A Traveler’s Guide To Barcelona: The Heart Of Catalonia

A Traveler’s Guide To Barcelona: The Heart Of Catalonia

Barcelona packs is one of the world’s most popular cities for a reason. From its glorious beaches, outstanding architecture, and vibrant nightlife there is something for everyone in this incredible city. In summer, the city fills with visitors from far and wide ready to soak up the beautiful beach weather and take in the many historical sights. In the colder months, things quieten down, but the charm and opulence of this fascinating place remains strong.

Barcelona is a city of exquisite architecture and artistic genius. Many of the city’s landmarks and features were designed by the famed artist Gaudí. These dreamlike structures are a wonder to behold, and each one of them can be admired for hours. 3 million people flock every year to view the incredible architecture, work on their tans at the surrounding beaches, and soak up the city’s vibrant culture. There truly is no place like Barcelona.

Quick Facts:

Language: Catalan & Spanish

Currency:  $1 USD is equal to €0.88 Euros

Population: 1.6 Million

Size: 101.35 km²

Where Should I Stay?

Barcelona is unfortunately on the hit list of popular destinations where tourism is affecting the local lifestyle. Accommodation websites like Airbnb are causing rental rates in the inner city to rise, pushing out the locals who are the heart and soul of the city.

The best way to enjoy the city and also be cognizant of the locals and help preserve their culture is to make use of the plethora of hotels and hostels in Barcelona.

Great Areas To Stay

The ideal areas for beginners to stay in Barcelona are the Gothic Quarter (Old Town), Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla. These parts of town are surrounded by excellent restaurants, bars and cafés that show the high quality of Catalan fare. Hotels and hostels here might not be cheap but they are definitely worth it as this part of the city is where a lot of the action is. The only downside is that due to their central location some parts of these areas tend to be quite populated with tourists. 

If you’re a solo traveler, a homestay in Barcelona is a great way to meet the locals and have a more authentic cultural experience. The Spanish are super friendly and accommodating, and who doesn’t want to build up a friend list of people around the world. Some of the most amazing experiences come through happy accidents you would never read about in a guidebook.

Barcelona is also a well-established spot for language exchanges, spend a couple of months living with some generous hosts and exploring the city like a local; return back home speaking perfect Catalan. Well, we aren’t all on the movie set of Eat, Pray, Love but we can daydream.

Safety Note

Always be careful with your belongings. Especially in busier areas such as La Rambla. Pickpocketing is always a risk in popular tourist spots. Don’t label yourself as a tourist by scratching your head over maps and guides in the middle of the street. Head to a nearby cafe for a quick coffee and plan your route from there. Much safer, less stressful, and you may have just tried the best coffee in town.

How To Get Around

Barcelona has a fabulous metro system that connects to all corners of the city. It’s easy, quick and cheap. Grab a 10-journey ticket from one of the stations for the best value, but don’t be tempted to try and jump through the gates, the Barcelona police are well acquainted with this trick and fine tourists. Due to its ergonomically flat city centre, Barcelona and bikes go hand in hand, whether it be a road bike or a bicycle. The city is actually quite compact, and bike tours are an amazing way to get around the city and fit in all the hotspots. Bike rental is available all over the city, you can rent for €5 euros a day at Mattia 46 located on La Rambla.

Alternatively, hire a Vespa to experience Barcelona and let the cool Catalan wind whip through your hair. Keep your eyes on the road if you’ve never ridden a Vespa before. The roads can be a bit busy in the city and for inexperienced riders it can be tricky to manage the traffic with so many beautiful sights passing you by. It’s a good idea to plan sightseeing around your Vespa hire, Mount Tibidabo and Park Guell are much more easily accessed using a Vespa and you can arrive and leave at your leisure instead of missing the last bus and ending up stuck on a windy mountain after dark. It’s much faster and easier to whip down mount Tibidabo on two wheels than it is on two legs.

Barcelona is also an absolute Mecca for skateboarders, with some of the best skate parks in the world, and an epic array of street skating spots. Skaters come from far and wide to tackle the best spots in Barcelona and enjoy the blissful weather. If you’re a skater, the streets are ready for you.

Beaches

An incredible city and beach holiday all in one, Barcelona boasts a stunning coastline to contrast to its charming, compacted streets. Barceloneta beach spans the entire South end of the city, stretching along the scenic boardwalk from Port Vell to the Moll Marina. Soak up some rays whilst watching the world go by. Bikers, skateboarders and all manner or curious folk wander along the promenade here on a day to day basis. Enveloping the coast, there’s a stretch of sand for every interest; from the nudist beach at Mar Bella to the serene hidden coast of Caldes d’Estrac (Caldetes) just outside of the city. Take the train from Placa Catalunya for just under an hour and wind down to this spa town that is a refreshing change from the busy city for less than €4.

