When doing your research into Barcelona before coming here, you’ll probably end up with the same results as all the other visitors to the city. Which means you’ll likely end up in queues for attractions, waiting for tables at restaurants and staying in overpriced accommodation. To help you avoid crowds, queues and rip-offs, we’ve put together a list called - “Barcelona: What To Do, Where To Eat, Where To Stay”. These places are not on the tourist maps, but they’re the kind of places that make Barcelona what it is.
Barcelona: What to do
Have you got all day? Because it’s a simple question with a long answer. There is so much to do and see in Barcelona that books have been written under the title. So, let us give you our take on some of the more interesting, but less touristy, activities going on in town. Sure you can (and should) go to the Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum along with the other six million tourists that come to Barcelona every year. Or you could get to know the real Barcelona by, say, going on a bike tour which lets you touch and smell and feel the texture of the city the residents know, rather than the city the tourists see.
Anyway, after you’ve done the Sagrada Familia and after you’ve seen all the sites you feel obliged to see, here are some alternative ideas for you to ponder when you ask yourself the question: Barcelona, what to do?
1. Barcelona From The Rooftops
When you walk the streets of Barcelona, you have to keep looking up to see the amazing architectural riches of the city like the gargoyles and rooftop statues and Gaudi’s weird phallic shapes that have featured in no less than 15 movies (English and Spanish). A lot of Barcelona’s charm is at the rooftop level (or from the rooftop level). And there are some great rooftop locations where you can go to get a different vista of the city. And you can have a cocktail (or maybe a swim) at the same time.
H10 CASA MIMOSA TERRACE
The roof terrace of Casa Mimosa overlooks the famous chimneys on top of Gaudi’s Casa Mila. There is plunge pool and a sun-lounger area. It is the perfect place to finish off the day with a cocktail and to enjoy the city at sunset.
THE PULITZER TERRACE
From May until the end of September, the roof terrace at Hotel Pulitzer is open everyday from 18:00 - 24:00. And offers a varied line-up of DJ’s and live music 3 nights a week (Thursday - Saturday).
The Pulitzer terrace also offers a well-thought-out fresh and informal menu of food and drink that is perfect for all tastes.
2. Encants Flea Market
Encants has been around since the 14th century, making it the oldest market in Europe. It’s an enormous open-air structure with a crazy roof that’s a spectacle in itself. All kinds of stuff is sold in this market, from pricey antiques to old LP’s, and second-hand clothing to exotic jewellery. There’s a lot of junk here that’s difficult to imagine anyone wanting but, as the old saying goes, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure’..
Encants is big and chaotic but that’s what give it its character. It’s chock-a-block with locals trying to unearth a gem or pick up a few bargains and, if you’re unlucky, you might see the odd tourist looking for something unique to take home. Auctions of antiques start at 7 am, which is when the commercial buyers swoop in. Then there is usually a second auction at noon when all the unsold goods drop in price. There are always some nuggets up for grabs if you can uncover them, but you’ll have a lot of fun digging through the shrubbery to find the flowers.
3. Olympic Cable Park
It’s a hot summer day. The streets of Barcelona are melting. The humidity is making you sticky and irritable. You don’t want to hang around the hotel and you don’t want to go to the beach and the idea of going to a museum or walking the streets in the heat just doesn’t do it for you. So, what do you do?
Water is the thing. Water is cool. So is the Cable Park. For the uninitiated, that means wakeboarding (or water-skiing), except you don’t ride behind a boat, you’re pulled along by a cable.
There are three cable parks in Barcelona, the best is the Olimpic Cable Park in Castelldefels, a suburb of Barcelona just beyond the airport and easily accessible by bus and train. The place is called ‘Olimpic’ because it was the location for some of the water-sports at the 1992 Olympic Games, like the rowing.
The facilities at this park cover everything. Aside from the skiing and wakeboarding, there’s a restaurant (The Melting Spot), grassy areas with banana-lounges where you can relax and improve your tan without getting sand in your seams, security lockers for your stuff, a children’s playground and, of course, changing rooms and showers. As to the wakeboarding itself, don’t be put off if you’ve never done it before. It’s completely safe. The Monitors are all experts and some have represented Spain at International competitions. If you’re already an expert, there are ‘kickers’ and ‘boxes’, and all sorts of 'rails' in the water where you can develop your skills and practice new tricks. You can easily spend a whole day there, even if you only spend an hour actually boarding or skiing.
For more info check out the Olimpic Cablepark website.
