Barcelona is a romantic seaside city with endless culture, fantasized architecture, and the epitome of Mediterranean drinking and dancing. The city’s mix of Spanish, Catalonian, and Mediterranean culture blends well with the mood of Barcelonans. Standing in the park across the street from La Sagrada Familia, looking fixedly at the Disney-like masterpiece, one can’t help but admire the sounds from around the celebrated church. Picnics, dancing in the park, a rush of tourists beaming with excitement to see one of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain; it all adds to create a city of dreams.
But there’s more to Barcelona than Sangria and upbeat club music. A man by the name of Antoni Gaudi turned the city into his open canvas of architectural creativity more than a century ago and his work is still being finished today – long after his death. Everywhere you go, you will be met with bright colors, sunshine, and an enthusiastic attitude from upbeat locals. Throw in a couple of days lounging around a world-class Barcelona beach, and you’ll realize that Barcelona backpacking deserves to be at the top of any backpacking Europe itinerary!
Spain is a country geographically placed in the far west of Europe. It borders its Portuguese neighbor to the west and French neighbor to the north while most of its border is created by the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Barcelona’s location relative to several cities in the series of guides I have written (for Americans) make it a great destination for backpacking Europe routes. Its capital, Madrid, is also only three hours to the east of Barcelona.
Barcelona is known as one of the great Mediterranean destinations and is unlike any other city you will find on the European continent. It will truly place you in another world full of fairytales without reminding you of any other city you’ve been to on your backpacking Europe itinerary. The city can easily be reached using the European Interrail system. Now, all you need to do is prepare for your trip.
I’ve been traveling and living in Europe for a little under three years which has allowed me to see over half of the entire continent. Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe – filled with cultural surprises that will keep anyone entertained. If I could recommend one thing, it’s that you purchase a Barcelona Card while there. More on that later!
Barcelona Backpacking: Top things to do in Barcelona Spain
There are plenty of top things to do in Barcelona Spain while on a Barcelona backpacking adventure that can make you fall in love with the city. Whether you have 24 hours in Barcelona, 48 hours in Barcelona, or a whole week of fun things to do in Barcelona – you will never get bored in such an electrifying city. That’s part of the reason Barcelona backpacking makes an excellent stop on anyone’s ‘Euro Trip’. Here are a few of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain:
Here are a few of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain:
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia – A large unfinished Roman Catholic church in Barcelona, designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. It’s not only one of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain, but it’s one of the top 10 places to visit in Spain and tops the Barcelona attractions list. This city is built around La Sagrada Familia. It’s a key component to any Barcelona travel blog. It’s a truly magical sight.
Paula de la Music Orfeo Catala – It’s an architectural jewel of Catalan Art Nouveau; the only concert venue in this style to be listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. A must-see on anyone’s Barcelona backpacking itinerary and one of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain.
Casa Batllo – Casa Batllo is a renowned building located in the center of Barcelona and is one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces. A remodel of a previously built house, it was redesigned in 1904 by Gaudi and has been refurbished several times after that to find itself on a list of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain.
Park Guell – The Park Guell is a public park system composed of gardens and architectonic elements located on Carmel Hill. It’s one of the fun places to visit in Barcelona and one of the top Barcelona attractions for a reason. This place is big and colorful! Leave yourself plenty of time to see it among other places in Barcelona.
Barceloneta Beach – Locals head to the seaside neighborhood of La Barceloneta to surf and sunbathe on Sant Sebastià Beach, and to dine out at seafood restaurants and traditional tapas bars. It’d be a shame to miss this Barcelona beach neighborhood. Obviously, relaxing at the beach is a top thing to do in Barcelona Spain.
Gothic Quarter – The charming Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, has narrow medieval streets filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalan restaurants. The History Museum of Barcelona shows remains of the Roman city. Artisans sell leather and jewelry near the Cathedral of Barcelona, while flower stalls and street-food vendors line the busy Barcelona main street, Las Ramblas.
