Having lived in Barcelona for a while, we’ve done most of the major touristy stuff in town. There are wonderful things in this city that are absolutely can’t-miss experiences. But if you’re planning a short visit, you better believe you’re gonna be overwhelmed with all that there is to see. So as you plan your itinerary, here are a few items you can leave off.
1. Park Güell
Photo credit: xiquinhosilva on Flickr
Everyone visiting Barcelona wants to do all the Gaudí stuff, and Park Güell is pretty much always on everyone’s itinerary. Speaking from experience, though, it probably shouldn’t be. Specifically, the “Monumental Area,” which you have to pay 7€ per person to access, isn’t really all that much to see. There are a few cool buildings, and if you’ve become a big Gaudí fan after seeing Sagrada Familia and one or both of Casa Mila and Casa Batlló, you might want to collect all four experiences. But, personally, I think you can save your money.
What to Do Instead
Visit the park, but don’t pay for tickets. You can see pretty much all the larger buildings from outside, and the free section of the park affords some great views of the city.
2. Anything Flamenco Related
Photo credit: Tabi on Flickr
If this is your first time coming to Spain, you might imagine that every place in Spain is all about bull fighting and flamenco. Flamenco is the national dance and music of Spain, or at least it became that under the Franco dictatorship. But the thing is, it’s not really from Barcelona. Whatever flamenco is going on here has been imported from Andalusia, the southern region where flamenco was born. Going to see a flamenco performance in Barcelona is a bit like going to New York and ordering Chicago-style pizza. Like, it might be there. But it won’t be authentic.
What to Do Instead:
Barcelona has an enormous wealth of local traditions you can observe if you time it right. For example, every Sunday at 6 pm, in front of the cathedral, you can see a large group of locals dancing the Sardana, which is the traditional dance of Catalonia. If that doesn’t float your boat, the list of local traditions is almost too long to mention. They also change with the seasons. Check out this list to see what lines up with the timing of your trip.
3. Going to the Top of Sagrada Familia
Photo credit: Greg Gladman on Flickr
This is on the list of things that are cool to do, but not worth paying for. When you buy your ticket to the Sagrada Familia—which, like, you definitely should do—you’ll have the option of shelling out an extra few bucks for the right to ride an elevator to the top of one of the towers. The thing they won’t tell you, though, is that the elevator is one way, and you have to walk the long, spiraling staircase down with a hundred other tourists.
If what you’re looking for is a great view, Barcelona has a ton of them. That’s sort of what comes with the territory when you build a city on a coastline surrounded by mountains.
What to Do Instead:
My two favorite views in Barcelona can be found either at the top of Tibidabo (3€ to ride the elevator on Sangre Couer, plus a bit of a transit adventure to get to the top of the mountain), or from the fortress on the top of Montjuic (free after 3 pm on Sundays, accessible either by bus or by gondola). The views are truly spectacular from both places, and as an added bonus you get to see Sagrada Familia from the outside, where it looks really, really good.
4, Wandering the Barri Gotic and Las Ramblas
Photo credit: Tom Hilton on Flickr
Okay, okay. This one comes with a pretty severe caveat. You can’t actually skip either one of these—your trip should include at least a little time walking down Las Ramblas, and you’ll inevitably end up spending some time in the Barri Gotic (or Gothic Quarter, depending on who you ask). The thing is, both these places have become overrun by tourists in the past decade or so, and it shows in the kinds of shops and experiences they presently have to offer. The streets are narrow and charming, and the history of the place is palpable. But everywhere you look you see identical souvenir shops and schlocky boutiques.
Certainly, go there if you have a destination in mind: maybe the Picasso museum, or Els Quatre Gats, where the painter held his first show. But if your itinerary includes more than a day “wandering around” this part of town, maybe you should revisit that.
What to Do Instead:
Barcelona has lots of incredible neighborhoods that are definitely worth a visit. Once you’ve checked out the Barri Gotic, plan on spending some time wandering through La Vila de Gracia, a small neighborhood that used to be an independent village before it was annexed early in the 20th century. It’s got some terrific bars, plazas, and restaurants - even a hidden Gaudi building - that are well worth your time.
We hope that this helps cut down on the vast amount of overwhelm while planning your trip to Barcelona!