I’ll keep my introduction short and simple: there are so many things to do in Barcelona that it can sometimes feel impossible to fit them all into a single trip, whether you’re there for a weekend or a month! I mean, the Lonely Planet Barcelona guidebook is 258 pages long!
To help you plan your trip to this Spanish city, I’ve narrowed down the twenty-five things to do in Barcelona that no traveler should skip. Most of them are attractions, many of them are free and every last one is highly recommended by me, based on personal experience. At the end of the list I’ll explain some of the things that didn’t make the cut and why I chose to omit them.
My list of things to do in Barcelona is focused on my favorites, and it’s organized the way I think about the city. My interpretations of the districts and neighborhoods are flexible, based on how I feel about them rather than on any official definition of where one ends and the next begins. Most attractions are listed near things within very easy walking distance, although Barcelona is such an exceptionally walkable city that you could probably visit all of these on foot in a single day (minus the day trips, of course!) and still have time for evening tapas.
Things to Do in Barcelona Near Placa de Catalunya
The first place I ever visited in Barcelona, way back in 2004, Placa de Catalunya will always be special to me, and it will always be my first stop each time I re-visit Barcelona.
1. Placa de Catalunya
In my mind, all Barcelona roads lead to Placa de Catalunya. I feel like the quintessential solo travel moment in Barcelona should take place on your first day in the city. Take the metro from your accommodation to the Placa Catalunya station and ascend to street level, finding yourself in the middle of a 50,000-square-meter plaza surrounded by towering Spanish buildings, full of hungry pigeons, dotted with sculptures and fountains, and the starting point for many of the roads that will take you on your Barcelona adventures.
2. La Rambla
La Rambla is the tree-lined pedestrian street that runs all the way from Placa de Catalunya to the Mediterranean Sea. Okay, to be fair that’s only about 1.2 kilometers! Avoid the overpriced cafes and souvenir shops directly along the street, but enjoy your stroll up and down the thoroughfare as you take in the street performers (with one hand firmly on your purse!), flower vendors and historic architecture.
3. La Boqueria Market
Although few locals still shop at Mercat de la Boqueria, it’s an easy place for solo travelers in Barcelona to get a quick introduction to typical Spanish and Catalan foods. Cups of colorful fruit, savory hams and cheeses, aromatic roasted nuts, freshly-caught fish and even an assortment of Spanish wines are all available here. Come early in the day for the best selection and the smallest crowds.
4. MACBA: The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
This is my favorite museum in Barcelona! Technically speaking it’s located in El Raval, considered to be one of Barcelona’s “grittier” neighborhoods, but it’s only two blocks away from La Rambla and four blocks from Placa Catalunya. Recently celebrating its 25th birthday, the MACBA has a stunning glass facade and a collection showcasing the most thought-provoking Spanish and Catalan art of the last seventy years. Budget travelers should come on Saturday, after 4:00 pm, when admission is currently free. Otherwise, you can save €1 on admission by purchasing your ticket online.
Placa de Catalunya Solo Travel Tip:
One of my favorite Barcelona restaurants, Teresa Carles, is located just a block away from Placa de Catalunya, but it can be hard to find unless you’re a local. From Cafe Zurich, follow Carrer de Pelais one block east and then turn left on Carrer de Jovellanos. Teresa Carles is halfway down this block, on your left. It’s perfect for solo travelers because it has communal dining tables for solo diners stopping by for the super-affordable, organic, vegetarian three-course lunch menus (with wine!).
Things to Do in Barcelona Near Passeig de Gracia
Home to the city’s well-heeled, Passeig de Gracia benefits from centuries of wealth and international investment. It is classy, classic and charismatic all at once.
5. Passeig de Gracia
Basically, Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona’s Old Money street. Where Las Ramblas brings life right onto the sidewalk, Passeig de Gracia tucks it away behind exclusive doorways and world-famous facades. As the years have passed, more international chains have opened up along the road, meaning there is shopping for everyone at every price point. However, it’s the street’s architecture that really make it worth a visit.
