The ultimate Barcelona sustainable travel guide

March 13, 2024
September 27, 2023

To help support this website, we may receive a small commission when you buy something after clicking on a link in this article at no additional cost to you.

Table of Contents

Barcelona is the second-largest city in Spain. It was visited by 20 million tourists in 2019, a city with only 1.6 million residents. Half of these visitors only visit Barcelona for a day, which makes the most popular attractions and the old city centre overcrowded and unbearable for locals.

This is a clear example of how Barcelona can be negatively affected by mass tourism. Locals are getting badly affected as a result. Tourists are driving out locals from their apartments and forcing prices up. Mass tourism also makes it harder for locals to commute.

Small business owners often see a fraction of tourists' presence or none. By buying food from local producers at the markets, eating at family restaurants, and staying in sustainable boutique hotels, you will support the local community and the city's economy.

This sustainable travel guide to Barcelona still covers how to visit the most popular attractions in Barcelona. But only when there are smaller crowds and in a way to benefit locals as much as possible.

We also look at the best public transport options and sustainable accommodation. To round out the guide, we reveal some of the lesser-known activities worth discovering and share details on the best plant-based eateries.

When should I visit Barcelona?

Since Barcelona is one of the most popular destinations in Europe, it’s crucial that you visit during the low season months. Instead of visiting during May - September, consider fall, early spring or winter. Barcelona has a very mild climate which makes it ideal to explore all year around.

With global warming and temperatures rising, summers in the cities are becoming less and less enjoyable. If you choose to come in the low season, you will be rewarded with smaller crowds, cheaper hotels, and most likely happier locals.

How long should I visit Barcelona?

We advise you to visit this city for no less than three days. The longer the better. You can’t possibly have an understanding of a city as big as Barcelona in a day or two. You will be only scratching the surface without any deeper connections.

A composite image of Janna walking across the street and Jon looking down the street in Barcelona

Our recommendation is to stay in this city for at least five days but one week would be ideal if you want to travel consciously and take it slow. Barcelona’s attractions can be quite expensive and we advise you to spend time inside if you are paying for the entrance.

In three days, you may cover some of the bigger attractions and start discovering some off-the-beaten track places. But if you want to truly travel consciously and understand the city, you should consider extending your stay to meet locals and maybe do a day trip or two outside of Barcelona.

Now if you only have a couple days, please pick just four attractions and allow yourself time to do something spontaneous, something that will draw your attention naturally without scrolling through your Instagram feed. We just loved walking on Via Diagonal and admired much of Catalan Modernism architecture.

Barcelona truly has it all in big amounts, so if you’re a foodie dedicate more time exploring many of Barcelona’s tapas bars, cafes and restaurants. If you love architecture, you can spend weeks checking all the iconic buildings off your list. If you love the sea, you can spend days just chilling at Barcelona’s beaches.

A composite image of a local man standing with his camera on a tripod, and Janna walking down a lane with columns on the side

How do I get around Barcelona?

Barcelona is a city with excellent public transportation connections. Almost every attraction can be reached by metro, while suburban trains operated by FGC can take you to nearby towns and the airport. Additionally, buses are available in many areas.

With over 300 km of bike lanes covering the entire urban area, Barcelona is also bicycle-friendly and cycling is one of the most popular transportation options for both locals and visitors.

You can also book a bamboo bike tour to explore the city and its attractions, or a more unique bamboo bike tour to see the different street art of Barcelona.

What are the best things to do in Barcelona?

We've listed below the best things we think there is to do in Barcelona.

We encourage you to travel consciously and cover your own points of interest rather than just follow a bucket list created by someone else. In this guide we show you what can be done, but you have to make your own decisions on what you really want to do.

Explore different neighbourhoods of Barcelona by simply walking

The best and most sustainable way to explore Barcelona is by foot. It’s super walkable and pleasant. We found that Barcelona is super easy to navigate because of its great grid system.  

