This is my *work-in-progress* guide to Barcelona, based on my experiences over the past few months. I still have a month to go, so I will keep updating as I go. If you have only a few days to spend in this glorious city, here are my top picks. Like I said, it is a work in progress. I'll change this to say "done" or something when I'm finished.
Where to stay:
I'm obviously biased since I live in this neighborhood, but I think La Ribera is a great home base. It is a 10 minute walk so many key places including Plaza Catalanya, Las Ramblas, Barceloneta, Gracia, and La Ciutadella. It still has the old-school charm of the city and is not covered with tourists.
What to see:
1. Gaudi Galore:
- La Sagrada Familia - you can't go to BCN without going here. be sure to book tickets ahead to avoid the long lines. spend the extra $$ to go up the tower.
- La Pedrera (Casa Mila) - perhaps Gaudi's most famous building, the highlight is the rooftop. the attic is basically a Gaudi museum and a great place to see all of his work in one place. you can also see one of the apartments
- Casa Mila - Gaudi's most colorful apartment building in Barcelona, with a dragon shape on the roof
- Palau Guell - known for the famous chimneys. this is more off the beaten-path, and thus less crowded and less expensive. it was the former home of the Guell family, and interesting to see a whole house versus apartments. this was probably my favorite Gaudi thing in BCN, or tied with Sagrada Familia
- Guell Park - make sure your legs are in walking shape as it is uphill! there are escalators to assist the ascent. this would make for a great picnic location. make sure to get a photo with the famous lizard at the front
2. Outdoor spots:
- Park de La Ciutadella - this is where I go to run. The fountain (including Gaudi's first public art) is incredible. On weekends the place is crowded and full of energy. There is a pond where you can row boats in the middle
- Parc de Collserola - the park underneath Mt. Tibadabo. It's a hike but with beautiful views and a reward at the top of the Tibadabo church
- Barcelonetta - pick any spot on the beach and chill out for a bit
- Montjuic - the "mountain" that is home to Montjuic Castle, the Olympic Stadium, the MACBA, botanical gardens, and more... there is so much to explore here that it could take a few days. Like Park Guell, this is hilly!
- Park Guell - see above
- Picasso Museum - an excellent collection of Picasso's earlier works and interpretations of Las Meninas. Go on a weekday if possible, and avoid the free entry on Sunday. This is perhaps the most popular museum and it shows
- Miro Museum - if you are at all interested in Miro, go! It's an incredible retrospective of his work. But if you don't like his work at all, you probably won't like this museum.
- MEAM - (European Modern Art Museum), just down the street from the Picasso Museum, and filled with modern art. This was one of my favorites. Plus there are concerts there at night, so you can see a show and museum together.
- MNAC - the building is incredible. The collection is very Spanish-artist-focused, not surprisingly, and good. Being more of a modern-art lover, I enjoyed the modern Spanish artists most here.
- City History Museum - while I am not interested in Roman ruins, many people are and this is where you can see where it all started. You can go for free on Sundays
- Frederick Mars Museum - only go when it is free on Sunday, and be prepared to experience one of the oddest museums of religious collections and random ephemera.
- Barcelona Aquarium - while technically not a museum, this is still a pretty great aquarium if you are interested in things aquatic. The sharks, octopus, and sting rays are highlights. And there are penguins!
- MACBA - If you like contemporary art, this is the place to be. I recommend a guided tour to get more out of the experience. Side note: this museum was a huge catalyst for the revitalization of La Ravel neighborhood. Pretty cool.
- Sagrada Familia - can't miss this is BCN; I advise booking ahead, doing the audio guide, and going up one of the towers for amazing views of both the city and the church
- Santa Maria del Mar - my hands down favorite church, located in El Born. It's closed during lunch, but free otherwise. I have gone her countless times and always feel awed inside
- Tibadabo Church - The mosaics of the church are extraordinary, but the views... my gosh the views! Don't miss this one.
