One of the most beautiful cities in the world, there is so much to see and do in Barcelona, that when visitors arrive, they sometimes feel lost, with no idea where to begin. If you’d like to take advantage of some of the best things on offer, this list will get you started out right.
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Admire Gaudi's magnificent architecture
One of Barcelona’s biggest draws is its architecture, including magnificent works by Antonio Gaudi, like the Sagrada Familia which fuses Gothic and Art Noveau styles in unprecedented ways. Some deem it to be the greatest achievement of Catalan building, while others consider it to be a glaring example of waste. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive inside and out. The hyperboloids, vivid colors, and unconventional animal representations like pelicans, turtles and chameleons, epitomize Gaudí’s belief that nature and the divine were inextricably linked. Other highlights include Palau Guell, Casa Batlló and Torre Bellesguard. Also worth checking out are Palau de la Musica, Casa Amatller and Casa de les Terrades.
Climb Montjuic Mountain
If you want to give your legs a great workout, head up to Montjuïc Mountain. Not only is it an ideal place for a scenic stroll, as many don’t want to make the effort to get there, it tends to be less populated by tourists. In addition to enjoying the spectacular view and natural surroundings, at the top of the hill is Olympic Stadium and the Jardi Botanic. You’ll also discover buildings from the 1992 Olympic Games, like the Palau Sant Jordi and a telecommunications tower. Be sure to visit Laribal Gardens, a romantic park on the hill with its mix of fountains, water and shady trees reminiscent of the gardens at Alhambra Palace in Grenada. The park is best known among locals for its Font del Gat, or Fountain of the Cat, built in 1918 – it was once a popular meeting place for young couples in love and was feature in the popular song “La Marieta de l’ull viu.”
Hidden City Tours by the homeless
For several years now, Barcelona’s homeless have been guiding tours throughout the city. As the company motto claims, who better to show you around the streets of Barcelona than someone who has lived on those very streets? It’s a great way to give a job to someone who really needs it, and for visitors to tap the incredible knowledge of the trained guides. Don’t worry, the guides have to meet strict requirements, including being fluent in English, free of alcohol and/or drug addiction, be a good public speaker and be well-presented. The approximately two-hour historic tour will bring you through the city’s Gothic quarter, and the Raval, combining the classics with more off-the-beaten-track sites. Hidden City Tours says its goal is to “link history and social history with the present day and discuss the social reality of Barcelona´s old town with unique insight from our previously homeless guides.”
Explore Barcelona's artsy side
Art lovers will find lots to appreciate in this city, in fact listing all of Barcelona’s art museums and galleries would be quite a feat. Plus, just taking a walk through a park like Teatre Grec can lead to the discovery of fabulous works too. The MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), is one of the city’s top treasures, boasting pieces that represent Catalan art from the Romanesque period to the mid-20th century. One of the world’s largest museums is Fundacio Joan Miro. It’s home to a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and pieces by the Spanish surrealist painter, along with a number of works by his contemporaries. Palau Robert offers smaller rooms, and the building itself is worth a look. Other gems include Joan Prats, Galeria 3 Punts, ADN and Toni Tapies.
Take a stroll through Las Ramblas
Taking a stroll through Las Ramblas, the most animated artery in the city, is a must for any visitor to Barcelona. This wide, shady boulevard runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell, and is a vibrant, lively promenade, filled with lots of action, including street performances, like the live statue performance pictured here, and lots of interesting characters. Enjoy ambling under the trees, people watching from a terrace and sipping a drink at an outdoor cafe. If you want to enjoy a bird’s-eye view of all the happenings, head to the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument where the panoramic views include both the city and the sea.
Taste some of the city's best bubbly
Barcelona is famous for its Catalan cava. Catalonia’s very own white (or pink) sparkling wine is made using the very same method famously employed by its French cousin, getting its effervescence and complexity from bottle fermentation. It’s extremely popular in Barcelona, and throughout Spain. You can taste some of the area’s best bubbly at La Vinya del Senyor. The intimate eatery serves a number of by-the-glass, boutique cavas, and if you’re able to get a table on the placa, you’ll be able to sip while enjoy views of Santa Maria del Mar. If you really want to delve into cava and its history, visit Cavas Codorniu, the oldest family-owned cava company in Spain and one of the oldest in the world, with more than 450 years of history to the date. Here you can enjoy tours, a museum, tastings and much more.
Discover Barcelona's fascinating history
Getting to know a city’s history is always a good idea when visiting a place you haven’t been to before. It will help you understand some of the character of its people, as well as its architecture, art and more. With so many diverse cultures, you’re likely to stumble upon some of Barcelona’s history around practically every corner. One of the best places to start is at MUHBA (Museu d’Historia de Barcelona), where the city’s heritage is preserved and displayed at a number of locations, like the Call, the Temple d’August and Plaça del Reiand Refugi 307.
