If you’re headed to Barcelona, here are my best tips to experience this vibrant city with free (or cheap) and local things to see and do.
The Catalans have perfected a world-renowned cuisine with a unique flavour all its own. A trip to Barcelona would not be complete without discovering some of the delicious staples of the Catalan home – traditional suquet, and savory arros, pa amb tomaquet, coques, allioli, and crème Catalana. Walking along Las Ramblas passed talented street performers, crafty vendors, and intriguing antique shops, detour through La Boqueria. This is one of the freshest food markets in the world and the best opportunity to learn the art of fresh produce and vegetable-picking from the locals. Stop for traditional tapas in the back (and less inexpensive) streets behind Las Ramblas.
Build a Human Tower
Nothing says Catalan culture like human towers! Help build a castell with the Castellers de Barcelona, as high as seven levels! Watch the enxaneta climb to the top and wave the Catalan flag as the crowds chant and dance to traditional Toc de Castells music. Every time I return to Spain, watching the castellers is my ultimate highlight. The energy and pure excitement of this 18-century tradition is unlike any other celebration. In fact, UNESCO recently declared the Castells of Catalunya one of the world’s intangible cultural heritages.
Experience the Festivals
Cultural festivals abound in Spain. Catch the big carnival in the winter, el Día de Sant Jordi, Spain’s Valentine’s Day in the spring, the Festa Major in the old town in the summer, or celebrate Catalunya Day in the fall. Join parades in the streets, performers on stilts, capgrossos, and the spectacular Carrefoc that take over Barcelona during their biggest celebration, Festa de la Mercè. Make a stop at the Catalan cava show or Fiestas de la Vendimia to experience the region’s best wine or relish in Barcelona’s famous grape-stomping!
Go Back in Time
Skip the tour guides and touristy bus tours. Discover Catalan architecture by walking through El Gotic. The gothic quarter is the oldest part of the city and where you can experience the historic past that’s distinctive of Catalunya. From Plaça de Catalunya to La Sagrada Familia, La Seu, Plaça Reial, Parc Güell, Palau Güell, Parc de la Ciutadella, La Pedrera, and Colonia Güell. On a Sunday, do as the locals – head over to Plaça Santa Jaume to people-watch and take in the sights of Barcelonians dancing la Sardana in the square.
Barcelona has breathtaking views of the Catalan landscape. Go off the beaten path and trek up the Tibidabo mountain to the highest point in the city for indescribable views of the Catalunya region. Visit the Tibidabo cathedral and amusement park. Hop on the cable car to the top of Montjuïc. Climb Catalunya’s greatest rocks through Montserrat to view the unique rock formations and visit the world famous basilica.
Picnic in the Labyrinth
Barcelona’s other undiscovered spot is the Labyrinth Park of Horta. Dating back to 1791, it’s the city’s oldest park and has become a fun place where you can lose yourself in a 9-hectare maze of lush green gardens. You can picnic by the statue of Eros, in a place considered to be Catalunya’s most peaceful (and often missed) park.
Siesta on the Beach
Catalans love their beaches in the morning, night and during siesta. Skip the crowded tourist beaches for the local beaches.