Barcelona means long summer nights, drinking sangria by the beach, and secret underground bars. However, by day, Barcelona is a cultural hub traversed with unique Gaudí architecture, home to artists, Gothic alleyways, and countless alternative vintage stores.
Nothing can be compared to the feeling of stepping out from the tube, breathing in for the first time that unique mixture of stuffiness and tar, combined with a fresh, salty breeze that is the Barcelona air.
1.La Sagrada Família
Under construction since 1882, Antonio Gaudí’s basilica is the landmark of Barcelona. What attracts more than 3 million visitors a year, however, is not its prominence as a marker of Catalan Modernism but its sheer originality and grandeur.
Tip: To avoid long queuing, buy tickets in advance. Ticket prices vary between 20-30€ (£18-27).
2. Park Güell
Located on Carmel Hill, Park Güell is not only home to more of Gaudí’s distinctive architecture but it also offers stunning panoramas over Barcelona.
Part park, part colonnades, serpentine benches, and mosaic sculptures; Park Güell is as unique as the Sagrada Família and an unmissable feature of Barcelona.
Tip: Tickets start from 10€ (£9), but the outer edges of the park are free. If you are solely coming for the view, head to the Bunkers del Carmel instead (read more on this in the ‘Hidden Gems’ section).
3. La Rambla
Hard to miss when heading to Barcelona; La Rambla is the main promenade running from the Plaça de Catalunya down to the waterfront. Though very touristy, La Rambla is home to street performers, flower stands, and living statues. There is nothing quite like shuffling through the sweaty crowds accumulating there in the summer months.
Just off La Rambla is the Mercat de la Boqueria. La Boqueria is a grid of permanent stalls selling anything from fresh fish and ham to fruits, vegetables, and ice-cream, and it is an iconic sight.
Tip: La Rambla is known for its pickpockets, so keep your belongings close. Keep in mind as well that the restaurants located on La Rambla and to the side are mostly tourist traps.
4. Casa Battló and Casa Milà
Both designed by Antonio Gaudí, Casas Milá and Battló are two more emblematic additions to Barcelona. Though each recognisable as Gaudí’s work, the two buildings are characterised by their dissimilarity. While Casa Battló is marked by dragon scales and a lack of straight lines, Casa Milà is a little more nondescript.
Tickets: Tickets for Casa Battló start at 15€ (£13) for adults. Tickets for Casa Milà vary in price, depending on the provider.
Sants-Montjüic is a district most prominently known to be home to various museums, and the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain). Putting on light and music shows every half-hour on the weekends, the Magic Fountain is best visited in the evenings or at night.
Tip: Walk up the steps to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya for a great view of Barcelona.
1.Bunkers del Carmel
Just ten minutes from Park Güell, the Bunkers del Carmel offer the arguably best views of Barcelona. With the majority of the people visiting still consisting of locals trying to escape the bustle of the city, these former wartime bunkers are a well-kept secret.
2. Flamingos Vintage Kilo
Unmissable for any thrifters, this shop is packed with clothing – shoes on the floor, several racks of clothing stacked above each other, and coats hanging from the ceiling.
Selling everything from rhinestone-covered high-heeled boots to flashy hats and flowery dresses, Flamingos Vintage Kilo is a paradise for second-hand lovers.
3. Gràcia and El Born
With Barcelona comprising of barrios (neighbourhoods), each area of the city has its own distinct flavour.
El Born is known for its maze of narrow streets, tapas bars, and boutique shops. Primarily home to locals, El Born is not as touristy as its neighbouring Gothic Quarter, and therefore ideal for an authentic night out.
Less central than El Born, Gràcia is a trendy area for locals and known for its many bars, restaurants, and cafés. A neighbourhood great for artists and musicians, Gràcia primarily attracts younger people and can be described as ‘hipster’.
Tip: Even unknown to many locals, a pastrami bar in El Born is home to a hidden speakeasy – El Paradiso. Address: Carrer de Rera Palau 4
Travelling Around Barcelona
As Barcelona is relatively compact, getting to know the city on foot or by bike is recommended. By taking public transport to the main attractions it is easy to miss out on Barcelona’s charm. However, if you only have a few days, both the bus and metro network are well connected.
Bus, metro and tram tickets all start at 2,40€ (£2) for a single trip and 11,50€ (£10) for a 10-journey ticket.
Food & Drink
Though not serving typically Spanish food, Hummus is a street-food concept eatery offering several types of hummus plates, falafel, and pita. Reasonably priced, you can choose between tahina hummus, masabaja hummus, classic, or zatar hummus – and it is entirely vegan.
2. 100 Montaditos
Arguably comparable to McDonald’s, 100 Montaditos is a Spanish fast-food chain selling small baguettes with different fillings. With most montaditos priced at 1€, it is particularly popular among young people before or after going out and rarely home to any tourists.
What makes 100 Montaditos worth mentioning is that the baguettes are almost exclusively filled with food typical for Spain, like tortilla, aioli, green peppers with salt, or chorizo.
3. Nou Celler
A traditional and authentic Catalan restaurant, Nou Celler regularly features some of Catalunya’s most emblematic dishes like Crema Catalana or pork cheeks.
Tip: As the restaurant can be quite packed, it is recommended to book a place ahead of time.
4. Antic Teatre
Unknown to most tourists, Antic Teatre is hidden away in an inner courtyard in El Born. Mostly attracting a younger crowd, the bar/restaurant is known for its regular alternative shows highlighting some of Barcelona’s newest musicians, artists, and poets.
Almost like a secret garden, the Antic Teatre is perfect for meeting new people and having a laid-back night out.
Spanish dishes to try
Though Spanish and Catalan cuisine is very varied, some dishes you have to try when in Barcelona include pan con tomate, patatas bravas, tortilla, and pimientos de padrón.
All four are usually ordered as tapas and are usually entirely vegetarian. Pan con tomate is toasted bread coated with fresh garlic and tomato and can be eaten alongside tortilla, which is similar to a large omelette made from potatoes, eggs, and onions.
Though also made from potatoes, patatas bravas come with a spicy sauce that is sometimes made from a meat base. Apart from pan con tomate, the only other vegan dish is pimientos de padrón – green peppers covered in salt.
Even though paella is native to Valencia and not Catalonia, if you are only visiting Barcelona, it is still worth trying. Traditional paella comes with seafood, but most restaurants also offer a vegetarian version.
Tip: A more or less authentic paella can be spotted by it being prepared in a large pan over an open fire, with one pan serving at least two people.
Though I could give you hundreds of practical reasons why everyone needs to visit Barcelona at least once in their lifetime, truth is, what makes Barcelona so great is not the architecture, or the food, or the alleyways. Even though they definitely add to the city’s charm, Barcelona has a special atmosphere and vibe unlike any other city.
To me, there is nothing greater than breathing in that crisp Barcelona air, strolling through plane-tree lined streets at night, getting lost in a maze of alleyways, and going for an evening swim while the buzz of the city transitions into the mellow sounds of reggaeton mixed with the chatter and laughs of young people preparing for a night out.
Words and images by Samira Rauner
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