One of the most attractive cities in Europe and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is unlike any other part of Spain. The city is known for its architecture and art as visitors travel from far reaches of the world to see the breathtaking Sagrada Familia church and other creations by Antoni Gaudí. But apart from admiring art and architecture, there are plenty of other things to do in Barcelona, like exploring sprawling nature parks, relaxing on beautiful beaches, checking out museums, and of course, indulging in all-you-can-eat Catalonian fare.
When visiting a new destination, it’s easy to get caught up in ticking off all the must-sees, especially in such an iconic city as Barcelona. Even unintentionally, you could fall in line with the rest of the tourist groups. So, we compiled our best recommendations and tips to help you discover the sense of relaxation Barcelona would otherwise cast on her visitors.
7 Top Tips to Have an Amazing Stay in Barcelona
1. Travel to Barcelona Off Season
Let’s start with the most obvious one – come in the low season. Barcelona is the most popular city to visit in Spain! With so many things to do, tailored to every kind of traveler, it is an ideal destination for all. But that also means that during peak season, you’ll be sharing this beauty with large crowds of tourists. We visited Barcelona in December, and while the temperatures are lower, most days are sunny. So, during our stay, we experienced the best of Barcelona intimately and were accompanied by blue skies and a bit of rain. If you prefer to avoid the cold, then aim for the shoulder seasons of March to April and September to October when the temperatures are still fairly warm is one of our favorite tips.
2. Explore the Stunning Parks
Barcelona is the best to get around on foot, so give Uber a miss and set out walking or try the easy-to-use metro, but keep a close eye on your belongings. The city is also full of gorgeous parks to stroll around and seek escape from the busy crowds. The two parks we loved are Ciutadella Park and Park Güell.
Ciutadella park is the most popular park in Barcelona. Located on the site of the former citadel, the park is enormous and luxurious, featuring manicured gardens, a stunning waterfall, a lake, historic architecture, and a zoo. See the picture of this park at the top of the page with John standing in front of the lake; the park is beautiful!
Park Güell has earned its UNESCO World Heritage site title thanks to the quirky and breathtaking architecture designed by Gaudí. If the two houses guarding the entrance resemble gingerbread houses, that’s because they were inspired by Hensel and Gretel. The colorful mosaics were hypnotizing, and beyond the creations, the park is an oasis of greenery.
3. Relax on La Barceloneta
La Barceloneta is a seaside neighborhood that is full of history and a lively atmosphere. This is where you’ll find one of the most iconic views of Barcelona – the stretch of pristine beaches ending with an enormous sail, the W hotel, reflecting the sea. La Barceloneta is world-famous for its status as the best urban beach. And if in the off-season you can quietly enjoy the views in the Mediterranean breeze, in the summer, you’d be tripping over sunbathers in an attempt to secure a spot on the golden stretch. John loved running here each morning on the beach, unobstructed by hoards of tourists. He’s training for his next half marathon in New Zealand, so stay tuned to that!
4. Admire the Sagrada Familia
The iconic Basilica is the most popular thing to see in Barcelona. Its construction started in 1882 and is still unfinished to this day because Gaudí, its infamous creator, died before its completion. He completely devoted himself to the project, so it only made perfect sense for him to be buried in the church’s crypt.
Gaudí’s work was greatly inspired by nature and at closer inspection, you’ll see that the towering columns resemble trees, the spires are topped with fruit, and the stained glass lets in both sunrise and sunset light, flooding the halls with rainbows. Let us know in the comments what other elements of nature you noticed during your visit!
The Sagrada Familia, part of the UNESCO World Heritage, is an extremely popular attraction. It’s not uncommon to see the ticket lines wrapping around the block. So save yourself some time and buy your entry tickets online, especially if you are visiting during the busier times. Check out this wonderful video we discovered!
5. Stroll along La Rambla
La Rambla is the most popular pedestrian boulevard in Barcelona, Spain. Lined with trees and restaurants and peppered with market stalls, there is plenty to see here, which is why it is always busy, except in winter. It’s a great place to wander, but if hunger strikes, do yourself a favor and venture out of La Rambla to the neighborhoods like El Born and El Raval. Most dining venues on La Rambla are tailored to tourists, and the food won’t be as authentic.