4. Walk With The Romans
Welcome to Barcino, the Roman city that lies beneath Barcelona. It goes back almost 2,000 years when the emperor Augustus decided that this strategic location on the western Mediterranean would be ideal for a retirement colony for aging legionnaires. There are relics of Barcino all over the city and the best place to see them is at the MUHBA (Museu d’Historia de Barcelona) which you can find at Plaça del Rei.
In this underground section of the museum, you can walk along the streets of Roman Barcino, treading on the same stones that legionnaires trod 2,000 ago. It’s a fascinating walk back in time that will give you an insight into Roman Barcelona's urban structure, the commercial life of the city, some of its craft workshops, and the everyday life of the city’s first community. Included is a wine-making facility, a laundry and dyeing workshop, as well as a Garum factory. What is Garum? It’s a sauce made from fermented fish-guts, which may not sound appetising, but to the Romans it was a delicacy and only the wealthy could afford it.
So, if you wake up one morning and say, I’m in Barcelona, what to do today, you will find a visit to Barcino an incredibly interesting walk back in time.
5. Take A Buena Vista Bike Tour
There’s no better way to get to know Barcelona than on a bike. You can get into the back streets, find the hidden gems, see the romantic hideaways. And its pedal power – no emissions. On a bus, your guide is a pair of earplugs. On a bike, your guide is a local who knows the city backwards. It’s like having a friend show you around the city, someone who can not only tell you all about Barcelona’s amazing history, but take you to the real city behind the tourist facade. Buena Vista bike tours are made up of small groups that are safer in busy traffic, nobody gets lost, everyone is more relaxed, and you get a friendly, laid-back experience.
For more information check out our website
Barcelona: Where to eat
Barcelona has an unbelievable 10,000 restaurants (9 with Michelin stars) and it is the only non-French city in the world to receive the prestigious Gourmande Award. So choice is not your problem in this city. Although, of course, there are many mediocre eateries, there are also hundreds that will dazzle your palate without cutting a hole in your pocket. Modern Spanish food is more versatile than you may imagine – it’s not just paella and Serrano ham – and don’t go by the pictures of food you see outside restaurants on the Ramblas. Below is a small Buena Vista selection of Barcelona restaurants to get you started, cheap to fancy, authentic to creative and modern, some a bit of both.
La Cova Fumada ( € )
This is one place that deserves to be called ‘authentic’ and I wouldn't be surprised if the old girls in the kitchen have been there since it was founded in 1944. It's an emblematic Barceloneta tapas bar, partly because it is so discreet and downmarket. There’s no sign on the front door, but stick your head inside and the aromas will tell you you’re at the right place. It’s tiny, it’s buzzing and the food is amazingly fresh. When it’s all gone, they close the doors. La Cova Fumada does not take reservations and it’s popular with the locals, so get there early.
El Xampanyet ( € )
This is a ‘must see’, traditional, frozen-in-time Xampaneria that has been around for nearly 100 years. The family that owns it make their own Cava (Catalan Champagne) that is inexpensive and very easy to drink. This is not really a place where you go for the food (mostly meats and cheeses); you go more for the atmosphere and history. It’s a great spot for an aperitif before moving on to the main game. El Xampanyet is recommended in a lot of tourist literature, so it can get very busy with extranjeros (foreigners). You’ll find it up the road from the Picasso museum.
Lluritu ( €€ )
Lluritu is a seafood lover’s paradise and there are two things that make it special: freshness and simplicity. There are no trimmings in this place. If you want your food to look like a Joan Miró painting, go elsewhere. If you want a restaurant to have chandeliers and solid silver cutlery, go elsewhere. But if you like top quality ingredients and good value for money, you have come to the right place. It’s like a fish café with tiled walls and basic furnishings and an open kitchen, but it’s the real deal for lovers of seafood.
La Singular ( €€ )
There is something very Barcelona about La Singular, partly because you don’t see too many tourists there, even though it is located in the heart of Gracia, a popular barrio, especially for young people. It’s small, intimate, cosy and, like Barcelona itself, has a very relaxed, casual ambience. The dishes are classic Catalan, but with a ‘Singular’ twist to them and the chef changes the menu regularly to make the most of fresh, seasonal produce. The restaurant is equally good for lunch and dinner and it has an unusually good value menu del dia. La Singular is popular with locals, so make a reservation or be prepared to wait at the bar for 15 minutes.
Mont Bar ( €€€ )
Mont Bar is for genuine foodies. It’s not the cheapest place in town, but the food is exceptional: creative, original, sophisticated and sometimes challenging, with flavours and combinations you may not have come across before. This is gourmet tapas at its best and, no matter where you come from, the Mont Bar will be a new dining experience for you, guaranteed. It’s a very classy place, although informal and easy-going. If you are trying to impress your date, Mont Bar has got you covered.
