With its pretty terracotta buildings and charming old town, the city of Barcelona is perfect for foodies, shopaholics, museum lovers, cyclists, yogis...and beach lovers.
There’s something about Barcelona that immediately draws you in and makes you never want to leave. The old, dusky pink buildings that pepper the streets. The convenient little bakeries and tapas houses filled with fresh, local delicacies. The sandy coastline and warm Mediterranean within easy reach. Yes, the charming city of Barcelona is one not to miss. Here are ten things to add to your itinerary that will make your trip unforgettable...
1. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
A stairway of waterfalls rise several hundred feet up, where the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya stands proudly at the summit, surrounded by a shady landscaped garden. Home to an extensive art collection, visitors are taken on an uninterrupted journey through a thousand years of Catalan art. The museum has four permanent collections: Romanesque and Gothic art, Renaissance and Baroque art, Modern art, and the Catalan Numismatic Department (including Art Nouveau, modernisme and Noucentisme and the avant-garde). You’ll spy colourful murals and detailed sculptures wherever you venture, depicting stories from ancient Catalan history. Get there early to watch the magic fountain show and take in the museum’s grandeur before the crowds gather. For a guided tour, visit Barcelona’s tourist information centre.
2. Get lost in the markets
There are several large, bustling markets in Barcelona that are well worth a visit. La Concepció 130 Anys is a lovely, smaller market offering an array of local Spanish food, house and outdoor plants, fresh fruit, mouthwatering tapas and artisanal products. These markets are the places to try something new, so let your eyes and nose guide you. Don’t miss the thirst quenching fresh juice on offer, from papaya with coconut to mango with kiwi, just €1. Stop by the tapas bars to savour some local delicacies ranging from giant oysters washed down with champagne, to Serrano ham bruschetta, to Basque style grilled octopus drizzled with olive oil. Plant lovers can spend hours wandering through the leafy aisles - expect to pay London prices for a most of the plants.
3. Life’s a beach
The glistening blue Mediterranean is within easy reach from the city centre - you can walk it in roughly 45 minutes or hop on a bus for a speedier route. Rows of cafés and restaurants surround the coast, as do hundreds of glamorous, sizeable yatchs. A relaxing stroll up the promenade will take you to the port of Barcelona, Spain's third and Europe's ninth largest container port. The nearby beach is clean and sandy, with ample space for volleyball or frisbee if you have the energy, while shade seekers might want to head to the cafés for shelter in the hottest months. Paella fans will find the dish in abundance here, though it’s best to avoid the obvious tourist traps if you’re after something special.
4. Take a day trip to Montserrat
If you have 4 or more days in Barcelona, you should definitely take the TOT train from Place de Espana to the striking town of Montserrat - about a 1 hour train journey from the city. Be sure to leave early as the train is a slow one, and you’ll want a to nab a seat before the rest. Expect to pay around €22 for a return trip, including a cable car up to the Monestary - there are only two cable cars making the trips (not for the faint hearted), so the queues can reach up to an hour at peak times. There are ample Cafés and hotels in the town, though expect to pay tourist prices for food and accommodation. Montserrat is a rocky mountain range in Catalonia, surrounded by national park, its famous landmark being Santa Maria de Montserrat, a Benedictine monastery sitting atop the mountain range. Explore the Montserrat Monastery Museum and take in work by major artists, such as Dalí, El Greco, Monet or Giordano. To fully explore the national park, many opt to take the hike up 1000+ steps to the mountain’s summit, which offers several trails up to see the churches and crucifixes at the summit. For the less able, a funicular train will take you to the top, but it’s not for the faint hearted. The last cable car leaves at 7:00pm, so unless you want to spend a rather eery night under the stars, it’s best to leave enough time to make your descent.
5. Get cosy at the cinema
What better way to spend a rainy afternoon than at one of Barcelona’s cinemas, with plenty of films to suit every taste. One of many dotted around the city, Cinema Phenomena is located not far from Avenue Diagonal (the main Highstreet) and has an abundance of choice. From independent Spanish films with English subtitles, to old, classic movies (think Jaws and Alien), to the most recent Hollywood films, which you can watch in English. With only one large screen, it’s best to book to avoid disappointment - expect to pay around €9 each for a ticket.
