Best Things To Do in Barcelona
Barcelona has some of the most unique and inspiring architecture in the world, so a tour of the city's parks, museums and churches is a must. Start your days off with tours of Antoni Gaudí's whimsical architecture, including Casa Batlló, La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell. Grab lunch at the bustling Boqueria Market then kick back and relax on the shores of La Barceloneta Beach with a cool cerveza (beer) in hand, all the while enjoying a picturesque view of the Mediterranean. After a brief siesta, hit up the nightlife in Las Ramblas or the Gothic Quarter. And if you're a fútbol fan, you can't leave Barcelona without a visit to FC Barcelona's headquarters, Camp Nou Stadium.
Updated June 13, 2019
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Antoni Gaudí's Park Güell is as whimsical as parks can get. The park was originally supposed to be a housing community for the rich, commissioned by Eusebi Güell. Güell hired Gaudí but the project eventually folded due to the land's incompatible building conditions. Gaudí continued on, modeling the park after gardens he had seen in England (Güell means English in Catalan) and building around the natural elements of the land instead of tearing them down.
Today's park covers 42 acres of space and features everyday park props with a twist that is quintessentially Gaudí. Instead of numerous benches spread throughout, here visitors will be greeted with one long, wavy stone bench adorned with vibrant mosaics and equipped with views of the ocean. And instead of drab administrative buildings, the welcome centers here (which house park souvenirs and learning materials on Gaudí and the park) look like buildings you'd see in a Dr. Seuss book. You'll also find plenty of picturesque pathways that weave along verdant vegetation, down cascading tiled staircases and through jagged stone columns and tunnels. While you're here, don't miss the chance to see the Sala Hipóstila. Located right at the entrance, the Sala Hipóstila was originally intended to be a marketplace. Today it serves as nothing more than to dazzle visitors with its stately stone columns and beautiful mosaic works, which you'll find dotted all over the ceiling. Other popular attractions here include the Casa Museu Gaudí (Gaudí House Museum), Gaudí's former home turned museum, and Turó de les Tres Creus, a lookout point with pretty impressive views of the city situated in the southwestern point of the park.
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Even if you're not keen on visiting the touristy Las Ramblas, make the trek to the thoroughfare only for it to lead you to the foodie heaven that is the Boqueria Market. The Boqueria Market is Barcelona's first local market, having opened in 1840. But its foodie history spans much earlier than that. The first food peddlers were said to have been around as early as the 13th century selling meat on the streets. The market you see today wasn't around back then, it took four years to construct once Saint Joseph's convent left the area (hence the name of the market).
Today that tradition of hawking goodies lives on, and the covered marketplace treats visitors to the vibrant colors and enticing aromas of everything from fruit juices and wines to fresh fish, meats, produce and desserts. Make sure to grab Spanish specialties while you're there, including jamón ibérico, manchego cheese and salted cod (or bacalao). What's more, bars and restaurants can be found in and around the market, so food options truly abound here.
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The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, is the oldest part of Barcelona, and considering its location next to the city center, also its most liveliest. Here, you'll find beautiful examples Roman and Medieval-era architecture rubbing elbows with the many shops, restaurants, alfresco cafes, bars and clubs that line this neighborhood's narrow roads and picturesque plazas. And there are so many plazas to explore. Aside from Plaça de la Catedral, which you'll no doubt end up in if you visit the Barcelona Cathedral, make sure you stop in Plaça Reial and the smaller and much quainter Plaça Sant Felip Neri, which was bombed by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War (you can see scars from the attack on the church in the square). The palm tree-clad Plaça Reial is much more energetic and usually buzzes till the wee hours of the morning. Definitely come here to start your night out in Barcelona. Another notable plaza is Plaça Sant Jaume, where the Catalan seat of government has been since the Middle Ages. No matter where you end up in the Gothic Quarter, travelers say its Spanish splendor will leave you charmed long after you leave.
Visitors also say when visiting the Gothic Quarter, discard the map and just let yourself wander. The neighborhood isn't that big so you'll probably end up at top spots by mindlessly strolling. Some suggested taking part in a walking tour if you're interested in learning the history behind the neighborhood.
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This bustling thoroughfare is one of the city's major tourist hubs. So much so that if you're visiting Barcelona, you're bound to end up here eventually. Las Ramblas is a pedestrian-friendly pathway situated right smack dab in the middle of the city, so expect it to be busy all hours of the day and night. During the day, you can peruse souvenir stands, watch buskers and street performers, pick up some local art from artists selling on the street, or sit down and enjoy a light snack at one of the many alfresco cafes found here. When the sun sets, you should head here to start your night out, as many bars and clubs can be found in the surrounding area.
While Las Ramblas has no doubt established itself as a visitor-friendly stop, it didn't always cater to tourists the way it does now. Soon after the nearly mile-long thoroughfare was developed in 1766, it became a popular place to hang out for locals. The reason for this has to do with its design. Back in the day, streets in Barcelona were predominantly narrow and windy, making the long and wide Las Ramblas unconventionally roomy. Today, the chances of finding locals congregating here fewer and farther between, especially during the day. At night, however, since it is a prime place to party, you'll likely see some more Catalans.