You can also learn more about Barcelona’s history by visiting the recently opened Born Centre Cultural, the Columnas de Adrian, the royal shipyards of the Museu Maritim, multiple shelters that were built to survive the Civil War, the modernist Illa de la Discòrdia and the Fossar de les Moreres. It was once one of the historical cemeteries near the Santa Maria del Mar church and serves as a war memorial for those who lost their lives during the early 18th-century siege of Barcelona.
Checkout one of the most complete collections of Picasso's art
The Picasso Museum in Barcelona was founded by the iconic artist’s lifelong friend whom he’d gifted many of his works. While Picasso was from Malaga, in the south of Spain, it was Barcelona he chose as the location for his namesake museum as it was the city where he apprenticed when he was just starting out. It’s located within five connected Catalan Gothic palaces, and houses one of the most complete collections of Picasso art, with more than 4,000 early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving. In addition to the permanent collection, temporary exhibitions explore his life, artistic interests and his love of the city. The five adjoining 13th- and 14th-century residences that complete the museum boast many treasures as well.
Be enchanted by the Magic Fountain
The Font Magica, or Magic Fountain, is one of the most enchanting sights in Barcelona. Created for the 1929 International Exhibition, it’s located at the Palace of Montjuic. The “magic” happens every weekend, as well as Thursdays during the summer, with half-hour shows featuring the water dancing to colorful lights and the rhythm of the music that ranges from classical tunes to the Star Wars soundtrack. The magic fountain is a breathtaking display of color, light, motion, music and water acrobatics – making it appear like “pure magic.”
Take a walk in the park
Barcelona is home to nearly 70 parks, and one of the biggest, and most popular, is Parc de la Ciutadella. This green oasis is a great place to escape the chaos of the city crowds, and offers all sorts of things to do. Enjoy a picnic under the swaying palms, go to the zoo, take a row boat out on the lake, and gaze at the fountains and medieval Castell dels Tres Dragons. If you want to view more of Antoni Gaudi’s great works, head to Park Guell, commissioned by Eusebi Güell who wanted to create a stylish park for Barcelona aristocracy. There are some incredible stone structures and fascinating buildings, as well as a spectacular dragon, adorned in vibrant, colorful tiling. At the top of the park is a terraced area where you can enjoy soaking up views of the park and the city.
Dip your toes in the Mediterranean
If you’re here during the hot summer months, as well as late spring and early fall, be sure to head to one of Barcelona’s more than two miles of sandy beaches. Water temperatures are often ideal for swimming around the end of May through mid- to late-September. Each of the beaches, from Sant Sebastia and Barceloneta, the closest to the city center, to the stretches of sand at Nova Icaria and Mar Bella, have their own selection of chiringuitos (beach bars), that are perfect when you need a break from the sun, and many offer fun nightlife after dark. If you’re looking for a quieter, more laid-back beach to relax on, just head a little further along the coast to the beaches north of Port Olimpic, like Bogatell, which is just a 15-minute walk from Barceloneta.
Join in on the celebration by attending a local festival
Barcelona loves to party, and if you’re looking for a non-stop party, or just want to mingle with the locals, join in one one of the many festivals. Most of the city’s larger festivals take place between late spring and early autumn, like the world’s biggest indie and alternative music festival, Primavera Sound, which takes place in late May or early June. August brings the nine-day Festa Mayor Gracia, while September hosts the grandest fiesta of the entire year, the four-day Festes de la Merce, which honors the city’s patron with a run, harbor swimming race and all sorts of concerts, parades, Catalan dances and feasts. Barcelona also celebrates Carnival in February, which includes carnival events and parades, tha are almost as colorful as Cologne’s legendary festivities.
Shop the El Born District
If you’re a shopping enthusiast and want to enjoy strolling through an area with lots of local charm, head to the El Born district. Sandwiched between the Gothic Quarter and Parc de la Ciutadella, the main shopping street, Carrer dels Flassaders, is narrow, but offers plenty of delights, like cool cafes, trendy modern art galleries, vintage shops and boutiques. Some of the highlights of the district include a chocolate museum, Museu de la Xocolata, MUTT Bookshop & Art Gallery, Museu Picasso de Barcelona and the Museu de Cultures Del De Barcelona, which features exhibits from private and public collections that take the visitor on a trip through the ancient cultures of Africa, Asia, the Americas and Oceania.