Creative Commons photo montage via Wikimedia Commons
6. Casa Mila
An absolute show-stopper, Antoni Gaudi’s famous Casa Mila (commonly known as La Pedrera, or “The Stone Quarry”) is an icon of Barcelona, recognized far and wide. The Mila family commissioned Gaudi to design the building for them in the early 1900s; their plan was to occupy the ground level as a family, and to divide the upper floors into twenty apartments. While one member of the family lived in the building until the 1960s, people came and went, costs increased and the building eventually fell into disrepair. It was only in 1984, when UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site, that proper restoration occurred. You’ll need about an hour and a half to take in the building and its famous rooftop.
7. Casa Batllo
The most famous block on Passeig de Gracia is known as the Illa de la Discordia (Block of Discord), and features five five modernist buildings, sandwiched side-by-side, all competing to be the most attractive and most eye-catching building on the block. Of the five, my favorite, and the best-known, is Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batllo. While I think Casa Mila has the more impressive facade, I prefer the opulent and colorful interior of Casa Battlo. Many of the colorful tilework displays and smooth, curved finishings evoke the beauty of the Mediterranean Sea, and the natural beauty is enhanced by Gaudi’s smart use of natural lighting throughout the space. It’s recommended to spend about an hour here.
Passeig de Gracia Solo Travel Tip:
Split your visits to Casa Mila and Casa Batllo between two days, so you don’t get all Gaudi-d out. When you return home, the details of each will be more distinct in your memories, I promise!
Things to Do in Barcelona Near Barceloneta
Once considered to be its own fishing village, separate from the city of Barcelona, today Barceloneta feels as much like the heart of the city as Plaza de Catalunya.
8. Mirador de Colon
At the end of La Rambla you’ll find another Barcelona icon: the Mirador de Colon. Marking the spot where Christopher Columbus returned from his first voyage to the Americas, and where he was met by Ferdinand and Isabella (the Spanish king and queen), the sixty-meter tower is decorated with images showing people who were close to Columbia, places that he visited and scenes from his adventurous life. Inside the tower, an elevator whisks visitors to the panoramic viewing tower. Tickets can be as little as €6 for adults, with a 50% discount for anyone holding an official Barcelona Pass.
9. Barceloneta Beach
Barcelona can get hot and sticky in the summer (one of the reasons why I’ve often chosen to visit in the winter!), and the easiest place to cool off is at Barceloneta beach. It’s the perfect place for sunbathing and cooling off in the Mediterranean Sea, and since it’s popular with locals and tourists alike, you can easily find someone to keep an eye on your bag while you take a quick solo dip. If you’re a seafood lover, the beachfront cafes here are known for serving some of the freshest seafood in town, and you can come back at night to party at several of Barcelona’s most popular nightclubs.
10. Port Vell Aerial Tramway (Telefèric del Port)
One of my favorite memories from my first trip to Barcelona (yes, more than fifteen years ago!) was a sunset cable car ride from the edge of Barceloneta up the hill to Montjuïc Park. While it can be busy during the high season, when I visited in December there was no queue and our cabin only had a handful of other people, everyone taking in the view of the city, the sea and the park as we made the 1,300-meter journey. Most people agree that the view from this cable car is superior to that of its competitor, the Montjuïc Cable Car that loops around Montjuïc Mountain.
Barceloneta Solo Travel Tip:
Bulky beach towels are so 2000. Pack a beautiful, lightweight Turkish towel when you head to Barceloneta. I have a full set of the black ones from this brand and I bring one with me every time I hit the beach, but I’m loving the sunny, Mediterranean turquoise of the one at the link.
Things to Do in Barcelona Near Montjuic
Archeologists believe that Barcelona’s earliest occupants resided here, on the slopes of the hill overlooking both the land and the sea. Today, it’s an eclectic mix of museums, monuments and green space.
