19 Awesome Things to Do on Your First Trip to Barcelona

19 Awesome Things to Do on Your First Trip to Barcelona

An impressive city, Barcelona offers a panoply of attractions, from the works of Gaudi to beautiful parks, fountains and museums.

Colourful, vibrant, arty, historic, and alive… these are just a few words to describe the captivating Spanish city of Barcelona. While famous for the striking architectural delights created by Gaudi, Barcelona has a wealth of other gorgeous buildings to admire too. With beaches nearby, a palpable sense of culture that permeates the air, a thriving nightlife, excellent shopping, and delicious cuisine, there’s so much to enjoy in the Catalonian capital. Here are just a few highlights to whet your appetite for exploration and inspire a city break to Barcelona:

1. Marvel at the masterpiece of Sagrada Familia

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Among the most iconic landmarks in all of Spain, Sagrada Familia is one of Gaudi’s jewels. The stunning basilica attracts millions of visitors each year, despite being, as yet, unfinished. Orb-topped spires rise from the fairytale-esque building, and there are many religious statues and carvings around the outer walls. Step inside and be blown away by colour—light floods in through the stained glass windows, creating rainbow-coloured hues on the pale interiors. It’s easy to see why this is one of Barcelona’s top sights.

2. Relax in Parc de la Ciutadella

Barcelona’s Parc de la Ciutadella is a large and beautiful park in the middle of the city. A stunning green lung amid the urban sprawl, it occupies the site of a former citadel. There are many benches and verdant lawns where you can sit and soak up the scenery, and walking trails lead past the park’s varied attractions. The Cascada is an ornate fountain, loosely designed to resemble Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain. The Museum of Natural Science occupies a grand 19th-century building and the zoo is home to a wide assortment of animals from around the world. The Military Parish Church of Barcelona, Catalan Parliament, and Governor’s Palace are other interesting buildings throughout the park, and you’ll come across lakes, ponds, flowers, statues, sculptures, and more. It’s easy to spend a full day in the lovely park and not become bored.

3. Feast your eyes on Casa Batllo

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One of Gaudi’s Modernist creations, the unusual Casa Batllo is sometimes referred to as the House of the Dragon or the House of Bones. Once a private residence, the old townhouse has curved walls, oval and rectangular windows in various sizes and with colourful glass, multi-coloured tiles and mosaics, an arched roof that is often said to resemble a dragon’s back, a cross-topped turret, and wavy balconies. There’s a museum inside.      

4. Gaze upon the unusual architecture of Casa Mila

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Also known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is another Gaudi marvel that was once a private home. The combination of stone and metal gives it a rather sombre appearance from the outside. Twisted iron balconies and curved walls face the outside world, while apartments can also look down onto the inner courtyards. Inside, the patios, Gothic-like designs, paintings, and sturdy iron gates complete the intrigue. The attic has many arches, but the real joy is to be found on the roof terrace. As well as admiring the sweeping views you can snap lots of cool selfies with the unusual chimney stacks, with functional sculptures covering the upper area.

5. Stand in front of Casa Calvet

Image credit: Spencer Means

Casa Calvet is one of the most “normal-looking” of Gaudi’s buildings around Barcelona. The symmetrical appearance is unlike many of the great architect’s works, though you’ll still notice Modernist designs and unique touches.  Dating back to the late 1800s, the building was both a residential home and a commercial property.

6. Ride the elevators to combat the steep streets

Some of Barcelona’s streets are incredibly steep and can be rather challenging to climb. Luckily, escalators can be found in some of steeper parts of the city, particularly close to Parc Guell, helping to reduce the burn somewhat.  

7. Enjoy the whimsical Park Guell

The public (and free-to-enjoy) area of Park Guell has pleasant walking trails that are shaded by various trees and plants. The main highlights, however, can be found in the paid area. From a mosaic lizard, ornamental fountains, a pink castle-like building with a tower, and colourful gatehouses that look like they’ve come straight from the pages of a children’s fairytale book to the columns and curved roof of the Hypostyle Room, stone viaducts, mosaic-covered terrace, and the portico with its irregular archways, there are many features to catch your eye. Interestingly, the site was originally planned as a housing complex, but developments halted and it became a pretty park instead.

8. Soak up the sun at Barceloneta Beach

Barceloneta Beach is the closest stretch of sandy shore to the vibrant city centre. Bask on the sands in the sunshine and swim in the refreshing waters of the sea. You can also join in with varied seaside activities, including beach volleyball, boating, and kitesurfing. There are many restaurants and bars close to the beach, many of which specialise in local seafood catches.  

9. See the Arc de Triomf

Constructed in 1888, Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf is a ceremonial arch on the Passeig de Lluís Companys. The reddish-coloured arch is adorned with a number of friezes that depict local industry, art, agriculture, and other themes. The wide boulevard leading to the arch has a cenotaph at the end and is edged with ornamental lampposts and trees.

10. Enjoy the views from a cable car

Barcelona has two cable cars. One connects the seaside with Mount Montjuic, crossing over the old harbour, and the other runs between Avenue Miramar and Montjuic Castle. Each offers great views.

