The heart and soul of Barcelona lies in its Gothic Quarter, the oldest part of the city, and one that dates to Roman times. The palm-lined plazas, winding medieval lanes and tiny tapas bars invite hours of wandering. Don’t miss a stop at the soaring cathedral, La Seu, where Barcelona’s patron saint, Santa Eularia, is buried in the crypt. Although busy Las Ramblas, which borders the Barri Gotic, is a known tourist trap, it’s worth braving the boulevard to explore La Boqueria, the city’s most famous food market. Many of Barcelona’s top chefs shop here daily, but there are also small restaurants, including El Pinoxto, where visitors shoulder up next to locals for a late lunch.
Next to the Gothic Quarter is the barrio of El Born, an equally ancient part of the city, but one that’s become a hotbed for hip restaurants and trendy boutiques. Michelin-starred chef Carles Abellan opened his boundary-breaking Comerç 24 here, and you’ll also find great shopping, from cult-favorite Casa Munich, where funky sneakers are displayed like Louboutins, to boho-chic Gamaya, perfect for a flirty summer dress or chunky, beaded necklace. El Born is also home to the renowned Museu Picasso, with one of the most extensive collections of the artist’s work. With rooms spread throughout a series of interconnected medieval palaces, the setting is nearly as magical as the works displayed. The beach isn’t far away, so hop over to one of the beachfront cafés on the nearby Paseo Marítimo for a sunset cocktail with a view.
Reserve an entire day for exploring the works of Antoni Gaudí, the celebrated Catalan architect and the mastermind behind Barcelona’s most magical buildings. The still-unfinished Sagrada Familia (Gaudí was killed by a trolley car before its completion) stuns with its towering spires and twisting, tree-like columns, while the curvy, colorful facades of Casa Batlló and Casa Milá draw hordes of gawkers around the clock. Residents still live in Casa Milá, but tours allow access to one of the original apartments as well as to the roof, with its menacing, stone soldiers guarding the skyline. For the ultimate picnic lunch, bring some jamón and a baguette to Park Güell, Gaudí’s wonderland-like escape in the hills above the city.