I’m always on the hunt for ways to maximize my limited vacation time. Last year, we had the genius idea to use the Easter break to jet off somewhere. After some googling, we scored some cheap flights to Barcelona, and off we went for a whirlwind 3-day adventure. I mean, I could’ve easily stayed longer, but my boyfriend wanted to make it back in time for Easter Sunday with the family, so I had to play nice and compromise 😛
Barcelona is a beloved European destination that attracts a large number of visitors due to its diverse attractions. From the awe-inspiring architectural masterpieces of Anton Gaudi to museums, UNESCO world heritage sites, vibrant markets, mouthwatering tapas, and even a picturesque beach, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this vibrant city. And I can tell you right now, three days is definitely not enough!
Back in 2013, during an Interrail trip with my ex, I got to explore Barcelona for a bit. It’s crazy how time has flown since then! I was actually really looking forward to revisiting the city and seeing how much of it I still remember.
What to do
Just like any popular tourist destination, there are a few must-see spots that are simply iconic. However, while you’re wandering through the vibrant streets of Barcelona, don’t be afraid to lose your way and embrace the moment. After all, sometimes getting lost is the best way to discover hidden gems that you might not have found otherwise!
Let me take you on a journey to the quintessential tourist hotspots of Barcelona. Now, fair warning: these places are on every tourist’s list, so brace yourself for crowds. If you’re planning to hit up these hotspots, it’s best to book tickets in advance to avoid getting caught in lines.
The Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s masterwork and a Unesco World Heritage Site, is an absolute must-see for anyone visiting Barcelona. This towering cathedral, which has been under construction for over a century, is a true masterpiece of architecture, and its intricate details and stunning stained glass windows will leave you in awe. But fair warning, be prepared for your neck to ache from constantly craning upwards to take it all in!
And remember, this is a very popular attraction, so be sure to book your tickets in advance to avoid the crowds.
You can climb one of two towers: the tower on the Passion Façade or the tower on the Nativity Façade. For views over the city, choose the Nativity tower, and for views out to the Mediterranean, choose the Passion tower. They might not be accessible during your visit (they were closed when I was there), so check the page for more details.
Stroll along La Rambla
Las Ramblas, a street so famous that you’re bound to end up walking down it at least once during your visit to the city. You’ll find all sorts of shops, restaurants, and street performers as you make your way down.
But let me warn you, this street has become a bit of a tourist trap, and you might find yourself paying way too much for a mediocre meal. So keep your wits about you, and don’t fall for the overpriced foodie spots that line the street.
And speaking of keeping your wits about you, watch out for pickpockets! Las Ramblas is like the Bermuda Triangle for wallets, and if you’re not careful, you might end up losing your cash and credit cards faster than you can say “Hola!”
Mercado de La Boqueria
Located just off of La Rambla, Mercado de La Boqueria is one of the most popular markets in Barcelona.
This market is a food lover’s paradise. You’ll find all sorts of fresh produce, meats, seafood, and sweets. One of the unique things about La Boqueria is the variety of exotic foods you can find. I saw vendors selling everything from fresh cuttlefish to durian fruit.
I couldn’t resist the colorful fruit stands – the strawberries and mangoes were so fresh and juicy! I kept buying different fresh juices on every corner, and I think I managed to try all different tastes.
Now, I do have to warn you – La Boqueria can get pretty crowded, especially during peak hours. But don’t let that deter you from visiting. The hustle and bustle of the market is all part of the experience.
Explore the Gothic Quarter
As you wander through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time. The architecture is stunning, with Gothic-style buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries.
One of the main attractions in the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral, a stunning example of Gothic architecture. Be sure to take some time to explore the interior, with its soaring arches and stunning stained glass windows.
But there’s more to the Gothic Quarter than just the cathedral. You’ll find all sorts of charming cafes, boutiques, and art galleries as you wander through the winding streets. And if you’re a history buff, be sure to check out the Museu d’Història de Barcelona, which tells the fascinating story of the city’s past.
As you explore the Gothic Quarter, be sure to wander down some of the smaller streets and alleyways. You never know what hidden gems you might find – I stumbled upon a nerd paradise – Les Galeries Maldà, with goth clothing, Harry Potter merch, board games, and Zelda souvenirs.
Park Güell is one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is visited by millions of people each year, who come to admire its unique architecture and beautiful surroundings.
