The Best Things to in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona has to be experienced to be, well, experienced. Photos cannot duplicate the weird beauty of Gaudí's Sagrada Familia or Park Güell. The grandeur of La Rambla or the vibrance of Plaça de Catalunya, the energy of the markets and the Gothic Quarter: The city is intoxicating and addictive.

C/ de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
The art nouveau buildings of Antoni Gaudí, the 19th-century architect whose works are some of Barcelona’s most iconic sights, can be seen throughout Catalonia, but Barcelona has the best examples of his genius at work. Former residences of upper-class families, the Casa Milà (or La Pedrera), at 261-265 Provença, and Casa Batlló, at 43 Passeig de Gràcia, have their fair share of intricate wrought iron balconies and striking mosaic work to catch the eye. They can’t compare, however, with Gaudí’s imposing, and to date unfinished, church, the Sagrada Família. At a minimum, take a tour of one of these buildings—we recommend making time for all three.
Carrer Montcada, 15-23, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Make a mandatory stop at the Picasso Museum in Barcelona’s El Born neighborhood. The museum houses more than 4,000 of the prolific artist’s works, many of which were made in Barcelona itself. As you view the large collection of Picasso’s early paintings and drawings, you will get an in-depth look at his evolution as an artist. Walk through the exhibits and wonder at the Spanish master’s many periods, phases, and styles.
Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona, Spain
One of Barcelona‘s most exclusive streets, Passeig de Gràcia is home to modernista masterpieces like La Pedrera and Casa Batlló as well as the massive luxury storefronts of brands such as Louis Vuitton, Burberry, Mandarina Duck, and Adolfo Domínguez. That said, you’ll also find more affordable shops like Zara and H&M for mere mortals. This is a great place to perch on a mosaic modernista park bench and people-watch. The mix of wealthy locals, fashionistas, and tourists of all shapes and sizes makes it especially entertaining, even for Barcelona.
1 Plaça dels Àngels
This modern white-cement-and-glass building designed by Richard Meier houses art by Spanish, Catalan, and international artists, particularly from South America and Eastern Europe. Check out abstracts from the 1950s and European pop and avant-garde works from the ’70s, as well as current pieces. Outside, watch local skaters perform gravity-defying tricks, and don’t miss the restored Keith Haring street art mural on a nearby wall, dedicated to the fight against AIDS.
08024 Barcelona, Spain
A pilgrimage to this enchanting park is a must for any Antoni Gaudí fan. Located atop Carmel Hill to the north of the city, the park was inspired by English landscape gardens, but its fantastical elements make sure you know it was created by Catalonia’s most eccentric architect. Though there are multiple entrances, the most impressive is via a grand staircase guarded by an enormous, mosaic-tiled dragon. It leads to a sprawling plaza with a mosaic-covered cement bench stretching some 328 feet around the perimeter. Park Güell was originally designed as a gated residential development, but it failed; a show home built to lure buyers is now the Gaudí House Museum (not included with park admission). Visitors should reserve an online ticket to avoid lines.
La Rambla, 65, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Amble down La Rambla, stopping to admire fresh flowers, original artwork, and Barcelona souvenirs at your leisure. Watch living statues come to life when you drop a euro in their cups—most will pose with passersby, for a price, of course. Keep an eye out for the pavement mosaic by Joan Miró at 80 Pla de l’Os and the Canaletes Fountain at the top of La Rambla (across from No. 133), where FC Barcelona fans come to celebrate victories.
Plaça Comercial, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Inside this 1876 market, you can see the footprint of 18th century Barcelona and read about what life was like before the city’s siege during the War of Spanish Succession. The airy iron and glass market, modeled on Parisian architecture is the largest covered square in Europe and marked the beginning of Modernisme in Catalan architecture. Check out seasonal exhibits or get up close and personal with the ruins on a tour (prior reservation necessary).
La Rambla, 99, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Built on La Rambla between 1772 and 1778 as a residence for the viceroy of Peru, this palace’s mixture of baroque and rococo elements is unique in Barcelona. Pose with the Gegants, giant puppets paraded around at Barcelona’s festivals in the courtyard –the city’s gegants, representing Jaume I, and Violant d’Hongria, important Catalan monarchs, are on display here permanently. Upstairs check out temporary art and photography exhibits at Palau de la Virreina Centre de la Imatge.
5-7 Passeig Olímpic
The sprawling site of the 1992 Olympic Games is worth the trip to Montjuïc. You will see the Palau Sant Jordi, an indoor sports complex, the Picornell swimming pools, and most famously, the Olympic Stadium Lluís Companys, built in 1929 in a bid to host the 1936 games (the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War scuttled that chance). Tour the refurbished 55,000-seat stadium, which now hosts big musical acts and soccer competitions, and visit the Olympic and Sports Museum next door. A vast esplanade lined with curious columns that resemble smokestacks is one of the area’s most distinguishing features, as is Santiago Calatrava’s soaring all-white communications tower with its needle-shaped spire.
