there. The whole are was a wide, tree-lined pedestrian area where you can walk around and shop, eat, and watch street performers. I do have to admit, the street performers did impress me. Altogether it reminded me a bit too much of a typical overly tourist street like Lincoln Road in South Beach or the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. La Rambla does get you close to the next three locations though!
Location: Plaça de Catalunya to the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell
Take a Walking Tour Through Barri Gòtic
When I took a trip to Barcelona I had heard about this area, but didn’t really do much research. I found the Gothic Quarter on accident when saw an interesting alley off of La Rambla. I wasn’t feeling the modern look of La Rambla and saw something that looked older. By older, I didn’t realize it was going to be gothic-older. The alley I took turned into one of the many labyrinth style side streets that make up the Gothic Quarter. Somehow they all spit you out into a different plaza/square or “Plaça.” These can be small little squares for relaxing around a fountain up to larger areas full of restaurants and shops. There is a lot to see in the Barri Gòtic worth stopping by at least. I recommend just wandering around and being taken aback by where the alleys drop you off, but here are a few places you should try to see:
Gothic Quarter Place to See 1 – Plaça Reial
Plaça Reial is one of the larger squares you’ll find yourself wandering into from The Gothic’s streets and alleys. It connects directly to La Rambla and Carrer de Ferran so it is easy to get to. This is actually where I had my amazing paella cooking class! Even in the morning when the restaurants are setting up, there is a great energy to the area. In the morning you can relax by the fountain or grab breakfast. Later in the day you’ve got those restaurants open for lunch, local vendors setting up shop, and you can people watch…maybe by the fountain. The nightlife also gets going strong here, especially with live jazz at the Jamboree Jazz and Dance Club there.
Gaudí also has a touch here. One of his first projects after graduating was to design the street lamps that are still standing since 1878. It is tough to see in the photo above, but it is the lamp in front of the truck carrying all of the orange jugs.
Gothic Quarter Place to See 2 – Placa Sant Felip Neri
I probably would not have wound up in this small square had it not been part of my photography tour. It is a small quiet area with a fountain in the middle with the Church of Saint Philip Neri looking over it. It’s a great place to stop and relax if you’ve been walking around for a while. This isn’t the happiest place to go, though. If you look in the pictures above you’ll see a lot of pockmarks on the buildings. This is from the Spanish Civil War when Francisco Franco bombed Barcelona in 1938. Those marks are a reminder of the 42 people, mostly children, who died that day. On a lighter note, this area was used to film a scene in “Vicky Christina Barcelona” as well as a decent amount of the Music video for Evanescence’s “My Immortal.” Yikes, almost left that on a real bummer note.
Gothic Quarter Place to See 3 – Gothic Cathedral
This church goes by a few names you might see: Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Catedral de Barcelona, The Gothic Cathedral, the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona, or La Seu by locals. This gorgeous 14th century church is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona who has a pretty gruesome death story. She is entombed in the crypt of the cathedral. The church’s construction started in 1298 and completed in 1420, but the site goes back to the 4th century. Whether you’re Catholic or not, this is still a breathtaking church to visit. The beautiful Gothic architecture and the sprawling history is sure to impress anyone. The inside is just as, if not more, impressive than the outside facade. If you’re in Barcelona on the Day of Corpus Christi make sure to check out the “Dancing Egg.”
Address: Pla de la Seu, s/n, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Photo credit: Catharina Rytter
Gothic Quarter Place to See 4 – Underground Roman Ruins
I wish someone told me about this archaeological site when I was in Barcelona! The underground ruins of ancient Barcino are the number 1 thing on my list for the next visit. These ruins were only discovered in 1930 while renovating the area. The Museu d ‘Història de la Ciutat (City History Museum) houses the ruins that date back to the 1st-6th century AD. Little did King Fernando II and Queen Isabel know that while they were welcoming Christopher Columbus back from his New World adventure, they were standing above these ruins located under Plaça del Rei. This is the largest excavation of ancient Roman history…outside of Rome obviously. I think it is actually kind of funny that we feel like we’re going back in time walking around the Gothic area, just so you can take an elevator down to 2,000 years in our past.
Address: Placa del Rei, s/n | Barri Gotic, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Photo Credit: Barcelona Experience
The Gothic Quarter gets most of the tourist love, but El Raval is another great neighborhood on the other side of of La Rambla. El Raval is a neighborhood with personality and a ton of culture. You’ll likely hear more languages spoken in this area than anywhere else. That’s partly because of the population of people from all over South America, Eastern Europe, Pakistan, and The Philippines. This part of the city just feels authentic and lived in. There is this exciting feeling you get walking down the windy picturesque side alleys wondering who you’ll see and what’s around the next corner. This section of Barcelona is home to the former red light district for the region and has shed most of that image. There is still a bit of seediness to the area though so I wouldn’t recommend walking the alleys alone at night.
And yes, there is another Gaudí location here. Palau Güell aka the Güell Palace is on the eastern edge of El Raval.
