Walking tours in Barcelona
When going to a new city, the best way to see it is with either a walking tour or bike tour. One of the wonderful things about Barcelona is that most of the important and beautiful parts of the city are in very close proximity hence the reason why walking tours are so popular! And there are a multitude to choose from! Here is a run down of the best and most popular walking tours in the city.
Free Walking Tour
The most common and popular are the free walking tours. Tours are “free” – you just give your guide what you think is a fair tip at the end. Most of the tours are pretty similar and it very much depends on how good your guide is. The advantage of these kind of tours is that because the guides are strictly on commission they do really put in an effort in order to maximize the amount of tips they receive at the end of the tour.
Most of the tours move around the same area, the Gothic quarter. You will be taken to the Cathedral and told the incredible story of Saint Eulalia. The history of this whole area is fascinating and well worth learning about. Sandman’s is the biggest of these tour companies but despite being a bit corporate they do have incredibly knowledgeable guides as a consequence of rigorous exams in order to become qualified as a guide.
Tips average around €10-€15pp, 2-3 hours, Sandemans (newbarcelona-tours.com), Travel Bound (travelbar.com)
The DIY tour
A guided walk is the quick and easy way to learn lots about a place but at €10-€20pp the cost can soon rack up, particularly for a family. Guiding yourself keeps the price down and lets you choose your own pace. The Ruta del Modernisme winds through the city linking more than 100 examples of Catalonia’s famed take on art nouveau. You could be cheap and read descriptions of buildings from the ruta’s rather clunky website, but the accompanying guidebook is only €12 and gets you a discounted entry to many sights. All the biggies, such as Gaudí’s Sagrada Família and the Palau de la Música Catalana by Lluís Domènech i Montaner are on the ruta but you can search out the work of lesser-known architects, such as my favourite, Josep Maria Jujol.
Information at rutadelmodernisme.com, guidebook available from Museu del Modernisme de Barcelona
Street Art Tour
If you are looking for something a little bit cooler and more underground then this is the tour for you. This tour is all about the huge amount of street art that covers the city centre in colour. You can’t fail to notice the city’s obsession with the spray can; every metal shop shutter in the Raval, just off the Ramblas, seems to be covered in designs. But I hadn’t seen anything until I walked the barrio with Dominic, who spent his teenage years leaving his mark on commuter trains in Sydney. He taught me about tagging, throw-ups and stencilling, and showed me the work of famous street artists such as El Gordo (fat guys with square faces on tiles) and BCN Cans (cans sprayed with a letter then stuck together to spell out messages such as “Tonight the streets are ours”). A squad of city workers armed with paint brushes polices the streets to wipe out graffiti but they’re fighting a losing battle.
Free but tip appreciated, as before in the free walking tour to what you think is appropriate for the 2 hour tour, barcelonastreetstyletour.com
The Architecture Tour
Barcelona is well known for its amazing architecture but this tour is not going to take you to Sagrada Familia, it is about the more modern side of Barcelona. A group of young architects are behind Barcelona Architecture Walks and I signed up for their Barcelona and the Future City stroll. Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes was to be the new centre of Barcelona in its 19th-century expansion but it ended up little more than a vast, unlovely traffic junction. The square is now a building site as the city authorities try to rescue this space. Guide Jordi explained some of the theories of urban planning – keeping within a beginner’s comprehension/boredom level – before we walked by some of the new buildings here, such as Encants market and the Design Museum, the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona. A fascinating glimpse into an architect’s world and the challenges of imagining a city’s future.
€30pp, 2½ hours, barcelonarchitecturewalks.com
Raval, guided by the homeless
This is certainly a unique kind of walking tour and you are of course helping the needy when you go on the tour! There are reckoned to be at least 3,000 people living on the city’s streets but they can be almost invisible to tourists. Hidden City Tours was set up by a Brit to employ, as guides, people who have been on the streets. Former taxi driver Jaume led me on the new Street Life tour amid the Raval, taking me through an average day in the life of a homeless person, from where to sleep (a park in summer, a bank’s cashpoint lobby in winter) and how to keep clean (library washrooms) to how to make money (blowing giant soap bubbles) and where to eat (for example, one of Barcelona’s poshest hotels delivers a giant free paella each Thursday to soup kitchen El Chiringuito de Dios. Jaume is now off the streets and back working as a driver as well as guiding.
From €15pp, 1½ hours, hiddencitytours.com
The Green Tour
Nooooo this is not a tour of Barcelona’s finest coffee shops unfortunately. Montjuïc hill has always offered a splash of green in this densely packed city. Biologist Mónica is charming and passionate and took me on a fascinating nature tour of this hulk of rock. For example, we stopped at an oleander shrub and Mónica showed how Antoni Gaudí used the unusual structure of a stalk as the model for the columns of the Sagrada Família. She also found time to bring in social history, explaining how the hill was once covered in shanty towns, housing a fifth of the city’s population in the 1960s. Mónica’s partner Nick does a great Spanish civil war tour in Barcelona.
€25pp, 3½ hours, barcelonawildlife.com