Barcelona is my home, the place I come from and I grew up in so I have watched it become the popular tourist destination it is today and I am eager to share its best spots. Join a native Catalan on this journey to discover all of the epic and fabulous things to do in Barcelona.
In this article we will explore all of Barcelona’s attractions from the most famous places to visit to the lesser known things to see. I want to show you everything the city has to offer, especially beyond the popular tourist sights. You can even include these places on an epic road trip across Europe.
In the last three decades since the Olympic Games, Barcelona has become a wonderfully cosmopolitan city, one that is 2,500 years old. While most visitors focus on Barcelona’s must see attractions, the city is large and new places still open every year making it the perfect city to return to, every time being able to enjoy new experiences.
Best things to do in Barcelona
The following list of things to do in Barcelona is sorted by neighborhood because I think this is the most efficient way to plan your visit.
Although the city is not large by global standards, a lot of the top things to do in Barcelona such as Camp Nou or Park Guell, are away from the city center so it pays to organize your visit geographically.
Below is a map with all of Barcelona’s attractions and things to do that are mentioned in this article so you can see where they are. I would suggest you start in the center and draw concentric circles getting farther away from the city. If you don’t have enough time to see it all, just pick from the list.
Here are some essential tools you need to make the most of your visit:
- Barcelona Card gives you free access to several museums and unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip (3, 4 or 5 days) here. Worth it if you plan to visit lots of museums and are staying longer.
- Unlimited public transportation: There is no Uber in Barcelona (ride sharing services are banned) but public transport is very efficient and will get you everywhere (I know because although I have a car, I visited all the places on this list by public transportation myself to be able to write about it). Get an unlimited pass here. It includes bus to the airport so buy it ahead to use it from arrival.
- Hop on, hop off bus: Useful to get around with WiFi and onboard commentary, pretty handy for shorter stays or those who don’t like walking so much. Has two routes covering almost all the highlights in this article and it covers places that are harder to get to by public transportation such as Camp Nou or Park Guell. Buy it here.
- Aerobus: This incredibly efficient and convenient bus connects five stops in the city (Placa Catalunya, Sepúlveda-Urgell, Placa Espanya, Gran Vía-Urgell or Placa Universitat) with the two terminals at Barcelona airport in just 35min without any stops and runs every 5min, my mum always takes it. It also offers free Wifi. Much better than taking the train (notorious for strikes and delays). Buy ticket here.
- Private airport transfer: Want convenience? Traveling with a large family or group? Book your airport pick up or drop off here.
- Pocket Wi-Fi Rental with Hotel Delivery: Connect up to 5 devices to the same WiFi router, get delivery within 24h to hotel. Book it here.
Things to do in Barcelona: Gothic Quarter and El Raval
These two iconic neighborhoods are where some of the most famous Barcelona attractions are located.
What separates them?
If you face the sea, the Gothic Quarter is on your left and Raval on your right. I could have separated these into two sections but because they are both largely pedestrian and nearby I decided to put them together.
However, bear in mind that while the Gothic Quarter has a lot of the famous things to see in Barcelona, El Raval is a bit more low key and the majority of the tourist attractions are closer to La Rambla.
Because there is so much to see and a lot of the details and secrets of this ancient neighbourhood are hidden, the best way to explore the Gothic Quarter is on a walking tour.
There are hundreds of options, some great, some not quite so, I have scouted the best ones for each type of traveler below:
- Group walking tour: 2 hours with a larger group, cheaper, with wireless audio guide. Book here.
- Private tour: Hire a private guide just for you and your family here or here for a private group tour.
- History + food: If you prefer to eat your history, combine food tastings with a walk around the Gothic Quarter. Book here.
- Walking tour + wine tasting + dinner: evening walking tour of the Gothic Quarter that ends in Born for a wine tasting and dinner. Book here.
- Group virtual reality tour: Walking tour with VR goggles to simulate what the city was like, amazing! Book it here.
- Family treasure hunt: Take your kids on a dragon hunt as they follow the clues and learn more about the city. Book it for the whole family here.
Let’s have a look at the major places of interest in Barcelona’s Gothic and Raval quarters.
People watch at Placa Catalunya
Placa Catalunya is possibly the most important square in Barcelona and the reference point for many.
The square is flanked by landmark buildings such as the department store El Corte Ingles and is the beginning of La Rambla and the end of Passeig de Gracia, two major arteries.
El Corte Ingles is a long standing institution and its AC is so strong in summer that is manages to decrease the temperature of the entire square during summertime. You can find anything inside and its main motto is the fact that you can return anything anytime no questions asked.
Pro tip: At the top of El Corte Ingles is a hawker center style restaurant where you can order various types of foods from different stalls. The appeal is not the food but the panoramic views of the square nine floors below.
Although for most Placa Catalunya is simply a passing spot, you can also sit on one of the benches and people watch. The two fountains are sometimes on and have lights and there are kiosks selling pigeon food, the same we used to buy it as kids.
I would not recommend you do it as you will get thousands of them on you and it can get pretty scary, not to mention that some of them can carry diseases or poop on you.
Celebrate at Canaletes fountain
Canaletes Fountain holds a special place in every FC Barcelona fan’s heart.
You could walk past and not realize its significance as it is one of the most understated yet unique places to see in Barcelona. So let me tell you its story.
Canaletes Fountain sits in the same location as a 17th-century fountain and its name comes from its origin, when it was just outside the city walls and said to be the first fountain to receive water from the canals bringing it down from the mountains and hence the freshest.
However, today’s significance is more mundane.
Located in front of the former newspaper El Sol, Barca fans would congregate during a game because the newspaper used to hang the results on its main board.
The tradition remains today and whenever Barca wins a major competition or game, the fountain and the area around it is the place for fans to come celebrate.
Walk through the ancient gate of the city
Porta Ferrisa is today the name of a street that starts a bit further down from Canaletes on your left and takes you all the way to Portal de l’Angel and The Cathedral.
If you didn’t know any better you would probably simply walk past and maybe get tempted by the many cafes, clothing stores or ice cream shops. But look out for the tiles on the wall above the three fountains on your right as you get into the street from La Rambla.
They talk about the origins of this street and the gate that used to be here. It was one of the main gates into the Medieval city of Barcelona and it got its name from the iron keys that decorated it (ferrisa comes from the Latin and Catalan word for iron).
Legend has it that Ramon Berenguer brought the gate from Almeria after a victory but this is not confirmed. While the fountains date back to 1680 and are original, the hand-painted tiles were added in 1959.
Dip melindros in hot chocolate
If you continue down Porta Ferrissa, you can then turn left on Carrer de Petritxol, one of the narrow alleys that are so characteristic of the Gothic Quarter.
Have a look at shops of all kinds either side and maybe stop for some chocolate shopping at Xocoa, but don’t sit down yet, wait until you reach Granja Dulcinea for authentic, decades-old, churros with chocolate.
Granja Dulcinea is an unassuming and rather offbeat granja that you could walk past without even noticing. And that would be a shame because it is one of the oldest in the city, if not the oldest, and serves authentic chocolate and churros.
Opened in 1941, this is the place the elderly used to come for celebrations like birthdays. Inside, it looks very much as if time has stood still.
While we do eat churros in Catalonia and they are indeed popular, especially in wintertime when they are sold from street churros stands, you should try the Catalan biscuit we dip in chocolate in addition to churros: melindros.
This soft and delicate sponge finger, looking like a biscotti but much softer, is so delicious I am salivating just by thinking about it.
Dusted with sugar and crumbling to the touch, melindros make an even better companion to a cup of traditional chocolate. Order a serving, a cup of hot chocolate and perhaps some churros and enjoy the best tea break.
Tip: The original hot chocolate we eat in Spain is thickened with starch and churros (or melindros) with chocolate is an afternoon snack we have at tea time, not a dessert. You will never find churros on restaurant menus in Spain.
On Petritxol street you can also find another old granja called La Pallaresa opened just a few years after Dulcinea and which is equally traditional. They are also known for the whipped cream they serve on top of the hot chocolate if you order it (we call this “un Suis” – a Swiss chocolate).
At La Pallaresa you can also order rice pudding, crema catalana or flan, other traditional Catalan deserts, and get your hot chocolate with an ensaimada as well as churros.
Pro tip: Granjas always close for lunch and open in the morning and afternoon only.
Go up the rooftop of Esglesia del Pi
At the end of Carrer Petritxol, very near Dulcinea, is the Gothic Esglesia del Pi, or Pinetree Church, and as soon as you arrive at the square in front of it you will understand why.
Esglesia del Pi has a privileged position in the middle of the Gothic quarter and offers guided tours to the bell tower which take you right above the rooftops of the area and gives you a 360-degree view. Only the Cathedral is higher.
From here you can trace the evolution of the city from the Roman walls to the Medieval expansion and finally, the addition of the Eixample and eventual growth of the city.
Organise your visit to the Esglesia del Pi
Go on a tour of Barcelona which includes the Church of Santa Maria del Pi as well as Gothic Quarter, Cathedral of Barcelona, Placa del Rei and Political Square. Book your tour here.
Tip: Esglesia del Pi has a schedule of concerts in the chapel that are intimate and wonderful. To go up the bell tower you need to climb a narrow spiral staircase. There are tours at night during the summer which include a visit to the Crypt. More information on their website here.
Eat heavenly sweets
After a visit to the church, head out to Carrer de la Palla, right in front, and continue for another sweet encounter, this time with heavenly treats made by monks and nuns from convents and monasteries across Spain.
Caelum is a unique shop selling only items that are handmade by members of religious institutions, usually convents or monasteries. Most of them are hard to find nowadays at supermarkets or confectionary shops because they require a lot of skill and patience, two things religious men and women have.
You should ask the shop attendants to help you out as there are hundreds of products on sale and they all have pretty unique names like angel’s hair, little drunken or celestial little pigs, that may not be descriptive of what’s inside.
Don’t miss the chance to take a look at the liquors and spirits sold and to go downstairs to the basement. If you did not stop for churros or are peckish again, the shop has a small cafe area where you can sit down and sample the sweets.
More information here.
Take a selfie with millions of lovers
When walking along Placa d’Isidre Nonell, you will notice an image of two lovers locking lips. Inspect a little closer and you will see that this large image is actually a mosaic made of thousands of individual photos that are printed on tiles.
All the images that you can see were submitted by individual citizens of Barcelona after local newspaper El Periodico asked for submissions. The artwork by Joan Fontcuberta is called The Kiss of Freedom in English and “El mon neix en cada besada” (“the world is born with every kiss”) in the original Catalan, and was designed to celebrate the Tricentenary of the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.
Check out the ancient Roman Aqueduct
The ancient city of Barcino was supplied with water through a long double aqueduct that was recently discovered. You can see what remains of it near the kiss art installation.
The site is open and has no signage but you will be able to spot it. It is right on the wall of the local public playground. Note the two tiered aqueduct.
It is believed that water flowed through a copper pipe in the lower level. More information here.
Walk through the Roman city of Barcino
The Museum of the History of Barcelona (MUHBA), formerly the Museum of History of the City, is a fascinating Barcelona attraction.
At its main building in King’s Square (Placa del Rei), you can descend down to the levels below today’s Barcelona to discover the former Barcino.
Colonia Iulia Augusta Faventia Paterna Barcino, as Barcelona was named by Augustus in the 1st Century AD, stayed under Roman influence until the 6th century BC and you can see vestiges from each of these periods, including the first Christian churches.
The Roman city of Barcelona was discovered during archeological excavations preserved for centuries below layers of soil. The museum allows you to walk through underground suspended walkways right above the foundation and floor mosaics of the ancient houses and structures.
The MUHBA also oversees several other landmarks in the city that refer to its Roman and Medieval origins and has placed placards and signs at each of them with a bit more explanation. Some of them are also open to visitors. I have included the most relevant ones in this list of the best things to do in Barcelona.
Organise your visit to the MUHBA
Access to the MUHBA is free on the first Sunday of every month and after 3pm every Sunday.
Get the Barcelona Card to access to MUHBA and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip (3, 4 or 5 days) and book it here.