It was designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and built between 1900 and 1914. The park was originally intended to be a housing development, but the project was unsuccessful, and the site was eventually turned into a public park.
The park is known for its stunning architecture, which features colorful mosaics, curving shapes, and whimsical designs. One of the park’s most famous attractions is the large terrace area, which features a serpentine bench covered in colorful mosaics that offer stunning views of the city. Some of the park’s notable features include the Dragon Stairway, the Hypostyle Room, and the Nature Square.
Make sure you book a ticket in advance. We just showed up and found out all tickets are sold out. Luckily for us, I managed to get tickets for the next day in the evening.
If you want to visit and avoid crowds, either find time early in the morning or in the evening. We arrived an hour before the park closed down, and by the time we were done walking around the park, the large queue to the terrace area was gone.
Follow the footsteps of Gaudí
You may observe that Gaudí’s influence is widespread in Barcelona, and besides Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, he has also created several other notable structures such as a few houses that you might be interested in exploring.
Casa Batlló, designed by the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí was built between 1904 and 1906, and is located on Passeig de Gracia, one of Barcelona’s most important shopping and business areas. In 2005, Casa Batlló became an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The building is a masterpiece of Art Nouveau architecture, characterized by its organic forms, asymmetrical shapes, and the use of colorful ceramic tiles and broken glass to create a unique façade. The roof is shaped like the back of a dragon or a dinosaur, with colorful tiles arranged in a scaly pattern. The interior of the building is just as impressive, with intricate details and features such as the central light well, which allows natural light to flood into the building.
Casa Batlló is now a museum and is open to the public for tours. Although we were curious about it, our level of interest wasn’t high enough to justify paying for the entrance, so we opted to remain outside with hundreds of other people instead of going in 🙂
Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera designed by the renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí was completed in 1912. This building is also on a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Casa Milà is characterized by its undulating stone facade, which is reminiscent of waves and is a striking departure from the straight lines of traditional architecture. The building also features a sculptural rooftop with chimneys and ventilation towers that resemble soldiers or warriors.
Today, Casa Milà is open to the public and serves as a cultural center, with spaces dedicated to exhibitions, conferences, and other events. Visitors can take guided tours of the building, which include access to the rooftop with its stunning panoramic views of Barcelona.
Palau Güell is a mansion designed by Antoni Gaudí and was completed in 1890. The building was commissioned by Eusebi Güell, a wealthy industrialist and patron of the arts, as a residence for his family.
Palau Güell is considered one of Gaudí’s early masterpieces and an important example of Catalan modernist architecture. The building is characterized by its ornate details, use of light, and the incorporation of functional elements into its design. The palace features a stunning central hall that is illuminated by a skylight and a series of ventilation towers that are disguised as decorative elements.
Today, Palau Güell is open to the public and serves as a museum dedicated to Gaudí’s life and work. Visitors can take guided tours of the building, which include access to the rooftop with its stunning views of Barcelona (unless it’s closed like during our visit).
On a particularly rainy day, we opted for an indoor activity and spontaneously decided to visit Palau Güell, which was conveniently located nearby. If you are an admirer of Antoni Gaudí’s work, then I would highly recommend it. However, if you are not particularly interested in his style, it might not be worth the expense.
Tibidabo is a mountain located in the northwest of Barcelona and is home to an amusement park, which is one of the oldest in Europe and a popular tourist attraction.
We felt that the amusement park wasn’t particularly thrilling, so we decided to skip it. However, it’s worth noting that some of the attractions inside the park offer breathtaking views of the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the city of Barcelona.
Sagrat Cor, also known as the Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, is a stunning neo-Gothic church located atop Tibidabo mountain. It was completed in 1961 and is considered one of the most iconic landmarks in the city.
The church is characterized by the Jesus statue adjourning the rooftop, its towering spires, intricate sculptures, and stunning stained glass windows. The interior of the church is equally impressive, featuring a grand nave, a series of chapels, and numerous works of religious art.
In addition to its architectural beauty, Sagrat Cor is also a popular pilgrimage site for Catholics. The church houses a relic of the True Cross, which is said to be a piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.
You can also get to the top of the church for some of the most breathtaking views of the city and the surrounding area. Remember to bring a jacket or sweater as the wind can be quite strong, as we experienced when we were almost blown away!
