The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Barcelona for the First Time

From Gaudí to Messi, towering architecture to towers built of people, visiting the sea to gorging on produce, Barcelona’s to-do list is as plentiful as its sunny days.

Simeon Onaji
Simeon Onaji

Simeon is a Senior Editor at Tozome, an amateur wine connoisseur, and a mediocre Tennis player.

The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Barcelona for the First Time
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Situated in the northeast of Spain, close to France and the Pyrenees, “The City of Gaudi” holds 1.7 million inhabitants, making it the second-most populous city after Madrid. However, the capital of Catalonia has a much larger urban area with a population of more than 4.6 million. This makes it the 5th most populous urban area in the European Union behind Paris, London, Madrid, and Milan.

Barcelona is a city of diversity. Here you will find a mix of nationalities, a blend of gothic and modern architectures, spectacular serrated mountains, and beautiful beaches stretching 100 miles. As one of the most visited European cities, Barcelona holds a generous arts treasure that gives it a distinctive avant-garde look, with all the innovative and radical architectural elements.

The crowded street of La Rambla

A flower shop in Barcelona

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One of the most popular spots in the capital of Catalonia is definitely La Rambla. Here, on this tree-lined pedestrian street which connects The Catalonia Market in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument, you’ll see many artists trying to stand out either through their paintings, singing, or costumes. This place has an abundance of shops with all sorts of souvenirs, gifts, and flowers. La Rambla is indeed like a storefront, as it’s the location that many traders choose to exhibit their merchandise.

This street is like a magnet for tourists, and it makes sense, as you can find anything you want here. However, try not to get too impressed with these shops because there are high chances you’ll not get a fair price for your souvenirs or gifts. Instead, go and explore the other little streets connected to La Rambla, which combine in a sort of narrow, yet captivating labyrinth. Also, keep an eye on some pickpocketers that might take advantage of any moment when you’ll be too amazed by what’s happening on this crowded street. However, this should not make you avoid this spot, as long as you pay some attention.

Moving around the city

tourist in Sagrada Família, Barcelona - Barcelona Travel Guide

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Once you decide to go visit Barcelona, keep in mind that a guidebook will come in handy. This city is so big and filled with surprises that it can overwhelm you sometimes. There’s a significant advantage that comes with the fact that the capital of Catalonia has bloomed in the modernist era, as you don’t have to necessarily look for art in museums. You can easily bump into it on the streets, where dancers, singers, or even acrobats give life to their talents in quite well-thought-out street shows.

Public transportation is an excellent choice for exploring this city, as long as you use a guidebook and check your to-visit locations. Such transportation services have an organized schedule, and this will help to not waste any time if you plan to see as many places as possible. Indeed, you’d need at least one whole week to be able to truly say that you’ve covered most of what the city of Barcelona has. However, you still have another option, a “fast and furious” one: the bus tour. This transportation system takes you to all the tourist attraction points throughout Barcelona, and it has three fixed routes that last somewhere between 1 and 2 hours.

An alleyway in Barcelona

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For the sum of 20 euros per day, or 26 euros for 2 days in a row, you’ll get unlimited rides and also an automated guide. So, as you hop on the bus, you’ll receive a device with attached headphones that will guide you during your ride, in the language chosen by you. In fact, any time you approach a significant location, you’ll be able to hear the guide’s explanations. Also, if you like a more detailed exploration of a specific location, you can always hop off the tourist bus, visit your desired spot and then take the next bus from any station.

Apart from this transportation option, the tourist bus, you can also pick the Barcelona card. You can either go for the 24 euro per 2 days option, or the one for 5 days, for which you’ll pay 34 euros. These will give you unlimited access to any public means of transportation, free access, or discounts available for 100 tourist points of attraction, including some of the most popular museums in town.

Barcelona’s popular spots

National Museum of Art of Catalonia - Barcelona Travel Guide

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Many times Barcelona has been referred to as being the city where Gaudi’s architectural works can be admired. But that aside, there are plenty of other things to do in Barcelona as well as places and cultural spots waiting to be discovered. El Poble Espanyol, a village that was artificially built to reproduce the traits of traditional Spanish houses, is one of them. Apart from colorful architectural elements, this village also hosts an exhibition, where you can indulge yourself in the artworks of artists such as Miro, Picasso, Tapies, and many other Spanish and Catalan artists.

The Miramar Observatory is where the cable cars, or, as the Spanish people call them, the funiculars, station. This place is mostly visited during springtime when the roses bloom among the artisanal fountains. And speaking of spines, after you feast your eyes on this site, keep in mind that you can also visit a cactus garden, that is located pretty close to Miramar Observatory. Here you’ll see a generous variety of cactus species.

Aerial view of Camp Nou

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The Montjuic Castle is another popular attraction in Barcelona where you can get a view over the whole city from the terrace of the parade ground. The castle is built on the Montjuic mountain, and it has been used at various times in history to defend Barcelona. In the late 19th century, the establishment started to be used as a prison. In 1963 the place became a military museum that was not definitively closed until 2009. Nowadays, the Barcelona City Council owns the place.

FC Barcelona is another point of interest this city has for you. Here football combines with modernist architecture, as Camp Nou, the football stadium of FC Barcelona team is popularly known as the “cathedral” of European football. Once you visit it, you’ll understand that there’s no exaggeration in the nickname it got over the years, as FC Barcelona is the only big European football team that doesn’t use advertising on its stadium.


Placa De Espanya in Barcelona - a city of endless options

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If you have more time on your hands, there are several museums in Barcelona that can give you a better understanding of what this city’s history and culture are all about. Moreover, you get a great deal if you buy a special ticket that will grant you access to 8 museums for just 20 euros.

