"Barcelona,” Don Quixote exclaimed, “fountain of courtesy, shelter of strangers, hospice to the poor, land of the valiant, avenger of the offended, reciprocator of firm friendship, a city unique in its location and beauty.”
-Miguel De Servantes Saavedra, Don Quixote, 1605
Take it from Don above - you're in for a wholly unique experience. Barcelona, in the Catalonia region of Spain, is a city nestled on one end by the glittering Mediterranean and on the other by palm-lined mountains. Before I get into what makes Barcelona great, it’s important to remember that Catalonia, though part of Spain, has a fierce cultural identity all on its own. People speak Catalan first, Spanish second. Anyone who watches the news will remember the votes for secession from Spain in late 2017 and realize that Catalan culture is wholly unique. To help you make the most of your time in one of our favoritie cities, we’ve compiled a list of things you should know, things you should do, and places you should see while you’re in Barcelona to make you feel not just Spanish, but Catalan too!
Vale? Vale. Vamos!
For the Art Lovers- City of Gaudi
If you ever read anything about Barcelona and tourism, you’d be hard pressed to find anything which doesn’t mention Antoni Gaudi in the same sentence. Gaudi is the city’s most famous architect and his influence and presence can still be felt from the hills of Park Guell to the spires of Sagrada Familia and down to the beachfront. His life itself is an interesting story albeit with a rather untimely and sad ending. It’s his art and architecture, however, that are lasting and incredibly influential in building the image of Barcelona (no seriously, Sagrada Familia is still being built after 100 years).
Gaudi is known for his embrace of Catalan Modernism, or Modernisme. Modernisme as a movement came to stand against the traditions of the bourgeoisie and represent new bohemian values of the late 19th century. Gaudi’s fiercely Catalan interpretation of modernisme in architecture seeks to incorporate traditional Catalan art (like mosaic and masonry) into color and geometry that carries symbolic and literal meaning. Gaudi, a devout Catholic, also believed that the best way to connect with his God was through God’s creations and so weaved nature and natural symbolism in and out of all of his works.
Sagrada Familia Cathedral; Gaudi’s longest, largest, and most encompassing work. Set to be complete in 2026, Sagrada Familia is a perfect example of the paradigms and geometry of Gaudi. Spring for the guided tour. It’s only about €4 more than a normal entrance ticket but absolutely worth it!
Park Guell; Set in the hills on the western side of the city, Park Guell offers the best views of the city out towards the water. Entrance to the upper terraces is free, but to actually see the part Gaudi constructed, entry is about €8 and €14 with a guided tour. I recommend bringing or buying lunch on the way to eat while you take in the view on the upper terraces!
For the Foodies:
Tapas. Tapas? Tapas!
I am completely food-motivated and and a very much unashamed food snob. So, suffice to say, I don’t like a bad meal. Well, let me tell you that tapas reigns in Barcelona, and I couldn't have been happier. I was hard-pressed to find a bad meal in my time there. Even the Iberian ham sandwich I had in the airport McDonalds was delicious. And, like any annoying foodie friend of yours, I've got a lot to say. Here are some of my tips for eating well in Barcelona:
Transition to Spanish time. While most of us here in the US are used to our day timetable, you’ll have a much better time in Spain if you transition to Spanish time. Most Spanish have a late, two-hour, afternoon lunch/siesta or leave work around 7PM. Therefore, most Spaniards don’t leave to grab dinner until 10PM or so. In less touristy areas, most restaurants that are open for lunch don’t open until 1PM or for dinner until 9PM . If you want to eat like a Spaniard, start your days meals-wise a few hours later to get adjusted.
Try to eat away from Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the main vein running through the city’s oldest neighborhood: the Gothic Quarter. While it’s fantastic to wander and take in the views, most restaurants serve tourists reheated or frozen Tapas en masse. While some restaurants in the Gothic Quarter are fantastic, and there’s some fantastic bars, clubs, and experiences to be had, try and find dinner in other neighborhoods like Exiample, Barcelonetta, or El Raval.
Ask your waiter. I’m probably the worst patron for it, but I always ask my waiter or waitress what their recommendations/favorites are no matter if I'm here in NYC or on vacation. They usually know what is fresh or best that day and/or want to share with you something they love! Plus, the more you interact with your waiter/ress the more they are likely to not just see you as another tourist but someone who wants to enjoy the best of the city. Which brings me to my next point…
Eat Local. "But Tapas IS local!" I hear you saying (and you’re not wrong), BUT think more local. Just like any country, there are regional specialties specific to Catalonia that just wouldn't taste the same (or be available) anywhere else in Spain. Think risotto. To us it is Italian but to italians is Northern Italian. Or fried green tomatoes are American but are local to the South. Try foods like trinxat, timbotits, and pa amb tomàquet before ordering the paella (which is local to Valencia). And, Barcelona is on the sea, so absolutely be sure to try all the mussels, sonso, & squid you can get your hands on.
