Last Updated on March 23rd, 2023
If you know me, you know I’m madly in love with Spain! I’ve lived there twice – once as study abroad student and again as an English teacher – and traveled back many times. The other day, I came up with the idea to write a ‘Spain Bucket List’ series. Over the next two weeks, I will share 10 posts highlighting the best that Spain has to offer for first-time visitors. Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain so I figured I’d start with it. This self-guided walking tour of Barcelona with a map to introduce you to the city. This Barcelona walking tour will guide you to some of the must-see spots in the city, from the Gothic Quarter to the Gaudi architecture.
This is the first post in the Spain Bucketlist series. Here’s the complete 10-part series:
Spain Bucket List Series
Culture: 9 Experiences You Must Have in Spain
Off the beaten path: 8 Underrated Cities You Need To Visit in Spain
Barcelona: A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona
Barcelona Walking Tour with Map for First Time Visitors
Before we dive into the walking tour, I need to throw in my two cents. I’ve visited Barcelona twice. Get ready for a shocker….
I think Barcelona is way overrated, one of the most overhyped cities in Europe.
What? I know I’m in the minority. Everyone raves about Barcelona, but to me, it’s like a giant theme park with a Spanish flair. It’s like a Disneyfied version of Spain with a few pockets of novelty. This city caters so much to tourists that I can’t quite pinpoint its personality. There’s a somewhat laid-back vibe, but overall it just feels like another big city with lots of concrete. Just being honest. I should also note that I had really high expectations because of all the hype. That’s probably why I was so underwhelmed and, dare I say, bored?
So why am I writing this post if I don’t care for Barcelona? One word: Gaudi. You’ve probably heard of him. Touring the architecture of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi is the reason to visit Barcelona. Also, I know most first-time visitors to Spain will want to visit Barcelona, and I think they should. Go with no expectations and see for yourself. I’d recommend you stay 3-4 days in Barcelona and then head down to Granada, which is, in my humble opinion, the greatest city in Spain.
Besides Gaudi’s art, there are different neighborhoods and attractions to explore. Barcelona is a walkable city with a few hilly areas. A walking tour is one of the best ways to explore the neighborhoods and attractions. I will show you a route to visit 10 of Barcelona’s must-see spots. Here we go.
The time required for the walking tour
2 hrs 58 minutes if you follow the route without stopping. I’d recommend you reserve a half day for this tour so you can really get to know the city. You can also break it into two tours over two days to reduce the walking.
Items to pack
- Comfortable shoes – preferably running shoes since there are some hills to climb.
- Portable WiFi – having access to WiFi at your fingertips makes travel so much easier. I’ve been using the Travel WiFi Portable Hotspot device to access reliable wifi abroad for years – it’s convenient and reliable. You can read my full review of Travel WiFi to see the pros and cons of the device.
- Water – stay hydrated, my friends!
- Map or GPS – Google maps, Apple maps, the Moovit app, a physical map, whatever works best for you.
- Camera – you can use your phone camera, but a DSLR will capture those Gaudi buildings so much better! I always recommend the Nikon D3400 for beginners.
- Snacks – if you get hungry easily like me then pack some granola bars or fruit. My go-to travel snack, the WanderBar, is a protein bar made specifically for travelers and frequent flyers. I can’t get enough of the Cocoa Crunch flavor.
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A Self-Guided Walking Tour of Barcelona
1. The Gothic Quarter
First stop: the Gothic Quarter. It is one of the coolest areas in Barcelona. As the name suggests, it is home to Gothic architecture dating back 2,000 years! The Romans built the structures. The Gothic Quarter is essentially the old part of the city so there’s a lot of history there. Explore the Gothic Cathedral, King’s Square (beautiful!), the narrow streets, and the tapas bars (locals say it has the best tapas in the city.) The Gothic Quarter is a nice place to just meander and get lost for a while.
