Barcelona, the cosmopolitan capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, is known for its art and architecture. The fantastical Sagrada Família church and other modernist landmarks designed by Antoni Gaudí dot the city. We bring you the best places Barcelona has to offer!
Park Güell (pictured)
Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical park, located on the northern edge of Barcelona, was one of the artist’s most ambitious projects and is one of the city’s most popular attractions.
The most celebrated part of this sculpted urban park – the Zona Monumental – requires an admission fee, with each ticket valid for a specific half-hour time slot; it’s best to book ahead online.
The park was originally designed to be a private housing estate with recreational areas, but only a couple of the planned houses ended up being built and the park was opened to the public in 1922 instead.
Highlights include two gingerbread houses just past the main entrance (though one of them houses a museum that’s rather okay to miss), a ceramic dragon fountain, and a monumental stairway that ascends to the huge Hall of Columns, originally designed to be the market of the housing estate – the odd angles of its soaring Doric columns make it look like a petrified forest. Continue up to the “pathway of columns”, where organic-looking stone arches support a long arcade.
The terrace on top of the Hall of Columns is flanked by a meandering ceramic bench, covered in colourful broken tile-and-glass mosaic, and there is a terrific view of the city from here. It’s worth stopping by the Gaudí House Museum as well – the pink building in the center of the park where Gaudi once lived. Nearest transport: Vallarca metro
Sagrada Família (Editors Top Choice)
Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece church – the symbol of Barcelona and the city’s most visited attraction. The Sagrada Familia is a working church, consecrated in 2010 and due to be completed in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death. Though you will have seen the church’s distinctive spires from a distance, nothing quite prepares you for what you find close up. Pick up the excellent audio-guide to talk you through the church’s many features.
Its extraordinary interior gives the illusion of being in a forest, with soaring columns blossoming with leaves and branches, and stained glass windows filtering light in a myriad of different hues. Visitors can choose to take the elevator up the Passion and Nativity towers; the Nativity Tower is more interesting and allows a close-up view of the spires, as well as partial views of the city. To beat the crowds, buy tickets online both for the church and the tower elevators. All tickets are for a specific date and time; during peak season (summer), book days in advance. Nearest transport: Sagrada Família metro
Barcelona’s labyrinthine Gothic Quarter. Just east of the Ramblas, the city’s Gothic Quarter marks the very heart of Barcelona, with buildings dating back to the 14th and 15th centuries. The tangle of narrow streets is lined with tapas bars, shops, museums, and cafes; getting lost in there is a whole lot of fun.
Don’t miss the venerable Els Quatre Gats café where Picasso and his bohemian friends used to hang out, and marvel at the vast Catedral de Barcelona – Barcelona’s center of Christian worship since the 14th century. Other highlights include the Roman Temple of Augustus, the Plaça de Sant Jaume, and the former Jewish quarter, with its tiny synagogue that’s now a museum. The church at Plaça Sant Felip Neri was attended by Gaudí and still bears shrapnel damage from the Spanish Civil War. Nearest transport: Liceu metro
Stretching from the waterfront to Plaça Catalunya, Las Ramblas is a pedestrian boulevard, overlooked by stately 19th century buildings and lined with restaurants, historic buildings and souvenir stalls. This street throngs with strolling crowds, palm readers, and caricature painters, and is a great place for peoplewatching.
The Ramblas acts as a divide between Barri Gòtic to the east and the El Raval neighbourhood to the west, and a leisurely stroll along its 1.2km length takes about half an hour – or longer if you stop along the way. Highlights include the Columbus monument at the waterfront, erected for the 1888 Universal Exposition fair, and the palm-studded Plaça Reial, a beautiful arcade fringed with cafes. At the midpoint of the Ramblas you’ll hit the Liceu Metro station, featuring the Opera House, a colourful underfoot mosaic by Joan Miró, and the lively La Boquería produce market. Further on, there are flower sellers and Betlem Church, a favourite place for Nativity scenes at Christmas. Just before reaching the fountains and Art Deco buildings at Plaça Catalunya, you’ll pass the black-and-gold Canaletes fountain. According to legend, a drink insures a repeat visit to Barcelona. Tip: avoid the restaurants along the Ramblas, as you’ll find far better quality even a block or two away. Nearest transport: Drassanes or Catalunya metro
Gaudí’s remarkable sea-inspired apartment building. In the late 19th century, Gaudí was hired to give a facelift to a boring apartment building. The results are striking. There’s barely a straight line in the entire place, and an organic feel to the entire building. The exterior is complete with balconies that look like toothy fish maws or carnival masks, and the interior is every bit as fascinating.