Buy your tickets here.
Admire King’s Square – Placa del Rei
This absolutely fabulous square in the Gothic quarter right by the Cathedral is a gem of Catalan Gothic architecture.
Surrounded by elegant and majestic buildings, the square is said to have been the place where the Catholic King and Queen Fernando and Isabela received Christopher Columbus upon his return from the discovery New World.
At one side you will find the Palau Reial Major (Major Royal Palace) which was the residence of the royal family in Barcelona and which can be visited. Inside is the magnificent Saló del Tinell, a banquet hall that measures 33m long and 12m high.
The hall was built by Peter III in 1370 and it was converted in the headquarters of the Inquisition in the 16th century and in the 18th century it became a convent for Claris nuns who left at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 at which point the hall was rediscovered.
Towering above is Torre Mirador del Rei Marti (King Martin’s Watchtower). Next to it is the Palau del Lloctinent (lieutenant’s Palace) and finally the Capella de Santa Agueda (Saint Agatha’s Chapel). This chapel was devoted to a saint from Catania because it was built by James II who, before becoming the King of the Crown of Catalonia-Aragon was the King of Sicily.
Organise your visit to the Placa del Rei
You can admire the buildings from the monumental complex from the square but the only building you can enter is the Royal Palace. Tickets to the palace are sold in conjunction with the Museum of History of the City (MUHBA).
Get the Barcelona Card to access to MUHBA and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip (3, 4 or 5 days) and book it here.
Pro tip: Access to the palace and the MUHBA is free on the first Sunday of every month and after 3pm every Sunday. While the square always has group of visitors standing in front of a guide listening to explanations, if you come in the early morning (8am) there will be nobody as these are all monuments and there aren’t any local houses around.
Buy your tickets here.
Take in the impact of the Civil War
Placa Sant Felip Neri is an enclosed square with only one street opening flanked by a church, a school and luxury Hotel Neri, which is very close to another of my favorites the Mercer Hotel.
In the middle of the square is a fountain and a pretty acacia tree that in spring flows with beautiful yellow flowers that fall with the wind like golden snowflakes.
While there are a lot of quaint squares in Barcelona Felip Neri is relevant because it is the only place in the city center where you can see the impact of the Spanish Civil War on the back wall of the church and school.
In January 1938, the Italian Aviazione Legionària which supported Franco’s Army, bombed the port and city center of Barcelona with a Savoia S-79 plane formation of 6 in two rounds dropping a total of 36 250kg bombs.
The bombs caused widespread material destruction damaging or completely destroying 86 buildings. One of them fell on Felip Neri square and collapsed the roof of the church’s basement where a group of refugee children from other parts of Spain had gone to hide when they heard the sirens.
This was one of the few attacks during the war that killed more people than it injured. A total of 216 people died during the attacks among which 42 were children.
You can still see the impact of the bombs on the walls and read a plaque on the wall that remembers the event and the deaths on the 30th of January 1938.
If the tree is in bloom, grab a chair at the terrace of Hotel Neri and enjoy a drink as you ponder the horrible wars that ravaged the 20th century. Take a peek inside the hotel, it is an authentic Medieval palace turned luxury hotel and the atrium is stunning. By far one of the best places to stay in Barcelona.
Admire The Cathedral
Barcelona’s Cathedral, officially known as the Metropolitan Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona, could be considered the heart of the city.
In addition, it is also the religious heart of the Diocese of Barcelona and the seat of the Archbishop, hence the name cathedral which derives from Cathedra, or See. There are many other basilicas in Barcelona and province, but only one Cathedral.
Located at the center of the Gothic Quarter, and surrounded by a pedestrian-only zone, the cathedral is a complex that includes the cloisters and several surrounding buildings. These buildings provide the services expected from a See of Barcelona’s importance.
The construction of the Cathedral started in the 12th century where there was once a Romanesque temple consecrated in 1058 and which replaced a basilica built in the 4th century and damaged during the Arab attack on the city.
However, because it took 150 years to complete and the main facade we see today did not go up until the end of the 19th century, the Gothic basilica also incorporates architectural elements of the Baroque period during which the altar was added. The last part to be added to the original construction was the cloister.
There are certain times of the year when it is particularly interesting to visit the Cathedral.
For example during Corpus Christi to see “Ou com balla”, or the dancing egg, when an emptied out egg is placed on the fountain’s jet and stays there dancing.
On Sundays, during mass, the beautiful choir of Francesc Valls joins in and it is well worth attending, even if you are not religious.
During Christmas, from the beginning of December until the 23rd, the square in front of the cathedral is turned into Barcelona’s Christmas market or Santa Llucia Fair (the Goddess of eyesight also acclaimed across Sicily and in particular at the Duomo of Ortygia in Syracuse).
You can buy all the strange figurines that make up the most interesting Catalan Christmas traditions here.
Pro tip: During your visit, make sure to go out to the cloisters and find the geese, there are 13 of them to represent the age at which Saint Eulalia was martyred.
Take a look at the main altar which is impressive. There is also a small museum you can get to from the cloisters. The rooftop of the cathedral is open to the public and accessible via elevators from 10am to 12pm from Monday to Saturday.
Organise your visit to the Cathedral
The Cathedral is visited by 3 million people every year and it is no longer accessible for free unless you are coming to attend mass service at which point you won’t be able to walk around and will be shown to the main area with benches.
You can buy your tickets for the Cathedral in advance on their website. There are fast track tickets for the morning when tourist numbers are limited. Audio guides are available and there are combo tickets with access to the rooftop.
Prices: Between 4 and 11 EUR
Take a break at Museu Frederic Mares
This museum is as relevant because of its content as it is because of the building that contains it.
Housed in the former Royal Palace of the Counts of Barcelona, the Medieval building is beautiful and also very pleasant.
The ground floor has a courtyard and a small cafeteria with outdoor seating open from March to November only, and feels like a respite from the crowds just outside.
Inside is part of Frederic Mares art collection, although not all of it because he lived up to 99 and had a very prolific career, especially after the Spanish Civil War.
Organise your visit to Frederic Mares Museum
Get the Barcelona Card to get access to Museu Frederic Mares and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information here.
Listen to a performance for free
There is a tiny square on a corner right to the side of the Cathedral that has particularly good acoustics and in recent years has become an impromptu street stage for aspiring musicians and singers, just like Hongdae in Seoul (but less Kpop).
Placa Sant Iu is so popular and it enjoys so much foot traffic, that in 2014, the local council had to regulate the timings and rights to the space (and all the other street spots in the city) among the street artists with an official timetable and a random lottery.
Most spots only allow musicians to play from 12pm to 2pm and 5pm to 7pm daily. Placa Sant Iu allows musicians from 11am to 9pm thanks to its location away from homes.
Fun fact: The local regulation for street musicians determines the decibels and type of music that can be played at each spot to respect the neighbors and businesses around it. To play in the street, musicians need a permit and can only play at the designated spots after winning the lottery. There are only 100 permits at any given time.
Visit the solemn Placa Sant Jaume
Placa Sant Jaume is the center of political life in the city and in the whole of Catalunya.
On either side of the square, you can find Barcelona’s City Hall and the Palace of La Generalitat de Catalunya, the national Government of Catalunya.
You can recognize which is which by the flags at the top as well as the police protecting them. The local Barcelonian police at the City Hall and the Mossos Police in front of La Generalitat.
Organise your visit to the City Hall and La Generalitat de Catalunya
Both buildings are heavily guarded and not open to the public except for on certain occasions.
La Generalitat is open every second and fourth Saturday of the month except for in August and offers guided and free tours. On three additional days, the 24th of September (Patron Saint of Barcelona), 11th September (Catalan National Day) and Sant Jordi (Catalan Patron Saint’s Day) the building is also open to the public. You can reserve your spot here.
The City Hall is also open on Sunday mornings from 10am to 2pm via a guided tour of the main noble rooms that lasts an hour and is in many languages. You don’t need to book in advance just show up. More information here.
Enjoy a medieval dinner and show
Feel like royalty and aristocracy during Medieval times with a visit to the Palau Requesens which only opened to visitors in 2019 and now offers evening guided tours of the palace followed by a Medieval dinner with a typical show of the time and live music in the palace’s courtyard.
Palau Requesens is very near Placa Sant Jaume and is a 13th century palace that was home to the Vicereine of Naples. What makes it extremely unique is the fact that the palace was built by connecting two of the towers in the former Roman walls into one single construction.
The show is offered on Friday nights only and starts with a glass of cava followed by a one-hour tour and then dinner. You will also get access to the bell tower which has lovely views over the Gothic Quarter. The show includes a sword fight and other typical entertainment of the time (I don’t want to spoil the surprise).
Organise your visit to Palau Requesens
Book the tour + dinner + show here. You can book special meals with dietary requirements or a vegetarian option.
See the Temple of Augustus
Managed by the MUHBA but located in the building of the Hiking Club of Catalonia, these columns date back to the 1st Century AD and are the only remains of a temple dedicated to Augustus, the founder of Barcino.
The location where they are today is where the temple is believed to have once stood, in the middle of the Roman Forum, at the heart of the city, only there was a small hill instead of a building.
The temple lost importance with the advent of Christianity, and was damaged by the passing of time and eventually, buildings and constructions around it used it as part of their foundations.
Some of the columns and capitols were part of other buildings during Medieval times. But with time, their connection to the original temple was lost.
The columns were found in two different places during construction works in the second half of the 19th century and first placed at the Placa del Rei only to be finally moved where they stand today.
Organise your visit to the Temple of Augustus
You can go inside the building during office hours and just see them, they are in a rather small courtyard and entrance is free. More information here.
Find the skull on Bishop’s Bridge
If you walk from Placa Sant Jaume towards the Cathedral you will stroll under the quaint Bishop’s Bridge.
This emblematic Barcelona attraction is not as old as it looks and was added in 1928 to connect the Generalitat Palace with the Casa dels Canonges so that the President who resides in Casa del Canonges, could cross without having to come out.
The marble bridge does however fit in, and it looks as if it was built at the same time as the rest of the Gothic Quarter, following the same Medieval style. This is because its architect, Joan Rubio i Bellver who also designed La Balmesiana nearby and was a disciple of Gaudi.
He wanted to turn all the buildings in the Gothic Quarter into Neo-Gothic style and designed a project to do that which he presented to the local City Council. The plan was not approved (this was the peak of Modernism) and attracted much criticism but he was given the mandate to design this bridge.
On the wall of the Generalitat look out for a few human gargoyles and a small statue of Saint George, Patron Saint of Catalunya, whose legend says he saved a princess from a dragon.
If you look up when you are under the bridge you will see a curious skull with a dagger coming out of its mouth. There are countless legends around its origins, some optimistic, some macabre, some terrifying. Either way, this has to be one of the most popular places to see in Barcelona and it is permanently crowded.
Tip: If you want to take photos here without the crowds, come early in the morning. As soon as the sun comes up (around 8am in winter) the area is empty and clean so you will not have to photoshop anyone out.
Enjoy a vermouth at Placa Reial
This porticoed square is the center of nightlife, alternative clubs like long-standing Jamboree, buzzing hostels, bars and terraces as well as locals coming to read the newspaper or chat with their friends.
Royal Square, as it translates into English, stands in the place of the former Capuchin Convent at a time when the Monarchy of Spain decided to do away with the religious buildings in the country. It was designed to praise King Ferdinand the V with en equestrian statue of him in the middle which never came to fruition.
The square was the place for wealthy families to live and today is still surrounded by some private homes, clubs, businesses, hotels and hostels, the ground floor of which are all restaurants and cafeterias open until late at night.
Look out for the two street lamps next to the central fountain topped with a dragon which were designed by Gaudi in 1879 and were his first works after becoming an architect.
Sit down at one of the bars or restaurants before lunchtime for a glass of vermouth with chips, fried almonds and olives (in Spain, this means between 12pm and 2pm – eating at this time is a quintessential Spanish habit and some serious people-watching.
Buy vinyl at Carrer Tallers
Carrer Tallers has long been the place for firsts.