Tapas. if you’re looking for a cozy, place to grab dinner, head to Somorrostro in Barcelonetta or Tickets in El Raval (tickets being the nicer of the two). You know it’s good when the kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant! Next door to Somorrostro is their sister bar, Reblot, that doles out delicious cocktails AND delicious tapas in a more casual atmosphere.
Paella. I know I had said Paella can wait, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get good Paella in Barcelona! Paella is usually served for two and good paella can be expensive. Head to Can Majo on the beach in Barcelonetta if you’re looking for amazing food with a great view!
Market Madness. Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria is the oldest and most famous market in Barcelona. Right near the Liceu metro stop, it’s a veritable wonderland for foodies. Take some time to sit at a stall and talk with some of the owners, try as many things as you can, and stock up on fresh fruit!
Take a food Tour. If you have the money and the evening to spare, taking a food tour can give you a local taste of the best without the hassle of doing all the work! Whether you’re in it for food or wine or both try Devour Barcelona for some great experiences
For the History Buffs: Museums-a-plenty
I always like to know as much about the place I’m visiting when I go somewhere. Wikipedia articles and half-assed google dives can only teach you so much, though. If you want to orient yourself in Barcelona so as to understand the full scope of everything you’re getting to see, definitely check out these...
Fútbol. FC Barcelona is arguably the most famous soccer team in the world. Barca, as it’s called by locals, is a national pride and a cultural fixture in Spain and around Europe (positively, or negatively, depending on who you ask). Camp Nou, the FCB home stadium, is the largest in Spain and in Europe and is definitely worth stopping by for a tour and, if you have the opportunity, definitely a match.
Flamenco. Though technically born and bred in Andalusia, the southernmost part of Spain, Flamenco is now part of the cultural fabric of the national Spanish identity. Tabalo Cordobes showcases the best rated Flamenco show in Barcelona in a small, intimate setting.
Montjuic. A cliff topped by a medieval fortress of the same name, Montjuic offers stunning views over the Barcelona harbor and back over the ocean towards the city. Take the cable car up to the top to save yourself the leg stress of a climb and for some added amazing views.
Catalan Art Museum/Palau Nacional & the Picasso Museum. OK, technically this part belongs in the for the Art lovers section, but I think that there’s no better way to learn about a place’s history than through the interpretation of its art. Visit the Catalan Art Museum to see art from Catalonia spanning from Romanesque to Modern periods and work by famous Catalan artists like Gaudi and Salvador Dali. Or, visit the Palau Nacional if only for the views, the magic fountains, and the fact that that’s where the Marathon starts. The Picasso museum, located in the Gothic Quarter, houses the most extensive collection of Picasso works at 4,251 works exhibited by the painter. His works offer interesting and provoking takes on modernism from his Blue Period through the the Spanish Civil War and until his later years
For the Night Crowd:
Up all night
Barcelona comes alive at night. With countless clubs and bars spread all throughout the city, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with nothing to do. As with going out to eat, most Barcelonians go out late - around 1AM. If you’re from a big city this is probably normal for you, but if you’re not then you’ll have to start figuring out how to fit in a post-dinner nap. Regardless though, put on something nice and get in the mood for a class of cava or a cold sangria. Depending on your tastes, Barcelona has something for everyone. Without further ado, damas y caballeros, I present the..
Cocktail Bars and Pubs. If you’re looking for a good place for a drink and unique time, try Dow Jones, a bar whose tap prices fluctuate in realtime based on the rules of supply and demand and are displayed on stock exchange screens above the bar. If you’re looking for more of a fancy cocktail experience, try Dry Martini. And, if you just want somewhere to kick back with a glass of good wine and a nice view check out La Vinya del Senyor in front of Santa Maria Del Mar.
Live music. There’s plenty places to hear live music in Barcelona at some incredible concert venues. But if you want a drink and some tunes, I recommend Harlem Jazz Club
Clubs. Like any good city, there are plenty of places to choose from if you want to go clubbing and choices here are exceptionally good.
- Long time classic and popular with tourists and locals alike is Razzmatazz. A truly massive venue, this place has 5 different rooms with at least as many choices in music depending on what makes you move that night. Entry ranges from €8-€15and includes one drink. You can buy online to save time waiting at the door.
- Any EDM fan should try out Pacha Barcelona. The world famous Pacha brand brings amazing music to Port Olimpic in sleek white. Normal entrance is €20 with 2 drinks included. Get your ticket in advance here.
- If you’re looking to get into somewhere without wearing heels and prefer your ripped jeans and Converse, head to Sala Apolo . Built in a converted amphitheater complete with a stage, balcony and underground basement, this club is birthplace of Nasty Mondays (one of the most famous parties in Barcelona). Mondays and Tuesdays have live rock & roll while weekends showcase EDM acts. Entrance prices range from €10-€20 depending on the night with one drink included.