La Rambla

La Rambla is the main promenade through Barcelona, branching off into side streets and interesting alleyways, offering a hoard of restaurants and bars that lead down to the seafront. There’s always a burst of activity here with street performers juggling fire, human statues that could almost be mistaken for real sculptures, and enthusiastic locals flaunting their wares at the markets. Although it’s recommended to fill your rumbling stomach elsewhere, the amusing vibe and throbbing soul of La Rambla is not to be missed. Take a walking tour around here to discover the secrets of Barcelona that can’t be discovered outside the heart of the city, and maybe you’ll find some hidden gems that only the locals know about.

Gothic Quarter AKA Old Town

The charmingly lovely Gothic Quarter is the old town of Barcelona; a hub of medieval streets and exquisite masonry full of stylish restaurants and bars. Right in the middle is the Jewish quarter with its endless narrow and winding alleyways. The area is fused with history from the old Roman empire, and the beautiful Cathedral of Barcelona.

Port Vell

At the base of La Rambla, where it meets the ocean, is Port Vell, a picturesque boardwalk with outstanding culture that broadens into the boat harbor. The Columbus monument stands tall in the center of the square, staring out towards foreign lands. Along the promenade are numerous shops and restaurants inside the Maremagnum shopping center, and Barcelona’s largest aquarium. Snag a spot outside at one of the coffee shop terraces and enjoy a delicious gelato while overlooking the water.

Aquarium

As if attempting to make the fish feel more at home, Barcelona aquarium sits right beside the ocean on the harbor of Port Vell and is a major player in marine biology and ocean conservation. The aquarium comprises three floors of fascinating and beautiful marine animals and flora, along with a show and tell shark and manta ray tank on the top floor. It houses an eclectic collection of species from around the world and the always popular ocean tunnel where you can watch as sharks, eels and all manner of sea mysteries drift over your head. Aquariums are notorious for being quite romantic venues, and this one is no less charming, but can be filled with a lot of other tourists in high season. Tickets can be purchased online for a discounted €12.

Antoni Gaudí

The city is bursting with churches, old synagogue ruins and religious artifacts; the most spectacular of these belonging to creator and genius Antoni Gaudí. Who in his wild-eyed later years dedicated himself to the creation of the Sagrada Familia, before being tragically struck down by a tram at the age of 73.

Sagrada Familia

The star attraction of Barcelona is by far the exquisite Sagrada Familia. This Roman Catholic Church is the true heart of Barcelona and revered by the locals and art lovers around the world. Originally designed and built by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and his engineers in 1882; this ambitious project is the epitome of art meets architecture, with Gaudí’s unique style gracing every turret and pillar. If the outside was a picture, the interior is even more insane. Gaudí uses color and light to cast an ethereal glow across the entire cathedral. Look up, and see a ceiling to die for. The Sagrada is a haven of inspiration for creative types. Due to the sheer ambition of the project, it is still in the finishing process and will not be complete until 2026, and even then will still be in a constant state of preservation. It’s easy to pass an hour or two inside and not even realize, taking in every delicate detail and enjoying the aura of the vast space.

Save your money on the sales pitch to go up the spires by the way. The queues are gigantic even with tickets and there are better places to catch the views. The best way to view the Sagrada and the entirety of the city is from Park Guell and the many lofty vantage points over Barcelona including rooftop bars and mount Tibidabo.

Entrance Fee: €22 and worth every cent.

Pro Tip: Monday’s are the best times to visit the Sagrada. A lot of people think it’s closed on Mondays as most of the attractions are, but it is open!

Book your slot HERE so you don’t have to stand in the snaking queue with every other tourist wafting themselves with guidebooks in the hot Spanish weather. Early is best to beat the crowds on all days.

Casa Batilló

The intricate face of this building was meant to resemble a cave-riddled cliff face, but if you squint at it sort of looks like a gang of crazed meerkats staring over the horizon.

La Pedrera, parallel to it brings to mind the rolling waves of the ocean nearby.

