Top 10 things to do in Barcelona
Chilled and trendy Barcelona has a long list of top places to visit – here’s a pick of the best attractions and things to do in Barcelona.
Barcelona's best tourist attractions are world-renown, including the whimsical works of Guadi, stretches of sunny beaches, an edgy nightlife and bar culture, gothic architecture, street performances, food markets and more. There are too many things to see in Barcelona to fit in a single list, but this list of top 10 things to do in Barcelona will give you a taste of Barcelona's best places to visit for soaking up the city's edgy yet relaxed vibe.
1. Go Gaudi
You can see Antoni Guadi’s Modernista architecture all over Barcelona but without a doubt his most famous creation is the iconic La Sagrada Família church. Gaudi started work on the church in 1882 and it’s still not finished – the latest estimates are sometime between 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death, and 2040. The Nativity façade, which looks like candlewax dripped over soaring Gothic spires, and the crypt are considered to the most beautiful parts of the church.
Park Güell, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a fantastical place with brightly coloured mosaic twisted columns and animals, a Dragon’s Staircase, the pillared Hypostyle Hall, and possibly the world's longest park bench, which sits on a sunny terrace overlooking the park.
Casa Milà is known as La Pedrera (‘the stone quarry') and its undulating grey stone façade looks more like a lava cave than the apartment and office block it was designed to be. Other Gaudi buildings around Barcelona include Palau Güell, Casa Batilló, Torre Bellesguard, Casa Vicens and, just outside the city, the crypt of the Colònia Gűell in Santa Coloma de Cervello.
For detailed information on where to find buildings by Gaudi and other Modernista architects, see the Barcelona Modernisme Route website.
2. Climb or cable car it up Montjuic
Take a walk up through the gardens on the hill of Montjuic; there’s a castle on the top, spectacular views all around and lots to see along the way. Montjuic was chosen as the site of the 1929 International Exhibition – the original Pavelló Miles van der Rohe was built for it – and the hill has been a cultural and leisure centre for the city since. There are three major art galleries: the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) which has a superb collection covering 1,000 year of Catalan art; CaixaForum, international contemporary art in a former textile factory; and the Fundació Joan Miró with more than 220 paintings, 180 sculptures and other pieces by Surrealist artist Joan Miró and some of his contemporaries.
If art’s not your thing, check out the magnificent stadiums and buildings of the Olympic Ring, which were built for the 1992 Olympic games, the military fortress of Castell de Montjuic, the Jardi Botanic (botanical garden), an outdoor swimming pool and, every summer, Sala Montjuic, which is an outdoor cinema festival.
If the walk up seems daunting you can take a cable car to the top of Montjuic.
3. On the Picasso trail
Spanish artist Picasso spent his early years in Barcelona. His family house once stood at number 3, C/Mercè and he studied art at the La Llotja Art School where his father was a teacher. Picasso used to meet with other artists to eat, drink and discuss art at a café called Els Quarte Gats (‘the four cats’) – and it’s still in business today. The Musee Picasso – with over 4,251 pieces on permanent display in five adjoining town houses – is a record of Picasso’s early artistic life, from pre-adolescent portraits through his Blue Period and onto his Cubist paintings and beyond. Picasso’s friend and secretary Jaume Sabartés used his own collection of Picasso’s works to establish the museum. Highlights include the 58 canvases of Velázquez's famous Las Meninas on display in the Great Hall.
4. Lose yourself in the Gothic quarter
Stroll around the maze of cobblestoned medieval streets, alleyways and quiet squares of the old Gothic quarter (Barri Gòtic), which lies between La Rambla and the Via Laietena. This is the centre of the old city of Barcelona; there are remains of Barcelona’s Roman settlement and lots of medieval buildings including the old Jewish quarter. On Plaça del Rei is the Museu d’Història de Barcelona (The Museum of the History of Barcelona, or MUHBA), where you can walk through Roman streets, sewers, a public laundry, shops and wine-making stores. The tiny church of Sant Felip Neri in the square of the same name is scared with bombing from the Spanish Civil War. In the heart of the Gothic quarter is the vast Gothic Catedral de Barcelona with its flying buttresses and soaring steeples. Peep inside to see its spectacular domed ceilings which are particularly impressive at dusk. The cathedral’s cloister is dedicated to St Eulalia the patron saint of Barcelona – the resident white geese were originally kept to ward off intruders. While the area is historic, it’s also a vibrant, lively area and the atmospheric lanes are lined with bars, restaurants and quirky little shops.
