Barcelona has it all: golden sands with Mediterranean waters, a city steeped in history and beautiful architecture, rollings hills for hiking, fantastic shopping, a bustling food and drink scene and of course, one of the best (if not the best) football club in the world.
We recently spent three nights in the city. It was my second visit there, having been there more than a decade ago when I was a student, and my other half’s first visit. There is so much to do and even though we packed lots in to the long weekend, we will definitely have to go back to see it all!
Here are 7 of my favourite experiences that you shouldn’t miss in Barcelona.
1. Step back in time in the Barri Gòtic
Although the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) went through changes in the 19th and 20th century, many of the buildings date from medieval times. The impressive Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia dates from the 14th century and is one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture in the city.
My favourite part was the Well of the Geese (Font de les Oques) in the cloister of the cathedral, which, as you might have guessed, is home to a gaggle of geese! They are lovely to admire from afar but a biting incident from when I was seven means I always keep my distance from the sometimes aggressive birds!
While there is lots to see at eye level in the Gothic Quarter, make sure you look up to see the impressive details, like the wide variety of gargoyles, featuring both domestic and mythical animals.
We enjoyed the buskers, especially the exquisite harp player, and also admired the modern sculptures on display outside the Museu Diocesà, although I’m not sure this is a permanent fixture.
2. Enjoy the views at Tibidabo
Tibidabo is a 512 metre high mountain overlooking Barcelona and affords visitors spectacular views over the city. Didn’t pack your walking boots or don’t fancy the hike in the heat? Fear not, because there is a much easier and cooler way to get up to the top!
The Tramvia Blau dates from 1901 and runs on the exact same line as it did back then. Tickets cost €5.50 for a single journey that lasts about 3 minutes and if you don’t fancy paying, it’s all uphill to get to the next leg of your journey. We wanted to experience the tram, so we took it one way and walked back down. They really pack you in so we had to stand which wasn’t easy considering the steep ascent combined with the lack of anything to hold on to but the journey was short at least!
Once you reach the terminus at Plaça del Doctor Andreu, you walk across the road to the Funicular del Tibidabo for another uphill journey to your destination. For those that don’t know (I didn’t), a funicular railway is one that operates by cables with ascending and descending cars balanced. This means that the carriages going up always pass a carriage going down. It’s very cool! A return journey costs €7.70. The funicular only operates at the weekends in February but daily from March to December.
Once you reach your destination, you can take in just how high above the city you are. The views are amazing. Although the amusement park is closed for January and February, there are still some rides open, such as the colourful ferris wheel. In fact, there are a handful of rides available to go on without paying in to the amusement park, even when it is open.
There is also a love lock location at Tibidabo and although it’s still in its infancy with not a huge number of locks, it’s worth having a look at and maybe bringing along your own lock to add, like we did 🙂
If you want to go up even higher to take in more of the spectacular views, you can pay €3 to go up in the elevator to the viewing platform of the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, the imposing minor basilica crowned with an enormous statue of Jesus with arms outstretched, which evokes images of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.
Once you have arrived at the top floor of the elevator ride, you have the option to walk up the winding staircases to get to 548 metres above sea level. At the top level, you are more or less at the feet of the statue but this platform is quite small and narrow. For the most enjoyable views, the next platform down is roomy enough for quite a few people and won’t have you feeling the effects of vertigo quite so much! I don’t have any issues with heights usually, but the tiny space so high up had me feeling a bit queasy.
I can also attest to this location as ideal for a wedding proposal as I said ‘yes’ when presented with a ring on the viewing platform – it was very romantic 🙂
Before you go, check out the church interior. It’s very ornate and beautiful and free to enter and explore.
3. Marvel at Gaudi’s magnum opus, Sagrada Familia
Easily the most impressive building I’ve ever been in, the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família is Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi’s most famous work. The church has been a work in progress since 1882 and only about 15-25% of the construction was finished when Gaudi died in 1926.
If you want to go inside (and you absolutely should!), tickets cost €18 per adult if you purchase them at the ticket office outside and €15 online. We didn’t go for the option of buying online and that is my only regret. We had to queue to buy tickets and then wait around for an hour for the next available time slot to enter the building. Since the building is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, there is a limit to the number of visitors allowed inside at any one time. We were there off-season but I imagine you could be waiting even longer for the next available time slot if you go in the middle of summer, so it’s well worth planning your visit in advance.
