From art to food, football to fun nights out, Barcelona makes an excellent city break. Part of what makes it such a tourist magnet is the amazing range of things to do and see. The landmarks of Ciutat Vella and the Gothic District give way to local neighbourhood scenes in Gracia, with its friendly bodegas. If you're looking for a more relaxed vibe, head to one of the beaches which line the Mediterranean coastline, home of beach bars and seafood restaurants, to enjoy balmy summer evenings.

    As the capital of Catalonia, locals are fiercely proud of their unique identity, which can be seen in the local language, impressionist architecture and the extremely outgoing and sociable culture.

    What are the best things to do in Barcelona?


    Basilica Sagrada Familia

    Look down on Barcelona from the top of the tallest spire

    This Art Noveau masterpiece is the most iconic landmark in Barcelona. Designed by influential artist Antoni Gaudi, construction of the church began in 1882 and it's still not finished. The level of detail on display inside and outside Sagrada Familia is awe-inspiring - despite the huge crowds which flock to the area every day. Every element of the design has added religious symbolism, which is revealed during guided tours.

    Take the metro to Sagrada Familia station and, after a couple of hours of exploring, find a café on Avinguda Gaudi to sit down with the church as a backdrop. Gaudi's influence still pervades the city, but it's most keenly felt beneath the towering spires of Sagrada Familia.

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    Location: Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain


    Las Ramblas

    Stroll down Barcelona's beautiful and buzzing tourist strip

    This 1-km street is the centre of tourism in Barcelona. It cuts through the centre of the city, from Plaça Catalunya in the north to Drassanes station in the south. Use the Liceu Theatre as a landmark, roughly halfway down Las Ramblas. You'll find shopping, dining, and a buzz of activity here, including many street artists and performers on display. There's always something to catch your attention, but watch out for pickpockets, who are known to work this part of town.

    Locals complain that the restaurants are overpriced along Las Ramblas, but no one can deny that enjoying a coffee or a glass of cava while watching the festivities unfold before you is an enduringly popular thing to do. Is it touristy? Yes. Should you still go? Certainly.


    Barceloneta Beach

    Take a dip in the Mediterranean Sea

    If you want to spend a few hours enjoying the Mediterranean coastline, Barceloneta Beach is probably the most popular of the handful of beaches next to the city. You can walk here in around 20 minutes from Las Ramblas or take the metro to Barceloneta station.

    This wide, sandy beach is bustling throughout the day. Sun loungers are available to rent or you can relax at one of the many chiringuitos (small beachside restaurants) and soak up the afternoon sun. The call of hawkers selling drinks, snacks and beach gear can be a little tiring. If you're looking for a more secluded stretch of sand, head to Nova Icària Beach further up the coast.


    Gothic Quarter

    Join a walking tour and discover the maze of alleyways

    • Couples
    • History

    Barcelona's most picturesque neighbourhood is the Gothic Quarter. The narrow, cobbled streets and medieval buildings make exploring fun, and the mix of shops and restaurants in the public squares means you can spend all day here and not get bored.

    Take the metro to Jaume I station and head for the Cathedral of Barcelona before moving southeast towards Plaça Reial, with its fantastic cafés and bars at the fringe of a public square. For shopping, Calle Avinyo cuts straight through the Gothic Quarter and has a range of women's and men's fashion boutiques.


    Mercat de la Boqueria

    Barcelona's most famous market

    This bustling food market on Barcelona's Las Ramblas is the largest and most popular in the city. You can shop for a dizzying variety of fresh fruits and dry goods, but the main reason to come here is to sample the rows of small tapas bars. It's best to come hungry and feast on local dishes like battered baby squid, garlic prawns, cheeses, and cured meats. We always tend to wash this down with a glass of cava sangria.

    It's best to visit Mercat de la Boqueria in the morning, when the crowds are smaller and the vibe is more authentic. Remember this is still a market for locals as much as a tourist attraction.

