Even the least architecturally-inclined travelers will marvel at the buildings of Barcelona, thanks to the whimsical genius of Antoni Gaudí. The Catalan capital enthralls with its beautiful beaches, vibrant food scene, and distinctive culture, and it shows no signs of compromising on its unique charm.
We’ve pared Barcelona down to the essentials—the top places to see, eat, and explore—so that you arrive equipped with a primer of the city and never at a loss for what to do next.
Barcelona’s Must-See Sights
In spite of remaining unfinished, this towering basilica, Gaudí’s crowning glory, has become the icon of Barcelona. Budget a solid hour or two to take in the dizzying level of detail that went into the facade and the interior and speculate on how the church will look when completed. Keep in mind the dress code: shoulders and knees must be covered at all times.
Casa Batlló is well known for its aquatic colors—step inside and you’ll be mesmerized by a mosaic of blue tiles—but the inspiration for Gaudí’s famous apartment complex wasn’t the sea: the turret that emerges from the arched ridges of the roof is theorized to symbolize Saint George’s lance piercing the dragon’s back, in a reference to the popular legend. Like all of Gaudí’s buildings, Casa Batlló regularly attracts large crowds, so plan accordingly.
Parc Güell is no less popular among tourists than Gaudí’s other works, but because it’s spread out over 42 acres, you’ll have (slightly) more room to yourself. The park is built on a hill, so wear comfortable shoes that make it easy to walk up and down the staircases connecting the many paths that weave between the colorful buildings.
Mercat De La Boquería
The majestic boulevard of Las Ramblas is riddled with tourists, but brave the crowds to make it to the Mercat de la Boquería, the city’s first local market. The ibérico ham and manchego cheese you find here make for great souvenirs, if you can resist taking a bite yourself. It’s pretty much impossible to visit La Boquería without getting hungry, so dig into tapas at El Quim de la Boquería, located inside the market.
It may not be as flashy as Gaudí’s architecture, but you’ll appreciate the break from the crowds (and, dare we say, respite for your eyes?) that Montjuïc Castle offers. Even better, the castle also offers spectacular views of the city and of the Mediterranean. It’s a forty-minute walk to the top, so if you’d like to give your legs a rest, take the cable car from Parallel.
Barcelona’s Must-Eat Food And Drink
Tapas are to be found everywhere throughout the city, but few joints do them as well as Cañete. The atmosphere is everything you want from a neighborhood institution: boisterous, crowded, friendly. The later you come, the more locals you’ll see, so aim to start your dinner at 10 p.m. if you want a real Catalan experience.
Three elBulli alums are the creative force behind Disfrutar, so you can already tell it will be good. The multi-course degustation features several surprises: “transparent pasta” and a deconstructed whiskey tart are just a couple examples from past menus.
This is where you go when you want a taste of beachside dining. Xiringuito Escriba serves luxurious paellas that you’ll need a couple hours to digest, and there’s no setting more perfect than the Spanish coast. Llamber
Llamber hails from Asturias, a region in the northwest of Spain, but draws influences from throughout the country, so the food here is a bit different from your typical Catalan fare. Marinated sea bass with avocado, codfish stew with honey allioli, and an Asturian white bean stew are just a few of the dishes on offer.
When you need a break from sangria and vermut, head straight for Paradiso. This speakeasy, hidden in the back of a pastrami shop, serves spectacular cocktail creations in whimsical presentations. There’s often a wait, but it’s well worth it.
Barcelona’s Must-Visit Neighborhoods
The Gothic neighborhood of Barcelona is its oldest and most picturesque—and, naturally, its most popular among tourists. It’s closed to most traffic, so take the time to wander around the beautiful plazas and side alleys by foot, enjoying the fleeting moments of relative solitude whenever you can.
Start with a spectacular brunch at Milk, before visiting the iconic Cathedral of Barcelona—don’t miss the oft-overlooked elevator to the roof, which offers panoramic views. Get your retail fill at Cereria Subirà, the oldest candle shop in the city, and at La Manual Alpargatera, the undisputed place to go for espadrilles. Plenty of mediocre restaurants attract the hordes of undiscriminating tourists, but you can’t go wrong with La Plata for simple but delicious tapas.
The other half of Barcelona’s medieval heart, El Raval is a veritable melting pot; nearly half of its residents were born abroad, and they’ve brought along with them a host of languages, cultures, and food. Though once seen as a less-than-savory area of the city, the neighborhood has fast become a nightlife hotspot. Its creative scene is flourishing as well, helmed by Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona, the largest cultural center in the country, and the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.
Food options abound here, most notably at the Mercat de la Boquería, where you should stop in Pinotxo Bar for inexpensive tapas. If you miss your fruit bowls and eggs Benedict, Trópico offers a fantastic brunch. For a soothing activity after your meal, check out the cloisters at Sant Pau del Camp.
This neighborhood to the south of Barcelona’s medieval center has built a reputation as one of the city’s foremost foodie destinations. Though Poble-sec’s name translates literally to “dry village,” vermut flows aplenty in its hip tapas bars. Wining and dining aside, Poble-sec also offers easy access to two of Barcelona’s beloved sites: the Magical Fountain of Montjuïc and Montjuïc Castle.
Poble-sec is home to the Adrià brothers’ legendary tapas restaurant, Tickets, but if you can’t lock down a reservation, hop next door to their more casual eatery, Bodega 1900, or, for something off the beaten path, their Japanese-Peruvian outlet, Pakta.
Dreta De l’Eixample
Eixample was one of the first districts to flourish outside the medieval core of Barcelona, and Dreta de l’Eixample, in its eastern half, is emblematic of the district’s prosperity. Elegant buildings containing chic cafés, upscale restaurants, and all the big-name fashion houses line the wide boulevards, with flashes of Gaudí in between.
Start your exploration of the neighborhood at Plaça de Catalunya, a plaza widely considered to be the center of the Barcelona and the juncture where the old and new cities meet. Walk northwest along Passeig de Gràcia and you’ll pass by Gaudí’s famed Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. When you need a break from shopping, dine at Bar Mut for wine and tapas.