- Barcelona Cathedral - in El Gotic district, this is a crazy ornate place. Go when it's free in the mornings.
- Sant Paul de Camp - the oldest church in Barcelona, with Moorish influence in the courtyard. It's off the beaten path, in El Raval, but still worth it.
- Monastery of Pedrables - this takes a few hours, but the monastery + the church + exploring a new neighborhood is great fun.
- La Boqueria - perhaps the most famous outdoor market in the world. Go hungry. Drink fruit juice. Try the candy/nut samples. Enjoy!
- Montjuic Castle - the views at the top are as cool as the hike up to the castle.
- Palau de la Musica - see a show here if possible! I lived on the same street as this building and I never tired looking at it. It's just as cool on the inside.
- El Corte Ingles - granted this is a store, but it is insane. And an experience. Grab a drink on the top floor in the restaurant and watch Plaza Catalanya below.
Where to go for side (day) trips:
- Figueres + Cadeques - this can be a day trip, but if you have time spend a few days here. This may have been my favorite trip in Spain
- Montserrat - this is a very easy and popular day trip, but there isn't much to do but see the church, go to the museum, and hike. So if you can afford to hike for a while it is worth it.
- Tarragona - if you like Roman ruins, this is an easy place to go see them.
Where to eat:
1. My favorites (with an obvious leaning towards my neighborhood.)
- Elsa y Fred (La Ribera) - hands down my favorite restaurant in the city. Located in La Ribera, amazing atmosphere, amazing food. The tuna tartar and the salad with baked brie may be some of my favorite food items ever
- Quimet and Quimet (El Poble Sec) - known as the best tapas restaurant in BCN, this place delivers. Go when it opens because it gets so crowded. I love their beer and the salmon/yogurt/honey truffle oil tapa is unreal. I have dreams about this thing.
- Xup Xup (Barceloneta) - This restaurant is right on the water and has delicious seafood. The seafood paella is delicious, the mussels are huge and fresh, and the views are some of the best in the city. Watch the surfers, runners, locals all stroll by in front of the ocean.
- El Quatro Gats (El Gotic) - This is a Barcelona institution made famous as a cafe Picasso and other artists liked to hang out at. There is a cafe in the front, or you can have a full meal in the back. It's a little pricey but the food is worth it. I tried a little of everything here and all of it was delicious. Use this as one of the nice meals.
- Bar del Pla (El Born) - a Mediterranean tapas style place, with the best olives I've ever had
- El Xampanyet (El Born) - the cava, my gosh, the cava. Cheap, delicious, what more could you want?
- Euskel Extea (El Born) - pretty good pinxtos and very laid back atmosphere
- Mosquito (El Born) - focus on the dumplings, which are delicious. I can't vouch for the other stuff. This place also has a killer beer list.
- Nakashita (La Ribera) - delicious sushi, with a great menu of the day lunch offering
- Caelum (El Gotic) - This bakery/cafe/store only sells things made by Spanish monks and nuns. You can have a coffee, tea, or beer and some of the yummiest pastries ever in the basement, which used to be an old Jewish bath. Ambiance is great downstairs, which opens at 3:30pm, or you can grab a table in the cute cafe area upstairs.
- Barcelona Yellow - a yellow pages and city guide all in one. I referenced this site often.
- E-Dreams - a great place to look for airline tickets that include the low-cost carriers. I usually then booked via Expedia or direct, but this was a good aggregater. Be mindful of the flight times though (or else you will find yourself with an 11-hour travel day. Doh.)
- Booking.com - I used this for everything when booking hotels. Great, easy to use site.
- Suite Life Barcelona Blog - this is a booking agency that writes with ex-pats and travelers in mind. good general information and recommendations.
I hope it is obvious how much I love this city. I hope this list is helpful to anyone thinking of going to Barcelona or definitely going. You can always reach out to me - I will be equal parts jealous and happy to help.