Barcelona is a vibrant, exciting city in Catalonia on Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast. Aside from its spectacular seaside setting, it entices visitors with a heady mix of culture, history, music, art, and food alongside some of the most stunning urban architecture in the world from the likes of Antoni Gaudi.
There is so much to see and explore that the main challenge you’re going to face is how to choose between the wealth of options. I’ve got you! This guide covers all of the biggest and best attractions in beautiful Barcelona.
Barcelona is a great walking city, and the atmospheric Gothic Quarter is full of intriguing narrow streets, attractive squares and top sights, like the city’s Cathedral and the wonderful Picasso Museum spread across several buildings.
One thing I do recommend, is that you take the time to stroll from the Plaça de Catalunya along the series of streets known as Las Ramblas down to the sea where the Columbus Monument stands. Along the way, you’ll pass by historic shops and markets such as La Boqueria, all manner of shops and cafes, the delightful Plaça Reial, the Grand Liceu Theater and one of Gaudi’s architectural creations, the Palau Güell.
Gaudi is reason alone to come to Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia is a stunning church, even though it is still not fully finished. His must-see houses built for wealthy patrons include La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, and the eye-catching Parc Güelloverlooks the city.
Taking in a musical performance can be a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. The Palace for Catalan Music is an amazing sight inside and out. We had the pleasure of seeing a New Year’s Day concert here and were stunned by the beauty of the theatre. Seeing its stained glass and architectural flourishes lit up for the evening’s performance is a spectacle not to miss.
Wandering around the city is in my opinion the best way to experience its delights and hidden corners. The city does offer a public transport card which can help you navigate to get to La Sagrada Familia and some sights like the museums on Montjiuc hill. But those with limited time who want to be sure to hit the major highlights can take a full day guided tour.
Let’s get started.
In Barcelona, Gaudi is Everything
Even if you’re not normally an architecture buff, Barcelona will enchant you with its whimsical creations, many by the renowned Gaudi.
If You See Only One Thing in Barcelona, Make it La Sagrada Familia
This stunning, one-of-a-kind church is Gaudi’s masterpiece, having spent the last 40 plus years of his life working on it until his death in 1926, and he is buried beneath the church’s nave. It also has been awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
The church is still being worked on. Gaudi knew he would be unable to finish such a huge construction project during his lifetime, adding that “My client (God) is in no hurry”. It was originally forecast to be completed in 2026 to mark the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death, but delays due to COVID have pushed completion out to an uncertain date.
La Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family) delights the eyes with its unusual shapes and striking architecture both inside and out. Gaudi wanted to instruct people about the Catholic religion through his architecture. Construction continues to complete 18 external towers representing individual biblical characters, from Jesus to the Virgin Mary, the twelve apostles and the four evangelists from the gospels. Gaudi disliked straight lines, so designed his towers using the peaks of Monserrat Mountain outside of Barcelona as his inspiration.
There are three main facades on the church, each telling through its sculptural work a part of the story of the life of Jesus, from his birth to death and finally resurrection. Gaudi’s incorporation of natural motifs is again evident in the beautiful interior, with pillars that look like tree trunks rising to the ceiling. Glittering stained-glass windows bathe the interior with multi-colored light.
The entry ticket costs 26 euro. Since this is an immensely popular site, you can purchase a fast-track entry ticket to skip the lines for $61.92 per person or take a guided tour with Towers entry for $72.40 per person.
And Parc Güell is Arguably Just as Impressive
For a different spin on Gaudi’s unique architectural vision, venture outside to his Parc Güell, a 42-acre hillside space built between 1900 and 1914 that could only be created by this man’s vision. Filled with a whimsical collection of buildings and decorative spaces, you can admire great views of the city. All of Gaudi’s work seem to be extensions of nature, with columns springing like tree trunks from the earth.
Your entry ticket (10 euro) allows you to see his fantastic creations, from the lizard sculpture to the long and wavy stone bench like a great sea serpent covered in mosaics (and complete with ocean views). Or you can choose to purchase a skip-the-line ticket for $15.19 per person. There is a museum in the house where Gaudi lived, but the real treat is to wander through the eclectic assembly of structures, including the Sala Hipostila originally meant to be a marketplace, whose stone columns are reminiscent of Luxor Temple in Egypt.