Janna had previously visited Barcelona when she was younger, but it was Jon’s first time. We both were fascinated by its architecture. And only by walking could you truly see its beauty.

Let yourself get lost in the streets of the Gothic Quarter packed with buildings from the late Middle Age, we are talking about the 12-16th centuries. You will find a few fascinating cathedrals and churches and the main attraction here is of course the Gothic Cathedral.

El Born and the Gothic Quarter are the most famous neighbourhoods in Barcelona and get a lot of tourists every day. While they both deserve your attention, they can be quite crowded. To make sure you experience a real Barcelona go to areas outside of Ciutat Vella.

As an alternative, explore more of the Gracia neighbourhood

The Gracia neighbourhood is quiet and is actually lived in by locals. On our visit there we noticed some graffiti stating that tourists were not welcomed, and that was not a surprise.

Because Barcelona’s popularity among tourists grew the past few years, the crowds of tourists started to be disturbing to the neighbourhood of Gracia. That's why the government has now implemented limited passes to visit the main attraction of the area, Park Guell.

Other areas to explore are Poble Nou El Clot, Les Corts, and Sants.

A photo of the Gracia neighbourhood looking down from the top of a hill

Visit Parc Guell

Parc Guell is a very unique city park. It’s just one of the masterpieces of the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi dotted around Barcelona. Originally designed to be part of an estate, the houses didn’t eventuate but fortunately the park remained.

Book your entrance ticket in advance on the offical website and it gets crowded, so try to get an early morning slot. You can also book your ticket at the ticketing office but we don't recommend it because you will have to stay in line and most likely have to come back to see the park another time as the slots get booked out quickly.

Of course this will depend on what time of the year and which day of the week you are visiting. Once you booked the time you only have 30 minutes to enter the park. After that you will lose your right to enter.

Once you are inside the park, you can spend as much time there as you want. And of course, you can't re-enter with the same ticket. There is also the Casa Museum Gaudi, for that you need to purchase a separate ticket if you decide to visit. We didn’t go so can’t tell you about the experience.

A composite image of Jon walking under the arches and leaning back to show their angle at Park Guell

The park opens for tourists from 9:30 am and closes at 7:30 pm. You can also try to book the last slot for better light and potentially less crowds. But because the tickets are limited, you will only find big crowds at the main attractions such the stairs and the balconies.

Make sure you dedicate a good amount of the time there as there is plenty to see. We spent 2.5 hours walking at a slow pace around and taking photos. If you decide to visit Casa Museu Gaudi, allow yourself more time.

We loved exploring some of the hidden gems of the park but the columns holding up the second level was our favourite part of the park. We really felt like we were part of an Alice in the Wonderland fairytale.

A composite image of the columns supporting Park Guell and the spires of its buildings
A composite image of Jon walking between the columns and Janna sitting outside above them at Park Guell

On the second level of the structure you will find an area with balconies and some benches made with mosaic sections. It's one of the best views over the city of Barcelona and the lower part of the park.

A composite image of the skyline visible from the second level of Park Guell and the top of the columns holding this section up
A photo of some of the red buildings located at Park Guell

It’s also one of the most crowded parts of the park. If you do come to the park early try to check out that spot first together with the famous stairs at the entrance and then you can continue exploring the rest of the park.

Another attraction in the same area is Los Bunkers del Carmel, known as Turó de la Rovira

Los Bunkers are located just 20 minutes from the back entrance of Park Guell, but be ready for a steep uphill hike. This place is more than a viewing point, it has its own history that you can learn from the plaques displayed at the site.

Jon standing at the top of Los Bunkers with the city of Barcelona in the background

During the Spanish Civil War in 1938, they installed anti-aircraft guns and the bunkers that give the place its name. The guns were removed but the bunkers remained. It was later populated by locals looking for somewhere to live before they eventually were moved out and it became a scenic viewpoint instead.

Please be respectful to locals. If you try to watch the sunset here, you will be kicked out by police together with anyone else there. These regulations were made in 2023 to avoid tourists disturbing local communities. Please respect that.

