When you think of Europe and culture, you think of the major cities such as Paris, Venice, Berlin, London, etc. But it might surprise you to know that in 2005 UNESCO added more Barcelona sights to its ever-important list, giving the Catalan Capital 9 sites of Historical and cultural importance, overtaking such cities as Florence and Paris in one fell swoop.
It is no surprise that Barcelona’s favorite son, Antoni Gaudi, is behind many of the new and already established sights on the list.
Below we made a list of the best (in our opinion) attractions and sights in Barcelona. We start the list with the most famous sights, which are UNESCO listed. Then we list some museums and some must DOs. Enjoy!
- #1 – La Sagrada Familia
- #2 – Park Guell
- #3 – Casa Mila
- #4 – Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau
- #5 – Colonia Guell
- #6 – Casa Batlló
- #7 – Casa Viçens
- #8 – Palau de la Musica Catalana
- #9 – Camp Nou Stadium
- #10 – Sant Pau del Camp
- #11 – Las Ramblas
- #12 – La Boqueria
- #13 – Horta Maze
- #14 – El Bosque de las Hadas
- #15 – Parc Guell backwards
- #16 – Cuitadella Parc (on a Sunday)
- #17 – Montjuic Cable Car
- #18 – Magic Fountains at Plaza España
- #19 – Cala del Vermut
- The Barcelona Museums
#1 – La Sagrada Familia
The most visited attraction in Barcelona according to visitor statistics (with over 2 million paid visitors a year alone) is the unmistakable and unfinished cathedral of the Holy Family, or “La Sagrada Familia“.
The current two facades of the Nativity – which resembles a melted candle – and the more modern Crucifixion façade – which is like a stations of the cross by George Lucas (very storm troopers!) are considered “to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius”. Few would beg to differ.
Even if you have no interest in architecture, you cannot fail to be impressed by this amazing edifice and holy place. A visit inside is well worth the entrance fee, with mock-ups of what the finished article will look like (if the current architects do not stray too much from Gaudi’s original plans) as well as work in progress and Gaudi’s own tomb in the crypt of the cathedral.
#2 – Park Guell
Another of the heritage sights on the UNESCO list is Park Guell. This was commissioned by Count Guell, a political and religious man who shared many of Gaudi’s views on life and wanted to re-create the English gardens he so loved and admired. The park was originally intended to be an exclusive out of town neighborhood, but the idea never really caught on, and the park was rescued from nature by the Catalan Government much to the joy of everyman in Barcelona.
The current park is an unmissable attraction in the Catalan Capital, and boasts great views down to the port on a clear day, as well as the most ornate entrance to a park you will ever see.
#3 – Casa Mila
Casa Mila on Paseo de Gracia was nicknamed “The Stone Quarry” by locals and indeed has been known by this name ever since. “La Pedrera” is an outstanding building located on Paseo de Gracia and outstanding not only from its appearance, but also that it is a building with no straight lines at all.
An architectural first, one might say – or at least at the time. Entrance fee again is well worth the price and includes a tour of a period-style apartment, the attic with many original blueprints of Gaudi’s other works and the amazing rooftop. Always striving to be different, Gaudi designed the most peculiar chimney tops you will find blazoned across postcards all along La Rambla.
#4 – Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau
Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (Hospital of the holt cross and saint Paul) has a cunning location, diagonally north west of Sagrada Familia cathedral along Avenida Gaudi (Gaudi Avenue), and has to be one of the most striking hospital entrances ever made.
Designed by Luis Domenech i Montaner, this brickwork alone makes the building seem overpowering yet welcoming, and the ever-present tile work changes at every hour of the day you happen to pass. This is just a short walk from Sagrada Familia, and well worth the look – joining two beautiful buildings.
#5 – Colonia Guell
The only UNESCO sight located slightly outside of Barcelona (in Santa Coloma de Cervello) is the Colonia Guell. The aforementioned Textile merchant Count Guell also confided in Gaudi to construct his out of town mansion as far back as 1890. The results are breathtaking, and although it may not be worth the trip out to visit in a short stay in Barcelona, images and prints can be seen inside La Pedrera’s attic museum.
