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Barcelona Travel Guide: 27 Best Attractions and Hidden Gems [2024]

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Lori Zaino
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Lori Zaino

Senior Content Contributor

59 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 58U.S. States Visited: 40

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lan...
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Michael Y. Park

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Michael Y. Park is a journalist living in New York City. He’s traveled through Afghanistan disguised as a Hazara Shi’ite, slept with polar bears on the Canadian tundra, picnicked with the king and que...
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Barcelona, Spain, is at the top of many traveler’s bucket lists. The city features incredible attractions, such as Antoni Gaudí architectural wonders and Gothic churches, Mediterranean beach vibes, and tapas galore, so it’s not surprising many people want to visit.

However, the city has struggled with overtourism in past years, including crowding, higher prices, and a loss of authenticity. Although they’ve taken measures to combat this, like tourist and cruise taxes and stricter home-rental standards (even asking Google to wipe a bus route off their map so locals can once again enjoy their bus route tourist-free), visiting Barcelona as a mindful traveler is always a good idea.

After nearly 20 years of living in Spain, I’ve been able to visit Barcelona numerous times, enjoying the top tourist attractions and all the hidden gems. With that in mind, I created this Barcelona travel guide, which will help you visit and enjoy all the city has to offer, complete with opportunities to take in all the must-see places and explore the off-the-beaten-path side of the city that many tourists don’t see.

The Best Times of Year To Visit Barcelona

The best times to visit Barcelona are the shoulder seasons, which are May and June and September and October. This is when you see the best weather — not too hot or cold, perfect for tourism or an afternoon at the beach.

Barcelona Spain
The Barcelona cityscape. Image Credit: Logan Armstrong via Unsplash

If you want to avoid an excess of tourists and save money, months like February and November are ideal for a visit to the Catalonian city. However, know that Barcelona is a popular city and has visitors year-round, so it’ll never be entirely tourist-free.

Keep in mind that if you visit during summer, your hotel pool may not be open. Barcelona has long suffered from seasonal droughts, and the government frequently proposes more stringent restrictions on water consumption, including filling pools. Although this may not affect your stay, consider your water usage when staying in Barcelona.

Hot Tip:

Visiting Madrid, too? This list of fun things to do in Madrid ensures you won’t miss a thing on your visit to the Spanish capital.

How To Get From Barcelona Airport to the City Center

Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) is about 9 miles from the city center. Terminal 1 is about 5 minutes farther away than Terminal 2. You can take the Aerobus between the airport and Plaza España or Plaza de Catalunya, and it usually runs about every 10 minutes, 24/7/365 (€12.50, or about $13.50, round-trip).

The TMB 46 bus (part of the Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona) also goes between the airport in the city, though it has many more stops. However, this bus route is covered under city transport tickets, which are valid from city buses and metro. You can also take the RENFE train, but these run at a lower frequency. Taking a taxi is always an option, too — plan to spend between €35 and €40 (around $38 to $43).

Best Places To Stay in Barcelona

Barcelona is a fairly large city, but it’s well-connected by metro and bus. If you’re looking for a more peaceful, luxurious stay, you might consider the more sophisticated neighborhoods of Gràcia and Eixample, which are a little quieter and ideal for families. If you want to be right in the middle of it all, opt for Ciutat Vella (the Old City), which encompasses the more touristy and historic neighborhoods like Barri Gòtic, El Born, and El Raval. Just know these areas are busier, noisier, and full of action and fun.

Hot Tip:

Some of Upgraded Points’ favorite hotels are the W Barcelona, The Barcelona EDITION, and the Alexandra Barcelona Hotel, Curio Collection by Hilton. Staying in a top boutique hotel in Barcelona is another way to enjoy the city on a more personal and welcoming level.

What To Eat and Drink in Barcelona

Start your day off with a breakfast of pa amb tomàquet, blended tomato topped with salt and olive oil. It’s a simple but incredibly delicious dish that’s usually welcomed by all palates (even the pickiest of kids love it).

For lunch, indulge in ànec amb peres (duck with pears) or paella. Although paella actually hails from Valencia, it’s common to enjoy it in Barcelona, too. Fideuà, a noodle version of paella that usually comes with lots of seafood, is also popular in Barcelona.

Fideua
Fiduea is a noodle version of paella. Image Credit: Dx21 via Pixabay

At dinnertime, opt for tapas. The best tapas in Barcelona might include things like ham, cheese, buñuelos de bacalao (codfish fritter balls), and a bomba, which is a potato ball stuffed with meat, fried, and covered in aioli and bravas sauces. Pair it with a local glass of cava.

When it comes to dessert, order a crema catalana, Barcelona’s answer to crème brûlée.