Originally, this was the street for artisans who made roof tiles. In the 15th century, this part of the city was the first to adopt prostitution.
Later on, in the second half of the 19th century, Carrer Tallers was the origin of the industrial revolution in Spain when the first machines using steam were brought in.
Today, this is where you come to get musical instruments and original types of vinyl. Before the internet, I would come here to buy CDs and you could find anything.
There are so many stores, one next to the other. The oldest shops in the street are stationary shop Llenas (not to be confused with clothing store Llenas in Carrer València) or the bakery Nuria.
See the contrast at MACBA
All the ancient heritage and historical buildings might have taken you back to centuries ago but if you are looking for things to do in Barcelona that are a bit more contemporary, MACBA is a good option.
The Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona is a fantastic building with a changing collection making it an interesting place to visit in Barcelona. And not just that, it is the gateway to the Raval neighborhood and the seed that promoted the revitalization and regeneration of the area.
Designed by American architect Richard Meier, the museum opened in 1995 and its permanent collection starts in 1929 when Barcelona hosted the International Exposition and showcases Modern and Contemporary pieces.
The museum has a nice store, Laie, that sells contemporary art and beautiful art-inspired pieces. It also organizes talks which you can hear while enjoying a meal at the cafe.
The MACBA has also attracted popular culture with hipster bars and cafes and has become a famous spot for skateboarders who skate on the main square in front of it every afternoon. Take a seat in one of the benches and watch the show.
Organise your visit to MABCA
Pro tip: This is one of the few places opened on Sunday, albeit until 3pm only. Entrance is free on Saturdays from 4pm to 8pm.
Skip-the-Line Entry to 6 Top Art Museums.
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art. Get a ticket that has entry to several museum including the Picasso Museum Barcelona, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miro Foundation, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. Book it here.
Alternatively, if you want to combine the museum with transportation, get the Barcelona Card for access to MACBA and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information about the museum here.
Discuss contemporary issues of our society
The Contemporary Culture Center of Barcelona (CCCB) focuses on dealing with the problems of our society through various shapes, forms and channels.
Despite its modern focus, the main building which house the CCCB is Medieval. It was first a monastery then a seminary and finally a 17th century church.
In the beginning of the 19th century, King Charles IV created the Casa de Caritat to help the poorest and orphans which was housed in the building.
The Almshouse became very successful, despite being self funded, because of the main revenue streams it had, from funerary services to a printing press. It eventually closed its doors in 1957 when the functions moved to Vall d’Hebron.
The surviving orphans from the times of the Almshouse meet at the CCCB Bar every Thursday following a documentary co-produced by the museum in which it followed their lives.
The CCCB was part of the efforts of the City Council to revitalize Raval and opened in 1994. Today it showcases lots of temporary exhibitions tackling day-to-day issues and movements such as feminism and organises activities, workshops, talks and projections.
Organise your visit to the CCCB
The CCCB is one of the few museums open until 10pm every day except Mondays so it makes for a great thing to do in Barcelona at night. Once a month, the museum opens its highest floor as a viewpoint with free entrance, the dates are announced on the website.
Skip-the-Line Entry to 6 Top Art Museums. Get a ticket that has entry to several museum including the Picasso Museum Barcelona, Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Joan Miro Foundation, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona. Book it here.
Add transportation to the museum pass with the Barcelona Card to get free access to CCCB and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS free unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
Scout for unique music sheets at Casa Beethoven
Casa Beethoven is a treasure trove with over 125,000 musical scores and sheets for piano and other instruments. It’s a musician’s cave filled from floor to ceiling with amazing finds that has been operating since 1880.
The team behind this family-run store is passionate about what they do and able to order whatever piece you need.
Pro tip: On Saturday afternoon, locals gather to sing and play the piano in the store.
More information here.
Have cake at a Modernist confectionary
Starting in 1906 as a humble bakery, L’Escriba has become one of the most emblematic confectionery and pastry stores in Barcelona, not only for its wonderful cakes and sweets, which are legendary and awarded, but also because of the design of its Modernist store on La Rambla.
Pro tip: For special occasions, L’Escriba makes themed cakes and pastries, such as sugar skulls for Dia de los Muertos (end October), to Catalan flag colored treats around Saint George (23rd April) or Catalan National Day (11th September). Christmas brings the sweetness of sugar and almond that are used to make Turrons (the harder Spanish version of nougat), and during Lent (40 days before Easter) you can find wonderful puffed sweets called bunyols.
Organise your visit to l’Escriba
You can taste their creations at any of the stores in Barcelona (though I recommend either the original one in Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes or the beautiful one in La Rambla), but to learn more about a store that has brought sweet dreams to an entire city for over a century, join one of their tours.
Watch opera at El Liceu
Gran Teatre del Liceu is Barcelona’s Opera House and one of the most historical buildings on la Rambla.
Burned down and attacked several times as a symbol of the bourgeoisie, El Liceu has seen it all.
Opening in 1847 as the largest theatre in Europe with 3,500 seats, El Liceu was always a private institution. Instead of the common government financing of most theatres in Europe which were sponsored by the royal families of the time, El Liceu was paid for by the private shareholders and donors in exchange for owning a significant part of the seats and boxes.
The original theatre burned down in 1961 and was reconstructed in a year from scratch with money from the same shareholders and some new ones.
Because of the theatre’s links to the wealthy and aristocracy of Barcelona, it was the constant target of anarchists and revolutionaries and in 1893 it was the subject of an attack with Orsini bombs which killed 20 people.
Upon its reopening, the fear kept people away but things remained calm until the Spanish Civil War in 1936 when the Catalan Government nationalized the theatre. Nationalization only lasted until the end of the war when Franco returned it to its original owners.
Financial difficulties plagued the 20th century until a fire broke out in 1994 and burned the theatre down once again.
At that point, the Catalan Government stepped in, created a foundation and transferred ownership to a consortium including local businesses, the original owners and government institutions both from Catalunya as well as from the central government of Spain.
Today’s new Gran Teatre del Liceu opened in 1999 with a design that is similar to the original but modernized and the opera Turandot.
El Liceu offers tours which include the main hall as well as more specific tours that also take you to the Art Nouveau Cercle del Liceu, the meeting point for the rich and famous, or backstage.
More information here.
Explore Gaudi’s least known work Palau Güell
The Güell Palace is a home that Gaudi created for the family of the same name who lived here until they moved to the famous Park Güell in 1910.
Eusebi Güell was a wealthy businessman, patron of the arts and a major sponsor of Gaudi’s work. His work and prpfile was elevated in 1908 when he was made Count.
The Palace was listed as a UNESCO site together with Casa Vincens in 1984 and is one of the lesser-visited of Barcelona’s attractions that Gaudi built.
This is because Güell’s daughter gave it to the municipality in 1945 in exchange for an annuity and the council decided to use it for a variety of purposes. It was only in 2011 that the building was opened as a museum to the public.
Güell Palace is quite different from the rest of Gaudi’s constructions in Barcelona because of the use of stone and wood in darker colors, unlike the usually bright and lighter materials of other buildings. However, if you visit the rooftop you will see some of Gaudi’s common elements, like the trencadis mosaics and chimneys.
The Guell family wanted Palau Guell to be a place for entertaining guests and it was designed with several elements that facilitated this purposes such as music rooms, pianos, hidden windows from which Mrs Guell could see what guests were wearing and dress appropriately, a parabolic ceiling and an organ that was the largest at the time.
Fun fact: My mother used to visit Palau Guell as a child because one of my grandmother’s aunt lived in a small apartment inside the palace. Her father was killed while working for the Guell family as a secretary. A failed attack by the FAI (Iberian Anarchist Association) on the Count resulted in his death and Eusebi Guell gave the widower and daughter a place to live until their death. In the 70s, they moved out. During my visit of the palace with my mother she recalled the exact location of the small apartment which is now adjacent to the back patio.
Organise your visit to Palau Guell
The palace offers free tours in English on Friday and Saturday at 10,30am, a free tour on the third Sunday of the month that explores all 4 of Güell’s palaces in La Rambla and a tour of Secret Güell on the third Saturday of the month.
There are exclusive tours to the usually closed-off areas of the palace including Güell’s office at off-peak times such as early in the morning (8,30am) or at night (10pm). You can also book a private tour online here.
Tip: In the summertime, there are rooftop concerts and year-round there are workshops. More information here.
Go on a food tour
The city, Catalonia, and Spain as a whole are foodie paradises and you will agree with me that eating is one of the best things to do in Barcelona. You can of course simply go on your own and eat out, and I am sure you will not be disappointed.
But one of the best ways to get to know a place is through your stomach, so join a food tour and learn more about what’s behind each food, trust me, you’ll be surprised.
Before you get started and look at all the food tours, I want to share advice, from a Catalan: tapas are not a Catalan food. Yes, we eat them. Yes, they are pervasive. Yes, I meet at tapas places with my friends. But like tablaos and flamenco, they are more typical of the south of Spain or of the Basque Country than of Catalunya.
Catalan cuisine is much more than tapas and is the best way to learn about the local culture. So trust me on this, by all means go on a tapas food tour, but remember that you are learning about wider Spanish cuisine and not about Catalan gastronomy.
Organise your food tour in Barcelona
Are you interested in Catalan food?
I spent a lot of time scouting for the best food tours in Barcelona and here is my top suggestion.
Aborigens is a Catalan food tour company set up by two food journalists with a passion for gastronomy and food culture. They do real authentic food tours that include traditional Catalan places.
You can go on a “fork breakfast” tour which takes you to local restaurants to enjoy the ultimate Catalan cooked breakfast (this is the type my countryside dad has every day), visit markets that are authentic (not La Boqueria) where you can learn about local food and produce or go on Vermouth tours.
Aborigens is the real deal and will steer you away from the touristy stuff on most food tours in Barcelona. Als, the pair who run it are incredibly fun and have bottomless knowledge. They write for food magazines and are trained journalists with a passion for what they do.
If you are really into food, you can even message them for food-themed day trips or longer trips throughout Catalunya. they can take you truffle hunting with dogs, mushroom picking, to visit cheese factories or butchers who make their own cured meats and sausages.
Check their website for the available tours.
For the more mainstream but also fun options, here are some of the typical food tours:
- Bike Tour with Tapas and Drink: Soak up the sights and sounds of Barcelona’s vibrant atmosphere on a bike tour around the city. Round off your experience with trying local tapas. Book the tour here.
- Tapas & flamenco: Take a half-day walking tour with tapas & see a flamenco show. Book here.
- Tastes and Traditions Food Tour: Join this Barcelona food tour and taste your way through El Born and La Barceloneta, two of Barcelona’s must-see neighborhoods. Book here.
- Traditional Catalan Food Discovery Tour. Enjoy a delicious 3-hour small group food tour of Catalan culture and cuisine with an expert guide. Book here.
- Walking Tour, Wine Tasting & Tapas Dinner. Learn about Catalán wine and gastronomic culture on this guided tour with a visit to the Roman and medieval quarters of the city. End with a wine tasting and tapas dinner. Book here.
- Tapas Tasting Tour in the Gothic Quarter. Informative walking & history tour through the historic Gothic Quarter with tapas as you go. Book here.
- 2-Hour Bites & Flavors Private Food Tour. Private tapas and local drinks through Barcelona with 6 tastings. Book here.
- Sailing Wine & Tapas. Cruise and winery visit with 3 organic wines paired with Spanish tapas in the Alella wine region. Book here.
Mercat de la Boqueria
The city’s most famous market is also one of the most popular places to visit in Barcelona and has sadly been transformed into a tourist attraction taking away from the traditional market function of the area. But get through the first colorful and tourist-oriented stalls and you will still find the more authentic vendors.
La Boqueria’s current structure was built in the middle of the 19th century when the local authorities decided to formalise the informal market that occupied the space where a convent once stood.
The market was designed in a similar fashion to Placa Reial with a porticoed square and stalls in the middle. Upon its opening, the fish stalls were elsewhere and were only moved here in 1911.
As the market grew, the area expanded and in 1913 the current metal roof and metal gate were added. Renovation efforts were carried out between 1998 and 2001 and the exterior walls of the market demolished so that the original arcades could shine.
