Catalonia’s vibrant capital, Barcelona is a stunning seaside city that flaunts her beauty and sunny lifestyle. Gorgeous scenery, breathtaking architecture, and superb cultural attractions make for an alluring destination. Of course, the balmy Mediterranean climate adds to the charm.
Barcelona has an atmospheric medieval quarter, the Barri Gòtic, with an almost magical old-world ambience, but it’s even more famous for its Modernist architecture. Antoni Gaudí left a lasting mark on Barcelona with his avant-garde Surrealist buildings; several are UNESCO listed.
After all the sightseeing, tourists will want to simply relax and soak up the city’s joyous vibe. Visitors will enjoy strolling down La Rambla, where the locals hang out; sunbathing at the sandy beaches near the harbor; and lingering over leisurely meals on outdoor terraces.
One of the best ways to discover Barcelona is by wandering aimlessly and stumbling upon hidden side streets with small cafés or stopping to relax at peaceful town squares, where street musicians strum melodies on Spanish guitars. Delightful surprises abound at every turn.
Learn about the best places to visit and things to do with our list of the top attractions in Barcelona.
1. Basílica de la Sagrada Família
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família stands in the northern part of the city, dominating its surroundings with its 18 spindly towers soaring high above all the other buildings. One of Europe’s most unconventional churches, this amazing monument is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
he renowned Catalan architect of modern times, Antoni Gaudí was commissioned in 1883 to design this Basilica as a neo-Gothic church. But instead of following the plans, he created a signature example of his famous surrealistic Art Nouveau architecture. He had no firm ideas in mind, preferring to alter and add to the plans as work progressed.
Although Gaudí had originally forecast between 10 and fifteen years, the church was never completed during his lifetime. Since 1926, several other architects have continued work on the Basilica based on Gaudí’s plans. In 2010, the main nave was completed, and the Basilica was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI (although construction is still ongoing and expected to be completed by 2026).
Visitors are first struck by the lavish exterior with its expressive Nativity facade depicting the birth of Jesus, and the evocative Passion facade that illustrates the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Even though the Basilica is unfinished, tourists may visit the interior to admire the awe-inspiring sacred space and its dazzling artworks. The main nave of the sanctuary is an immense space of 90 meters long by 60 meters high. The ceiling sparkles with opulent decorative details, and colorful stained-glass windows allow ethereal light to flow in.
The apse features an unusual Crucifix rendered as a canopy with lanterns. The overall effect is jaw-dropping. Gaudí best captured the essence of his architectural masterpiece when he described it as “a work that is in the hands of God and the will of the people.”
The Basilica of the Sacred Family is also known in Spanish by its official name: Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.
Address: 401 Carrer de Mallorca, Barcelona
2. Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter)
For 2,000 years, the Gothic Quarter has been the spiritual and secular center of the city. Relics of ancient Roman buildings are still found here, but the Middle Ages are best represented by the historic monuments packed into this quarter.
Mainly built between the 13th and 15th centuries, the Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia is the heart of the Gothic Quarter. Surrounding the cathedral is a maze of cobblestone streets and alleyways.
Tourists will enjoy wandering the narrow pedestrian lanes, and stopping to discover the neighborhood’s quaint boutiques and restaurants. By getting lost here, visitors become immersed in the magical ambience of a traffic-free medieval world.
Picturesque squares are enlivened by the sounds of people chatting and laughing or the strumming of Spanish classical guitar. Children often play a pickup game of soccer in the Gothic Quarter’s hidden corners, and local residents socialize at the sidewalk terraces of cafés that are tucked away in courtyards.
3. Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
In the Eixample district off the elegant boulevard of Passeig de Gràcia, the UNESCO-listed Casa Milà is Antoni Gaudí’s most famous secular building. Casa Milà is also affectionately known as “La Pedrera,” which translates to “The Stone Quarry” because the building resembles an open quarry.
Built between 1906 and 1912, this flamboyant avant-garde dwelling looks more like a sculpture than a functional building. Every line of the natural stone facade is curved, with rounded windows and metal balcony railings twining around in plant-like shapes. Even the roof has an undulating form, complemented by the decorative chimneys.
