City Guides: Barcelona

One of the most amazing parts about studying abroad is becoming truly local to the place you live. Whenever I travel to other cities during my spare time, I love to ask locals what they recommend. After all, isn’t the point of travel to experience the way the other half lives?

After living in Barcelona for four months, I got a taste for both the touristy and local offerings of the city. Here are my recommendations for maximizing a weekend in my favorite city.


Before exploring the amazing modern life in Barcelona, I think it is interesting to get a historical basis in the city’s past. Buy a ten pack of metro passes, and take the train to Jaume 1, which will land you in the Gothic area. Immediately you will be struck by the amazing architecture which dates back to the Roman era.

For history buffs, I recommend the Barcelona City History Museum which features extensive ruins dating back to the Roman period. For the artistically inclined, head to the Picasso museum. Make sure to bring a student ID with you for free entry!

Plaza Real is a gorgeous place to sit and people watch. Conveniently, many of the city’s walking tours also begin from this location in the gothic. Photo by Ben Campbell.

After exploring some of the city’s treasures, you’ll be ready to grab a bite. Milk is one of the best brunch places and believe me, the wait, and price tag, are both well worth it for this delicious and hearty meal.

After a morning exploring the city, you’ll want some fresh air and perhaps a nap al fresco. For some free fun, grab your swimsuit and a towel, hop on the metro and  get off at the Ciutadella/Vila Olimpica metro station. I advise going as far from the W Hotel as possible to avoid the crowds and staying away from the street vendor’s drinks. (They keep them cold in the sewers. Yikes.)

Once your skin is crisp and your body is refreshed, head back to your hotel to get ready for dinner. Friday night is perfect for tapas and exploring Barcelona’s famous nightlife. Head to Sensi Tapas in the Gothic (any one of their locations is great) around 10, traditional Catalan dinner time. Take a nap, and head out to a club of your choice, arriving around 2.


After a touristy day, Saturday is the perfect day for some shopping. Passeig de Gracia features la-creme-de-la-creme of Barcelona fashion. Uniqlo is a great middle of the road option for chic and reasonably priced fashion. And other stories features similarly nice, but not unreasonably fancy, clothing. Chanel, DiorGucci and other designer stores are also located on the famous street.

At the end of Passeig de Gracia sits Plaza Catalunya, where many of the political protests take place. Even if from a far, this is a great spot to get a glimpse at the local political climate and culture. Photo by Ben Campbell.

A great lunch spot for traditional Catalan cuisine is El Nacional. The trendy spot features stalls featuring different menus, such as a tapas restaurant, an Italian jaunt and an oyster bar. I love the traditional pan con tomate and chorizo served in the tapas stall.

Now that you’re close to the Tibidabo bus stop, head over to the corner with Desigual to take the 3 euro bus to the top of the mountain. Tibidabo Parc d’Atraccions is a unique way to get a panorama of the city. A 29-euro wristband includes admission to the theme park and an amazing view. Stick around into the early evening to watch the beautiful sunset over the city.

Once you’re back down the mountain, it’s time for dinner and drinks. I highly recommend 7 Portes, the oldest restaurant in Barcelona. Featuring live piano and world famous paella, this dinner will be one to remember.

For the cocktail queen, Pastrami Bar is the not-so-secret speakeasy of your dreams. Located in El Born, this bar serves up pastrami sandwiches and delectable cocktails hidden behind the facade of a deli.


One of the most famous landmarks of Barcelona is, of course, the Sagrada Familia! Most people don’t realize that the usually 20 euro entry to the church is free on Sunday mornings for mass. Waking up early is well worth it to go to the 9 o’clock international service. No worries if you’re not Catholic—the service welcomes all.

Afterwards, cross Plaza Gaudi and head to Café Paisano. One of the few local spots open on Sundays, the lasagna is to die for. The Italian run joint will leave your tummy full and a good dash of Italian hospitality will have you smiling too.

So many happy memories were shared here by myself and my roommates! Say hello to Massimo the owner when you stop in–he’s a total sweetheart and will probably throw in some free bruschetta if you’re nice. Photo by Julia Sawchak.

Once you’re full, it’s time to head to El Prat airport and get back to where you came from. Stop in Zara or the FC Barcelona store, grab a quick coffee and you’re on your way!

Written by Julia Sawchak

Photos by Ben Campbell and Julia Sawchak

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