La Boqueria is a fantastic place to come and learn more about local produce and what is in season. While the market also stocks colorful tropical fruits year round, it still is the place to seek what’s freshest and also products that are not local or that are more exotic or unique.
Buy some olives to take home, or cold cuts and cured meats like ham. If you want to have lunch here, Pinoccio is a very popular stall. It has been here for a long time but it has become a bit of a touristy place now.
You sit down and the colorful owner, always wearing a bow tie, will serve you what’s on the day’s menu. There are only very few spots around the bar so come really early to avoid the wait. Once the food is finished, the owner closes up shop, so if you come late there might be little or nothing left.
Organise your visit to La Boqueria
La Boqueria has experienced extreme popularity in recent years. This has driven away the locals who don’t want to have to maneuver around tourists with selfie sticks while trying to do their weekly shopping (who would?).
The lower amount of shoppers vis-a-vis an increase in short-term visitors who come simply for the photo ops has decreased the income for the local store owners. The ones at the entrance have tried to capitalise on the increased foot fold by selling freshly made juices and fruits to go. But this is not an option for all, nor a viable solution in the longer term
The local government has restricted visits by groups who are not allowed in the market on Fridays, a day reserved for locals only, and groups that have more than 15 people are not allowed at all.
To help preserve the authenticity of the market and the living of the stall owners, be mindful and stay out of the way so the locals can continue coming and the essence of the market is kept alive.
Tip: The market opens at 8am so come at this time to find it quieter. Cooked food stalls only open for lunch.
If you are interested in a small market tour, go to La Boqueria on a guided tour with tasting. Book it here.
More information about the market can be found here.
Learn to make tapas or paella
As mentioned above, tapas are not specifically Catalan (history says they come from Andalucia), but they are widely eaten across Catalonia and the rest of Spain and each region has its fair share of local ones.
When I meet my friends for dinner there will always be some tapas, many of which are traditional Catalan foods served in smaller sharing portions.
Likewise, Paella is also not an originally Catalan dish (paella is from Valencia), but we eat is too, and we have our own variations that are more traditional of Catalunya.
Organise your cooking class
What better way to learn about Catalan and Spanish food than by joining a tapas or paella making class where you learn the recipes to make them back home, this is surely a popular thing to do in Barcelona that you can enjoy alone or with friends.
- Paella cooking: Paella in Catalonia is slightly different from the typical Valencia paella usually because we make it a bit soupier and with meat as well as fish. Take a paella cooking following a Boqueria tour and learn how to make it. Book here.
- Private cooking class: Go to La Boqueria to buy all the ingredients with the chef then cook lunch in his rooftop flat and enjoy the fruits of your efforts. Book it here.
- Private Cooking Class & Market Tour: Walk through La Boqueria market with a history lesson on the tradition of tapas with a cooking lesson. Book here.
Stroll down La Rambla
Is strolling down La Rambla the most famous thing to do in Barcelona?
This 1.2km long avenue that connects Placa Catalunya with the Port and separates the Gothic Quarter from the Raval, has become so famous that it is probably the first place of interest when wondering what to do in Barcelona.
La Rambla was built in 1733 along the former Medieval walls of the city. It provided respite from the narrow alley of the ancient city and became a place to come for a walk, to socialise and people-watch. To a great degree, this is still what La Rambla is today.
Pro tip: As an eminently touristy and busy part of Barcelona this is also where most of the pickpockets operate and theft is truly rampant. You will not even notice it’s happening but by the time you go fetch your wallet to pay for an ice cream, you will realise it is gone. Be incredibly careful with your belongings and that means putting everything in your bag, zipping it and holding it tight. There are so many others paying no attention who make for easy prey, so a little care goes a long way. If you sit down for a drink at any of the terraces, hold all your belongings tightly, do not leave your phone or anything else on the table, it will 100% disappear.
There are a lot of important Barcelona attractions on La Rambla and some of them I have already discussed in this section (Canaletes Fountain, La Boqueria, El Liceu or Beethoven).
Other things to look out for are the human statues, some of which are so incredible they look like real works of art. Remember that if you want to take a photo you must leave a tip. The artist will also change posture when you do.
About half-way down the Rambla near the Liceu metro station, look for Miro’s mosaic Pla de l’Os in his recognisable red, yellow, blue and white colors.
When I was kid La Rambla was full of stalls selling flowers and animals, mostly birds and pets. These were removed after a 2008 law. The flowers and kiosks have remained, and you may even be able to get some ice cream.
La Rambla is especially beautiful on St. George’s Day, the patron saint of Catalonia, during which the entire street is filled with stalls decorated with the Catalan flag and selling books and red roses.
Pro tip: Besides being careful with your belongings, La Rambla is generally safe. However, at night, it is a bit unsavory and the bottom part has always been a well known center of prostitution and drugs. While this is usually alien to tourists, you might want to avoid walking that way.
The best way to enjoy La Rambla is by walking it all the way from the top to the bottom. Allow for an hour to wander and admire the sights. If you want to stop for a drink, bear in mind that you’ll pay exorbitant prices, you are paying for the entertainment more than for the food.
Ghost hunting at night
Looking for what to do in Barcelona at night? Are you brave enough?
Go on a walking tour of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter to discover all the paranormal and ghost stories that surround the old parts of the city.
The tours are based on the book Fantasmes de Barcelona and explores legends, tales and stories that support the existence of ghosts and paranormal activity among the ancient walls of the buildings in the Gothic Quarter. Or you can choose a group tour which can be booked here.
Things to do in Barcelona: The Born
El Born is the Bohemian part of Barcelona.
Located to the left of Via Laietana, very near the Cathedral, the narrow, mostly pedestrian alleyways of El Born have seen a revival in the last two decades.
From a forgotten neighbourhood, El Born is now a sought-after residential area and one where local artists and designers congregate to sell their works and mingle with families who were born here as well as with expats.
Historically, El Born was located right outside the Medieval walls of Barcelona which run along Via Laietana. This was a neighborhood of artisans and guilds, plus those who worked on jobs that were related to maritime trade as the port was nearby, and it was originally a village known as Vilanova de Mar, the new village of the sea.
If you pay attention you will realize that the street names still carry those guilds. It is only fitting that the 21st-century version of a guild has found its way back here with all the Bohemian and artisan stores.
Marvel at Santa Maria del Mar Basilica
Santa Maria del Mar is the most emblematic spot in El Born.
This Gothic basilica is the second most important in Barcelona and has a much more intricate facade than the Cathedral.
Sandwiched among buildings, Santa Maria del Mar (by the way this is my name!), does not have the grandiose square of The Cathedral but what it lacks in size it makes up for in detail.
Unlike other grand religious buildings, Santa Maria del Mar was built by the locals. Its foundation was laid in 1329 and it took more than 50 years for it to be finished.
The craftsmen and workers that lived in the area lent their time and effort to its construction and King Pere III gave permission for stones from Montjuic’s quarry to be used. It was a team effort.
Despite standing tall for almost six centuries, Santa Maria del Mar was badly damaged at the beginning of the Civil War and a fire destroyed everything that was inside from the altar to the archives. Only some of the upper-level stained glass windows are original.
The restoration efforts were carried out between 1971 and 1985 but you can still see the original rose window on the facade.
Tip: If you like Medieval and epic literature, and have Netflix, I highly recommend reading Ildefons Cerda’s La Catedral del Mar, or The Cathedral of the Sea, which happens in El Born and tells you of that specific time and of Santa Maria del Mar Basilica at the heart of the neighbourhood which was built with the blood and effort of the humble people who lived here.
Organise your visit to Santa Maria del Mar
Santa Maria del Mar offers tours of the church and crypt in English at 1:15pm, 2pm, 3pm and 5pm daily plus the ability to go up to the rooftop on your own with a separate ticket.
More information on the church’s official website here.
El Fossar de les Moreres
This is Catalonia’s most important political monument and the place where politicians and civil society members come on Catalan National Day to commemorate the battle and the fate that Catalonia is still fighting today.
The square and monument with an eternal flame are built over the remains of those who died during the Siege of Barcelona in the 1714 War of Succession on September 11.
The war represents the beginning of the oppression of Catalan rights and institutions and continued with the Decretos de Nueva Planta decree which among other things, abolished Catalan laws and rights and banned Catalan.
That was also the beginning of a centralization effort that has subsisted until today, which is why for any Catalan, the Fossar is a symbol of national identity and of the struggle for self-determination. I am Catalan and every time I pass by I take a second to remember.
Passeig del Born
The main artery of El Born is Passeig del Born, the location of the Medieval market running from the 13th to the 17th centuries and which traded goods with other local villages and then later on with Asia and the rest of Europe.
This pedestrian island surrounded by two narrow streets and lined with trees was the location of medieval knight duels and this is what gives the name El Born to the area. Knights on horses would run towards each other with swords and spears until one died.
Today el Passeig is the place to come for a drink or some food while people-watching in the outdoor terraces. There are shops and restaurants and locals still live in most of the apartments.
Admire the stained glass of Palau de la Musica Catalan
El Palau de la Musica Catalana is a Modernist Art Nouveau building designed by Gaudi contemporary Lluís Domènech i Montaner and finalized in 1908.
It was designated a UNESCO site in 1997 and it is a working music hall with a regular schedule of performances and shows, the most popular of which is the Concert of Saint Stevens on the 26th of December.
The Palau is the headquarters of the Orfeó Català, a choral society, and it is best known for the stained glass skylight of the main auditorium which uses all the colors of the rainbow in a teardrop shape to let the sunlight in. But look around you and you will discover so much more.
The facade is equally impressive, using ceramics, red brick and stucco as decorative elements that are as magical as Casa Batllo. There is a greenhouse cafeteria with glass walls and original modernist decor where you can enjoy a meal. Don’t miss the foyer and main staircase which are also fairytale-like.
Pro tip: the cafeteria at the Palau offers daily set menus for 12 euros per person with starter, main, dessert and drinks. Or have a drink before or after your visit.
El Palau de la Musica is one of my favorite places to visit in Barcelona and probably one of the most beautiful, it also holds a special place in every Catalan’s heart.
Organise your visit to El palau de la Musica
The best way to see the hall and foyer is on a guided tour which runs every 30min year-round from 10am to 3,30pm, a tour with a concert at 6pm in July and August and starting at 9am in August. There are also premium tours including access to the rooftop and a glass of cava. You can also visit independently with an audio guide or attend a show.
Tip: It is best to visit the Palau during the day, in the morning, with an audio guide so you avoid the crowds. Note that photo shoots are not allowed and you will need a permit for that.
More information here.
See Picasso’s largest collection
Picasso is not originally from Barcelona but moved here with his parents from Malaga in 1895 and stayed until 1904. His museum in Barcelona opened in 1963 in the Berenguer d’Aguilar Palace in the neighborhood he lived in.
Picasso Museum houses most of his pieces until his Blue Period in 1917, although he moved out in 1904 to go to Paris. He made many friends locally with the other artists of the time and kept in touch with the city with regular visits. His family also stayed.
Interestingly, the museum opened thanks to the donation of Jaume Sabartés private collection so it was named after him. Jaume was Picasso’s personal secretary and friend. When he died, Picasso decided to continue to make donations in his honor and he did every year.
Picasso made the largest donation in memory of his friend and his family when his sister passed away. At that point, the collection was so large that the city needed a new building. The City Council decided to use the adjacent 13th-century palace, renovate it and rename the museum, Museu Picasso which opened in 1970.
Sadly, Picasso died in 1973, two years before Franco, so he never got to visit the museum as he had promised not to come back to Spain until the end of the dictatorship.
The museum is worth it even if only for the palaces it is housed in, five adjacent Medieval constructions on Montcada street that have been beautifully restored.
Pro tip: Don’t miss Picassos’ interpretation of Velazquez Las Meninas which are spread over three rooms.
Organise your visit to Picasso Museum
Join a walking tour exploring Picasso’s life in Barcelona, where he lived and studied, as well as his only public art in front of the cathedral and the Picasso Museum. Book tour here.