Park Guell

Park Guell is the most picturesque place imaginable. Second only to the Sagrada Familia in terms of Gaudi’s imaginative creativity, it is something everyone should get to see once. The entrance to the park resembles a botanical garden for fairies, only these would be human sized fairies. A unique design that resembles a gingerbread house stands proudly against the backdrop of the city stretching out towards the ocean and makes you feel like you’ve stepped into a painting. Thousands of tiny ceramic tiles are amassed into  beautiful mosaics that make spectacles around the park. A display of rich color and shape greatly inspired by nature and the Art Nouveau movement. The winding wall at the top of the park features as a gigantic bench, from which strangers can enjoy the park and the city below in all of its glory. Spend at least a few hours here enjoying the mastery of the work and the beauty of the best view in Barcelona. Entry into the park costs €7.50. Booking a guided tour also gives priority access to the park and an enrichment of knowledge for art and history buffs. Buy timed entry tickets HERE.

Bars Bars Bars

El Paradiso

In recent years, a buzz has formed in traveling circles surrounding secret bars and back door discoveries in countries across the globe. Take a peek behind an innocent looking bookcase in LA to find a private drinking spot. Ring the doorbell of an unmarked green door in Berlin and enter a 1970’s themed honky-tonk. The clandestine haunts are coveted by those seeking an off the beat experience, and half the fun is just trying to figure out how to get in!

This particular hotspot goes one step further by creating a speakeasy within a speakeasy! Who would have imagined in their dizziest daydreams? El Paradiso is a pastrami shop in disguise where a fake fridge door leads you into an elegant wood-panelled bar. But it doesn’t end there, enter the bathroom and say the secret password, then a la Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the sink pops out to reveal another hidden door; leading you into an artfully furnished room where cocktails are de rigueur.

Restaurante La Isabela

Cocktails with a view are the best kind of cocktails, and one of these picturesque haunts can be found along La Rambla. Although it’s a known rule to avoid eating and drinking on La Rambla, Restaurante La Isabela is the exception. The restaurant has a charming garden terrace with 360-degree views that look out towards the iconic Wave Hotel, and even has a rooftop pool.

Icebarcelona – Fun below Zero

The Ice Bar is a tourist magnet but as temperatures suggest, no one sticks around for long. You’re served your drinks in a block of ice, which you can enjoy smothered by your big furry hooded coat. Stand next to an exquisite ice sculpture of one of Barcelona’s best-known landmarks such as the Sagrada Familia. Being made out of ice, which is generally quite partial to a bit of shape shifting, the theme of the bar changes frequently so it’s always a new experience. iceBarcelona was the first Ice bar to be located right on the beach, so it’s quite an experience to breeze out of the sub-zero temperatures and out into the ‘warm’ inviting waves for a bit of midnight skinny dipping. Entry costs €16 and includes 1 drink.

Viewpoints & Sights

Montjuic

Montjuic is a hill in Barcelona that was host to the 1992 Olympics. Once a military defence base, now a tourist hotspot for enjoying the many sights in the area. Have fun riding the funicular and then hop a cable car up to Montjuic Castle, where a picturesque view of the harbor draws out beneath you. At the base of the hill in the open courtyard is Montjuic Magic Fountain. A light show and a water fountain all in one, this spectacular display of light, color and water acrobatics choreographed to music and is the perfect end to a day exploring around Montjuic. Montjuic Castle entry costs only €5. The fountain is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

Mount Tibidabo

Looming high above the city is Barcelona’s tallest mountain, and the summit is packed with more charm than a Harry Potter book. The incredible Sacred Heart Temple is exquisite in design, and what could be more fun than a little theme park set atop the highest point in the land? As the sun goes down in Barcelona and magic hour approaches, the city evolves into something truly spectacular, and Tibidabo is one of the best spots to witness it. While pretty in the daylight hours, at sunset the views on Mount Tibidabo turn into something from a fairytale. Catch the sun blasting its final rays and reflecting golden tones across the facade of the Temple of the Sacred Heart and wonder if you ever witnessed anything so spectacular. 

The best time to tread the mountain road of Tibidabo is the weekend when the amusement park opens its doors to happy faced patrons. Climb to the top of the Ferris wheel, by which I mean sit in your seat and let the mechanical wheel do the work; to enjoy even better views of the Temple and sweeping views across Barcelona. You’ll want to stay here forever, but eventually, the cabin will reach ground level and you’ll have to alight; ready for a fierce whipping of wind as you drive back down the mountain on your Vespa.

If you have trouble finding any of these cool places please check out this map that we have marked to help you along your way. Happy travels.

This article is a contribution from one of our amazing travel writers Becky Coe on her experiences traveling Tasmania. For more by Becky Coe check out her photos at https://becky-alice-coe.format.com/.