What are the best things to do in Barcelona?
There are a lot of things to do in Barcelona. You can visit the famous museums like the Museu Picasso and the MACBA, or take a walk through one of the beautiful parks like Parc Guell or Montjuic. You can also enjoy the city’s many restaurants, cafes, and bars, or go shopping at the many shops and markets. And, of course, you can’t forget about the beach!
I have visited Barcelona several times, and my most recent visit was in 2022. Read on to learn about my 20 essential things to do in Barcelona.
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Things to do in Barcelona – an Overview
For those who love art and architecture, Antoni Gaudí’s artistic flair can be seen all around the city.
The foodie scene is hugely celebrated, and the different neighbourhoods all have their own culinary styles (I have sampled food and drinks in the Gothic Quarter, El Born and Gràcia, but of course there are many more areas to visit).
I have included some tour recommendations using Viator within this post. All tours are all hand-picked by me, and I have tried to include a range of prices and options for everyone.
20 things to do in Barcelona
How to use this map: click the tab on the top left to see the list of places. Click the blue icons on the map to see more information about each place. Click the star to add to your own Google Maps.
1. Visit the Sagrada Familia
My list of things to do in Barcelona starts with Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished basilica.
This impressive building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and undoubtedly the most famous and iconic structure in the Catalan capital. It has been under construction for 135 years and is not likely to be finished until the 2030s.
Why is construction still not finished?
Construction began in 1882 with a different plan in mind. Antoni Gaudí was commissioned one year later, and he completely redesigned the whole building, to include 18 towers.
Gaudi only had one of his towers built when he passed away in 1926, leaving the iconic monument unfinished and in the hands of Barcelona City to get completed.
Luckily Gaudí’s detailed plans and drafts have mostly survived the decades (although some were destroyed in fires during the Spanish Civil War) and these have enabled architects to continue Gaudí’s work. Construction is funded by the thousands of daily visitors descending on the site.
Gaudí wanted the interior to represent nature, so the pillars were designed to look like intricate tree trunks with leaves dancing in the incredible light. Gaudí himself is buried in the crypt beneath the basilica.
2. Visit Castle Montjuïc
Visiting Castell de Montjuïc is one of my favourite things to do in Barcelona.
A 17th-century military fortress sitting on top of Montjuïc hill, it affords a wonderful view of the whole city. The castle dates back to 1640 and now functions as Barcelona municipal facility. Several events are hosted here – you can check out the website for more details.
Montjuïc Castle is reached by cable car, which itself is an experience, with panoramic views extending out over the city and beyond. You can also take a tour of the castle which allows access to the dungeons below. There is handwriting on the cell walls from prisoners held here centuries ago.
3. Barceloneta Beach
When looking for free things to do in Barcelona, a beach day is an obvious choice. Barceloneta beach is a well-served 1.1km stretch of golden sandy beach with lots of facilities, bars, sports, shops, cafes and public artworks.
The name ‘Barceloneta’ is actually the name of the former fishing quarter which sits just behind the beach. There are some iconic buildings to be seen here, such as the W Hotel, Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts skyscrapers.
For your beach day, I recommend this amazing beach towel which repels sand and dries almost instantly, and this foldable sun hat to protect your head. If you are taking a picnic, check out this cute picnic set too.
4. Take an e-Bike Tour of the City
I wholeheartedly recommend taking an e-bike tour of the city, it’s a great way to get around easily and see all the sights, especially in a large sprawling city like Barcelona.
I booked a tour on Viator which included the bike hire, a personal guide, photography services and even tapas and drinks at the end! In total I cycled about 11km, but since the bike has an electric motor I didn’t get too worn out. My guide took me all along the beaches and we made several stops to see the artworks and buildings. It was an excellent day out sightseeing.
I have linked some tours below for you, the exact one I took is the first one (Barcelona E Bike Photography tour).
5.Things to do in Barcelona: Eat Tapas and Paella
My favourite of all the things to do in Barcelona! I will never get bored of eating tapas and paella.
I have visited some excellent bars and restaurants which I will share with you, but of course I have barely scratched the surface and there are hundreds more places to eat in Barcelona.
There are many tapas tours available in Barcelona, and these can be really helpful to identify authentic local dishes, rather than tourist-trap versions of tapas. There are lots of inauthentic offerings around, so it is good to have a local guide who knows their stuff. I recommend the Barcelona Taste tours (not sponsored – I just had an extremely good experience with them).
Here are some links to the best tapas bars I ate in, all 100% recommended by me:
- Pla B Tapas, Carrer de Bellafila, 5, 08002 Barcelona – delectable local tapas dishes, chilled vibe.
- Sabor di Barrio, Carrer dels Assaonadors, 25, 08003 Barcelona – stunning interior and best paella.
- Bodega a La Palma, C. de la Palma de Sant Just, 7, 08002 Barcelona – amazing desserts and atmosphere.
