We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open. -J. Nehru
Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in the world.
I’m no expert, and I don’t speak Catalan, but I did spend 2 1/2 of the best years of my life there. (An American living in Europe is a happy woman). My other claim to knowing some of the gems of the city is that I lived with more than a few Barcelona natives while I was there, and they showed me some of the best places to go.
Over the years some of my friends have planned trips there and asked me what I recommend (hi Jessica!). That is what inspired me to write-up this post. So here is my mini guide to some of the most charming and magical spots in Barcelona. I took the pictures below while I was living there from 2009-2011.
1. Plaça d’Espanya Magic Fountain Show
While in Barcelona, everyone should visit Plaça d’Espanya anyways, and the best time to go is during one of the early evening light and fountain shows. Check out the official website for up-to-date show times.
2. Parc del Laberint & Parc de la Cuitadella – Two Gorgeous Parks
Parc del Laberint is a unique and super fun park: the bushes have been trimmed into a maze. Very Alice in Wonderland-esque.
Parc de la Ciutadella is a huge (44 acres!) and gorgeous. The place is usually full of picnickers walking on slack lines or playing games, especially during weekends in the summer. Sometimes there are festivals that feature live music and stands with hand-made goods for sale. There are paddle boats for rent on the biggest pond in the park. Tons of beautiful statues – my personal favorite is the life-size mammoth elephant. If you go here make sure you catch of glimpse of the Arc de Triumph as well, which is right outside the park.
3. Two Great Night Life Haunts
My favorite club by far is City Hall (pictured below). The music is amazing (techno, electronic & house), there is space inside and out, and the prices are reasonable.
Below are some pictures of The W Barcelona (both inside and out). It’s one of the most beautiful and modern W Hotels and is literally right on the water of Barceloneta beach. Cruise to the top for incredible views and a 15€ cocktail in their lounge.
4. Barceloneta Beach
Speaking of Barceloneta beach, you have to go. Going to Barceloneta beach is one of the things I miss the most; being able to catch the metro to a gorgeous hip beach is such a luxury. Like all Spanish beaches, clothes are optional. The perfect way to end a nice hot day at Barceloneta beach, is to visit the neighborhood of the same name. There you’ll find hand-painted tile work on the apartments and authentic Spanish restaurants with delicious seafood and tapas.
Also: It’s a beautiful walk from the end of Las Ramblas to Barceloneta beach. Just start at the Christopher Columbus statue and head North East up Passeig de Colom (both of which are pictured below). You will pass by some famous pieces, including a sculpture by a prominent pop artist Roy Lichtenstein, entitled “El Cap De Barcelona” (Barcelona’s Head).
5. Visit the Picasso Museum
Hands down my favorite museum in a city that is full of them.
6. Check out the Mercat de La Boqueria
Lovely market shopping experience. They have everything from fish and meat to fruit, cheese, and chocolates. The place is huge and bustling with good energy. Be sure to try the mouth-watering Spanish delicacy – Jamon Serrano. They also sell fresh rabbit, which in Spain is eaten as commonly as chicken.Look for Mercat de La Boqueria on the biggest (and most tourist-y) street in the center of Barcelona: Las Ramblas.
(Side note: my favorite Jamon Serrano dish is often served as an appetizer in Spanish restaurants: Melón con Jamón Serrano. It’s a simple dish, the cured ham is served over honey-dew melon. At first I thought it sounded like a strange mix, but I soon became hooked. It’s the perfect mix of sweet and savory. And the easiest meal to prepare as well.)
7. Hike to the top of Montjuïc
Start in Plaza de España. Walk up the hill behind the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). There are so many things to see along this long walk that I can’t even list them here. Bring a map and guidebook if you don’t want to miss anything. I liked checking out the 1992 Olympic Stadium and Pool. I recommend you pay 9 € to ride the cable cars overlooking the port, they provide spectacular 360* views of the city. At the top you will find the Montjuïc Fortress, originally built in 1640.
8. Take a stroll on Passeig de Gracia
Passeig de Gracia is to Barcelona what 6th Avenue is to New York. Even if you don’t intend to make any Gucci or Chanel purchases, it’s a lovely place to take a walk. You’ll find charming sidewalk cafes and several architectural marvels including one of Gaudi’s most beautiful (in my opinion) buildings, which is pictured below: Casa Batlló.
Another great museum. Even if you go when they are closed, it’s fun to admire the skateboarders out front.
10. Check out Tibidabo, the tallest mountain in the area.
You know how every city has a “top of the world”? In Barcelona, it’s Tibidabo. I took these pictures from Cafe Mirablau. Tibidabo amusement park is up even higher on the mountain. Some of my best memories of being an English nanny for two Spanish sweethearts is when we would spend the day at Tibidabo amusement park eating cotton candy and going on rides with spectacular views. CosmoCaixa, often referred to as “one of Europe’s best science museums” is in the area as well.
Of course, I recommend the most famous tourist sites as well. I don’t need to regurgitate the Lonely Planet Top 10 for you. The first time you step out of the Sagrada Familia metro stop and look up…. you will be stunned, and it will take your breath away. Park Güell – which is filled with Gaudi’s architecture is another monument that is so famous that you probably don’t want to leave Barcelona without being able to say you saw it.
In the future I’ll write a “second-timers” guide to Barcelona, “best nature hikes/places to camp,” and “my fave restaurants” in Barcelona guide. 😉
Please link back if you use my pictures.