5 Best Museums To See in Barcelona

Barcelona is a city full of art and culture. Art, in particular, seems to dominate Barcelona’s museum scene. Here are a few of the top museums in Barcelona you shouldn’t miss.

1. Museu Picasso

The Picasso Museum Barcelona helps you understand who Pablo Picasso was and features some of his most emblematic masterpieces (among 4,000 works). Purchase tickets ahead of time for ease.

2. Fundació Joan Miró 

Another one of Spain’s most famous artists has his own dedicated museum in Barcelona, the Joan Miró Museum. Visit for an overview of his life and art.

3. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya

The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya spans more than 1,000 years of art, from medieval to Romanesque, baroque, Gothic, and modern. The Palau Nacional of Montjuïc combines easily with a visit to the aforementioned Fundació Joan Miró, the Museu d’Arqueologia de Catalunya, or the Jardí Botànic Històric, all of which also sit on Montjuïc.

4. Museu Frederic Marès

A lesser-visited Barcelona museum, Museu Frederic Marès focuses on the life of Frederic Marès. Although it mainly highlights sculptures (his own and others), the museum also has a hodgepodge collection of his personal items like clocks, keys, and other quirky trinkets.

5. Museu de Xocolata

A hidden gem among dozens of popular art museums, the Museu de Xocolata is in the former Sant Agustí monastery and teaches visitors about the history of chocolate in Europe.

4 Must-Do Activities in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia
The Sagrada Familia is the world’s largest unfinished church. Image Credit: Lusia via Pixabay

No travel guide to Barcelona would be complete without including the must-see places in Barcelona. The city is famous for its Antoni Gaudí-designed architecture, and its location on the Mediterranean Sea makes it the perfect city to combine beach relaxation with culture, art, and history.

1. Sagrada Familia

The largest unfinished church in the world, the Sagrada Familia has a new completion date: 2026, 144 years after construction began. Whether you see it now or see it when it’s done, the church is spectacular, massively large and tall with 18 spires. Book tickets in advance to avoid lines and long waits.

2. Parc Güell

You’ll never see another park like Park Güell. The Gaudí-designed outdoor space is set on a hill overlooking Barcelona’s vast cityscape, home to unique elements like a giant mosaic lizard, weaving tile benches, and what looks like a gingerbread house.

Hot Tip:

Parts of the park are free, but you need a ticket to visit the most emblematic zones of the space. Many visitors come early in the morning, but sunset is a beautiful time to explore the park, with fewer crowds and under pink-hued skies.

3. Gaudí Houses

Casa Milà and Casa Batlló are both Gaudí buildings in Barcelona. You can visit just 1 or both of these UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which are some of the most famous architecture you’ll find in Barcelona. Pay to enter or simply enjoy the outside — the facades are some of the most interesting. Casa Batlló’s colorful tiling and skinny columns are often compared to fish, while Casa Milà’s iron balconies and limestone facade are unlike any other.

4. Barceloneta Beach

Barcelona’s city beach, Barceloneta, isn’t necessarily the most beautiful in Spain, but its convenience (it’s part of the city center) means it tops the list of things to do in Barcelona. It’s easy to spend a few hours there lounging in the sand and sea, sampling paella at a beachfront restaurant, or cruising down the promenade on a bike or scooter.

Hot Tip:

Don’t bring valuables to the beach, and keep a very close eye on your belongings while in the water. We’ll include more tips on avoiding pickpocketing below, but it’s best to hit the beach with as little as possible so you won’t have to deal with theft.

2 Free Things To Do in Barcelona

Ciutadella Park
The Ciutadella Park is a quaint space that’s free to visit. Image Credit: Iris von Lienen via Pixabay

Strapped for cash? Hopefully, you’ve already booked your flight to Spain with points and miles to save money, but there are a few free activities to do in Barcelona that will ensure your trip stays cost-effective.

1. Parc del Laberint d’Horta

The Laberint d’Horta Park is slightly outside of Barcelona’s historic center, so it often attracts fewer crowds. The highlight is its manicured cypress tree labyrinth, but there’s also a waterfall, Italian-inspired pavilions, and more. The park is free to enter on Sundays and Wednesdays (though the entrance fee, at just €2.23 per person (a little less than $2,50), probably won’t break the bank if you prefer to visit on other days).

2. Parc de la Ciutadella

This particular park is also home to the Barcelona Zoo and the Catalonian parliament, as well as walking trails and gardens. However, the Ciutadella Park’s most famous area is the idyllic lake, where you can rent a boat and paddle around.

Hot Tip:

When spending abroad, it’s important to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees to avoid paying extra. An Upgraded Points favorite is the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, which offers 3x points on dining and 2x points on travel and has no foreign transaction fees — this (or the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, which offers 3x points on dining and travel) should be in your wallet when traveling to Barcelona and beyond.