Take a cooking class
Barcelonians are proud of their Catalan cuisine, and they should be. A geographically diverse region, Catalonia produces a variety of fresh, high-quality seafood, meat, poultry, game, fruit and vegetables that sometimes come in unusual combinations, like meat and seafood, poultry and fruit, fish and nuts. It’s absolutely mouth-watering, and by taking an authentic cooking class you can even bring back some of it home with you, and get a lesson on Spain’s rich culinary history. BarcelonaCooking offer daily morning and evening cooking classes, providing a hands-on experience preparing Catalan dishes. A typical class starts with a trip to La Boqueira Mercat to purchase local produce for the class before getting into the kitchen to cook appetizers, soup, paella and dessert. Classes are designed with everyone from the novice cook to the advanced, with activities in the food preparation process for every skill level.
Savor Catalan cuisine
If you don’t want to cook it yourself, you should at least sample some of Barcelona’s best Catalan eats. One of the most highly recommended spots to try it is Cinc Sentits, where talented Canadian-Catalan chef Jordi Artal serves up local classics with a twist. Frequently referred to as a must-experience for foodies, you can enjoy items like prawns in ajoblanco (garlic soup) with cherries and ice creams made from their stones. The artisanal Catalan cheeses are to-die-for, and the foie gras that rests on a caramelized sugar shell, braised leeks and chives, has been called a “taste of heaven.” Each course is perfectly tailored to all five senses, for an unforgettable dining experience. And while the restaurant has been acknowledged with a Michelin star, it’s still one of Barcelona’s more affordable high-end restaurants.
Fill up on great tapas
Your trip to Barcelona is not complete without filling up on tapas at least once. This culinary trend, that’s spread beyond the city and even overseas, is, in the most basic sense, appetizers, as small plates of bite-sized delights. The proper way to eat tapas is to hop from bar to bar, sipping on a drink or two and devouring them along the way. The old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta is the place many locals go for the city’s best tapas, despite the area being overrun with tourists, especially during the summer. Ask for the house specialty, if the establishment doesn’t have one, it isn’t a real tapas bar.
If you want an insider to take you around to some of the most authentic tapas bars, join the Tapas & Beer food tour, where you’ll enjoy some of the best regional beers along with fantastic tapas in the hip Gracia district where Iberian ham, razor clams and patatas bravas is often on order.
Experience Montjuic Cinema
What could be better than open-air cinema under the Barcelona night sky at Montjuic castle? The beautiful surroundings, relaxed atmosphere and darkening night add a magical touch to a summer evening, providing a unique Barcelona experience. It’s frequently rated as one of Europe’s best open-air cinemas and includes a selection of top feature films, accompanied by short films, concerts and a picnic area. You can bring your own meal and snacks, or pick up something onsite. And, don’t worry if you don’t understand Spanish, most films in the program are either in English with Spanish subtitles, or in Spanish with English subtitles.
Rent a bike and cycle the Carretera De Les Aigues
While you can soak up an incredible view of the city skyline from the Park Guell, the most jaw-dropping views of Barcelona’s skyline actually along the ancient road known as Carretera de les Aigues. Although it’s officially been renamed Passeig de les Aigües, those who ride the roads up here still call it by its original name. Well off the beaten tourist track, it winds around the mountains, overlooking the city and the Mediterranean. It was converted into about 13 miles of relatively flat bike and pedestrian paths, and from Sant Pere Màrtir to the Carretera de la Rabassada, the viewing point on the side of Collserola that overlooks Barcelona is absolutely perfect.
Catch a game at Camp Nou
Millions of football fans make the pilgrimage to Barcelona every year to cheer on Barcelona’s home team, FC Barcelona. The level of enthusiasm fans bring is matched by the stadium, Camp Nou. It boasts the highest capacity in Europe and can seat nearly 100,000 spectators, and hosting one of the best football teams in the world, many feel a trip to the city wouldn’t be complete without going to a game. The schedule is set every year around mid-July, and matches usually start in late August and end in late May, with a winter break around the Christmas and New Year holidays. Although nothing compares to attending a live game, if you can’t make it, you can still get a taste of the experience by taking a guided tour which includes the rush of the “players’ tunnel,” simulating what it’s like to walk into a roaring, full-to-capacity stadium.
Take a rooftop tour of the Barcelona Cathedral
The Barcelona Cathedral, officially known as the Catedral de la Seu, was built as a monument to Eulalia, the co-patron saint of the city. One of the most magnificent Gothic structures in Barcelona, it features gargoyles, flying buttresses, and barrel vaults accents. You can enjoy them from above, along with the city skyline, by taking a rooftop tour. While you’re there, try to spot all 13 geese that waddle around the cloister. It contains small chapels, gardens, fountains, and cackling geese. They are said to represent each year of Eulalia’s life before she was martyred, and you can can hear their loud sounds from inside the church building. The geese used to fulfill an important task: they warned against intruders and thieves.