Your life won’t be complete until you’ve seen it,” my guide announces excitedly as we approach Barcelona’s La Sagrada Família. It’s a big call, especially seeing as the building itself is incomplete.

But Antoni Gaudí’s gothic cathedral doesn’t disappoint.

You could explore this iconic building for days and discover new things to appreciate – from the bunches of fruit adorning the towers to the forest-like structures inside.

Building started on La Sagrada Família 125 years ago and is still going. It’s expected to be finished in 20 to 40 years’ time. Despite
the continuing construction, two million visitors turn up to gawp at the Gaudí masterpiece each year.

The architect was killed by a tram in 1926 just as the project got off the ground. But his memory lives on in Barcelona, and not just through La Sagrada Família. Wander through the streets and you can see the mark he left on the city.

At the fantastical Park Güell you’re welcomed by a mosaic dragon (the symbol of the city), and there are countless other Gaudí features scattered around. You’ll also find his former home here – the little spired house which is now a museum.

As fascinating and extraordinary as Gaudí’s work might be, make sure you leave some time to explore the rest of the city. If not, you might be complete but your trip to Barcelona won’t be.

Circus stars
This is especially true if you don’t take in the delights of La Rambla. The thoroughfare boasts enough street performers to rival Covent Garden. There are artists selling their wares and numerous stalls selling caged birds. But be warned, pickpocketing is rife here so hold onto your belongings tightly.

Old is new again
For something a bit less touristy, wander for a few blocks down some of the side streets that lead away from the bustling La Rambla. You’ll find great shops and boutiques, and the historic, narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) are magical. Give your feet a rest at the Park Ciutadella where you can admire the impressive fountain, lake, museums and palaces.

Bar hopping
Going to Barcelona and not having tapas or sangria is like going to the Great Barrier Reef and not going snorkelling. Barcelona has more than 11,000 bars and restaurants so you’re not about to go hungry or thirsty. While La Rambla is packed with tapas bars, you’ll find cheaper, less touristy fare when you explore the side streets.

Shop till you drop
Barcelona is known for its cheap shopping so if you plan to indulge, either pack light or get yourself another bag. Shoes are cheap and plentiful. Passeig de Gracia is loaded with high street chains with clothing at a fraction of the price you’d pay in the UK. Check out the little streets in the Gothic Quarter for trendy boutiques. Fashion is a big thing in Barcelona and everyone seems to have their own take on the latest designs. Even the hairstyles are something else – see how many modern mullets you can spot in the space
of five minutes.

City sands
When you’ve finished pounding the pavement, grab your towel, sunscreen and togs and hit the beach for a dip and a few rays. Barcelona has a few to choose from. Barceloneta and Nova Icaria, popular with both tourists and locals, are lined with restaurants and bars, while the quieter Mar Bella is the only naturist beach along the strip (no pun intended).

• Amanda Tomlinson travelled to Barcelona with Busabout (020 7950 1661; A hop-on hop-off Flexipass round Europe, with six stops, is £239. A Western Loop tour, which takes in Barcelona, is £289.