My Complete Guide to Barcelona
Barcelona might be considered a touristy destination. It’s usually added to the typical capital city tour of Europe that people often make. If you are heading to London and Paris , Barcelona might also be on your list.
But just because a destination is touristy doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit it. Travel snobbery is a thing and I think a lot of “seasoned” travellers scoff at the idea of going to places like Barcelona as they aren’t “off the beaten” track enough.
But this attitude means you’ll miss out on a lot. Destinations like London, Paris and Barcelona are popular for a reason; they are beautiful cities and there is so much to do and see whenever you visit them. When I left London after spending a week there, I only felt like I had scratched the surface of the city. And I had a similar feeling after leaving Barcelona.
How Long to Visit For?
Whilst there is so much more I could have done, I felt like a week was a great amount of time to spend in Barcelona. I could take it slow and just wander the streets when I wanted to, I had the time to visit major sights and I also managed a few day trips out of the city.
The more I travel, the more I enjoy this slower pace. But if you are on a shorter trip of Europe, and thus have more energy for large days of exploring you might be able to squeeze most things in to four days.
What Time to Visit and Avoiding Crowds
Visiting Barcelona in February was perfect. I got to avoid the bulk of the crowds, and unlike London, Barcelona in February is not what you would consider freezing cold.
Another way to get around the fact that Barcelona is super busy is to pre-book your tickets. Tickets to most of the destinations on this list can be booked months in advance. You have the disadvantage of locking in a particular time and date, but it will save you hours of queuing, particularly in high season.
Which Area to Stay In
Barcelona is a really spread out city. You aren’t going to avoid hopping on the metro system if you want to see everything on this list. Hence as long as you stay relatively central, it doesn’t matter too much where you end up staying.
Most of the tourists stay in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, particularly close to Las Ramblas. As someone that likes to avoid crowds and huge groups of tourists as much as I can, I really enjoyed staying a couple of metro stops out of this part of the city.
I particularly like the Gracia area of Barcelona. And you’ll probably save a bit of money on your accommodation if you aim for districts such as Gracia, Verdageur, Eixample and Sant Gervasi.
If you are a hostel person you can’t go past Yeah Barcelona. It’s newly renovated and one of the best hostels I’ve ever stayed at.
How to Get Around
The metro system in Barcelona will get you most places. I used the metro to get almost everywhere, only hopping on a bus once. Make sure you have google maps downloaded on to your phone, as the transport section of this app works well in Barcelona. You’ll be able to find the best connections this way.
I recommend purchasing the ten rides metro ticket. It’s just over €10 to buy You only need to take public transport five times before it becomes better value than the single tickets (which cost €2.15).
A Word on Security
Barcelona, after Paris, is the number two city in Europe for getting pickpocketed. In fact almost every story I heard from people in hostels that were victims of pickpocketing and theft, occurred while they were in Barcelona. Hence it’s a city where you need to be extra alert, especially when riding the metro.
For some more tips, check out my specific post on avoiding pickpocketing.
What to Do
There is so much to do in Barcelona. I had a huge list to check off before arriving in the city, and whilst I got to almost everything there were definitely things I missed.
As you can see from the prices I’ve listed, entrance fees in Barcelona can add up, especially when visiting Gaudi related things. Hence in the interests of my travel budget (which I blew in Barcelona anyways) I decided to prioritise some sights over others.
This is the first on the list because it is the one thing you can’t leave Barcelona without seeing, in my opinion at least.
Sagrada Familia is the greatest work of Spain and Barcelona’s most famous architect; Antoni Gaudi.
The Catholic church wanted to create a church that was completely funded by the people. When Gaudi won the commission to design this building after the resignation of the previous architect, he made especially grand plans. In fact when designing Sagrada Familia he knew that it would never be finished in his lifetime. Hence he left behind detailed plans for the generations of arcitects to follow.
That was 1883. Today the Sagrada Familia is still not complete. The Sagrada Familia is not facing any funding issues, every single entrance fee for visiting the church goes directly towards finishing it.