Access to the museum is free on Thursday evening from 6-9pm when the museum remains open. But it is essential to prebook your space online as tickets are always sold out (even in the dead of the low season).
Combine transportation with a museum pass by Getting the Barcelona Card which has free access to Picasso Museum and many other Barcelona attractions PLUS free unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information here.
Explore an archeological site cum Modernist market
In a strange turn of fate, recent archeological excavations unearthed the old remains of the city post War of Secession in 1714 located under the 1870 Born Market. The site was then turned into El Born Centre de Cultura i Memoria, or Born Cultural Center which includes the market and the Medieval remains.
After the 1714 War of Secession, and conerned of further uprisings, the central government of Spain decided to build a citadel to control the inhabitants of the city and flattened the entire area where the market is now for these purposes. The citadel was destroyed later on and part of it is where the Parc de la Ciutadella is, which is where it gets its name (citadel park).
Organise your visit to El Born Centre de Cultural i Memoria
You can see the archeological site through the network of suspended metal boards above the remains or join one of the guided tours that take you closer. The center offers 90-min guided visits to the archeological remains from Tuesday to Sunday at 4pm in English.
The 1876 Born Market building, which was one of the first cast iron and glass buildings in Barcelona, can also be freely explored through an exhibition. The market acted as a retail market until 1921 and then became a wholesale one.
More information on the center’s website here.
Eat your heart out at Santa Caterina Market
One of the most popular things to do in Barcelona is visiting La Boqueria. While this market is great and beautiful, it has become a bit of a tourist attraction and locals have started to stay away from it.
A second option would be Santa Caterina Market, a combination of vegetables and fruits as well as food stalls all under an undulating colorful roof across Via Laietana from The Cathedral.
Don’t be fooled by the modern look of the building, Santa Caterina originally opened in 1844 and was officially inaugurated in 1848 as a wholesale market. It was the first covered market in Barcelona.
Today’s market is a renovation from the original. Only the porticoed facade and lateral walls are original whereas the roof is the modern addition that represents the colorful fruits and vegetables in the stalls at markets across the city. It was made with thousands of pieces of ceramic, Gaudi-style.
Go inside the market to have a look at what is seasonal and at what we eat in Catalonia, for example, find the preserved olive or the salted codfish stands. Or stay for lunch, there are a few restaurants at the entrance that sell traditional Catalan dishes with a modern twist and local ingredients from the market.
Organise your visit to Santa Caterina Market
The market is open from 7:30am when it is quietest, and closes at 3:30pm on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday and at 8:30pm otherwise. It is closed on Sunday.
Pro tip: The best views of the market are from the rooftop bar at The Edition Hotel which is right next door.
More information on the market’s official website here.
Explore the dark history of Barcelona at night
Medieval times were grim and dark and the Spanish Inquisition was cruel and heartless. El Born was the center of executions, prosecutions and more.
If you are keen to learn more about this less than bright part of Barcelona’s history there are tours that will take you through the dimly lit streets as the sun sets to discover more about this part of Barcelona’s history.
Things to do in Barcelona: Esquerra de l’Eixample
Eixample, the Catalan word for expansion, is the core part of the city and where most of the well known Barcelona attractions are. This neighborhood is split into right and left of Rambla de Catalunya.
Its urban design dates back to the middle of the 19th century when Ildefons Cerdà was hired to conceive the revolutionary new city plan after the old Medieval walls were torn down and the city finally expanded.
His design was new and not seen anywhere before, and scientific in its approach. He also invented the word “urbanisation” which had never been coined before, in the process.
Today, Eixample is synonymous with Barcelona’s middle class, with the grid structure that is characteristic of the city and with ample avenues lined with trees and rounded corners.
Inside, the “illes” or islands of buildings, have internal patios, ground floor apartments have terraces and apartments have light even in the back rooms. This design made all streets the same width, all buildings the same initial 3-story height and gave poor and rich the same status. Each corner is chamfered, so you nca always see who is approaching.
Originally, the bourgeoisie did not like the plan and contemporary architects criticised it, but it went ahead with the veto of the Sanish Central Government who overruled the local Council, and created an area that is so emblematic of the City and so pleasant to live in.
Cerda’s plan also gave way to the opulent houses that Gaudi and other Modernist architcts designs in Eixample’s main streets. The newfound space was a great excuse to build taller and bigger houses.
Today, Cerda’s Euixample has been recognised as a tremendously innovative plan and has been awarded many international urban planning awards and replicated across the world.
But back to our sightseeing of Barcelona, the left of Eixample has fewer of the places to visit in Barcelona when compared to the right, which has all the famous Barcelona must-see places.
Explore the Fundacio Tapies
Fundacio Tapies is a museum created by Antonio Tapies in 1984 as a vehicle to promote and study contemporary art. Tapies is well known for his geometric pieces one of which you can see on top of the foundation’s building from outside.
The foundation is in a modernist building from 1880 designed by Lluís Domènech y Montaner and which used to house a publishing company.
Organise your visit to Fundacio Tapies
The foundation is closed on Monday. Go up to the rooftop to see Barcelona from above.
Combine a museum pass with transportation with the Barcelona Card to get free access to Fundacio Tapies and other Barcelona attractions PLUS free unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information on the foundation’s website here.
Visit a beer factory in the city
If you eat or drink around the city you will most likely come across the beer with the navy blue logo over bright yellow whose label is entirely in Catalan.
Moritz is the only beer made in Barcelona. In 1856, Louis Moritz, who had come to Barcelona from Alsace five years earlier, opened a beer factory. The factory that you can visit today was renovated in 2011 but originally opened in 1865 after moving from another location in Raval. The beer hall only opened in 1897.
The factory and bar remained open until 1978 when the family dissolved the company as a result of financial difficulties and beer production halted. The company was relaunched in Barcelona in 2004 by the descendants, with a small brewery in its original location, and the Beer lab, an R&D center, in 2016.
After its success, the family decided to completely renovate the factory in 2011 and hired French architect Jean Nouvel (the architect behind the Louvre Abu Dhabi) for the task. What you can visit today is the result of that renovation and includes several areas.
You can enjoy a tour of the factory, a beer tasting, tapas and regular dishes at the restaurant, a beer at the bar or even buy bread, beer is made with grains after all.
Organise your visit to Fabrica Moritz
The factory offers tours with beer tasting and appreciation workshops of its fresh (non-pasteurised) beers on Wednesday and Friday at 7pm, on Saturdays at 12pm and 6,30pm and on Sunday at 11am and 1pm. Sadly, the workshops are only in Catalan/Spanish.
Pro tip: Moritz beer factory is not a family-friendly activity and minors are not allowed.
More information on their website here.
Take a peek inside the oldest University of Barcelona
Barcelona University, located in Placa Universitat, is the oldest in Barcelona and opened as an educational institution in 1401 (not in its current location).
Originally starting as a Medicine and art study institution (the prelude to universities in Spain), more of the same types of institutions appeared in Barcelona after and they were all unified under the Barcelona Study in 1450 in what today we know as a university.
The university continued to expand until the War of Succession when all Catalan institutions were abolished and the studies were moved to Cervera in order for the Central government of Spain to have a better grip on them and unify of all Catalonia’s universities. In Barcelona, grammar and medicine remained, which were taught by Jesuit priests.
The university finally returned to Barcelona in 1842 for good and took the dependencies of the Carmen Convent which at the time, was being repossessed by the government in a period when all religious and ecclesiastic institutions were abolished.
The university continued its functions and expanded to other locations across the city but suffered periods of oppression during the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s dictatorship as a center of Catalan culture.
The building you can visit today in Ronda Universitat dates from the 1870s and was financed by the Spanish government which is why its design is reminiscent of Madrid’s grand Neo-classical architecture (similar to that in Buenos Aires) and not so much of Barcelona’s style.
This is where Antoni Gaudi graduated from with a degree in architecture in 1878. His teacher and the architect of the university building said of him on his graduation day, “Hem donat el títol a un boig o a un geni, el temps ho dirà”, or “we have given the degree to a genius or a madman, only time will tell”.
Organise your visit to Universitat de Barcelona
This is a working educational institution so you can walk around. But in order to see the official halls, you need to join one of the guided tours offered once a month, you can check the schedule here.
Have a gin & tonic at Bar Velodromo
Located on Muntaner street, Bar Velodromo has an air of old times and is a place I often meet my friends for a gin & tonic. It was a former Art Deco library that has been renovated by Moritz Beer so the vintage look is real.
It is an eminently local place, you won’t find any tourists (yes this is possible in Barcelona!) and it is made of two floors, the second one with an open verandah, with the typical wooden rounded chairs and the marble top tables.
This is not a fancy place, this is a bar to come get good food and drinks and mingle with the locals.
Things to do in Barcelona: Dreta de l’Eixample
On the right of Eixample are all the most famous things to do in Barcelona, including everything that is Gaudi-related.
Be left speechless at Sagrada Familia
Nothing says Barcelona like Sagrada Familia. I am sure that if you asked 10 people what to do in Barcelona more than half would mention this stunning architectural jewel.
This is because this famous Barcelona attraction is the second most visited place in the city, after Camp Nou, that is right, football trumps culture!
After decades of being unfinished, the building now has a final and committed date for opening, sometime in 2026. When it was announced, this felt unreal to me, for all my life I had been referring to it as Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece and I could not believe that we would finally see it complete.
In Catalunya, when something will never end we say it’s like Sagrada Familia. And yet we will now see it finalized.
This milestone is the result of its popularity as the financing for its construction comes, and always has come, from the ticket sales and private donations from individuals, hence the slow process. Since becoming so famous, Sagrada Familia has started to amass significantly more, to the point of having enough to be finalized.
Sagrada Familia is unique because it is managed by a non-profit and pious organization since its inception, tasked with the maintenance and care of the building.
Officially known as Expiatory Temple of the Sagrada Família, the temple is devoted to St. Joseph and its construction started in 1882. This was after two firm devotees founded the Spiritual Association of Devotees of Saint Joseph and managed to collect enough donations to purchase the current plot of land and start the construction of a crypt.
Gaudi was not involved at the beginning and only took over the role a year after when the original architect stepped down. He also changed the original Neo-Classic design for something grander and started with the construction of the Nativity façade completed in 1892, the part that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The Passion facade was completed in 1911. From 1914 Sagrada Familia was Gaudi’s only work until his death in 1926.
When Gaudi died in 1926 after being run over by a tram, Domènec Sugrañes took over and works continued through the Spanish Civil War between 1936 and 1939 and in 1955 the church conducted the first fundraiser which would be an annual fixture. A small museum opened in 1961 to talk about the building.
The temple has had many head architects throughout the decades. Since 2012, the building’s main architect has been Jordi Faulí i Oller.
In case you were not aware, Sagrada Familia has the category of a Basilica and was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010. If you are Catholic, you can attend mass here every day. Entrance to attend mass is free and there is a reserved space at the back for praying too.
Read all about this gorgeous site and how to make the most of your tour in my in-depth article on Sagrada Familia including insights, tickets & history.
Pro tip: The perspective in the picture above is taken from across a small lake in the garden that is in front of the basilica.
Organise your visit to Sagrada Familia
It is essential that you book your tickets in advance as they sell out almost every day. Tickets are valid for a specific entry time and come with different options. Below are the best.
There are lots of different kinds of tickets and tours of Sagrada Familia, below are the best ones of the lot:
- Group 1.5h guided tour with access to the tower can be booked here.
- Private 2-hour tour with access to the towers here.
- Combine Sagrada Familia with Park Guell, the two best known Gaudi masterpieces, on a fast-track guided tour, transportation included. Book it here.
- 2hr Sagrada Familia Exterior Tour and VR Experience. Book here.
- Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, La Pedrera & many more places on an 8 hour full day Barcelona tour. Book here.
- Get the best day tour from Barcelona ever combining Sagrada Familia with Montserrat. Book it here.
More information on the official website here.
Go on an Instagrammable photoshoot
Book a photographer for a half or full day and explore the best attractions while getting amazing shots for your Instagram or as memories. This is a great way to see the city and get photos with your travel partner without selfie sticks or tripods.