Bodega 1900 ( €€€ )
This busy little place is part of the Albert Adria (Ferran's brother) empire in Barcelona and it’s a great intro to the local food scene. Of all the Adria establishments, Bodega 1900 is his most down to earth, back to basics restaurant. The food is classic Spanish tapas; no fusion, no smoke, no foam, no smears. It's affordable. And the waiting list is only a week long rather than a few months like his other restaurants (if there is still a waiting list).
El Puestu ( € )
El Puestu is located in Fort Pienc, a barrio better known for cheap Chinese restaurants than tapas bars. But it fits in nicely here as they provide some very classy food at demolition prices. The chefs are obviously proud of the Spanish cuisine and the Spanish way of dining and you can tell they have put a lot of thought into the place as well as the food. The interior is simple, mostly high tables and stools – the very definition of casual. You can come here for some tapas and a glass of wine or you can have a full three-course dinner.
Els Sortidors del Parlament ( €€ )
Els Sortidors del Parlament has the feel of a rustic bodega (wine cellar) with barrels everywhere, a heavy wooden bar and big timber tables, lots of wine bottles on display and food served on slates and boards and baskets. It has an atmosphere that is unmistakably Barcelona: casual, relaxed, intimate, unpretentious, but with a really pleasant vibe, like all the people there are totally cool, customers as well as staff. It’s a nice place just to be in. They have some classic Catalan tapas like Brandada (cod puree) and they do a unique Morcilla (black sausage) with apple sauce. They also have a great selection of draft beers, including Pilsener Urquell.
Barcelona: Where To Stay
In 2018, there were over seven million visitors to Barcelona and they all needed somewhere to stay, so you can imagine that there is an abundance of options when it comes to accommodation in the city. At the top end, you can stay in a traditional old Modernista building with a Bombay Sapphire swimming pool on the roof. And at the bottom end, there’s dormitory accommodation in a hostel for as little as €12 a night. We’ve chosen a sample cross-section which gives you the best of everything.
Located in the Eixample Dret, a popular part of the city for visitors, Casa Bonay is a beautifully restored Modernista building constructed in 1869, the start of Barcelona’s architectural heyday. The hotel has retained many of the original features like the patterned floor tiles and moulded ceilings. The location is ideal as you can walk just about everywhere, but there is a Metro station nearby if your feet are feeling the strain. Casa Bonay is also notable for its very classy restaurants and bars. And its value for money, voted one of the best in the city.
The Pulitzer is a boutique hotel located right in the heart of Barcelona, a few steps from Plaza Cataluña. Its location is one of its main points of appeal, as it is surrounded by the best cultural attractions, the most exclusive shopping, the most important business centres and the hub of the entire urban transport network. Another of the Pulitzer’s attractions is its restaurant which is deeply rooted in the concept of slow food and healthy, locally sourced produce. It also has a beautiful patio overflowing with plants and an impressive rooftop terrace-garden (see above in “Barcelona: What to do”), with live concerts and DJ sessions that have become a benchmark within the music life of the city.
Generator Barcelona is a hostel in the bohemian district of Gràcia, just a short walk from Gaudi's Casa Batlló apartments. The interiors are made up of a quirky mix of styles that include an oversized wooden birdcage, a winding staircase and a mezzanine chill-out lounge. The rooms range from Penthouse Terrace Rooms which sleep up to 4 people, twin rooms, and shared dormitory rooms for as little as €12 per night. Whether you’re looking for the party hotel experience or rest and relaxation, the Generator is one of the best value and most interesting places to stay in Barcelona.
Built in 1908 and fully renovated in 2004, Casa Fuster is one of Barcelona’s emblematic Modernista buildings and a monument in itself. Designed by the famous Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose works have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, it is a grand building in a grand location, looking down on Paseo de Gracia, the Champs Élysées of Barcelona. There’s a lot we could say about this hotel, from the gorgeous interiors, the sumptuous restaurant, the exotic rooftop pool, but, in short, it is the definition of Barcelona elegance and style.
If you love Barcelona and you love retro design, you will love Retrome. It’s an eccentric, boutique hotel with a private-residence feel and a homely vibe made up of two buildings. One is full of 1950's – 70's vintage décor and curios, such as rare Ray Conniff LPs, gramophones, red velvet cinema seats, bubble lights and a peppermint-green Vespa. The other townhouse retains late 19th century details — most notably crystal tiles depicting the four seasons, which the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya has unsuccessfully tried to purchase. Retrome is well located in the middle of the Eixample, walking distance to the Sagrada Familia as well as Gaudi's famous buildings. It’s meters away from the metro (Girona L4).