When I first moved to Barcelona 4 long years ago, I was living with host families (yes, plural – I had to change families every 3 months. Fun, right?). Thankfully, my first host family was super active and very excited to show me around their beloved city, which I had only visited previously for a single day. So I grabbed my camera, put on some comfortable shoes, brushed up on my Spanish, and we were off for a day of exploration! If there’s one thing you learn when traveling the world, it is to always say yes to new experiences!
Note: This post will be all about my day exploration of Barcelona, the capital city of Catalonia in Spain. It could also serve as a 1-day itinerary if you’re planning to visit Barcelona or are coming on vacation. However, if you want a more complete list of what to see and do, see my Ultimate Guide to Barcelona. For an interactive map to use on your trip with all of the destinations I mention, click below!
First Stop: El Palau de la Música Catalana
This is one of the most commonly visited places in Barcelona, which is understandable because it is quite beautiful inside and out, boasting modernist architecture and colorful additions like are like no other place I’ve ever seen. However, it does carry a steep price tag to visit… 20€ for a standard tour (at the time of writing this). They also have other options, such as a self-guided tour (only a couple euros cheaper) and also a live piano recital (a bit more expensive, but probably worth it!).
If you’re a good planner and buy your tickets in advance (21 days in advance, to be exact), your price goes down to 16€ for the standard tour. They also offer other discounts (student, groups, etc), which you can find out more about clicking the link above.
Due to the price and my tight budget, I was almost tempted to skip this beauty, but I’m glad I didn’t! It definitely is something worth seeing once in your life, and only seeing it from the outside doesn’t do it justice. Many people mistakenly think this is yet another marvelous piece of architecture by Antoni Gaudí, but it was actually designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of his rivals. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for Gaudí (he is, after all, one of the reasons I fell in love with Barcelona to begin with), but I must admit that Montaner hit this one out of the park. It is absolutely stunning!
The guided tour starts in a small auditorium with a 5 minute video describing the creation and concept of the building (dating all the way back to the early 1900s), along with the importance it plays in Catalan culture to this day. Numerous world-renowned figures have performed here and insist that it is one of the most magical and honoring places they have ever performed in due to the brilliant acoustics and awe-inspiring design of the building. Many people have told me that if you have the opportunity to see a concert here, don’t think twice about it!
When you are guided into the main auditorium, the first thing you notice is the elaborate ceiling. In the center, there is a rectangular-shaped panel and dome made of glass that extends down towards the floor and is in the shape of the sun. It allows the building to be filled with beautiful, natural light. I have never seen anything quite like it! There is also beautiful detail on the rest of the ceiling in the shape of roses, yet another gorgeous addition inspired by nature.
During the tour, they also take you out onto one of the little patio areas which showcases some beautiful mosaic pillars. If you’re looking to get a good picture of this without tons of people, try to be one of the first people out or one of the last people to leave (without being an obnoxious tourist). The time of day you visit will also affect your photos, sometimes the glare of the sun is just too strong.
Once our tour ended, we went about wandering the streets of El Born towards the Basilica. El Born is a super trendy and artistic neighborhood, filled with bars, gourmet restaurants, and little boutique stores. I highly recommend taking your time here and truly exploring the charming little streets and alleyways here! Four years later, and El Born is still one of my favorite haunts on a night out in Barcelona. Don’t be surprised if you find tons of inspiring street art local artists selling their wares.
Second Stop: Basílica de Santa María del Mar
After exploring for a bit, my host family and I went to visit the Basílica de Santa María del Mar in El Born. It is definitely a beautiful cathedral, with a location that can’t be beat. But honestly, if you’ve traveled around Europe a bit, you’ve probably seen your fair share of cathedrals and churches, haven’t you? This Basilica isn’t all that incredible to see, but the area surrounding it is quite lovely. Do yourself a favor and stop at one of the bars/restaurants in the plaza in front of the cathedral, order yourself a caña or a refreshing glass of cava, and watch the world go by.
Once you’re ready to continue your journey, cross Via Laietana and head into the heart of the Gothic Quarter for the next stop.
Third Stop: Barcelona Cathedral
No visit to Barcelona is complete without visiting the iconic cathedral and the surrounding Gothic Quarter. This cathedral started construction in the late 1200’s and took over 150 years to complete! As I mentioned above, cathedrals aren’t really my thing, but there is an incredible vibe coming from the square just in front of it that cannot be missed. If you want to enter the cathedral itself, depending on the time you enter, it may be free or for a small fee. For timetables, visit the official website. If you visit during ‘worship and prayer hours,’ be very respectful and quiet. You can also access the roof and choir area for a few euros more.
After you’ve finished exploring the cathedral and if you have time, try to just wander around the Gothic Quarter and see what you come across. I absolutely adore this area, and I always end up finding something new. No matter the weather, rain or shine, this neighborhood is just so enchanting!
If you head southwest from the cathedral, you will eventually run into Las Ramblas and La Boqueria.
Fourth Stop: La Boqueria
I had heard so many things about this place before my first visit, so I was very excited to finally get to see it. It is basically a huge marketplace where you can buy pretty much any food item for cheap. It is a sensory overload… there are so many smells, colors, and sights to see all the while trying to push your way through the crowd. The vendors are smart and take any chance possible to try and get you to buy something. This is also a place known for pick-pockets, and it is definitely a good idea to hold onto your bag and be cautious.
The market itself is separated into various sections, including produce, candies and other treats, meats and seafood. If you’re not there specifically to buy something, I recommend just going with the flow and wandering around. Don’t be afraid to buy things! Many of the products they offer are easy to take with you to eat on-the-go. For example, I highly recommend trying one of their delicious juices (generally just 1 euro) or a sampling cone of some of the local meats, cheeses or olives. It is a great way to try some of the local products and see what you like, so you know what to look for at bars and restaurants!After you’ve had your share of exploration, step back out of the market to get some fresh hair and head north along Las Ramblas. Eventually you will hit Plaça de Catalunya, one of the most popular squares in Barcelona. There are tons of restaurants, bars, and high-end stores here, so take advantage to get some shopping in or just to people-watch! There is also a metro and train station here, so it is easy to get anywhere else in the city.
If you’re looking to continue your exploration, check out my complete guide to beautiful Barcelona here. Or, if you’re ready to grab a bite or a drink somewhere and truly embrace the Catalan lifestyle, check out my list of the best bars and restaurants. Whatever you end up doing, I hope this was a helpful guide and that you enjoy your trip!