The photo tour takes you to Park Guell and Sagrada Familia among other places and has a very affordable price. You will get 25 photos.
Book a photo tour here.
Visit Casa Amatller
This jewel of Josep Puig i Cadafalch is right next to Casa Batllo although often overlooked. But continue reading and you will know why this is one of the best places to visit in Barcelona.
Casa Amatller reflects many architectural elements of Barcelona’s past, from the Medieval to Gothic periods. Look up to the facade’s top and you will see the shape of a Medieval turret, and branches of almond trees as the name Amatller means almond tree in Catalan.
As soon as you walk into the building you will feel like you are in the Gothic Quarter, with the arched courtyard and skylight.
The Amatller family was renowned for their production of chocolate dating back to the end of the 18th century. In 1960, with the death of the last member of the family, the company was sold to Simon Coll, another chocolate producer, while preserving the original brand that made Chocolates Amatller famous.
At the same time, the building was handed over to a foundation she created, Fundació Institut Amatller d’art Hispànic, until 2009 when it was turned into a museum.
As per the house, the family lived on the first floor while the rest was rented out. Today, on the ground floor there is a chocolate store called Faborit serving Amatller hot chocolate with churros and melindros, among other foods, sandwiches, drinks.
The store still conserves the original kitchen of the building, as a decorative element, and is where the staff lived. It also sells pretty chocolate products wrapped in the original Art Nouveau packaging that made the brand famous.
Apart from visiting the house, you can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate made with Amatller Chocolate, in the back courtyard or in the large shared tables. The house is open everyday, except Christmas Day, from 10am to 6pm.
Organise your visit to Casa Amatller
Go on a walking tour of all of Guadi’s most famous sites in barcelona which among many others includes Casa Amatller. You can book this fabulous tour 3.5hr tour here.
More information about the house here.
Go on a virtual tour of Casa Batllo
Casa Batllo is probably the second most famous of all Gaudi constructions, part of the UNESCO listing for his works and another great place to visit in Barcelona.
The house of a wealthy family of the same name has been turned into a museum you can explore with your audio guide or on a virtual reality tour that shows you how the various rooms used to look like when it was inhabited.
Originally built at the end of the 19th century, Casa Batllo was then acquired by Domenech Batllo and given to Gaudi to transform into something unique, and it is fair to say he did. Commonly referred to as the House of Bones in Catalan for its skeletal design, Casa Batllo’s green scaled roof is often explained by the traditional legend of St. George, patron saint of Catalunya, and the Dragon.
You can visit on your own with the audio guide but one of the nicest ways to imagine what it must have been like to live in such a fantastic home is by booking tickets to one of the evening concerts and activities organized during the summertime and held at the back patio.
Casa Batllo is specially lit and decorated on certain occasions. For example on the 23rd April for Saint George’s Day, the balconies are decorated with red roses as is a tradition in Catalonia to exchange books and red roses.
Tip: Casa Batllo is open all days of the year and makes for a great place to visit in Barcelona if you find yourself in the city over a public holiday when everything is closed. There is free WiFi throughout.
Book tickets to Casa Batllo ahead of time because it sells out. Queues can be long as this is one of the most popular Barcelona attractions so you should consider fast-track access. Below are the best tickets and tour options:
- Private Skip-the-Line Casa Batlló Tour can be booked here.
- Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, & Chocolate Tasting Tour is nice with those for a sweet tooth and can be booked here.
- Book a guided tour of all of Gaudi’s works – Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Park Guell and Sagrada Familia here. You will walk and take the bus between the sites.
Here is my complete guide to Casa Batllo for some insider tips.
Discover La Pedrera (Casa Mila)
La Pedrera is the second most famous Gaudi building in Passeig de Gracia. Translating as The Quarry but officially known as Casa Mila, for the family who commissioned it and lived on the first floor.
Recognizable by its undulating facade and rooftop chimneys, La Pedrera is a large structure with a functional role, despite the fact that it was designated a monument shortly after it was built in order to escape demolition for exceeding the allowed size and height of buildings on Passeig de Gracia.
The house was owned by the same family until the 1950s when it was sold to a real estate company. Not much was done to it until it received UNESCO recognition in 1984, along with 4 other monuments which were the first ones to be nominated in Spain.
In 1986, Caixa Catalunya bought the building and started renovations. It also opened it to the public. La Pedrera’s restoration finished in 1996 and the building is today a foundation with cultural spaces and a social, cultural focus.
Although La Pedrera is one of the best known Barcelona attractions, it is also still an apartment building inhabited by people who pay low rents because of an old law preventing their landlords to increase the rent or evict them.
Your ticket will give you entry to the building but make sure to get the audio guide which explains everything you see and how Gaudi envisioned the building and its conceptualization, very unique for its time.
Be sure to make it all the way up to the roof which has stunning chimneys that are so characteristic of the building and offers great views over the city down to the sea and Passeig de Gracia.
Fun fact: Did you know that Gaudi took the Mila family to court over his fees? He won and Mrs. Mila had to mortgage the house to pay him. He then proceeded to donate the money to a convent of nuns.
Get your tickets for the house in advance to avoid the queues.
- Skip the line with tickets to La Pedrera here.
- Book a 2-hour semi-guided tour which ends with a stunning light show in the rooftop and a glass and cava here.
- Book a guided tour of all of Gaudi’s works Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, Park Guell and Sagrada Familia here. You will walk and take the bus between the sites.
More information here.
Enjoy a fabulous Sunday brunch
Hotel Majestic has one of the best rooftop bars in the city, La Dolce Vitae. With fantastic views all the way from Sagrada Familia to Casa Batllo to Montjuic, DJs in the weekend and poolside vibes this is the place where beautiful people come to see and be seen.
You can also come for fabulous sunset or evening drinks with the same views, the rooftop bar is open all year round.
Hotel Majestic is the oldest hotel in the city and is family-owned. Its strong focus on proximity food makes the hotel’s main restaurant, SOLC, a great breakfast and brunch destination. It has even won awards for its amazing breakfast spread.
Dine at Barcelona’s only 3 Michelin star
It took a really long time for the city to get its first 3 Michelin stars and it eventually did not go to a Catalan chef but to established chef Martín Berasategui, who already has other Michelin-awarded restaurants in the Basque Country, for his restaurant Lasarte.
The restaurant carries the hotel’s sleek and modern vibe which so perfectly combines the modernity of Barcelona with the heritage of the building and the area it is located in, just off Passeig de Gracia.
Inside, the restaurant is bright and with touches of matte gold and the service is impeccable. Old World European elegance with white table cloths, a selection of homemade crunchy bread and dishes that are so beautiful they look like paintings. Of course, the wine list is as thick as an encyclopedia.
For a special occasion, Lasarte will not disappoint.
Tip: If you can’t get a table, arrive at 2,30pm and try your luck, the restaurant only takes one reservation per table so if another guest leaves by 2,30 you might be lucky, this is not uncommon because foreigners eat early whereas Spanish eat late so the kitchen stays open till 3pm.
Men are expected to wear long trousers and collared shirts even in summer. Open toe shoes are not allowed either. If you are stuck, there are lots of shops nearby selling proper attire, like Lacoste just a block down from the restaurant (yes, it happened to us).
More information here.
Be wowed with a molecular experience
Also on Passeig de Gracia, you can find my second favorite restaurant in Barcelona, Disfrutar, one which I revisit every time I am in the city. Other restaurants I always recommend include Gaig and ABaC.
Disfrutar is fun, casual and it makes for a great family or friend meet-up, plus it will always surprise you with innovative takes on the childhood memories of every Catalan. Molecular cuisine does not have to be a stuck-up, snobbish affair and Disfrutar proves it.
The restaurant was started by three disciples of elBulli and only serves three set menus with lots of small dishes, some as small as a bite, which are served for the whole table. It is affordable for a restaurant of this caliber and for the attention to detail that goes into each element, and it is playful.
Some of the dishes don’t look like food, others use the principles of molecular cuisine to surprise your palate, either way, you are sure to have a good time. It also helps that the dining room is incredibly bright and there is a small courtyard to enjoy coffee or dessert.
Don’t take my word for it, Disfrutar is included in the World’s Best 50 Restaurants and has 2 Michelin stars. Luckily, you won’t have to book a year ahead and wait until midnight to get a slot like at Albert Adria’s Tickets, here you can simply book with a bit of notice and get a table.
More information here.
Have a meal in beautiful surroundings
Yes, there is a lot of food and wine in the city and many of the best things to do in Barcelona are food related. I wanted to highlight El Nacional because of the building and the choice of 4 restaurants and bars which cater to everyone.
You can find meat, fish, tapas and paella and a deli all under the cast iron roof of an 1889 building tucked away at the end of a narrow alley.
Since the Spanish Civil War ended, the building was a garage. When I was a kid, the space was occupied by lots of different kinds of businesses, including a seasonal outlet, until El nacional opened in 2014.
More information here.
Things to do in Barcelona: Gracia
Gracia was one of the original villages around Barcelona that, when the city expanded, merged into today’s Barcelona.
For the locals who live here, Gracia still maintains the neighbourhood feel with corner stores, hole-in-the-wall bodegues selling wine by the liter and the old ladies dragging their grocery carts.
See Gaudi’s first work, Casa Vicens
This incredibly colorful house with a mix and match of color patterns and materials is the latest Modernist building to open in Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood and Gaudi’s first work constructed between 1883 and 1885.
Designed as a summer garden house for the Vincens family, the building was then extended and a garden added last. Because of its colors and the rooftop dome, the building reminded me of Dali’s Museum in Girona.
Casa Vicens was added to Gaudi’s UNESCO World Heritage listings in 2005 and reopened in 2019 as a museum about the house and an exhibition area for temporary exhibitions. There is also a cafe.
Get your tickets for the house in advance to avoid the queues.
More information here.
Visit Barcelona’s fairytale house
Update: Unfortunately the interior of La Casa de les Punxes is no longer able to visit, but you can still admire it from the outside.
Designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and built in 1905, Casa de les Punxes is a very interesting place to visit in Barcelona and a fine example of Modernist architecture with its pointy roofs and trencadis tiles that also combines fairytale elements.
Inspired by Wagner and intended to house the three daughters of the Terrades family in separate houses, the project is unusual to say the least while still located in the middle of the Golden Square.
Here is my complete guide to Casa de les Punxes for in depth information.
Have panoramic views from Barcelona’s most expensive house
Casa Fuster opened as a luxury hotel in 2004 in a heritage building from 1911 that was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. At the time, it was the city’s most expensive building because of its white marble facade.
Because of the expense of its construction, the family did not live in it for long. In 1962, the electricity company ENHER bought it and after a failed attempt at demolishing it, committed to its conservation.
Casa Fuster has two noteworthy venues, the stunning Cafe Vienes on the ground floor, among the marble columns where I had my interview in December 2005 for the job in Dubai that took me here, and the Jazz Bar which has live Jazz music on Thursdays.
Cafe Vienes is worth a coffee if you are in the area because it gives you access to the building and will also transport you back to the times when it was constructed.
Tip: Casa Fuster’s rooftop terrace Mirador Blue is open from 12pm to 8pm and offers views all the way to the sea. Read my article of the best rooftop terraces in Barcelona for more inspiration.
More information here.
Visit an air raid shelter
Barcelona has three air raid shelters still standing from the 1,300 that were built during the Civil War. The one in Gracia is one of the largest and easiest to visit. Gracia was a major industrial center of Barcelona at the time so it was a target of aerial attacks.
Discovered in 1992, the shelter could host 200 people 12m underground and has a network of tunnels that have been perfectly preserved.
The shelter is now open to visitors on Sunday at 11am with guided tours offered by Taller d’Història de Gràcia. Tours are usually in Catalan but are also in Spanish on the 2nd Sunday of the month and can be requested in English.
You need to register for the visit by email.
Things to do in Barcelona: Barceloneta and Marina
Barcelona is a city facing the sea. In fact, it’s one of the few large cities in Europe with access to the sea that has long stretches of beach, and has a long maritime history.