Magic Fountain – Barcelona’s biggest ornamental fountain, which was built in 1929 for the International Exhibition, offers a spectacular display of music, water acrobatics and lights which generate over 50 kinds of shades and hues. It’s one of the truly fun things to do in Barcelona while on your Barcelona backpacking trip.
Camp Nou – Camp Nou is the home stadium of FC Barcelona since its completion in 1957. With a seating capacity of 99,354, it is the largest stadium in Spain and Europe, and the second largest association football stadium in the world in terms of capacity. I’m not even a soccer fan and I can tell you that this place is one of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain much like Wrigley Field is as much of an attraction as it is a stadium in the United States.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar – An imposing church in the Ribera district built between 1329 and 1383 at the height of Aragon kingdom’s maritime and mercantile preeminence. It is an outstanding example of Catalan Gothic architecture, with a purity and unity of style that is very unusual in large medieval buildings. Though Barcelona isn’t known for its medieval style, this unique structure is still fascinating to look at.
St. Josep la Boqueria – The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, often simply referred to as La Boqueria, is a large public farmer’s market in the Ciudad Vieja district of Barcelona. It’s one of the city’s foremost Barcelona attractions being located right on Las Ramblas (Barcelona main street). A half-hour of bargaining inside this infamous farmer’s market is one of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain.
Best time to travel to Barcelona
Barcelona is a wonderful city with a Mediterranean climate that is perfect for tourists year-round. If you’re trying to escape the summertime heat, a seaside city is always the perfect place to go for your beach destination vacation.
If you want to travel someplace warm in the winter time, then Barcelona can be surprisingly mild in the winter months as well. You won’t be able to swim, but relaxing at the beach is still within reason.
However, my favorite time to visit Barcelona is early fall. Particularly in late September and early October when there are less tourists, lower prices (in the traveling ‘off-season’), and this is the time of the year when the Mediterranean Sea is warmest.
Where to stay in Barcelona?
Ideally, to maximize your time, try to stay near Las Ramblas. Everything is centrally located around Las Ramblas and it is one of the most happening places in Barcelona. There are plenty of affordable hostels with great happy hour deals and some of the best accommodation atmospheres I’ve experienced while backpacking.
However, as summer months can be very busy around the city (especially if you don’t book your accommodation in advance), I found another great neighborhood to stay in is El Raval; which is a neighborhood with a gritty past but lively present. The neighborhood is known for diversity and is the best cultural mix you can get in Barcelona!
What to eat in Barcelona
If you want a taste of the local cuisine, try these three traditional foods:
Paella – This iconic rice and seafood dish actually originates from Valencia. I’m sorry, but you just cannot come to the Catalan region without reserving one meal for a paella feast. Multiple budget hostels in the area also have free weekly “Learn how to cook paella” classes.
Las Bombas – This is a tennis ball-sized potato croquette served with two different sauces: a white garlic allioli and a rich and spicy red sauce. Las bombas are one of the most iconic tapas of Barcelona nowadays.
Calçot – A type of green onion that is specially grown in Barcelona’s region of Catalonia. They come into season and taste their best at the end of winter and the locals celebrate their arrival with exaggerated street festivals.
Top things to do in Barcelona Spain – Day trips from Barcelona
In my opinion, by far and away one of the best day trips from Barcelona is a day in the neighboring mountain village of Montserrat. Although a bit confusing to get there, the views are completely worth it.
Pro Tip: Save time and energy by taking the Funicular up the mountain once exiting the train from Barcelona. Then, you can hike back down the mountain when you decide to go home. The hike is fun and worth the views – especially if you’re going downhill!
The Tale of the Tape on Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is the second-largest city in the country of Spain. It has 1.6 million residents within its city limits lying on the Mediterranean Sea. Barcelona is known worldwide for multiple things. It’s renowned architecture and lively art (mostly done by the modernist genius, Antoni Gaudi). In addition, Barcelona is home to some of the greatest beaches in the world. Altogether, combined with an excellent nightlife and friendly people, Barcelona becomes one of the greatest cultures an American can experience abroad.