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From 1882 up until his death in 1926, Catalan Art Nouveau master Antoni Gaudí devoted himself to the construction of La Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family), a towering Gothic-style-with-a-twist church. And even then, he was unable to finish; Gaudí was known for saying "My client (God) is in no hurry." The church, which is funded by private donations, is still under construction today and is said to be completed by 2026.
La Sagrada Família is not only considered to be Gaudí most recognized work, but also his best. Believe it or not, this church wasn't always Gaudí's. The architect that was first commissioned to do the church, Francesc del Paula Villar, was replaced after disagreeing with promoters of the church. When Gaudí took on the project, he changed it entirely. Instead of the original neo-Gothic style, he looked toward something more innovative. While the church does feature Gothic elements, there are plenty of unconventional details that deviate from that norm throughout, resulting in an eye-catching structure that is entirely one of a kind.
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The details highlighted in Casa Batlló show famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí at his best. Of all the Gaudí apartments in Barcelona, this is probably the most recognized (it's also a UNESCO World Heritage site). Sitting down the street from Casa Milà, Casa Batlló is known for its vibrant colors, intricate tile work and skeletal terraces. The unconventional façade is inspired by the legend of St. George, whose story is famous for slaying a dragon to save the princess. The roof in particular depicts the dragon's scaly back while the skeletal balconies and boney windows are said to represent the dragon's previous victims (the legend goes that someone would be sacrificed every day so the dragon wouldn't take the whole town). After you've taken the time to absorb the monstrous amount of detail used on the outside of the building, stop inside to tour the equally eye-catching interiors, including the Noble Floor, which was once home to the Batlló family. With your ticket, you're also able to access the roof to check out Gaudí's admirable mosaic work up close, including those on the dragon's back and the roof's many colorful chimneys.
Travelers who visited Casa Batlló found it to be a masterpiece. While it may be tempting to stay outside and admire the house's details for free, many visitors said it's more than worth the extra coin to explore the inside of the building. Travelers who did so were not only wowed by the architecture but impressed with the audiovisual guide as well (provided with the ticket), which showed pictures of the building from more than 100 years ago for visitors to compare. The only complaint visitors had were the crowds. Travelers highly recommend getting a skip-the-line style ticket online to avoid waiting in long queues. They also said if you can get there early, do so, as some said having to jostle through throngs of people inside took away from their experience.
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Even if you're not a fútbol (soccer) fan, Camp Nou is worth a visit to experience the pride Catalans have for the FC Barcelona team. Able to hold nearly 100,000 screaming fans, which can be quite intimidating for visiting teams, Camp Nou is the largest stadium in Europe. The on-site museum showcases trophies and awards the team has garnered through the years. Interesting and interactive displays invite visitors to learn a little more about the fútbol culture and its impact on the city. For example, Catalans rallied behind the motto "més que un club" (more than a club) during the oppressive Francisco Franco regime, becoming a symbol of striving for independence. The slogan is even spelled out in giant gold letters among the royal and ruby stadium seats. Depending on which team they're playing, tickets to a game can be expensive (especially for El Classico). However, visitors note that seeing the dedicated fans and watching some of the best soccer players in the world in action is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Travelers who did the tour had mixed emotions. For many Barcelona fans, visiting the stadium and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the club's day-to-day was a dream come true. Others, however, lamented the high cost of touring the stadium as well as its Disney-like extras including going through gift shops and a mandatory photo op, whose cost wasn't included in the ticket price. Others were disappointed they didn't have access to parts of the stadium, including player's locker rooms and access to the field.
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Towering above the center of the Barri Gòtic district is Barcelona's principal cathedral. The Gothic cathedral's construction began in the late 13th century, though it wasn't completed until the mid-15th century. While you're here, make sure to dedicate plenty of time to the numerous examples of artisanship that went into completing this cathedral, from its exterior details to the many gold furnishings within, including the stately altarpiece, part of the Church of Saint Severas as well as 140 statues of saints that call the cathedral home. While you're here make sure to mosey on over to the cloister, which features a verdant tropical garden.
Many travelers found the Catedral de Barcelona to be stunning, though visitors who have said that they've seen a number of European cathedrals prior didn't find this cathedral to be that noteworthy. If you have enough time, visitors highly suggest taking advantage of the opportunity to go to the top of the cathedral on the roof. There, visitors can get an eyeful of the spire up close as well as some prime city views. Whatever you choose to do, make sure to wear the proper attire. According to recent travelers, the dress code here is strict and knees and shoulders must be covered. Shawls are said to be for sale for those who need to cover up.
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When you feel like you've hit your Gaudí limit, head to the Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso) for a change of pace. While most people know Pablo Picasso for his distorted portraits, this museum displays his work on a timeline of sorts, allowing you to follow his progression from the more controlled works of his early years to the very whimsical paintings and sculptures from the end of his career. Make sure you dedicate plenty of time to Picasso: the museum itself holds several thousand pieces by him, including works from his famous Blue Period. The museum also explores the artist's lifelong relationship with Barcelona, explaining why he chose the city for his museum before he died.