Don’t Forget to Check Out Casa Milà
One of Antoni Gaudi’s best-loved works, art nouveau Casa Mila was built between 1906 and 1910 in Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood. It is nicknamed La Pedrera (meaning The Quarry) for its undulating stone facades and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. This was the last personal residence Gaudi built.
Inside this remarkable edifice you’ll find exhibits about the house and Gaudi, plus an apartment that shows how affluent residents lived in the early 20th century. Be sure to make your way up to the roof for a close-up look at the fantastical chimneys which look like helmets! And the views of the city take in Gaudi’s own La Sagrada Familia church in the distance.
He liked to incorporate nature into his designs, and Casa Mila looks like a living thing in motion, its stone front reminiscent of a cliff eroded by the sea and wind. Its iron balconies resemble seaweed washed ashore.
In the evening you can see a different aspect of the building through the kaleidoscopic sound and light show La Pedrera: The Origins Show. In addition to a tour, you’ll be treated to champagne while enjoying the sound and light show on the rooftop terrace.
And Casa Batlló is Just as Worthy of a Visit
Just down the street from Casa Mila is another Gaudi masterpiece, Casa Batlló, also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Using the legend of St. George and the Dragon as his inspiration, Gaudi created a spectacular building with the roof conveying the spine of the dragon and the terraces and windows representing the bones and skeletons of its victims. The house’s nickname is Casa del Drac or House of the Dragon.
Bult between 1904 and 1906, Casa Batllóentrances the eye with its mosaic-tiled façade and its extravaganza of interior design. From its twisted ceiling and sun-like chandelier to the colorful, surreal chimney pots on the roof, the architectural details are extraordinary. The general admission price is 35 euro.
Casa Batlló has its own special nighttime entertainment called Magic Nights. You can enjoy a live concert on the rooftop terrace with a glass of champagne and have an evening tour of the building. The ticket price for Magic Nights is 49 euro.
These to me are the top four Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I personally think that all of Gaudi’s Barcelona buildings are well worthy of a visit and review the best of the rest below.
Stroll Down Las Ramblas
One of the main touristic routes in the city passes from the Plaza de Catalunya along the series of streets collectively called Las Ramblas and down to the port with its Columbus Monument.
Las Ramblas pass by important sites like La Boqueria market, Palau Guell by Gaudi, the beautiful Plaza Reial and the Gran Teatro del Liceu. But the fun of this ramble is in the journey itself, stopping wherever you choose and taking in the colorful sights as you get swept up in the crowds.
You will pass by flower stands, open-air cafes, artists selling their work and street performers, all creating a riot of colors and a festive atmosphere.
Grab Some Delicious Snacks from La Boqueria
This open-air market entices shoppers wandering along Las Ramblas, with its ornate metal gate from 1914 just steps off the thoroughfare. In business since 1840, La Boqueria Market is over a half an acre of food heaven, with over 200 vendors displaying the freshest of fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, and other foodstuffs.
There are restaurants on site if snacking on samples make you want more of a meal, or maybe just some tapas. We enjoyed the small cones of the Spanish jamon and took some great pictures of the attractive displays.
Get Your Gothic on at Barcelona Cathedral
Taking center stage in the Gothic Quarter, Barcelona’s cathedral is a beautiful example of Catalan Gothic architecture, with its façade only added in the late 1880s to the rest of the church originally built in the 1300s to mid 1400s. Admire the features of its façade up close, from the relief sculptures of Christ and the apostles on the door and central arch to its gargoyles.
Inside, look for the ornately carved choir stalls, the Chapel of Santo Cristo de Lepanto built in 1407, and the crypt of Santa Eulalia. Eulalia was a young girl who defended her Christian faith to the death. The 13 white geese in the cloister area represent Eulalia’s age when she was martyred.
