There are so many things to do in Barcelona, so without further delay, here are my favourites.
Barcelona is one of those lucky cities in the world like Rio de Janeiro, Cape Town or LA. It's a vibrant, cosmopolitan city blessed with a beach. Moreover, Barcelona was also favored by Modernism and the Olympic Games of 1992. Those two facts changed the city and converted it into what it is today: a trendsetter city with fascinating architecture, long history, great restaurants and a happening nightlife.
The city is actually a small city, with its growth limited by mountains, the sea and two rivers. I love that the city is uphill because you can have spectacular views of it from several points. My favorite views are from Parc Güell and Tibidabo. They are great locations for taking pictures!
There is a charming amusement park at the Tibidabo with the Ferris wheel to add a little something special to your pictures. From the Greek Theater or Nature Square at Park Güell, there are colorful benches of tile-shard mosaics.
Top things to do in Barcelona
This is my favorite part of living in Barcelona. There are plenty of places in Barcelona where you'll find an interesting building, a unique door or a perfectly designed street lamp that catches your attention. Things like this makes you stop and admire the small piece of art. They are gifts from the city.
There are several representations of modernism in the city, aside from the well-known buildings like Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, the Sagrada Familia or the fantastic Park Güell. For example after visiting Gaudi’s masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, walk to another great representation of this artistic movement, the Sant Pau Hospital.
Outside the main circuit, you’ll find incredible architecture in the Arc de Triomf, Estapé House (Psg. de Sant Joan, 6) or the Citadel Park that without being modernist itself hosts some great pieces in this style, like the building designed to be a cafe for the Universal Exhibition.
I recommend the following modernist route. Start walking at the beginning of la Rambla, for a look at Colon’s square, walk to Nou de la Rambla Street where you’ll find Palau Güell with beautiful iron work on the facade. Then go back to la Rambla and keep walking among street artists before making a stop at Mercado de Sant Josep, also known as La Boqueria. It's a market with a huge variety of fresh ingredients. Grab a bite to eat at El Pinto and then continue walking towards Plaça Catalunya.
Then take Passeig de Gracia, a big avenue with flagship stores from the best designers, a lot of shopping lovers and some of the best representations of Modernism. The best architects of the movement left their mark on this main street. You'll find buildings designed by Gaudí, Domenech i Montaner, Puig i Cadafalch or Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas.
My favorite is the fabulous Casa Batlló. The facade is stunning. The colors simulate water, the roof features the beautiful skin of a dragon, the balconies are shaped like masks and its filled with the details that compose a masterpiece. Appreciate the building from outside and then get inside to enjoy the simplicity that contrasts the color and detail on the outside. Next to it there is the Casa Amatller, another great representation of modernism with its blend of Catalan and Flemish Gothic.
In front of Casa Batlló you'll find another masterpiece of the genius architect, Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera), in summer they host concerts on the terrace and it's an unforgettable experience.
The Hotel Casa Fuster is the last building you'll find on Passeig de Gràcia marking the end of the avenue and the beginning of the lively and creative neighborhood of Gràcia.
Things to do in El Born, Barcelona
The best way to get to know El Born is to ramble the narrow streets and discover the little things the neighborhood has to offer. El Born has been on the spot for a few years now, but it's still in the process of being completely renewed. Good restaurants, a lot of history and several design shops make this area one of my favorite spots in the city. The Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral alone would make it worth a visit. It's one of the greatest representation of the Gothic movement, with its light interior, it creates a sensation of openness and simplicity that I absolutely love.
This neighborhood has so many options to grab a bite, from casual bars to fine restaurants. During lunch time I recommend Can Paixano (Montcada, 22) also known as El Xampanyet, where you can have a delicious sandwich or tapa with a glass of cava rosado (Catalan version of Champagne). It is always crowded but it's part of the charm. For a fancy dinner, head to Disset 17 Graus (Antic de Sant Joan, 9) for gourmet tapas and wine.
Things to do in Barri Gotic, Barcelona
This neighborhood is the historic center of Barcelona and is dominated by the Cathedral. The slender streets have wonderful corners with musicians playing, beautiful shops or interesting cafes that have been there for a long time. It's where the finest intellects of the time use to reunite, like at the emblematic 4 gats (Montsió, 3).
Visit the Cathedral, Bisbe Street with a beautiful and photogenic arch, Portaferrisa, which was one of the entrances to the old medieval town, the Gothic church of Santa Maria del Pi, the charming Sant Felip Neri Square and two of the main Squares, Plaça del Rei and Plaça Sant Jaume.
Walk from Plaça Catalunya to Portaferrissa down Portal del Angel, a shopping street, and continue to the Plaça del Pi along Petritxol Street, a street with some secrets and the best xocolate and cream of the city at Granja La Pallaresa (Petritxol, 11).
Other top things to do
Visit a castle at Montjuic: an old military fortress with privileged views of the city.
Enjoy the beach and La Barceloneta neighborhood: admire the architecture of Hotel Arts, walk along the Passeig Maritim and eat great fish dishes at one of the many places (Chiringuito La Sardinita by Moncho's is a good one with sea views), visit the Maremagnum and El Port Olympic. From there, cross to El Born and explore the neighborhood in the afternoon. Finish your visit with a cocktail at the W Barcelona Hotel, where you'll have a spectacular overview of the city. Take in La Barceloneta, one of the oldest neighborhoods of the city with great restaurants for paella, or seafood dishes. I recommend La Barraca that has sea views (P. Marítim Barceloneta, 1) or the Segons Bar (Balboa, 16).
Spend a night in Gracia neighborhood: It used to be an independent village and conserves its old main square with a clock and what used to be the town council. This is a great place to visit in the afternoon when it becomes lively and the bars, restaurants and cafes are at their best. It's great for bar hopping, grabbing a bite and discovering something new.
Explore the trendy Raval neighborhood: This is one of the last neighborhoods in the city center to be gentrified. It started with the opening of the contemporary Hotel Barceló Raval. It is one of the most diverse areas in Barcelona interesting places like the MACBA, a museum dedicated to contemporary art located in a pretty cool square. A lot of new restaurants are opening with interesting menus and the neighborhood has become one of the trendsetters in the city. You'll find alternative shops, a sculpture by Botero and of course good bars.
If you are traveling to Barcelona I recommend you read "The Shadow of the Wind". It will take you on an interesting journey through post-war Barcelona, and once you walk the same streets as the main character, everything will feel familiar. Take in the changes produced by the passage of time.