11. Stroll around Port Vell

Port Vell is located where Barcelona’s first historic port was created in the 1470s. It’s a thriving port again today, with vessels big and small bobbing on the waves and moored in the waters. It was left to fall into disrepair over the years, with old warehouses and abandoned factories lining the water. It then saw regeneration projects that completely transformed the old port. There are three main areas within the port today and you’ll find a great selection of bars, restaurants, and shops (including souvenir and gift shops) in this pretty part of the city. If you want to take a closer look at the underwater world you’ll also find one of the biggest aquariums in Europe.   

12. Admire the Old Customs House

Barcelona’s stately Old Customs House stands next to the port, the pale and ornate Neoclassical building standing out among the area’s other buildings. Dating back to the late 1800s / early 1900s, it features several interesting statues. Sphinxes with wings perch atop the towers and there are decorative balconies. Inside, paintings tell the fable of Don Quixote visiting the Catalonian city.

13. Be wowed at the Guell Pavilions

While the buildings of Guell Pavilions are pretty to look at, it’s the wrought-iron gate that really impresses visitors. High walls surround the complex and the gate features a large open-mouthed dragon, said to come from Greek mythology. The site is rich in other symbolism too. 

14. Stop by Barcelona Cathedral

Image credit: Sam Amil

The neo-Gothic cathedral stands where a much older Gothic place of worship was once located. The original cathedral was constructed in the 1400s, later renovated and restored in the 19th century. While most of the architecture visible today comes from the latter building works, you can still catch glimpses of parts of the old building too. Regardless of its century of construction, Barcelona’s cathedral is a striking beauty both inside and out.

15. Pay a Visit to Placa Espanya’s Fountain

Standing on an island in the middle of the road, the monumental fountain at Placa Espanya is well worth a visit. Standing at 33 metres tall, the monument was built to mark the entrance to Barcelona International Exhibition, 1929. It was constructed using fine materials, including marble, bronze, and wrought iron, and a flame burns inside the cauldron. The corner statues represent health, abundance, and navigation.

16. Watch the Magic Fountain at night

Image credit: Felipe Ortega

The Magic Fountain is located in front of Montjuic Palace, itself a worthy attraction. At nighttime, the fountain is marvellously illuminated in a range of colours, with a stunning show set to music. Unfortunately, I only saw the fountain by day and, although pretty, I do wish that I’d had the time to see it fully in action. Hopefully, this is something that you won’t miss on your trip to Barcelona!

17. Wander along Passeig de Gracia

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Passeig de Gracia is one of Barcelona’s main streets. The wide tree-lined avenue is one of the most expensive roads in the whole country! You’ll find designer boutiques and luxury stores, ideal for treating yourself or indulging in a little window shopping. Many glorious buildings stand at the side of the road and there are several interesting statues, monuments, and sculptures along its course. Literary fans are sure to love the large statue of a book, placed on the road in 1994. The names of famous Spanish authors are immortalised in blocks on the ground.  

18. Tour Barcelona’s Varied Museums

Barcelona has a large selection of museums dedicated to various themes and catering to diverse interests. People with a sweet tooth shouldn’t miss the awesome Barcelona Chocolate Museum. If you’re into art, the Picasso Museum, Joan Miro Foundation, and MACBA modern-art museum are great additions to your itinerary. For a journey back in time, visit the Museum of the History of Catalonia and Barcelona City History Museum. Others include the Maritime Museum, the Natural History Museum, Sant Pau Hospital, and the Museum of Modernism. FC Barcelona Museum, the Camp Nou Experience, and the Olympic and Sports Museum are firm favourites with sporting fans.  

19. Eat, drink, and be merry!

There are many local specialities to savour in Barcelona… the crispy tomato-covered bread of pa amb tomaquet, the local Jamon iberico ham, potato omelette, the deep-fried croquetas, fried fish, and, of course, paella to name just a few. Order a selection of tapas to share and taste a wide variety of hot and cold dishes. Carquinyolis and chocolate-covered churros will satisfy any sweet tooth. Drinks wise, beer-lovers should try the locally brewed Moritz. If you’re feeling daring, how about a shot of absinthe? Wine, vermouth, and sangria are other local favourites. There are numerous restaurants, bars, and cafes throughout the city.

Other things to do in Barcelona

Stroll through the atmospheric Gothic Quarter and saunter along the busy Las Rambla, admire the gorgeous Palau de la Musica (Music Palace), visit Montjuic Castle, shop for fresh produce at the bustling market of La Boqueria, have family fun at Tibidabo Amusement Park, and much, much more. You’re sure to make many happy memories in brilliant Barcelona.    

About Author

Sarah W
Sarah W

Sarah W is a travelling cat-lover who enjoys exploring places that are a little bit quirky or away from headline attractions. Favourite things include delicious falafel, snuggling under a thick duvet, (badly) belting out karaoke at the top of her lungs, and, of course, her family, friends, and furry pets.

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