Tapas. Museums. Otherwordly cathedrals. Avant garde art and architecture. Wine. Did we mention the tapas? Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in Spain and the center of Catalan history and culture. It’s also one of our favorite cities to eat and drink our way through – the last time we visited Barcelona, we arrived at the airport for our flight home still drunk from the night before (true story).
But in between stuffing our faces with cones of manchego and acorn-fed iberico ham, we spent most of our time in Barcelona exploring on foot! Our favorite part of town is the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona’s historic center – we fell in love with Barcelona while exploring its tall, narrow alleys. And only sometimes got lost.
Because we’re unreliable tour guides who spent half of our trip to Barcelona consume alarming amounts of Cava and the other half getting totally lost, we’ve recruited a few experts to design us the perfect self-guided walking tour of Barcelona. Annebeth, Carlijn, and Carola are three tour guides who have collectively lived in Barcelona for 30 year and the bloggers behind Things to Do in Barcelona. Today they’re sharing their three decades of insider knowledge in one awesome Guest Post. Take it away, ladies!
Table of Contents
Psst: Looking for more things to do in Barcelona during your trip? We’ve got a post about our favorite food & wine tour in Barcelona, which we highly recommend – take a look here.
About the Barcelona Self-Guided Walking Tour
As one of the most popular cities of Europe, Barcelona’s city center is always crowded with tourists. But one of the best ways get to know the historical part of the Catalan capital is by exploring it on foot.
With this self-guided walking tour, we’re sharing all of our secrets about the best things to do in Barcelona’s old center. You’ll do as the locals do with our recommendations for the best places in town for coffee, lunch, and tapas – with plenty of stops along the way to appreciate Barcelona’s history and culture!
The route we’ve laid out is about 3 miles long, depending on which optional detours you choose to explore. We recommend allowing yourself at least 2-3 hours to complete the walking tour, but you can easily spend a full day if you include stops to eat, drink, wander the food markets, visit a museum, relax in a park, and so on!
Heads Up: To make your exploring easier, we’ve created a Google Map of the self-guided walking tour route that you can download to your phone and use offline while you’re in Barcelona! You’ll find it embedded at the bottom of this post. We recommend bookmarking this post to refer to along with the map.
Ready to start your Barcelona walking tour? Let’s begin!
Plaza Cataluña: The Heart of Barcelona
To kick off your walking tour, you’ll begin in Barcelona’s central square, Plaza Cataluña. This square is not only the heart of Barcelona, but it’s also where the old city meets modern-day Spain. It was officially built and urbanized in 1902, and since then it has served as a central meeting point for locals, political protesters, and flocks of overweight pigeons.
Today, Plaza Cataluña is the central hub of Barcelona, brimming with fountains, artwork, statues, theaters, and restaurants both inside and around the square. Arrive at the plaza to start your walking tour early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
- Insider Tip: You can easily get to Plaza Cataluña by taking the Metro – conveniently, the Metro stop is named Plaça Catalunya. Even more conveniently, there’s a coffee shop located in the Metro stop called Cafe Cafe – consider this our personal apology for making you wake up early.
- Photo Op: If you’re anything like Lia & Jeremy and you tend to sleep in, congratulations – this is one time your tardiness will actually be rewarded! The El Corte Inglés department store opens at 10am, and if you head up to the cafe on the 9th floor, you’ll be treated to a stunning view over the city center while sipping your coffee. To find the cafe, look for the elevators labelled La Plaça 9, head up to the 8th floor, and take an escalator to the 9th floor. Don’t be surprised if you’re the only tourist here!
La Rambla & La Boquería
Once you’ve wandered around the plaza, successfully dodged at least 8 overweight pigeons, and gotten some coffee, it’s time to continue to the next stop on the walking tour.
Cross the square and head to its southern corner, where you’ll find the start of Spain’s most famous street: La Rambla. La Rambla is a walking street that’s closed off to cars, so it’s a perfect place for long, self-guided … walking tours. Like this one!As you wander down the street you’ll pass shops, cafes, and souvenir stalls amidst towering green trees.
After just a few stops you’ll reach an ornate drinking fountain in front of an H&M store. This is the Font de Canaletes, where raving fans of Futbol Club Barcelona come together to celebrate their club’s victories. According to local legend, drinking water from the fountain – said to be the best water in the city – means you will return to Barcelona one day!