But you can enjoy the morning light instead all by yourself or with a few locals that are exercising. We did both and we enjoyed being there in the morning by far more than at sunset.

A composite image of Janna walking around the top of Los Bunkers and leaning against a fence on the way up

You will find a panoramic 360 degrees view over Barcelona. It's actually the highest point of inner Barcelona and with no doubt the best view. You can spot La Sagrada Familia and other famous landmarks from this vantage point.

Visit the official website for more information about opening hours and its history. Note entry is free!

A composite image of the view of Barcelona from the top of Los Bunkers and Janna leaning against a fence on top of Los Bunkers

Take a sunrise SUP tour

If you love water as much as we do and are looking for something more unique and active to do in Barcelona, going on a paddle boarding tour at sunrise is perfect for you.

This is a great way to take a break from the city and connect with nature and fellow paddle boarders.

Support the project of Sagrada Familia

Sagrada Familia is the world’s biggest unfinished Catholic cathedral. It has been converted into a basilica. It was the most significant and biggest project of Antoni Gaudi. The construction began in 1882 and is predicted to finish by the year 2026.

A composite image of close-up photograph of the outside of Sagrada Familia and Janna walking in front with Sagrada Familia in the background.

If you are only going to choose to visit one masterpiece of Gaudi's work, we recommend getting tickets for Sagrada Familia. You can book them on the official website.

The three million visitors every year help support the project, which costs around 25 million euros annually. When you buy tickets, you directly contribute to the construction of Sagrada Familia.

We were absolutely blown away with the size and the complexity of the interior of Sagrada Familia. The moment we  entered the basilica we felt like we were in a different world.

A photo of the ceiling of Sagrada Familia.
A composite image of the inside of Sagrada Familia.

Try to visit on a sunny day to see the effects of the light coming through colourful stained glass windows. It creates the effect of a fairytale.

Plan your trip so you don’t have to rush through it. Besides the beauty of the basilica, there are other rooms converted to a museum explaining the history of Sagrada Familia and other architectural projects of Gaudi.

It was really interesting to learn that Gaudi was inspired mostly from nature. He was very progressive with building techniques and designs for his time. He was also a big fan of recycled materials and sustainability.

As with any other major attraction in Barcelona, you have to book your tickets online to skip the line. If you book some time in advance, you may even be lucky to get a ticket to the roof. Unfortunately we didn’t plan our trip that long ahead and had to save the roof for next time.

Book a tour to deepen your knowledge of Gaudi's work

Explore the world’s largest Art Nouveau complex

The Modernist Site of Sant Pau was built by the famous architect Lluís Domènechand between 1902 and 1930. The building was the new home to Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, one of Europe's and the world’s oldest hospitals operating since 1401.

The hospital was transferred to a new location with modern facilities in 2009. Sant Pau was turned into a museum and also houses the Public Library of Catalonia. It was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

You can take a guided tour or simply get an entrance ticket and explore the site on your own with an audio guide (4 euro)  or audio guide map (3 euro).

Be aware that guided tours are only available in Spanish and Catalan at certain times. For other languages you have to make a request. Check out the official website for more information and opening hours.

Learn about the unique architecture at Casa Battló

Casa Battló is one of Antoni Gaudi’s residential masterpieces. He was heavily inspired by nature and employed sustainability practices ahead of his time.

We loved it so much that we've written a dedicated article on our experience there! Open this article in a new tab to have a look before continuing here.

A photo of a ceiling in Casa Battlo with a light in the middle and patterns that form a shell around it

Take a sunrise tour at La Pedrera-Casa Mila

Casa Mila (otherwise known as La Pedrera) is another central Barcelona residence transformed with Gaudi’s genius. It was actually the last residence he worked on, and was built between 1906 and 1912. It has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

A photo inside the courtyard looking up at the interior walls of Casa Mila

Check the official website for ticket options. The sunrise tour costs a bit more than general admission, but you will be in a small guided tour and have the benefit of exploring Casa Mila free of crowds after the tour. The coolest part about Casa Mila is its rooftop and the view from it. That’s why for us it was even more important to get here early enough for the best light and crowd-free locations.

