For history: Take a walking tour of the Gothic quarter. There is no better way to acquaint yourself with the most exciting stories about a city than with a walking tour —you should do it everywhere you go!
For atmosphere: Order a coffee and soak up the atmosphere of the Plaça Reial, a magnificent square of exotic palm trees and flagstones edged by cafes and brightly painted buildings.
For an observation deck with a difference: Head up to the 30th floor of the glittering Mirador Torre Glòries Tower, where a new observation deck opened in 2022. The deck includes interactive exhibits like the magnificent Cloud Cities. In this hanging sculpture playground, you can scramble between levels and different platforms right up on the glass roof of the building. It’s not easy, and with no safety rails or nets, it can get you in a sweat! Other exhibits in the tower worth seeing include the Hyperview, where a day’s data in Barcelona is exhibited on giant wrap-around screens. Oddly fascinating.
For markets: Mercado de la Boqueria is Barcelona’s covered food market, which has been on this site since at least the 1200s. Eat some salty-fried fish, sip on a fizzy glass of cava, and enjoy the riot of sounds and smells. For a flea market experience, you won’t forget in a hurry, head to Els Encants — a market established in the 1300s but recently moved to a new venue under what must be the most extraordinary market roof in the world.
For lush, green beauty (and some elephants): Walk among the tranquil space of the Parc de la Ciutadella, the peace only interrupted occasionally by the roar of a lion or trumpet of an elephant from the Barcelona Zoo, which is also in the park. Wander the cascading ponds and fountains guarded by fabulous sculptures of gryphons—a tropical oasis in the urban sprawl.
For more park action, sculptures and superb city views. Parc Guell, or at least Gaudi’s contribution, appears on a million postcards — that colourful wave sculpture looking out across a collection of fairy-tale gingerbread buildings. However, this part of the park, Monument, is busy and ticketed entry is restricted to 400 at a time, so not all visitors are wowed by the experience. However, the park is glorious, with 17 acres overlooking the city — and this part is free to explore.
For exploring the city’s heart: Wander Las Ramblas (while clutching your wallet for dear life). This majestic tree-lined boulevard is the most impressive in Barcelona and one of the unmissables — even if pickpockets, tacky souvenir shops and overpriced cafes plague it. Las Ramblas is primarily pedestrianised and runs for over a kilometre along the path of an ancient dried-up riverbed. Grab an ice cream from a gelateria for your walk, or pick up flowers from one of the florist stalls to give your cabin some Barcelona charm.
For music in a splendid place: The Palau de la Música Catalana is a building thought to rival Gaudi’s architecture for its beauty and whimsy. A concert here among the stained glass and heady ostentation is an experience indeed — although you can also book a tour and see the building in daylight when the sunshine streams through the windows and lights up the space in a glorious play of colour.
For a light show: Check out the Montjuic magic fountain light shows, which lend a sense of whimsy and magic to Barcelona evenings.
For a hands-on food experience: Learn to cook paella. Or tapas. Or make cocktails. Or sangria. There are plenty of cooking classes in Barcelona focussing on Catalan specialities. Why not take a new skill with you from your time in Barcelona?
For architecture: Who else but Gaudi? Barcelona is home to multiple buildings designed by the great Catalonian architect Gaudi, famous for his whimsical, colourful, neo-gothic buildings. The UNESCO-listed La Sagrada Familia is a church unlike any other on earth and well worth booking in advance to see inside, while the fantastical fairy-tale facade is best viewed from the small nearby park, Plaça de la Sagrada Familia. The other Gaudi unmissable is Casa Battlo, which should be followed by a visit to the Amattler chocolatier next door to try the melted chocolate served with bread. (It’ll be dripping down your chin, and you just won’t care.)
A word of warning: when it comes to seeing the interiors of Gaudi’s masterpieces, it’s best to either book ahead or not bother.
For Rooftop Bars: When visiting a city, it’s always great to get up high — and even better if your vantage point comes with cocktails and a DJ to get you in the mood. Ohla Chillout Terrace and La Dolce Vitae are the most upscale options; B-pool Bar is great fun and surprisingly affordable, while Pulitzer Terrace offers DJ nights in a rooftop oasis setting.
For fun in the maze: At Parc del Laberint d’Horta, you can get lost between the huge cypress hedges of this surprisingly tricky maze. The park is a beautifully manicured collection of temples, water features and classical sculptures. It’s all very refined until you hear the giggles and groans coming from the maze as people get turned around, trying to find the Cupid statue at its deep green heart.
For city views and fairground fun: Taking the tram and then the funicular up to Mount Tibidabo gives you epic views of the city, with a giant Ferris wheel standing at the gates of a vintage amusement park built in 1899.
For sports fans: You’ll want to see a game at the famous Camp Nou stadium, home of Barcelona FC. The guided tour of the stadium is an outstanding option for football fans.
For shopping: Wander the medieval streets of El Born, pop into boutiques and galleries, and stop for a refreshing glass of cava. Early evening is a fabulous time to shop in Barcelona as the heat of the day disappears and a feeling of excitement builds for the night ahead.
For day trips outside Barcelona:
Montserrat: Head into the hills to the famous mountain range of Montserrat and take the cogwheel train up to the 11th-century monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. See artworks by Picasso, Dali, and El Greco at the Montserrat Museum, and queue up with the pilgrims to view the famous Black Madonna.
Girona: Visit the stunning city of Girona and try to spot the Game of Thrones filming spots, such as the King’s Landing Cathedral (shame, shame!) and the City of Braavos. Do a GOT walking tour to get the whole experience. The city’s highlights included El Call, the world’s best-preserved Jewish quarter, the spectacular Arab baths, and the Archaeological Passage, a walkway following the city’s medieval walls.
Anyone who loves Barcelona will know that we’re only scratching the surface here. The more you see this great city, the more you’ll fall in love.