How to get there/get around: Is there Uber in Barcelona?
There is Uber in Barcelona. I used it multiple times and found it to be the best way to get to places that may be off the beaten path. It’s very common and easy to find a ride.
The city also has an adequate public transportation system. For most tourists, a T10 ticket will suffice. This is for those travelers who assume they will use the public transport system ten times while in Barcelona.
For those that plan to do many of the top things to do in Barcelona Spain, you might want to consider purchasing the Barcelona Card. Holders receive free, unlimited travel on all Barcelona public transport, free entrance to many museums and tourists sites, and also the ability to skip the long summer queues at many of top Barcelona attractions.
American Survival Guide
Traditional Catalan Meal
A traditional dinner near Las Ramblas will cost you nothing out of the ordinary for a popular city like Barcelona; $10-$12 will usually cover a delicious traditional paella and tapas entrée.
A Night Out
A beer in the heart of the Gothic Quarters is suprisingly inexpensive. You can usually find a pint of beer for as cheap as $3. There are some unique bars, as well, like Dow Jones Bar where the prices of drinks rise and fall at periodic times just as the stock market does.
You can find cheap, fast street food in the heart of Las Ramblas for around $5-8. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly lunch, that’s not a bad idea.
Bus or Train
Public transport is fairly inexpensive in Barcelona when compared to other popular cities on a backpacking itinerary. It costs about $4.80 to get from the airport to Las Ramblas (city center). Alternatively, you can pay $11 and get the T10 pass that will give you ten rides from Barcelona Public Transport for the duration of your stay. I believe the T10 pass is the best value for your money.
If you opt for the Barcelona Card, be sure that you are interested in enough [pay-to-enter] tourist attractions to make the fee worth it. It is really not completely necessary to ride the public transport unless you’re interested in day trips from Barcelona.
From the Barcelona International Airport (El Prat) directly to Las Ramblas you can call an UberX for less than $30 – or an Uber Van for the whole family under $40.
Barcelonans are Catalan speakers which is similar, but not the same, to Spanish. Even mildly fluent in Spanish, I couldn’t understand Catalan, however, most people understood me. Check out this basic Spanish language guide before you go! However, overall, it is not ever too difficult to find someone who can speak English.
If you want cell service, it’s important to check with your provider about international charges. In addition, it’s always a good idea to alert your provider (and your bank) that you’ll be traveling internationally.
Credit Card Transaction Fees
It’s important to check your credit company’s policy on international transactions before using it abroad. There are plenty of credit cards available that advertise “No International Transaction Fees”. If you want to get a new card before leaving, find one like this.
Things to have before you arrive
It’s not imperative; however, I’ve always found travel much more relaxing when you arrive without a dire need of any essentials. Here are a few of them:
- Electrical Adaptors
- Power Bank
- Offline Map (app)
- Directions to your accommodation
Barcelona – or Spain, in general – is a country a part of the European Union – which means Americans are granted 90-days in a 180-day period to travel freely throughout the E.U. This means if you plan to be in Europe for longer than three months, you should take a look at this.
There are a lot of stereotypes that Americans have adopted over time. There are, also, a lot of stereotypes we have made about Europeans that just aren’t true.
With that being said, there are some cultural differences in everywhere you go. Embrace those – they’re the best part about traveling because those differences educate you.
In Spain, tipping is only practiced if the service and food was exemplary. A 7-10% tip is an acceptable amount (and even a reward). Waiters tend to make a higher salary in Barcelona. Be careful that gratuity isn’t already included on your bill!
Barcelona Backpacking: Top things to do in Barcelona Spain
Barcelona left me with a fun, romantic, and desirable impression; one that keeps you coming back and falling more in love with the city. If you want to find out more about how to travel Europe on a budget, and all that it has to offer, click on over to our Europe travel blog page dedicated to tips for backpacking Europe! You will find these to be informative, giving you excellent insight into planning a trip through this multi-cultural continent.