Ten things to do in Barcelona

Amaze at the splendour of the Catalan capital

Barcelona is an unmissable destination for anyone visiting Southern Europe. A cosmopolitan hub, a cultural centre and Spain's second-largest metropolis, the city boasts a century-long history attested by majestic architecture, countless museums and iconic heritage sites, offering close to unlimited entertainment options. Combining historical and artistic wealth with placid beaches, rich gastronomy and the unmistakable liveliness and warmth of the locals, the Catalan capital will charm you with its unique vibe, enticing you to join the never-resting movida. Awe at the emblematic Modernist architecture of Gaudí's buildings in Park Güell, unwind in the sun on the famous beaches of Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià, browse the shops and tapas bars in the narrow cobblestone streets of the Ciutat Vella, or admire the numerous masterpieces at the Picasso Museum and the Museu d'Art Modern. Follow our tips and discover the best things to do in Barcelona.
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Discover Barcelona's Old Town and Gothic Quarter

The Old Town of Barcelona is the best starting point for your city tour. The Ciutat Vella incorporates the four quarters of Raval, Borne, Barceloneta, and Barrio Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter), each characterized by its own distinctive vibe and landmarks. Renowned for its impressive architecture and bohemian atmosphere, the Gothic Quarter is Barcelona’s historical centre and oldest urban area, boasting artistic masterpieces such as the Neo-gothic Cathedral of Santa Creu and Santa Eulàlia of Barcelona and the Basilica of Santa María del Pi, and numerous quaint shops, restaurants and cafes- we suggest you check out one of Picasso’s favourite cafes, Els Quatre Gats, inspired by Le Chat Noir café in Paris. The Barrio Gòtic, located on the left of the famous Rambla, the 2-kilometre boulevard running from the Plaça Catalunya to the waterfront, hosts some of Barcelona’s most important squares, such as Plaça de Sant Jaume -or Plaça de la Generalitat-, home to the City Hall and the Palace of Catalan Government, and the lively Plaça Reial, full of bars and nightclubs. On the right side of the Rambla you will find the Raval Quarter; once known as the "Chinese Quarter", it is Barcelona’s most colourful and bohemian district and the home of the Opera House and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The modern Borne district, hosting the emblematic Picasso Museum and the Gothic masterpiece of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, is one of the city’s most fashionable areas, with exclusive designer shops, art galleries, hip bars and restaurants. Complete your tour of the Old Town with the Barceloneta, the typical fishermen's quarter and the smallest of the districts of the Ciutat Vella, where you can enjoy the sun and the sea at the popular urban beaches.

Visit the magnificent Basilica of the Sagrada Familia

From the central Plaça Catalunya, you can reach directly the Eixample district and head to one of Barcelona’s most iconic monuments. The magnificent Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, known simply as the Sagrada Familia, is the city’s most important religious building and the largest unfinished Catholic church worldwide. Designed in the 19th century by genius Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí, the basilica combines Neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau elements, which creates a unique blend of architectural styles and conveys the cathedral a distinctive sense of majesty. The Sagrada Familia is open to visitors on specific hours and dates and offers tours for private groups and schools. Admire the sumptuous interiors and climb to the top of the towers for a spectacular view of Barcelona’s cityscape. While wandering the Eixample district, you will encounter two other major Modernist jewels. Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, located on the luxury shopping lane Passeig de Gràcia, are considered Gaudí’s masterpieces and are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Admire Gaudì's artwork at Park Güell

Located on Carmel Hill in the Gràcia district, the unmistakable Park Güell is Barcelona’s largest green area, extending over 20 hectares between the neighbourhoods of La Salud, Vallcarca-Penitents and El Coll. Park Güell is divided into two areas: the monumental zone, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the woodland area, covering around 8 hectares. The park is famous for its architectural and artistic heritage, with the impressive and colourful buildings and sculptures realized almost entirely by Anton Gaudì and hosts elegant gardens and unique biodiversity. Defined by undulated shapes and precious mosaics typical of the great Catalan Modernist architect, the most recognizable architectural elements in the park include the panoramic terrace with its serpentine bench, the Porter's Lodge pavilion, and the fountain with the dragon at the park’s entrance. Together with El Retiro Park in Madrid, the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris and Hyde Park in London, Park Güell is considered one of the most elegant parks in Europe.