    Location: La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain

    Open: Monday - Saturday from 8 am to 8.30 pm (closed on Sundays)


    photo by Thingstodoinbarcelona (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Park Güell

    Discover the magical work of Gaudi

    Originally envisioned as a garden city, Park Güell is a public park that showcases the surreal and highly symbolic art of Antoni Gaudi. The park sits on top of a hill and gives you a panoramic view of Barcelona. Signature touches by the artist, like colourful mosaics and wide terraces, are scattered throughout. In summer, the park is full of life, with musicians busking in the shade. It's more subdued in winter, but still offers a nice change of pace from the frantic city streets.

    Check out the Gaudi House Museum within the park grounds for more information on the visionary creator's life. It's free to enter the park, but you have to pay to enter some of the attractions within.

    Location: Gràcia, 08024 Barcelona, Spain

    Open: September–March: daily from 8.30 am (closing times vary by month). April–August: daily from 7.30 am to 8.30 pm


    Camp Nou Stadium

    Cheer on some of the world's best football players

    FC Barcelona is a legendary football team, but they also represent the soul of the city. Known locally as the Blaugrana, their slogan is "more than a club". This is at least partially thanks to the role Camp Nou played during the harsh rule of fascist dictator General Franco in the mid-20th century. The football stadium was one of the only places where locals could speak the outlawed Catalan language.

    These days, Barcelona has grown into one of the world's few 'super clubs', with a stadium to match. Around 100,000 eager fans attend games at Camp Nou, and the atmosphere is electric. Tickets cost from €50 for seats up in the higher tiers, but for important games - particularly against fierce rivals Real Madrid - prices rise sharply. If you're not in town when there's a match taking place, you can take a tour of Camp Nou stadium for around €25, including a peek into the trophy room.

    Location: C. d'Aristides Maillol, 12, 08028 Barcelona, Spain

    Phone: +34 902 18 99 00


    Barcelona City History Museum

    Learn about the history of Catalonia at Museu d'Història de la Ciutat

    The region of Catalonia has a long history and is a distinctive part of Spain. The Barcelona City History Museum takes you back thousands of years to when the Romans built a town here called Barcino. A centrepiece of the museum is the excavated remains of the largest Roman settlement ever discovered in Europe. You can discover ancient chambers and ceramics from Ancient Roman times.

    The museum is in Plaça del Rei, probably the city's most authentic medieval square. If you plan on visiting other museums, you should consider getting a multi-day Barcelona Pass, which allows you free entry to over 20 museums.

    Location: Plaça del Rei, s/n, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

    Open: Tuesday–Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm, Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm, closed on Mondays

    Phone: +34 932 56 21 00


    Dine in an authentic bodega

    Eat and drink with the locals at a grocery store in Gràcia

    • Couples

    Bodegas are a part of everyday life in Barcelona. These neighbourhood stores sell wine from the barrel and tapas bites. The whole concept of a bodega went out of fashion for several years, but now they're growing in popularity once again.

    Find a cramped seat - most bodegas are small - order wine and whichever tapas they have written on the chalkboard that day. It might be veal capipota or sardines on bread - regardless, it's likely to taste great! You can find bodegas all over Barcelona, but we like the genuine feel around residential neighbourhoods like Gràcia. Bar Bodega Quimet is such a place, and it has an especially good selection of wines.

    Location: Carrer de Vic, 23, 08006 Barcelona, Spain

    Open: Monday-Friday from 10 am to 12 am, Saturday and Sunday from 12 pm to 4.30 pm and from 6.30 pm to 12 am

    Phone: +34 932 18 41 89


    photo by Kent Wang (CC BY-SA 2.0) modified


    Plaça Reial

    Hit the clubs in this traditional public square

    • Nightlife

    Barcelona is a city that knows how to party. If you want the biggest concentration of cool bars and dance clubs, head to Plaça Reial in the Gothic Quarter. This public square comes alive around midnight.

    Popular spots to check out include Rei de Copes for a few drinks while soaking up the view, before bar hopping along the square. For live music, head to Jamboree. It's a jazz bar that turns into a hip-hop club after 2am. If you want so see a flamenco performance, head to Los Tarantos. To find Plaça Reial, take the Metro to Liceu station and walk south, down Las Ramblas.

    Location: Plaça Reial, Gothic Quarter, 08002 Barcelona, Spain

    Paul Smith | Compulsive Traveller

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