When I was a kid, we did not pay much attention to it, we would take the train or car and head to other coastal towns like Sitges. But since the 1992 Olympic Games, the beachfront was developed and the city’s love affair with the beach resumed.
There are two sea facing neighbourhoods, the original fishermen’s village of Barceloneta and the new Marina.
Climb up to Columbus’s head
Set on the edge between La Rambla and the port, Columbus Monument and Viewpoint was erected in 1888 here because Columbus decided to go back to Barcelona after the discovery of America.
You can go in and up the 51m to the viewpoint platform from where you can see the port and La Rambla. In case you were wondering, Columbus’ finger is pointing to the Americas.
Tip: There are tours with wine tasting at the ground floor wine shop.
Maritime Museum of Barcelona
Housed in the Gothic-style Royal Shipyard built in the 14th century, the Maritime Museum of Barcelona tells of a rich heritage and tradition in ship construction. Located right by the port, the shipyard has exhibits, artifacts and documentation and the Santa Eulalia boat is also available for visits.
Tip: Entrance to the museum is free on Sundays after 3pm which is great news because the Maremagnum area nearby is also open on Sunday so you can make it a day by the sea.
Learn about Catalan history
As you go down this list of things to do in Barcelona, you will learn some historical facts and moments from Catalan’s history. However, if you want to learn about Catalonia, you should visit the Museum of National History of Catalonia down by the port.
The museum opened with the intention of promoting Catalan culture, history and heritage in 1996 in what used to be the Sea Palace, a building from 1881 that housed the trading warehouses.
The museum is closed on public holidays and closes at (Spanish) lunchtime on Sundays.
Tip: There is a rooftop terrace with views over the whole port and a restaurant attached to it. There is a mobile audio guide you can use for a self-guided tour.
Buy tickets to the museum and the viewing platform at the rooftop here.
More information here.
Walk over water
Most shopping in Barcelona is closed on Sunday by law. This is to protect small businesses. However, there are special zones which are allowed to open. These are directly related to tourism and Maremagnum is one of them because of its location by the ferry terminal.
The Maremagnum is an entertainment spot, with several floors of shopping, restaurants, bars and clubs. It is quite popular with tourists at night too.
But I would not suggest you go here for the shopping specifically, but because the entire area is quite nice. You can walk over water on the wooden boardwalks of the Rambla de Mar, designed by Albert Viaplana and Helio Piñón in 1994, and see fishing boats and yachts.
More information here.
Go on a helicopter ride
What better way to explore all the best things to do in Barcelona than by getting a bird’s eye view of the city and a sense for where everything is?
There are several helicopter rides available, but perhaps the best way to have a bit of everything is on a tour that combines sailing with a helicopter ride.
- Ferrari Driving & Helicopter Experience: take a 10-min helicopter ride along the coast and city, along with a 20-minute guided Ferrari driving experience. Book it here.
- Sailing and helicopter ride: You will enjoy a 1.5h sailing along the coast with a drink and then hop on a helicopter for a 5-min ride. Book it here.
Take to the high seas
Nothing says Barcelona like some time spent on a boat at sea. As one of the few European cities by the sea, Barcelona enjoys its breeze and oceanic smell. Taking a sailing trip will give you a fantastic perspective on the city.
Apart from the combos above, there are also some sailing-only experiences which are fantastic in the summer when the weather is nice.
- A midday affordable sailing catamaran trip where you can buy drinks onboard. Book it here.
- Premium sailing catamaran trip with activities (swimming, paddleboard, etc.), brunch and non-alcoholic drinks included. Book it here.
- Join a group sunset sailing cruise that can be booked here.
Go to the beach
Barcelona is one of the few European cities with direct access to the sea and the beach, in fact, it is the only major capital directly on the shore.
But before the Olympic Games, the city did not really have a sea-facing culture and the sea was viewed more as a provider of fish and produce than a place to go for relaxation or summer vibes. If you wanted to go to the beach, you would take the train up or down the coast.
This all changed when the seafront was fully renovated and the Olympic village was built along what is today Barceloneta and the Marina area, a completely new development.
Today, visitors to the city see the beach as a bonus and as one of the top things to do in Barcelona in the summertime to complement the cultural and food offer. You can visit some museums in the morning and spend the long afternoons and evenings on the sand as the sun sets really late (close to 10pm in the summer).
The most popular beaches are the Barceloneta and Marina, the stretch that starts by the port and goes all the way to Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts. This part has lots of restaurants and chiringuitos (beach huts) and gets very crowded in July and August.
Bring a towel and make sure that you can take all your belongings with you when you go to the water, things do disappear if left unattended. Or take turns to bathe.
See the golden fish
This golden steel goldfish structure by the beach between the two towers in the Marina area is an icon of Barcelona’s Olympic Games.
Designed by Frank Gehry, Peix which means fish in Catalan, seems to be floating and reflects the light in a way that it shines. If you walk around the area, look up and spot this symbol of modern Barcelona.
Things to do in Barcelona: All the rest
The city is very spread out so there are lots of things to do in Barcelona that are not in the usual tourist spots and which I grouped together in the section below.
If you plan to visit some of them, and you will, you should plan properly because some of these take time to reach.
Be marvelled at Park Guell
Park Guell has to be one of the most photographed places in Barcelona after Sagrada Familia.
Park Guell is one of gaudi’s most famous constructions. Built for his main sponsor, the Guell family, as their home and as a real estate development that was intended to accommodate several families, it was never finished.
This park is located on the hills above Barcelona and has several sections worth checking out. The famous balcony with undulating benches is covered in trencadis mosaic and has views over the city. It is part of the ticketed area but there are spaces that are free of charge and accessible, including the famous dragon statue at the entrance.
The popularity of this UNESCO-listed site has increased so much that since 2013 there is an entry fee and time slot to access the most popular parts of the park, only neighbours living in the area have free and unrestricted access.
Be aware that the tickets give you access for 30min to the restricted area only and that there are 400 people in each 30min slot, that is a lot of people for a small space, so you get in, take your photos and get out. You can then explore the rest of the park.
Tip: Try to come early in the morning (the park opens at 8,30am) rather than in the evening to avoid crowds. Sunset is the most popular time and the summer months see a crazy influx of visitors. When the park is full you may not be able to access some of the buildings which have limited capacity.
Booking your tickets ahead of time is essential because the slots get sold out. The park’s website has a handy ticket availability section that shows how many free slots there are et each time and can be useful to plan when to come (and avoid the crowds).
I would recommend you join one of the tours that includes the park to facilitate your visit and be most efficient, Park Guell is located quite far from the city center so tours with transport are convenient. Alternatively, you can also buy your tickets at the self-service machines on Lesseps and Vallcarca Metro stations or online.
Book a skip-the-line guided tour of Park Guell here for the best experience.
More information here.
Watch a game at Camp Nou
Camp Nou is Barcelona’s most visited attraction. That is right, the football stadium, one of the largest in the world, is the most popular place to visit in Barcelona.
I would find it quite strange, in a city of so much culture and heritage, if it wasn’t because I am a huge Barca fan and we used to go to the stadium every other weekend when I was a kid as my father has seats. I am also a fierce Catalan and Barca is one of the strongest parts of our identity.
Barca is more than just a club, as the club’s slogan first coined in 1968 indicates, and is a real symbol of Catalonia, our most famous export and one of the most popular football teams in the world. With over 144,000 members, it should come as no surprise that visiting is one of most tourists’ favorite things to do in Barcelona.
The club’s history dates back to 1898 and has always been strongly linked to Barcelona and Catalonia. Recognising its role, Franco changed the club’s shield and removed the Catalan flag from it. During the oppressive dictatorship, Barca’s stadium, then in les Corts, was a space where Catalans could enjoy limited freedom.
Did you know that Barca is a foundation and it is owned by all the members?
Every single one of them has a casting vote in the elections and decisions are made democratically. Barca is not a business and, as such, it does not intend to make money to pay back its shareholders.
Ideally, I would recommend you visit the stadium and museum and also watch a game. The museum will give you background information about the club’s importance and significance, Barca is not just football, Barca is Catalonia and it means a lot more to any Catalan.
This is where you can see all of Barca’s championship trophies and learn more about its history, 130 years of it. The museum offers a variety of options, from a simple entry ticket to VIP tours with backstage access and the chance of stepping on the grass.
On match days there are exclusive tours with restricted access to just very few people and backstage access to the changing rooms and the press room as it gets ready to host the journalists and the players.
Getting your hands on tickets for a game, especially if it is a big one, can be hard, and there are only two games a month played at home. So if you are around during a game but can’t get tickets, your next best bet is to go to a local bar and watch it with the locals.
Tip: There is a virtual reality option where you get to experience what it’s like to be on the grass with the stadium full, and I can tell you, it’s breathtaking to see the stadium full with close to 100,000 people cheering and chanting.
You can buy tickets for the matches on Barca’s website including premium VIP tickets with food and access to the boxes, some of them are really close to the players.
Alternatively, these are the best tours of the stadium:
- Tickets to the stadium, the museum and the audio guide can be booked here.
- Book a ticket to the stadium and the museum with one way transfer to Camp Nou, snacks and a drink after the visit at the bar in the stadium here.
I have written a complete guide for the Camp Nou tour after visiting, so you can get insider tips and loads of information.
See the views from the Bunkers del Carmel
The name of this place is definitely misleading as there aren’t, and never have been, any bunkers. Instead, the Turo de la Rovira, as this hill is actually known as, was the location of the Republican anti-aircraft guns during the Spanish Civil War.
The Spanish Civil War, like all wars, had two sides: the Fascist and Monarchic side of Franco, which had the support of Italy and Germany, and the Republican side which was defending the status quo situation.
That’s right, one of the longest monarchies in Europe had a brief republican period that ended with the Civil War.
Catalonia was mostly Republican and had enjoyed growth and prosperity between 1932 and 1936. However, Franco’s side won the war and was followed by a dictatorship period that lasted 40 years until Franco’s death in 1975.
But back to the bunkers. Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular, were one of the last parts of Spain to fall during the Civil War and was considered the capital city of the Republic and the location for the three main centers of government.
The fascist side, led by Italian and German fighter jets, focused on the city’s destruction throughout the war and used in Barcelona, a tactic that was then replicated during WWII: blanket bombings.
As the city’s defence became critical to the war, the Republican side organised a network of air shelters and anti-aircraft guns in the hills around the city including Montjuic and Turo de la Rovira. Here, there were four 105mm Vicker guns.
When the Republican Army was defeated, in January 1939 at the end of the war, the guns were disarmed but they were not removed immediately.
In the decades that passed, the area became a shanty town, with precarious tents and huts built by poor families using the constructions as shelter first. The guns, known as canons in Catalan, gave name to the area. The shanty town was dismantled in 1990 prior to the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.
In 2011, the MUHBA installed exhibits and placards that facilitate the visit and has started to organise guided tours to the museum part which is open only on Wednesday from 10am to 2pm and on weekends from 10am to 3pm.
The area has become increasingly popular with locals and visitors because of the panoramic views it offers on the city from the balcony construction. The anti-aircraft area is open to the public 24/7, for now at least, things could change if floods alter the peace and quiet of the area.
Tip: As a non-touristic part of Barcelona, life here is removed from the throngs of tourists that fill La Rambla and locals have been protesting the influx of visitors that come just for the Instagram photo, blocking streets and disturbing day to day life. Please be mindful that this is a regular neighbourhood and don’t invade their personal space or block the roads.
Be a child at Tibidabo
Before the arrival of Port Aventura and other amusement parks and recreation centers (Euro Disney in Paris opened much later), Tibidabo was the place you would come as a kid for a day of fun.
Opened in 1901 on the mountain of the same name which means “I’ll give you” in Latin, Tibidabo is almost 120 years old, making it one of the oldest parks in the world, the second in Europe after the one in Denmark.
I still remember coming here on Sundays with my parents when I was really little and enjoying the fun rides with completely breathtaking views of Barcelona.
