Of course you're not going to miss out on Barcelona's biggest sights and attractions, but once you've done that, where can you go to get more out of the city and avoid major crowds? We've come up with 16 alternatives to the touristy plans and venues that normally take over a city break to Barcelona. Dig in!
Touristy: Sagrada Família
With more than 3 million visitors entering its gates every year, Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família is the most visited tourist attraction in Barcelona. Unfortunately, the admission fees and queues to get in are at least equally impressive as the yet-unfinished cathedral itself.
Alternative: Torre Agbar
Located between Av. Diagonal and C/Badajoz and looking rather unspectacular during the daytime, this 38-storey tower is a real eye-catcher after dark, thanks to its colourful nocturnal illusion. Designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and somewhat similar to The Gherkin in London, Torre Agbar has become an integral part of the city skyline and should be on every first-time visitor's list of things to see in Barcelona.
Touristy: La Rambla
Seeing as it's one of the world’s most famous streets and crowded with tourists and street performers around the clock, it should come as no surprise that La Rambla serves as the background for hundreds of pictures taken by tourists every single day.
Alternative: Joan Fontcuberta's outdoor art
'The world begins with every kiss' is the name of this outstanding piece of art by Catalan artist Joan Fontcuberta. It's made up of 4,000 photographs taken by city residents to show what freedom means to them. The photos were printed onto small tiles and arranged in such a way that they form the image of a kiss. Could there possibly be a more romantic photo motif for a snapshot to send to your loved ones back home? We don't think so.
Touristy: Camp Nou
Not only is Camp Nou the home of Futbol Club Barcelona, one of the world's best and most famous football clubs, it's also the largest stadium in Europe with almost 100,000 seats. As such, a visit to Camp Nou and its own museum is an experience not only for fans of Messi and Co.
There is a certain amount of luck involved to come across a lively game of Ta-ka-tá as there are no sports clubs or federations dedicated to this local sporting activity. Played in front of Club Atlètic Barceloneta, Ta-ka-tá is a crossing between tennis and fistball. Watching a fast-paced match is pure entertainment and, at least for now, a true insider tip.
A day at the beach
Touristy: Sant Sebastià beach
When you have very limited time left, but still want to get a tattoo, some mojitos, a massage and braided hair, a visit to Sant Sebastià, the beach at Barceloneta, could be the perfect solution to your problem. But be warned: heaps of others might have the same idea.
Alternative: Llevant beach
Being the city's newest beach, Llevant is still rather unknown but by no means less inviting than its famous counterparts. At 380 metres in length and located next to Mar Bella beach – but much less crowded and more extensive – this is a great alternative if you don't want to leave Barcelona but at the same time don't want to sacrifice your inner peace.
Those who make it to the top of Montjuïc get rewarded with amazing views of the port and city centre. (Don't worry, you won't have to hike it or rent a car – there's a hanging cable car that connects the hill and city.) The Olympic Stadium, Fundació Joan Miró and MNAC are within walking distance and well worth a stop on the way down.
Alternative: Torre Baró
Overlooking the districts of Nou Barris, Horta, Sant Andreu and Sant Martí, the Torre Baró hill offers a view of Barcelona not many people know about but that gives a good impression of parts of the city which are not yet overcrowded with tourists. With the magnificent landscape in the background, the Castell de Torre Baró (Carretera Alta de les Roquetes, 328) on top of the hill makes a great photo subject. Often mistaken for a castle, this building was in fact constructed as a hotel, though it was never completed.
Get some other perspectives with our guides to 12 great spots to get spectacular views of Barcelona and where to see the city from rooftops, drink in hand.
Touristy: Tour buses
There's no easier way to explore Barcelona and orientate yourself to the different neighbourhoods and sights than with the Barcelona Bus Turístic. Simply hop on and off whenever you want and see the major sights of the city on three different routes. Along with thousands of other visitors.
Alternative: City buses
If you're looking for a more individual and flexible way of sightseeing and wouldn't mind going without a tour guide, grab a guidebook and go exploring via the city buses that take you through Barcelona on similar routes to the tour buses, but for a lot less money. Advisable lines include bus number V15 from Barceloneta to Vall d'Hebron as it goes along Via Laietana, Passeig de Gràcia and Diagonal, or number 13, which covers almost the entire area around Montjuïc and Plaça d'Espanya. For more routes, check the TMB website before you travel.
Touristy: Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
La Pedrera is without any doubts one of Gaudí's best-known masterpieces. Despite its unique façade and its role as prime example of Catalan modernism, the crowdedness of this place and high ticket prices make it difficult to fully enjoy the architectural beauty of this building.
Alternative: Casa Comalat
Like many other buildings in Barcelona, Casa Comalat (Av. Diagonal, 442, just off Passeig de Gràcia) is a prime example of Catalan modernist architecture and, even though not designed by Antoni Gaudí himself, it was clearly inspired by his work. With two distinct but equally magnificent façades, eye-catching colours and beautiful windows and balconies, Casa Comalat is at least as impressive as La Pedrera or Casa Batlló.
Touristy: La Boquería
Once, the Boquería was a popular meeting place for locals; a place where Barcelona residents could buy everything they needed, more or less undisturbed. Nowadays, you can still find all kinds of Catalan and Spanish delicacies here, but the tranquillity is over. Instead, be prepared for pushing and squeezing your way through the aisles of gorgeous fruits, veg, fresh meats and more.
Alternative: Sant Andreu
Built in the 19th century as a place where farmers could sell their products, Sant Andreu market has managed to preserve a village flair ever since. Here you can shop among locals in a pleasant atmosphere and, despite the market's rather modest size, you're likely to find everything you need, from fresh fish and meat to fruits and sweets.