Indulge in Barcelona's tapas culture

Foodies travelling to Barcelona will be delighted by the rich and varied local gastronomy. Spanish and Catalan cuisines, like French and Italian gastronomy, include numerous different dishes, from seafood to meat-based and vegan recipes, providing close to infinite options that suit any taste. As almost anywhere in Spain, in Barcelona, you cannot help but taste the popular tapas, small shared portions of various food served as appetizers or combined to make a complete meal. Tapas include many different kinds of food, ranging from cured meat to fried fish and vegetables and can be cold or hot. Some of our favourites you might want to try include jamón ibérico, tortilla de patatas (potatoes omelette), croquetas (croquettes), calamares fritos o a la plancha (fried squid rings or grilled squids), empanadillas (large or small fried pastries filled with meats and vegetables), gambas (prawns cooked and presented in different fashions), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes fried in oil) and the typical pá amb tomàquet (toasted bread with a spread of fresh tomato, garlic and olives). Before leaving the Catalan capital, try the traditional local sweet treat: the delicious crema catalana, a spoon dessert similar to French crème brûlée and Italian panna cotta, made with milk, sugar, eggs, cinnamon, and lemon zest.

Enjoy the sun on Barcelona's urban beaches

Besides immersing in Barcelona’s artistic and cultural heritage and discovering its fabulous gastronomy, take some time to relax and enjoy the sun and the sea at one of the local beaches. With more than 300 days of sunny weather a year and almost 5 kilometres of sandy shores, the Catalan capital is an ideal beach destination with a lot to offer for short and long stays. Below, you can read some of our favourite Barcelona beaches:

  • La Barceloneta: named after the Barceloneta neighbourhood, the most famous urban beach in Barcelona boasts a romantic promenade connecting the old town with the Olympic port and features modern facilities and restaurants serving Spanish, Catalan, and international dishes.
  • Sant Sebastià Beach: also known as Sant Miquel Beach, it extends for more than one kilometre on the beachfront of the Ciutat Vella and, together with La Barceloneta, is the oldest beach in Barcelona. It also includes good facilities, bars, restaurants and an unofficial naturist area.
  • Mar Bella and Nova Mar Bella: located on the stretch of coast once called Baños de la Mar Bella, the beaches were reconstructed in the early ‘90s after being destroyed by a storm. They are both accessible and include a volleyball court, a basketball court, playgrounds, a workout area, ping pong tables, a skate park, lockers, a beach library, beverage vendors, and an umbrella and lounge chair rental. Mar Bella Beach also features a naturist area.
  • Llevant Beach: the most recent of Barcelona’s beaches, the Playa de Llevant offers fewer services than La Barceloneta and Sant Sebastià, but provides a quiet sandy stretch of coast ideal for relaxing in the sun. The beach facilities include accessible parking and bathrooms, a volleyball court, lounge chairs and umbrellas for rent.

Browse the luxurious boutiques of the Paseo de Gràcia

After delving into the Catalan culture, indulge in the luxury of Barcelona’s most exclusive boutiques and showrooms. Located in the central Eixample district, the Paseo de Gràcia- or Passeig de Gràcia in Catalan- is one of the city’s main avenues, boasting exceptional examples of Modernist and Art Nouveau architecture and high-end stores and art galleries. Besides the aforementioned Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, make sure to catch a view of Casa Amatller, designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Casa LLeó Morera, realized by the modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The two residences, together with Casa Batlló, are part of a building block called the “Apple of the Discord” as a reference to a Greek myth. To fully catch the aesthetics of Passeig de Gràcia, focus on the small details you will come across, such as the Art-Nouveau iron lampposts, the ceramic mosaic benches, and the tiles designed by Anton Gaudí.

Explore the quaint Montjuïc neighbourhood

After exploring the city centre and unwinding at the beach, we suggest you explore one of Barcelona’s most picturesque neighbourhoods. Located in the southeastern district of Sants-Montjuïc, Montjuïc is a 173-metre-high wooded hill that dominates the homonymous area. Its name means "Jewish Mountain" in Catalan, as it used to be home to the city’s Jewish community, as attested by the remains of a medieval Jewish cemetery. Among the landmarks Montjuïc has to offer, we recommend you do not miss:  