11. Fundacio Joan Miro
Situated in a stunning, purpose-built white complex at the top of Montjuic, the Fundacio Joan Miro showcases a mesmerizing collection of the Surrealist artist’s works. Personally, I love any museum where the surroundings are just as impactful as the works on display, which is why I list this one among my favorite things to do in Barcelona. Miro was born and raised in Barcelona, and his works dot the cityscape from the walls of the airport to the sidewalk of La Rambla. The most comprehensive collection is here, although hours are exceptionally limited so plan your visit well in advance.
12. Pavilion Mies van der Rohe
In all of my years of visiting Barcelona, I’ve never encountered a crowd at Pavilion Mies van der Rohe. Between the lack of tourists and the minimalistic design, this is one of the best places in the city to pause for an introspective moment. Architect Mies van der Rohe originally built the pavilion as the German Pavilion at the 1929 International Expo, but it was torn down just one year later. In the 1980s architectural scholars recognized the significance of the space and reconstructed it based on the original specifications. There’s not really anything to do here other than sit, think, reflect and relax, but I think those are all worthwhile pursuits!
Montjuic Solo Travel Tip:
Indulged in a few too many churros? It’s nearly impossible to get lost on your way up Montjuic, so stretch your legs and burn some calories by ascending to the top of the mountain. It’s a safe and easy solo hike that takes about half an hour from Plaza Espana or forty-five minutes from the port. (On the way down, take care not to end up on the wrong side of the mountain!)
Things to Do in Barcelona Near Eixample
Eixample is where real Barcelona and touristic Barcelona collide. While the neighborhood is home to, or close to, some of the city’s most famous sights, it’s dominated by middle-class residents going about their daily lives.
13. Sagrada Familia
Construction on the Sagrada Familia basilica started in 1882, and urban legend suggests that it may never actually be “finished”, as the church’s hundred-year “unfinished” status is something of a draw in itself. Having visited first in 2004, and more recently in 2016, it was hard for me to see what had changed during those twelve years. Queues are endless, but you can beat the line and make some sense of what you’re seeing by pre-booking a ticket that includes a guided tour on the basilica’s official website.
14. Parc de la Ciutadella
My first trip to Barcelona wasf a full two-month stay, and during that time I met lots of other young expats. We would often meet up at Parc de la Ciutadella on the weekend because it felt like an urban oasis. We could bring a bottle of wine or a thermos full of hot coffee, play table tennis or just relax and watch all the vibrant parakeets flying around. I have a personal tradition of ascending the steps behind the fountain and taking a picture of the top of Neptune’s head, directly from above. I’ll let you in on a secret: it hasn’t changed at all since 2004 (and possibly not since it was erected in 1888!).
15. Arc de Triomf
The Passeig de Lluis Companys pedestrian walkway links the edge of Parc de la Ciutadella to Barcelona’s red-brick Arc de Triomf. It was built in 1888 to serve as the main entrance to Barcelona’s World Fair, and while you can’t ascend the arch, it’s just so pretty that you have to stop by for a peek. If you like walking, one of my favorite things to do in the city is to zig-zag through the pedestrian streets to the northwest of the arch, never taking the same route twice, until I arrive at the Sagrada Familia.
Eixample Solo Travel Tip:
Treat yourself to unparalleled views of the Sagrada Familia by spending a night or two at the Ayre Hotel Rosellon, where the rooftop terrace directly overlooks the basilica. You can tell people you just stumbled across this amazing little gem of a hotel, I don’t mind!
Things to Do in Barcelona Near the Barri Gotic
If you haven’t already fallen in love with Barcelona, you will when you get lost in the labyrinthine streets of the historical old town.
16. Barri Gotic
Simply wandering through the Gothic Quarter is easily one of the most memorable things to do in Barcelona. It’s here where you can imagine the city they way it once was: sailors returning home from sea, women hanging laundry to dry out their windows, nuns peering out from behind the stained glass windows of a medieval church… history comes to life here. Most of the free walking tours in Barcelona are focused on this quarter, since it’s so densely packed with things to see and it’s so easily accessible by metro from anywhere in the city.