- Tasqueta de Blai, Carrer de Blai, 15, 17, 08004 Barcelona – excellent for pintxos and outdoor seating.
6. Visit Barcelona Port
With a history of being a significant port for trade into and out of Catalonia, the Port of Barcelona is now more essential for cruise liners and ferries. It is currently being extended and will eventually be twice the size and capacity, allowing it to serve even larger cruise itineraries and stopovers.
Here you will see the Christopher Columbus statue, complete with an extra-long finger so you can see the statue is pointing out to sea. However, if the statue is supposed to be pointing in the direction of America, it is actually pointing in the wrong direction!
The historic Port Vell is just next door to the ferry port, housing fleets of fishing boats and lots of things to do in Barcelona. There are shops, bars, restaurants and a marina. There is also a very high cable-car over the water which transports visitors to the museums, aquarium, IMAX cinema and Olympic stadium.
7. Walk Down Las Ramblas
No list of things to do in Barcelona would be complete without Las Ramblas. This is the largest and most famous street in Barcelona. Also spelled ‘La Rambla’, it is just shy of one mile and stretches from the Placa de Catalunya in the west to the port.
Las Ramblas is ‘touristy’ and usually very crowded. There are shops and restaurants on both sides, with street entertainers and stalls. Walking down this street can be quite overwhelming at peak times.
Three pieces of advice from me:
1. Beware of pickpockets.
Barcelona is one of the pickpocketing capitals of the world, and Las Ramblas is where most of it happens. Keep your belongings close to you at all times, in a zip pocket close to your body. Avoid holding your phone in your hand. Try an anti-theft sling bag or an anti-theft backpack.
2. Don’t buy drinks from street sellers.
Firstly the drinks are overpriced, but also you don’t know what’s in them (this advice was given to me by a local tour guide).
3. Don’t eat at any of the restaurants on Las Ramblas.
The food is mostly just mass-produced frozen stuff, most locals I spoke to were very keen for me to not eat anywhere near Las Ramblas and instead go to the local authentic places. Even my hotel manager told me not to eat there. Unfortunately I had already made that mistake on my first night, and can confirm it was disappointing and overpriced.
There is one place on Las Ramblas with some relatively good food, and that is the Mercat de la Boqueria. Some of the food is good here, but be careful because a lot of it is uncovered all day in the heat. There are a lot of sweets in cups which is not exactly authentic Catalan food, but you can get fruit and veg here, plus some of the stalls do daily specials. See section 20 below.
8. Visit Gaudí’s Park Güell
A fairytale gingerbread-house park in an Art-Nouveau style, this concept took 15 years of Antoni Gaudí’s life to design and build. There are mosaics everywhere inside, ornate structures, beautiful fountains and cute picture-postcard buildings dotted all around.
Park Güell has some strange ticketing procedures. There are standard ticket prices, and also free slots for some areas of the park, but also free slots for some of the ticketed areas too. There are free times for Barcelona residents and times when tourists aren’t allowed. I think these rules change randomly, so I advise visiting the Park Güell website (you can change the language to English) to view the current process.
There are some tours for Park Güell shown below, but bear in mind you don’t need a tour and you can just walk around on your own.
9. Go For a Stroll in the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic quarter (Barri Goti) is in the centre of the old town, in the district of Ciutat Vella, and contains some remarkable architecture. There are narrow and twisting mediaeval streets as well as some roman remains too. The area contains lots of shops and bars, and gets lively in the evenings.
There are three major cathedrals in this area, and it feels worlds away from the likes of Las Ramblas. Both locals and tourists alike are drawn here when seeking things to do in Barcelona.
Here are some places of note which can be found in Barcelona’s gothic district:
- Barcelona Cathedral: Not the gigantic Sagrada Familia. This is the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia which was built in the 14th century. See list number 15 below.
- Plaça Sant Jaume: The city hall, parliament and palace.
- Plaça Reial: A neoclassical central square which is one of the most popular plazas in the city centre
- Plaça del Rei: Also known as the King’s Square, this one contains several medieval buildings and the Barcelona City History Museum.
- Portal de L’Angel: A long street perfect for shopping.
- Plaça Nova: There are lots of squares in the city, this one proudly flanked by old Roman towers.
- Museu Frederic Marès: sculpture museum which is a bit different from other museums you may have seen.
- Jewish Quarter: the remains of the old Jewish neighbourhood.
10. See the Magic Fountain
Free Things to in Barcelona – the Magic Fountain
This is one of my all time favourite things to do in Barcelona. The Magic Fountain is unique, has a family party atmosphere and is completely free of charge to visit. The fountains ‘dance’ to a soundtrack of pop music mixed with classical pieces too. It’s great for kids and adults alike. Beware – if you get too close, you will get wet!
