The Ultimate Jetset Guide to Barcelona
Traveling to Barcelona soon and wondering what you can’t miss? This city is full of vibrant culture, delicious food, world-class nightlife, stunning views and magnificent architecture. Did I mention there’s amazing beaches too? It’s no wonder Barcelona tops most people’s must-see lists when they head to Europe. If you’re wondering what to do in Barcelona, where to eat, and where to find the best Sangria in the city – you came to the right place. Whether you’re traveling to Barcelona for the first or fifth time, coming on a romantic getaway, a group trip, a business trip, or studying abroad in Europe this summer and looking for all the must-sees on your weekend trip to Spain, this ultimate guide to Barcelona is for you.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
I can’t imagine a better luxury hotel in Barcelona than this exquisite resort… I mean have you SEEN the rooftop pool?!?!? The facilities and the location are impossible to beat – the MO is right in the middle of the city and a walk away from the top things to do in Barcelona like La Sagrada Familia, Las Ramblas, and the Gothic Quarter.
The hotel’s head chef is also the world-famous Carme Ruscalleda, the ONLY woman in the world with 7 Michelin stars. At the resort, you can dine in one of their beautiful restaurants or dine al fresco in the Mimosa garden, or the rooftop terrace.
The W Barcelona is an urban oasis. This contemporary resort is closer to the beaches than the old town, and draws a younger crowd because of it. It’s definitely one of the nicest places to stay in Barcelona.
Hotel Majestic Barcelona
This classic luxury hotel is one of the best places to base during your stay in Barcelona. With 2 elegant restaurants, an increeedible spa, and one of the coolest rooftop bars in the city.
Grand Hotel Central Barcelona
To me, deciding where to stay in Barcelona is basically just deciding who has the best rooftop. If you’re the same way, book the Grand Hotel Central. It’s located on the famous Via Laietana, right at the doorstep of Barcelona’s old town, making it one of the most iconic buildings in the area. It’s a 15-minute walk from the beach with gorgeous views of the Gothic Quarter and the Barcelona Cathedral in every direction. And the rooftop is to die for.
The Best Things to Do in Barcelona
The beautiful Park Guell in Barcelona’s suburb of Gracia is a must on any trip to Barcelona! The park itself is free to enter but to see the crazy-colorful mosaic Gaudi tiling up close and personal, you’ll want to get into the monumental zone. A general ticket is €7.
JETSET TIP: In order to get into the area with the beautiful mosaic benches and views of the city (called the Monumental Zone), you must buy a ticket ahead of time! The amount of visitors allowed is limited, and the first time I went here I was turned away and had to come back 8 hours later (eye roll), learn from my mistakes and buy online first!
La Sagrada Familia
Did you know that La Sagrada Familia is the most visited tourist attraction in the world? Barcelona’s modernist architecture is almost synonymous with architect Antoni Gaudí’s name and the Sagrada Familia, one of the craziest pieces of gothic architecture in the world, is his most famous legacy. Make sure you head inside to see the basilica! (entry is €15).
The busy stretch of Las Ramblas – a main wide pedestrian avenue in the center of the city, is one of the best places to start your trip. To get there if your hotel isn’t within walking distance, take the metro to the Plaça Catalunya metro stop. Then take a leisurely stroll and soak up the Spanish culture, the people, the alfresco restaurants and all the shopping along the way. Keep walking and keep an eye out for the beautiful iconic Barcelonian architecture & all of the bright, colorful, modernist buildings in the area.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter
Parallel to the Port of Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter, where the architecture is some of the oldest and most beautiful in the entire city. These days, it’s one of the hottest neighborhoods in Barcelona, and adorable cozy cafes and restaurants line every corner. I love to get lost in the narrow streets and alleyways. The best thing to do in the Gothic Quarter is to just wander and see what you come upon! Don’t miss the Barcelona Cathedral – it’s beautiful!
Palau De La Musica
One of the city’s most breathtaking modernist landmarks, this theater was built in 1908 with the aim of promoting and preserving Catalan music. The theater is open for tours or self-guided walkthroughs from 10am-3:30pm every day. Don’t miss the beautiful balconies on the second level!
The Picasso Museum
One of Europe’s most famous museums, this is a great one to visit when you’re in Barcelona
Go to an FC Barcelona Soccer game!
If you’re in town anytime from August-May, you’re going to want to check FC Barcelona’s schedule and see if there’s a home game to go to! FC Barcelona – Barcelona’s soccer team, has more fans than any other sports team in the world (!!!!), and is one of the most profitable sports franchises in history. The stadium – Camp Nou – is the third largest football stadium in the world and is located right in the middle of the city! The fandom at a home game is just as energetic and contagious as you would expect, and it’s so much fun to be a part of.
JETSET TIP: Pick up a FC Barcelona jersey in town before the game to wear! They’re under 20 euros as opposed to the high-priced ones in the stadium.