6. A taste for tapas
Barcelona has plenty of incredible restaurants and cafés on offer. For the health-conscious, head to Flax & Kale, a gorgeously designed brunch and restaurant with a rooftop vegetable garden and outdoor seating. Try their Funghi Paleo Bruchetta to start, followed by the Konja and Huitlacoche Yellow Fin Tuna Risotto and the superfood salad topped with generous dollops of beetroot and carrot hummus. For desert, the raw chocolate brownie with peppermint ice cream really hits the spot. For all the sweet toothed out there, Eixampeling is one not to miss. Offering the most outrageous and extravagant cocktails, savoury brunches and meals and devilishly sweet treats, you’ll want to try everything on the menu, so be prepared for a real test of willpower. To experience real Spanish cuisine, La Barceloneta is a real winner, offering a mix of delicious tapas options from steamed mussels to Spanish omelettes to stuffed pimentos, with two mains costing under €20 for two people.
7. Hop on the open air bus
Often overlooked, the open air bus is a great way to see most of the city in one day. But it’s not cheap - €30 each for a day ticket, which allows you to hop off and on as you please. Pop in your headphones and listen as you’re taken on a guided tour of the city and its rich history. The bus stops at all the important landmarks, so if anything takes your fancy, you can jump off and do some exploring before jumping back on one of the many buses that take the routes. Park Güell is definitely worth seeing, peppered with beautiful landscaped gardens and beautiful domed temples - the perfect spot to relax in. Book your bus tour in advance and explore the different routes here.
8. Ease out the kinks with yoga
For the yogis out there, or anyone in need of a post-flight stretch, there are several gorgeous yoga studios within easy walking distance in the city. One that stands out from the crowd, not just for its impressive range of well known teachers but it’s cosy, friendly vibe, is Ago Yoga. A small studio with a strong timetable, pick from strength-building Rocket to whip you into shape, creative Vinyasa to unwind your mind and soothing Yin yoga to send you off into a sweet slumber. The studio also provides all mats and props, and offers workshops and trainings with internationally renowned teachers for the uber keen. One class is €15, but check out the website for class packs and special offers.
9. Wander through the Gothic Quarter
The old, gothic town lies close to the main highstreet, and is a real gem within the city, teaming with hidden temples, tiny art galleries, charming tapas houses and gothic detail on every wall. Beautiful and enchanting, and filled with history, you can spend hours meandering through the cobbled paths and exploring the quirky shops - if you want to pick up any souvenirs or gifts, here is the place to get them. No matter how much time you spend exploring, you will always stumble upon yet another enchanting square or mysterious alleyway. Learn about Barcelona’s Jewish past down El Call, Barcelona’s old Jewish Quarter, with some of the narrowest streets in all of Barcelona, streets filled with a dark history that dates back to medieval times. Look out for the work of famed Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi, or eat out at the oldest restaurants in Barcelona, such as Can Culleretes, which dates back to 1786 and specialises in traditional Catalan and Spanish dishes.
10. A spot of retail therapy
Last but not least, the shopping in Barcelona is second to none and offers a wide range for every budget, from designer (with a hefty price tag to match) to highstreet stores. It’s no wonder people come to Barcelona just for the shopping - the wide streets make it a breeze to get from Zara to Oysho (definitely check out this Spanish chain for affordable, feminine swimwear), while every shop you could possibly want is within easy walking distance. The prices are similar to London, but compared to the overwhelming overcrowding of Oxford Street, the experience is much more relaxed. When you’re all shopped out, walk or get the head back to your hotel - Hotel Barcelona 1882 is one of the best the city has to offer: with a rooftop pool, a stunning, leafy green balconi, a gym with free yoga, comfortable, clean rooms, and complimentary cheese and wine everyday at 5:00pm, it’s well worth the price. Book your stay here.