The entrance to the building is on the Carrer de Provença, through a remarkable wrought-iron gate that leads to an inner courtyard. The building is supported by ribbed arches that were designed for load-bearing purposes, a feature that reveals Gaudí’s genius as a structural engineer.
Visitors may walk around the rooftop terrace for an up-close look at the strangely shaped mosaic-adorned chimneys. The roof area also rewards visitors with sensational views across the city, with the outlook extending to the Basílica de la Sagrada Família in the distance.
Casa Milà houses the Fundació Catalunya cultural center that organizes events (such as lectures, dance performances, and art exhibitions) throughout the year. The monument is open to the public daily for self-guided visits, and audio guides are available. Guided tours are available on various themes, including a nighttime experience with a light show, music, and refreshments.
Well designed to welcome tourists, Casa Milà has boutiques and a stylish restaurant on the building’s mezzanine, Cafè de la Pedrera, which offers gourmet Catalan cuisine for lunch and dinner. This restaurant also serves brunch and tapas.
Address: 261-265 Carrer de Provença, Barcelona
4. La Rambla: Barcelona’s Social Hub
The heart of Barcelona’s social life is found on La Rambla, a wide tree-shaded avenue that divides the Old Town into two parts. La Rambla stretches from the Plaça de Catalunya, where the beautiful Romanesque 12th-century Convent of Santa Anna stands, all the way down to the port.
This street features expansive pedestrian sidewalks, lined with shops, restaurants, and outdoor cafés, making it one of the most popular hangouts in the city.
During the day, many locals are found here doing their everyday shopping at the Mercat de la Boqueria. At night, groups of friends and families take their evening paseo (stroll) on La Rambla to enjoy the fresh air and lively ambience. On some days, onlookers might be treated to live music, a mime show, or other impromptu street performances.
On its northeast side, La Rambla borders the Barri Gòtic, and halfway down the avenue is the Plaça Reial, a lovely palm-fringed square enclosed by historic houses. These elegant buildings have arcades filled with shops, cafés, and restaurants. At the center is the Fountain of the Three Graces and a pair of street lamps designed by Antoni Gaudí featuring winged dragons.
Another important monument on La Rambla (number 3-5) is the UNESCO-listed Palau Güell, an ostentatious mansion designed in 1886 by Antoni Gaudí. The owner, Eusebi Güell, was a great patron of the arts, and the building was constructed with a large domed hall intended for poetry readings and private concerts. Open to the public for visits, the building is adorned with sumptuous décor, valuable textiles, and handcrafted furniture created by Gaudí.
5. Bogatell Beach
One of the best beaches of Spain is found within the city limits of Barcelona. Locals flock to Bogatell Beach to sunbathe, socialize, relax, play volleyball, or go windsurfing. Other things to do include kitesurfing and kayaking.
The 600-meter-long beach features a sandy shoreline and excellent amenities: restrooms, showers, parking, a beachfront promenade, snack bars, and ice-cream shops. There are also multiple lifeguard towers to ensure beach safety.
Address: Sant Martí District, Barcelona
6. Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music)
Built between 1905 and 1908 as a concert hall for the choral society Orfeó Català, the Palau de la Música Catalana was designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, in the Catalan Modernist style. The UNESCO-listed building exemplifies an ornate Art Nouveau decorative style. The facade is a profusion of intricate mosaics, sculptural elements, and exquisite ironwork.
The interior décor is just as colorful and fanciful within the Concert Auditorium. Adorned with Art Nouveau floral patterns and fruit motifs, this enchanting auditorium provides a marvelous setting for musical performances. The concert hall, which seats about 2,200 people, is the only auditorium in Europe illuminated during daylight hours entirely by natural light.
Eye-catching artworks cover every square inch of the Concert Auditorium’s walls and ceiling. The walls on two sides consist primarily of stained-glass panes. The ceiling features an enormous skylight of stained glass designed by Antoni Rigalt whose centerpiece is an inverted dome in shades of gold surrounded by blue that suggests the sun and the sky. Elaborate sculptures of muses frame the concert stage.