But the sheer size of the place means construction is still going to be a lengthy process. They expect to have it finished by 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudi’s death, but since we are operating on Spanish time I’m not 100% confident in them making that deadline.
Regardless of when they finish, even visiting the Sagrada Familia now is an amazing experience. The finished facades on the outside are incredible. The 8 of the planned 18 towers that are completed loom over Barcelona and are decorated in a wide variety of engravings and designs.
But you absolutely need to fork out for the entrance fee in order to see the inside. Gaudi envisioned the inside to look like a forest. So the white pillars on the inside hold the roof in place like tree trunks. The amount of light let in by the colourful and modern stained glass windows is also magical.
If you have been travelling Europe for a while, you might hesitate at going inside the Sagrada Familia because you have probably seen a million other churches. But I promise you the Sagrada Familia is really like nothing else.
I know I’ll have plans to go back when everything is complete!
Opening Hours: Everyday from at least 9am-6pm. The opening hours are extended till 8pm from April-September.
Entrance Fee: A standard ticket costs €15, but if you want anything extra like tower visits or guided tours tickets can be as high as €29.
Metro Stop: Sagrada Familia
Continuing on the theme of the works of Antoni Gaudi, Park Guell is another destination in Barcelona that can’t be missed. The colourful mosaics of this place have come to be synonymous with Barcelona. You’ll find it on most postcards.
Park Guell is basically an outdoor museum of Gaudi’s works. You’ll find whacky and eccentric looking buildings and beautifully detailed and colourful mosaics. It seems like a mess but at the same time it all fits together into something pretty spectacular.
I enjoyed a lazy afternoon here. I wandered around and enjoyed the park just like I would any other park; I sat down in the sun with my kindle and read for an hour or two. It was the perfect way to experience Park Guell.
Park Guell also offers an amazing view over Barcelona.
Opening Hours: At least from 8am-6.15pm, but hours are extended till as late as 9.30pm in high season (May to August)
Entrance Fee: €7 if purchased online (€8 at the ticket office).
Metro Stop: Vallcarca or Lesseps
A Walking Tour of the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is one of the most beautiful parts of Barcelona. It’s here where you’ll find the less modern history of the city; including parts of the Roman walls and aqueduct that was built in the 4th century.
The Gothic Quarter is made up of lots of winding streets and secret alleyways. There is something around every corner but if you aren’t careful you might miss it.
Hence I think it’s a great option to jump on a free walking tour of this part of the city. Instead of just looking at the beautiful buildings, you’ll actually hear about their significance and historical value.
These free tours operate on a tips based system. A word of advice; if someone has given up two hours of their day to show you around a city, it’s really not acceptable not to tip them at all. I do similar tours all over Europe and I always tip 5 Euros, unless they are exceptional in which case I will give them 10 Euros.
Opening Hours: I’d recommend the tour run by HostelCulture that leaves from the steps of the Gothic Cathedral at 10.30am and 3pm everyday.
Metro Stop: Urquinaona
La Boqueria Market
Just off Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s most famous food market. Visiting this market is an experience in itself, whether you are planning to eat there or not.
Whilst parts of the market are clearly marketed towards tourists, such as the freshly squeezed juice and fruit stands, other parts are where many of the locals shop. You’ll find meat shops with huge hocks of Iberico ham hanging up. You’ll find local fruit and vegetables, and some truly delicious seafood.
This is the situation where staying in a hostel or an airbnb with a kitchen really pays off. I grabbed some salmon, oysters and fresh fruit and vegetables and cooked myself a feast in my hostel.
If you can’t or aren’t interested in cooking, consider splurging on one of the amazing meals at the restaurants in the market. I’d particularly recommend ‘El Quim de la Boqueria’. These restaurants are more like bars. You share a seat on a huge communal bar that circles the whole restaurant and the food is served to you there.
You are bound to start up a conversation with someone.
Cost: €3-€20 depending on the item.
Metro Stop: Las Ramblas
Palau de la Musica Catalan
Everyone is so caught up with Antoni Gaudi, that they forget the other brilliant architect in Barcelona’s history.
