Filled with vibrant energy, buzzing nightlife, elegant architecture, and a strong, independent identity, the Catalan capital of Barcelona is ripe for exploring. Discover a city that seamlessly blends old-world charms with the modern conveniences and attractions of a cutting-edge metropolis. When on the hunt for the best things to do in Spain, Barcelona is overflowing with incredible adventures. From the works of master architect Antoni Gaudi sprinkled throughout the city like jewels to the allure of the city beaches awash with the smells of the sea, salt, and paella, here are the 31 best things to do in Barcelona.
The Sagrada Familia is the awe-inspiring basilica and poster child of Barcelona. If you’ve only got enough time to visit one thing in Barcelona, this is it. Born from the quirky mind of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi, every inch of the building inside and out is loaded with symbolism, creativity, and beauty. Construction began way back in 1882 and is optimistically forecast for completion in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
The oldest part of Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter, a labyrinth of cobbled alleys and hidden squares. The entire area is a remarkably preserved piece of medieval history; walk through its heart and there’s seemingly no end to the secrets you’ll reveal. Tapas bars that haven’t changed in hundreds of years lie side by side with creative boutique stores and designer hotels. And don’t miss the Catedral de Barcelona either.
For many visitors to Barcelona, strolling down Las Ramblas is the first port-of-call. Separating the Gothic Quarter and Raval, it’s the busiest pedestrian street in Barcelona. Along the way enjoy the sights and sounds: waiters hawking their overpriced restaurants, tourists spilling out of La Boqueria marketplace, and plenty colorful flower stalls, local artists, and street performers. Watch your wallets though – pickpockets operate a slick operation in the area.
For the foodies among us, a visit to La Boqueria market is a must-do. Located on Las Ramblas, this is one of the oldest marketplaces in Europe. Inside is a kaleidoscopic array of fruit stalls, butchers, seafood, and Catalan delicacies that will have your senses ablaze. For a special treat, shoulder your way to the bar at El Quim de la Boqueria and order the fried eggs with baby squid – you won’t regret it.
While traditionally from Valencia, Spanish paella has been adapted all over Spain. And when it comes to paella in Barcelona, seafood paellas are the reigning champs. Calamari, mussels, and prawns are plucked fresh from the Mediterranean, cooked, and thrown into delicious pans of aromatic and rice. Cut to the chase and get the best at Can Solé, located in the historic fishing district of Barceloneta. This restaurant has been a paella hotspot since long before you and I were born.
We’re not done with Gaudi yet. Another of his outrageously popular works in Barcelona is Park Güell, a multi-tiered garden filled with curving arches, colorful mosaic tiles, crooked pillars, and his trademark wacky architecture. The original purpose of the project was to create a gated community for Barcelona’s wealthy elite – however, thanks to a lack of interest, investors abandoned the idea and left it for the rest of us to enjoy. Lucky us!
Wait, more architecture? You betcha. Modernisme is the collective name given to the movement that happened in Catalonia at the turn of the 20th century, giving the region its strong sense of identity. Architecture is just one aspect of the wider movement, and Antoni Gaudi but one man in a sea of architects who helped develop the style. But darn it if he isn’t the best. Casa Milà is another of his works, made up of an all-white exterior, gently undulating between wrought-iron balconies and sporting a spectacular rooftop. Spot this one on a self-guided walking tour of Gaudi’s Barcelona.
The oldest bar in the city is Bar Marsella, a grungy venue in Raval that hasn’t changed an inch since it opened in 1820. Two centuries worth of dust covers bottles in glass cabinets, paint peels from the roof, and cobwebs hang in the corners; the more dilapidated this bar gets, the bigger the appeal. The drink of choice is absinthe, but make sure to keep your wits about you; outside is thick with pimps, prostitutes, and thieves, just like the olden days.
Marrying great gastronomy, a sociable atmosphere, and Barcelona history, a tapas tour is one of the easiest and most delicious ways to get a taste of the city. The old town is obviously the epicenter of all the tapas action, with plenty of bars within walking distance from each other. From Raval through the Gothic Quarter and Born, you’ll stop at only the best tapas joints and learn all about the city along the way.
For those travelers who are looking to take part in Barcelona’s active lifestyle, going for a hike in the Collserola National Park is a must. The large expanse of mountains and forests northwest of Barcelona is the city’s green lung. The hike up to Mount Tibidabo and its nostalgic amusement park is the most popular, but there are loads of options all over the national park. Just start walking.
Barcelona is an active city – just meander along the boardwalk on the edge of the city’s beaches and you’ll see hundreds of joggers, cyclists, and other fitness fanatics. There are also lots of locals who take to the water instead to go stand-up paddle boarding. The calm waters of the Mediterranean at Barceloneta Beach (one of the best beaches in Spain) are perfect for the water sport, and it’s a great way to get some exercise, blend in with the locals, and view the city from a different angle.
Located in Raval, the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art – MACBA for short – is an extraordinary testament to Barcelona’s obsession with art. The building itself is as striking as the exhibitions inside, where you’ll find permanent celebrations of the best Spanish and Catalan artists. Temporary exhibits always challenge, while out the front of its southern entrance is one of the city’s hotspots for skateboarding.
