Barcelona is full of surprises. So much to see and do both inside and outside the city!
It was hard to narrow down but here are our top 10!
Visit the mountainous area of Monseratt
Getting there – we took the tube to the Espania tube station. You can either walk via the underground tunnels or walk up the stairs to get a nice view of the road leading up to the famous magic fountain to the train station. From there follow the orange signpost down the steppes to Espania train station. Directions to the train are fairly clear. You’ll know you’re in the right station as there is advertising on the walls about Monseratt.
Although Monseratt isn’t located in Barcelona, it’s an easy hour train journey that will give you some great views and let you immerse yourself in one of Catalonia’s most desirable day trip destinations. Montserrat is a mountain that has a chapel built into it near the top. It offers stunning views of the surrounding area as well as historical information about the chapel. You can also expect to be able to have coffee and cake at one of the many cafes. As well as a 3-course meal or buffet offered in the restaurant. For the latter two dining options ensure to arrive by 3pm as serving stops at 4pm.
When you arrive at the station (there are two Monseratt stations, be sure to get off at the second stop to catch the cable car or vernacular), you have a few options to reach the summit. We chose to take the sky cable which was great fun and provided you’re not too averse to heights you will enjoy the views you get as you go up. There is also a vernacular for those not comfortable with taking the sky cart. Option three is to hike up the mountain. This is not for the faint-hearted, especially in 30 degree C heat. If you do decide to hike be sure to take plenty of water and appropriate footwear. We spoke to a pair of unprepared hikers who said it took them two hours to get to the top.
You could easily spend a whole day seeing what the place has to offer.
Visit and explore in awe, the legendary Sagrada Familia
Now I’ve been to a few churches in my time. I remember my last day in Rome and saying to my mum “We’ve seen enough basilicas to last a lifetime now, if I have to see one more it’ll ruin it for me forever”. But Sagrada Família really is something else. I’d even dare to say it’s more impressive than the Vatican. The scale of its construction is breath-taking. Not only is it huge but it’s also a work of art both in its architecture and decoration.
Expect a thorough security check on the way in. Cover up ladies and gents because you’re in a religious place. This means shoulders, tummies and bums should be covered. I had completely forgotten about it and had to buy a T-shirt as I was wearing just a vest top when I arrived. But I do love that T-shirt, so if your partner isn’t as keen on souvenirs and thinks they’re a waste of money.
This may be your chance to slip one in. Expect a long queue in the baking sun with no shade in the summer months. There are however people walking around selling bottles of half-frozen water for about 1.50 euro. Definitely avoid the two drinks stalls in the parks on either side of Sagrada Família unless you’re OK with spending 3 euro on a bottle of Coca-Cola. There are free toilets to use at both of the drinks stalls outside as well as toilets inside so if you need to go while standing in the queue you’re never too far from one.
You can opt to go up the towers for better views of the city. There are no big platforms though. There’s a wire roofed 5-metre long bridge which you can fit a camera lens through and windows throughout the tower for photos and viewing. There’s also a spot where two people can stand on a balcony for that winning city-scape selfie. If you struggle with vertigo, do expect a huge ordeal down the final spiralling staircase. People will tell you it’s safe because you can’t fit down the hole in the middle of the staircase, but you definitely could fall and bounce off every level of the staircase in my opinion. Clearly Not for the faint-hearted or overthinking types.
Book yourself a street art tour
We absolutely adore street art and Barcelona has some of the best we have seen. So much so that there are companies offering tours to take you to the best spots and explain the history and meaning behind some of the most colourful and vivid pieces in the city. We booked with a great company aptly called ‘Street Art Barcelona’ and you can find them here:
They have amazing reviews on TripAdvisor and offer a selection of tours for all tastes and abilities from walking tours through to E-Bikes and accessible tours for people with restrictions on getting around. We booked online and found the communication to be excellent and we thoroughly enjoyed the tour. If you want interesting and edgy photographs and to get a behind the scenes look at the Barcelona art world from someone that knows their stuff, then any of these tours are for you!
Walk through the gardens of Montjuic in the evening
This we discovered by accident as we made a typical Emma and Steffan mistake as per usual but it was one that really paid off!
We wanted to go and see a gorgeous sunset over epic Barcelona and had read that Montjuic castle was the perfect spot. So, armed with a bag full of wine and snacks and our cameras we headed on up.
However, the walk took far longer than we anticipated, (FYI, there are cable cars to get you up there if you want to be smarter than us!) and by the time we reached the top not only was it super cloudy but there really was no view to speak of. So, we headed back down. But in our hurried state on the way up we had not really noticed the beautiful gardens dotted with colourful flowers beds and small Japanese style ponds we had walked through. Sweeping trees and benches overlooking the twinkling city! The twilight views were epic, and you could see for miles.
Seems its not always just about the sunset!