This experience was amazing! We learned a lot from our guide and could ask them questions. We definitely recommend paying a bit more for this morning tour because you will be the first one to arrive on the rooftop.

The tour guide will give you 15 minutes to take all the photos you want on the roof.  After you are done with your guided tour you can do Casa Mila all over again at your own pace.

A composite image of Janna and Jon standing in separate locations on the rooftop of Casa Mila
A composite image of Janna walking in two different sections of the rooftop on Casa Mila

We recommend checking out the gift shop and Casa Mila. There are a few sustainable brands that you can purchase like handcrafted earrings or bags made of recycled fabric.

There is also a bistro-style restaurant just inside the building of La Pedrera where you can have a sneak peek into the courtyard from one of the tables, or simply enjoy the design of the cafe which is also part of Gaudi's work.

The prices here are as expected, expensive, but sitting in such a historical and unique venue is an experience worth paying for. The picture of the pattern below was taken of the ceiling in the bistro. Does it remind you of something?

A composite image of the facade of Casa Mila, and the ceiling of the bistro on the ground floor

Book your sunrise tour at Casa Mila now

Take the Funicular to Tibidabo

Tibidabo is a 5,120-metre hill overlooking Barcelona. It boasts a really beautiful cathedral from where you have one of the best views over the city.

A composite image of the outside of the cathedral on Tididabo, and the ceiling on the inside

The funicular ticket includes a return trip on the Cuca de Llum for 12 Euro. When we went to take it, the funicular was actually under repair and we took a free replacement bus.

A composite image of Jon standing in the doorway of the cathedral on Tibidabo, and the rooftop of the cathedral with a statue of Jesus with his arms spread out

For families, there is also an amusement park at the top of the hill. Most of the attractions were closed and others were being refurbished when we went. Check their offical website for information and tickets.

A photo of the ferris wheel, part of the amusement park located at the top of Tibidabo

Visit local suburbs like Badalona

This is a great way to see how local people live. You will not meet many tourists here and will experience a more authentic atmosphere.

You can visit the old town in Badalona where you’ll find plenty of things to do. Visit the Museu de Badalona full of ancient artefacts, hang out in the Placa de la Vila town square, stroll along the pleasant beachside boulevard of Passeig Maritim full of life, or go for a dip in the Mediterranean Sea.

Make sure you try the vegan cafe Ingrediente Secreto. They source all the ingredients from a local organic farm and adjust the menu depending on the season.

Visit the vibrant town of Sitges

Sitges is another coastal town just 40 minutes train ride from the centre of Barcelona. It has Mediterranean beaches to enjoy and cobble-lined streets, art and historical museums to explore.

It’s very LGBTQI friendly and holds a popular Gay Pride Parade every year. It makes a great day trip from Barcelona or, like we did, a base for your stay in Barcelona.

To find out more and plan your visit, read our experience on the best things to do in Sitges.

A photo of some of the buildings in a street in Sitges

Take a kayak tour of Costa Brava

If you are a nature lover, Costa Brava is another day trip opportunity for you. We recommend this kayaking and snorkelling tour to explore the blue waters and hidden caves Costa Brava has to offer.

Take a guided tour to Palau de la Música, or book a concert

Palau de Musica Catalana is a unique architectural jewel of Art Nouveau style listed as a  World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was built between 1905 and 1908 by the modernist architect Lluís Domènech.

You have a unique opportunity to book a 45-minute guided tour to learn more about this amazing concert venue. See it with your own eyes, including areas that are usually closed to the public.

You can also experience Palau de la Musica by booking a concert. Check out their offical website for the current program and more information.

Unfortunately we missed this opportunity to watch a concert there but will definitely include this on our next trip to Barcelona!