#6 – Casa Batlló
Just a short walk from La Pedrera, is Casa Batlló and is said to pay homage to the patron saint of Catalunya, Saint George. The facade of the building has bone-like window frames and the rooftop is tiled to resemble the scales of a dragon’s back – that same dragon Saint George killed. The building is open for visitors, and is also used as an exhibition space on the first floor.
#7 – Casa Viçens
North east from Casa Batlló, a short walk takes you into the neighbourhood of Gracia with the fabulous “Casa Viçens”. By now, you will be able to instantly recognise the Gaudi touch, and the wrought iron gates will make a big impression. Although you cannot visit this building, the location is such that it’s easily accessible and another notch on your Gaudi belt.
#8 – Palau de la Musica Catalana
Last, but by no means least, is the second non-Gaudi building to be featured in UNESCO’s list. The famous Lluis Domenech i Montaner (creator of the aforementioned Hospital Sant Pau in Barcelona, among other eye openers) has the “Palau de la Musica Catalana” admitted into the books. This wonderful concert hall has been criticized in the past for the acoustics by musicians but never fails to impress the visitors, located in the Borne neighbourhood of Barcelona. Guided tours (who are endless in their wisdom) will take you around the fascinating interior – with the most striking experience being the illumination taken from the centrepiece of the ceiling in stained glass in the main hall. If you’re lucky enough to visit the city whilst a concert is playing here, forget the critics and go!
This is probably the finest example of Modernista architecture, and although it has been added to along the way, you can be wowed by the façade. But save your breath for the amazing interior. Infamous for poor acoustics amongst musicians, but impressive for everyone else, the stained glass centrepiece of the roof is beautiful. Don’t just turn up expecting to get in – you need to buy a ticket for a tour – every 30 minutes, but fill up fast.
#9 – Camp Nou Stadium
The FC Barcelona stadium, Camp Nou is one of the biggest football stadiums in Europe, with maximum capacity of 98,000 spectators bearing witness to some spectacular nights of football. The stadium also has a great museum – very well visited by the official visitor stats – with guided tours of the changing rooms, the tunnel and out onto the turf and director’s box, as well as audio-visual information of the greatest players to play for Barça.
#10 – Sant Pau del Camp
This is a real hidden gem, which not a lot of people know about, and is the oldest church in Barcelona – the only one that survived the bombings of the civil war. “Saint Paul of the countryside” is an old Roman church, built of stone and looks exactly the same on the inside as it does on the outside – no gold, no icons, just the same stones. If you have the chance, you can visit the cloister; you get a real feel for the age of the church with the musty, damp air. The church dates as far back as AD 912, according to one of the engraved stones.
#11 – Las Ramblas
Many of the guide books you’ll read say “you either love it or hate it” but I’m yet to meet someone who doesn’t think it’s well worth a look. The most famous street of Barcelona used to be a river bed, and trooping up and down is a must to soak in the real Barcelona.
The street is actually a combination of 5 ramblas; Rambla de canaletes (referring to the fountains at the top of Las Ramblas, at Plaça Catalunya. As the saying goes, “drink from the fountains of Canaletes, and one day you will return to Barcelona” or at least have a bit of a stomach bug for a few days. Rambla de los estudios is followed by Rambla de Sant Josep (see number 2 above). Then we have Rambla de los capuxinos – some of the first and best cafes and terraces on the doorstep to the Liceu Opera House. This is also often called Rambla de les flores, for all the flower sellers dotted along this stretch. The final part, leading down to the Port is Rambla de Santa Monica where the caricature artists and real artists lay their terrain.
Whichever way you visit Las Ramblas, you cannot fail to be impressed with the human statues, street performers, artists, cafes and buzz from this amazing street.