There is a 9-euro fee for the entry ticket. Be sure to check out the rooftop to get a closer look at the flying buttresses while enjoying views of the city skyline!
Hit the Beaches
With Barcelona’s great setting on the shores of the Mediterranean, a quick escape to the sea at La Barceloneta is a great option for a different kind of sightseeing break. Dynamically framed by the sail-like W Hotel at one end and architect Frank Gehry’s Golden Fish sculpture at the other, La Barceloneta beach hums with activity.
Here you will find a walkway popular with joggers and bikers, cafes and restaurants where you can get fresh fish and of course the beach itself, where you can rent umbrellas and chairs. It’s not peaceful by any means, but it will give you a delightful museum break and let you mingle with visitors and locals alike.
You Must Visit Mount Tibidabo and Sagrat Cor Church
The 1,700-foot peak of Tibidabo, the highest point in Barcelona, is crowned by the eye-catching Sagrat Cor (Sacred Heart) church perched at its peak. Here you can gasp in admiration at one of the best panoramic views of the city and the beautiful backdrop of the Mediterranean. An elevator costs 4 euro and whisks you to the church’s upper terraces to take in the far-reaching views.
Get Your Church On at Santa Maria del Mar
Santa María del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea) is a beautiful 14th century Catalan Gothic church located in the El Born neighborhood. It has retained a uniformity of style given that it was built in only 55 years.
Inside you’ll be struck by the massive stone columns and the gorgeous stained-glass windows. Look for the church’s rose window and the Ascension window in the Santa Maria chapel. Also be sure to head up to the roof for the city views. For this you’ll need to join a guided visit, which is available for 8.50 euro for a 45-minute tour.
Catch a Concert at the Palace of Catalan Music
Not all UNESCO World Heritage architectural sites were designed by Gaudi! Barcelona’s Palau de la Música Catalanais an art nouveau masterpiece by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner that opened in 1908.
I loved the experience of taking in a concert here. Inside and out, the building is a magnificent work of art. The main auditorium and stage area will have you craning your neck to take everything in. From the gorgeous blue and gold stained-glass skylight to the sculpted busts of 18 muses from Greek mythology on the stage behind the performers and the mosaic pillars, it is a stunning venue.
Take the time before the show or during intermission to wander around the foyer and restaurant areas and climb the front staircase to take in the pillars, stained glass, and other architectural flourishes. Though taking in a live performance is the best way to enjoy the Palace, you can also tour the venue for 10 euro with an audio guide or take a guided tour for $21.03 per person.
More Gaudi! Don’t Forget to Visit Palau Güell
Just steps from the main artery of Las Ramblas, Palau Güell is another ornately decorated, UNESCO World Heritage site built by Gaudi in 1890, so this is one of the first of his major works.
The home’s owner was a great patron of the arts, so Gaudi designed a large domed hall for cultural events. There are two strong iron gates at the entrance to the house for horse drawn carriages.
The visit begins in the massive brick-pillared cellars where the horses were stabled, then moves up the grand staircase and through the public rooms such as the spectacular music room with its organ and finally the family’s living area with stained glass windows. Marvel at the details Gaudi built into the house. I loved the rooftop terrace where you can wander amongst the surreal chimneys with their mosaic decorations and gaze out over the city.
Admission tickets cost 5 euro.
Love Museums? Head to the Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso himself established this museum in 1963, choosing Barcelona as it was a city he loved as a struggling young artist and where he first exhibited. The Picasso Museum occupies several attractive stone Gothic mansions in the Gothic Quarter and should be on any itinerary of the city.
This museum has over 4,000 of his works. Although it does not have the world-famous canvases held in other museums of his work, it presents an intriguing summary of the development of the young artist in the vast array of mediums he chose to work in. The museum’s permanent collection is divided into three sections, painting and drawing, engraving and ceramics.
One of the highlights of the collection is a complete series of 58 canvases based on Picasso’s study of Velazquez’s famous Las Meninas from the Prado Museum in Madrid. Also look for the superb painting Science and Charity that Picasso completed when he was only 15 years old!
