Mike's guide to the capital of Catalonia

May 30, 2023 6:00:00 AM | Spain Mike's guide to the capital of Catalonia

I've gotten COVID 3 times in Barcelona. For some reason(s), I keep going back. Here are my suggestions for the capital of Catalonia.

| I've never been asked "Is Barcelona worth visiting?"

You've already decided to take the trip. Here is what you need to know about Barcelona if you've never visited before.  

Want to skip to the good stuff? 👉 Click the links below

👉 Tips for first-timers
👉 Free things to do/see
📍Google Maps pins
👉 Paid Attractions
👉 Neighborhoods & Where to Stay


5 things first time visitors to Barcelona should know:

  1. Many places are closed on Sundays, sometimes Mondays as well.
    In Barcelona, Sundays are quieter compared to other days of the week. Some businesses and attractions have limited operating hours or may be closed altogether. If you are only staying the weekend, make sure you visit the Mercat on Saturday. 
    Note: This includes grocery stores as well. Be forewarned if you are an AirBnB traveler who cooks in. Try to get your shopping done by Saturday evening at the latest. 
  2. Make reservations. 

    781C71E2-D0FA-4469-8B20-344865334B49Especially for Friday or Saturday night, full stop.

    You won't starve without them, but you will definitely miss out. Barcelona is a food city. Once you've chosen your place, make a reservation. You can usually do this online even if you don't have a Spanish phone # or speak the language. Google is your friend. 

  3. The metro & tram are easy to use and the best way to get around. The 10 journey T-Casual Card for €11.35 is your most cost effective ticket option.

    bcn tram You can pay with cash or card in the machines in the subway stations. Trams will have a ticket machine at the stop or on board. The best way to find your way around is literally Google Maps. Select transit options to choose only subway, tram, bus, etc.

  4. If you are combining your trip with a visit to Madrid, take the train.
    The train station (Sants) is in the center of the city so you will save at minimum 30 euros on each end by avoiding the taxi to/from the airport. Today there are 3 operators, IRYO, OUIGO, and Renfe. Check all three for the best option or price. 
    Tickets are dynamically priced so are more expensive the closer you book. It's possible to get a 1 way ticket for about €10 from IRYO or OUIGO if you book well enough in advance. 
  5. Save some money by picking a hotel away from Plaza Catalunya or Barrio Gótico
    Barcelona has always been a popular destination, but it's packed post-COVID. Expect to pay over €200/ night for an average hotel in these areas. Hostel prices are high as well.

Here are 4 other areas you can consider with property recs:


Poblenou is located just northeast of Barcelonetta. It's an industrial turned residential neighborhood. Through the middle is a restaurant lined rambla connecting it with the beach.  

👍 Pros: Quiet, but in the "thick of things" and close to the city
👎 Cons: It will cost more money to take a taxi from the airport or train station as it's further north of the center

🏢 My Hotel Rec: Four Points by Sheraton Diagonal
Usually around €100/ night, the rooms are small but very well laid out and modern.

🏠 My Apartment Rec: Durlet Apartments 
approximately the same price as the Four Points, but you get a larger unit with washer and a kitchen.

🍣 Sushi Rec: Bambú sushi & Udon
I'm a big fan of the poke bowl, this place is always fast, healthy, and the owner Alicia is awesome!


Sitges is a small city located just southwest of Barcelona on the R2 trainline. 

👍 Pros: Larger apartments are available, Sitges is way quieter than BCN

👎 Cons: Expect to spend €60 for a taxi ride from the airport or to the city. The train is quick, convenient, and costs about €5 each way.

🏢 My Hotel Rec: Sabàtic, Sitges, Autograph Collection
This might be my favorite Marriott property in the entire world. This hotel is an all-suite hotel with multiple pools, great views of the ocean, and lots of space for a hotel in Europe.

🏠 My Apartment Rec: Sitges Group Apartments

Diagonal Mar

Diagonal Mar is further Northeast from Poblenou. You can leverage the L4 metro or the trams to head into the city. 

👍 Pros: Shopping malls are very convenient, easy access to the L4 and the Tram lines. 
👎 Cons: It will cost more money to take a taxi from the airport or train station as it's further north of the center. 
🏢 My Hotel Rec: Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona
This property can get seriously expensive during high season, but I've also found it empty. It's an older hotel, but has a great pool area / club outside. Stay here if you're going to hit up the beach and party. 


For those coming for just a weekend on the train, staying at Sants may be a good choice to save time. Like many neighborhoods in Europe with a major train station, there may be transients around. This is a convenience choice. 

👍 Pros: If you arrive on the train, you're already at your hotel. Convenient location to Plaza Catalunya and the other tourist attractions, they are close, not next door. 
👎 Cons: Transient population, not aspirational.

🏢 My Hotel Rec: AC Hotel Sants
This property is basic, but has everything you need. It's not an aspirational hotel, but you'll likely be doing tourist things anyway. 

My favorite free places to visit in Barcelona

You've probably blown more than you planned on the hotel so want to make your money last. The suggestions following do not cost anything beyond a metro card and the food you purchase unless noted. 

