Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous community Catalonia in Spain on the Costa Brava. The beautiful metropolis on the Mediterranean is a popular travel destination and enchanting city which attracts visitors with its beaches, cuisine, climate and charm. The slogan of this creative and diverse city is: Barcelona inspires! After reading our local’s guide to Barcelona, you’ll agree.
Are you ready to become a Barcelover? Then dive right in with our tips: these top 10 highlights will show you what to do, where to stay and when to go!
Barcelona’s top 10 highlights
History and architecture
The famous Sagrada Familia and the works of Gaudi make up just a fraction of Barcelona’s interesting buildings. Jewels of architecture and history are everywhere, waiting for your discovery. On every walk, you can see prime examples of Modernism and Art Nouveau, Gothic churches and cathedrals, Roman ruins or historic quarters.
Art and culture
The CCCB and MACBA are Barcelona’s largest art exhibitions and the contemporary art and modern buildings coexist nicely with the surrounding old architecture and street art graffiti of Raval. Every neighbourhood is incredibly rich in culture and art with galleries, theatres, live music, literature and performances.
Barceloneta and San Sebastian are the two beaches closest to the city centre and invite you with all sorts of activities from swimming and sunbathing to surfing, sailing, standup paddle, volleyball and more. Dig the fitness scene in front of Hotel W for kicks or head north for more space at the beaches Mar Bella, Olympic or Forum, and don’t forget to freshen up at the beach bars called “chiringuitos”.
Get your 360 panoramic shot of Barcelona for free by climbing El Carmel. There you’ll find the remains of old bunkers from the 1937 Spanish Civil War, a protected heritage site and now a space for social gatherings and impressive sunsets.
Barcelona is surrounded by nature and you have plenty of opportunities for a change of scenery. The serrated mountain range of Montserrat is always worth a day trip and there are more beaches to the north and south of the city. The entire Costa Brava features stunning cliffs, hidden beaches and possibilities for walks and hikes. You can explore Collserola Park by mountain bike or walking and the countryside allows for climbing, trekking, running and many more activities in nature, all within easy reach.
Several top chefs call Barcelona their home and the city can boast world class restaurants. Yet regardless of your budget, you’ll be able to taste delicious dishes and delicacies to delight your palate, from calcots, grilled green onions, excellent ham and cheese to Catalan paella, vermouth and wine. A large part of authentic Barcelona life happens on the terraces and bars where people socialise over finger food, “pica pica”, and drinks.
Barcelona sure knows how to party, and it’s worth it to visit during the many year-round festivities. Merce has hundreds of events such as live music, “castells”, the human towers, the “correfoc” fire runs and the giant puppets “gegants” parading the streets. The barrio festivals rotate from one neighbourhood to the other during the summer months and range from charmin to wild and culminate in the Gracia Festa Major with lots of drinking in the decorated streets.
Barcelona’s many concert halls and music venues offer plenty of opportunities to experience live music: classic at the Palau de la Musica and the Auditorium or Caixa Forum, opera at the Gran Teatre del Liceu and rock and pop at Sala Apolo or Razzmatazz. Jam sessions, cabaret and travelling performers complete the wide selection, and thousands of visitors come to music festivals such as the International Jazz Festival, Primavera Sound, Sonar and Cruilla.
The hill is a small refuge from hectic city life with lots of green recreational areas, botanical gardens and sports facilities. You can hike up on foot or take the cable car or cable railway. You’ll find art and culture at the National Museum MNAC and the Joan Miró foundation while the castle offers panoramic views and open-air cinema in the summer. Bring a pic-nic or visit the beer garden under pine trees.
Smart and artisanal
Barcelona’s dedication to sustainability and urban redevelopment earned it the first ever Smart City award. Barcelona attracts many startups, innovative solutions and groundbreaking researchers and the transformative process is most evident in the district of Poble Nou, where high-tech hubs of modern technology coexist with artist’s studios. These creative surroundings breed a lot of other hip things like vintage design and fashion markets, food trucks, third wave coffee shops and roasters, microbreweries and all sorts of artisanal food, design and crafts.
Barcelona’s barrios: where to stay
A total of ten districts make up the city of Barcelona and part of the city’s charm are the very distinct barrios, or neighbourhoods. Device where you want to stay on your city trips to Barcelona with our quick overview.
The old town makes up the geographical and historical centreof the Catalan capital. Together, the barrios of Gótico, Raval, Barceloneta and Born form the old town.
The Gothic Quarter consists of a labyrinth of narrow streets in which you’ll easily get lost as you discover the rich history of Barcelona. Here you’ll find the cathedral, remains of a Roman settlements and also shopping opportunities.
The barrio of Born is home to upscale restaurants, specialty shops, small galleries, boutiques and noble architecture as well as sights such as the Picasso museum or the church of Santa Maria del Mar.
“Rabad” is Arabic for neighbourhood, which is how this barrio got its name; comparing Raval to Berlin’s Kreuzberg is obvious. Students, backpackers and budget travellers flock to this multi-cultural melting pot known for cheap accommodation and fast food, street art and nightlife.
Tiny townhouses in a grid make up Barcelona’s former fishing village where you’ll be close both to the centre and the various beaches.
Catalan for “extension”, Eixample is a city planner’s dream come true: Ildefons Cerdà conceived of this grid arrangement of square blocks with angled corners which you’ll easily recognize in any aerial shot of Barcelona. Though largely residential, you’ll also find restaurants and hotels here.
Gracia is graced by low buildings, narrow streets and small, inviting squares opening up in between. The barrio allows you to experience relaxed and cushy village life right in the middle of this metropolis, which makes Gracia popular with tourists, hipsters and expatriates alike and features an upscale price tag.
This small but central barrio is gentrification at its most efficient. The cute neighbourhood is full of bars, cafés and specialty shops which attract just as many tourists as the authentic and renovated Sant Antoni market.
Meaning “dry village” in Catalan, this barrio is everything but: drinks flow plentiful here as the transformation from dive bars to trendy tapas places is still going on. Despite the transition, the neighbourhood seems determined to stay authentic, meaning unpretentious and somewhat unrefined.
Nowhere else in Barcelona is the process of urban renewal as evident as in the conversion of Poblenou’s old factory buildings into startup offices, gyms, artist collectives and other projects. Also home to various museums, theatres, modern architecture and spacious “superblocks”.
Barcelona’s climate and weather: when to go
How do 2,700 sunshine hours per year sound? Barcelona’s pleasant Mediterranean climate is among its main attractions and weather-wise, the city’s worth a visit nearly year-round.
The spring months of April to June have average temperatures of 18 to 22 degrees Celsius, so you can enjoy the sun without excessive heat. If you visit during this time, you can combine seeing the city and its attractions with beach life and experiences in nature.
During the high season in July and August, temperatures easily reach 32 degrees Celsius or more. When the high humidity and midday heat hit you, you’ll understand the need for siesta hour. Clever locals leave during the unbearable month of August, resulting in reduced hours and closed shops. Nonetheless, it’s one of the main months for tourism, so don’t go if you want to avoid fellow travellers!
You can still sneak in a swim on golden days in September or even October, making the off-season more attractive since you won’t roast during your exploration of the city and its sights but can still take in the countryside and Costa Brava as well. Temperatures stay around 18 degrees Celsius until mid-November and fall to around 10 degrees at the height of winter. Yet Barcelona’s cold season is still bright and clear with more sunshine than the north of Europe.
Catalan and Castilian are both the official languages of Barcelona and Catalonia, which makes any trip a great opportunity to improve your skills in both languages. Do you want to freshen up your Spanish with more travelling? We’ll tell you the best cities to learn Spanish in Spain.