There is a 12-euro admission fee. You may also consider a walking tour of the Gothic Quarter that includes a visit to the Picasso Museum.
And the Joan Miró Foundation
Catalan artist Joan Miro designed this building for his own work. Sitting atop Montjuïc Hill, the Joan Miró Foundation collection opened in 1975 and contains more than 104,000 pieces of his work. The Foundation was designed as a place where younger artists could encounter contemporary art, including Miro’s.
You can explore Miro’s surreal creative world through this collection of his paintings, sculptures, and drawings. There is also artwork by such luminaries as Alexander Calder, Rene Magritte and Mark Rothko, plus temporary exhibits of modern art.
General admission for the museum is 13 euros.
And! One More! The National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC)
MNAC or the National Art Museum of Catalonia is the best collection of Catalan regional art in the world, located in Montjuïc Park. The castle-like Spanish Renaissance building was constructed for the 1929 International Exhibition, along with the so-called Magic Fountain in front of the museum.
The Museum’s collection features murals that were relocated from aging churches across Catalonia in the 1920s and reconstructed here. The Museum also has extensive collections of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art, featuring such Spanish masters as Velazquez, Goya, Picasso, and El Greco.
Be sure to take in the fine city and sunset views from the terrace just in front of the Museum. The general admission cost is 12 euros.
Need More Gaudi? Head to the Trippy Casa Vicens
This house was Gaudi’s first commission when he was just 30 years old. The Casa Vicens mansion, completed in 1885, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You’ll see some of Gaudi’s main architectural ideas in their early form here, from the intricate cast iron front doors to the incorporation of nature imagery into his designs. Ceramic tiles depicting marigolds adorn the façade and floral, bird and vine motifs are seen in the home’s interior.
There is a 16-euro entry fee, or you may choose to purchase a guided tour for $23.37 per person.
Admire Sant Pau Hospital
An amazing complex of buildings, originally constructed as a hospital, Sant Pau was built by Domènech i Montaner, the same architect who designed the Palace of Catalan Music. The Sant Pau complex is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Today a cultural center that is open for tours, the complex was a working hospital from the 1930s until 2009 when it moved to new quarters.
The chief interest for visitors is the lavish decoration and amazing diversity of the architectural flourishes shown in each of the 16 Pavilions. The architect’s goal was to create a space that would cheer up patients and facilitate their rehabilitation. Two of the most decorated spaces are the Pavelló de l’Administració, with its domed, pink-tiled ceiling and ornate staircase, and theSala Domènech i Montaner, with its arched ceiling, stained-glass windows and tilework.
You can get advance entry tickets here for $12.27 per person, or choose to take a 75 minute tour of the complex for 14 euro.
Admire the Epic Views From the Montjuic Funicular and Cable Car
Some of the best city and sea views can be had from the top of Montjuic hill. Here getting there is part of the fun. After taking the metro as far as the Paral-lel station, climb aboard the funicular for the next stage of your journey. The one-track funicular shuttles visitors halfway up the hill. This can be a free add-on to your metro ride or else it costs the price of one metro ticket (2.40 euro).
Complete the journey to the top and Montjuic Castle using the Teleferic de Montjuic Cable Car for a round-trip ticket price of 11.43 euro. From the mountaintop, you can admire sweeping views over the whole city and the port area.
While You’re There, Make Sure to Explore Montjuic Castle
High above the city on Montjuic hill sits an imposing castle that defended the city from attack over the centuries, then later became a prison during the dark days of the authoritarian regime of Francisco Franco.
Today Montjuic Castle attracts visitors with its gardens, a moat, massive stone walls and its military history. And from the top, visitors have great views over the city!
Admission is 5 euros per person.
Dive Into Spanish History at Poble Espanyol
Before you leave Montjuic, make sure you head to Poble Espanyol.
An outdoor village comprised of 117 buildings gathered from around Spain, Poble Espanyol or Spanish Village was created as an exhibit for the Barcelona 1929 World’s Fair. Here you can see different architectural styles from all over the country. The exhibit proved so popular that it was maintained as an attraction after the Fair closed.