JETSET TIP 2: Even if there’s not a game in town when you’re there, you can tour the stadium, locker rooms, press rooms, and the FC Barcelona museum- located inside the stadium. It’s very impressive and cool to see whether you’re a big soccer fan or not!
Explore the Eixample Area
Barcelona’s best shopping and dining streets are found in the Eixample area, and it is home to Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, Casa Mila and La Sagrada Familia, as well.
The best beaches in Barcelona
Even without its beaches, Barcelona would be one of Europe’s best destinations thanks to its incredible culinary and cocktail scene, drop-dead-gorgeous architecture and legendary nightlife. But the cherry on top of the sundae is the three-mile stretch golden sand right in the city’s backyard, only about a half hour walk from the city’s center. Beach swimming season on Barcelona’s beaches is anytime from May through September.
These are my picks of where to go:
Barceloneta and Sant Miguel : the heart of Barcelona’s beach scene. Named as the #1 urban beach in the world by National Geographic.
Sant Sebastía: bustling stretch near the W hotel, gets more boisterous as the day goes on.
Mar Bella: From Mar Bella and farther north, the beaches tend to be even quieter, cleaner, and with fewer vendors walking the beach. Mar Bella also has some of the cleanest white sand.
How to get to Barcelona’s beaches
All of Barcelona’s beaches are on the yellow Metro line L4. You can get off at Barceloneta metro station then walk to the Barceloneta beach in about 15 minutes. Once you get there, you can walk along the sea to all the different beaches.
Where to Eat in Barcelona
La Boqueria market
Right along the famous tourist strip of Las Ramblas, you’ll find one of Europe’s largest and most celebrated markets – La Boqueria, which has been a Barcelona staple since 1217 (!!). Here, you can taste so many different aspects of Catalan cuisine and culture, from decadent seafood and oysters to fresh-squeezed fruit juices to tapas, meats, cheeses & wines, traditional Catalonian salted cod, and lots of mediterranean olives everywhere you look. Check out El Pinotxo for tapas.
The easiest way to get to La Boqueria is to take the Green Metro line to Liceu Station, and from there it’s a short one minute walk over to the market. The market is open from 8 am till 8:30 pm Monday to Saturday (closed on Sundays). Bring cash for the vendors here, as few take card.
If you’re looking for the freshest, best seafood in Barcelona, and a nicer meal in Barcelona, you are going to LOVE Botafumeiro. This upscale, nautical-themed traditional Spanish and seafood restaurant is by far the best meal I had on my trip. Order the seafood tower and the lobster paella!
The Best Places for Tapas in Barcelona
Ciutat Comtal – This place might just have the best tapas and pintxos in Barcelona! (Pintxos are little ‘snacks’ that you pick out by choosing them at the bar, and they are so delicious). It’s a little harder to get a table at this spot because it’s so popular with the locals.
Viana – If you’re looking for an upscale, luxe, farm-to-table tapas experience, go to Viana.
Cera 23 – The reasonably-priced tapas restaurant is super popular and usually packed until quite late. Definitely make a reservation. Try the Black Rice Volcano, with seafood ‘rocks’ and saffron-flavored ‘lava’, and the blackberry mojito.
Tapas 24 (Dreta de L’Eixample area)
Known for their huevos rotos (“smashed” eggs over potatoes with chorizo) and their pan con tomato is SO GOOD! The vibe is local and hoppin’, grab a seat at the bar for the best seat in the house.
Bar Mundial (El Born area) – For traditional Barcelona tapas in an unfussy, casual local atmosphere, head to Bar Mundial. The service could use some work but the food is excellent and very good value.
Teoric Taverna Gastronomica – If you’re looking for the best tapas in Barcelona, you’ve found your spot. Teoric Taverna is moderately priced and their tapas will be the most memorable of your trip!
Where to find the best paella in Barcelona
Pass the paella, please.
JETSET TIP: Spaniards eat dinner at around 10 so, as the foreigners we are, you probably won’t need a reservation around 8/830 for most places. Paella is traditionally eaten on Thursday so traditional restaurants may be more crowded then. & restaurant menus generally show paella prices per person.
Botafumeiro – Okay, this is mainly a seafood restaurant (and one of my top places to eat in Barcelona!) but their paella is out of this world! I loved the lobster paella, which goes perfectly with a seafood tower. You’ll need reservations at this one, and it’s a meal you’ll remember for years.
Barracca – this urban beach restaurant serves up some of the best paella and seafood in Barcelona (cooking is overseen by double-Michelin-starred chef Xavier Pellicer) and is located right at Barceloneta beach.
Xiringuito Escriba – It’s right on the beach so this spot is ideal after a day in the sun. The paella is mouth-wateringly good and seafood lovers will LOVE its famous paella negra (paella with squid ink).
The Best Places for Cocktails in Barcelona
This trendy bar is known for it’s beautiful old-world atmosphere and swanky cocktails. With glass walls lined up with weathered wood, low couches, extravagant lights and an extensive list of signature cocktails, this is the perfect place to start your night.
