I first went to Barcelona in August of 2017 and since then, it has been hard to rank any of the many cities I have been to or lived in around the world in the last five years, above it. I can confidently say it's still my favorite place on earth, even five years, and many countries later. The only places I can think of that come close is Melbourne being a close second. Then Kuala Lampur and Taipei. I'm pretty confident Porto would be in my top five cities around the world as well.
There is so much to say about Barcelona so I'll do my best to keep this as short as I possibly can. I just want to do everything possible to make sure you're well prepared for your dream vacation to Barcelona.
First and foremost, it is very important to understand that while every Catalonian speaks Spanish, Catalonia has its own language called Catalan. Spanish speakers know that it's possibly more closely related to French than it is Spanish. For instance, I had an easier time reading signs in Portugal than I did in Barcelona with my basic conversational Spanish.
Barcelona is also designed in city square block structures called, "Islas." Every block is, a literal block (square), making it nearly impossible to get lost. Name me another city with a better city design and I'll call you a liar. It makes so much sense and it's a great design for all the clueless foreigners, but, you're not one of them if you're reading this :).
There are tons of taxis in the city and I know it's really easy to just wave one down and get somewhere hassle free, but I think the true experiences come from putting in the extra time and effort to figure out and ride the public transportation systems.
The metro in Barcelona is called the, "TMB." This systems consists of both trains and buses. Each single ride ticket costs 2.40€ per trip but you can purchase 24 hour, 48 hour or 72 hour passes up to (If I remember correctly) 10 days. Just don't lose the ticket!
There is an airport pass for one trip from the city to the airport (El Prat International is a one hour trip south of the city on the metro) or from the airport to the city. For 5.95€ you can take the airport express bus from Plaça de Catalunya (at the start of La Rambla) or Plaça d'Espanya to the airport. The airport express bus will save you about 25 minutes of time.
La Rambla is the most recognizable place in Barcelona. It's a world famous and long pedestrian filled street leading from Plaça de Catalunya to Barceloneta and the harbor. Here you'll find far too many tourists lots of shops to fill your hearts desire of whatever it is you may want to remind you of your time in Barcelona.
Plaça de Catalunya is a beautiful and bustling city square complete with a water fountain. It is here where you'll find shops and fast food joints as well as all the tourist tour buses. Plaça de Catalunya is the beginning to La Rambla if you are going northwest to southeast on the popular street.
La Sagrada Familia is the truly special basilica designed by world famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. This basilica is still not completed and won't be until 2026. It has currently been under construction for 144 years. It is worth every second. I highly recommend you book your tickets as far in advance as humanly possible. I also recommend booking a ticket that includes a guided tour. I have been in way to many basilicas and cathedrals to count and this basilica is the most special of them all.
Speaking of Antoni Gaudi, his inner city houses Casa Battló and Casa Mila are located on the same street just a few hundred meters from each other. It is possible to enter both but they're a bit expensive and I have never been in either considering I've been to Barcelona three times. I am one to believe viewing them from the outside is enough.
If you're an art lover you're going to want to visit the Museu Picasso de Barcelona. It's the museum of Pablo Picasso in Barcelona. His works are spread out through different locations around the world, but take comfort in knowing he spent his most influential years in Barcelona, which may make this specific museum the most influential Picasso art museum in the world. If you arrive at a place that looks like a house, you're at the right place. It's very unsuspecting.
The best views of the Mediterranean Ocean and the Barcelona harbor come from Montjuïc Castle. This fortress dates back to 1640 and is what protected the city from attack by sea. It can be reached by cable car if you're not looking to walk up the mountain yourself or take a city bus, or pay for the taxi for that matter.
In one time effective chunk, I recommend starting at Plaça d'Espanya for those perfect Instagram photographs with the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc and the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in the background. After your photographs you can make your way up to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and then walk behind it into the gardens.
Plaça d'Espanya with the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya in the background
When you think of the name, Arc de Triomf, you think of the one in Paris, France. The one in Barcelona isn't quite as historically relevant and popular with tourists. That being said it's still worth a visit. The park surrounding it, called Parc de la Ciutadella, is also quite beautiful and worth a casual stroll.
Arc de Triomf
If you're like me, when you travel you're looking for the best spots to grab good food and a beer. Spain is certainly known for its wine so it's nice to find a good beer spot for us beer connoisseurs. I cannot recommend Black Lab Brewery in the Barceloneta area enough. This is near the harbor so stop in for a good beer or two...maybe three when you need to catch a break from exploring or the sun and heat. I cannot recommend the Alitas BBQ enough as your meal (chicken wings with BBQ sauce). My favorite beer they offer is the Amazonia beer. The Eddie is also a good secondary option.
For the sports lovers there is always the 1992 Olympics Site. The outdoors open and closing ceremonies and track and field stadium is usually open to just walk into for free.
If you have time for a day trip, I recommend a trip to Montserrat. This mountainous region about an hour outside of Barcelona is famous for its historic monastery. The inside is magnificent and worth the visit alone. Make sure you follow the side paths to the world famous Black Madonna. Catholics around the roll make pilgrimages here to touch the exposed arm of it. Outside of the monastery is a days worth of hiking if that's what you're into. The views of the mountain ranges of Catalunya are spectacular.