Things to Do in Barcelona
Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona aren’t limited to popular spots Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. In fact, Gaudi’s first big commission, Casa Vicens, is yet another of his creations that should be on any Gaudi-lover’s list of must-sees. Completed in 1888, the home was commissioned by a wealthy tile manufacturer, hence the building’s dazzling, tile-decorated exterior.
Casa Vicens is located in the Gracia neighborhood, a former town that spreads out at the foot of Parc Güell. Gaudi, fresh out of school, and just developing his style, started his career with a bang by designing Casa Vicens, a wildly eclectic structure, most prominently featuring Oriental and Moorish influences. The exterior is a party of color and texture, including flower-embellished tiles, exposed brickwork, fancily designed chimney pots, and extravagant iron balconies.
As the site of the former Roman Forum, Plaça Sant Jaume used to be the center of the old Roman city of Barcino. Originally quite a bit smaller, the large square, which is situated in the Gothic quarter, was partially filled by its namesake church along with its cemetery and other buildings. These days, however, the expansive, cobbled plaza is known as the political center of the city.
Indeed, on one side you’ll set your eyes on the headquarters of local government, City Hall, which features a grand façade that dates back to the late 1800s, and whose interior can be visited once a week on Sundays. Opposite City Hall is the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the seat of the Catalan government, and from where 100 presidents have governed. It too is open for visits, but only guided ones, which take place the second and fourth weekend of every month.
One of Barcelona’s most dazzling attractions, the Magic Fountain, or Font Montjuic, was built in 1929 for the city’s World Exhibition, taking 3000 people almost a year to complete, and later restored during the 1992 Olympic Games. Taking center stage in Plaça Espanya at the foot of Montjuic Mountain, the Fountain is celebrated for its spectacular illuminations display, set against the majestic backdrop of the Montjuic Palace.This is no ordinary lightshow – the Magic Fountain does its name justice with a kaleidoscope of shimmering fountains, syncing light, motion and music to dramatic effect. The breathtaking display is held throughout the year on weekend evenings (from Thursday to Sunday during summer), when the series of fountains spring to life each half-hour from 9.30pm until 11.30pm, for a vibrant 20-minute show.
Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular food markets, La Boqueria Market, or Mercat de La Boqueria, is a vibrant hub of Barcelonian culture. The market boasts a long history, with the spot being used as a meat market as far back as the 13th century, but today the market is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall in La Rambla, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914. Whether you’re sourcing ingredients for the perfect paella or just soaking up the unique atmosphere, few experiences are as quintessentially Barcelonian as haggling for produce in the city’s liveliest market.
Over 200 stalls stand in the market and weaving through the crowds of locals and tourists, there’s a myriad of produce on display. Piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, pails of glistening olives and huge slabs of cheese and foie gras line the stalls, alongside an array of local seafood and varying cuts of meat, including the odd pig head.
Standing tall in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, the Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century church in the Placa del Pi. Its Gothic architecture, including the many gargoyles and the large Gothic arch that frames its entrance, remain well intact. Its octagonal bell tower rises 54 meters high, creating a memorable mark of the history of this area of the city. Its tolling bell can be heard throughout the day while walking around the Gothic Quarter.
Both the church, the square, and the nearby street Carrer del Pi are named for a tall pine tree that once stood in the square. Though it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1936, it was fully restored and reopened in 1940. The basilica has high vaulted ceilings, intricate stained glass windows and lattice work. Its enormous rose window placed at the entrance is of particular note; it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Barcelona's Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe and boasts one of the most impressive collections of Mediterranean sealife in the world. You will marvel at the sharks and other creatures swimming above their heads as they walk through the glass tunnels that give a unique view of the animals. You will also have the opportunity to pet a stingray at the touch pool and get an upclose look at nearly 8,000 fish through the floor-to-ceiling glass displays.
A highlight of the aquarium is the Planeta Aqua (Water Planet) exhibit, which features animals, such as the crowd-favorite penguins, that have adapted to changing climates over time. There are also mini aquariums set up throughout the building to allow visitors to appreciate the amazing small details of the ocean's flora and fauna that tend to get lost in the bigger tanks.
