Plan the Perfect Trip to Barcelona
With a perfect mix of 20th century architectural wonders, long stretches of golden beaches, greenery and gardens, an epic food scene and a nightlife that will keep you up until the sun rises, Barcelona should top your travel wish list. Here are five steps for making the best of your trip to Gaudí’s playground.
Step 1: Pick your neighbourhoods
Each barrio in Barcelona has its own distinct character, so whether you’re into regal areas from medieval times, beach-side hangs con paella, or a more artsy, laid-back vibe, there’s something for everyone. Here’s a rundown of our favourite areas in the city.
Walk down memory lane in Barrio Gòtico
Dark romantic alleyways in the heart of the city, high-walled courtyards, narrow cobblestone streets, and gothic facades that date back to centuries ago will give you a taste of Barcelona’s distinct architecture. Barrio Gòtico, which is Spanish for “Gothic Quarter,” is a neighbourhood that will surprise you at every turn. Its pedestrian, labyrinthine streets are scattered with small vermouterias where you can enjoy a midday aperitif, cute cafés, and hidden squares that light up to the sound of live music.
Beachbummin’ on the Barceloneta Beach
This small village-like barrio is one of Barcelona’s most popular places to stay. Laid out around the coastline, this former fishing quarter is known for its strong community and local feel. From cooling off in the Barceloneta’s deep blue to tasting its freshest produce — the area is home to many restaurants — you won’t want to miss out on its lively but chill Mediterranean vibe, its huge sports infrastructures and its luxurious marinas, which make it a prime spot for beach hangouts. It is also home to some of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks, such as Ciutadella Park, with its manicured lawns and cozy picnic spots.
Tree-hugging in Montjuïc
Rising almost 700 feet above sea level and overlooking the city skyline, Montjuïc is Barcelona’s green lung – with its grassy slopes, lush gardens and huge open spaces, it’s perfect for taking a break from the crowds. You can hike up or drive, but the cable car ride will give you a bird’s-eye view of the entire city and harbour. You’ll find several musts on Montjuïc mountain: the Castell de Montjuïc, a fortress once used to defend Barcelona’s port area; the botanical gardens, one of the largest parks in the city; the 1992 Olympic Stadium; several museums, such as the Joan Miró Foundation; and the Magic Fountains of Plaça España, where an epic water show is staged, with music and lighting that get the crowds oohing and ahhing.
Connecting with your inner hipster in Sant Antoni
Young and trendy, Sant Antoni is to Barcelona what Queen West is to Toronto or the Mile End to Montreal. Within the Eixample district, this low-key neighbourhood hasn’t yet made it into travel guides – keeping it under the radar and away from tourists. Its small grid layout is characteristic of Eixample, but its vibe is more bohemian. The area is filled with old bodegas (wine shops), vermouterias, cafés, tapas bars and design shops, which make it both a foodie hub and a great hangout spot.
Eixample for design lovers
Hosting some of Barcelona’s most whimsical designs — curvy roof lines, flashy colours, and funky rooftop sculptures, not to mention Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, Casa Milà and Casa Battló — the district of Eixample is an open-air modernista showroom. Designed for the sake of its residents’ well-being, the neighbourhood is said to be one of the city’s most diverse barrios. Its restaurants range from Michelin-starred spots to tiny authentic Catalan eateries and it is a prime shopping destination. It is also a great place for people-watching and afternoon strolls.
Step 2: Taste the best foods and drinks
From beachside drinks with a twist to bistro cooking or all-day tapas-eating, big flavours will have you smacking your lips. Here’s what should top your culinary bucket list in Barcelona.
What to drink in Barcelona
With its floral and zesty bouquet that sets it apart from champagne or other sparkling wines, this traditional bubbly from Catalonia (Penedès, more specifically) is a staple of the culture and is found in almost every eatery and bar in the city. Cava’s thirst-quenching qualities make it food-friendly and a good aperitif.
Deeply rooted in the Catalan tradition, vermouth is not just a liquor — it’s actually a time of day. “La hora del vermu,” or vermouth hour, is that mid-afternoon window when locals gather to enjoy a snack and a glass of the botanical-infused fortified wine. Because the herbs are said to help with digestion, it’s the drink to order when you’re having tapas, whether you’re in an old-school bar or a beachfront dive.
What to eat in Barcelona
5 rules to eat tapas like a local:
Tapas cover anything from a bowl of olives to garlic prawns and fresh sardines, and are meant to be shared with friends and enjoyed on-the-go. With restaurants serving them around every corner, picking the right tapas joint can be daunting. Here are a few tips to help you choose.
- Look for the more authentic spots. Restaurants that show pictures of food on their front door or menu are likely targeting tourists.
- Go tapas-hopping. Locals like to have a few bites at one stop and move on to another.
- Think of tapas as street food: quick and easy to eat while standing.
- Tapas are meant to be enjoyed at any time of the day or night. They’re a good option whether you need an afternoon pick-me-up or if you’re feeling a little peckish after a few evening cocktails.
- Tapas are simple food, so don’t focus so much on how they look, but rather on how they taste.
