Barcelona offers an endless check list of attractions, from the awe inspiring architecture and design of La Sagrada Familia to the action packed streets in and around La Rambla. But why not taking some time to enjoy top things to do in Barcelona and enjoy them like a local.
Living here for so many years has given us the opportunity to slowly explore the city and truly understand why the Barceloneses are so passionate about their home town.
Take a look at our carefully curated list of the top things to do in Barcelona and our personal tips on how to get the most out of every one of it’s top local attractions.
EAT LIKE A LOCAL
Barcelona’s reputation as a gastronomic mecca sits somewhere near the top of every tourist’s list of reasons for visiting. To enjoy top things to do in Barcelona you must taste all it’s flavours. Although, there’s much more than patatas bravas on the menu in the Catalan capital. Not only influenced by the rest of Spain, but also Italian and to some extent French cuisine, the food culture of Catalonia is very unique. Key dishes include traditional stews like suquet and escudella, but the most emblematic of all Catalan foods is the beautifully simplepa amb tomaquet,which literally translates to ‘bread with tomato’.
Tip: Designed to share traditional Catalan food using family recipes and farm to table produces, our Tapas Experience might be a perfect way to familiarize yourself with traditional Catalan cooking and to ensure you can satisfy your cravings even once you are back home.
GET OFF THE BEATEN PATH
A visit to Catalonia is not complete without experiencing the majesty of Montserrat. Named after its jagged, saw-like peaks (Montserrat translates literally as ‘serrated mountain’), this other-worldly formation of rocks just outside of Barcelona is one of the region’s most recognizable sights. The fact that Montserrat is also home to the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey, an important religious site for over a millennium, means that over two million tourists visit the attraction every single year.
Understandably, many visitors have complained that the undeniable beauty of Montserrat can become tainted when shared with thousands of other people. If you want to get away from the crowds and preserve this beautiful site at the same time, our wild tour of Montserrat takes in little-known hiking routes that explore the mountain and unveil some of the finest vistas of all. Not to mention, it is led by qualified, seasoned and above all passionate guides who know exactly what it takes to craft an authentic, memorable Montserrat experience.
DISCOVER LOCAL PRODUCE
For most Barceloneses, food plays a major role in day to day life. Filled with high-end restaurants serving everything from sushi to ceviche, it is still Barcelona’s markets that truly bring visitors closer to the city’s gastronomic essence. Teeming with beautiful produce, including fruit, vegetables, fish, meat and much more, they are social hubs for the city’s many different neighbourhoods.
Each mercat possesses its own unique atmosphere, created by a cast of characters who work, shop and hang around there throughout the week. The city’s most vibrant markets are definitely making it to our top things to do in Barcelona, and especially some of the least visited ones, such as Gracia’s Mercat de L’Albaceria or the Eixamples‘ Mercat del Ninot.
Tip: Visiting Barcelona’s local neighbourhood markets will give you a glimpse of day to day Catalan life, so why not visit a market like a local while picking up the ingredients for your very own Spanish meal. On our Market and Paella Experience we will guide you through El Mercat del Ninot, our favourite market. Then we’ll teach you to make a traditional Paella using fresh seafood and other organic produce bought at the market.
MEET THE FAMILIES BEHIND THE BEST WINE IN THE REGION
By now surely one of Catalonia’s most famous exports, Cava continues to be enjoyed across the region. In the capital of Barcelona, bars specialising in this delicious sparkling wine seem to lurk around every corner.
Yet Cava isn’t the only wine that’s produced in the region. Dry whites and robust reds are produced across Catalonia, and organic wine is becoming a rapidly growing industry.
Savouring a chilled flute of cava or a warming glass of Montsant red wine in one of Barcelona’s cosy bars is an experience not to be missed, but for those who want to delve a little deeper, our Penedes Wine tour gives you the opportunity to learn, explore and enjoy. Beginning with a guided bicycle ride through the vineyards of the Penedes region, the tour includes organic wine and cava tasting at two family-run vineyards as well as a traditional Catalan country lunch.
FIND YOUR FAVORITE NEIGHBOURHOOD
It has been said many times that Barcelona is more a collection of distinct neighbourhoods than a city itself. From the down-at-the-heel charm of Barceloneta, to the swagger of Eixample, to the bohemian ambience of Gracia, it’s true that each of the city’s many barris has their own unique identity. Although we have witnessed how visitors only experience a small chunk of this incredibly diverse city, sticking to the areas in and around La Rambla.
In order to gain an authentic insight into local life, it is essential to visit at least a few of the city’s different neighbourhoods. A slow wander around the alleyways of El Born or through the sloping streets of El Poble Sec can reveal as much about the Catalan capital as a whole weekend spent on La Rambla.
With our Gastronomic Bike tour (coming soon!), visitors have the opportunity to explore three of Barcelona’s most emblematic neighbourhoods in small, intimate groups. Using little-known routes that take you straight to the heart of each barri, the tour stops at a range of cafes, restaurants and gourmet shops along the way, making this a perfect afternoon for curious foodie travellers.
MARVEL AT AUTHENTIC CATALAN ARCHITECTURE
Even though the beauty of Barcelona’s most renowned Modernist structures is undeniable, there is much more to this famous Catalan movement than La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. The works of architects like Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch more than hold their own against those of the more renowned Antoni Gaudi.
By straying just a little from the beaten tourist path, visitors to Barcelona can enjoy some of the most important and exciting architecture from the turn of the 20th century. I can’t tell you how many times we have accidentally come across a beautiful building we had never noticed while strolling through the city streets.
Tip: just remember to look up once in a while 🙂
TREAT YOURSELF TO SOUVENIRS YOU’LL ACTUALLY USE
Follow the long, wide, Passeig de Gracia past all the high-end shops until you get to Gran de Gracia. Continue to your right and you will find yourself in what is arguably the trendiest neighbourhood in Barcelona, Vila de Gracia. Strolling around this area is one of the top things to do in Barcelona.
In addition to the hip bars, vegan bakeries and fresh sushi restaurants, you will find a flurry of sustainable shops. Just wander along cosy streets like Carrer Verdi, Carrer Torrijos or Carrer Asturies and you will come across local, sustainable fashion houses, some offering entirely vegan products like the Amapola Vegan Shop.
If it’s furniture you are after you will be spoiled for choice as you browse through dozens of upcycled furniture shops with one of a kind pieces to remind you of your time in the city.
WITNESS TRADITIONS UNLIKE ANY YOU’VE EVER SEEN BEFORE
The Catalans have a rich history filled with traditions unlike anything you have seen in other countries, and they have proudly continued to practice these customs through the centuries. Castells are probably more nerve-racking for those watching the assembly of the human towers than those scrambling up one another. The tradition dates back to 1712 and has become a highlight of most Catalan festivals. If that sounds impressive, you’ll love the Correfoc or fire run, an event that lights the streets up with fire and dancing as people dressed as devils light fireworks on pitchforks.
Tip: always wear protective clothes and hats if you want to join in with the locals!
The Calçotada is definitely our favourite authentic Catalan food tradition. It consists of eating giant burnt onions with a delicious homemade sauce while drinking wine and hanging out with close friends and family, what more could you want?
The top things to do in Barcelona include attractions for every kind of traveller, whether it’s food, shopping, architecture or just taking in Catalan culture, there is an option for everyone.
At Barcelona Slow Travel, we have set up authentic and sustainable experiences for travellers that want to immerse themselves in the local culture. All of our experiences are verified by locals, follow sustainable guidelines and represent slow travel in every way, check them out here. And don’t hesitate to contact us to find out more about the top things to do in Barcelona.