Have a picnic at Ciutadella Park

Locals use Ciutadella Park to socialise, meet friends and just take a break from their busy city life. So why not grab a few things from a local supermarket and do the same?

We visited the park in the late afternoon and the sunset there was very striking. The only thing we regret was that we didn’t pack a bottle of wine, snack and blanket with us!

If you visit the park make sure you walk by Arc de Triomphe, as it's really close.

A composite image of a sculpture, and Janna walking under the arches at the Ciutadella Park

Buy fresh produce at the markets

Instead of visiting the most popular market in Barcelona, La Boqueria, head to the historical Santa Caterina Market. It’s the first ever covered food market in Barcelona that was built in 1845. Its renovation in 2005 with a colourful clamshell-like rooftop covered with 325,000 ceramic tiles made it an iconic symbol of the city.

With more than 100 vendors selling fresh produce, there's something to tantalise every taste bud. Additionally, there are plenty of restaurants and cafes that offer authentic Catalan cuisine. Whether you're a tourist or a local, the market's unique architecture and vibrant atmosphere make it a must-see attraction.

Discover the Best of Barcelona's Food Scene at Mercat de Sarrià.

Located just outside of the city centre of Barcelona, Mercat de Sarrià is a standout. This market offers a vibrant and welcoming atmosphere and a variety of fresh produce. The building is over 100 years old and retains its historic charm.

Book one of our recommended sustainable tours in Barcelona now

Sustainable shopping in Barcelona

A sustainable guide wouldn’t be completed without some shopping! Barcelona has plenty of second-hand and vintage shops that we recommend you to visit to bring some meaningful memories with you.

Palo Alto Market Fest is the perfect choice if you want to find something unique. It’s one of the city's best street markets.

Here, you can bask in the sun while browsing through an array of second-hand and vintage goods. The market also features live music and DJs, and numerous food trucks with great gluten-free and vegetarian options.

In addition, this market is a hub for Barcelona's artists, designers, and photographers who are looking to showcase their works to the world. If you're young and looking for a market that caters to your taste, Palo Alto Market Fest is the place to be.

Opening hours are 12 pm - 10 pm on Saturdays and Sundays.

Another flea market you should add to your list is Els Encants Market. It has 500 stalls and you can find anything there.

Opening hours for their food stalls are Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 9 am - 9 pm. Opening hours for their clothing and houseware stalls are: Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am - 8:30 pm.

For your perfect vintage pieces, head to 8037 Market. It’s a fashionable vintage destination in the Eixample District of Barcelona. The market offers a cool and funky atmosphere. It operates on an irregular schedule, just one Saturday a month. You can find our the next opening day on their Facebook page. Verdaguer Station is the nearest metro stop, making it easily accessible.

Discover the best of Barcelona's second-hand market scene in the Raval area, home to the city's oldest and most beloved second-hand market Barcelona Flea Market. Accessible via metro at Drassanes Station, this market is a treasure trove of unique items, including gadgets, clothes, books, and music. The market's philosophy of 'one man's garbage is another man's gold' is evident in the eclectic array of goods on offer. Visitors can even swap unwanted items for something they truly desire.

If you still need more, there is El Fleadonia on the first Sunday and El Flea on the second Sunday of every month. Both are located at central points which makes them super convenient.

Don't have enough time to explore Barcelona's bustling market scene? Not a problem. The city has several second-hand chains that are both accessible and affordable.

Among them, Humana is the most popular and promotes sustainable shopping to aid the environment. They also utilize their resources to support progress in southern countries like Ecuador, Zambia, and Laos. You don't want to miss out on their incredible finds – I've discovered some amazing pieces there that I absolutely adore!

Where to eat plant-based food in Barcelona

La Loncheria is an amazing Mexican inspired restaurant with very authentic flavours. This was our absolute favourite vegan place because every dish here was mouth watering. They feature live music and other local events on occasion.

The tuna tostadas and pulled BBQ jackfruit burger is a must. We came here for lunch and had a three course menu for only 15 euro.