Touristy: Passeig de Gràcia
We all know there's a fine line between pleasure and pain, and a shopping experience is no exception, especially on Passeig de Gràcia. Sure you'll find all kinds of exclusive shops and big brand names, and everything looks fabulous. But if you're not packing a platinum credit card or two, you might not find it such an attractive shopping destination.
Alternative: Carrer de Verdi
C/Verdi is mainly known for its original-language arthouse cinema, but it is worth taking a second look at one of Gràcia's busiest streets, which is home to many interesting little shops that are too easy to overlook when walking through the big city. From Alzira, the shop of restorer Mònica Font Chiariello that sells vintage clothing and furniture to chocolate and confectionary shop Çukor, Verdi is full of hidden treasures worth discovering.
Touristy: Any shop called Souvenirs
When shopping for souvenirs in Barcelona, you'll certainly feel tempted to buy some Gaudí-style mosaics. Even the smallest shops have at least one shelf reserved for Gaudí dragons, ashtrays, key rings and bulls. Some imitations are better than others, but they're all far from unique.
Alternative: Casa Gispert
With a history dating back to 1851, the name Casa Gispert stands for the highest quality and a rich tradition. As this shop close to Estació de França (at Sombrerers, 23) still boasts the original oven and the same furniture and décor as at its inception, a visit feels like a journey back in time. Apart from its loyalty to tradition, the shop owes its reputation mainly to its freshly roasted nuts, coffee, spices and gift baskets.
Get more ideas for original souvenirs.
Touristy: The Picasso Museum
Since Pablo Picasso spent a large part of his vital formative years in Barcelona, it seems reasonable to devote an entire museum to the famous Spanish artist. With over 4,000 works mostly from his youth, the museum is a must-see for all fans. But what do you do when they're all there at once?
Alternative: Fundació Suñol
Exhibiting a regularly rotating selection of the contemporary art collection of businessman Josep Suñol, the Fundació Suñol is an insider's tip for art enthusiasts and aspiring artists alike. A visit to this well structured foundation, which shows 100 works at a time, primarily by Spanish and Catalan artists, indeed feels like you're in a museum rather than a zoo, and it's definitely worth the small entrance fee of €4.
Find more museums and galleries in Barcelona.
Touristy: Tablao Cordobes
Tablao Cordobes is the place to go for great flamenco performances. Though many visitors may think this dance of Andalusian origin has nothing to do with Barcelona, there actually is a long tradition of flamenco in the city, and many of the greats have come from Catalonia. With its stellar reputation, Tablao Cordobes often packs the house.
Many consider Catalan rumba, born in Barcelona during the 1950s, to be the soundtrack of the city. Where better to enjoy the rumba's cheerful rhythms than at the first place ever solely dedicated to it? At Rumbàlia, a bar-restaurant in the Eixample district, you can enjoy the music and watch dancers perform, plus you can even take classes to master the moves yourself.
Barcelona for kids
Touristy: Aquarium of Barcelona
Located in Port Vell and famous for its underwater tunnel through the shark basin, the Aquarium of Barcelona is a popular destination for families. It's a sure way to see your kids' eyes light up, provided they can catch a glimpse of any of the almost 500 species through the large crowds.
Alternative: La Puntual
If one thing is certain, it's that your children certainly won't forget a visit to La Puntual anytime soon. Enriching Barcelona's wide offering of children's entertainment since 2005, this small puppet theatre located in the Ciutat Vella district performs puppet shows in English, Catalan and Spanish. 'The Nutcracker' and 'Pinocchio' are as much part of the diverse programme as workshops about how to bring a puppet to life.
Touristy: Cafè de l'Ópera
Churros and Barcelona belong together like two sides of a coin. There's also general agreement that Cafè de l'Ópera on La Rambla is the right place to eat the fried-dough pastry, even though the place is more known for its décor than the quality of its dishes. A lot of it is about the people watching on the city's most famous street.
Serving churros with interesting flavours such as passion fruit, pistachio or even Iberian ham, Comaxurros not only offers its customers very special taste experiences, but the uniqueness of its assortment also makes up for the café's distance from the city centre and is well worth the journey. The neon-pink sign is easy to spot, and the churro doodles inside add to the atmosphere.
Find out where else you can get the most delish churros in Barcelona.
Touristy: Park Güell
With its unique serpentine bench, the iconic mosaic dragon sculpture and an unrestricted panoramic view of Barcelona, Park Güell is further proof of the genius of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and attracts up to the limit of 800 visitors an hour, most of whom have had to pay the €8 admission fee since 2013.
Alternative: Tamarita Gardens
Located in the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi district and full of decorative elements like ceramic vases, ponds with fountains and terracotta figures, Tamarita Gardens is a green oasis of tranquillity and a perfect place to relax at the end of a long day of sightseeing. Having undergone a different development than Park Güell, from a former private space to a now public garden, the park is home to a few unusual and exotic plants and trees.
Touristy: 7 Portes
Whether it's because of the restaurant's attractive location close to Barceloneta and the port, its good food or its history of more than 175 years, among tourists and locals alike, the 7 Portes Restaurant is the first choice for paella.
Alternative: Arrosseria Xàtiva
Offering an extensive menu of 28 different rice dishes, meats, fish, seafood and salads, Arrosseria Xàtiva in the Les Corts district is the right place if you want to enjoy a good meal in a rustic and familiar atmosphere without queuing for a free table. Don't have that much time? The restaurant also does take-aways, so no worries if you're in a rush.
Discover some of Barcelona's best paellas and rice dishes and where to get them.