Our 5 favourite tapas restaurants:
From timeless alleyway dives to high-end white table-cloth spots, Barcelona is a paradise for bite-sized plates and finger-food miniatures. Check out our list of faves below.
Highly popular among locals and packed day and night, Bar del Pla is exactly what a tapas joint should be. Everything on the menu is worth trying, especially their daily specials, croaker ceviche, and a glass of their chilled house vermouth.
Carrer de Montcada, 2, 08003, Barri Gòtic, Barcelona
The friendly service and innovative twists — corn kernels as ceviche toppings for that extra crunch, for example — on Spain’s most famous little plates make this Sant Antoni spot a must. You won’t want to miss out on their patatas bravas, fried cheese, and grilled prawns.
Carrel del Parlament, 34, 08015, Sant Antoni, Barcelona
The codfish with honey aioli alone makes the 30-minute queue to get a table worth the while. Their fresh seafood selection that includes razor clams, quahogs, prawns, squid and more is also on display, so you’ll know exactly what to order by the time you get seated.
Carrer del Consell de Cent, 333, 08007, Eixample, Barcelona
This beautifully-designed space — huge windows looking out on Carrer Comtal and sparkly fish sculptures hanging from the high ceilings — in the heart of the Gothic Quarter is perhaps a little more on the stylish and less traditional side, offering contemporary takes on traditional Catalan dishes that make up the bulk of the menu. Such plates include a salmon with avocado and ginger, and a tomato and burrata salad.
Via Laietana, 49, 08003, Barri Gòtic, Barcelona
Catalan for “small house,” Casa Xica is a cozy restaurant where traditional tapas are given an Asian twist like a splash of yuzu, and where an à la carte or tasting menu can be paired with carefully-selected Spanish wines, including a few wild options for natural wine lovers.
Carrer de la França Xica, 20, 08004, El Poble Sec, Barcelona
Barcelona is a prime destination for paella. Considered a staple of Spanish comfort food, the fluffy, dark, steaming hot rice dish is actually traditional to Valencia but has become a general Spanish delicacy over the years, and variations are countless. Loaded with seafood or seasonal veggies and meats, you’ll find as many different recipes in Barcelona as there are restaurants making it.
Our #1 paella pick:
This beachfront restaurant has the saffron-flavoured rice plate down pat. Made with fish, prawns and mussels, their take on the traditional dish should be your sunny-day lunch go-to. Not only do they master the art of paella, they also make a sparkling cava sangria.
Paseo Maritimo de la Barceloneta, 08003, Barceloneta, Barcelona
Step 3: Have fun in the sun
There are several spots to unwind and soak in some rays after a few days of intense walking.
Parc de la Ciutadella
It’s Barcelona’s biggest park, and certainly the most romantic. Sights include a Trevi-inspired fountain — one of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks — and the Catalan Parliament, built as a military arsenal with several courtyards. You can even rent a row boat and take your date on a ride.
Located north of Gràcia, UNESCO-listed Parc Güell embodies the spirit of Barcelona, with its mix of greenery and colourful modernist architecture. Get lost in the flower-lined paths that lead to the famous mosaic tile benches – overlooking the city, it’s the perfect spot for a picnic.
Botanical Garden of Barcelona
Hidden behind lush trees and the Montjuïc mountain’s dense vegetation, the Botanical Garden is one of the area’s best-kept secrets. Plants from around the world make this small oasis another of Barcelona’s green lungs, and the perfect place to escape the crowds.
You can’t go to Barcelona without strolling down the Barceloneta’s iconic boardwalk. While it’s the city’s most crowded stretch of sand, it’s still a paradise for sunbathers, volleyball players, rollerbladers, and cocktail lovers.
Just north of the Barceloneta beach is Nova Icaria, where your chances of finding a spot to lay your towel on a sunny day are much better. Escape the Barceloneta’s crowds and enjoy a more peaceful tanning session.
Step 4: Enjoy Barcelona by night
Don’t go to bed early in Barcelona or you’ll miss out on the fun. Here are our favourite (free!) activities to experience Catalan culture at night.
Montjuïc Magic Fountain show
At night, the Montjuïc Magic Fountain offer a stunning show with music — like Freddy Mercury’s “Barcelona” blasting through the crowd’s oohs and ahhs — bright colours and lights. Plus, the fountain makes a splash all year round, but make sure you check the schedule for show times because they change by season.
Enjoy live music in the Gothic Quarter
El Barrio Gòtico is a 2000-year-old open-air venue for live music. Make your way through the narrow passageways by following the sound of a Spanish guitar to the dim lighting of a hidden square. It’s the most romantic way to end the night after enjoying a late dinner in the area.
Step 5: Step up your Instagram game
The saying “pics or it didn’t happen” is never as true as when you’re in Barcelona. Here are our top 4 Instagram-worthy landmarks that will give your likes a boost. Do it for the ‘gram!
Top 4 Instagrammable spots in Barcelona:
#1 Palau de la Música Catalana
#2 Barcelona Cathedral
#3 Parc Güell
#4 Arc de Triomf
Fly to Barcelona and enjoy a trip that suits your budget along the way
Cover photo credits: Air Transat