A composite image of vegan 'tuna' tostadas, tacos, BBQ pulled jackfruit burger and fries at La Loncheria.

Roots and Rolls is a vegan sushi restaurant with other Japanese food options. It was a bit hit and miss, but if you like sushi you should give it a go. Jon lived in Japan for 7 years so it was harder to impress him. Janna was quite content with her choice of ramen.

L'Encant Vegetarià is a great lunch place! For 12.80 euro you get a three course vegetarian meal with vegan options. Everything was really tasty and very healthy, made with whole grains and fresh vegetables.

Restaurant l'Hortet is a real vegetarian gem, located near Plaza Catalunya which makes it ideal if you’re exploring La Rambla. The place was packed with locals and we were lucky to get a table. The day's menu was only 13 euro with dessert.

Descuina't (Menjar Vegà per Emportar) is a small family owned takeaway fully vegan place with some protein rich dishes packed in a paper box. Located in the centre of the popular Gracia neighbourhood right on the Plaza de Revolucion. Very convenient if you are in a rush or on a budget. We enjoyed the spring sun sitting on one of the benches in the plaza.

Arco Iris is a vegetarian restaurant just minutes away from Sagrada Família. They have a vegan only menu on Tuesdays. The day menu is only 12 euro and the restaurant has a very nice interior.

A photo of the vegan quiche at Arco Iris.

Ginger & Seltz is a wine bar rather than a restaurant. It’s quite expensive for the size of the tapas, but if you are into cheese this is your place as they have a great variety of vegan cheeses to try.

We also visited some local places to soak in the atmosphere that still had some vegetarian/vegan options:

Bar Restaurante Casi is a great local place to eat after exploring Güell Park. It’s not a vegan or vegetarian restaurant, but you can easily pick a few dishes. Just let them know and they may have something extra for you. They have a day menu which is great at 15 euro.

Tapaspuma Bar is a typical Spanish tapas bar, you know exactly what to expect. They don’t have a huge variety of tapas for vegans but the peppers de padron and patatas bravas are a must!  

La Cuina de la Loli is a seafood restaurant that specialises in rice dishes like paella. They have a completely vegan menu including paella that was pretty good but a bit pricey at 18 euro.

Where to stay in Barcelona: sustainable accommodation options

When we visited, we had our base in Sitges. It was easier to find a place to stay with a local outside of the city than it is inside the city due to a lack of residential homes.

But you can also stay in one of these sustainable hotels in Barcelona listed below.

Eco Boutique Hostal Grau Barcelona is very affordable for Barcelona. In addition to LEED (Silver) certification, it has an environmentally friendly design, energy-efficient lighting, and a water recycling system. They also use renewable and clean energy. All products are PVC-free and the paint is water-based.

H10 Cubik Hotel's sustainability starts with its modern design of long windows and elevation that captures most of the day's sunlight. It has sustainability practices like the use of renewable energy, energy efficient lightning, eco-friendly cleaning products, soap and shampoos. There is no single-use plastic on their premises including toiletries. The restaurant offers locally sourced produce and even has a vegan menu.

Hotel Yurbban Trafalgar promotes sustainability by providing guests with the option to reuse towels, using biodegradable hangers, and offering guests the free use of bikes. The bikes are made in Barcelona and can be booked ahead of time through the hotel's website or requested upon arrival. Their dining room creates seasonal menus from locally sourced produce and offers vegan menu options.

Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona received recognition as ​​one of the country's best sustainability and rehabilitation projects. Its preserved facade and art deco spaces provide  a luxurious feel. It has Biosphere and Responsible Tourism certifications. There is no place for single-use plastics on the premises, and eco-friendly technology is prioritised (solar panels, LED lights, etc.). With waste reduction, sustainable products, and working closely with the local community, Hotel Pulitzer Barcelona is the ideal destination for eco-conscious travellers.

Enter your email below to receive weekly news and inspiration for sustainable living with Voyage Green News.
© 2023 Voyage Green. All rights reserved.