#12 – La Boqueria
La Boqueria or Sant Joseph’s market. This is a food market located half way down Las Ramblas, and sells everything you can imagine. The centre is all fish, Mainly circled by fruits (with some fruits you will never have even seen before) and then the real beauties are dotted around, from bugs and locusts (no, really) to fantastic Iberian hams, chorizos and some great eateries, too.
#13 – Horta Maze
A little known attraction of the city, perhaps due to it’s out of the way location, and maybe one to go to if you’ve seen all the rest. This a labyrinth made from hedges – exactly as it sounds. If you think of that 80’s film of the same name, you’re not far off. Great.
#14 – El Bosque de las Hadas
The forest of the fairies. This is a bar, which is right next to the wax museum at the bottom end of Las Ramblas and has also had a recent extension. This is a must see, with funky waxwork models, trick mirrors, fake trees straight out of a Tim Burton movie and the strangest demon art you will have ever seen.
#15 – Parc Guell backwards
Ok. We know we’ve already listed Parc Guell, but not backwards. The reason why I say “backwards” is that if you take the metro to “Vallcarca” you can then take the escalators (how good would that be in somewhere like San Francisco?!) to the back of the park. This way, you start at the highest point and the best views. You can slowly make your way down the windy walkways and view the whole of the park, and effectively save the best for last – the ornate entrance complete with dragon fountain and Hansel and Gretel houses. Unbeatable.
#16 – Cuitadella Parc (on a Sunday)
Out come the bongos, the home made “empanadas” and other worldly produce and “the garden of Barcelona” goes back a few decades. Row a boat on the lake, admire the Gaudi fountain and wonder how the swans manage to keep so white despite the colour of the water, and join in with the bongos.
#17 – Montjuic Cable Car
One of my favourite things to do in Barcelona, as it makes you feel like such a kid again! There are various high points for views in Barcelona, but this has to be the best. You can see the commercial side of things at the port, wonder at the sizes of the cruise liners parked up, try and spy your hotel or apartment from where you are and enjoy the castle and its surroundings (and the most stray cats you’ve ever seen in one place). It’s like being in another city.
#18 – Magic Fountains at Plaza España
This one is another to make you feel young again. The magic fountains “dance” to music – not always to everyone’s taste – and light up at the same time. Sometimes, due to water shortage in Barcelona (and Catalunya as a whole) the fountains were turned off for a while, so check before you go. It’s well worth a look.
#19 – Cala del Vermut
Dive into the decidedly un-touristy world of Barcelona’s Vermouth district, along the Carrer de les Magdalenes, a small street off the Via Laietana just down from the Urquinaona metro station.
You’ll find several different vermouth bars on this street. The house vermouth is usually served on draft and comes from the Penedes district, just an hour south of the city (Penedes also make the glorious Vina Sol white wine).
Try your vermouth with a splash of soda from the retro siphons on each table. Cala del Vermut also serve tapas, including heaped plates of superb ham and perfect crisp-on-the-outside-and-meltingly-soft-on-the-inside croquettes. Two vermouths and a huge plate of ham came to just €11. Bargain!
The Barcelona Museums
Barcelona has some wonderful cultural sights and some of the world’s best architecture, but the Catalan Capital also offers some great Museums, too. Here we continue our list with some museums.
#20 – Picasso Museum
The Malagan artist spent part of his creative life in Barcelona, and Barcelona’s Picasso Museum has some of his early work such as sketches, and sculptures and paintings from his later life. Picasso’s father taught at the nearby La Llotja School of art, and the young Pablo also attended here, too. The museum was reformed in 2003, and is one of the most visited attractions in Barcelona.
#21 – The Erotic Museum
I’m including this just for the novelty factor, as it’s located on Las Ramblas, the city’s central boulevard, making it a popular stop for many tourists, curious as to what may be on show. Spain and Barcelona is not shy when it comes to sex, and there are many “clubs” masking as brothels and the (in)famous Bagdad club on Nou de la Rambla as a live sex show receiving many visitors, but the Erotic Museum is a quirky, fun place to have a sneak peek at the history of Erotica.