Montjuic Hill offers breathtaking views of the city, as well as a variety of attractions and activities. At the top of Montjuic Hill, visitors can find the Montjuic Castle as well as a number of museums, including the National Art Museum of Catalonia, the Joan Miró Foundation, and the Museum of Archaeology of Catalonia. Visitors can also explore the Montjuic Botanical Gardens.
Montjuic Castle is a historic fortress located on Montjuic Hill in Barcelona, Spain. The castle was built in the 17th century as a military fortress and has played an important role in the city’s history ever since.
Over the years, Montjuic Castle has been used as a prison, a military museum, and a military academy. Today, the castle is open to the public and offers stunning panoramic views of the city, as well as a glimpse into Barcelona’s military history.
You can explore the castle’s interior, which features exhibits on the castle’s history and the military history of Catalonia. You can also walk along the castle walls and enjoy the stunning views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
Montjuic Botanical Gardens
Once we had finished exploring Montjuic Castle, we made our way back down to the city. However, on our descent, we stumbled upon the Montjuic Botanical Gardens and couldn’t resist the urge to take a short detour and explore.
The gardens are a vast 14-hectare expanse with an impressive collection of over 2,000 plant species. We were delighted to discover that there were several different routes available to visitors depending on the amount of time they had to spare.
The gardens were remarkably peaceful and uncrowded, allowing us to take a leisurely stroll and admire the beautiful flora at our own pace.
The Magic Fountain of Montjuic
Magic Fountain of Montjuic is no ordinary fountain. This baby features a dazzling display of water, light, and music, all synchronized to create an unforgettable spectacle. We’re talking rainbows of color illuminating the fountain and water that dances like nobody’s watching. And if that’s not enough to get your feet tapping, the soundtrack is a perfectly synchronized blend of classical and pop music, sure to leave you humming for days. It’s a sight that’ll make your eyes pop and your heart sing, so don’t miss it!
It is located at the foot of Montjuic Hill. It was built in 1929 for the International Exhibition and has since become a popular tourist attraction.
Check the schedule for the show here.
Poble Espanyol is an open-air museum showcasing replicas of buildings and streets from all around Spain, giving visitors a taste of the country’s diverse architectural styles and cultural heritage.
As you wander through Poble Espanyol, you’ll feel like you’re exploring a charming Spanish village with shops, restaurants, and artisan workshops. Several exhibitions also showcase traditional crafts and cultural traditions, as well as live performances and events throughout the year.
I really wanted to check it out, but we have run out of time. Next time!
L’Aquàrium de Barcelona
L’Aquarium de Barcelona is a marine aquarium located in the Port Vell, and it is one of the largest aquariums in Europe, featuring a vast collection of marine life from all over the world.
One of the highlights of the aquarium is the Oceanarium, which is the largest tank in the aquarium and houses several species of sharks, rays, and other marine animals. You can walk through a tunnel that runs through the Oceanarium, providing a unique and immersive perspective on the marine life swimming above and around them.
And if you are brave enough and have enough money, you can opt for a shark cage diving experience. Read more about it here.
Just a friendly reminder, if the forecast calls for rain, chances are many people will be thinking the same thing you are. We learned this the hard way when we arrived at L’Aquarium de Barcelona to find a daunting 2-hour line snaking around the building. We thought about toughing it out but ultimately decided to cut our losses and find something else to do.
The Port Cable Car
The Port Cable Car is a unique and exciting way to take in the breathtaking views of Barcelona. This cable car ride spans 1.350 meters and takes you from the San Sebastián tower in Barceloneta to the Miramar station, located on the Montjuic mountain. It offers stunning panoramic views of the city and the Mediterranean Sea.
Telefèric de Montjuïc
Telefèric de Montjuïc, also called Barcelona Cable Car, takes visitors on a scenic ride up Montjuïc Hill, offering spectacular views of Barcelona along the way.
As you ascend the hill, you’ll enjoy panoramic views of the city, including the Mediterranean Sea, the port, and iconic landmarks like the Sagrada Familia and the Torre Agbar. Once you reach the top, you can explore Montjuïc Castle and take in the stunning vistas from one of the many viewing points.
Visit a beach
Barcelona has some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, with crystal clear waters and soft golden sand. One of the most popular beaches is Barceloneta, which is located just a short walk from the city center.