Mercat de la Boquería
If you needed any definite reason to go to El Raval area, it would 100% be to check out the Mercat de la Boquería. The Boquería is a huge outdoor market with vendors selling fresh vegetables, meats, jamon Iberico, specialty items, fish, etc. Yeah, you could find all of this at a supermarket. I have never seen a supermarket with anything that looked as fresh or healthy as what I saw at this market though. There wasn’t a single stand that didn’t wow me. You get to see the butchers, fish mongers, and candy makers (what do you call them) all at their own stands proudly serving such a diverse selection of foods. If you’re not looking for ingredients to cook up, there are still bars and restaurants on site too. This area actually started out in 1217 as a pig market and has continued to function and grow over the years. I read all about the history of La Boquería while I was there, but I’ll save that for another post.
Barcelona has always been a great place to visit, but it wasn’t one of the most visited places until The Olympics in 1992. Barcelona was successful in rejuvenating the city leading up to them being the center stage of the world. Now you can still visit the main sites of the 1992 Olympic Games at this hilltop stadium. The Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys is open to the public for tours, but it is still one of the main venues for major events and concerts in Barcelona. You should check their event calendar to see what might be happening there when you’re in town. The original stadium was built for the 1929 International Exhibition and restored for the ’92 Olympics so there is plenty of history in this stadium.
Address: Passeig Olímpic, 15-17, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
Visit the Montjuïc Castle
You’ll likely see this castle on the way up to The Estadi Olímpic. It is hard to miss the grand tower-lined street leading up to this old military fortress. The original site of Montjuïc Castle was a military fortress built in 1640 that managed to fend off the King of Spain’s giant army in 1641. In 1751 it was demolished and built into this a magnificent castle. The castle was a part of major battles through world history, so any history buff should be excited to walk these grounds. Today Montjuïc is a municipal facility rather than a museum you’d hope it would be. There are exhibitions going on year round you can check out. I’d even recommend climbing the steps (or taking the gondola lift) just for the amazing view alone. While you’re up there, you may as well wander around and take in this grand castle for all of it’s beauty.
Address: Ctra. de Montjuïc, 66, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
Would you go to Rome and not eat pizza? Ordering paella in Barcelona is a similar story. I did mention earlier that I took a paella cooking class and I still recommend doing that. If you’re strapped for time or you really just don’t think that’s a good idea for yourself, make sure you still get your fill of paella while your Barcelona. Paella originated in Valencia which is the region just south of Catalonia. You’ll find out quickly that Barcelonians perfected this dish. Just like how Italian grandmothers will fight over the best bolognese sauce, Spanish grandmothers will argue that they have the perfect paella recipe. It’s hard to find “bad” paella in Barcelona, but try to avoid the overly touristy restaurants. If the menu is plastic and/or has pictures of all the food on the menu, it’s probably not the best place to go. Yelp and Trip Advisor are great places to find the best paellas in Barcelona, but I’d recommend asking a local.
Photo Credit: EstudioWebDoce via Pixabay
Churros con Chocolate
I went to Spain when I was 18 and this is one thing I remember vividly more than almost anything else. The first morning in Barcelona I woke up insanely early because of jet lag and just laid there patiently waiting for a churrería to open up. There was no way I could start my day off without this delicious combination of fried dough and hot pudding-like chocolate for breakfast. When you’re traveling you’re allowed to eat like this. I’ve done a decent bit of churro sampling, but the best churros con chocolate in Barcelona that I found were from a tiny storefront called Xurreria Apolo. Take yours to go for a short walk a few blocks away to enjoy it on the steps across from Plaça d’Espanya for some great people watching. Yes, I know the picture above is of a typical churro. It was still delicious. I do prefer the traditional textured churro though.
Xurreria Trebol: Carrer de Còrsega, 341, 08037 Barcelona, Spain
Hit the Beach
National Geographic rated Barcelona the best beach city in the world. That’s beating out the likes of Sydney, Nice, Miami, Rio, and Hawaii. That wasn’t the case before 1992 though. Like I mentioned before about the Olympics, Barcelona went to great lengths to revitalize the city. A major part of that was an investment in changing the coast from an industry used waterline to a beautiful beachfront. They actually shipped in sand from Egypt to make that happen. These beaches have soft sand, great sun, Mediterranean waters, beautiful people, and plenty of activities for any beach bum. Barceloneta is the main beach which means it will be the busiest and most touristy to the likes of South Beach and Santa Monica. Nova Icaria and Bogatell are more relaxing with plenty of restaurants and bars nearby. If letting it all hang out is your kind of thing, Mar Bella and St Pol de Mar are two popular nudist beaches.
