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If you need any convincing that Barcelona should be on your next trip itinerary, look no farther than Ed Sheeran’s charming ditty titled ‘Barcelona’. Ed can explain it better than I ever could. A bottle of red wine (to go with your two left feet). Places not closing until you’re ready to leave. The sun shining bright. While I can’t confirm if Ed has ever actually traveled to Barcelona (or Spain), that song feels right to me. In such a sprawling city, it can be hard to decide what to do or what to add to your itinerary. Here is my essential travel guide of things to do in Barcelona.
Located on Spain’s eastern edge, Barcelona is one of those cities that manages to feel specific, but also familiar. The language, lifestyle, and aesthetic ensure that you never forget you are in Spain, but something about the ease of the city layout makes it feel like a distant cousin of some of the artsier midsize US cities.
With a great public transportation system, plenty of cool neighborhoods, and a walkable layout, you can essentially have the city at your disposal without too much effort. In my mind, Barcelona is an easier introduction to Spain than Madrid, which feels more like a distant cousin of bustling and built-up New York City. Even with the language barrier, Barcelona welcomed us with arms wide open.
(Want to know more about how I use AirBnB to book awesome accommodations? Click here!)
1.Stay in La Gracia Neighborhood
Located in a more Northern section of the city, this will not only put you in walking distance of all the major sites, it also is an up and coming area that has a lot of options, but still feels like authentic Barcelona. Because we were about a forty-five minute walk from Las Ramblas and the true tourist section, we experienced a totally different Barcelona.
Upon arrival, our AirBnB host immediately sent us to a bustling Spanish tapas restaurant where the menu and the staff were speaking in what seemed to be rapid-fire Catalan. Although we both have taken years of academic Spanish, we recognized maybe three words on the entire menu. Through some pointing and shrugging, we ended up with wine, potatoes, sauce, and fried sardines. I cannot imagine a more Spanish welcome than a late night restaurant full of people and typical Spanish tapas.
2. See the Stained Glass at Sagrada Familia
The fact that we even saw this incredible church is because Alex has way more sense than I do. The plethora of articles and must-do lists that (unintentionally) convinced me that Sagrada Famila was overrated, had the opposite effect on him. While the church may be huge and full of tourists, it is definitely not overrated. The sheer size is awe-inspiring and watching the light filter through the towering stained glass windows is an experienced that can’t be missed.
There are several ticket levels with differing level of access and, even though we chose the lowest level, there was still plenty to see and gawk over. I imagine that no matter what time of day you visit or what level of ticket you get, you’ll still spend most of your time getting bumped by tourists and trying to take a photo without a million other people in it. Be patient and remember that they are doing the same thing you are. The Cathedral is also still under construction, so imagine that, instead of being just another overpriced church, you are actually helping to ensure that history is finally finished.
3.Make New Friends with Free Barcelona Bike Tour
In the days leading up to the tour, I started to get nervous that maybe I wasn’t athletic enough for a bike tour and, at the height of my anxiety, was afraid that I’d potentially forgotten how to ride one. (Which is ridiculous since colloquially that is the one thing that no one forgets how to do…) Thankfully, my fears were unfounded because, aside from the one time that I rear-ended Alex’s stopped bike, all went well. Free Bike Tour Barcelona will take you through the highlights of Barcelona and also give you a great view of some of the winding streets and neighborhoods.
By the end of our 15 mile ride, we had also made two new friends! Usually I’m skeptical of group tours or outings because group dynamics can be so unpredictable, but we totally lucked out meeting Krissy and Tim! Besides your social graces, you don’t need to do or bring anything special, but I would recommend closed toed shoes and a bottle of water as the tour lasted about three hours.
4.See the Skyline without Crowds at the Barcelona Cathedral
Krissy and Tim (our friends from the Barcelona Bike Tour) convinced us to join them on this excursion and I am so glad that they did! Once you’ve seen Sagrada Familia, everything else seems a little less glamorous, however, the Barcelona Cathedral has an amazing rooftop view, which we found by accident. It costs only a few extra Euros, but, on a clear day, this view is priceless.
Plus, because it is not as popular, you’ll spend less time bumping elbows and trying to finagle good photos. Although, the view is so all encompassing that you are hard-pressed to capture it with a camera. When you aren’t drooling over Barcelona’s skyline on the roof, make sure to check out the beautiful outdoor garden and the crypt dedicated to the little Saint Eulalia.
5.Devour a Spanish Pastry
Before going to Spain, I had never considered the types of pastries they may or may not have there. Since coming home, I can’t stop thinking about them. Seriously. With so many options on every street, my only advice to get something with chocolate. I will spend the rest of my days trying to find another flaky chocolate and powdered sugar croissant like the one I had in Barcelona.
6.Find the Best Free Spots at Park Guell
One of the most scenic places in Barcelona, Park Guell is not to be missed. Yes, there will be plenty of tourists around, but don’t let them deter you. Designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect, Gaudi, you’ll undoubtedly see the threads between this park and one of his other iconic creations, Sagrada Familia. Park Guell is divided into two parts – those open to the public and those that require tickets.
We were naïve enough to think that we could just walk in and get tickets. Not so – at least not on a warm day in mid-May. While you do miss on the most famous spots without tickets, the true secret to Park Guell is that there are just as many incredible spots in the free area. (My favorite spot is the three crosses. Make sure you walk up and enjoy the great view of Barcelona.)
There is also a Gaudi museum separate from the general park tickets, so, for a small admission fee, you can still learn about Gaudi and see some of his work up close. Unfortunately our time in the park was cut short by the torrential downpour that rolled in as we were about halfway through walking around.
With so many streets, neighborhoods, and restaurants, part of your time in Barcelona will undoubtedly be devoted to exploring. However, I hope the above list ensures that you schedule a few of the most important things to do in Barcelona.
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Copyright 2021 Dylaninthedetails
Hi, I'm Dylan, a photographer in the Philadelphia Metro Area. I love iced coffee, red wine, and am always up for binging Gilmore Girls or Parks and Rec..