17. Tapas and Cava
There’s always going to be some other blogger who says all the tapas bars in the Barri Gotic are tourist traps, but I will stand by my recommendation any day. Unlike the soulless bars along La Rambla, many of the tapas bars nestled in the Barri Gotic have stood the test of time (some date back to the 1800s!) and I think there’s something really special about pulling back an old wooden door, squeezing into a dimly-lit old bar and sampling little bits and pieces of authentic Spanish cuisine that is inevitably served by a surly old waiter who is clearly annoyed by your presence.
As a vegetarian, my favorite tapas are tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelet), vegetarian croquettas (although these little deep-fried balls are usually stuffed with ham, sometimes they’re hiding variations with cheese, mushrooms or spinach!), patatas bravas (fried potatoes served with spicy red sauce and aioli) and, of course, juicy Spanish olives. Cava is Spain’s version of champagne: a must-try while you’re in Barcelona, but to be honest, I’m more likely to order a beer or an Aperol spritz.
18. Palau de la Musica
Technically it’s a block and a half outside the Barri Gotic in the neighboring district of El Born, but it’s so close that I had to put it on the list. If you thought Gaudi was opulent, just wait until you see this 1908 concert hall designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, where every nook and cranny is bursting with intricate details. Both audio and guided tours are available (with a 25% discount for Barcelona Card holders), or your can buy a ticket to an evening concert for as little as €20.
19. Basilica Santa Maria del Mar
Another Barcelona landmark that makes me feel like I’m traveling back in time, Santa Maria del Mar (or, Saint Mary of the Sea) is a cavernous medieval church that is probably best known for its stained glass windows, but that I will always remember for its skull-and-crossbones motifs on the floor, apparently marking where bodies may be buried beneath. Like the Palau de la Musica Catalana it’s technically in La Born, but again, it’s just two blocks away.
Creative Commons photo courtesy Jacob Surland.
20. Barcelona Cathedral
One year I found myself in Barcelona on Christmas morning, and with nearly everything closed, and the temperature dropping, I followed a crowd through the cathedral doors and attended mass at the Barcelona cathedral. I’m still not sold on the whole religion thing, but it was actually kind of nice to attend a ceremony inside this gigantic church, which was constructed in the late thirteenth century. Because I attended a service I didn’t have to pay, but if you visit outside of worship hours for the purpose of tourism you’ll need a ticket. The admission fee includes access to the cathedral itself, its collection of religious artworks and the rooftop.
21. Placa Reial
Just one block off La Rambla, this is one of Barcelona’s busiest gathering places. There used to be a monastery here, but it was removed in the late 1800s and replaced by sparkling yellow mixed-used blocks that now house nightclubs, restaurants, hotels and a handful of small shops.
Do not book a hotel directly on the plaza if you want to sleep during your stay in Barcelona! Instead, swing by for dinner and drinks while taking in the street entertainment that makes this a popular meeting place and hang-out spot for both locals and tourists. If you enjoy the performance, make sure to leave the artists a tip!
Barri Gotic Solo Travel Tip:
The Barri Gotic is one of my favorite neighborhoods for solo female travelers in Barcelona. It has a great combination of hostels, affordable hotels (including several with well-priced single room options) and more luxurious properties.
Things to Do in Barcelona A Little Further Away
22. Parc Guell
Imagine giving your favorite artist and architect 45 acres and telling them to let their imagination run wild. That’s what Count Guell did back in 1900, when he commissioned Antoni Gaudi to design Modernist private estates within an expansive, eclectic park that would be open to the neighboring public. Although most of the residences failed to materialize, the natural park was opened, complete with tiled viewing terraces, colonnaded pathways and ornate fountains.
At the time of my first visit to Barcelona, back in 2004, anyone could enter Parc Guell without paying an admission fee. However, as overtourism has become a significant issue in Barcelona the city has had to make changes to the entrance policy for non-residents. An adult ticket can be purchased online for €10. It permits a single access to the “monumental area” between the hours of 9:30 am and 5:30 pm. Once inside you can stay until the park closes at 11:00 pm, but once you leave through the official exit you cannot re-enter.
