Barcelona lives up to the hype. It is absolutely everything everyone said it would be. I’ve heard comparisons to Venice due to the high amount of tourism, however the two are incomparable. Venice, although a beautiful piece of art, exists now seemingly solely for tourists. A trip to Venice guarantees gorgeous photos, with an unseen throng of tourists lined up behind every photographer, waiting their turn for the perfect selfie spot. But unlike Venice, Barcelona cannot be captured in photos. Barcelona should be lived and experienced, not just seen and visited. While Venice is good in a 1-2 day visit, Barcelona requires at least a week. While getting away from the tourists in Venice is nearly impossible, in Barcelona just move a few blocks away from the Ramblas and anything Gaudi. Learn the process for tapas and pintxos plus a few words of Catalan and you can immediately fit right in with the locals.
My week in Barcelona was incredible. I hope you get a chance to visit, and if you do, here are a few of my recommendations:
Get a map and metro card. First things first, get a detailed street map and learn the metro system. The city is easily navigable by foot and metro. No taxis needed.
You can’t avoid the Ramblas. Although you may want to. It unfortunately runs through the center of everything. Just avoid the restaurants – you can get much better food and drink away from this street.
Gaudi is worth the crowds. You won’t find anything like him anywhere else in the world. The exterior of the Casa Batllo was my personal favorite, but his work and his influence can be seen in numerous buildings. La Sagrada Familia’s interior is worth the entry fee, especially with the late afternoon sun filtering through the red/orange stained glass windows. If you’ve done other Gaudi tours in Barcelona, I personally feel the live tour at Sagrada Familia can be skipped. Especially if you have a guide book that describes some of the detail.
There’s no walking tour like a free walking tour. I’ve taken more than my share, and the Runner Bean Tours (www.runnerbeantours.com) in Barcelona are the best I’ve experienced anywhere. The Gothic Quarter tour and the Gaudi tour were both fantastic, and the night tour (€18) focusing on the “darker side of Barcelona” was interesting for it’s history lessons and outlandish stories.
Tour the Palau de la Musica. If you like beautiful things, the Palau de la Musica should not be missed. It is like being inside a piece of art. The tour is good, but even better would be to catch a live performance.
Get out of the city once if you can. It’s nice to see the Spanish countryside outside of Barcelona, and there are numerous tours offered. I took a wine-tasting tour (go figure) through Castle Experience Wine Tours and had a wonderful time learning about cava and wine at the two vineyards. The tour guides were knowledgeable and fun. The company also offers wine tours combined with a visit to Montserrat, which I did not do but heard great things.
Eat and sleep with the locals. My Airbnb for €20/night was perfect, and gave me a chance to get away from the touristy area and experience real life in Barcelona. And one of the best nights I had was a dinner through Eatwith (www.eatwith.com) which pairs local host chefs with foodies for communal dining. There were I believe 8 of us, mostly visitors to Barcelona, with our chef Rudi, for an incredible dinner and really fun conversation. I’ll be looking to do this as I travel throughout Europe. Why eat alone if you don’t have to?
Park Guell (meh). People may argue with me on this one, but I found the crowds at Park Guell, even at 9 AM, to be a significant deterrent to enjoying this park. Unlike Gaudi’s other work, in which you can let yourself get absorbed into the structures and stories, this park’s Gaudi designs are nearly always covered with people taking selfies. The ceramic art is gorgeous though.
You won’t find a bad coffee, croissant or meal. It seemed everything I had was wonderful, so perhaps it’s best to discover the best places for you. Just a few recommendations though: my favorite wine bars were La Vinateria del Call (thank you Rick Steves!) and Zona D’Ombra (thank you guy from Uruguay!). My favorite tapas were at Orio. And twice I went to Vigo restaurant for their incredible paella as it was close to my Airbnb, and because they served it for one (many places serve for two or more), but I imagine there is great paella everywhere.
Many have told me Barcelona is their favorite city in the world. Everything about it makes it clear as to why.
For more Barcelona photos, see the Photo Gallery.