Here are 6 museums you can go visit:

  • Caixa Forum is a place that hosts grand art exhibitions and surprise, surprise! The access is completely free of charge;
  • The Joan Miro Museum is dedicated to the painter Miro, and it’s where you can dive deeper into modern art. It’s located on the hills of the Montjuic mountain;
  • The Military Museum probably needs no more introduction. It’s a spot that will probably satisfy anybody who’s passionate about anything related to militaries, such as weapons, clothing and military outfits that have been preserved as far back as the 15th century;
  • The National Palace hosts the National Catalan Arts Museum, and the building has certain architectural elements that make it stand out, such as high, arched, painted ceilings, and wide windows. Designed in the Spanish Renaissance style, the Palace has a dome which was inspired by the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
  • The Football Museum seems to be one of the most visited locations in Barcelona. It holds a 3D cinema, audiovisual touch screen and a lot of information about the history of the FC Barcelona football team.
  • The Ethnology Museum is where you’ll find exponents brought by the Catalan mariners from their trips while exploring The New World. And here’s a hint for you: access is completely free of charge on the first Sunday of every month, between 11 AM and 3 PM.

The genius in Antoni Gaudi’s work

Casa Batllo, Antonio Gaudi - a city of endless options

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While some call him a genius, and others a madman, the heritage that Antoni Gaudi left behind is, no doubt, what gives this Spanish city a top position in the world’s list of the most popular architectural works. Barcelona has a rich architectural history that covers a very long period of time, starting from the antique relics of the Roman settlements over which the modern city developed.

Nowadays, there are several fragments that have been preserved, such as the columns from the Augusto Temple, located inside the Centro Excursionista de Catalonia edifice. Throughout the city of Barcelona, there are several relics that date back from medieval period, but the most important architectonic movement that started in the capital of Catalonia and which changed the town’s esthetics forever is Modernism.

Sagrada Familia in Barcelona - Visiting Barcelona

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Therefore, when talking about Barcelona, there’s no way you will avoid mentioning the name of the genius Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect, who left behind a great treasure if we judge by the great numbers of tourists that come to see his work every year. Many of the city’s symbols are the creations of this artist, an avant-gardist not only during his time but also during ours.

One of the most famous works of art Gaudi is “responsible” for, is Sagrada Familia. Not only the modernist architecture but also the fact that it is still under construction, even after 100 years from the moment they started building it, make this place a must-see for any tourist. However, you can buy postcards from merchandisers near it, which shows how it will look, once it is finished. If you’re planning to visit it, you’ll have to get an 11-euro access ticket, but it’s quite interesting to visit it in the evening, as well. As you’re gazing at it in the dark, you’ll be surprised to see that the building looks as if it was built from bones.

Guell Park in Barcelona

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Another popular work of this modernist architect is Guel Park. Located on a hill, this spot is where you’ll get some really great views over the whole city of Barcelona. The park has two areas, one less crowded, where vegetation has done its job, without any interference from mankind, and a second one, which is more populated, hosting famous sculptures and buildings that are abundant in elements of modernist architecture. In fact, the whole area is basically mirroring the unique style of Gaudi. Access to Guel Park is also free of charge!

Gaudi’s work doesn’t end here because this architect is also the mastermind behind some of the houses you can see in Barcelona, which is famous nowadays precisely because of the artist’s resilience to incorporate his unique style even in these works.

The Vicens House, the first building that Gaudi built in Barcelona, can only be admired from the outside because it is private property. La Pedrera, or “The stone quarry,” holds an essential collection of the artist’s works and, therefore, it represents the best place where you’ll actually understand what this fascinating architect’s mind was all about. If you decide to visit this place, the entry ticket will cost you approximately 10 euros.

Walking the streets

Passeig de Lluís Companys - a city of endless options - The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Barcelona

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After museums, memorial houses, it’s time to take it to the streets… It might sound rather strange, but one of the tourist attractions this city has are precisely its streets. Aside from La Rambla, The Catalonia Market is another spot which you should go to, This is where the vast majority of the main streets in Barcelona, intersect. Best known for its statues and fountains, the market is also a huge bicycle parking location, and this is precisely what gives it a little Amsterdam vibe. Also, the El Portal de l’Angel street is an ideal place to have a walk or to bump into all sorts of shops, offering you a variety of souvenirs and gifts.

A street view from above will show you a sort of labyrinth, as this is how the city infrastructure looks like. This labyrinth pattern can be seen on the textile that covers the seats on the tourist bus, just to keep the city’s authenticity going. Once you visit Barcelona, you will definitely understand why this city is so popular among travelers. For years the capital of Catalonia inspired several artists in writing music, such as the song Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and operatic soprano Montserrat Caballe, back in 1987, or George Ezra who wrote Barcelona in 2015.

Barcelona Street - Visiting Barcelona

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As you walk into bars, restaurants, shops, people greet you with a genuine smile on their faces. It doesn’t really matter if you don’t know Spanish because locals are more than willing to communicate with you, even if it’s just through signs. However, considering the high number of tourists that come to Barcelona every year, people living here have generally developed a good command of English.

Eating in Barcelona should not be a problem because you have many options to choose from, whether it’s comfort food at affordable prices or a generous variety of cuisines in fancier restaurants. Keep in mind that it’s better that you avoid Barcelona during the months of July and August when the town is filled to the maximum with tourists. Instead, pick a September Barcelona vacation. You’ll get perfect weather, sales, and less crowded streets.

A visit to Barcelona is a must for any traveler. Whether you’re interested in the city’s rich history and cultural attractions, or just want to relax on the beach and enjoy the delicious food and drink, there’s something for everyone in this vibrant and lively destination. To make the most of your trip, be sure to consult this ultimate guide to visiting Barcelona and our Barcelona city guide page for all the best tips and recommendations on what to see, do, and eat while you’re there.

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