The fountain was built in 1929 for the World Exhibition in Barcelona, and is set against the scenery of the Montjuïc Palace. A word of advice – sort out your return transport beforehand, as I had trouble getting a cab at night and I ended up walking back to my hotel.
11. Visit Casa Batlló
Most things to do in Barcelona involve eccentric architecture, and this is no exception. The decorative Casa Batlló is another of Gaudí’s masterpieces and is nicknamed the “House of Bones” after its skeletal appearance and bone-like pillars. The crazy interior features psychedelic rippled walls, intricate mosaics and tile work, sculpted fireplaces and ornate facades.
12. Stroll Down Passeig De Gracia
This is one of the most affluent avenues in the city and is a beautiful street to admire. The Passeig de Gràcia contains several more Gaudí-designed buildings (including the Casa Batllo at number 12 and the Casa Mila above) and stretches between the Eixample district and the Gracia neighbourhood. You can see lots of modernista and art nouveau buildings here, as well as designer shops and residences.
13. Marvel at Montserrat Mountain
You’ll need an extra day to take this excursion, but it’s worth it. Montserrat mountain is a unique geological feature which is home to a Benedictine monastery. This is a sacred spot for Roman Catholics, as it contains the famous 12th century ‘Black Madonna’ statue which you can see and photograph (but be aware there will be crowds of people also trying to get the same photo).
The name means ‘Serrated Mountain’ and there is a spectacular view from the top. Consider taking a pair of compact binoculars like these ones.
14. See Barcelona Cathedral
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia is a beautiful gothic cathedral which is currently the seat of the Archbishop of Spain. This is a major landmark in Barcelona and also contains a 14th century cloister.
This cathedral was the subject of much controversy in 2022 when the City Council erected a huge advertising billboard at the base of one of its spires, effectively ruining the beautiful aesthetic of the much-celebrated building.
15. Relax in Catalunya Square
This is the most famous plaza and is situated in the heart of Barcelona. There are hundreds of pigeons which gather here waiting to be fed by tourists. Beware – when somebody feeds them, they suddenly flock very fast to the person with the food, and it can be very startling!
This square is where the two largest avenues meet (La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia) so it is usually quite busy. The square is lined with shops, restaurants and bars, and sports some pleasant scenery, gardens and sculptures.
16. Stroll Along Port Olímpic
This port was built for the 1992 Olympic Games, and there are still residual Olympic artefacts waiting to be discovered all over the area. The port is bordered by the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts skyscrapers, and is next to the beach and all of the public artworks.
17. See the Arc de Triomf
My guide took me here on my e-bicycle tour, and explained this arch is not like other arches around the world because it was built purely for display purposes. It was built by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas. The arch served as the entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, a parade/exhibition which took place in the Citadel Park. The arch is a good example of Moorish revival architecture.
18. Spend a Day in Citadel Park
Citadel Park is a peaceful place in Barcelona just along the pavement from the Arc di Triomf. It is Barcelona’s oldest park. Interestingly there are always bubble-blowers here, so now the whimsical sight of bubbles floating through the air has become synonymous with the Citadel park.
The park also houses the Barcelona Zoo, lots of sculptures, museums and the Catalan Parliament.
19. Visit La Boqueria Market
La Boqueria Market is the busiest market in Barcelona, and is extremely popular. You can find all sorts of food and drink here, but if food hygiene bothers you then look out for uncovered items which are exposed to the elements (and flies). Also if you are vegetarian, be prepared for some gory sights! There are innards/heads of animals on display. You can see further pictures on my Instagram highlights if you are interested.
Animal entrails aside, you can also get some good vegetables, cheese, meats and olives here. There is plenty to make up a nice picnic lunch, and a good selection of drinks too. Note the market is closed on Sundays.
20. Things to do in Barcelona: Visit Barcelona FC
Visiting Barcelona FC and museum is a must for any football fan. Camp Nou holds almost 100,000 fans and you can get a real feel of how much the Catalan people love this team.
The museum includes access to the trophy room, multimedia Area and dedicated Messi area. You can do a tour which includes dressing rooms, tunnel and pitch. A Barcelona FC hat always goes down well here.
I hope this post has helped you to plan your trip and find things to do in Barcelona.
There are lots more things to do in Barcelona, these are just 20 of them. I may add more to this list in future. If you want to see more of my experiences of Barcelona, follow me on Instagram where you can watch my Barcelona highlight. There are some thoughts on general safety in the city there too.
If you’re a fan of tapas and Spanish food in general, you might also like my foodie post What To Eat in Mallorca. For Italian cuisine enthusiasts, most of my Italy posts also contain food and drink sections too.
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Travelling soon? Check my 20 Must-Have Travel Essentials post before you go.
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You are reading Hazel’s Travels – an online publication and travel blog which aims to provide advice and inspiration for travel in Europe, the UK and USA.Tags: barcelona, Europe, Spain, tapas