6. Hike to the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mount Tibidabo
Just on the outskirts of Barcelona, Spain, you can take a scenic hike to the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, seen from almost anywhere in the city. This is the best place to enjoy a sunset and take in those iconic views of Barcelona from the top. The towering cathedral is very impressive, and if you are craving some thrills, there is an amusement park nearby. If you tire from all the adrenaline, there is a funicular that will take you back down the mountain. Just behind the church is the Collserola National Park, considered the green lung of Barcelona. If the hike to the church felt like a warm-up, feel free to continue through the park to Mount Tibidabo, the highest point in the city. Making your way up to either of the points is absolutely worth your while.
7. Eat Like a Local
Typically, when we think of Spain, we envision paella, tapas, and patatas bravas. While these dishes are popular and incredibly delicious, they are not native to the region. Catalan cuisine combines the best of the Mediterranean coast. Just to name a few of our favorites, try the traditional allioli – a Catalan garlic and oil dip, the botifarra – pork sausage prepared in different ways, and calcots – grilled spring onion served only in winter.
Embark on a food tour or create your own by visiting La Boqueria market, one of the oldest and most popular markets, located in the heart of the city. This is the place to enjoy a variety of all the freshest produce, seafood, and tapas. Just make sure to arrive with plenty of time to spare because it is very big. As for beverages, forgo the infamous sangria, which is not the usual choice of locals, and order vermouth or cava instead. A vermouth is a delicious aperitif made of fortified wine, and a cava is the local sparkling wine.
To try authentic food, head to Bodega La Palma, a winery and tapas bar, selling wine since 1935. Previously frequented by popular artists who would pay for their consumption by painting art in the Bodega, which you can still admire today. And instead of ordering paella, try a seafood Fideua (short noodles) at Can Ramonet, which has been preserving tradition and home-cooked character for 65 years.
And here is a little secret gem. If you have a serious case of wanderlust like us and enjoy your coffee accompanied by travel books, head to Libreria Altair for a cozy afternoon.
Bonus Tip: Visit Barcelona, Spain in Winter
Enchanting Christmas Lights, Christmas Markets and Traditions
In December, the Barcelona Christmas market puts on a show as each neighborhood expresses its style and creative voice through Christmas lights. One of the best things you can do during your stay in December is to explore various parts of the city in the evening. You can even join a special Christmas tour with Barcelona Bus Turistic, which will drive through all the popular spots so you won’t miss any displays.
And of course, you also get to experience the local Barcelona Christmas Markets in front of Sagrada Familia and Santa Llucia, a recurring tradition since 1786. These markets offer an abundance of interesting decorations rather than food and beverage. The most peculiar decorations we found are Caga Tio – a log of wood with a face that poops candy for kids, and El Caganer – a pooping character said to bring good luck in the new year. Dating back to pagan times when it was a symbol of fertilized land for healthier crops, the caganer must make it to the nativity scene of every household to this day.
And not that the weather stopped us before, but when you visit in winter, you get a golden excuse to consume as much hot chocolate as you want to keep warm. We tried lots of hot chocolate, churros, and palas in other parts of Spain. In Barcelona, the thing to order is the suizo – hot chocolate topped with a hefty dollop of whipped cream. You can accompany this cloud of deliciousness with a melindro, a cookie log you dunk inside your cup.
During the Christmas season, you can also enjoy as much turron as you want, guilt-free. Turron is a traditional Christmas sweet resembling nougat that comes with different nuts. This is actually the candy that Caga Tio poops on Christmas. Bon Appetite and enjoy the Barcelona Christmas Market.
You are now armed with the best tips for enjoying Barcelona. We are confident you are going to come away with unforgettable memories of this cosmopolitan beauty. Let us know what you loved most about it!
Barcelona, Spain was the last of a month long tour through the country. Be sure to check out all of our guides including our visit to the capital city of Madrid.