Barcelona. The name alone puts a huge smile on my face. My father is a Spaniard, so as a child, my parents, brother, and I would spend every other summer in Spain visiting family and enjoying the coastline. Although I visited Barcelona numerous times as a kid, my last visit was when I was 13. Sigh. Naturally, I had to go back, and I finally returned with Jesse by my side. To my surprise, the Barcelona I loved as a child was nothing compared to the city I encountered as an adult. This time, it was magnificent. Romantic streets captured my heart, delicious tapas and cava seized my soul, and Anton Gaudi’s architecture blew my mind. Here’s a list of the 10 things we enjoyed most:
- Sagrada Familia
If you only do one thing while in Barcelona, it should be to visit to the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. Regardless of your beliefs, this unfinished cathedral is arguably one of the most architecturally-fascinating structures in the world. Designed by Antoni Gaudi in 1883, the exterior’s gothic design includes thousands of crevices filled with overwhelming detail that leaves spectators in awe. And the interior is even more glorious. Purposely designed to augment outside light and sound, the inside of the church is like a magical forest found only in someone’s wildest dreams. Words cannot do it justice.
It is important to buy tickets in advance (we purchased ours online the day before our desired visit). We also purchased tickets for the Nativity Tower, which gave us the opportunity to walk through one of the spiral posts. Note: The Nativity Tower has LOTS of stairs and is not suitable for everyone. The church remains uncompleted and architects are working on finishing Gaudi’s vision for the 100th year anniversary of his death in 2026.
- Las Ramblas
One of Spain’s most popular promenades, Las Ramblas starts at the Christopher Columbus Monument by the port and makes its way up, a little over half a mile (1.2 km), to Plaça de Catalunya (Catalonia Square). The street is often bustling with tourists crowding souvenir shops and relaxing at the sidewalk cafes, but it’s still worth the experience. However, walker beware, the street is also popular for pick-pocketers.
While here, you must drink from La Rambla Drinking Fountain (Font de Canaletes); it is believed that anyone who drinks from the fountain will once again return to Barcelona (so of course, we drank!). If you are hungry while strolling Las Ramblas, skip the cafes and make your way to La Boqueria St. Joseph’s Market/Mercat de Sant Josep. A large public market with hundreds of food vendors, here you will find an array of meats, fish, cheese, nuts, fruits, vegetables, olives, legumes, and more.
- El Born
Our favorite area in Barcelona was El Born (La Ribera) district located East of Las Ramblas. This medieval neighborhood hosts narrow and winding streets, which seemed to take us back in time. We loved getting lost among the pathways and being surprised with whatever treasures came around the next bend: whether medieval ruins, museums, shops, cafes, restaurants, or bars.
Among its numerous gems, El Born is home to the Picasso Museum and the Mercat Del Born/El Born Cultural and Memorial Centre. Built in 1874, the area is commonly known as the Mercat Del Born and was once a public market. After years of abandonment, however, archaeological ruins were discovered underneath the market and preservation of the medieval city was started. Admission is free.
- Picasso Museum/Museu Picasso
To be upfront, I was not excited about visiting the Picasso Museum. Primarily because I’m not a fan of Picasso’s cubism period. But man, am I glad I went. The building itself, located in the El Born district, is a stunning example of gothic architecture dating from the 13-15th centuries. And then, there is the artwork. Cubism? Yes. But unbeknownst to me, Picasso created many other masterpieces worth admiring. I was mesmerized by the simple lines of his sketches and his Blue Period artwork–paintings done in only shades of green and blue. So beautiful.
After touring the museum, we went in search of a place to eat and stumbled upon Tapeo Del Born. The restaurant, located just steps away from the Picasso Museum, served some of the best tapas we ate on the entire trip. Chef Daniel Rueda and his team create mouthwatering dishes worthy of a museum themselves. So good!
- Passeig de Gràcia
Less than a mile long (1.3 km), this scenic tree-lined avenue (which reminded me so much of Paris) can be enjoyed day and night. This street houses some of Barcelona’s most treasured architecture, including Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà/La Pedrera, as well as other museums, high-end stores, restaurants, and hotels.
- Dinner at El Nacional
Situated along Passeig de Gràcia, what was once an industrial factory and later a parking garage has been transformed into an upscale food court with impressive style. El Nacional hosts four restaurants offering selections of meat, fish, tapas, and charcuterie. And, four bars with great places to socialize and unwind while enjoying beer, wine, cocktails, or oysters. One important thing to note: Spaniards eat dinner late. Our meal at El Nacional was at 11:00 PM and the place was packed!
- Tibidabo Mountain
For spectacular panoramic views of Barcelona, spend a few hours on Tibidabo Mountain. The mountain is home to Tibidabo Amusement Park, which has beautiful old-fashioned rides beckoned to be photographed, including a carousel, Ferris wheel, and an airplane ride powered by its own propeller. Admission to the park is not necessary to simply enjoy the views of the city or rides. Just make your way up to the Sagrat Cor Cathedral and look around. The view is breathtaking!
- El Poble Espanyol
If your time in Barcelona or Spain is limited (like ours) and you want to get a comprehensive sense of what the country offers, visit El Poble Espanyol. Think of this place as Cliff Notes on Spain. Created for the 1929 World Fair, the open-air architectural museum gives visitors a perfect understanding of each region’s traditions, cuisine, architecture, music, and more.
- Casa Batlló
Another one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces is Casa Batlló. Designed by Gaudi in 1904 as a private residence for the Batlló family, the house is often referred to as the “Dragon House” due to the roof’s dragon-scaled design and facade. When touring the inside and rooftop of the house, various levels give the impression of being underwater or in a Dr. Seuss cartoon. It is one of the most unique homes we have ever seen. If you like what you saw at Casa Batlló, take a short walk up Passeig de Gràcia to Gaudi’s La Pedrera/Casa Mila. Although La Pedrera/Casa Mila is not as impressive as Casa Batlló, the outside of the house is a great photo op.
10. Park Güell
If Antoni Gaudi’s architecture leaves you wanting for more, pack a picnic and head over to Park Güell. The park offers more of Gaudi’s inspiring architecture, gives you the opportunity to relax in the open gardens, and will give you lovely views of Barcelona. While there, take a picture with the famous mosaic “dragon” (which really looks more like a lizard) sold throughout Barcelona as a popular souvenir. Although it’s a public park, tickets are required and it is recommended to purchase tickets online, as they can sell out at the park.
Wishing you peace, love, and adventure,