The inscription on the front of the fountain reads “if you drink water from the Font de Canaletes you will always be in love with Barcelona. And however far away you go. You will always return.” Awwww! Obviously, you have to drink from this fountain. Unfortunately, local legend does not discuss whether drinking the water will help you meet either Shakira or Shakira’s sexy futbol husband, but might as well do it anyway just to be safe.
After your refreshing and contractually binding fountain drink, continue down La Rambla for about five minutes until you reach the most famous food market in Barcelona, La Boquería.
I know you haven’t walked very far yet, but I hope you’ve worked up an appetite, because this is an excellent spot to get a snack! All your senses will be tingled by the colorful fruit salads, fresh fish from the Mediterranean Sea and authentic tapas bars where both locals and tourists have a quick bite while doing their groceries.
- Insider Tip: Inside the market, we recommend visiting El Quim de la Boqueria, an all-time favorite for tapas and traditional Spanish snacks. Try some local Catalan dishes here like the fried eggs with baby squid. It might sound weird, but it’s a totally delicious Barcelona specialty! If you’d rather take a snack to go and eat while you walk, just grab a delicious and inexpensive paper cone filled with manchego cheese and iberico ham.
When you’ve finished snacking and shopping for shockingly inexpensive tins of saffron, leave the market on the back side to enter the neighborhood of El Raval.
Turn right on Carrer de l’Hospital and enter the hidden patio on your right. This is a somber place in the city because Spain’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí, died here in 1926 after being hit by a tram. Nowadays the old hospital is used as a library, a conservatory and open-air bar El Jardí.
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
Once you’ve paid your respects to Gaudí, exit the hidden patio on the side of Carrer del Carme. Head straight and follow Carrer dels Àngels until reaching the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, aka MACBA, on your left. The MACBA is one of the coolest contemporary art museums in Barcelona, both on the inside and the outside.
If you’re eager to spend some time admiring contemporary art in a city known for its avant-garde architecture and art, head inside the museum and explore!
If you’d rather keep moving, we have a couple of recommendations before you continue onwards.
In front of the MACBA you’ll see a stretch of smooth, spacious pavement: here, skaters from all over the world come together on this square to practice their technique. Spend a few minutes people-watching here and if you’re lucky, you just might catch a few epic tricks. If you want to talk shop or practice your best cool skater lingo, you can get a drink or sandwich in the popular skate bar Kino, located on the same square. Do skaters still say “tubular” or is our skater lingo several decades out of date?
Behind MACBA – the red Keith Haring mural will show you the way – you’ll find another tranquil patio featuring a beautiful work of art. Look up to the highest row of the mirror wall and you’ll see the skyline of Barcelona, including the sea, the Columbus monument, and Montjuic Hill. It’s absolutely breathtaking!
Once you’ve got your fill of modern art, leave the patio on the side of Carrer de Montalegre, turn right and the next left (Carrer d’Elisabets). Here you’ll find Bar La Masia on number 16, a classic spot to watch Barça-matches and to have a beer with a side of some delicious tapas.
Picasso’s Bar & the Barcelona Cathedral
Follow the street and cross La Rambla – dividing El Raval and the gothic area. The Santa Anna Church in Carrer de Santa Anna is a hidden treasure in one of the most touristic areas of Barcelona, so – shhhh – please don’t tell! If you’re lucky, the patio will be open and you can enjoy a moment of peace and quiet before jumping back into the crowded city center.
If it’s not too early – and we won’t judge you even if it is – order a drink here and think artistic thoughts. Or, you know, some food, I guess.
Santa Anna street ends at Portal de l’Àngel, Barcelona’s main shopping street full of well-known retailers such as Mango, Zara and H&M.
Turn right and then left for one of the oldest and maybe even the most famous bar in Barcelona: Els Quatre Gats, the 4 Cats Cafe. This is where Picasso often came for a drink and even had his first exhibition (check out the menu that was designed by the Spanish artist!).
Get back to Portal de l‘Àngel and you’ll end up on Plaça Nova, where the Barcelona Cathedral is located. Mind you: this is NOT the Sagrada Família, as some tourists do believe, but it’s nearly as impressive (and fully constructed, which is always a plus).
- Insider Tip: Make sure your shoulders are covered before entering the Cathedral. While you’re admiring the stunning interior, don’t miss out on the beautiful garden and the thirteen white geese, which symbolize the age of Eulalia when she was horrifically killed in 304 as a martyr and became Barcelona’s first patroness.
