There are few places that evoke as many superlatives as Barcelona when describing the city. And while they may seem farfetched, one visit will prove them true. The city seems to have it all: stunning beaches, unique architecture, huge parks, and the most incredible dining and drinking you can imagine. Truthfully, it reminds me quite a bit of my home city of Melbourne, although Barcelona seems to do everything slightly better!
There are endless things to see and do in Barcelona – I myself spent seven days there exploring the city and never felt bored. The sights are all very accessible as there is a great public transport system, however if you’re based in the city most of the attractions can be reached on foot. After all, one of the best parts of walking is discovering hidden laneways and shops on the way to your destination.
5. Gothic Quarter
Amongst the many beautiful areas of Barcelona, none are quite as enchanting as the Gothic Quarter. It’s an incredibly atmospheric section of the city, with narrow laneways, looming shadows, and winding streets easily throwing your sense of direction off-balance, but that’s part of its charm. There’s also many interesting shops and places to eat here, and definitely doesn’t have a tourist trap vibe like many other places in Barcelona. There’s beautiful cathedrals to explore, and gorgeous courtyards waiting to be discovered. Come here to experience (for want of a better expression) the ‘real’ Barcelona.
4. The Beach and Harbour
The beach lining Barcelona is a sight to behold. The deep blue Mediterranean is incredibly inviting, with the beautiful golden sand perfect for relaxing on your towel or watching artists create gorgeous sculptures in the sand. If swimming isn’t your thing, there’s dozens of restaurants and cafés that line the boardwalk with uninterrupted views of the ocean. Further along is the yacht-line harbour Port Vell, a scenic location with everything from beautiful old buildings to tapas bars.
3. Park Guell
You can’t visit Barcelona and not learn a thing or two about Gaudi, an innovative (and genius) architect from the region, and responsible for many of Barcelona’s most famous sights. The best place to immerse yourself in his creativity? Park Guell. When you approach the park the atmosphere begins to feel very festive, with local artists and musicians performing, bright colours everywhere. The park itself is another unique Gaudi experience, with crooked pillars, wavy walls and beautiful mosaic. If you’re up to it, I recommend walking to the highest point of the park, as the view of the city below is absolutely spectacular.
2. Food and Markets
In general, the food in Spain is perhaps the best I’ve eaten out of the many countries I’ve visited. It’s no lie when I tell you that of my nearly month-long stay in Spain I ate jamón ibérico (cured ham) nearly every day. With this in mind, it’s not really a surprise that Barcelona was of the best cities for food I’ve been to. There is nothing quite like spending an evening at an old, Basque-style tapas bar, eating your way through several plates of cured meats, seafood and other fresh produce, sangria in hand. And what better way to conclude a long walk along the beach at a burger bar by the water? There’s just so much choice, and there really is something for everyone.
Of course, every food lover visiting Barcelona really needs to pay Marcado de La Boqueria a visit, convieniently located on the iconic Las Ramblas shopping strip. There is a huge array of incredibly delicious food, from jamón, cheese, fruit, seafood, chocolate, and ice cream. I spent a morning here, picking out produce to take back to my accommodation for future breakfast, lunch and dinner. Surprisingly, the market itself is quite clean and well organised, with wide pathways and vendors helpful. Walk through, take in the vibrant colours, and pick something up for lunch.
1. Basílica de la Sagrada Família
Do you feel like you’ve spent every day of your European holiday looking at old churches and cathedrals, and can’t quite stomach another? Well, I’m here to definitively say that this is one sight you cannot afford to miss. Sagrada Familia is perhaps the most astonishing piece of art and architecture I’ve ever witnessed, and could only place it second to St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City in terms of religious architecture. It is absolutely enormous, with such a unique design for a cathedral. I’d highly recommend arriving early in the day, as the morning light streaming through the stained glass windows is a magical sight. These windows have the most stunning effect on the inside of the Basilica, with different colours mingling on the floor and pillars. If you can tear yourself away from the windows, the ceiling provides another incredible display of creativity. I felt like I spent hours staring at this beautiful ceiling, walking into the occasional person doing the same thing. It’s hard to articulate just how impressive it is; I doubt my photos convey it either.
Yes, this is an enormously popular tourist destination, so yes, it will be busy. But simply by purchasing tickets online before arriving can make an huge difference to the experience – believe me, you won’t want to be lining up to get in when the sun is beating down on you. All I can say is that it is completely worth the headache of dealing with hundreds of people in the same area, as nothing can prepare you for the sheer magnificence of this building. I took hundreds of photos inside, but nothing will ever capture the “wow” moment when I entered the building.