Barcelona’s oldest and most popular central park, the Parc de la Ciutadella is a picturesque expanse of greenery located just northeast of the city center, not far from the Barceloneta beach. The 74-acre park was designed in 1872 by architect Josep Fontsère, who also created the impressive Baroque Cascada inside the park - a 19th-century triumphal arch and fountain – and was famously assisted by a young Gaudí. At the northern entrance, the landmark Arc de Triomf designed by Josep Vilaseca, serves as the monumental gateway to the park, perched at the head of a wide pedestrian walkway.
Today the park is home to a boating lake, several museums and a much-celebrated series of sculptures, including the modern 'Monument to the World Fair' by Antoni Clavé, a giant stone mammoth, and pieces by Frederic Marès, Eusebi Arnau, Josep Llimona, Pau Gargallo and Manuel Fuxà, among others.
Looming over Barcelona city center from the 170-meter summit of Montjuïc Mountain, the forbidding Montjuïc Castle, or Castell de Montjuïc, adds a dramatic silhouette to the city skyline. Reachable via cable car from the Montjuic Funicular station, the 17th-century fortress is most popular as a lookout point and the Cami del Mar walking track affords spectacular panoramic views over the city, the distant mountains and along the Mediterranean coast.
Behind the castle’s majestic façade lies a grim and gruesome history, used mostly during the late 19th and 20th centuries to house and execute political prisoners. Anarchists, fascists and Republicans have all met their maker within these walls, most famously Lluis Companys, the President of Catalunya who was executed here by firing squad in 1940.
With its signature red and white brickwork, the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona stands tall in the center of a wide boulevard as a unique piece of architecture in a creative city. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca, it was originally meant for an exhibition entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, which took place at the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella. It was created with Islamic style influences in the Neo-Mudéjar style, which originated in 12th-century Iberia, and now stands in tribute as a memorial.
Various friezes in stone and tile along the sides of the arch represent advancements in technology, the arts, and agriculture. At the top of the arch are the coats of arms for 49 provinces of Spain, overseen by the coat of arms for Barcelona. Another relief is a symbol meaning "Barcelona welcomes the nations." It now marks the passage of a promenade which is pleasant for long walks. Classical in shape, it now stands as a landmark for the city of Barcelona.
This delicious museum tells the story of chocolate across Europe, including its history, trade, manufacturing, and various uses. It traces the origins back to South America, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadores. Since the 15th century chocolate played an important role in Barcelona’s economy, with the import and export through its port. Historically the city soldiers were even given pieces of chocolate with bread for breakfast.
It is one of the city’s smaller museums, but is in the top ten in terms of visitors. Fun chocolate experiences, from sculpting or painting with chocolate, are on display. Many of the sculptures are famous Barcelona landmarks made of chocolate. Those who visit do indeed receive a piece of chocolate upon entering, but the smell of chocolate permeates long before then. Tastings are very much part of the experience, so be sure to come hungry.
More Things to Do in Barcelona
The elegant Mercat de Born in La Ribera was a complex iron-and-glass structure built by Josep Fontserè in 1876 on top of the 18th-century ruins of Barcelona’s former district of Vilanova de Mar. Closed nearly 45 years ago, the market has now been granted new life as the El Born Centre Cultural, a center curating exhibitions on Barcelona’s history and celebrating three centuries of Catalan identity.
Inside the former market hall are excavations dating from the War of Spanish Succession between King Philip V of Spain and Archduke Charles of Austria. This took place in the early years of the 18th century and culminated in the year-long siege of Barcelona, which was won on Aug. 30, 1714, by Philip V and his Bourbon allies. The date is still celebrated today as the National Day of Catalonia.
Santa Caterina was the first covered market in the city of Barcelona. Since being completely renovated in 2005 with a modern design and colorful, curved rooftop, it has become a celebrated sight in Barcelona. Yet, it stays true to its traditional Catalan market roots. Over 325,000 ceramic pieces were used by architects Benedetta Tagliabue and Enric Miralles to create the kaleidoscope roof, with more than fifty different shades of colors representing the fruits and vegetables sold within. The mosaics recall the Modernista style of architecture Gaudi made famous across the city.