- Photo Op: Just a few meters from the cathedral you’ll find El Beso, a huge mosaic kiss consisting of four thousand photos. The piece is constructed by a Catalan artist who wanted to create a wall of freedom, love and happiness. A perfect spot for a cheesy and romantic selfie with your lover, don’t you think?
The Jewish Quarter
When facing the main entrance of the cathedral, take the Carrer del Bisbe and then the Carrer de Montjuïc del Bisbe, ending up at the charming Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. This beautiful little square in the heart of the old Jewish Quarter (El Call) is full of important history for the city of Barcelona.
Until the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), this area was a cemetery. The holes you can still see in the wall are scars bearing witness to the Italian bombs of January 30, 1938, which killed 42 people. Most victims of the bombings were children at school, who were hiding in the Felip Neri Church basement to shelter from the unexpected air raid. In this quiet little square you will find the church and next door, the school. Take a moment here to pause and reflect on this tragedy – and the many victims of violent, hateful fascism.
After a sobering moment, it’s time to continue onwards. We offer you a choice, like a choose-your-own-adventure self-guided walking tour.
- Option 1: Head back the way you came on the Carrer de Montjuïc del Bisbe to the Carrer del Bisbe. Turn right and continue straight, and you’ll head right underneath the famous Bishop’s Bridge, Pont del Bisbe. This is one of the most famous photo ops in Barcelona, so you definitely won’t be the only one stopping to admire this beautiful Gothic arch. Once you’ve snapped a photo, continue straight to reach the Plaça de Sant Jaume.
- Option 2: Wander through through the narrow, picturesque streets of El Call to take a roundabout route to the next square, Plaça de Sant Jaume. The route we recommend is on our Google map below. It’s a little bit longer but you’ll get a chance to explore the quiet, beautiful alleys that Old Barcelona is known for.
Whichever route you choose, you’ll end up at the elegant Plaça de Sant Jaume, the political heart of both Barcelona and Catalonia and is home to the city hall and regional government buildings.
- Insider Tip: If you just so happen to be here on the 23rd of April and 11th or 24th of September, you can enter and tour through these buildings for free! The rest of the year, the palace of the regional government is closed to visitors and the city hall can only be visited on Sundays. If you are visiting when nothing is open to visitors, it’s still worth seeing these regal buildings from the outside.
Carrer de la Llibreteria connects Plaça Sant Jaume with Plaça del Rei (not to be confused with the well-known Plaça Reial, which is nearby and also beautiful!). The palace on this ‘King’s Square,‘ the Palau Reial Major, was the residence of the Catalan counts between the 13th to the 15th Century, and the history of the square dates back to the 11th Century.
The square and the palace feature excellent examples of Barcelona’s iconic Gothic architecture. Wander around here for a bit admiring quintessential Gothic details – this is an excellent excuse to use the word “buttress” as if you are a grown-up architectural genius and not secretly a giggly 5-year old – and imagine what it was like to be Catalan royalty back then.
Once you’ve finished at the Plaça del Rei, ake either the Carrer del Veguer or Carrer de Jaume I, which lead you back to Via Laietana, the street dividing the neighborhoods of El Gótico and El Born.
The Neighborhood of El Born
Cross the road to Carrer de l’Argenteria, in the neighborhood of El Born. Coffee lovers definitely need to make an obligatory stop at El Magnífico before heading to the eye-catching Santa Maria del Mar , a beautiful church you might know from the best-selling book and Netflix-series, Cathedral of the Sea.
You can have a look inside the main part of the church or, if you’re especially interested, book a guided tour of the church and the roof, which offers amazing views over the city.
At this point, chances are you’re getting tired and deserve a treat (because the meat cones, Picasso snacks, and coffee don’t REALLY count). At the foot of Santa Maria del Mar, there are plenty of options for eating and drinking.
- La Vinya del Señor is an amazing wine bar for a romantic break, where you can try all kinds of Spanish wines (there must be literally hundreds of them here) with traditional tapas on the side.
- Bubó is where you should go for chocolate and other incredible, delicious sweets (don’t mind if we do). They have so many really beautiful and delicious desserts, ranging from chocolate cakes and pastries to macarons of a variety of delightful colors and flavors.
- The Passeig del Born transforms into a popular party street after sunset (perfect for catching some of Barcelona’s best nightlife), but it also has some cool bars that are open during the day. Try, for instance, Bar El Born, El Copetín, or Creps al Born for some refreshing signature cocktails. Treat yo’self…you’ve been walking all day!
