Here’s your guide to experiencing Barcelona like a local – not a tourist.
I get paid to travel the world, and of all the places I’ve visited, Barcelona remains one of my favorites. This guide will show you how to experience the best of Barcelona and why it left such an impact in my life.
My Story in Spain
Barcelona. I remember the first time I visited the city.
I stepped off the plane, hopped in my best friend Lucas’ car (who at the time was a complete stranger) and explored the city from the passenger seat.
It was love at first sight.
I even remember mentioning how beautiful the city looked, only for Lucas to mention this was the “ugly” part of town.
This was back in 2013.
Today, I’ve been traveling the world for over two years. And Barcelona remains one of my favorite cities in the world.
From a personal note, Barcelona is like a second home to me. I was fortunate enough to have lived in the city for 5 months in 2013. My time living abroad sparked so many of the decisions I would make later in life.
I remember when my time in Barcelona was coming to a close. I also vividly remember, the fear of thinking I’d never be able to spend 5 months living abroad again, because you know, “real life”.
That fear fueled me.
I loved my time living abroad in Barcelona so much that I refused to submit to traditional thinking of settling for 4 weeks of vacation time a year. But that’s another story…
Barcelona – Off The Beaten Path
Any good guide should include some insider info. So let’s kick off this guide with some of my favorite spots that I discovered by becoming friends with locals and by living in this wonderful city for months.
Best View – El Bunker Del Carmel
There are plenty of viewpoints to get some excellent pictures of the city, a few of which we’ll touch upon later in the guide. But, my favorite by far is El Bunker Del Carmel.
I love this spot so much that I make sure to visit every time I go to Barcelona. I’ve even shown the spot to a few locals who’ve never been there before.
El Bunker Del Carmel was an anti-aircraft defense fort during the Spanish Civil War. Today, it’s a secluded and abandoned viewpoint that sees far fewer tourists than other parts of the city.
The panoramic 360-degree views of the city coupled with it’s off the beaten path appeal make it one of my favorite places to visit.
To get to the site you’ll need to take a fun walk uphill for about 20 minutes from the closest metro stop which is called El Carmel. The walk is well worth the payoff.
Best Experience – RCD Espanyol
Many people associate Barcelona with one of the biggest and best soccer teams in the world. F.C. Barcelona definitely makes that true, but people tend to overlook their smaller neighbors to the south.
The Estadi Cornellà-El Prat is the home of RCD Espanyol, a Spanish premier league football team. The team plays in the same league as their richer neighbors. Separated by only a couple miles, RCD Espanyol gets far fewer tourists than FC Barcelona, making it a prime “off the beaten path” experience.
Not only will tickets be cheaper but you’ll also get more bang for your buck with where you can sit. What’s more, the atmosphere at this stadium is surreal. The fans are beyond passionate about their team and you can feel the energy from the second you get off the train.
Football is an integral part of European culture. So if you’re in Europe, checking out a game and immersing yourself in the passion is a must.
I highly recommend checking out a game here and supporting the smaller team in Barcelona.
Best Meal – La Flauta
Back when I was living in Barcelona, one of my Spanish professors recommended I check out La Flauta. He told me about the restaurant and asked me not to tell others because he didn’t want prices and wait times to rise.
Go to La Flauta. You’ll find the best of Spanish cuisine all in one place. Tapas, fresh seafood, and so many more delicious dishes.
The kicker? Fast service! Fast service in Spain is priceless for a New Yorker like me. That detail alone is worth the visit.
Best Value Meal – Bo de B
Literally the definition of a hole in the wall. Bo de B isn’t necessarily a Spanish delicacy, but it’s a delicious meal nonetheless.
When I was living in Barcelona I was a student ballin on a budget. When I found this gem it was a game changer. They serve massive sandwiches and platters all for about 6 Euros a pop.
Located right on the edge of the Gothic Quarter and across the street from the beach. This hole in the wall is one of the best-valued meals you can find in the city.
You can regularly find a line stretching down the block so stop by early, and enjoy the best 6 Euro meal in Barcelona.
Must See in Barcelona
With more than 2000 years of history, Barcelona is a little gem for anyone who wants to explore the culture of this vibrant city.
Barcelona has tons of museums covering different topics. One of my favorite ones is the Museu Picasso that has the most complete and permanent collection of the most famous painter of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso. The museum is located in five different 14th-century houses.
When I was in Barcelona, I was also amazed by the architecture.
You can see the influence of the architect Antoni Gaudi almost everywhere in the city. The Sagrada Familia is probably the most impressive building but you should also visit Casa Batllo, Casa Mila and Casa Vincens that are all World Heritage Sites.
While visiting Barcelona, you will quickly understand that it is a bilingual city. People speak Catalan and Spanish but locals mostly speak Catalan and are sometimes not very willing to speak any Spanish.
The Catalan identity in Barcelona is very strong and many Catalans have been asking for their own independence for years.
Parc de Montjuic
Montjuic is essentially a mountain that’s conveniently located in a corner of the city. You can easily spend a whole day exploring this beautiful mountain. Within Montjuic, you’ll find castles, palaces, gardens, museums and incredible views of the city and sea.
