There is this attitude embodied in Spain that is all about enjoying the best parts of life. Love, laughter and a full stomach (now I sound like one of those cheesy quotes people stick on their walls). But really though, the people are gorgeous and welcoming. The food is hearty and some of my personal favorite. The architecture is without question, one of a kind. The music is full of passion, the language loud, the art speaks volumes and the history is still alive no matter where you go. I really can’t recommend a trip to Spain enough, if you haven’t gathered that by now! LOL.
For most people their first taste of Spain is actually in the Catalonia region, in the northeast area of Spain. This taste being, you guessed it, in the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona. Hence, “10 Things to do Your First Time in Barcelona.”My first time was fresh in the beginning of my 2 1/2 month backpacking trip across Europe in 2015. I loved that damn city so much, I made a point to end up back there the next year.
But the mistake that a lot of first timers make (myself included) is that they stick to the Gaudí architecture, stroll down Las Ramblas, shop on Passeig de Gràcia and eat at some tapas joint smack down in the middle of tourist central. Then they’re like “Oh yeah, Barcelona, it was okay, it’s such a touristy city though.” Well yeah with an experience like that, OBVIOUSLY. But Barcelona is a sprawling city with neighborhood identities as unique and distinct as the people that habitat them. Each neighborhood is a brushstroke making up the vibrant painting of the city. So this guide is a list of 10 things to do for my first timers or those planning to return who are open to exploring Barcelona a little deeper.
Eat at Bosque Palmero
The Spanish foodie starter pack consists of a few staples. Paella, tapas, sangria, and tinto de verano (basically a wine spritzer). Which is a FANTASTIC combination if I do say so myself. There is no better way to experience all of these elements together than at one of my FAVORITE restaurants in THE WHOLE WORLD (I’m not kidding), found completely by chance, Bosque Palmero. The tapas are authentic, the paella out of this world and the €3.75 liters of homemade red wine comes out of a spigot in the wall in this tiny corner spot. Is there really anything more beautiful I ask you!?!
Go to Open Air Markets
I love Europe for the sheer fact that open air markets are a thing. No matter what city you’re in you are destined to find at least one. Coming from a country of identical supermarkets, these markets are a sensory treat for me. The food is dripping in colors, it’s lively, and you can feel a real sense of community. Now a trip to the Mercado de la Boqueria right off of Las Ramblas is always a given. But there are open air markets all over the city. If you dive a little deeper you’ll find some that still give you all the feels at a fraction of the tourists in your way trying to snap their Instagram shot.
Stroll through Parc de la Cuitadella
A nice afternoon spent walking along the shaded, perfectly manicured trails found in Parc de la Cuitadella is a must do. The only match to its size is its beauty and there is always something happening within the grounds. There might be musicians or acroyogis doing poses that my core muscles CERTAINLY could not withstand, maybe some artists capturing the iconic sunset. Make sure to scout out the captivatingly grand Cascada fountain. Erected in 1888 by Josep Fontsére with a little help from the famous Antoni Gaudí himself.
A quick tip from ya girl is if you take the subway to the Parc de la Ciutadella station, THEN take the line L1 to the station Arc de Triomf (also a special treat to see!!) From there pass through the Arc de Triomf and keep walking along the pedestrian street Passeig de Lluís Companys towards the main entrance. That’s a moment that I could relive again and again.
Seek out Gaudí’s architecture
Speaking of Antoni Gaudí, if you go to Barcelona, EVEN FOR A DAY, ESPECIALLY if it’s your first time, you HAVE HAVE HAVEEEEE (I cannot stress this enough) HAVEEEE to go see some Gaudí’s architecture. Now yes, this is about as touristy as Barcelona gets, but I will say in some instances, those types of places are touristy for a good reason (*cough* Taj Mahal & Machu Picchu *cough*). But this is the man of Catalan Modernism we’re talking about. His architecture style was his own and it is a damn good style. Gaudí is known for pulling elements from nature and glorifying them in his buildings. From staircases modeled after shells in La Sagrada Familia, or playful mosaic lizards at Park Güell, even buildings like Casa Batlló whose whole exterior façade has a fluidity modeled after the ocean.
It’s impossible to not experience at least one moment of awe when seeing his works. Even though I am a grown woman, I mayyyyy have shed a tear (or two) seeing the rainbow waterfall of colors that was pouring into La Sagrada Familia from the stained glass windows. That’s a whole other kind of beauty worth seeing.