#22 – MNAC – the National Museum of Catalan Art
This is a huge exhibition space located in the Palace at the foot of Montjüic, just above the Magic Fountains, and is impossible to see in 1 day. The museum comprises of various types of art ranging from coins, photography and 13th Century Gothic collections. The highlight of the museum however are the Romanesque murals taken from the dilapidated churches of northern Catalunya, and displayed in wooden frames.
#23 – Chocolate Museum
The tradition in Catalunya at Easter time is not so much eggs, as “monas” which is a sculpture made from chocolate. Eggs are indeed popular and traditional, but many of the Patisseries in the city have marvellous creations on show in the days coming up to Easter and often have orders from clients months in advance.
There is no better place to see just how far this can go than the Chocolate Museum, which has its master sculptors creating some fantastic “monas” of your favourite cartoon characters, as well as models of the famous buildings in the city. The workshop is an open view affair, and is one of the most popular stops in the museum, which offers a brief history of chocolate, too.
#24 – Fundació Joan Miró
The Catalan artist has a huge collection in one of the most fantastic museums in the city, both for the building and the location, too. The museum is located up on Montjüic Mountain, just next to the Funicular train and the cable car which takes you up to the top of the castle. Just along from here are the Olympic diving boards, which also offer such amazing views of the vast expanse of Barcelona below.
The museum itself is bright with white walls and arches, highlighting even more Miró’s trademark paintings using primary colours. There is also a lovely sculpture garden, and over 225 paintings making this museum a favourite stop for art students and curious tourists alike.
#25 – The Maritime Museum
Barcelona has a fantastic maritime history, and details of battles at sea, and other historical noteworthy events are depicted in detail at the Maritime museum, located on Darassanes in the old shipyard buildings, still joined to the old city walls and the Portal de Santa Madrona.
The Gothic style building dates at over 700 years old, and is a Historical and Artistic Monument of the Spanish government. There is also a temporary exhibition space which has had recent spaces filled with Tin Tin, the hugely successful Human Bodies exhibition, and usually always surprises with its choices.
#26 – The City History Museum
Located in the King’s Plaza (Plaça del Rei), this is an underground labyrinth of streets, Roman Villas and storage vats for oil and wine. This museum really does give you a trip back in time, and it’s amazing to be underneath the busy streets of Barcelona’s shops and bustling Gothic Quarter streets, whilst taking in such ancient ruins. Such beauties as the Saló del Tinall dating from 1370 which used to be the Catalan Parliament. Work is on-going to re-enforce certain structures, and further excavations are planned.
#27 – Barcelona’s Wax Museum
Last, but by no means least, is the city’s wax museum, but I’m including this in the list partly because of the next door “Forest of the Fairies” bar/café, which is a must-see place when you visit Barcelona. You can easily spot the wax museum on the left at the bottom end of Las Ramblas as you walk towards the Old Port. There is a ticket box, often with a period Englishman in Africa perched on a kind of rickshaw.
If truth be told, the actual wax museum is laughable with a mix mash of Lady Di, Spanish historical figures (like Gaudi), and bears nothing of a resemblance to London’s Madame Tussaudes. However, the Forest of the Fairies is a real gem, with Hansel and Gretel style trees inside the bar, some strange Demonic artwork and trick mirrors and the odd waxwork inside too. I recommend you give it a try!
#28 – Ride a Bike
Bikes are big business in Barcelona – locals have the great subsidized “biking” venture, similar to other cities where you can pick up a bike at one place and drop it off at another, saving you the bother of locks or storing the bike yourself. There are also many budget bike rental companies all over Barcelona and the past few years has seen the re-modelling of many main streets, incorporating bike lanes and sacrificing parking spaces, as Barcelona’s administration goes ever greener.
#29 – Semana Santa, Easter Weekend
Like many Spanish cities, Barcelona celebrates the Easter weekend in flamboyant style with great costumes and elaborate floats decorated with religious scenes and often images of Christ on the cross. People crowd the streets in their ‘Sunday best’ and the atmosphere is captivating.