23. Camp Nou Stadium
You don’t have to be a sports fanatic to get swept up in the excitement of a European football (soccer!) match. If you get the chance, pick up a last-minute ticket to a FC Barcelona football match (I think I only paid €20 or so for one of the remaining individual seats on game day) to experience the energy yourself. If your visit doesn’t coincide with a game you can still join in one of the tours of the stadium and attached museum. At press time, both in-person and audio-guided tours are available, though that may change in 2021.
Things to Do in Barcelona Outside of Barcelona (Yes, I Know…)
Two of the best things to do in Barcelona aren’t in Barcelona at all! These day trips are easy to organize at the last minute and take you outside the city to see more of Catalonia.
24. Day Trip to Girona
An hour north of Barcelona, Girona is a picturesque Catalan town full of pretty old churches, ancient fortifications and riverfront walks (no fewer than four rivers converge here!). The city also has a significant Jewish history, lending itself to both a Jewish Museum and a well-preserved Jewish Quarter (El Call). You don’t need a guidebook for your visit; just hop on one of the many trains departing from Barcelona-Sants station (the cheapest ones can’t be booked online… but they’re also slow regional trains that make a lot of stops!) and get off at the Girona train station. From there, it’s an easy twenty-minute walk to the towering cathedral.
25. Day Trip to Montserrat
I took a day trip to Montserrat from Barcelona on my twenty-first birthday, and all these years later it remains one of the most memorable things to do in Barcelona (in my opinion!). Technically Montserrat is the mountain range itself, while Santa Maria de Montserrat is the Benedictine abbey carved into the serrated mountains. Highlights of your visit could include hiking in the mountains (wear good hiking shoes!), sampling the herbacious green liqueur produced by the monks, or queuing to see the famous Black Madonna, a 12th-century sculpture of the Virgin Mary.
Trains for Montserrat depart approximately every hour from Placa Espanya. I recommend getting an early start – try to be on one of the trains that departs before 9:00 am. Then, it takes about an hour to reach the two Montserrat stations: Aeri de Montserrat, where you can catch the cable car up to the monastery, or Monastir de Montserrat, where you can catch the funicular up.
Other Things to Do in Barcelona
Having been to Barcelona a handful of times, I’ve had ample times to take in the city’s most famous attractions. Not all of them made the cut, though, because they’re simply not my favorite things to do in Barcelona. Here are a few that I’m not passionate about, but that you might absolutely love:
- Picasso Museum | This is probably my most controversial Barcelona opinion, but I’ve seen a lot of Picasso throughout my travels. I recommend the Fundacio Joan Miro instead because you’re so much less likely to see Miro’s works elsewhere.
- Castle of Montjuic | A former military fortress built atop Montjuic hill, the €5 admission fee is only worth it for die-hard military history buffs.
- MNAC | How many paintings of saints can you handle in one go? If that number is in the thousands, you might enjoy the National Museum of Catalan Art. Spain leans devout, and that is very apparent in this gallery’s collection of classic art.
- Magic Fountain Show | If you have kids they might enjoy seeing the fountains at the base of Montjuic put on a synchronized water, sound and light show, but as a solo-traveling adult I found it rather underwhelming (and a major detour for a twenty-minute spectacle).
- Tibidabo | It’s a ticky-tacky amusement park beside a ticky-tacky church (am I allowed to say that? and why do I suddenly sound like my mother?).
- CosmoCaixa | It’s always struck me as a place schools would take kids on field trips. I haven’t been to this science museum and planetarium. If you have, let me know your thoughts in the comments!
- Barcelona Zoo & Aquarium Barcelona | I’ll never recommend that you seek out animals in captivity, which is why the zoo and the aquarium both didn’t make the cut.
Are you planning a trip to Barcelona? What are you most excited about doing? Let me know in the comments!
Before you book your accommodation, make sure to check out my guide to the best neighborhoods in Barcelona for solo female travelers. I explain what it’s like to stay and explore in five of Barcelona’s most popular neighborhoods so that you can choose the home base that’s best for you.