The typical “triangle” of Gaudí’s work starts over at Passeig de Grácia for Casa Battló and Casa Milá (La Pedrera) which are about three blocks apart on the same street. Then you can hop over to one of Gaudí’s most impressive projects, the church that is into it’s 135th year of construction, La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí worked on this up until his death in 1926, 44 years into the works. Construction on this church whose cranes have now made it iconic, is said to be COMPLETED in 2026 on the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Last is the bright Park Güell. The park is covered in various GaudIí elements. From intricate mosaic work, to unique pillars and colors no matter where you look. After exploring Gaudí’s work, I suggest walking to the top of Park Güell and treating yourself to one stellar view of the Barcelona skyline.
Go Party Hardy in El Raval
For awhile I used to notice that El Raval had this kind of shady reputation. Guidebooks would always describe it as the “gritty” side of Barcelona but this area is where young artists and writers are calling home. I guess you can call this the take over of hipsters. Which means that there’s bumping bars playing The Big Lebowski in Spanish at 2am (here’s to you Betty Ford Bar), there’s good food (Café Maramalade), and there’s places to dance until the sun comes up like Moog or City Hall (a little bit closer to Las Ramblas). I would MUCH RATHER go to this neighborhood than the big name clubs by the beach where people first think to flock. The music is WAY BETTER in El Raval, you’re not wasting your night waiting in line to get into some club that you can’t even dance in, and the crowd is a whole lot cuter.
Go Vintage Shopping
Guys, guys, guysssss, the thrift shopping in Barcelona is SOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOOOOOD. Just really, wow, I don’t even know where to begin. The style in Barcelona is already some of the best, so that OBVIOUSLY means that the thrift shopping will be just as good. You can find some serious threads in these shops for a fraction of what you’d typically pay.
My personal favorites is Fleadonia & Flamingos in El Raval. Holala! is another great option but a bit higher in the price range. If you’re looking for a vintage wedding dress or some vintage lingerie for your LOVAAAH then head over to L’Arca.
Take a Moment to Read in a Plaza
There are small square plazas ALL OVER BARCELONA. People will just stop and take a moment to break from their day here. Maybe chat with old friends, have a smoke, or read a book. I found some really peaceful plazas over in the Gàrcia neighborhood thanks to my local homie (shoutout to João). Just stumble upon a plaza and read for a little. Take in this moment and this new found freedom that you have thanks to this foreign city.
Check out the Castellers
There is this tradition worth seeing that is alive and well in Barcelona. Castellers, as they are called, form tall human towers. YOU READ THAT RIGHT! HUMAN TOWERS! These people will climb onto one another and create massive towers. It really is a testament of strength that you have to see for yourself. There is always a group practicing or performing in the city and you can find a schedule here.
Get Lost in the Gothic Quarter and El Born
You want to know my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona? Well, this is it. I ABSOLUTELY LOVEEEE the Gothic Quarter and El Born. Nestled within these old, narrow, intricate alleys is the Picasso Museum, and walls left by the former Roman Empire. The buildings are covered in ornate details with flowers hanging down windowsills.
I could walk these twisted streets all day and get assaulted by scents pouring out of small restaurant fronts or find some street art hiding on old walls or just get a glimpse of what life was like before Twitter, cross fit and contouring. A much simpler time that I need to remind myself to embody sometimes.
Hit the Beach
A trip to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach (weather permitting). The beaches are more than some warm sand, nice waves and dudes walking up and down the beach offering cheap beer and mojitos. There is also some really killer art all along the beaches of Barcelona.
I’m talking HUGE sculptures that line the beaches of Barcelona. These sculptures are icons and there’s no wonder why. Near the marina, you will find a piece by Roy Lichtenstein called “Cap de Barceloneta”. This piece was commissioned for the 1992 Olympics and a really bold piece for the promenade. Then smack dab in the middle of Barceloneta beach is “La Estrella Herida” by Rebecca Horns, whose stacked tower shines against a sunset. Farther down the beach is the famous “Fish” by Frank Gehry that gleams against the water.
Every time I make it back to Barcelona I add a million things to my list of what I need to do. The city is constantly surprising me and it’s a city of small discoveries. This list will help guide you into the right direction if you’re just starting out!
Do you have some suggestions on what that NEEDS to be done in Barcelona LEMME KNOW in the comments! As always, Safe Travels Guys! ❤️