At the other end of El Born is the El Born Cultural and Memorial Center (El Born CCM). This huge iron hall at the end of Passeig del Born was once used as a market, but nowadays attracts lots of visitors as an important cultural and memorial center for Barcelona.
El Born CCM is particularly special to the Catalans (who want to be independent from Spain) as it houses the remains of the buildings that were destroyed when the Catalans were fighting against Madrid in 1714. Here, entrance is free and you can see several of the excavations and artifacts from over 300 years ago.
Parc de la Ciutadella
After you’ve stuffed your face for the 93208th time on this tour, cross the Passeig de Picasso for Barcelona’s ‘Central Park,’ Parc de la Ciutadella. Inside the park, you’ll find a charming lake, a few museums, and the Catalan Parliament building.
Wander around the park’s many paved trails, sit on a bench an people-watch, or take a little siesta in the grass. You’ll be in good company, as many locals like to hang out here on sunny days!
Once you’re ready to move on, make your back to the point where you entered the park.
Social Enterprise & Catalan Modernism
Cross the Passeig de Picasso again and enter the Carrer de la Princesa. Now go right on Carrer d’En Tantarantana.
- Insider Tip: Chandal (number 16) is a really cool shop that we love! Stop here to browse and maybe pick up a unique souvenir from Barcelona.
You can leave the shop on the opposite side to reach Carrer de l’Allada-Vermell, where you’ll find the coolest, most unique plant wall in town.
Then, walk up to Carrer dels Carders and find on the corner Espai Mescladís, an open-air bar promoting social projects in Barcelona and responsible and supportive consumption. (P.S. We love these examples of how Barcelona uses green spaces and social justice in their urban design!)
Go left on Carrer dels Carders and then right on Carrer d’En Giralt el Pellicer. On your left you’ll find the Santa Catarina Market, a food hall that’s not as big nor as popular among tourists as La Boqueria.
Stay on the same street, which now is called Carrer General Alvarez de Castro. When the street ends, go left on Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Baix and then right on Carrer de Verdaguer i Callís.
You’ll walk directly to Palau de la Música, a beautiful concert hall designed by the Catalan modernist Lluis Domènech I Montaner, a contemporary of the famous Antoni Gaudí. Both the exterior and the interior of the concert hall are absolutely beautiful – perfect examples of the Catalan modernist style which is so unique to Barcelona.
The theatre itself specializes in classical music and chorales, and if you’d like to go to a show, you can check the schedule and buy tickets online. Seeing a performance here would be the perfect way to end your self-guided walking tour of Barcelona!
And, folks, this is where your walking tour ends. Congratulations, you made it! We’re sad to see you go, but we hope that this walking tour gave you some helpful tips about visiting some of the hidden gems in Barcelona’s city center.
The end of your tour is about a 7 minute walk back to where you began at the Plaza Catalunya, or you can take the Metro to head elsewhere in Barcelona. The nearest metro stop is Urquinaona, where you can take the yellow (L3) and red (L1) line anywhere you want to go in the city.
Barcelona Self-Guided Walking Tour Map
To help you plan your walking tour route, we’ve created a map of the entire itinerary. We recommend saving the map to your phone so you can access it offline in Barcelona, and bookmarking this page to refer to as you go!
If you didn’t catch enough of any one particular Barcelona highlight on our itinerary, we strongly recommend revisiting them to explore more on your own! Looking for a Barcelona walking tour that takes you outside of the Old Center of Barcelona? Somto Seeks has an excellent one.
About Our Guest Writers: This guest post was written by the girls of Things to Do in Barcelona. Annebeth, Carlijn and Carola are Dutch, but have been living in Barcelona for over 30 years in total. They work as tour guides and journalists and love to share their personal tips for the Catalan capital.
Are you ready to strap on your favorite walking shoes and hit the streets of Barcelona? Which stop on the self-guided Barcelona walking tour are you most excited to visit? Drop us a comment below!
By the way, if you’re planning a trip to Barcelona we highly recommend adding a food & wine tour to your itinerary. Food tours combine our favorite activity (eating) with our favorite way to see a city (walking)! We’ve got a post reviewing our favorite food tour of Barcelona – take a look.
Wanting to spend more time in Barcelona? Check out this five days in Barcelona itinerary! Looking to go on a longer trip to Spain? Check out this 3-day road trip in Andalusia or this Malaga and Costa del Sol itinerary – you’ll be booking your flight ASAP!
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