There are plenty of places to catch a magical Barcelona sunset, but the Bunkers might just be the best. On top of a hill just to the east of Park Güell is the collection of platforms that once held anti-aircraft batteries during the Spanish Civil War. The 360-degree views are phenomenal, and it’s a popular spot for locals to enjoy a beer or two as they watch the sun sink behind the mountains.
Montjuïc, the mountain in the city’s west, is another fantastic location that delivers incredible vistas over the city. Those who venture onto the mountain will discover a world of secret gardens: stone staircases wind past fountains, vines curl around gothic lamps, and all the while views of the city can be glimpsed between the trees. For easy access to the halfway point and even more views, take the cable car from Barceloneta to the Miramar de Montjuïc viewpoint.
If you haven’t heard of Barcelona’s football (soccer) team, then it’s high time to come out of that rock you’ve been living under. Barça is one of the most widely supported sporting teams in the world, and one of the most successful. The team is so important that they’re considered one of the biggest symbols of Catalan culture. To fully immerse yourself in the football craze of Barcelona, try and catch a game at Camp Nou, their home stadium.
Spain is laden with incredible stretches of sand, and that includes Barcelona. Boasting a range of city beaches for visitors and locals to enjoy just a stone’s throw from the old town, it’s oh so easy to escape the city heat and spend a day on the sand. Barceloneta beach is the most popular and crowded – for a more relaxed session on the sand, head further up the coast towards the beaches Bogatell, Mar Bella, or Llevant.
Another Gaudi gem is the famous Casa Batlló, the colorful house located along Passeig de Gracia. Instead of a regular old tour of this house, spice up your visit and book onto the Magic Nights tour. In the evening you’ll explore the house, and afterward sit down at a table on the roof with a glass of wine or sangria and be treated to a live musical performance. Not a bad way to enjoy one of Gaudi’s most popular works in the city.
Though he was born in Malaga, Pablo Picasso spent a lot of time in and around the city of Barcelona. The city left its mark on the famed painter, as he did the city. Today, his life and work are best discovered by visiting the Museo Picasso. Inside is the largest collection of original works in the world, with a strong focus on his early stages as an artist.
Barcelona is a trendy city, and being trendy means brunching on the weekend. The neighborhood of Sant Antoni has emerged as one of the city’s hottest districts outside the city center and boasts a healthy amount of fashionable spots to be seen. Try out Federal, a café started by two Australians who know their way around a coffee machine and a brunch menu.
Another of Gaudi’s works, Casa Vicens often gets overlooked for Gaudi’s more famous works across the city. Located on a quiet side street in the Gracia neighborhood, stepping inside here is like stepping into an oasis. Palm trees sway in the garden, and the exterior is decked out in checkered red and green tiles. Inside is awash with Mediterranean influence, from the coasts of Spain to the deserts of Morocco. A true oasis in the city.
While Spanish pintxos might be the territory of San Sebastian, Barcelona loves to capitalize on a good trend. So of course, you can find some fantastic pintxos right here in the city. Carrer de Blai is a long street located in Poble Sec brimming with pintxo bars, each with their own specialties. But not all are made equal – keep an eye out for the bars frequented by locals, like La Tasqueta de Blai and Koska Taverna.
Part of old town, the El Born neighborhood has become the go-to spot for a night out on the town (and one of the best places for Sangria in Barcelona). The gorgeous streets and hidden squares pack a whole lot of fancy cocktail bars, pubs, and clubs into its streets, and makes for some atmospheric nightlife as you stumble between venues. Don’t miss the cocktails and crepes at Creps al Born.
The traditional Catalan sport of Castells is the competition of building human towers, and yes, it’s as crazy as it sounds. Huge teams press together in a huddle as others clamber up their backs, finding footholds on each other’s shoulders to form a tower. The most breathtaking moment is when the small children climb to the top and wave their hands triumphantly in the air, ten-stories up.
Going out for a traditional Barcelona vermut has become one of the most popular things to do in the city over the last decade. Vermut here is a sweet, fortified wine, infused with aromatic herbs and botanicals, and served chilled with a slice of orange and an olive. It’s also the most popular form of aperitif, with locals meeting up with friends for a drink and a small snack before moving on to a big family lunch elsewhere. Pro tip: check out Els Sortidors del Parlament for some of the best in the city.
For those looking for a unique dinner and night out, enjoying the ‘Dinner with the Stars’ at Barcelona’s observatory is a perfect choice. You’ll start with an astronomy-inspired meal on the terrace at dusk, with phenomenal views over the city as the lights twinkle to life. After dinner, you’ll be treated to a private tour of the Observatori Fabra, where you can gaze through the telescopes up at the night sky. Perfect for the romantics among us.
Once upon a time, Mercat del Encants was the place to go if your bike had recently been stolen and you wanted to buy it back again. But ever since it changed location to underneath its wavy glass roof, this market has cleaned up its act – for the most part. As the city’s biggest flea market, it’s still filled with all kinds of trash, but now there are equal amounts of treasure as well. Perfect for digging through on a weekend morning.
El Nacional is located on Passeig de Gracia and is one of the city’s hottest dining spots. This former car factory has been reformed into a spectacular piece of architecture, with a vaulted ceiling, stained-glass windows, and immense chandeliers and bookshelves. Inside are several different restaurants to tempt your taste buds, and even though the food is a little bit pricier than elsewhere, the setting alone is worth it.