For a first-time visitor to the city, there is an overwhelming choice of the best things to do in Barcelona. For me, these are the absolute essentials; a mix of tourist must-sees with some local flavor mixed in to give you a taste of what Barcelona is really like!
Insider Tip: If you plan to do a lot of sightseeing while in Barcelona, make sure to get the Barcelona Card. The card gives you free admission to over 20 of the city’s top attractions, and free transport around Barcelona.
1. Get your Gaudí Fix
Antoni Gaudí is Barcelona’s most famous architect, and a visit to Barcelona isn’t complete without seeing at least some of the buildings he designed. His work can be admired from the outside for free, or head inside his crazy creations for a real immersion into his Art Nouveau world.
La Sagrada Familia is his unfinished masterpiece, and this enormous cathedral (due to be completed in 2026 after nearly 150 years under construction) is THE Gaudí work to see, and definitely worth a visit inside. Book your tickets online to avoid disappointment & horrific queues.
If you’re thirsty for more, head up to Parc Güell to admire his take on a wealthy housing estate with great views of the city. You can enjoy parts of the park for free, or pay to enter the terrace area where the mosaic benches & dragon lizard are. Book online for that too, or you could be disappointed.
2. Ramble Down La Rambla
La Rambla is a series of streets connecting Plaza Catalunya with the port, and is an iconic part of Barcelona. It does get incredibly busy though, and is notorious for pickpockets, so keep a close eye on your belongings and visit early morning to avoid the crowds.
Call at the wonderful Boquería market for fresh produce, delicious juices and tasty snacks, buy flowers from the stalls outside, and admire the street performers & human statues before arriving at the Christopher Columbus statue. From here, stroll along Port Vell to reach Barceloneta & the beach or meander around the Gothic Quarter.
3. Eat, Eat and Eat Some More
One of the best things to do in Barcelona is eat. The city is stuffed full of delicious food, amazing restaurants and incredible dishes.
Head to Calle Blai in the Poble-sec area for drinks & pintxos (tasty morsels speared with a cocktail stick), try El Glop in Grácia for classic Catalan dishes & delicious grilled meats, enjoy seafood in Barceloneta at La Cova Fumada, or indulge in traditional tapas at La Viñateria del Call in the Gothic Quarter.
Wherever you are, be sure to order a side of pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato, olive oil & garlic rubbed on top) – it’s delicious!
See my top best spots for brunch in Barcelona here.
4. Catch Some Rays on the Beach
Barcelona is blessed with stretches of golden sand, and although the beach here was artificially created, you might never know!
The beaches at Barceloneta can get crowded and dirty in the summer though, so rent a bike and cycle up to Poblenou for quieter beaches where the locals go.
Alternatively, stroll along the beachfront to Vila Olímpica and the Mapfre Tower blocks. Here you can head out along the Moll de Gregal to escape the crowds, and appreciate an uninterrupted view of the sea.
You could also hop on a train to go to Sitges or any one of the pretty coastal towns outside Barcelona for a day trip, if you have the time.
5. Visit a Museum or Two
Barcelona has it’s fair share of museums so if you have some time and you are into art and culture you have to visit at least one of them. Some of the most popular museums in Barcelona are:
Picasso Museum: The museum houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by Pablo Picasso.
Fundació Suñol: Art museum with Josep Suñol’s contemporary art collection.
Fundació Antoni Tàpies: Cultural center and museum dedicated mainly to the life and works of the painter Antoni Tàpies.
CosmoCaixa: One of the most impressive science museums in Europe.
Fundació Joan Miró: Modern art museum honoring Joan Miró.
6. Explore the City
Get lost in the maze of streets in the Gothic Quarter. Don’t miss Plaça del Rei or Plaça de Sant Felip Neri behind the Cathedral. Just wander until your heart’s content.
Head to Grácia for more of a local, hippy vibe. This was once a town in its own right before it was swallowed up by the city’s expansion project.
Barceloneta was once the fishermen’s district. Now filled with great restaurants and of course tourists, a stroll along the beachfront is still worth it!
Poble-sec and Poblenou are the up and coming hip & trendy areas, where you will find cool street art, independent shops, art galleries, cafes and bars.
El Raval is still the dodgy area of town, where prostitutes mingle with the locals & tourists, but cheap rent also means plenty of boutique hotels, shops, and bars are popping up.
Check out La Rambla del Raval for a drink on one of the terraces, and keep an eye open for the fat cat statue by Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero.
7. Take a Different View
Barcelona has more than its fair share of vantage points for incredible views, and seeing the variety of views is definitely one of the best things to do in Barcelona.
Montjuïc Mountain offers views of the port from the top, and you can take in views of Tibidabo mountain from the stunning MNAC building.
Or, head up to Parc Güell and walk up every step and path you can find until you reach the top, then rest to admire the view.
Higher still is Collserola Tower, which offers panoramic views of the city. From here you can also walk across to Tibidabo mountain and the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for another bird’s eye view of Barcelona.
Many locals argue that the best view of Barcelona is from the Turó de la Rovira and the old civil war bunkers at Carmel, there is only one way to find out – you have to go and judge for yourself!
8. Enjoy the Nightlife
Bar hopping is a great way to explore areas of the city by night, and sample some delicious Catalan wines, vermouth and cocktails along the way! If you’re staying at any of the best hostels in Barcelona, the staff will be sure to point you in the right direction… they may even come with you!
My favorite area is the Gothic Quarter and Born/Sant Pere district, where tiny bars yield big results! Try La Vinya del Senyor for a glass of wine on the terrace overlooking Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral, then disappear down a side street to Bar Rubi for awesome mojitos & homemade gins, or to Collage for a fancy cocktail.
Crossover Vía Laíetana to Calle de la Mercè in the Gothic Quarter and head to Sor Rita for camp, kitsch cocktails, and to dance the night away to salsa in El Bombón.
9. Take a Cooking Class
Ever wonder how the famous paella is made? The art behind the popular tapas patatas bravas? Or how to drink cava, the Catalan sparkling wine? If so, you should definitely add a cooking class to your Barcelona itinerary. We recommend Born to Cook.
The professional chef at Born to Cook takes you through both the popular must-visit tourist market – Boqueria and the local market – Santa Caterina. During your market visit you’ll learn the secrets of the markets, taste local products like jamón Ibérico, manchego, and salted cod, as well as pick up ingredients for your cooking class.
Afterwards, you get to roll up your sleeves, throw on an apron, crack open a few bottles of wine, and get cooking under the guidance of a trained chef. Spanish classics that you get to make and devour include gazpacho, patatas bravas, catalan cream, and of course, seafood paella.
This five hour small group cooking experience is definitely one of the best things to do in Barcelona and will be something you will remember forever.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Here are our top recommendations of hostels and hotels in Barcelona. All are centrally located, highly rated and have excellent facilities.
- Best Hostel: Hostel One Sants
- Best Budget Hotel: Hotel Lloret Ramblas
- Best Mid-Range Hotel: Ayre Hotel Gran Vía
- Best Luxury Hotel: Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel GL
- Best Airport Hotel: BAH Barcelona Airport Hotel
Don’t forget to also take a look at Airbnb. They have many accommodation options available in Barcelona, and many of them are cheaper than your average hotel. Click here to get $40 off your next booking with Airbnb.
Popular Day Trips from Barcelona
- Costa Brava Half-Day Tour from Barcelona
- Montserrat Day Tour with Wine Tasting & Black Madonna from Barcelona
I hope I’ve given you a sample of the best things to do in Barcelona. It is a city you can come back to again and again, and still do something different each time! So take your time and enjoy your visit to this incredible city!