The market sells every type of quality produce and meat imaginable, including fresh pastries and breads. It’s a great place to pick up or simply view the colorful fruit, vegetable and flower stands, along with local meats and fish. Once you’re done browsing the stalls, check out the remains of the 15th century Espai Santa Caterina, the Gothic church the market was built on top of.
Tucked down a side street in Barcelona’s Barrio Gotico (Gothic District), Els Quatre Gats (meaning ‘The Four Cats’, or ‘a few people’ in Catalan slang) is one of the city’s most famous bar-restaurants and a memorable location to sample some delicious traditional Catalan cuisine. The Parisian-style tavern was the brainchild of local businessman Pere Romeu, taking its inspiration from Paris’ atmospheric cabaret bar, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), and creating a bohemian ambiance that immediately resonated with the city’s artists and writers. Opening its doors in 1897, Els Quatre Gats quickly amassed a number of legendary patrons, becoming the favorite haunt of Picasso, who held his first 2 exhibitions in the main dining room, and a popular meeting point for revered architect Gaudi.
Welcome to the vibrant Catalan capital, Barcelona! With its laid-back Mediterranean setting, exciting Modernist architecture and labyrinthine Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has enough shore excursions and activities to keep you bar-hopping and sightseeing for days.
Barcelona’s cruise terminals are clustered in historic Port Vell at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare. It’s a 10 to 30-minute walk to Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Most visitors catch a shuttle bus to the iconic Christopher Columbus statue, a minute’s stroll from Las Ramblas. A quick taxi ride to the Gothic Quarter takes only 10 minutes from the port.
It’s de rigueur to take a stroll along tree-lined Las Ramblas, with its flower stalls and singing birds. Drop into Barcelona’s historic market for tapas and champagne, then follow winding streets through the Gothic Quarter to the centuries-old cathedral.
The noble heart of Barcelona’s Old Town, tucked beneath the Roman walls that once ringed the ancient city, the Plaça del Rei is the city’s best preserved medieval square, home to a cluster of grand buildings. Largely celebrated as the most significant remainder of Barcelona’s medieval past, the square now exists as an unofficial open-air museum of fine gothic architecture, with many of the buildings open to the public for viewing.
Once home to the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon, the 14th century Palau Reial Major, or the Royal Mayor Palace, dominates the square, including the Watchtower of King Martí and the exquisite Salo del Tinell, a Gothic banqueting hall which backs onto the picturesque Palau Reial Gardens. The Plaça del Rei is also home to the Palau del Lloctinent, or Lieutenant’s Palace, where the Archive of the Crown of Aragon is housed and the 14th-century royal chapel of Santa Àgata, most famous for housing Jaume Huguet’s Contestable altarpiece.
Before La Pedrera, before Parc Güell, and certainly before the still-under-construction La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi conjured up a mansion called Palau Güell. This palatial home was built in the 1880s for one of Gaudi’s main benefactors, Eusebi Güell. The goal was to accommodate the wealthy industrialist’s private and social life, and, after you explore the home, it’s not hard to imagine that Gaudi must have lived up to the task.
Acclaimed for the innovative use of space and light, the Modernist palace is especially loved for its main hall, formed by a parabolic arch design, and which comes complete with a star-pricked ceiling (an illusion created by holes in the roof) and sneak-peek windows from which residents above spied on newly arrived guests below. Given its lower entrance fee (with included audio tour) — as compared to other Gaudi sights — and convenient old town location in El Raval, it makes a worthy addition to any Barcelona sightseeing itinerary.
Housed in the Palau Nacional (National Palace of Montjuic), the National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or MNAC) boasts one of the most spectacular locations in Barcelona, fronted by the dazzling Magic Fountain and overlooked by the towering Montjuic Mountain and Castle. The impressive Neo-Baroque building was designed by Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadalfach for the legendary 1929 International Exhibition and first hosted the National Art Museum in 1934. One of the city’s most iconic structures, the palace’s majestic façade, exquisite Modernista furnishings and glittering chandeliers are as breathtaking as the art displayed within and a popular tourist attraction in itself.
Today, the MNAC is Catalonia’s largest museum with some 260,000 works and home to the world’s most important collection of Romanesque Art, alongside a wide selection of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.