A program of evening music performances (including pop music, Spanish guitar, flamenco, jazz, opera, and classical music) is held at the Palau de la Música Catalana throughout the year.
It is possible to see the interior of the Palau de la Música Catalana outside of concert performances by taking a guided tour.
The Palau de la Música Catalana has a gift shop and a café-restaurant, the Cafè Palau, which serves breakfast, lunch, and afternoon refreshments in a cozy indoor space or on a pleasant outdoor patio.
Address: 4-6 Calle Palau de la Música, Barcelona
7. Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia
At the center of the Gothic Quarter on the Monte Tabor is the Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia). This medieval cathedral is a masterpiece of Catalan Gothic architecture with an ornately sculpted facade.
The sanctuary contains magnificent works of art, including the Altarpiece of the Transfiguration by Bernat Martorell, as well as other medieval altarpieces and a remarkable gilded, jewel-encrusted monstrance. The cathedral also has an exquisite Gothic choir and keystones that date to the 14th and 15th centuries.
Surprising many visitors, the cathedral’s cloister and garden shelter 13 live geese that symbolize the martyrdom of Saint Eulalia. The cloister’s pond provides habitat for the geese.
The Cathedral Museum displays a collection of medieval paintings. The painting of La Pieta by Bartolomé Bermejo is particularly noteworthy.
Mass is celebrated at the Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia several times daily. Services are held in Spanish or Catalan; there is at least one Spanish-language Mass every day.
Address: Plaça de la Seu, Barcelona
8. Parc Güell: Gaudí’s Surrealist Park
Colorful, cheerful, and full of whimsy, this luxuriant 19-hectare hillside park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Created between 1900 and 1914, the Park Güell includes 12 acres of landscaped gardens featuring Surrealist architectural elements created by Antoni Gaudí and eight acres of pristine woodlands (pine forest and olive groves).
Splendid fountains, viaducts, grottoes, a colonnaded hall, winding staircases, and semi-closed conversation seats are scattered throughout the garden space. These creative structures are decorated with vibrant mosaics made of ceramic fragments.
There are picnic areas and a spectacular terrace that offers panoramic views of the city and the sea. Gaudí himself loved this area of the city (the Gràcia district), and his home was located here.
Entrance tickets are required to visit Parc Güell. Because this is one of the most popular tourist sites in Barcelona, it’s recommended to arrive early (in the morning if possible) to avoid the crowds. Guided tours are available.
Address: Carrer d’Olot, Barcelona
9. Casa Batlló
Yet another amazing Gaudí creation, the UNESCO-listed Casa Batlló is one of the most characteristic Modernist buildings in Barcelona. The fantastical mansion was designed as a private residence for the textile manufacturer Josep Batlló i Casanovas. With its freely swinging shapes and ornamental facade, this dreamlike building looks like a castle from a surreal fairy tale.
Most of the design details depart completely from any architectural precedent. The window frame on the first floor is bordered by swinging shapes that suggest plants, others resemble entrances to caves. On the facade, decorative glazed ceramic tiles in green, blue, and ochre colors add to the flamboyance. The wave-shaped roof, like that of Casa Milà, has numerous richly adorned chimneys.
Gaudí also created the interior decorations, which can be seen in the Casa Museu Gaudí in the Parc Güell.
For those seeking a superb gourmet meal, the elegant Moments Restaurant, with two Michelin stars, is just a few steps away at 38-40 Passeig de Gràcia in the Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona. This upscale fine-dining restaurant serves modern gastronomic Catalan cuisine prepared from seasonal ingredients.
Address: 43 Passeig de Gràcia, Barcelona
10. Museu Picasso de Barcelona
Inaugurated in 1963, the Picasso Museum occupies five medieval palaces in the Gothic Quarter on the Calle de Montcada, named after an important local family of the 12th century. The Calle de Montcada is listed as a Conjunto Monumental Histórico-Artístico (Historic-Artistic Monument), and the five palaces are remarkable Catalan Gothic landmarks dating to the 13th and 14th centuries. The architecture of each building features a central patio and a grand exterior staircase.