The audio-guides are terrific (if a bit long-winded), and point out interesting details that you’d otherwise miss. Point one at a room, and the display screen reflects the architect’s vision, coming alive with fish and other creatures of the deep.
From room to room, guests take in rippling walls, doorways, and window frames, shell-like ceiling patterns, and sinuous, polished wood bannisters.
The whole place is full of natural light, with the central stairwell and indoor courtyard giving the illusion of being underwater.
The roof terrace sparkles with kaleidoscopic patterns made of broken ceramic tiles and glass that cover undulating chimneys, arranged to represent the spine of the dragon killed by St George. As gift shops go, this one’s excellent. Nearest transport: Passeig de Gràcia metro
Casa Milla / La Pedrera
Gaudí’s weird and wonderful apartment building. Designed by Gaudí for a wealthy industrialist, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the architect’s most famous works. Unlike at Casa Batlló – Gaudí’s other famous work, everything here was designed by the artist, from the rippling façade, inspired by the mountains of Montserrat, to the tangled metal of the apartments’ balconies.
The building’s two oval courtyards lead to an elevator that whisks visitors to the jaw-dropping rooftop, lined with Gaudí’s undulating chimneys and featuring great city views. Visitors can also tour the vaulted attic, where a multimedia exhibit covers the architect’s career and a variety of his inspirational objects are displayed. Next, walk through a typical early 20th century modernista apartment, making extraordinary use of natural light, and complete with period furniture. Nightly after-dark tours include a glass of cava and feature a visit to the eerily-lit rooftop. To beat the lines, reserve your ticket online (with assigned entry time) or get to La Pedrera by 9am. Nearest transport: Diagonal metro
Barcelona’s most famous produce market. Located about halfway up the pedestrian thoroughfare of Las Ramblas, St. Josep La Boquería throngs with people. Here you find stall after stall of local fruit and vegetables, meat stalls with dangling legs of jamón and displays of botifarra (Catalan sausage) and chorizo, seafood stalls heaped with razor clams and shrimp, olive stalls offering dozens of different kinds of olives, and juice stalls serving up every fresh juice combination you can think of.
The location is picturesque: the market hall is located in the colonnaded former courtyard of a now-defunct monastery. As the most visited market in Barcelona, La Boquería is a touristy place, but many locals – including Barcelona’s famous chefs shop here as well. Tip: ignore the juice and produce stalls by the very entrance of the market, and head deeper in, where you pay lower prices for the same goods. The tapas stalls that fringe the main market area make an excellent stop for a snack and a drink. Saturday is the liveliest day to visit; the market is closed on Sundays. Nearest transport: Liceu metro
Barcelona’s premier contemporary art museum. The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona’s striking glass-fronted white building really stands out against the backdrop of the surrounding buildings in El Raval. Inside, the museum makes terrific use of natural light, with the ramps leading up to the top floor giving a great view of the square outside, busy with stunt-performing skateboarders.
The museum’s permanent collection focuses mostly on contemporary art movements in Catalunya and Spain since 1945, and portions of it are displayed at any given time in regularly changing themed exhibitions. Alongside the permanent collection there are typically two or three visiting exhibitions shown. These can be anything from sculpture and paintings by Catalan greats such as Antoni Tàpies or Joan Miró to installations by the likes of Francesc Torres and video productions by Martha Rosler. Nearest transport: Universitat or Liceu metro
One of the world’s most important collections of Picasso’s work. Picasso, master of Cubism, Surrealism, Expressionism, is one of Spain’s – and the world’s – greatest 20th century artists. He spent some of his most formative years (aged 14 to 23) in Barcelona, after which he went to Paris and revolutionized the art world.