The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso), located in El Raval district, is Barcelona's most visited museum and occupies a medieval mansion that's worth a look for the architecture alone. But inside lay the greatest treasures - the works of Pablo Picasso. The artist had a strong connection to Barcelona, living in and studying mostly in the Ciutat Vella neighborhood from 1895-1904.
The Picasso Museum - or Museu Picasso - is divided into various periods of the artist's career, starting chronologically with his earliest sketches and self-portraits then progressing on to his moody Blue period and ending with his study of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.
Pieces are displayed to give each one adequate attention but with over 3,800 paintings the exhibit is by no means sparse.
It might seem next to impossible to find a quiet getaway in the big Barcelona city, but Plaça Sant Felip Neri offers you just the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle. This seemingly hidden square, with its trickling fountain and shade-offering trees, is located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and is enclosed by old-world buildings.
It’s more than just a tranquil respite, though, but also an important, albeit tragic part of Barcelona history. Indeed, this is where you’ll find the square’s namesake church, which was bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, killing many people, most of whom were children. The church’s heavily bomb-pocked walls serve as a still-visible reminder of this sad event. Come here to contemplate the square’s somber past while you savor a moment of quiet and calm.
The 1992 Olympics were transformative for the city of Barcelona. With the arrival of the games, areas were restored and construction for new structures was initiated. As such, the city was updated and rejuvenated in many ways. One such structure, which remains a draw for visitors today, is the Olympic Stadium — which is now home to the city’s second futbol team, Espanyol. It was originally constructed in 1929 for the International Exposition, and was updated in preparation for the games. It can seat more than 65,000 people. A visit now offers a glimpse into sports history, as well as some great views of the city. It was the venue for both the opening and closing ceremonies of that year’s Olympics. Walking through the competitor’s tunnel, you can really get a feel for how athletes must have felt as they experienced the vastness of the grounds.
Football fans won’t want to miss a visit to the Camp Nou Football Stadium, the home ground of FC Barcelona and the largest stadium in Europe. Inaugurated in 1957, the venue has hosted a number of key international games, including the FIFA World Cup, the European Champions’ Cup and two UEFA Champions League Finals.
During your tour of the 55,000-square-meter stadium, designed by architects Francesc Mitjans, Josep Soteras, and Lorenzo García-Barbón, you'll walk through the players’ tunnel and across the pitch. You’ll also get to visit the Chapel, the TV room, the Press Room, the Sports Medicine Center, the Fundacio Zone, team locker rooms and the luxury Presidential Box. End your visit at the FC Barcelona Museum and have your picture taken with the European Champions Cup.
Framed by its wave-shaped walkway leading from the city out onto the water, Maremagnum is recognizable from many sections of the Barcelona beaches. The shopping center is home to many big name brands, as well as local restaurants and a cinema. Two floors of shops range from home goods and electronics to clothing and jewelry. You’ll also find Spanish brands such as Desigual, and other European retailers.
Many of the cafes and restaurants are open-air, making them especially nice on a sunny day. People come to leisurely watch boats pull in and out of the nearby port and absorb a bit of the Barcelona waterfront. The structure itself, like many of the buildings in Barcelona, is unique and well-designed. Its curved, mirrored walls reflect the light off of the nearby water and make an interesting contrast to the natural wooden pier. Walking down the central boulevard, Las Ramblas, toward the ocean will lead you straight there.
A soaring, shimmering glass and concrete edifice in the Raval, Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by US architect Richard Meier and completed in 1995, spearheading the once-tatty district’s revival. Its matt-white interior is flooded with natural light and creates the perfect backdrop for the museum’s 5,000 paintings, sculptures, images and conceptual pieces, which are shown in ever-changing temporary exhibitions running for between three and six months. Featuring avant-garde artists from the latter half of the 20th century, the collection is rich in international names such as Paul Klee, Dieter Roth and Jean-Michel Basquiat – among many others – but specializes in the works of celebrated Catalan artists including Antoni Tàpies, Miquel Barcelò, Susana Solano and Pere Jaume. The museum also has a library, a well-stocked bookshop and café as well as Saturday morning workshops for families visiting with young kids.
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