  • Montjuïc Castle: the fortress standing on the top of Montjuïc Mountain dates back to the 17th century and has preserved its original outlook almost intact. Through the centuries, it has served both as a defence post and to bombard the city and, although it might be less spectacular than other fortresses in Europe such as Prague's and Bouzov's castles, it is worth a visit for its historical and cultural value. Montjuïc Castle regularly hosts exhibitions, events and activities such as open days and music performances.
  • Montjuïc Magic Fountain: situated at the foot of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), Montjuïc Fountain is one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona. Designed in 1929 for the Universal Exhibition, the fountain is known for its spectacular music and light show, with over 3620 water jets and a classical or pop soundtrack. Make sure you catch a performance before leaving- there is a show every half-hour every night.
  • Poble Espanyol: a unique space combining art, traditions, handicrafts, and architecture, featuring 117 real-life scale buildings representing architectural styles from virtually every part of Spain, ranging from Romanesque and Baroque to Art-Nouveau and Modernism. With live music performances, educational activities and an art museum displaying works by Picasso, Mirò and Dalì, the Poble Espanyol is a one-of-a-kind attraction you will especially enjoy when visiting Barcelona with children.
  • Botanical Gardens: located near the castle and overlooking the Olympic Stadium, the beautiful Jardi Botanic de Barcelona houses over 1,000 species of Mediterranean floral species and offers a relaxing oasis far from the city’s chaos. You can reach Montjuïc by public transport, bike or via the funicular railway.

Spend one day in the beautiful Parc de La Ciutadella

Beyond Montjuïc, Barcelona boasts several parks and green areas where you can take refuge from the tourist crowds, of which the Parc de la Ciutadella is probably the most famous and beautiful. Just a few steps away from the Ciutat Vella, the park is one of the most emblematic places in Barcelona, hosting elegantly manicured gardens and unique attractions, monuments and landmarks. Parc de la Ciutadella includes several impressive buildings, such as the 18th-century Catalan Parliament building, the Modernist Castell dels Tres Dragons (Castle of the Three Dragons) hosting the Zoological Museum and the Neo-classical Geological Museum. The park is also home to the Parque Zoológico de Barcelona; the zoo houses more than 400 fauna species arranged in thematic areas, and makes it a perfect choice for a relaxing daily excursion with your family.

Visit Barcelona's museums

Like other big European cities such as Frankfurt, Paris and London, Barcelona boasts an impressive cultural heritage, with dozens of museums ranging from art to science and history, art galleries and foundations that attract visitors from all over the world. Although it is difficult to visit all of them while staying in the Catalan capital, we suggest a short list of our favourites:

  • Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC): housed in the Palau Nacional on the Montjuïc Mountain, the National Art Museum of Catalonia houses notable collections of paintings and artworks from different centuries and styles, including Gothic, Romanesque, Baroque and Modernism.
  • Museu Picasso: located in the Ciutat Vella, it hosts a permanent collection of nearly 4,000 pieces of the great Cubist master and regular temporary exhibitions.
  • Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA): in the Raval district, the museum’s collections offer a thorough overview of contemporary art styles from the ‘60s to today.
  • Museu Europeu d'Art Modern: situated in the Gothic Quarter, it houses an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from the 20th and 21st centuries.

Loose yourself in Barcelona's colourful markets

Before leaving Barcelona, take some time to check out some of its famous markets. From fresh fruit and vegetables to meat, fish, cheese, flowers, and a large assortment of food, you can appreciate unique, genuine, local products. Some of the markets we liked the most include:

  • Mercat de La Boqueria: the oldest market in Europe, La Boqueria offers a vast choice of fruit, vegetables, fresh produce, and gastronomic dishes in town. Stop by to explore the colourful stalls, grab a bite and try some delicatessens such as the local jamón ibérico, organic felafel, or marzipan sweets- you cannot miss it, as its entrance is on La Rambla.
  • Mercat de Santa Caterina: situated in the medieval La Ribera quarter, not too far from the Parc de la Ciutadella, it is housed in a characteristic building whose colourful undulated mosaic roof echoes the explosion of colours of the stands underneath. Less crowded and chaotic than La Boqueria, it offers a great selection of vegetables, fruit, cheese, meat, and fish, as well as gourmet dishes and snacks.
  • Mercat de la Concepció: famous for its flower market, it is located in the central Eixample quarter and offers a varied and wide selection of vegetables, fruit, meat and wine. Before leaving, try an exquisite fresh fruit juice and smoothie.