Looking for a fun European getaway? With so many great places to visit, it is difficult to narrow it down to one, but Barcelona could be the place for you. The best time to visit Barcelona is during the spring or fall, when the weather is comfortable and the city isn’t swarming with tourists. Despite going in December, when it is cooler, the city still had so much to offer! It was hard to decide what to do during such a short visit, which left me with a long list of reasons to go back soon. Here’s my list of the top things to do if you are short on time but still want to get a good feel for the city.
La Sagrada Familia is the most iconic attraction in Barcelona and is the phenomenal piece of architecture that made Antoni Gaudi so famous. La Sagrada Familia has been under construction for the past 130 years – construction is set to be finished in 2026 (to celebrate the centennial of Gaudi’s death). The Basilica is currently 70% finished, and the final project is expected to have 18 spires representing the Twelve Apostles, the Four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary and the highest one of all, Jesus. Since the attraction is still a construction site, expect to see cranes, scaffolds and construction workers – so you may have to take lots of shots to get a good one!
Tip: Look into buying your tickets in advance to avoid the lines outside. Also, you can include admission to the towers for a great view of the city to really appreciate how massive and impressive the structure is. Make sure you get to the tower as scheduled on your ticket or they may not let you in. :/
With over 100 years of history, Park Guell is another main tourist attraction in Barcelona. The beautiful scenery, otherworldly architecture, and amazing views of Barcelona makes it a must see attraction. The park was designed by Antoni Gaudi and is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Tip: The public park is free but you do have to pay to get into the monumental zone where you can see the best part of Gaudi’s work. Depending on the time of the year you are visiting, you may want to buy tickets online in advance, as admission is limited. They limit the number of people who can enter in 30-minute intervals but once you are in, you can stay for as long as you want. However, note that once you buy your tickets, you can’t change the date or time.
The Gothic Quarter is super charming with its narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and restaurants. This area is the oldest part of the city and includes part of the remains of the ancient Roman walls. If you are interested in history, you can see some of the old walls at the Barcelona City History Museum. Otherwise, I would recommend just strolling around and getting lost within the small narrow streets and city squares.
Located in the heart of the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral – it is probably the next most popular cathedral after La Sagrada Familia. The exterior is super ornate and the interior is also beautiful. Be sure to take a walk into the Gothic cloister where a gaggle of geese are kept. You’ll also find a small tranquil garden with a pond and fountain in the centre. Entrance is free!
Nestled among all the commotion in Gothic quarter is yet another beautiful church. This one is a bit smaller than the Barcelona Cathedral but full of history and worth a visit if you are in the area. Entrance is also free.
Visiting the local marketplace is a great way to see locals (and tourists), and to shop for everything from fruits, meats, and produce, to a variety of snacks. Here are my favourite three markets:
This is one of the oldest markets in Europe. The Boqueria is a colorful emporium of different products and sensory overload. It is the best-known market in Barcelona and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction thanks to its location on the bustling La Rambla. Their stands with very colourful fruits on display are perfect for pictures.
You can’t miss this market – it is in the Gothic Quarter with its distinctive vibrantly coloured rooftop. The building alone is worth a visit but make sure you have a look inside to get a true feel for the Santa Caterina market and all the local treats.
The Mercat del Ninot is a local market away from the tourist area. If you are not a fan of crowded areas, or just need a break from the crowds, this is the perfect place to go. You will be able to people watch, actually seeing locals interact and shop for fresh produce and meats.
La Rambla is the most famous street in Barcelona – it is a tree lined pedestrian mall with cute cafes and souvenir kiosks along the way. There isn’t really too much to do but it was still nice to check it out and people watch. La Rambla can be crowded, especially during tourist season.
Every night between around 8-10pm (schedule varies throughout the year), the fountain by Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya comes to life with a spectacular display of colour, light, motion, music and water acrobatics. It is a fun way to spend the evening, especially if it’s nice out. It is also right by Aernas mall, which was a 1900s bullfighting ring repurposed into a shopping centre! You can also go up to the top floor for a nice view from the rooftop.
During this trip, we stayed at the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos located on Avenida Diagonal. The hotel is surrounded by major attractions such as the famous Camp Nou stadium, the Barcelona Polo Club and the financial district, as well as restaurants, bars, and shopping. It is only a short subway ride to all the attractions listed above, making it a great “home base” to start our daily sightseeing adventures.
The first thing you notice when you walk in is the 16-storey atrium – it is beautiful! When you look up, you see angled balconies where guests can look down from – creating a really open and welcoming space that is accentuated by the natural light from the giant glass façade.
Fun fact – The hotel was designed by renowned Catalan architect Carlos Ferrater (he won the National Architecture prize in 1993), and was opened for the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.
The hotel was renovated a few years ago, so the rooms are elegant yet super comfortable. It was always nice to retreat back to the room after a long day of touring the city.
Tip – Located in the magnificent gardens surrounding Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I, The Royal Club Fitness & Spa was named one of the world’s top ten fitness centers by Condé Nast Traveler Magazine. This is open to hotel guest free of charge.
One of the best parts of the stay was eating and enjoying a cocktail at B24. B24 Restaurant is located in the middle of the beautiful atrium so it was perfect for people watching or just to lounge around outside of our hotel room – it was like an extended living room. B24 offers a range of Spanish dishes, cocktails and drinks, but the best part was an amazing traditional afternoon tea (or Spanish tea set). They also serve a wonderful breakfast that is part buffet and make to order items.
Tip: For dinner, make sure you try the classic “Pals” rice dish – Pal is a historic village in Spain that is well known for their production of rice.
Also, make sure you ask the bartender for their signature cocktail, La Vie en Rose – it was yummy!
This was another great trip, and I can’t wait to go back to see more of Barcelona!