Barcelona is a vibrantly large city with an interesting history, fascinating culture, and so much to see and do visitors will be entertained for days. Here’s our break down of top things to see and do in Barcelona:
La Sagrada Familia – this as-yet-unfinished, iconic Gaudí-designed, multi-spired church is the most recognizable structure in Barcelona and one of the most visited attractions.
Casa Batlló – this fairytale-esque building designed by Gaudí is an impressive example of his whimsical Moderniste architectural style.
La Padrera – also known as Casa Milà, this Moderniste building designed by Antoni Gaudí features an unusual undulating façade and stormtrooper-like figures on the rooftop, and houses a model apartment and a museum dedicated to Gaudí’s works. Built as residential apartments, part of the building remains private.
Palau Güell – another of the city’s architectural treasures designed by Gaudi, this ‘urban palace’ was the former residence of the Güell family. It features colorful rooftop chimneys, lots of wrought iron grille work, and interesting – almost medieval – interior décor.
Park Güell – originally intended to serve as a private residential development, this public park – part of which is the Gaudi Monumental Zone (ticket required) was designed by Gaudi and contains a number of his mosaic works.
Gaudi House Museum – located in the free access area of Park Güell, this beautiful, pink house – though not designed by Gaudi – was where he lived for nearly two decades. Inside you’ll see a small collection of his personal possessions, his bedroom furniture, as well as furniture and interior decor that he designed for other properties.
Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site – formerly the Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul, this spectacular complex features underground tunnels and several Art Nouveau pavilions decorated with glazed tiles, mosaics, and statues. The complex, open to the public for tours, houses a cultural center and the offices of several international organizations.
Montjuïc Hill – a major landmark topped by an 18th century fortress, this hillside is where you’ll find several sights from the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, such as the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, Palau Nacional, and – at its base – the Magic Fountain. Other interesting sights of Montjuic Hill include the Joan Miro Foundation and Caixa Forum.
MNAC – a top destination for art lovers, this is the National Art Museum of Catalunya housed in the Palau Nacional. The building, as well as the collection (ranging from Romanesque to Modern) is really impressive. The collection includes works by Diego Velázquez, Peter Paul Rubens, Marià Fortuny, Ramon Casas, and Antoni Gaudí.
Montjuïc Castle – the 17th-century fortress turned historical museum situated at the top of Montjuïc Hill. This is a great place (especially in late afternoon) for aerial views of Barcelona and its harbor.
Magic Fountain – the spectacular ‘Magic Fountain’ situated at the base of Montjuïc Hill is a free attraction that’s well worth seeing, especially at night when the water is synchronized to music and lit by colored lights.
La Rambla – a uniquely popular boulevard and pedestrian walkway stretching from Plaça de Catalunya to the Old Port and lined with several historical buildings, cafés and restaurants (though, not any that we’d recommend), this is an interesting area to visit.
Gran Teatre del Liceu – the city’s grand 19th-century opera house located midway along La Rambla. The theater presents opera, ballet, and other musical performances, and is open for tours of its impressively grand interior and visits to the adjacent Cercle del Liceu, a private clubhouse, which houses a collection of Catalan Moderniste art and architecture.
Museu Marítim de Barcelona – located in the former Royal Shipyards (Reials Drassanes), this museum is devoted to Barcelona’s maritime history and houses a nice collection of items, including some original sailing vessels, as well as miniature models and the museum’s pièce de résistance – a full-scale replica of the 16th-century, 59-oar, twin-masted Royal Galley, the flagship of John of Austria.
Columbus Monument – dedicated to Christopher Columbus, this decorative tower near the Old Port was built for the 1888 Universal Exposition. An elevator inside takes visitors up to the observation deck at the base of the statue of Columbus for a bird’s eye view of the port and surrounding neighborhood.
Palau de la Música Catalana – an impressive architectural treasure in Modernist style, this ‘palace of Catalan music’ built in the 20th century is home to the city’s symphonic choir. The building features amazing glazed tile work, mosaics, glass (check out the stunning stained glass skylight in the main concert hall), and statues.
Barcelona Cathedral – a 13th century Gothic church in the Barri Gótic neighborhood; the Cathedral features 25 side chapels, beautiful carved wooden choir stalls, the crypt of Saint Eulalia (patron saint of Barcelona), the Museum-Chapter House with exquisite painted ceilings, an adjacent cloister, and a courtyard that serves as home to a gaggle of geese. While you’re here take the elevator to the roof for a view of the neighborhood and be sure to stop by Pla de la Seu (the square out front of the cathedral) between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. on Sundays to watch as locals perform the Sardana dance, the traditional dance of Catalunya.
Picasso Museum – a museum devoted to the works of Pablo Picasso; the collection stems from pieces donated by the artist himself.
El Born Cultural Center – Opened in 2013 in the city’s first covered produce market, here you’ll see the Ciutat del Born archaeological site (free to view from the balcony), which consists of the ruins of some 50 homes and businesses destroyed in the 18th century. Surrounding the site are several exhibition galleries, including the permanent exhibit Barcelona 1700 – a collection of items such as jewelry, pottery, toys, and weapons discovered during excavations (ticket required).
Basilica Santa Maria del Mar – this 14th-century Catalan Gothic church funded by local merchants and dedicated to Saint Mary of the Sea features colorful stained glass windows, painted keystones, and numerous statues.
Basilica Our Lady of Mercy – an 18th century Baroque-style Minor Basilica, Motherhouse of the medieval Order of Mercy, burial site of Saint Mary de Cervellione, and home to a revered 14th century statue of Our Lady of Mercy. The exterior of the church features a decorative side entrance fashioned from the 16th century portal salvaged from the former Church of Saint Michael.