The beach is always bustling with activity, from sunbathers lounging on their towels to groups of friends playing volleyball or paddleball. The seafront promenade is lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, so you can take a break from the sun and grab a refreshing drink or bite to eat.
If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try some of the water sports on offer, such as windsurfing, kite surfing, or paddleboarding. Or you can simply relax and soak up the Mediterranean sun, with the stunning backdrop of Barcelona’s skyline in the distance.
We are avid escape room enthusiasts and love to explore new ones whenever we travel to a new destination. Our trip to Barcelona was no different as we eagerly searched for escape rooms to experience while in the city.
We visited two companies and did two rooms in each. We first went to Lock-Clock Escape Room, where we did Misión Gaudí. Because we had so much fun in this room, we decided to book another one – After-party. We found both escape rooms to be quite enjoyable, with just the right level of challenge for puzzles and mysteries to keep us engaged and thinking throughout. With so much to do and explore, we were kept busy and thoroughly entertained.
The second place we visited was Maximum Escape. We did two rooms there: Prisoners of Alkaban and Ulysses Spaceship. The rooms were designed remarkably, creating an immersive environment to engage in the storyline fully. However, the puzzles lacked the same level of intrigue and difficulty, and with only one storyline, at times, one person had to wait for the other. Additionally, the game master provided clues without prompting, causing us to feel a bit rushed.
What to eat
Barcelona is a city with a rich culinary heritage, and there are many delicious foods to try while you’re there. During this trip, we just popped into a random restaurant with good Google scores and ordered different kinds of tapas and some sangria. We had a blast.
When I visited Barcelona in 2013, we mainly ate in “100 Montaditos”, a restaurant specializing in serving small sandwiches called “montaditos” and a range of tapas. The allure of this place was that, at that point, each serving cost 1€, and for poor students, it was a fantastic deal for cheap but tasty food.
If you are looking for inspiration of what to eat, try some of the following:
- Patatas bravas – a popular Spanish tapa dish that consists of crispy fried potatoes served with a spicy tomato sauce. The potatoes are usually cut into small pieces, fried until golden and crispy, and then topped with the flavorful tomato sauce. Some variations of the dish also include a creamy aioli sauce on top.
- Paella – a classic Spanish dish that originated in Valencia but has become popular all over the country. It’s a rice-based dish that’s usually made with seafood, chicken, and vegetables, although there are many variations to this dish. The rice is cooked in a large, shallow pan and seasoned with saffron and other spices to give it its distinctive yellow color and flavor. The seafood used in the dish can include shrimp, clams, and mussels, while the chicken and vegetables add a heartiness to the dish. Paella is often served as a communal dish, with everyone digging in from the same pan, making it a perfect dish for sharing with friends and family.
- Black paella – also known as “Arròs negre” in Spanish, is a variation of the traditional paella that’s made with squid ink. The ink gives the rice a striking black color and a unique flavor that’s slightly salty and savory. The dish is usually made with seafood, such as shrimp, squid, and mussels, and sometimes includes other ingredients like garlic, onion, and tomato.
- Pimiento de Padrón – mild, green chili pepper usually fried in olive oil and served with a sprinkle of sea salt, and are typically eaten whole, stem, and all. It was my favorite dish in Barcelona, and I’ve ordered it everywhere I’ve been to.
- Sangria – a popular beverage typically made with red wine, fruit juices, and sliced fruit such as oranges, lemons, and apples. There are many variations of sangria, often customized to individual taste preferences. White wine, sparkling wine, and rosé can also be used as a base.
- Churros – these fried dough pastries are often served with a cup of hot chocolate for dipping.
- Gambas al ajillo – This dish features prawns cooked in garlic and olive oil. It’s a simple but flavorful dish that’s perfect as a starter.
- Pescaíto frito (or fritura de pescado) – the small fried fish dish, typically consisting of small whole fish, such as anchovies or sardines, that are lightly battered and fried until crispy.
Where we stayed
We decided to stay at a hotel on La Rambla – the liveliest street in Barcelona. It’s filled with street performers, shops, cafes, and markets. It was great because we were in the heart of all the action. However, there was a small catch – 30 thousand German football fans had the same idea and decided to stay nearby too. Let’s just say that their cheers and chants were so loud that we involuntarily adjusted our sleep schedule to theirs. Who needs an alarm clock when you have passionate football fans cheering outside your window, right?