I'd wanted to go to Barcelona for the longest time and I finally made it happen last summer. It was everything I'd hoped it to be and a lot more. (I was a bit weary about it being overrun with tourists, but thanks to the neighborhood of both my hostel and hotel, I had a great experience and can't wait to return.) Here's what I did and would do again!
Hostel One Paralelo- This is hands down one of the best hostels I've stayed in. They have a great family dinner every night, nightly bar hopping events, and awesome staff. Between the warm community vibe of the other guests and the lovely Poble Sec neighborhood, I wasn't ready to leave and move to a hotel when my other traveling partners arrived in Barcelona. (In fact, the day after I checked out, I brought my friend back to the hostel for another pub crawl and we were welcomed with open arms.)
Hostal Live- This is the hotel we stayed in after our amazing stay at Hostel One. It is clean, reasonably priced, and has friendly staff. The neighborhood is also outside of the touristy Las Ramblas area.
What do see/do:
Sagrada Familia- A MUST. While it can be overwhelming to feel like you have to visit every church/cathedral you see in Europe, you can't forgive yourself if you leave Barcelona without seeing this awe-inspiring masterpiece. You need to book your timeslot in advance (online).
Food Tour with Devour Barcelona- I first used this great company in Madrid and I'm pleased to report that they've recently expanded their tours to include Barcelona. We had an excellent guide who walked us through the Gracia neighborhood and showed us some real gems.
Beach day at Barceloneta Beach- While other areas of Spain have far more beautiful beaches than those of Barcelona's, there's something to be said for an amazing city that is located on a nice beach. If you have the time, plan to spend part of an afternoon here and unwind.
Boqueria Market- Yes, this place is insanely touristy and crowded but it is fun to do a quick visit and grab one (or three) of their amazing juices. I preferred the Gracia market as it was more low-key and the selection was equally unrivaled.
Quimet y quimet- Come here for a standing-room only bite to eat and drink. The place fills up extremely quickly and the hours can be a bit unpredictable so try to call ahead if you're not already in the neighborhood. The family behind the counter is jovial and helpful, even if you don't speak a word of Spanish or Catalan. Try the preserved foods or any of the sandwiches they have on offer. (Tip- if you're staying at the hostel mentioned above, this tapas bar is only a 2-minute walk away.)
Cal Pep- Go here if only so you can have the best white anchovies of your life and die happy.
Where to go out at night:
XiX bar- Just down from Plaza Espanya, this gin and tonic bar has a lengthy menu of gins and top-shelf tonics, with Fever Tree being among the latter. Along the bar, they have various bottles of infused gin (think peppercorns, cinnamon, and citrus peels) and on the back wall, you can find the more "pure" gins.
Los Juanele- Flamenco bar -This is an authentic hideaway in central Barcelona (we were the only non-Spaniards and also the only under-40 year olds). There is an unmarked door so don't be discouraged if you can't find the place on the first try. We sat at the bar and had the sweetest bartender all night. A jamon and cheese plate with gin-tonics was on the menu for us and he treated us to shots at the end of the night. It was so fun to see cute older Spanish couples dance flamenco the entire evening.
Opium- For a fun way to end the night dancing, this is one the mega clubs on Barceloneta beach. You can be sure the music will be good (one night, we got to see Sander Van Doorn) and if you're like us, you can cap it off with a 5am swim in the Mediterranean. (Just be sure that no enterprising pickpockets try to snag your belongings which almost happened to us!)
Bar Marsella- Supposedly one of the city's oldest hangouts, this timeless absinthe bar is a real treat. (We stopped here as part of my hostel's pub crawl.) Try to play a game of "concentration" with the elderly bartender- you won't win.
Montjuic Fountains/Park- Take a bottle of cava and enjoy it on the steps above the fountain or in the park with a view at sunset. The night we were there, we got to see a group of Spanish folks squaredancing. My Texas travel buddies joined right in.
Barcelona- we will be back!!!!