Come for the historical Talaia (viewpoint) which was one of the most impressive rides at the time already leveraging the views of the city with a suspended car hanging over the cliffside (I was damn scared to go on it as a child!), of the plane ride which was a replica of the original plane that first flew from Madrid to Barcelona, or the Hall of Mirrors.
Don’t miss the chance to jump on the aerial tram which was the first major attraction to open and it has amazing views, or the colorful and nostalgic merry go round.
For vintage lovers, check out the Museum of Automation which Walt Disney tried to buy in the 1950s and includes automations that now may seem silly but are still charming, like the fortune-telling gypsy.
While Tibidabo has gone through ups and downs losing its soul and even going bankrupt on the anniversary of its opening in 1999, it returned in 2002 by the hands of the local City Council with a heavy dose of nostalgia for those who remember it from the time when there was no internet and no mobile phones.
Apart from enjoying the rides (and don’t expect massive roller coasters, here it’s all about old-fashioned traditional rides), Tibidabo has a stunning Temple of the Sacred Heart church and killer views of the city from many of its rides, totally worth it even if just for the Instagram shot.
Tip: Take the blue tram from Plaça Doctor Andreu to go up, it was the first in the country and it lasts 7 min to cover the 250m height. Opening times vary by month find out here.
There is a separate panoramic area which has a few stalls selling food, snacks and drinks to enjoy the view and some of the oldest attractions. You can get access to the whole park or pay per attraction.
Touch the sky at the Torre de Collserola
On Weekends from 12pm to 2pm the telecommunications Torre de Collserola tower is open to the public for guided tours (at 12pm and 12,30pm) or self-guided tours (from 1pm to 2pm).
The tower is the highest point in the city and provides 360 degree views of Barcelona all the way to the sea and the mountains around it from the viewing floor at 560m above sea level.
Tip: Tickets for the self-guided visit can be purchased directly at the tower whereas half of the tickets for the tours are available online up to the day before and the other half are for sale at the tower. Only 20 people are allowed up at a time, so I highly recommend you book ahead, it’s a long way to go to be booked up.
Alternatively, book a guided 4-hour hike around Collserola to the Norman Foster Tower. Book here.
Get close to Heaven
The Neo-Gothic Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was conceived in 1886 as a retreat for Salesian monks and was first a small church that expanded to today’s temple in 1961. Its intricate facade has become a symbol of the Tibidabo Mountain.
The temple’s construction was motivated by the rumours of a possible Protestant temple or casino-hotel in the space to which a group of local Catholic men decided to put an end by buying the land and ceding it to Juan Bosco who decided to build a temple to the Sacred Heart of Jesus instead, following similar temples in Paris, Marseille and Rome.
Going up to the top of the basilica (on a lift) is one of the best things to do in Barcelona and possible for a small fee from 11am to 5,45pm daily. There is a viewing platform in front of the main entrance that also provides great views.
More information here.
Discover a stunning hospital
The Hospital of de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is Lluís Domènech i Montaner masterpiece and was one of the first UNESCO sites to be listed in Barcelona in 1997. The impressive 27 buildings located in a huge complex will leave you speechless.
The hospital was financed by a businessman who, upon his death, stated in his will that his estate be used to build a larger hospital in honor of Saint Paul that would replace the aging and overwhelmed Holy Cross Hospital in Barcelona’s city center.
The project was given to Domènech i Montaner and the hospital opened its doors in 1902 as the Hospital of de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and served as a healthcare institution all the way until 2009 when a modern building was constructed. I have friends who worked in the stunning Modernist buildings as doctors.
When the buildings ceased to operate as healthcare institutions they underwent a massive restoration process and today can be visited independently or as part of a guided tour.
Tip: There are events and concerts organised throughout the year.
The complex is open from 9:30am to either 5:30pm in winter or 7pm in summer. Guided tours are offered on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and the first Sunday of the month entry is free (but there are no guided tours).
More information about the house here.
See primary-colored art at Fundacio Miro
If you walk down La Rambla you will probably step on one of Miro’s most well known pieces, Pla de l’Os, without even realising it, it’s a floor mosaic about half-way down La Rambla in his characteristic and recognisable yellow-red-blue primary color scheme.
Artist Joan Miro is difficult to classify as he did not follow a specific artistic movement but instead made his own. His work is however quite easy to recognise because of the use of primary colors and undulating strokes in black.
Miro created his own Foundation and museum in Montjuic mountain that he opened in 1975 to promote contemporary art and display his works. Because he designed his own museum and collaborated with the architect to design the building, they knew how to make the most of the works on display.
Even if you are not a fan of his art, the building is well worth it on its own and a fascinating place to visit in Barcelona.
Tip: Don’t miss the 1979 Tapis de la Fundacio tapestry which measures 7.5 sq m and weighs a ton.
There are a lot of his works around the city but the museum has the most. The museum is open daily except Mondays. Guided tours are offered in Catalan, Spanish and English at specific times.
Get your skip the line tickets for Fundacio Miro here.
More information here.
Learn about Medieval art at MNAC
Located in the Palau Nacional de Montjuic, built for the 1929 World Exposition, the Museum of National Art of Catalonia is one of the best places to visit in Barcelona, especially if you are interested in Romanesque art because it has what is possibly the best collection in the world.
Displaying art pieces from all across Catalonia’s heritage, from palaces to churches, to preserve them in the safety of a Museum, the MNAC has amassed a huge collection.
It holds most of Catalonia’s art that is not in private hands from Medieval times (Romanesque, Gothic) to Renaissance, Baroque and even Modernism. It also displays art pieces from Andorra’s Romanesque churches and works from Spanish artists like Velazquez.
Tip: The museum is huge and you should make sure to use the mobile guide or the audio guide available to make the most of your visit. If you don’t have a lot of time, it plans to scan the various sections and plan your visit by focusing on the area you enjoy the most.
The museum’s location, on top of Montjuic’s hill, affords fantastic views of the city and Placa Espanya. There is a viewpoint (chargeable access) and restaurant at the top with even better views.
Tip: Entry is free on Saturday from 3pm (you will still have 3h to visit) and on the first Sunday of the month.
Get your tickets to the MNAC with access to the viewpoint here.
Combine a museum pass with transportation with the Barcelona Card to get free access to MNAC and other Barcelona attractions PLUS free unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information here.
See a real castle in Montjuic
Montjuic mountain has been the location of many civilisations, from the Ibers between the 7th and 6th centuries BC to the Romans from the 2nd century BC to the 6th century AD. It was not until the World Exposition in 1929 that excavations uncovered these remains.
The mountain was more or less uninhabited and unused until the 17th century when a small fortress and watch tower were built as defense mechanisms for the city. A century later, after the War of Succession, the Spanish government decided to build a stronger fortress to watch the city, and the Montjuic Castle we see today was born in 1779.
The castle has had a sombre past ever since with the construction of a prison and a spot where those sentenced to death by the central government war tribunals were shot.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, the Catalan President Lluis Companys raised the Catalan flag and the castle assumed a political role and continued to be a military prison where the Republican side incarcerated and tried traitors and those on the Fascist side.
When the national forces entered Barcelona, they conquered the castle and used it as a prison for the Republican prisoners. This is where the war tribunals were held again and where those sentenced were executed, among which Lluis Companys himself who had escaped to a German-occupied France and was extradited back to Spain.
This event has marked the castle’s history and is the location of commemorative events every year for the anniversary of his death.
The castle was turned into a military museum in 1963 under Franco’s supervision and it eventually returned to the city in 2007 after which its military role ceased and the castle was turned into a cultural center. The Catalan flag was raised once again in 2011.
Leaving its sombe and symbolic past, the castle is a great place to get 360 degree views of Barcelona, the perspective towards the city and the port is incredible.
Tip: Entry is free on Sunday after 3pm and every first Sunday of the month all day.
There are guided tours or you can visit the castle independently. If you go on a guided tour you will have access to certain parts that are closed off to the general public, like the prisoner’s cells which are covered with graffiti made by the prisoners.
Tours in English are offered daily at 11am and at 3pm and on weekends from March to December there are family-friendly (5-16 years old) treasure hunts around the complex (no need to book the hunt).
Tip: Don’t miss the chance to spot the statue to the Meter, the measurement was defined in the castle by Pierre-André Méchain.
Book your tickets to the Montjuic Castle with cable car and an e-bike tour with guide here. Take a guided segway tour for less physical strain here. Or combine an old Barcelona city center tour with Montjuic Cable car tickets, funicular tickets and a visit to the castle here.
More information about the castle here.
Fly above Barcelona on the Montjuic cable car
The Teleferic de Montjuic, as the cable car connecting the port with the Montjuic mountain is called, makes a few stops on the way and is a great way to appreciate the city from a different angle.
But on top of enjoying the ride, one of the best things to do in Barcelona is enjoying its seaside location and this part of the city that is usually off-limits for the regular tourist. I am referring to the gardens and pit stops along the way.
The cable car starts at the tower that is right by the port, behind Maremagnum, and goes all the way to the Montjuic Castle. On the ride up, it makes no stops, but on the way down you can get off at any of the stops and wander around or continue all the way.
The cable car is open from 10am to 7pm, 8pm or 10pm depending on the time of the year. Book a walking tour with Montjuic Castle & Cable Car ride here.
More information here.
Travel through Spain without leaving Barcelona
This replica of Spain’s 117 best known landmarks built for the 1929 World Exposition by Josep Puig i Cadafalch became so popular that it was preserved. Its likeness to the real landmarks is such that they have been used as the backdrop for movies such as Perfume.
Poble Espanyol is the destination for parties, summer concerts and the craziest New Year’s Eve party in Barcelona. If you visit, make sure to get an audio guide to better learn about the buildings or book a guided tour.
Tip: Make sure to check the Fran Daurel Museum while there and, if you are visiting with children, participate in the treasure hunt.
Book your skip-the-line tickets for Poble Espanyol with access to the fran Daurel Museum and the live shows here.
More information here.
The Barcelona Pavilion
The Barcelona Pavilion in Montjuic Mountain was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich for Germany during the 1929 World Exposition and has become an emblematic tourist attraction in Barcelona and one of the most representative pieces of Modern Art.
The pair also designed a metal and leather chair called Barcelona that is still being manufactured today, my mother has one of them at home, and which is used throughout the pavilion.
The building held the reception ceremony by King Alfonso XIII and was dismantled in 1930. However, because of its importance, the local City Council decided to look into reconstructing it again and it became a reality in 1986.
The Barcelona Pavilion is truly incredible. Made of several kinds of marble, metal and glass, its Modern architectural style is in stark contrast with the rest of the places to visit in Barcelona, just for that and for its impressive design, it is worth a visit.
The Pavilion is open from 10am till 6pm from December to February or 8pm for the rest of the year.
More information here.
See a Monastery in the city
I bet when you started to read this list of the best things to do in Barcelona you did not expect the city to have a monastery.
Standing on the top part of the city, in Pedralbes neighbourhood, the Gothic Pedralbes Monastery was built by Queen Elisenda de Montcada in 1327 and occupied by the Poor Clare Order until 1975, that is six and a half centuries.
In 1949 the monastery opened to the public and in 1975 a new convent was built to relocate the Poor Clare nuns. The monastery was turned into a museum and opened in 1983 and major restoration work was completed in 2005.
Highlights include the Medieval gardens with medicinal herbs and the spansive cloisters that are reminiscent of Poblet Monastery.
Tip: Look for Elisenda’s tomb which on one side shows here as a Queen and the other as a penitent widower. Entry is free on the first Sunday of the month and on other Sundays after 3pm. The monastery is quite far from the city and it will take you over an hour to get there on public transportation, consider taking a taxi.
Get the Barcelona Card to get free access to Monestir de Pedralbes and many other Barcelona attractions and museums PLUS free unlimited transport within the city. Choose your length of trip below. Buy the Barcelona card for 3, 4 or 5 days here.
More information here.
Float over the port
The Teleferico de Barcelona is another cable car that connects three of the towers above the port and provides amazing views of the city from a different perspective. From here you can see the beach and La Rambla and have an aerial perspective over Barceloneta and the Barcelona port.
More information here.
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