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Foodies, artists, athletes, history buffs, beach bums and night owls can all find something (actually many things) to write home about in Barcelona. The capital of Catalonia may seem like a metropolis from the airplane window, but on ground level, the quaint, artsy side of Barcelona really shines. And while you can spends weeks, months or even a lifetime in the city and never get bored, the following are 15 activities and excursions you must do on your first visit to this historic city by the sea.
Pablo Picasso spent a number of his formative years in Barcelona, and spotting some of his hangouts and admiring his artwork is a must on every visit. Eat a meal at Els 4 Gats, a place where Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and other famous artists ate and discussed art. And of course, pay a visit to the Museu Picasso to see some of the best works from Picasso’s early years.
Barcelona’s Raval neighborhood has a rich literary history that has since turned it into one of the hippest places to hang out. What was once a rough area frequented by prostitutes and transients is now popular for its food, music, shopping and contemporary urban culture.
Barcelona is bursting with tapas restaurants and bars that will leave you more than satisfied. Visit some essentials like La Esquinica and El Jabalí for some of the best tapas in town or taste some pintxos (traditional Basque tapas) at Euskal Etxea. Remember to save the toothpicks you use to eat pintxos, because they’ll be tallied up at the end to determine the cost of your bill.
Barcelona’s famed Futbol Club Barcelona calls Camp Nou their home field and catching a game there is an experience of a lifetime. But even if your timing isn’t right to see the team in action, a visit to the museum and self-guided stadium tour will give you a taste of the events and excitement that have filled the stadium countless times.
Just one look at the La Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic church, and you’ll understand why it attracts roughly 3 million visitors each year. The church is still a work in progress (it has been for roughly 100 years), but you don’t need to see a completed product to understand the beauty of a project that became famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí’s life obsession. Bring your camera and prepare to be blown away.
The best place to experience the local flavor of a new city is in its markets. The Mercat de la Boqueria is a favorite place to sightsee and shop on the famous La Rambla boulevard for tourists and locals alike. The market, which dates back as far as 1217, is a perfect place to stock up on produce, cheeses, sweets and sausages for snack time in your hotel room.
Placa Reial, just off of La Rambla, offers some of the best traditional Catalan and Spanish restaurants in the city. But you shouldn’t leave the square immediately after eating. Placa Reial, or Royal Plazza, is the perfect place to people watch, catch a live Flamenco performance or let loose in a night club. For affordable fun, grab a beer from a street vendor, have a seat and take in the lively action of one of Barcelona’s most beautiful squares.
Barcelona’s beaches are some of the best places to discover the city’s relaxing side (unless you visit the always-busy La Barceloneta beach). Barcelona’s 4.2 kilometers of beaches give you plenty of room to toss down a towel and sprawl out, and their easy access from the Metro make them perfect for day trips. Be aware that Marbella is known as the unofficial nudist beach of Barcelona, so it may not be the best place for your family picnic.
Some of Barcelona’s best kept secrets are on streets the tourists don’t usually travel. El Born and El Gotico are two of those streets. These rustic, windy avenues give you a look inside Barcelona’s quaint side with dive bars, cute shops and tasty little cafes.
Just 20 minutes from downtown Barcelona is a Mediterranean town that will make you feel lightyears away from the city. Sitges is a place where well-to-do locals head to take their vacations in a chic, beachy atmosphere.
Take a breath of fresh air and admire some of the best views in the city by climbing Montjuïic. Although you can take a cable ride to the top, making the trek is one of the best ways to take in Barcelona’s scenery at a slower pace. But the views of the Mediterranean Sea and the city aren’t all you’ll enjoy at the top. The Castell de Montjuïic, a 17th-century fortress, is worth the hike all on its own.
Rooftop bars are plentiful in Barcelona, but you probably won’t notice them unless you’re staying at a posh resort. These hidden gems may offer slightly overpriced drinks, but the views are well worth the upscale prices. Set your sights on La Isabella at the Hotel 1898, La Terraza del Claris at the Claris Hotel, the Sky Bar at the Grand Hotel Central or the The Pulitzer Terrace at Hotel Pulitzer, and you won’t be disappointed.
Barcelona is famous for its modernist (or modernista) architecture, and the works of some of history’s most famous architects, including Antoni Gaudí. After visiting the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, La Pedrera, Casa Batllo and Palau Guell are a few more Gaudi must-sees. And once you’ve gotten your fill of Gaudi’s works (which may never happen), visit the works of Puig I Cadafalch at the Palau de la Música and Casa Amatller or ask around for countless others.
The Carretera de les Aigues isn’t just for burning off the tapas you ate the night before. It’s the perfect place to admire Barcelona’s natural side. Barcelona’s favorite running, walking and biking trail offers breathtaking views of the city as well as a glimpse into the flora and fauna that thrive away from the hustle and bustle of downtown.
Although La Sagrada Familia steals much of the city’s fame when it comes to churches, your visit to Barcelona isn’t complete with a visit to the Church of Santa Maria del Mar. The church dates all the way back to 1329 and is arguably the best remaining example of Catalan Gothic architecture, but you don’t have to be an architecture buff to understand the beauty of this famous Barcelona landmark.