While you could certainly walk aimlessly around The Gothic Quarter, you might miss a lot of details. So I’d definitely recommend a guided tour if you’re a history buff or just want to discover the hidden corners of this mysterious neighborhood. There’s a popular 2-hour Gothic Quarter Tour by one of my favorite tour companies, Get You Guide. A local guide will take you on a journey to the Middle Ages and tell you some out-of-this-world tales about the ancient palaces of kings and bishops. I did this tour, and it was one of the highlights of my second visit to Barcelona!
2. Parc de la Ciutadella
Next on the tour is this gorgeous park designed by none other than Gaudi. Actually, the entire park wasn’t designed by Gaudi – just the waterfall below, known as the Cascada Monumental. It is a relaxing natural environment in the heart of the city. Go for a stroll and sit back for a moment. You will need the rest to take on the climbs coming up. Fun fact: in the 18th century, this park was used as a prison.
3. La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family) is probably the most famous and impressive of all of Gaudi’s works. You just have to see the inside! The intricacy of the designs left me thinking ‘How did this man come up with this stuff?” Interestingly enough, the church was never actually finished. It is still under construction and is slated for completion in 2028.
Due to its history and cultural significance, La Sagrada Familia is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you want to experience La Sagrada Familia, you need to go on a guided tour and also avoid these 5 mistakes! I’d recommend the Get Your Guide La Sagrada Familia L:ive Guide with Towers tour with access to both the interior and the iconic Nativity towers above. If you’d rather just see the interior, then go with this La Sagrada Familia Skip-the-Line tour with a live guide showing you all around the inside of the massive basilica for 90 minutes.
A guided tour is hands down the best way to fully experience the wonder of La Sagrada Familia. When you have a local guide explaining what you’re looking at, you’ll have a much more meaningful experience and walk away with a greater appreciation for the historic site. I’ve been doing Get Your Guide tours across Europe since 2015. I absolutely love the convenience of skipping lines and the top-notch, knowledgeable, and friendly guides!
Buying Tickets for La Sagrada Familia
People used to show up at the entrance of La Sagrada Familia and buy a ticket. Nowadays, the basilica has become so popular that you need to buy a ticket online. I learned this the hard way after showing up at La Sagarada Familia hoping to buy a ticket at the door. I was turned away.
If you just want to visit and tour on your own without a guide, you can simply purchase an entrance ticket with audio guide at least a week in advance. The earlier the better, especially if you’re travel during the peak summer season. Tickets sell out fast. That said, I’d recommend a private La Sagrada Familia tour for the convenience of skipping the ridiculously long lines and getting a more personalized experience. I’ve done the Get Your Guide La Sagrada Familia tour with a live guide and highly recommend it to anyone visiting Barcelona.
4. Bunkers del Carmel
Located at the top of the Turó de la Rovira hill, Bunkers del Carmel is one of the best places to get a 360 view of the entire city. These fortifications were built during the Spanish civil war in the 1930s to protect the city from bombings. There is a bit of a climb to get to the top of the bunker, but the views are so worth it! If you like, you can take snacks and a blanket with you so you can it and relax while admiring the view. Also, this is the perfect viewpoint to watch the sunset or the sunrise.
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5. Park Güell
This quirky park looks like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. It is probably the most whimsical and colorful of Gaudi’s works in Barcelona. You’ll find a couple of gingerbread-looking houses, some long slanted pillars that look like ice cream cones, along with a giant lizard painted with a mosaic of colors. There are two parts of Park Güell: the public park and the monumental zone with Gaudi’s buildings. You need a ticket to tour the monumental zone, but the adjacent public park is free.
Opened in 1926, Park Güell is another one of the many UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Barcelona. As with Bunkers del Carmel, you also need to climb up a hill to get here. Definitely, buy tickets online before you go as it gets super busy, just like all the attractions on this list. If you’d like to skip the lines and get a personalized tour, then consider the Park Güell Guided Tour With a Skip-the-Line Ticket by Get Your Guide. You’ll stroll around the park with a live guide and discover the story behind the quirky structures. You also get to skip the long lines with this tour as opposed to if you just bought an entrance ticket.