Travelers highly recommend a visit to the Picasso Museum, even if you aren't much into Picasso or art museums in general. Visitors appreciated the way the museum chronicled the art he created throughout his life. Not only that, but seeing his various styles on display made lots of travelers understand and further appreciate his talent after visiting the museum. The only complaint some had about the museum were the crowds. Visitors suggest getting tickets online in advance to avoid lines and visiting right when the museum opens or just prior to closing.
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The nickname, La Pedrera (meaning "The Quarry") is appropriate for Antoni Gaudí's stately, fortress-like Casa Milà. Bobbing around the corner of Passeig de Gràcia and Carrer de Provença, this eclectic Catalan-style art nouveau building rubs elbows with the more classic architecture usually found in its neighborhood, Eixample. It is known for its wavy stone façades and intricate carvings that can only be attributed to Gaudí's quirky style. Casa Milà was originally constructed as a home for the commissioners of the building (Pere Mila i Camps), who also requested the complex includes apartments be built for rent. Casa Milà was not only Gaudí last work on Passeig de Gracia (Casa Batlló is just a few blocks south) but his last civil work as well. Since then, Casa Milà has been designated as a National Monument of Interest by the Spanish government and a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Today, La Pedrera is a cultural center managed by the Catalunya-La Pedrera Foundation. Come here to admire the architecture: there are few single straight walls or right-angled corners in the entire building. Also head to the roof to get a good look at Gaudí's chimney garden (many of which resemble heads of armor), then work your way down through exhibits to learn more about Casa Milà and Gaudí himself.
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Barcelona's Palau de la Música Catalana is considered to be a masterpiece of Catalan art nouveau. Built by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the palace earned the title of a UNESCO World Heritage site for its striking architectural features. Outside, make sure to snap a few photos of the intricate mosaic pillars and the busts nestled atop some of them, which depict famous musicians such as Bach and Beethoven. The interior of the palace is even more of an eyeful, complete with mosaic pillars and intricate sculpture work of its own as well as stained glass windows and beautiful motifs of flowers spread throughout. And you won't be able to miss the massive stained glass central skylight — it protrudes from the ceiling, treating the concert auditorium to plenty of natural light. Aesthetics aside, the Palace of Catalan Music is a hub for symphonic and choral music and of course, Catalan musical arts. It also acts as a concert venue for local, national and international acts.
Travelers agree with the experts: the Palace of Catalan Music is an architectural marvel. Visitors thoroughly enjoyed admiring the many intricate details found throughout the music venue, saying even if you can't get tickets to a show, it's worth a visit just to see its magnificence in person. Others highly recommend holding out for a show. Some weren't crazy about the admission price or that you had to be on a tour to be able to see the venue. Those who did attend a show said the experience of hearing such great music in such a beautiful venue was next to magical, and the only way to experience this attraction properly.
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If you have even the slightest interest in history, make sure to add Montjuïc Castle to your Barcelona itinerary. While it may not be as fun as admiring Gaudi's whimsical works, the stone structure is teeming with history dating all the way back to the 11th century. The castle started out as a single watchtower that was occupied by a sailor looking out for enemy ships. During the Revolt of Catalonia during the mid 1600s, the government decided to add walls surrounding the watch tower when the threat of invasion from Spanish King Philip IV's fleet became imminent. Montjuïc Castle ended up defending the city from many attacks moving forward, including those carried out during the War of the Spanish Succession. It also served as a prison during the War of the Pyrenees and was occupied by Napolean's troops in the early 1800s.
Montjuïc continued to serve as a prison under multiple political leaderships over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, including during the Spanish Civil War. Francisco Franco, Spain's dictator from 1939 to 1975, took over Montjuïc and became an internment camp for Republican soldiers (Franco was part of the Nationalist party that overthrew the democratic Republic of Spain at the time). It was here that the President of the Catalan Government, Lluís Companys was executed at Franco's orders.
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In between all the cultural and artistic attractions Barcelona has up its sleeves, it's easy to forget that the city is situated right along the brilliantly blue waters of the Mediterranean. The city's largest stretch of sand is broken up into two beaches; La Barceloneta and Platja de la Nova Icària. Both are separated by the Port Olímpic harbor, easily recognized by the two seafront skyscrapers and giant golden fish sculpture, El Peix. La Barceloneta is the more visited of the two, known for its lively atmosphere on both the sand (vendors walk around selling everything from mojitos to on-the-spot massages) and the beachfront promenade (there are cafes and bars situated on the beach throughout). The beach features loads of amenities on-site including bathrooms, showers, changing rooms, umbrellas, lounge chairs, sports courts such as volleyball and beach tennis and more.
Travelers say La Barceloneta Beach is the perfect place to pass the time on a hot day in Barcelona. Travelers loved the clear blue waters and were pleased that the beach was so clean despite the many people who frequent the shores. Travelers warned though that it can get pretty busy, and if you want a lounge chair or umbrella, make sure to show up early in the morning. Also if you start to feel peckish around here, be prepared to pay. Beachgoers said that the beachfront cafes and restaurants, while scenic, are pretty pricey. Visitors also reinforced that there are unofficial vendors offering services on the beach, but report they aren't aggressive.
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