Lluis Montaner attended the same architect school as Gaudi and is responsible for some beautiful buildings in Barcelona. Just like the works of Antoni Gaudi have been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, so have two works of Montaner; the Palau de la Musica Catalan and Hospital de Sant Pau.
I had to wait an hour or two for the next availability on an English tour, as entrance to the palau is by tour only. But it was well worth the wait.
The Palau de la Musica was funded and commissioned by the Orfeo Catala, a choral society. Unsurprisingly, this is a venue purely designed for music and performance. The acoustics are meant to be phenomenal, it’s home to a huge organ that was only recently refurbished back to working order, and it’s seen some of Spain and the world’s most famous artists including Woody Allen, Pablo Casals and Jacques Thibaud.
The design itself is a tribute to music. My favourite part of the building is the people of different parts of the world and the music that they play, which are enshrined in sculptures around the stage.
Of course the roof is also the star of the building. The amount of colour in the design brings a light into the venue that wouldn’t otherwise be there. Seeing this building after visiting places like Park Guell and Sagrada Familia, it’s easy to see the connection between Montaner and Gaudi.
You can also purchase a ticket to see a concert here!
Opening Hours: Tours run daily from 10am to 3.30pm, with hours being extended until 6pm in July and August.
Entrance Fee: €18
Metro Stop: Urquinaona
If you need a break from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona, there are a number of easy day trips that are worth doing. I did a trip to the Salvador Dali Museum in nearby Figueres, and a trip to Montserrat, Barcelona’s most popular day trip.
If you want more information on these, check out the specific posts I’ve written on my experience.
Another day trip you might consider is to the coast or to nearby Girona (this one comes highly recommended by a friend).
Places I Wanted to Go But Didn’t Get To
As I mentioned, at the pace in which I like to travel, a week in Barcelona just simply wasn’t enough time. There were many places on my list that I just didn’t make it to, either because I didn’t have the time or because I couldn’t justice yet another expensive entrance fee.
But if you have more time and perhaps more money to spend, here are some other recommendations:
The Picasso Museum
This is the place I really wanted to visit but run out of time. I’d planned to visit after my walking tour of the Gothic Quarter but got caught up in the wonders of La Boqueria Market.
My friend visited it and absolutely loved it. Many people have also told me that the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is potentially better than the one in Paris. If you are more of a Picasso fan than a Salvador Dali fan you might want to swap the Figueres trip and visit this instead.
Opening Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays from 9am to 7pm (9.30pm on Thursdays)
Entrance Fee: €11 for collection, €14 for collection and temporary exhibition
Metro Stop: Arc de Triomf, Liceu or Jaume I
This was one of the places I cut from my list just because I didn’t want to fork out yet another entrance fee. Visiting the works of Gaudi in Barcelona is an expensive endeavour and I really only had room in my budget for Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.
But I’ve heard good things, and it will be something on my list for next time.
Opening Hours: Everyday from 9am to 9pm.
Entrance Fee: €22.50, €19.50 for students
Metro Stop: Passeig de Gracia
Given I was visiting Barcelona at the end of winter, a visit to the beach wasn’t really one of my priorities.
But if you are travelling in summer (or any season with warmer weather), and are happy to share a piece of sand with thousands of other tourists, the beach may be the place for you.
Just don’t leave your stuff unattended. Or better yet, leave the valuables back at your hotel altogether.
Where to Eat
I’ve written an extensive post on the different dishes you need to try in Spain. But for specific recommendations, I absolutely loved La Gilda for octopus salad and the best apple pie I’ve ever had. It’s also a restaurant that won’t break the bank.
For something a little higher end, Agust was one of the best meals I had while in Barcelona. But it wasn’t a cheap endeavour.
And of course make sure you don’t miss La Boqueria, this was where I had most of my meals.
Have I Missed Something?
Is there anything else you would add to this list? Any specific restaurants, hotels, sights that you would like to recommend? Comment below or send me an email (email@example.com and I’ll update this post with your recommendations!).