6. La Gracia Neighborhood
This neighborhood in the north of Barcelona, where Park Guell is located, is a haven for creatives and hipsters. Think murals, vegan coffee, and reiki. You could say it’s the trendy district of Barcelona but also has a quiet residential area with a few leafy plazas. The Gracia neighborhood has the feel of those small villages in the south of France – charming and quaint. It’s an escape from the overwhelm of the city center. On Verdi Street, you’ll find an abundance of boutique shops and cuisines from around the world.
If you visit in mid August, there’s a huge festival called Festa Major de Gracia. The streets are decorated with colorful flowers, balloons, lights for a week-long competition. Residents go full-out to win the award for best-decorated street. I’m not sure what the prize is for the winner, but I figure the bragging rights would be sweet.
7. Casa Milà
Also known as La Pedrera, this Gaudi creation is a somewhat puzzling complex made of stone. Built in 1910, it is a residential building with a wiggly shape and has some of the elements of Park Guell. When Gaudi completed this building, people thought it was hideous! That’s how it earned the unsavory nickname, La Pedrera, or ‘Quarry House.’ That’s how it got the nickname ‘La Pedrera’ which translates to ‘the Quarry House.’ The best way to experience Casa Milà is to do a tour with an audio guide. With this tour, you get to skip the line and also view the house from the rooftop. The vantage point from the rooftop is really something special!
8. Casa Batlló
Also by Gaudi, Casa Batlló (pronounced ca-sa bat-yo) is similar in shape to Casa Mila, but the outside is far more colorful and vibrant. Unlike Casa Mila, Gaudi didn’t build Casa Batlló from scratch. The wealthy Batlló family, the owners of the home, commissioned Gaudi to demolish their existing home and build a new one. Instead, Gaudi simply refurbished it and added his signature waves on the exterior. The best way to see Casa Batlló is to do a guided tour with an interactive video guide. You can skip the lines and explore all of the building at your own pace.
9. Palau de Musica Catalana
Palau de Musica Catalana is a concert hall and a UNESCO World Heritage Site with exquisite design and decor! The venue hosts performers from all around Spain and the world – Flamenco dancers, opera singers, pianists, and more. Beyond the performances, Check their website to see upcoming shows or you can just go take a look at the beautiful interior. If you want to do a full tour of the structure and learn about the history, I’d recommend the Palau de Musica Catalana self-guided tour. It allows you access to parts of the hall that are not normally available to the public.
10. La Boqueria
After doing all that walking, it’s time for some food. La Boqueria is a busy market along Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian street in Barcelona. It seems like a tourist trap at first glance, and you’ll find travelers who say you should avoid this place. I disagree. I think La Boqueria is worth a visit. It is a little pricey though so I wouldn’t go here more than once. Try the sepia (cuttlefish) at one of the stands towards the entrance and quite enjoyed it. If you’re not into seafood, no worries. This place is packed with all types of food, from typical ones like Paella to Catalan favorites. If you like food markets, you won’t be disappointed by this place. Even if you just walk around and grab a smoothie, it’s worth a stop.
Ready for your walking tour of Barcelona?
Before your trip, let’s make sure you have skip-the-line-access to Barcelona’s famous landmarks and attractions and a ticket for the best tours and activities. You’ll find them all through my go-to tour operator, Get Your Guide.
I’ve been going on Get Your Guide tours around the world since 2018. They are seriously the most educational and engaging tours out there, with the friendliest tour guides and the easiest signup process. Choose from one of these highly-rated tours. It will make your visit to Barcelona so much more amazing.
There you have it – your very own self-guided tour of Barcelona! Which of these spots are you most excited to see? Comment below.
Travel Resources I Love
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For more travel product recommendations, check out my travel essentials page.
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