My favorite way to visit Montjuic is by foot. I love hiking up this mountain while soaking in the gardens and views along the way. Going by foot also comes with the added benefit of not getting packed into a tour bus with dozens of other tourists.
The views from the hike alone make this a necessary stop in Barcelona. Luckily, the Olympic stadium, castle, and botanic gardens can also be found within Montjuic as an extra bonus.
If you’re not a hiker, you can take a fun cable car to the top of the mountain, just be prepared to wait in a long line of tourists. You can also hop in a taxi to take you all the way up.
Also known as the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. Barri Gotic is packed with historic wonders in a very small area. From the cobblestoned streets to the 14th-century churches, the quarter is a unique part of the city.
Within the Gothic Quarter you’ll find The Palau de la Generalitat which is the home of the autonomous government of Catalonia; The Catedral de Santa Eulalia which is one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the city; and the Museu Picasso which we mentioned earlier.
You’ll also find plenty of other churches, museums, and historically important squares within this small patch of land in the city. It’ll feel like you’ve walked back in time.
The walk around the quarter won’t take long, but there’s so much to see and do that you can spend the half the day here.
La Sagrada Familia
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to one of the most unique and magnificent basilicas in the world. This is easily one of the most popular destinations in Barcelona. You will see tourists, and you will see a lot of them. Nevertheless, this is an absolute must if you’re in this city.
Europe is famous for having a plethora of cathedrals throughout the continent. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this is just one more cathedral. La Sagrada Familia isn’t like any other structure in the world.
Construction for this gorgeous behemoth began in 1882 and isn’t expected to be finished until 2040! That’s longer than it took to build the Egyptian pyramids!
Every time I visit Barcelona I take a slow walk around this marvelous structure and admire the artistic creativity that’s slowly being brought to life.
Full Disclosure: I’m a huge F.C. Barcelona fan. If I’m in Barcelona, I will make it a priority to see a game.
Even if you have no interest in soccer, I would make catching a game here a priority simply for the atmosphere. Like I mentioned earlier, if you’re in Europe, catching a European soccer match is a must. It’s unlike anything you will experience at any other sporting event.
Camp Nou is one of the most iconic stadiums in the world and the largest stadium in Europe. It’s been the home to some of the greatest soccer players in the world and is also the home of the greatest soccer team in the world (in my humble opinion).
If you’re visiting Barcelona in the offseason and can’t catch a game, I would recommend taking a tour of the stadium.
You’ll learn about the history of the game, team, and stadium. My favorite part of the tour was being able to walk through the tunnels, locker rooms, and even on the pitch where the players have walked thousands of times.
Someone once described Park Guell as the best of an acid trip turned to reality. Now, I’ve never done acid, but I feel like that description is pretty accurate.
This park really showcases the creative genius of Gaudi. Although it’s certainly touristy, it’s worth visiting and marveling at the artistic work of one of the most renowned architects and artists of the world.
An added benefit of visiting the park is that it sits towards the top of the city. You’ll have an incredible view of Barcelona from inside the park.
Barcelona attracts a lot of tourists due to its ideal location by the Mediterranean Sea.
The main beach is Barceloneta but unfortunately, it’s dirty, crowded and there’re a lot of pickpockets, so let’s avoid that.
Instead, take the train and go North or South where there are other beaches that are less crowded and way more authentic.
Castelldefels, Sitges, Vilassar de Mar, are all accessible by train and it doesn’t hurt to get out of the city center for a day!
Barcelona’s nightlife is legendary.
The Spanish love to party, and you can experience this first hand in Barcelona. There are an endless amount of party options in the city and going through them all would require a separate post. The city offers every type of nightlife scene you can imagine. Here are a few of my favorites…
Razzmatazz – One of the most established clubs in the city and for good reason. The venue has five separate rooms and offers concerts ranging from electronic music to Indie pop.
Sutton – Another crowd favorite, but be sure to dress up for this one. Sutton has a pretty strict dress code and gives off an exclusive vibe.
Opium – Located right on the beach, this is one of the most popular clubs in the city. World famous DJs stop by regularly to perform a live set here. You’ll find tourists but you’ll also be able to enjoy a drink on the beach.
Bar Llopart – This is the bar where all of my parties started. Located in Hostafrancs, this is the place where you’ll meet the locals, enjoy watching a soccer game while drinking beers for 1€… I love this place so much because it is so authentic and there is such a good vibe.
L’ovella Negra – Another perfect pregame spot. This place will serve you mini kegs right to your table. It gives off a giant rowdy beer hall vibe.
Where to Stay
Barcelona offers every kind of accommodation, from budget to luxury hotels.
I always recommend the Generator Hostel for those with a small budget because of its location, friendly staff, restaurant, comfy and clean rooms. Of course, there are plenty of other hostels in Barcelona, and you can check them all out on HostelWorld.
Airbnb is also a great option that I often use when I travel because it can still be cheap and you can find your perfect apartment and feel like home! I love it!
Have you been to Barcelona? Let me know your favorite part of the city in the comments!