Go and hang out with the skateboarders
Barcelona is arguably the most iconic skateboarding destination of all time. It’s a place you can go and almost guaranteed to see high-level professional skateboarders filming, skating and competing. Even if skateboarding isn’t your thing it’s still impressive seeing someone throw themselves off a 10’ft drop on a plank of wood. We highly recommend sitting down at one of the famous spots and just watching the skateboarders strut their stuff. Be careful of skateboards flying out and hitting you in the ankle. It is one of the most painful things you will ever experience if you’re unlucky enough to get caught by one.
Steffan realised he wasn’t quite as nimble as he once was since putting on a few extra pounds. I was really impressed though seeing as I didn’t even know he was good at skateboarding!
Stay in a local neighbourhood
What better way to get to know the locals and see the real Barcelona than by staying in a local neighbourhood?
We stayed in the residential area of Poble Sec and found living amongst the locals a lot of fun! It’s extremely central to most of the tourist attractions and more cost-effective than staying in some of the more busy touristy areas in Barcelona. Think local restaurants, corner shops and people sat in hidden market squares sharing stories over a beer while the children play football.
As well as immersing yourself in local life and staying in more local accommodation, dining in restaurants where the locals eat and paying the prices the locals pay also has its advantages!
All residential neighbourhoods are close to metro stations so it is still really easy to get around!
Eat pinchos until you are stuffed!
Pinchos…. (or pintxos), our new favourite food! If you eat one thing in Barcelona ensure you get a plateful of these bad boys… just delicious and so cheap!
We didn’t discover them until day three and were absolutely in love the moment we tried them. So, what are they? They are small round slices of crusty bread topped with any number of delicious toppings from chicken and avocado, to shrimp and sweet chilli sauce to cheeses and pickles! They are held together with a cocktail stick which has a colour coded end which makes you aware of the price, so red for 1 euro 50, white for 1 euro, that kind of thing! And before you panic because you are as rubbish at maths as we are, breathe a sigh of relief. The cocktail sticks are counted up at the end by the waiter and they work out the price for you! Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
Walk along Barcelona Port Vell at twilight
The Port of Barcelona has a 2000-year history and great contemporary commercial importance as one of Europe’s major ports in the Mediterranean, as well as being Catalonia’s largest port, tying with Tarragona.
The ships lined up in the port range from smaller catamarans to luxury cruise ships worth millions with butlers and staff on board. I was quite interesting watching through the windows whilst some lucky people were being waited on… sigh. If only!
We actually booked a sunset cruise from this port and afterwards wandered back along the seafront and the twinkling lights along the walkway glistened as people merrily drank sangria and ate paella!
Its slightly out of the centre but you can get a taxi or a tuk-tuk and it only took around 10 minutes to get there.
Spend some time in the infamous Gothic quarter
The charming Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gòtic, is lined with medieval streets that are filled with trendy bars, clubs and Catalan restaurants. Amongst just wandering the beautiful streets you can also find the Cathedral of Barcelona which is just stunning and proudly stands tall over the square where performances frequent, as you drink an Aperol spritz at one of the many bars.
La Rambla also backs on to the Gothic Quarter and whilst it didn’t make our top 10, if you enjoy a buzzing atmosphere and to spend time browsing small vendors stalls, La Rambla may be worth a visit.
Just keep your belongings close to you and your wits about you as the pickpockets in Barcelona are very talented at what they do and whilst most of the people you will meet will be honest and friendly, it is best to be safe!
Try and visit during Sant Joan if your calendar permits!
Our city break to Barcelona falling during Sant Joan was a lucky coincidence as we had no idea until nearer the time when we had innocently googled ‘things to do in Barcelona on 25th June’.
We. Lucked. Out.
We have been told on more than occasion how lucky we were to be there and to enjoy the local festivities and whilst we couldn’t agree more, our hangovers the next day did not thank us when we were trying to climb Montserrat!
Saint John’s Eve, (Sant Joan) starting at sunset on 23 June, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist and welcomes the summer solstice with celebrations of fire!
Everything starts when the Flama del Canigó (Canigó flame) arrives in the city which is a symbol of Catalan cultural identity and is used to light the Sant Joan bonfire on the seafront of the city. Lights and banners decorate the streets where it’s tradition to have dinner with family, friends, neighbours and visitors.
The night is loud, really loud! Starting at the beginning of dusk there are fireworks being set off throughout the whole night as that is how demons are supposed to be expelled!
It was quite an experience and could not have been further from the UK and all of its regulations…. there were fireworks being let off in the street as you walked past and on the beach as children huddled around within a few feet to watch the colours and hear the bangs!
I nearly broke into a sprint on more than one occasion after hearing an explosion a little too close for comfort!
After wandering around the streets completely on edge (which eased as we downed sangria) we ended up on the beach And it was absolutely rammed! Beach bars, nightclubs, the beach is absolutely full of locals and their families drinking and eating and when we left at 2am there were no signs of anyone going home anytime soon!
You can read our top 5 ‘must try’ foods blog here if you enjoy your food and drink as much as we do