The collection of the museum focuses on works created by Pablo Picasso as a young artist. Containing over 4,000 works, the collection reveals the talents of the artist during his formative years. An exhaustive assortment covers paintings created from 1895 and up until Picasso’s Blue Period (1901 – 1904).
Other highlights of the collection are several paintings created in 1917 including Arlequín, featuring a harlequin character (the model was a dancer from a Russian ballet company); El Paseo de Colón, illustrating the Hotel Ranzini at number 22 on the Colón passageway; and Blanquita Suárez, depicting a famous singer of the time. Also not to be missed is the series of paintings titled Las Meninas, which portray the Infanta Margarita María.
Address: 15-23 Calle de Montcada, Barcelona
11. Plaça del Rei
The Plaça del Rei is a quiet square in the Gothic Quarter lined with imposing medieval buildings. The grand architecture speaks to the importance of the monuments: a palace of Catalan counts (the Palau Reial Major), a 16th-century lieutenant’s palace, and a 14th-century royal chapel.
The Plaça del Rei is also used as an outdoor venue for music concerts.
12. Camp Nou
Just as Catalan Modernist buildings are must-see attractions for architecture fans, Camp Nou is a must-see for football (soccer) fans. Camp Nou was one of the venues for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and today is home of the FC Barcelona team. The 99,354-seat stadium is the largest in Europe and second largest in the world.
Camp Nou offers guided tours, led by bilingual Official FC Barcelona Guides. The tours (in English and Spanish) cover highlights of the stadium such as the playing field, the team’s changing room, players’ tunnel, and the commentators’ boxes.
Guided tours also include a visit to the Barça Museum. The Barça Museum presents trophies, photos, and multimedia exhibits, including videos of the FC Barcelona’s winning goals.
The Barça Cafe at Camp Nou is a fun place to watch live and recorded games on big-screen televisions. The chefs work in an open kitchen, where guests can watch the action, preparing traditional Catalan dishes such as grilled meat and fish cooked on a wood-fired oven, as well as some of the FC Barcelona players’ favorite tapas. The Barça Cafe is open daily from 10am until 7pm.
Address: 12 Calle d’Aristides Maillol, Barcelona
13. Magic Fountain of Montjuïc
Topping the list of things to do in Barcelona at night is watching the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, near the Plaça d’Espanya in the Montjuïc neighborhood. The large Art Deco fountain was designed by Carles Buigas for the 1929 International Exhibition, which took place in Montjuïc.
The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc delights all ages with its choreographed light and fountain shows that are set to music. The shows take place Thursday through Sunday during the summer and Friday and Saturday in the off-season. The evening shows last for a few hours, with music sessions every half hour.
Address: 1 Plaça de Carles Buïgas, Barcelona
14. Scenic Views and Art Museums in Montjuïc
This hilltop neighborhood is on the site of an old Jewish cemetery, explaining its name, “Mont Juïc,” which translates to “Mountain of the Jews.” Standing 213 meters above the sea, the hillside is crowned by a fortress (the Castell de Montjuïc) on its summit and slopes steeply down to the waterfront. Crowning this scenic area is the Parc de Montjuïc, a beautiful natural park with great views.
One of the top attractions of Montjuïc is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Art Museum of Catalonia). Housed in the Palau Nacional, the museum has an exceptional collection of Catalan Art from the 10th to the 20th centuries, including sculpture, paintings, drawings, engravings, and photography. The museum also displays European Renaissance and Baroque Art, as well as a collection of modern art that includes avant-garde works created after World War Two.
The Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village) is another popular place to visit. This charming fabricated village was created for the 1929 World Exhibition.
Montjuïc was a venue for the 1992 Summer Olympics, and tourists can visit the stadium where Olympic competitions were held.
15. La Barceloneta