Our Favorite Must Explore Locations in Barcelona Spain
Our Thanksgiving European adventure didn’t end with our departure from Switzerland. It continued in Spain with a visit to some of our friends living just outside of Barcelona! Kyle and I met Brandon, Rachel, and their two kids when we were all living in Minnesota. A couple years later they had moved to Spain for Brandon to get his MBA. We had planned our trip so that we could stop in to visit them for turkey day, as well as the benefit of having them show us around their new home. A travel method we definitely recommend.
Our Barcelona explorations were limited because we only had a few days there and of course preparing and eating our Thanksgiving feast. Our final day also included an unexpected medical emergency of Brandon and Rachel’s youngest, so we weren’t able to explore that day. However, we feel like we still got a perfect taste of Barcelona, and were grateful we were there to help. We will just have to go back sometime! All that said, here are our favorite must explore locations in Barcelona, Spain.
Catedral de Barcelona
Nestled in the middle of winding streets is the Catedral de Barcelona, a Gothic cathedral built between the 13th and 15th centuries. It is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young woman who was viciously killed. According to the traditional telling of the story, she was placed in a barrel with knives stuck into it, and then the barrel was rolled down the street.
The story may be horrifying, but the cathedral is not. It is filled with lovely pieces of art depicting the life and death of Christ, intricately carved choir stalls, colorful stained glass windows and a cloister area that always houses 13 white geese, representing how old Eulalia was when she was martyred. Definitely take the hike to the top of the cathedral to get a view of Barcelona from above. This location is free to visit, but make sure to check visiting hours, as there may be a service taking place when you want to visit.
Barcelona Christmas Market
At the end of November and into December, there is a Christmas Market set up right in front of Catedral de Barcelona. It is traditional to create your own Nativity with character figurines from the booths at the market. And there isn’t just your typical Nativity figurines, you could create an entire village with the unusual variety found there. There are also many Caga Tio (translated to pooping log), a cut branch propped up by two wooden legs, with a darling face painted on. On Christmas Eve, its tradition to sing special songs and hit the log with sticks to help the log with digestion so it will poop out sweets, nuts, and dried fruits. We made sure to bring one home to remember our time in Spain.
If you are in search of souvenirs, a bite to eat, or some sightseeing, make sure to visit Las Ramblas. This bustling road that cuts through the main part of Barcelona, showing off it’s beautiful architecture and exciting Spanish flair. Along Las Ramblas there are a variety of shops, vendors, street performers, theaters, restaurants, and artists. Our favorite stop here was the famous market, La Boqueria, which allowed us to take in the scent, sight, and taste of vibrant produce and fresh seafood.
Explorer Tip: Because this is a popular tourist destination, keep a low profile by keeping your tourist map tucked away, pockets monitored, and your belongings close at hand.
Dance and music are among my favorite ways to get to know a culture. The rhythms, articulation, and emotions embedded portray history that many other things cannot, which is why I find it so intriguing. Our show of choice was from Flamenco Barcelona. It seamlessly combined movement and music and incredible costumes, making my dancer heart incredibly happy! Tickets are reasonably priced for a professional performance, making this one of my top recommendations to get to know Spanish culture.
You can’t visit Barcelona without going to see one of the many locations for the distinct designs of Antoni Gaudi. The first we visited was Park Guell, a public park built between 1900 and 1914. It displays a plethora of mosaic work, uniquely columned structures, and beautifully lush gardens. Located on Caramel Hill, it also gives a great view of the city and Sagrat Cor Church on the nearby Tibidabo mountain.
Explorer Tip: We were here on the off-season, but there were still long lines to get into Park Guell. I highly suggest purchasing your entry ticket before arrival so that you can avoid those lines. It will make your visit much more enjoyable. Also, give yourself a couple hours at least to wander through the park. There is so much to see that you will be grateful you didn’t have to rush.
Eat Like a Local
One evening we were there, Brandon and Rachel hired a babysitter so that we could go to dinner. This may not seem out of the ordinary, until I mention that we didn’t arrive at the restaurant until 9:00pm, and didn’t start eating until 10:00pm. To us, that seemed late for our evening meal, but in Spain it is completely normal to dine at that time. And we were even early! When we arrived at the restaurant, it was close to empty except for us and the staff. However, within the next hour, it was filled to capacity.
Our friends suggested some of their local Catalan favorites; grilled sweet onions in with a creamy dipping sauce, melon wrapped in prosciutto, Spanish toast (a piece of grilled bread that you rub with garlic and tomato, then drizzle with olive oil and salt), and the big Catalan sausage. Other favorite tastes of the trip include: Catalonian Crema (a slightly citrusy creme brûlée), cones of gelato from Amorino, orange juice with vanilla gelato, churros with melted chocolate, and, of course, paella.
The Sagrada Familia
Last, but definitely not least, our favorite place to visit in Barcelona, The Sagrada Familia. Also designed by Gaudi, it has been under construction since 1883, and will hopefully be completed by 2030. I will be honest, I was expecting just another architecture tour of a beautiful building. I’m happy to report that I was incredibly mistaken.
Entering from side of the building with the Nativity Facade, this area was meant to showcase the beauty and life that was brought through the birth of Jesus Christ. It is filled with intricate carvings of flowers, plants, and of course the typical Nativity components; Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Shepherds, etc. This is impressive in it’s own right, but the inside of the Sagrada Familia is what really got me. The massive interior is filled with natural light coming in from the colorful stained glass windows. And then there are the columns, designed to look like trees, lifting your eyes heavenward.
On the opposite end of the building is the Passion Facade. Designed to oppose the lively quality of the Nativity Facade, the Passion Facade depicts the events of Christ’s crucifixion. The angular, bare, and rugged carvings, in contrast to the other parts of the building was a penetrating reminder of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Each piece of design is beautiful, but combined into one building, I was brought to tears. The artistry of the Sagrada Familia has made an impact that will not quickly be forgotten.