While you won’t find Picasso’s most famous works at this museum, this extensive collection traces his artistic development from his boyhood years to his final works from the French Riviera. The art is spread across five medieval palaces, beginning with his boyhood pencil drawings, paintings of Barcelona landscapes from his art school days, and intimate portraits of his family members. Further along, there’s a copy of a portrait by Velázquez from young Pablo’s days in Madrid, when he learned to copy the masters at the Prado museum. Subsequent rooms reflect his time in Barcelona, when he hung out with an avantgarde crowd. Impressionist landscapes, still life’s, and paintings of cancan dancers chart his life in Paris, before moving onto paintings from his moody Blue Period and a few Cubist works. Don’t miss the Mediterranean scenes from his twilight years spent in Cannes, or the ceramics in Room 16. Try to visit early on weekdays, as this museum gets very busy. Nearest transport: Jaume I metro
Palau de la Música Orfeo Catala
In Barcelona, Gaudí tends to get most of the attention, but this remarkable concert hall shows that there was more to the modernist movement than the Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. Covered in tiles and mosaics and boasting an elaborate façade, this 2,138-seat structure was built in 1908 by modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, a contemporary of Gaudí. Inside, Catalan music is celebrated in a series of playful Muse sculptures that surround the main stage, and stained glass representations of nature and music. The piece de resistance is a stupendous stained-glass skylight, once believed to be an engineering impossibility, that turns the concert hall into a “box of light”. There are two ways of visiting the concert hall: join one of the excellent hour-long day tours (purchase a ticket online at least two days in advance to get a spot on an English-language tour), or better still, attend a concert here during the September to June concert season. Nearest transport: Urquinaona metro
The home of one of the world’s most successful football teams. If you’re a football (soccer) fan, you wouldn’t want to miss visiting the legendary home of Barcelona FC. It’s easy to get tickets to most of the home games, and if you’re lucky enough to get tickets to one of the big matches particularly against bitter rivals Real Madrid – the atmosphere is incredible! Even if you don’t attend a match, you can come by for a day tour of the stadium. Tours take in the press room, the impressive trophy room, the interactive museum showcasing the career highlights of the football team, the warm-up bench where the players stretch before the game, and the football field itself. You can stock up on all the Barça merchandise you want at the gift store. Nearest transport: Maria Cristina or Collblanc metro
Barcelona’s steep hill and park, dotted with numerous attractions. Named “Mountain of the Jews” after the small Jewish community that once lived on its slopes, Montjuïc is the dramatic hill that rises above Barcelona’s port, topped with a fortress and covered in extensive landscaped gardens. Its northern slope is taken up by the terraces, fountains, and Neoclassical buildings from the International Exhibition of 1929. Montjuïc is also home to two of Barcelona’s most important art galleries and the Olympic stadium.
It’s a joy to wander around the hill’s lush gardens, and there are terrific views of the city and/or the sea from the cable cars that rise to the summit, from the ramparts of the fortress, from the Olympic terraces, and from the steps leading up to the Museu Nacional. The easiest way to explore Monjuïc is to take the funicular up from the metro, and then ride the Telefèric de Montjuïc cable cars all the way to Castell de Montjuïc, the 18th century former military fortress and prison. From here it’s easy and fun to wander down the (signposted) slopes to the art galleries. Another cable car connects the lower slopes of Montjuïc to Barceloneta, rising high above the harbor. Nearest transport: Paral.lel metro then Montjuïc funicular
Entertaining evening sound-and-light show. In 1929, Barcelona staged the World Expo in the extravagant fairgrounds at the base of Montjuïc. From the Plaça d’Espanya, the grand pedestrian esplanade leads towards the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, with the Font Màgica (Magic Fountain) halfway along. On weekend evenings, the Font Màgica becomes the centerpiece of a sound-and-light extravaganza. The waters of the fountain change a kaleidoscope of colours, and rise and fall to music by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé, while the surrounding area is populated by street musicians. The free shows last around 20 minutes and commence every half hour between 9pm and 11pm, Thursday to Sunday (May-September) and on Fridays and Saturdays between 7pm and 8.30pm the rest of the year. Particularly fun on balmy spring and summer evenings. Popular with families. Nearest transport: Espanya metro
