We are a big fan of just strolling the streets of a city. We walk. Sometimes we rent bikes. The subway is one of our favorite ways of moving around: we used it extensively also in Barcelona. The kids loved to find their way in the subterranean maze where everybody seems to be in a hurry except for the musicians in the corridors (and some travelers just enjoying the moment!).
The subway is a city’s hidden perspective where you can watch people go to work, beggars moving from one car to another, musicians trying to cheer up the passengers, and much more. The subway lines are the veins of a city.
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Major landmarks within a city are interesting, but for us not always top of mind.
“There are enough magical moments happening every moment of any given day”….
This post about Barcelona covers some of the highlights, not all of them. There is so much to see in Barcelona but there are also great places where you can just wander around…. This is our selection of 10 things to do in Barcelona (and your kids can join you)!
Table of Contents
“Day after day, life goes on once the gates of the market in La Rambla have opened” (Neus Vidal Pons, Trader at La Boqueria).
The famous Boqueria can indeed be packed with people (including lots of tourists) but it’s definitely worth a visit. It’s situated right on Las Ramblas (most popular street in Barcelona) and you will find candy, fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and many more beautifully displayed food. Here people eat, shop and gossip. There is some really great food to get here and do visit the official website where you can even find a plan of all the market stalls. Or you can visit the market like we did: just enter and experience this paradise for the senses…
Don’t miss out on this place if you are a fan of fruit shakes: they are available in many versions and not expensive (=cheap!).
The ‘Cementiri de Poblenou’ is impressive. Not only the size, but also the collection of numerous historic cemetery houses, tombs and sculptures, some of which are already hundreds of years old. The most famous statue is The Kiss of Death (El beso de la muerte), dating back to 1930 (see picture below).
Poblenou is one of the most beautiful cemeteries in Barcelona and some even compare it to the famous cemeteries of Paris (Père-Lachaise) and Buenos Aires (La Recoleta). With kids you will probably not spend hours, but I was very happy one of my Twitter friends gave me this tip.
The cemetery is situated 100 meters away from the beach. So after a serious walk among the death, it’s just a couple of minutes to the beach where you can shake away that feeling you might have after visiting a graveyard. In February it’s a bit too cold for swimming (although we witnessed some diehards in swimsuits), but for kids of course the beach is a fun place to be anytime of year!
The Gothic quarter (Barri Gotic) is the most famous area in Barcelona (the Ramblas is situated right in the middle of this quarter), but the adjacent area called El Born is interesting as well (if not more interesting). A couple of years back El Born was kind of desolated, but slowly more restaurants, boutiques and bars opened their doors. Renovation work has restored a sense of the authenticity of this area. El Born is a place that draws creativity and don’t hesitate to spend your evening over there.
We enjoyed the graffiti , the shops and of course the tapas. If you travel by subway, go to Jaume I station. If you go west you will move into the Gothic quarter, but go east and experience El Born.
Arc de Triomphe
There is an Arc de Triomphe in Barcelona, no kidding! This one was built in 1888 as the main entrance gate to the World Exposition. The Exposition took place in Parc de la Ciutadella, now the most central parc in Barcelona. The parc includes a zoo, museums, a lake (row your boat!) and a large fountain. When the weather is nice this parc is a real green oasis close to the old center of Barcelona.
Barcelona and Guadi are connected…very tightly. You will not be able to visit Barcelona and not encounter Gaudi architecture. Later on I will show you Parc Guell, but another great example of Gaudi’s work is the Batllo house (Casa Batllo). The exterior is world famous. On the street in front of the house there is a dedicated area (no parking of cars allowed!) where visitors (including wedding couples) can take pictures. We didn’t went inside as the entrance fee was quite high (20 Euro per person)….be prepared.
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Parc Guell is one of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks, you will love it! Designed by Gaudi and built between 1900 and 1914 it’s a colourful and playful public garden park full of (visual) jokes. I like the twisted columns and the curved, continuous bench made fully from ceramic tiles.
It’s a steep climb towards the park entrance (luckily for some they installed some open-air moving staircases) but totally worth it as the view on the city is beautiful.
The ceramic bench is famous and packed with people most of the time. Newcomers slowly pass by, their eyes focused on whoever might be leaving the bench. Once a free spot is available they are ready to attack and claim it! Just kidding, it’s not that bad, but the park (and especially the ceramic bench) offers a great opportunity to just sit down and watch people.
The ceramic bench doesn’t really look comfortable at first glance, but it is! There is a great story to tell, where people say Gaudi had a workman drop his pants and sit in soft plaster to record the correct anatomical curve. The bench is ergonomical and no wonder it’s always crowded!
Another funny thing is the lizard near the main entrance. Everybody wants to have a picture together with the lizard, hugging or patting it on the head. Of course we also kindly waited for our turn….
Don’t climb on the lizard as there might be a (kind of) guard watching you! We witnessed how a local old man (self-acclaimed police officer because of the second hand police cap he was wearing) yelled at some tourist who, disrespectful of cultural history, tried to do just that.
Square hopping in Gracia
Most of the tourists will walk downhill after visiting Parc Guell and hop on the tourist bus that will bring them to the next city highlight. Don’t automatically jump on the bus as you are missing out on a great area close to the Parc called Gracia. Gracia offers a village-in-a-city feeling. It owns a lot of smaller squares, all with great views and plenty of bars and restaurants. Gracia is your ultimate place for a bit of square hopping!
You won’t find many tourists here which can be called quite unique in Barcelona. The terraces are full with locals meeting up for a chat or lively discussion about politics or sports.
Again, as in many of the old areas in Barcelona, don’t forget to look up to discover great architecture.
FC Barcelona madness…. Who doesn’t know Messi, Xavi and Puyol, football heroes in one of the biggest football minded nations in the world. Our son is also a fan of Messi so we could not leave Barcelona without visiting the famous stadium Camp Nou.
We didn’t enter the stadium. They charge a hefty € 23,- (€17,- for kids) to enter it (the so-called Camp Nou Experience). Instead of this tour we went for a visit to the FC Barcelona shop, which is an experience in itself. Our son loved it, especially when he bought a real FC Barca football! Only problem is that outside, on the parking lot, we were not allowed to play football with his new purchase……how contradictory is that!
Narrow streets of Barri Gothic
After the visit to Camp Nou we made it back to the main center of the city: Barri Gothic (the Gothic quarter). Here we had lunch in the way we like it the most: buy special bread in an authentic bakery, sit down on the sidewalk and enjoy it. Just pick a bakery where lots of people are waiting in line; these are the best ones for sure!
Barri Gothic is great: shops and galleries, butchers and bakeries, there is enough to discover. I personally don’t like the famous Ramblas that much, I’d rather stroll the narrow alleys (like a real travel flaneur). Although the sun has a hard time to reach the ground here, it’s the authenticity and architecture that keeps me warm:)
A top 10 list about things to do in Barcelona cannot be without the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s cathedral for the people of Barcelona is a real must-see. For our whole Sagrada story, just click here.
Things to do in Barcelona: where to stay?
The authenticity of Barcelona is experienced even better when you stay in a local apartment. We were invited by Go With Oh to try one of their apartments. Go With Oh offers a great variety of apartments in 12 major European cities, Barcelona being their home base.
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