Photo credit: Spain Attractions
360 Degree City View from Bunkers Del Carmen Lookout
This is where you go if you’re doing it for the Gram. Did I use that right? Los Bunkers have what could be the best view of the entire city. You’ll get a full 360° views of Barcelona from the top of Turo de La Rovira. That includes the mountains, La Sagrada Familia, the beaches, and a beautiful sunset if you come at the right time of the day. Again, Barcelona managed to something built for protection during the Spanish Civil War into a beautiful part of their modern culture. I recommend packing a picnic bag with some wine and snacks to relax after hiking up here to really take a moment to enjoy the city’s beauty.
Address: Carrer de Marià Labèrnia, s/n, 08032 Barcelona, Spain
Go on a Food Tour
A good food tour is almost a given for any city known for their culinary culture. Barcelona is a major metropolitan area so you can find great food from any region of the world. Given that, they are best known for their paella, fideuà, tapas, fresh seafood, and desserts. A food tour is an easy way to make sure you don’t miss any of the must-have foods in Barcelona. Any quality tour guide will also make sure to give you a little backstory on the foods your eating. A lot of you may roll your eyes at this, but the history of some of these foods and how they came to be are pretty interesting. For example, the delicious and spicy bombas were created in a Barceloneta bar during the Spanish Civil War in reference to the weapon of choice used by anarchists…bombs. I think the best places to find your food tours would be Trip Advisor or Airbnb Experiences.
Photo source: Barcelona Home Blog
Eat Pinchos in Poble Sec
Similar to a food tour would be this sort of bar hopping self guided food tour. I wouldn’t have known about this area had it not been for my Airbnb host recommending it one night. For those of you that don’t know, pinchos are similar to tapas. When you order tapas, you order a plate and share it with others…or eat it yourself if you’re greedy like that. Pinchos or pintxos are tapas style foods that have a cocktail stick going through it, often attaching it to a piece of bread. Pinchos bars typically put plates of these on the bartop where anyone can come up and grab what they like. You collect your sticks and pay based on how many you have at the end of your stay. I wish this type of bar was all over because it really adds another element to bar hopping, even if you’re not drinking. You can find these types of bars all over the city, but Poblec Sec has the highest concentration of them. This way you can sample more menus and meet more people.
Visit the Picasso Museum
Fans of Pablo Picasso might know about the Blue Period. This was about the time when Picasso started to deviate from traditional painting and start to form his own unique style. The majority of the inspiration for this art came from the people and places he witnessed while living in Barcelona. The Museu Picasso has a collection of over 4,000 works of art mainly from that era. Tickets are about 14 euros to see the entire collection. The architecture of the museum alone is worth the trip. You also get to see some Picasso paintings on the walls.
Address: Carrer Montcada, 15-23, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: El Born
Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
It wouldn’t be a European trip without at least 3 churches on the list. This is a work of art that is definitely worth seeing though. The outside of the church makes it look like this is going to be another dimly lit church from the inside. The design of the church makes use of natural light that brings the interior to life. “Cathedral of the Sea” was a best selling novel written written with the construction of this church as a background to the story. That makes this a perfect stop for history buffs and book nerds! I haven’t read it myself, but it might be something to read or get on audiobook before visiting Barcelona to fall in love with the area a little more.
Address: Plaça de Santa Maria, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: El Born
Sewers of Barcelona
Gross, did I just recommend you hang out in the Barcelona sewers? Yes. Do I think you’re a Ninja Turtle? No, but that would be cool if you were. I honestly cannot say much about this one. I’ve found a few blogs and have heard some people mention going into the giant underground sewer system in Barcelona. Most people do it by sneaking in with a type of urban explorer attitude. There are also some official guided tours, but they are not as common. I’d love to check it out after seeing some of the pictures online and reading about the history of it that dates back to the Roman occupation of Barcelona. If anyone has been down there, please leave some comments about it below. Maybe I’ll get there the next time I’m in Barcelona to give an update on it.
Fun fact – you can see Christian Bale in these sewers in “The Machinist”
You can find more information about the Barcelona sewer tours here.
Photo source: Rae Bathgate – Down and Out and Overseas
Barcelona Erotic Museum
NO IMAGE FOR YOU!
This is for any of you who perked up when I mentioned the nude beaches in Barcelona. This museum is exactly what you think it is. Barcelona has an erotic history, so it makes sense that they’d have this museum. Yes, you’ll find some strange, offensive, and sometimes aggressive sex toys/machines. You’ll actually so find some historical art as well. Once you get through with the giggle fits, you might find some of this interesting. There has always been sex in the world, and different cultures at different times viewed it in different ways. That being said, it’s hard not to snicker walking around here. It is also difficult differentiating toys versus torture devices at times.
Address: La Rambla, 96 bis, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Neighborhood: La Rambla / The Gothic Quarter
Watch and/or Learn Flamenco Dancing
If you’re doing a tour around all of Spain, I would recommend saving this for when you are somewhere near Andalusia. Flamenco dancing is traditionally a Southern Spain art-form, but there are plenty of tables to see a Flamenco dancing in Barcelona. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are even Flamenco dancing classes perfect for travelers that you can take to knock that off of your bucket list.