Top Ten Things to Do in Barcelona
4 September, 2017
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region in northeast Spain. It is a city that is somewhat notorious for its separatist politics but also admirable for its fierce pride in its Catalonian culture and Catalan language. Throughout the city, Catalonian flags wave proudly from balconies and flagpoles in a nod of solidarity to the special place and rich culture that Catalonian culture celebrates within Spain.
My first impressions of Barcelona, when I visited the city in October 2012, were those of a modern city with wide streets and large buildings, endowed with beautiful historic architecture of mostly Gothic extraction, and vibrating with artistic talent on public display (musicians, street performers, artists) among palm trees and beach bummers and outdoor tapas-nibbling socialites. I loved the juxtaposition of modern and historic, art and science, tourists and locals, young and old, buskers and bon vivants….
If you are planning to visit Barcelona, I recommend you leave the car in the parking lot and just walk. It’s good for your health, good for discovering all the charming nooks and crannies of the city, and great for an in-depth exploration of what is a very pedestrian-friendly city with a great underground metro system and tons of intricate art and architecture that can only be stumbled upon by foot. The top ten things I enjoyed doing during my explorations of Barcelona, and that I would recommend to you whether you are travelling solo, with a companion, or with a family, are as follows:
1. Spend time at the beach
Going to the beach is part of the Barca lifestyle. I can very much imagine myself visiting it every day, especially at sunrise and sunset, if I lived there. Many people visit the beach fully clothed, as it’s so much of a pastime to visit to just settle on the sand there and take in the sun and sea in quiet meditation. I therefore recommend that you go and immerse yourself in that beautiful sea-gazing culture, whether or not you’re in the mood to put on your bathing suit and get in the water.
2. Eat tapas
Tapas is an appetizer served hot or cold that, in some bars, has evolved into a cuisine of its own. It is a popular way to start the night off with friends, as well as a beloved post-work activity. In general, meal times in major Spanish cities run something like this (according to a local source): breakfast is eaten very early, before or on the way to work; then there’s a snack around 11 am; lunch is eaten between 2 pm and 4 pm; then there’s another snack between lunchtime and dinnertime; and finally, dinner is eaten around 10 pm or 11 pm. Tapas hour (which can substitute dinner time) typically starts around 9 pm. That being said, as a tourist, you can sample tapas in Barcelona whenever you are ready to, if you can find a bar serving them at the hour you want.
There are dozens of places to try tapas in Barcelona. The one on my list, which was local-recommended, was Taberna Maitea (157 Casanova Street). As you’ll see, it’s touted as one of Barcelona’s best and receives rave reviews for its quality and affordability.
Other local and very popular foods I recommend are paella (click here to find places serving it in Barcelona) and jamón (ham). There are two general types of jamón. The cheaper type is jamón serrano and the more expensive (and higher quality) type is jamón ibérico. Jamón is so popular, you can find it on almost every street corner as well as at bars (which in Spain are also part café and therefore serve breakfast and lunch).
In addition, Barcelona, and the region of Catalonia as a whole, has its own traditional cuisine, which is different than what you can find elsewhere in Spain. This distinctive cuisine includes unique meals such as Pintxos, which I tried and loved and recommend you try during your stay.
3. Walk La Rambla
La Rambla is a long stretch of pedestrian walkway that runs between the mediterranean sea to the east and Plaça Catalunya to the west. It is renown for its shopping scene, window-shopping strollers, and culture of hawkers, gawkers, and paupers.
Be attentive to pickpockets while walking on La Rambla (and also in the metro and other crowded places). Unfortunately, pickpocketing is very rampant in Barcelona and if you don’t pay attention to your belongings, you are likely to be robbed.
4. Catch a flamenco show
Flamenco is a style of music and dance dating back to 1774 and based on the folkloric musical traditions of Southern Spain, particularly of Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia. Many modern styles have grown out of the traditional ones, making modern flamenco, especially touristic flamenco shows, somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of traditional styles. Though its roots remain uniquely Andalusian, modern flamenco has been greatly influenced by and is now associated with the Romani people (Gitanos [Spanish] or Gypsy [English]) in Spain. Some key characteristics of flamenco include cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping), and pitos (finger snapping). If you have never seen flamenco before, you may explore videos and literature here.
Sample Flamenco Show
Watch the Video
Flamenco in Barcelona
To search for flamenco shows to attend in Barcelona, click here.
5. Book a free walking tour
I first discovered the concept of free walking tours in Barcelona. Free walking tours are tours of a city on foot, led by a local tour guide who may be a native resident or a foreign transplant who is passionate and very knowledgeable about the city. Typically, the tours attract travellers who gather at a public meeting point and have a guided visit of the city for anywhere between an hour and 7 hours, at no cost other than an optional donation and, occasionally, public transportation fare. Meals are not included and are on participants’ tab. And sometimes, participants gather together for a meal or drink after the tour to socialize. The tours therefore provide the dual benefits of a more profound exploration of the history and attractions of a city as well as an opportunity to meet and befriend other travellers.
Two free walking tours that I tried and thoroughly enjoyed, in Barcelona, were the following:
Runner Bean Tours
+34 636 108 776
Free walking tour of the Old City + Free walking tour of Gaudí’s masterpieces
Meets at Plaça Reial, 11 am daily except 24th, 25th, 26th of December and 1st of January
Tours last 2.5 hours
Some metro travel is included (fare not included in the free tour)
Tel: +34 933 103 747
Free walking tour of Barcelona by Travel Bar Barcelona Free Walking Tour
Meets at Travel Bar daily at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm
Tours last 2 to 2.5 hours
Private tours are available at group rates
6. Sample local beer and wine
There are undoubtedly many local beers and wines produced in Catalunya. However, the two I tried were Estrella beer, and Cava wine, and both were very good. While tastes may vary, I recommend trying these too, in addition to exploring other local brewery and winery products.
7. Visit Casa Batlló
I really enjoyed my visit to Casa Batlló, one of architect Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces. Its unusual and irregular facade and sculpted stone work are typical of his architectural style, and this building is a good place to start a tour of his works as it’s located right in the center of town.
8. Visit Casa Milà
Casa Milà is another of Gaudí’s fascinating creations. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Casa Milà is bigger than Casa Batlló and is located just a stone’s throw away as well.
9. Visit the Sagrada Família
The Sagrada Família is arguably the most famous (or notorious) of Gaudí’s works, and one of his most ambitious. It has been under construction since 1882! But rumour has it that its current architects aim to complete it by 2026.
10. Visit Parc Güell
Parc Güell is a public park located on Carmel Hill that was crafted by Gaudí as a collection of gardens and architectural works. Its beautiful balconies, sculptures, and other stone shapes and buildings have been extensively photographed and Instagrammed No doubt you have already seen more than one picture of the multicolour tiled dragon at the entrance to the park.
For a full list of Gaudí works, click here. If you’re planning to see more than one Gaudí building on the same day and, especially, to enter each site, the Barcelona Card can provide you with some discounts on the ticket prices.
To see pictures of Barcelona and Antoni Gaudí’s works, take a look at The Travelling Sociologist Facebook Page, and click “Like” to receive notifications about new photo albums.