Barcelona Highlights- exploring the sights and scenery of the city
Updated: Feb 17
Barcelona is a vibrant, beautiful city full of artistry and life. Given that, there are many things to see and do focused around art and nature. I was fortunate to have 4 full days to explore. Here are my highlights:
Such a stunning building. I went at dawn and watched the night turn to day behind the cathedral while clusters of birds flew back and forth across the sky. It was quite magical. A local person I met told me you can go for mass at 8am if that's your thing and that the inside of the church is gorgeous.
I really enjoyed taking a walk at this beautiful little park. There is a cute duck pond where you can rent boats, as well as an incredible fountain that has a staircase so you can walk around the back of it. The zoo is also located within the park although I did not take the time to visit it. The park is free and even though it was quite early there were many locals hanging out and getting their morning exercise in here.
For the View: Castell de Montjuic
I chose to walk from the beach up to this beautiful park and viewpoint (about 40 mins walking from the Gothic Quarter). The views are incredible and the park has room to roam about without being crowded. It was a decent uphill walk but very manageable. If you like you can also take the avuncular for 16 euro round trip or 11 each way. It looked like fun and an incredible view. There is a restaurant and gelato stand part of the way up, which I peeked into, and which had a nice area to sit and look down over the Barcelona waterfront. I recomend going to the top and exploring the Castell de Montjuic complete with canons and additional incredible views of the port area. Confusingly, there is also a Parc Montjuic which is located in a different area but is also nice to walk around in.
Another View: Bunkers de Carmel
This place is an awesome old battery which folks now hike up to and hang out in. I brought some lunch up with me and relaxed in a shady spot. I'm glad I did because while I was sitting there I noticed a group of birds flying back and forth and they had the most beautiful turquoise and orange bright colorful wing interiors. I tried to find out what type of birds they were but to no avail- if anyone reads this and happens to know please share with me! The bunkers are all spray painted with graffiti (as was much of what I saw of Barcelona) and there were a fair number of young folks sunbathing and chatting. This would be a great spot to bring some beers or a bottle of wine and enjoy the view.
I loved this simple museum that hosts an incredible collection of Picasso's work. You can read more about what I thought in the post specifically about the Museo Picasso in the Barcelona section of this site.
Platja de Barceloneta
Being from a beach town I was not very impressed by this rocky beach area. I did come and take a siesta here in the afternoon (hello, jetlag) but I would not go out of my way to come here again. I would however recommend coming to the general area for fresh seafood- you can check out my post on the food and drink of Barcelona for more details!
Another major highlight for me was seeing a live Flamenco show. I stumbled upon this one at El Paraguia, which has live music and dance Friday and Saturday nights, on my last night and am so fortunate to have done so. The music and dance were incredible and moving. Make sure you seek out some Flamenco if you're in Barcelona- you'll be glad you did!
Gaudi: La Sagrada Familia
This was probably the number one recommendation I got for things to do in planning my trip. I bought a ticket ahead of time for the earliest slot (9am) and showed up around 8:40. I was very pleased to be one of the first people allowed into the building so I had the entire basilica practically to myself for about 5-10 minutes. This space really is a wonder. The outside of the building is stunning despite being under construction. It is slated to be finished in 2026 on the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death. The inside is breathtaking- colorful, light, and incredibly detailed. It's very Christ oriented but even as a non-Christian I found it moving. I also chose to tour the Passion Tower. You ride up to the top and there are some cool views including of construction of the facade. Them there is a spiral staircase of about 400 steps which was dizzying and fun to go down.
Gaudi: Casa Btallo, Casa Mila- La Pedrera, and Casa Vicens
For these three buildings I decided I didn't want to spring for the $70 pass to tour them. All three buildings are pretty cool looking from the outside, but without going inside there is not a lot to see.
Gaudi: Park Guell
Visiting Park Guell was probably my least favorite Barcelona experience. Rumor has it if you get a 9am ticket you can get there at 8:45am and beat the rush. I, on the other hand, got there at noonish. It was PACKED. I had somehow convinced myself it was off season and there were hardly any tourists in Barcelona since I had been missing them, but it turns out they were just all at Park Guell. I stayed maybe 15 minutes and then decided it was not bringing me joy and left. It was sort of an uphill schlep to get there so I would not recommend this unless you go early. On the plus side, it was a fairly easy 20 minute walk to the Bunkers de Carmel from Park Guell so this worked well for my day. I took the photo below as sort of an optical illusion since the flowers hide the mass of humans all lined up to take selfies around the park.
Mercato della Boqueria
I chose to get here around 9:15am which was seemingly perfect because most stalls were finishing setting up and the masses hadn't yet arrived. This market is a feast for the senses. It's not huge which is nice because you can see everything without too much overwhelm. There are beautiful fruits and veggies, chocolates, dried fruits and nuts, fresh and cured meats, and an incredible fish market, among other things. Some things seemed a little gimmicky, for example, I tried to pick a more natural looking fresh juice stand after realizing some of the more colorful beautiful juices may have been made using dyes to create the rainbow of colors you see. I chose some mango juice, as well as cured jamon and cheese for my breakfast along with an empanada for later. I also had a great coffee at Pinotxo's Bar where I sat with a bunch of what were clearly local regulars and took in the coffee stand culture of Barcelona.
Parc de Laberint de H'orta
One of the crazier choices I made on this trip was to walk quite a long way across some very residential Barcelona neighborhoods to check out this Labyrinth in Collserola Park. It was a very interesting experience as I didnt see a single tourist for a very very long time as I navigated trying to find my way through the residential neighborhoods of El Carmel and Horta. I had already walked all over Barcelona before departing for this journey so perhaps the mix of that and being vaguely lost the whole time made it seem further than it was. I also definitely got some strange looks as I'm sure folks were wondering what I was doing so far off the beaten path. The Labyrinth itself was fun and a unique experience and it is surrounded by a beautiful large park you can hike around in. I would totally recommend taking the train there (the L3 runs from the city center) if you have some extra time in Barcelona, unless you're feeling extra energetic and adventurous in which case by all means take the long way!
Do everything early. If you're thinking of checking out any of the major sights in Barcelona I would recommend setting your alarm and getting there before the crowds. Then if you like you can have some siesta time in the afternoon so you'll be rested for the late dinner and nightlife hours folks follow.
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