I dream about Marmalade’s frozen cocktails. This place is so swanky. It has beautiful sofas, a hand-carved black matte billiard table, copper clad antique walls and a four meter tall chrome art deco bar. It’s like Havana Nights meets Great Gatsby. And I love it.
The Best Rooftop Bars in Barcelona
Terrat at Mandarin Oriental Barcelona
Michelin-starred chef Gastón Acurio serves up delish food on this beautiful open-air terrace rooftop; from traditional ceviches to sharing plates such as griddled scallops and spiced yucca balls. Grab a poolside lounge bed and enjoy the view.
Jetset’s order: The Espresso Oaxaca – like an Espresso Martini but better, made with Mezcal, Kahlua, coffee and agave. Olé!
Soho House Barcelona
For drinks with a view, you’re going to want to make sure you head here.
If you’re lucky enough to be a member, head to the Soho House, which is nestled in one of the best locations of the city between the sea and the Gothic Quarter, and always houses a hip crowd of artsy professionals.
Jetset’s order: A Soho House sangria.
Skybar at Grand Hotel Central
Even if you’re not staying at the Grand Hotel Central, you can still hang out at its gorg rooftop Sky Bar and infinity pool from 1.30pm til 9pm. (Outside those times, they keep it to guests only.)
Jetset’s order: The Berry Mojito
If you’re less in it for the views and more in it for the vibe, the Pulitzer Terrace at the Pulitzer Hotel is your spot. They have a line-up of live music and DJ’s five nights a week,
Jetset’s order: Aperol spritz and the artisan cheese board.
Where to Go Out in Barcelona
If you’re studying abroad in Barcelona, welcome to your new favorite bar. Chupitos – which translates to “shots” in English, is always a phenomenal night out. And yes, the menu is all shots (flaming, decadent, and super fun shots). JETSET TIP: Don’t order the Monica Lewinsky (but order it for your friend).
Opium Club is one of the mainstays if you’re looking to have a true Barcelona night out (read: dance until the sun rises).
Eclipse at The W Barcelona
The Eclipse club at the W Barcelona is located on the 26th floor of the contemporary resort. From fun DJ’s to luxe cocktails, this club is one of the best places to go out on any night of the week in Barcelona. You can also reserve a VIP table here.
What is there to do outside of Barcelona?
Road Trip to Costa Brava from Barcelona!
Costa Brava, the coastal mediterranean region between France and Spain, is just an hour and a half from Barcelona, and is one of the most beautiful coasts I’ve ever seen! I couldn’t believe that more people don’t talk about this place (and that the prices are still so reasonable!!) since its beauty and mediterranean charm easily rivals the coasts of the South of France and Italy! Costa Brava is well worth the (easy) road trip to escape the city for a few days & soak up the sun! You’ll be blown away by the turquoise-blue water, the rugged coastlines, and the adorable romantic hotels tucked into the cliffs. Heaven!!!
Where to stay in Costa Brava
When you get to Costa Brava, you’re definitely not going to want to leave. I am so happy that we stayed at the Hotel Cala Del Pi, a charming five-star hotel with its own private beach. Aside from the breathtaking beach and coastal walk, a huge highlight of Cala Del Pi is its spa and restaurant – the breakfast is to-die-for and included with the room, but make sure to have dinner at the hotel and ask the sommelier to recommend you a Spanish wine – their wine list is incredible!!!
What to do in Costa Brava
If you manage to leave your perfect set up at Hotel Cala Del Pi, take a ride to one of the many beaches (I loved Aiguablava and Playa Illa Roja!!) and, after that, head to nearby Pals – a gorgeous medieval town tucked into the Costa Brava hillside. There, Then head to Begur, another adorable medieval town, to explore and have pintxos at El Tapas De Begur in the center of the town (soooo good!).
Do you need to know Spanish to travel to Barcelona?
Speaking a little Spanish definitely helps when traveling throughout Spain. While you can get around on English alone, you’ll be able to do and experience so much more of the city if you at least have a working level of español. I recommend downloading the Rosetta Stone Language Learning App before your trip to learn basic travel-ready Spanish through their immersive language lessons.
Leading up to my recent trip to Barcelona this Summer, I knew I wanted to brush up on my high-school-level Spanish with Rosetta Stone, because I was headed to a wedding of a friend and let’s just say no part of the ceremony or reception was in English… I definitely didn’t want to be the only one not able to follow along, so I started studying! What I loved about Rosetta Stone is I could do the lessons on planes, trains, and ubers, whenever I had the time leading up to my trip! Whether you’re starting from scratch and especially if you have some knowledge of Spanish to begin with, you’ll be surprised how quickly the language comes to you!
Is Barcelona safe to travel to?
As with any big city in the world, you need to exercise caution, street smarts and follow basic travel safety. Pickpocketing and and bag/phone/camera snatchers are unfortunately a big issue here, so make sure you blend in and don’t look like a tourist mark. And make sure you secure your valuables, and if you’re going out clubbing at night, consider leaving your phone at home.
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