4 Things To Do In Barcelona for Families

Cable Car Barcelona
Barcelona is the perfect city for families. Image Credit: Ludwig Bickel via Pixabay

Spain welcomes children, babies, and teens with open arms, whether that be in tapas restaurants, parks, or anywhere. However, kids usually have more fun exploring some parts of Barcelona than others. Here are the top family-friendly activities to do in Barcelona.

1. Jardins de la Tamarita

Although these classical European gardens are romantic for an afternoon stroll, the children’s play area in the Tamarita Gardens is perfect for when the kids need to blow off steam after a long day of tourism. There’s even a Ping-Pong table for teens and adults.

2. Telefèric de Montjuïc

Most families enjoy the Montjuïc Cable Car, which runs from the Parc de Montjuïc to the Castell de Montjuïc. On the way down, the car also makes a stop at the Mirador de l’Alcalde viewpoint where you can snap incredible photos of Barcelona, the sea, and beyond.

Hot Tip:

Montjuïc is home to a number of museums and attractions. Plan your visit ahead by deciding which attractions you’d like to see, then head up via cable car.

3. Castell de Montjuïc

After you’ve taken the cable car up, it only makes sense to spend some time exploring Montjuïc Castle. It started off as an 18th-century fortress, became a military prison during the Spanish Civil War, and is now a historic space for everyone to enjoy. Tour the inside of the castle for a €12 fee (around $13) for general admission, or just enjoy seeing it from the outside.

4. Tibidabo Amusement Park

Tibidabo Theme Park dates back to 1899 and is home to over 30 rides and attractions. It’s perched on a hill overlooking the city, so parents can enjoy amazing views while the kids go on rides.

2 Tours To Do in Barcelona

Olives BCN
Guided tours of Barcelona can introduce you to new attractions and foods. Image Credit: Guy Leroux via Pixabay

Worried you can see it all on your own? Consider a tour of Barcelona, which can offer you an insider perspective on the city and all it has to offer.

1. Bike Tour

Much of Barcelona is relatively flat, which is why a bike tour is a fun way to explore. If you do plan to head up to Park Güell, though, it’s best to do an e-bike tour. Cruising past all the top attractions and riding along the sea beneath the sun is an excellent way to maximize your time and see it all, especially if your time in Barcelona is limited.

2. Food Tour

Whether you want to practice ordering in Spanish (or Catalan), figure out what type of meat “that” is, or just eat all the most authentic food in Barcelona, a food tour is an ideal way to discover more about the cuisine and culture of the city. My top pick is Devour, which offers sunset wine and tapas tours and local neighborhood foodie explorations.

4 Romantic Things To Do in Barcelona for Couples

Montserrat
Montserrat is an idyllic day trip for couples. Image Credit: ian kelsall via Unsplash

1. Montserrat

If you’re up for a day trip from Barcelona, Montserrat Mountain is home to a Benedictine monastery set amid the rocks. Less than 30 miles from Barcelona, it’s easy to get there and back in the same day by car. Once there, you can explore, hike, and ride various funiculars.

Hot Tip:

There are many ways to get to Montserrat, including cable cars, trains, rental cars, and funiculars. If you want to go, organize ahead of time, or consider a guided tour if you don’t want to figure out the logistics.

2. Sunset Cruise

There are many perfect places to watch the sunset in Barcelona, but doing so from the Mediterranean Sea is the most romantic. Admire the city and sea as the sky changes tones, with a glass of local cava in 1 hand and your special someone’s hand in the other.

3. Jardí Botànic de Barcelona 

The Barcelona Botanical Garden is yet another destination on Montjuïc worth a visit. Home to more than 1,300 plant species, it’s a charming and serene place to explore with your partner.

4. Penedès

Cava is Spain’s version of bubbly, and you can tour wineries and taste it on a day trip from Barcelona to the region of Penedès, less than an hour from the city. You might want to consider taking a guided trip so you don’t have to worry about the logistics and can just enjoy sipping cava and learning about how it’s made.

2 Things To Do in Barcelona at Night

1. Port Olímpic

While you can find charming tapas bars and pubs all around the city, Port Olímpic is where you’ll want to hit the top bars and clubs, some of which have beachfront outdoor space. Some of the most famous are Opium and Pacha.

2. Magic Fountain

An activity for the whole family, Barcelona’s Magic Fountain puts on a light, music, and water show. However, droughts in Barcelona mean the fountain was temporarily closed during the writing of this story. Make sure to check during your visit to see if it’s open.