C. d'Aristides Maillol, 12, 08028 Barcelona, Spain
Even if you can’t attend a match, you can still imagine the crowds cheering on the home team at the Football Club Barcelona’s stadium, admire a shrine to Argentine superstar Leo Messi and learn about the history of Barcelona’s world-renowned soccer club with interactive displays in the museum. There’s also an indoor ice-skating rink and a massive FC Barcelona store where fans can buy official jerseys and more emblazoned with the team’s name and colors.

Pla de la Seu, s/n, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
While the unfinished Sagrada Familia is perhaps Barcelona’s most famous church, its cathedral is Santa Eulàlia, a Gothic church constructed between the 13th to 15th centuries. Its neo-Gothic facade was built over the original exterior in the 19th century. The rooftop features a variety of gargoyles inspired by real and mythical creatures. Salute Barcelona’s co–patron saint, Eulàlia, the cathedral’s namesake, in the crypt, and then move on to the cloisters where 13 white geese frolic in a 14th-century fountain.
La Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain
The city’s old fishing quarter, Barceloneta, is a warren of narrow residential streets dotted with classic family-owned seafood restaurants. The neighborhood is charming, if a bit scruffy, but its biggest asset is its proximity to Barcelona’s urban beaches, a three-mile-long stretch of sand and sea that buzzes with activity day and night. Passeig Joan de Borbó is the grand boulevard that divides Barceloneta from Port Vell, the harbor area where gleaming mega-yachts have now taken the place of humble fishing boats. Lined with touristy cafés and souvenir shops, it’s nevertheless a pleasant street to stroll along on your way from the city to the beach.
Passeig de Picasso, 21, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
“One of the biggest parks in Barcelona, Parc de la Cuitadella is situated near the port and for years was one of the city’s only green spaces. Today it is home to a zoo, a lake, a lovely fountain, as well as a few museums. This is also the home of the Catalan Parliament, which is housed in a beautiful early 18th-century building.” —Primavera music founder Pablo Soler on the El Bron neighborhood. Read more about his local’s take on Barcelona.
Plaça Sant Iu, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
This little-known museum stands in the shadow of Barcelona Cathedral. You’ll find dramatic sculptures from pre-Roman times all the way to the 20th century, including religious works from medieval-era Spain. Frederic Marès was a sculptor by trade, but he was also an inveterate collector, and the museum’s upper floors—called the Collector’s Cabinet—are crammed with 17 rooms of quirky treasures. Among them is the Smokers’ Room, filled with hundreds of pipes, tobacco pouches, cigarette cases, ashtrays, and erotic matchbook covers. Other spaces are devoted to everything from walking sticks to cameras to timepieces to ladies’ accoutrements: gloves, fans, brooches, and even needlework made of human hair.
Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
The Barcelona-born artist Joan Miró (1893–1983) enlisted architect and friend Josep Lluís Sert to design this modern, light-filled museum devoted to his works. Built in 1975 and expanded in later years, the galleries house 200 paintings, 180 sculptures, and thousands of drawings, as well as Miró's ceramics and textiles. Head to the roof to behold a forest of colorful sculptures by the Catalan artist, not to mention excellent views of the city and the surrounding Montjuïc gardens. The space also includes well-known artists from Miró's day, including Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Fernand Léger.
169 Carrer de Sant Antoni Maria Claret
This massive former hospital complex dominates nine blocks of the Eixample district, and it’s one of the finest examples of early-20th-century modernista (Catalan art nouveau) architecture. Lluís Domènech i Montaner designed the grand main hall and multiple pavilions in a hybrid Gothic-Moorish style: The redbrick buildings feature turrets, spires, and arches, and their facades are decorated with ornate sculptural elements, ceramics, and mosaics. Administration Pavilion is the standout, with its soaring marble columns, vaulted ceilings lined in colorful tiles, and stained-glass windows and skylights throughout. Guided tours are offered in English but you can also easily navigate the grounds on your own.
Plaça de Santa Maria, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
While the Barcelona Cathedral may be the city’s more famous church, Santa Maria del Mar is just as impressive, and a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic style. The basilica was built in just 54 years—begun in 1329 and completed in 1383—and its interior is austere but architecturally dazzling. Slender 60-foot-high columns set far apart from one another give the impression of lightness and space, while the enormous, brilliantly colored stained-glass rose window at the church’s western end allows sun to flood the space. Guided tours of the rooftop are conducted for 8 euros (about $9). The church also hosts regular classical concerts.
s/n Carrer de Marià Labèrnia
This mirador, or viewpoint, is worth the climb for its unparalleled 360-degree views of the entire city, the Mediterranean Sea, and the rolling green hills of Collserola. Located some 900 feet above sea level, the hilltop was considered a strategic spot for defending Barcelona from bombings during the Spanish Civil War; anti-aircraft batteries and gunner bunkers were built here for this purpose. After the war, there was a desperate lack of housing, and the abandoned military structures were incorporated into a shantytown. Remarkably, people lived here until 1990, when the city took it over and turned it into a heritage site, complete with illuminating photographs and signage detailing the history of this unique place.
Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 6-8, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
The artwork here is almost secondary to its home: a 1911 former textile factory designed by Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch and inspired by medieval castles. The sprawling redbrick complex comprises several multilevel buildings featuring crenellated roofs, arches, and turrets connected by a series of courtyards. A modern white-stone, glass, and steel entrance was added in 2002, when the complex was renovated and turned into an exhibition space for the Caixa Foundation’s extensive art collection. Climb the stairs to the roof terrace for the best view of this treasure’s rich architectural details—not to mention the magnificent domed National Art Museum of Catalonia just across the way.
Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 175, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
Some 1,400 bomb shelters were built across Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939) to protect its residents from Fascist air strikes. Among the handful that survive, Refugi 307 is the largest and best preserved. Its three entrances and 650 feet of tunnels were carved into the sandstone hill of Montjuïc; the shelter could hold up to 2,000 people during an air raid and was one of the few with running water, toilets, and an infirmary. The only way to visit Refugi 307 is with a guide, who will put the history of the civil war into context before leading you through the network of passageways. Tours are conducted on Sundays, in English, at 10:30 a.m., and you’ll need to make a reservation by emailing reservesmuhba@bcn.cat and specifying “English tour” in the subject line. The cost is 4 euros (around $4.50).
C/ Palau de la Música, 4-6, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
This art nouveau gem designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner has been Barcelona’s preeminent music hall since its founding in 1908. Colorful ceramics, ornate sculptures, and busts of illustrious composers—Wagner, Beethoven, Bach—decorate the redbrick exterior, but that only hints at what you’ll find inside. Among the flamboyant details: walls and columns clad from floor to ceiling in floral-themed mosaic tiles, magnificent stained-glass windows, and, centered above the 2,000-seat main auditorium, an enormous, multicolored skylight that resembles an inverted dome. Seeing a classical concert here is a treat—the acoustics are superb—but you can also sign up for a 55-minute guided tour of this UNESCO World Heritage Site; the cost is 18 euros (about $20).
Ctra. de Montjuïc, 66, 08038 Barcelona, Spain
Constructed in the 17th century but heavily modified a century later, this castle—actually more of a fortress—lords over Montjuïc hill. Its use as a military bastion spans from the 1600s to the mid-1800s, when Barcelona experienced a number of government insurgencies. It was later used as a prison and execution site for anarchists—most notoriously during the Franco regime, when the exiled president of Catalonia, Lluís Companys, was killed there by a firing squad in 1940. Today it’s a museum tracing the castle’s long military history. A platform atop the castle’s parade ground provides excellent views of the city and harbor below. Castle admission is free on Sundays after 3 p.m.
Passeig de Gràcia, 43, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
It’s one of the most recognizable facades on Passeig de Gràcia: a modernist fantasy of undulating stone, brightly colored mosaics, and stained glass—one that could only come from the mind of famed Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Designed in 1904 as a home for local industrialist Josep Batlló, the building pays homage to the legendary tale of Saint George and the Dragon. The balconies are reminiscent of skulls, and exterior columns look like bones—recalling the dragon’s human victims—while the roof’s arched shape and scale-like tiles mimic the dragon itself. The interior is just as fantastical, all sinuous lines and curving forms. To avoid the crush, try going first thing on a weekday morning, or shell out a bit extra for a Fast Pass timed ticket online (28.5 euros, or about $37—5 euros more than regular admission).
Av. de Rius i Taulet, 1, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
Who cares if it’s a Barcelona cliché. Give in to the urge and get to Plaça d’Espanya to see the Magic Fountain show. It’s always crowded, but everyone should see it at least once, and it’s free. The show is especially gorgeous during the closing ceremony fireworks for Barcelona‘s city festival, La Mercè. Prefer a view from above? Head to Las Arenas, a shopping center in Plaça d’Espanya housed in a renovated bullfighting ring, where you can watch the show from the rooftop. Nearest metro stop: Espanya (L1 and L3).
Baixada del Monestir, 9, 08034 Barcelona, Spain
This Gothic monastery houses collections from Barcelona‘s City History Museum, but if you’ve got only an hour or so, skip the exhibits in favor of a walk around. Founded by Queen Elisenda of Montcada, the wife King James II of Aragon in 1326, the monastery (or monestir in Catalan) is a welcome oasis after time spent in Barcelona’s hectic city center. Three floors of cloisters frame a beautiful garden crowded with orange trees and palms. In their shade, watch goldfish swim through the green waters of the garden’s central fountain. If you’ve got a bit more time, don’t miss the 14th-century stained-glass windows in the chancel. Opening hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, October through March; they’re extended to 5 p.m. from April through September. Sundays, the monastery is open until 8 p.m., and admission is free after 3 p.m. Get there via FGC, L6; stop: Reina Elisenda.
Carrer de Marlet, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Head to the Gothic Quarter—once home to Barcelona‘s storied Jewish neighborhood, El Call—and look for the Sinagoga Major (Major Synagogue). The museum, built on the site of the city’s oldest temple, is only two rooms, but it contains a stadium’s worth of history. For just 2 euros, you’ll get a tour of the excavation site and a riveting tale of the Jewish faith in Spain—plus an entertaining ancedote about how the ruins were discovered. Nearby, you can sign up for a guided tour of El Call, or shop for books and kosher products at the Barcelona Call Store. The synagogue is open Monday through Friday from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
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