5. Stroll down La Rambla
La Rambla (or Las Ramblas as it’s sometimes called) is Barcelona’s most famous street, running from the Plaça de Catalunya to the Columbus Monument in front of the port, and lying between the Gothic quarter and the Raval. The pedestrian boulevard down the middle, sandwiched in between two narrow lanes of traffic and lined with trees, is filled with cafes, bars, flower sellers, buskers, people selling souvenirs, living statues and pavement artists – and the occasional pickpocket, so hold your belongings while you gawk at the lively scene. There are usually people milling around until the early hours of the morning.
6. Browse Barcelona’s markets
Bustling La Boqueria, Barcelona – and Europe’s – biggest food market, is half way down La Rambla. There has been a market here since 1217 and it’s where the locals and many of Barcelona’s top restaurateurs buy their fresh produce, which says a lot about the quality. The stands are piled high with fruit and vegetables, endless varieties of sausages, cheeses, seafood, fresh and cured meats, sweets, cakes and bread. As well as a fascinating place to visit, it’s a great place to pick up stuff for a picnic (you can try before you buy) and there are tapas bars and pizza places dotted around if you want a meal on the go.
A little farther away lies Mercado de Santa Caterina, famed for its mosaic, wavy roof designed by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue; to see the rooftop artwork of some 325,000 tiles, get up high or search for it from Barcelona Cathedral. Refurbishment of this market, one of Barcelona's first covered markets, was completed in 2005 and its gleaming interior houses market stalls, eateries, plus a couple of upmarket restaurants that use the market's fresh produce.
At Els Encants, the ‘old Charms’ flea market on Plaça de les Glories Catalanes, 500 vendors sell junk and the occasional treasure. Visit between 8am and 9.30am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when there are public auctions.
7. Flop on one of Barcelona’s beaches
Relax on the beach after a day of sightseeing: Barcelona has some wonderful golden beaches within easy reach of the city, all with the EU blue flag that is awarded for cleanliness, amenities and safety. Barcelonata is the closest and attracts the most crowds, with lots of chiringuitos (beach bars) to have a drink or something to eat. Take the metro to Barcelonata or walk – it’s only about 20 minutes from town. If you prefer something a little quieter, then head for Icària a little further along (Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica metro stop) – there are some very nice restaurants there, too. If you want to strip off completely, check out Mar Bella beach, which is a 20-minute walk from Poble Nou metro stop. If you drive, don't leave any valuables in your car, and keep an eye on your belongings on the beach as well.
8. Chill out in Raval
Once a rough, run-down red-light district, El Raval to the west of La Rambla is now one of Barcelona’s coolest areas, if still a little edgy. It’s a vibrant, multicultural place with students, artists and some of the city’s hippest bars and restaurants, designer and vintage shops, cutting edge studios and galleries – and Barcelona’s more interesting nightlife.
Here you'll also find the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), which houses the city’s leading collection of modern art, and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) next door is a contemporary arts hub with a programme of festivals, concerts and exhibitions. Gaudi’s Palau Güell is also in this area.
9. Worship the almighty FC Barcelona at Camp Nou
Football fans won’t want to miss Camp Nou (‘new field’ in Catalan), home to Futbol Club Barcelona and one of the most visited attractions in Barcelona. There’s an interactive museum where you can find out about the club’s history, statistics and personalities, and watch video clips of past goals. You can also go on a self-guided tour that takes you behind the scenes to the players’ changing rooms, out through the tunnel and onto the pitch, and to the Presidential box, TV studio, press room and commentary boxes. You can get tickets to watch a game in the 100,000-seater stadium at the box office at Camp Nou, through FC Barcelona’s website or at tourist offices in the city.
10. Feast your eyes and ears at the Palau de la Música Catalana
Built between 1905 and 1908 by Luis Domènech i Montaner for the Orfeó Català choral society, the Modernista Palau de la Música Catalana is an ornate mash up of brick, glazed tiles, stone sculptures, metalwork and stained glass. On the outside there’s an allegorical mosaic of the Orfeó Català, flowery tiled columns and busts of Beethoven, Bach and Wagner. You’ll need to go to a concert (there’s a varied programme of international and Catalan artists) or take a guided tour to view the spectacular auditorium inside. The inverted stained glass dome representing the sun bursts through the stained glass ‘sky’, Muses seem to come out of the back of the stage, and Wagnerian Valkyries gallop over a bust of Beethoven.
Photo credit: Matthias Rosenkranz (thumbnail).
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