In addition to the buildings themselves, visitors can enjoy over 40 artisan craft shops as well as restaurants and cafes. There is also the Fondation Fran Daurel, which has a collection of art by artists like Miro and Picasso.
Admission costs 11.20 euro or buy a skip-the-line ticket to avoid the ticket office crowds.
Escape the Crowds at Santa Caterina Market
For fewer jostling crowds, visit the Santa Caterina Market. We admired the stands of fresh produce, fish, meats, and cheeses with much more room to move around and enjoy the food presentations. The market underwent a refurbishment in 2005 and a colorful, undulating rooftop was installed. You can also enjoy restaurants and bars within the market for an impromptu lunch! It’s hard to resist snacking with these tempting treats in front of you.
It’s fun to just wander through the markets on your own, but if you’d like more insights into the local food, you can take a guided market tour with a chef for $43.22 per person or combine the market visit with a tapas tasting for $64.26 per person.
Catch Your Breath at La Ciutadella
Once the site of a military fortress, La Ciutadella was built as a peaceful park to help celebrate the city’s 1888 Universal Exhibition. The nearly 100-foot-tall Arc de Triomf was built to welcome visitors to the Exhibition.
Take a break from sightseeing with a stroll through the 40 acres of picturesque grounds. Be sure to see the ornate Cascada Monumental with its lovely waterfall, take a rowboat ride on the lake and admire the monuments and buildings such as the Castle of the Three Dragons built by Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Raise Your Middle Finger to the Columbus Statue
Despite falling from grace in recent history, Columbus still stands atop the Columbus Monument at the end of La Rambla at the port. The 200-foot-tall monument was built for the 1888 Universal Exhibition in Barcelona to honor the discoverer. Columbus visited Barcelona after his historic sailing to America to give the news to the King and Queen.
The viewing platform can be reached by elevator (a ticket costs 5.50 euro) for great views overlooking the port area.
Plaça de Catalunya is a Wonderful Square in Barcelona
The Plaça de Catalunya is a large square connecting the old town to the Ensanche, or expansion of the city. Here you’ll find shopping, bars and restaurants and transportation such as the subway and buses. We enjoyed a brief respite from our explorations at the historic Café Zurich, which sits just off the Plaza at the head of Las Ramblas. Have a coffee or hot chocolate and pastry and watch the passing scene.
Hang Out at Beautiful Plaça d’Espanya
Plaça d’Espanya was designed for the 1929 International Exhibition, and has a pair of Venetian Towers, the Magic Fountain, a former bullring turned shopping center and the stately National Museum of Catalan Art as its architectural showpieces.
Get Away From the Chaos at Plaza de San Felipe Neri
Plaza de San Felipe Neri is tucked away in the quiet side streets of the Gothic Quarter. It has a quiet, almost melancholy air. It has a lovely central fountain and is surrounded by a school and church. Evidence of damage from bombs dropped during the Spanish Civil War in 1938 are still in evidence on the walls of the church.
Kick Back and Relax in Plaça Reial
Located just off Las Ramblas is the elegant Plaça Reial, my favorite square in the city. Its arcades are steeped in history. The square is surrounded by historic houses, and offers up palm trees, a lovely central Fountain of the Three Graces fine for a sit for relaxing and admiring the scenery, and unique streetlamps designed by the ever-present Gaudi himself! There are cafes and restaurants to settle into for lunch or dinner, and the ambiance will enchant you.
From the architectural treasures built by Gaudi and other Catalan masters to some of Spain’s best art collections, Barcelona offers visitors a cultural feast that will have you extending your stay or planning your next visit.
Let yourself wander through the scenic Gothic Quarter and down the Ramblas, stopping at whatever shop, café, or square catches your eye. Unwind at La Ciutadella Park or on the beach at La Barceloneta, take in a nighttime event at Casa Mila or Casa Batlló, immerse yourself in the colorful markets like La Boqueria and sample the tempting array of tapas. Whatever you choose to do, Barcelona will tempt you back again and again.