When you go inside, take your time and look up. The ceiling and the vertical pillars are jaw-dropping! Make sure you have your knees and shoulders covered as you will be denied entry if they’re on show. If it’s really hot, bring along a shawl to cover your shoulders. Short shorts are a definite no-no.
There are so many details to see, make sure you take your time and make the most of it. Once you leave, you can’t go back inside on the same ticket. The stained glass was my favourite part, especially the way the sun shone through the ornate windows, lighting up the walls and floors in a plethora of colours.
4. Soak up the atmosphere at a Barça football match in Camp Nou
Disclaimer: I am not a football fan. I bought tickets to the FC Barcelona v Celta de Vigo match as a Christmas present for my fiancé and wasn’t particularly looking forward to this part of our trip but it was truly an unforgettable experience!
The atmosphere was electric in the stadium. We were sitting in mid-level seats in the lateral section so we had a great view. The singing was initiated from a core group in the south end of the stadium behind the goal, where they had drums, megaphones and oh so many flags.
They created a great atmosphere throughout the whole crowd (over 70,000 people on the night) and I even joined in the singing when I could understand what they were saying (mainly just the BARÇA! part).
Ticket prices will depend on where you sit and what game you want to see. I recommend buying them online here in advance to ensure you get tickets but we were offered to purchase tickets for the game on several occasions from verified sellers on the day of the game.
5. Join the crowds on Las Ramblas by night
Unfortunately, Barcelona has a reputation for being a pickpocket’s paradise so you need to have your wits about you, and nowhere is this more true than the area around Las Ramblas, the city’s most famous boulevard. Be smart: keep handbags in front of you and firmly under your arm. If you must have your wallet or money in your pockets, keep them in the front pockets. World Nomads have a great guide on the types of scams that pickpockets could use to distract you while an accomplice takes your valuables. We didn’t fall victim to any pickpockets while we were in Barcelona but you need to stay aware of your surroundings.
In saying that, a trip to Barcelona would not be complete without a stroll down Las Ramblas at night. We took the Metro to Liceu and walked along taking in the sights and sounds. While there are many restaurants along Las Ramblas, for the best food, it’s better to dine a little further away. The area around Port Vell has the best seafood spots in the city.
Las Ramblas is 1.2 kilometres long but the south end is a little seedy at night, so try to stick to the section between the Liceu and Catalunya metro stops.
6. Check out the street performers in Park Güell
Park Güell is another of Gaudi’s major works in Barcelona and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. The main entrance to the park, located on Carrer d’Olot, houses the monumental zone where an entrance fee is applicable.
As with the Sagrada Familia, there is a limit to the number of visitors allowed in at one time, so if you arrive at the ticket office, you may not be able to enter the monumental zone straight away. Tickets purchased on site are €8 per person, but are €7 per person to buy online. We arrived at the ticket office on Saturday but there were no tickets left for the day so we purchased them in advance for Sunday. It’s definitely worthwhile to buy in advance online to avoid time-wasting.
The only saving grace if you need to wait for your allotted entrance time is that the park is much bigger than just the monumental zone and there’s lots to see. Make sure you don’t lose track of time like we did – you have a 29 minute period to use your ticket and we arrived 5 minutes late! After much discussion between staff they agreed to let us in, thankfully, but if you’re distracted taking in the sights and sounds, maybe set a reminder on your phone to get to the monumental zone in time.
I loved the unique walkways dotted around the park, many of which gave shelter from the sun to musicians and street performers.
In general, Barcelona’s street performers were some of the best I’ve seen but set against the backdrop of Park Güell, they look even better!
7. Dip your toes in the Med at La Barceloneta
On our last morning in Barcelona, we finally managed to make it to the beach. We took the metro to Drassanes, which leaves you a stones throw from Port Vell. The walk to Barceloneta beach from here is about 20 minutes but it’s worth to see the famous Rambla de Mar pedestrian bridge, as well as the many boats in the marina.
Grab an ice-cream or a cold drink on your way to La Barceloneta and enjoy the warm breeze of the Med against your face, while relaxing on the golden sand.
We were lucky to see lots of surfers showing off in the sea while we were there. You could easily waste hours watching them riding the waves.
There is so much to do in Barcelona and I already have a long list of things to see the next time we’re there. 3 days isn’t long enough but it’s a good start. We might have to make it a week next time.
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