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Barcelona is one of Spain’s most incredible cities, thanks to its otherworldly Gaudí architecture, sunny coastal location right on the beach, delicious wine and tasty tapas. Here are eight things you should know before visiting so you can make the most of your time there.
1. Las Ramblas Is Touristy and Overcrowded
If it’s your first time in Barcelona, you may be desperate to see the famous avenue known as Las Ramblas. Just be aware that it’s extremely touristy and not particularly beautiful. You’ll see the same street vendors selling the same things street vendors sell in every other city — think fast food like kebabs and burgers, and a walkway that’s crowded and full of litter. There’s also a big chance you’ll get pick-pocketed on this street, especially if you do anything to make yourself stand out and look like a tourist. The real Barcelona is located off this street, so skip this touristy walk unless you’re truly dying to see it. If you do go, take good care of your belongings, and if you need an escape, nearby Plaça Reial is a lovely spot to duck into.
2. Buy Tickets for Tourist Attractions Online
Barcelona’s tourist attractions are pretty epic, which means the lines for them can often be very long. Many people line up in the morning to check out the Parc Güell, with its stunning Gaudí mosaics, but only a certain number of visitors are allowed in per day, so buying tickets ahead of time online will ensure you get to be one of the lucky ones. Visiting the park around dusk will also bring you fewer crowds and gorgeous sunset views of the city.
Speaking of Gaudí, as the Sagrada Família gets closer to its projected finish date, the more visitors it seems to get, so make sure to buy your tickets online if you want to see the cathedral that’s considered to be the architect’s magnum opus. And always plan to arrive a few minutes before your chosen time slot — if you miss it, your ticket won’t be honored at all.
3. Check the Time With the Sun
You can discover these cool solar clocks all around the city, so keep your eyes peeled. There’s one in the Botanical Garden, one in the Plaza del Sol, one at Casa Marti Trías in Parc Güell, one on the façade of the Lluïsos de Gràcia cultural center in the Plaça de Nord, one on Sant Josep Church in the Plaça de Lesseps, and the list goes on. See how many you can spot in this city of sunshine.
4. Stroll Through the Secret Labyrinth Park
Parc Güell gets all the attention in Barcelona, and while it’s an amazing spot, Parc del Laberint d’Horta is much less visited but just as lovely. The 18-acre gardens, said to be the oldest in the city, were once part of a private estate owned by the Desvalls family. Construction of the gardens dates back to 1791, and the park was opened to the public in 1971.
Besides the carefully trimmed bushes and hedges that have created maze-like pathways (just under seven feet high) for visitors to wander through, the park is also home to small temples and pavilions, lots of statues (mainly of Greek gods and goddesses) and a quaint pond with a small bridge. Entrance costs about 2 euros (~$2) and make sure you get there early as only a certain number of visitors are allowed to enter daily between 10:00am and dusk.
5. Skip La Boqueria and Head to More Local Mercados
While La Boqueria market is neat, it’s no longer where Barcelona locals shop or hang out. Geared entirely toward tourists, the market is crowded, expensive and often the site of crimes like pickpocketing.
If you really want that local shopping experience, head over to Santa Caterina Market. Although it’s been renovated recently, the market is only a few years younger than La Boqueria — Santa Caterina, which was the first covered market in the city, opened in 1848. Besides exploring the 100 or so market stands filled with fruits, meats, veggies, and pastries, head away from the market and crane your neck to get a view of the roof, which is covered in 325,000 ceramic tiles in more than 60 different colors. Another great option is Mercat Princesa, a trendier market hidden in away in a small square. The 17 or so stalls there feature a mix of traditional Spanish, Catalan and international food and host live music as well as other events.
6. See Something Weird at a Wacky Museum
You can actually visit a whole bunch of strange and creepy museums, if you’re in the mood for something completely different. For starters, there’s the Funeral Carriages Museum, with a collection of funeral carriages used in the 18th century to carry bodies to cemeteries, the Erotic Museum, which should be fairly self-explanatory and the King of Magic Museum. You can also check out scents dating back to 1961 at the Museum of Perfume or learn everything you ever wanted to know about pot at the Hash, Marihuana & Hemp Museum.
7. Visit an Underground Air-Raid Shelter
It’s no secret that Barcelona is touristy, and while the main attractions are incredible, you may also want to get off the beaten path for a while. For an alternative tourist attraction, visit an air-raid shelter used during the Spanish Civil War. There’s one below the Plaça del Diamante that can hold up to 200 people. Tours take place at 11:00am on Sunday (by reservation only) and cost 3 euros (~$3). To get a look inside, call 34 932 196 134 or email email@example.com beforehand. You can also reserve tours for the Refugi 307, another underground raid shelter, through the History Museum of Barcelona.
8. Go Beyond La Sagrada Família
While the unfinished Sagrada Família is truly awe-inspiring, it’s not the only beautiful church in the city. The Cathedral of Barcelona is a Gothic church dating back to 1298 that you shouldn’t miss. The Expiatory Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus is covered in turrets with a statue of Jesus at the very top, eyeing the city of Barcelona from a high hilltop. The Royal Monastery of Saint Mary of Pedralbes has a picturesque courtyard surrounded by arch after arch, all dating back to the 14th century. The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar is also a special building in the city’s Ribera district that was built in the 1300s. If you have a trip planned to Barcelona, reading the novel Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones just before you go will make your trip and visit to the Santa Maria church even more special.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Barcelona? Tell us about them, below.
Featured image courtesy of Yin Jiang / EyeEm via Getty Images.
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