4 Less Touristy Things To Do in Barcelona

Casa Vicens
Casa Vicens is just as beautiful but less popular than other houses designed by Gaudí. Image Credit: Kristijan Arsov via Unsplash

This section is a local guide to Barcelona. While these spots may seem quirky, these places are where you find fewer tourists, get off the beaten path, and learn more about Catalonian culture.

1. La Biblioteca Arús

Heading to a library while on vacation may not seem like fun, but the Arús library isn’t just any old book storage facility. More than 125 years old, its gorgeous, wood-paneled shelves hold more than 24,000 books. The library offers free guided tours, which include looking at the largest Sherlock Holmes collection in Spain.

2. Sanctuary of La Mare de Déu de Montserrat

Known as the “other” Sagrada Familia, this small modernist church is like a miniature version of the famous unfinished Sagrada Familia. It was the work of Josep Maria Jujol, a student of Antoni Gaudi. But you have to take a day or half-day trip from Barcelona to view the Sanctuary of La Mare de Déu de Montserrat, which is in the small village of Montferri.

Hot Tip:

Combine a day trip to Montferri with a visit to the Catalonian beach town of Sitges. This LGBTQ-friendly seaside village is charming year-round.

3. Monastery of Pedralbes

Dating back to 1327, this 3-story Gothic cloister sits on the very edge of Barcelona, off the beaten tourist path for many visitors. The charming space is easy to visit before heading to Tibidabo or visiting the nearby Serra de Collserola Natural Park.

4. Casa Vicens

Gaudí’s first house is decidedly less popular than others, mainly because it only opened to the public in 2017. The stunning red home-turned-museum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Casa Vicens offers unique tours, one of which offers ice cream alongside viewings of the house.

3 Tips for Exploring Barcelona

Beach Barcelona
Explore Barcelona safely and affordably. Image Credit: Enes via Unsplash

These tips and tricks for visiting Barcelona can help you stay safe, save money, and have a more enjoyable trip.

1. Get a Barcelona Card

The official Barcelona Tourism Pass is the Barcelona City Card. The card offers access to more than 25 museums and free public transport for a certain number of days, as well as discounts on more than 70 other attractions, services, shows, etc. It starts at €55 (about $60) There’s also a more affordable version for kids (from €32, or about $35).

Hot Tip:

The Barcelona metro offers tourist cards, which give you access to unlimited public transport for 2, 3, 4, or 5 days.

2. Guard Your Valuables

While Barcelona is a very safe city, it’s also notoriously full of pickpockets. Put all your valuables in the hotel safe (including your passport), and only take what you really need out and about. Keep a close eye on your belongings at all times, never leaving them unattended. Don’t put your purse on the back of your chair or leave your phone on the table while you eat.

3. Use Public Transport

Barcelona is a large city, and the metro is an easy way to get around quickly, affordably, and safely. It even includes funicular services. Even if you don’t get a Barcelona City Card, getting a 10-pass or tourist pass to the metro may be worth it.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re spending a week in Barcelona or it’s a quick stop before heading elsewhere in Spain, there are plenty of things to do for any type of traveler. Though major tourist attractions will often be busy and crowded, there are ways to get off the beaten path. If you do visit the top attractions, it’s best to purchase tickets in advance to avoid lines and long waits. Be mindful of your water usage, too, as you don’t want to put a strain on local resources during your visit.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many days do I need in Barcelona?

You could spend as little as a day in Barcelona or up to 2 full weeks there, experiencing all that the city and its surrounding area offers. However, the ideal amount of time to see the top attractions, enjoy under-the-radar spots, and get a bit of beach time in is probably 5 to 7 days.

When is the best time to visit Barcelona?

The shoulder seasons (months like September, October, May, and June) are the top times to visit Barcelona because the weather is sunny and pleasant but not too hot. However, if you’re looking to have an affordable tip with fewer crowds, the best time to visit Barcelona is in February or November.

What language does Barcelona speak?

In Barcelona, locals speak Catalan and Spanish. Some may also speak English or French, too.

How safe is Barcelona?

Barcelona is a safe city. That being said, there is a big issue with petty theft and pickpocketing, especially in spots like Las Ramblas and at tourist attractions. When there, leave valuables in your hotel safe and keep a close eye on your belongings.

How far is Madrid from Barcelona?

Madrid and Barcelona are nearly 400 miles apart. Driving usually takes about 7 hours, but the high-speed AVE trains make the trip in about 2.5 hours. These trains run several times per day, and this is probably the best way to get between Barcelona and Madrid. You can also fly, which takes about an hour.

Lori Zaino's image

About Lori Zaino

Lori is an intrepid traveler who loves creating itineraries that exude “luxe on a budget.” She’s written for CNN, NBC, The Infatuation, and more, and loves to muse about points-fueled trips to Sri Lanka, Sicily, and Myanmar.

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