Fundació Joan Miró
The world’s best collection of works by Catalan abstract artist Joan Miró. Housed in a white modernist building, this collection loosely follows Miró’s entire career, though most of the paintings, tapestries & sculptures are drawn from his later years. Miró was born in Barcelona, but split his time between Paris and Catalunya before moving to Majorca. His work is very distinctive, with bright colours and bold shapes, and it’s popular with those who love abstract art, and children, who seem to really get the joy in his art. Works to look out for include his Impressionist landscapes (1914), the Portrait of a Young Girl (1919), pieces from his Constellations series (1930s) that feature his trademarks reds and blues, and imagery of birds, women, the sun and the moon; and the dark, brooding black-and-white lithographs from his Barcelona Series (1939-44) that reflect the turmoil of war. Don’t miss his enormous tapestries or the outdoor sculptures on the roof terrace. There are also terrific temporary exhibits by young, experimental artists, children’s theatre and film screenings, and works created by famous artists in tribute to Miró. It’s well worth paying a little extra for the excellent audio-guide. Nearest transport: Paral.lel metro then Montjuïc funicular
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona’s largest park and zoo. If you want a break from the downtown hustle and bustle, Citadel Park makes for a good escape. There’s a grand Arc de Triomf at the main entrance to the park, wide walkways that fill with strolling locals and street performers blowing giant bubbles, and several impressive structures, such as the Catalonia Parliament building in the center of the park. In the northwest corner there’s the Castell dels Tres Dragons, an impressive, castle-like modernist building designed by Catalan architect Lluís Domènch i Montaner. Head to the park’s northeast corner to have a look at the Baroque fountain designed by Josep Fontseré i Mestrès, assisted by a young Antoni Gaudí. The southern part of the park is taken up by the city zoo, Parc Zoològic. It’s hugely popular with families. There’s a petting zoo, pony rides, and animals from around the world, including the endangered Iberian wolf and the Sumatran tiger. Nearest transport: Arc de Triomf or Ciutadella/Vila Olímpica metro
Day trip to the Salvador Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres
The town of Figueres is particularly famous for one thing: Salvador Dalí. It’s the birthplace and final resting place of the Surrealist artist, and the home of the renowned museum that bears his name. The flamboyant TeatreMuseu Dalí is an absolute must for any fan of this remarkable man, particularly famous for his painting, but also a capable film director, clothing and jewelry designer. The museum is a really entertaining place to visit even if you only have a mild interest in Dalí’s work and it’s a work of art in itself: check out the Oscars-type golden statues clutching baguettes, and the egg-topped towers. Inside, highlights include the Rainy Taxi – put a coin in the slot, and it rains inside the car, and the boat in which Dalí used to sail with Gala – his wife, soulmate and muse. Though Dalí’s most famous works are found in galleries throughout the world, the sheer volume of sketches, prints and oils here is unrivaled. Don’t miss the Mae West Room, where the furniture is arranged to look like the actress’ face, or the Dalí’s Jewels exhibit. Nearest transport: Frequent high-speed trains run from Barcelona to Figueres (1 hour).
Day trip to Montserrat Monastery
An easy day trip from Barcelona, this dramatic mountaintop monastery has been one of two most important pilgrimage sites in Spain for over a thousand years. Pilgrims come to pray to La Moreneta (the Black Virgin), found behind protective glass inside the monastery’s basilica chapel. The image is carbon-dated to be at least 800 years old, and legend has it that she was carved by St Luke, brought to Spain by St Peter, and hidden in one of the mountain caves to protect it from the Moorish invasions. The Ave Maria path leading up to the basilica is lined with votive candles and you can visit the room where believers leave personal belongings as votive offerings to the Virgin: wax replicas of body parts, baby baptism outfits, model cars, and more. The Museu de Montserrat, attached to the working monastery, has an excellent collection of Byzantine icons and paintings by Old Masters and Catalan modernistas, among others. A network of signposted walking trails is spread over the surrounding craggy mountains, with wonderful views of the surrounding countryside. Two funiculars take you up part of the way. At the monastery there’s a hotel and a couple of restaurants. Nearest transport: take the FGC train from Plaça de Espanya metro to Montserrat Aeri and then take the cable car up to the monastery
(Article source: Various)