📍 Google list of my favorite places (free and paid)

Walk La Rambla, visit Barrio Gótico, and el Born

When I show people around Barcelona, inevitably this is high on the list. Here is 📍my suggested walking route. It's also fun to just kinda get lost. Here are some specific tips! 

  1. Take the L3 or L4 to Urquinaona and start from here. If you need a coffee, hop into📍 El Corte Ingles. It's a department store, but there is a nice cafeteria on the the top floor. Head up here for amazing views of Plaça de Catalunya and have a pastry.
    Note: They also have a nice selection of food souvenirs in the Gourmet store on the ground floor. This will be cheaper than buying things on La Rambla. 
  2. Get to Mercado de La Boqueria early if you plan to sit down and eat at the Kioskos. DSC_3889It gets insanely crowded (and is a prime place to be pickpocketed, beware)! You will pay a tourism premium to eat here, but it can be worth it if you choose the right place (like everything in life, there are good and bad options). My two favorite are: 
    1. Bar Quiosc Modern 
    2. Kiosko Universal 
  3. If you want to have the Mercat Experience, but don't want to deal with the crowd, check out Mercat de Santa Caterina. It has about 10% of the tourist volume and is about a 10 minute walk away. DSC_2294If you want to grab a traditional Spanish lunch, Restaurant Casa Mari y Rufo across the street is a good option. 
  4. Güell Palace is paid (12), but you can walk around for free. If you do walk by, stop by Bar Kiosko La Cazalla. It's literally a hold in the wall that sells beer and tapas, but it's very cool!
  5. Parc de la Ciutadella is worth several hours. If you have the money to spend, the Zoo is quite nice. I would definitely visit the fountain and the Arco de Triunfo to cap off your walk.

Explore Montjuic

view from the port cable car barcelonaIf you're still standing after walking around La Rambla and el Born, you should head to Montjuic. If you have extra cash, you can take the cable car across the harbor for some amazing views. 

It costs 12.50 one way or €20 roundtrip. For those on a budget, you can take the Metro to the Paral·lel, then ride up the hill on the underground funicularOnce you've gotten up to Montjuic, you'll see breathtaking panoramic views of Barcelona's skyline and the Mediterranean Sea.

There are a variety of paid and free things to do including: 

  • Explore the historic Montjuic Castle, a fortress that dates back to the 17th century
  • Montjuic Magic Fountain is a captivating water and light show that mesmerizes spectators.
  • The Olympic Stadium, constructed for the 1992 Summer Olympics is also on Montjuic. Many people like checking out the torch and surrounding gardens and parks.  

Enjoy spectacular city panoramic views from Tibadabo 

Tibidabo is a mountain in Barcelona, Catalonia, known for its amusement park and stunning views of the city. Founded in 1901, it is one of the oldest amusement parks in the world. The park offers a range of attractions, including thrilling rides, a vintage carousel, a Ferris wheel, and a beautiful church, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, at its peak. Tibidabo is open on weekends and during holidays throughout the year, as well as during the summer season.

Visitors can reach Tibidabo by taking S1/S2 to Peu del Funicular, followed by a funicular ride to the mountain's summit. The park is free to enter, but you will need to pay for rides or attractions. 

My favorite paid activities in Barcelona

A couple of these are a bit removed from the city center. I'll leave it up to you to determine what your priorities are for your holiday. I mention them because these are things I would 100% do again but may take a bit of hustle to reach.

Explore a real life Labyrinth 

IMG_6731The Laberint d'Horta is a hedge maze located within the Parc del Laberint d'Horta in Barcelona's Horta-Guinardó district. Take the Metro L3 (Green Line) to Mundet station, followed by a 10-15 minute walk to the park entrance. The entrance fee is just over €2 per person. 

Navigate the labyrinthine paths created by tall hedges in search of the center, where a statue of Eros, the Greek god of love, awaits. During the colder months, the Labyrinth may be a bit bare. 

Barcelona VelodromeJust outside is the municipal velodrome which has a bar. For a couple euros you can catch the cyclists and have a refreshment.

Visit Park Güell

IMG_6698 (1)The park was built between 1900 and 1914 is my favorite work by Antoni Gaudí. It was was originally intended to be a residential complex inspired by the English garden city movement. However, the project was not successful, and only two houses were constructed. 

Of all the Gaudi works in Barcelona, this one is my personal favorite. It's relatively inexpensive: tickets are 10€ per person (compared with €30ish for other attractions) I'd expect to spend at least 1-2 hours here. 

Be aware there is some climbing involved so it's not an activity for people who want to walk around. It's located towards the northwest of the city so a good activity to combine with seeing Casa Vicens and some of the other famous houses. 

Visit Sagrada Familia

IMG_3190No blog is complete without mentioning Barcelona's most famous tourist attraction. You're already going to visit here, so here are some tips to make it easy for you: 

  1. You'll have to go through security to enter. Don't bring knives, or drugs. You also cannot bring outside food or drink in, so dump it before they scan your bag. 
  2. Tickets are €26 for the base price. There are no steep discounts. For example students and those under 30 receive €2 off tickets. Entering the tower costs extra. 
  3. It gets crowded and sells out. Book your tickets ahead of time for peace of mind and go early to avoid the crowds. 


Mike Lee

Written By: Mike Lee