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Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Barcelona

As a more than 2,000-year-old city, Barcelona displays a complex yet beguiling cultural heritage, shown in its exquisite art, architecture, and cuisine. Legendary creatives such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Antoni Gaudí were inspired by the historic Mediterranean town in northeastern Spain, and they each left their distinctive mark. Many sightseeing tours with knowledgeable guides are available to help navigate the multitude of attractions and offer historical perspective. A hop-on hop-off tour bus tour provides an opportunity to see all of Barcelona’s most popular sights quickly, with stops including the historic Gothic Quarter of Las Ramblas; Picasso Museum; FC Barcelona stadium Camp Nou; the Olympic Stadium; and Gaudi’s structural masterpieces, such as Park Güell, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and the soaring (and unfinished) Sagrada Família. Segway tours, bike tours, walking tours, and private tours are also superb for close-up Barcelona sightseeing. Lines at top attractions can be long during the summer months, making Barcelona tours with skip-the-line tickets a real time-saver. Culturally enriching, scenic day trips around the region include tours of Montserrat monastery, Sitges, the Dali museum in Figueres, and the Costa Brava town of Gironès. For a taste of Barcelona, have a local guide you through the city’s ubiquitous tapas and paellas and to the best local fare at the public market La Boqueria, or take a Barcelona cooking class. An abundance of varietals are produced in the Catalonia region, and wine-tasting tours are available in the city or as part of a day trip.
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Palace of Catalan Music (Palau de la Música Catalana)
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One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats, presiding over the streets of La Ribera, the Palau de la Música Catalana is one of the city’s most popular concert halls, renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors. Built in 1908 to designs by Catalan modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the concert hall was initially built to house the Orfeó Català choir and remains an important venue for a range of traditional Catalan folk music.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the concert hall features décor by some of the era’s most prominent Catalan architects – a sumptuous museum including ceramic mosaics and relief busts by Eusebi Arnau, a stone arch by Pau Gargallo, vibrant mosaics by Lluís Bru and stained glasswork by Antoni Rigalt.

Although the concert hall is not renowned for its acoustics, the Palau provides a suitably glittering backdrop to performances, making attending a concert at the venue a rich audio-visual experience.

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Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya)
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Strategically located at the meeting point of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, two of Barcelona’s busiest boulevards, Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya) makes a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. More than just a navigational landmark, Catalunya Square is also the symbolic heart of Barcelona and the large, tree-lined plaza is abuzz with activity both day and night.

As well as being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars, including the iconic Cafe Zurich and the Hard Rock Café, Catalunya Square is also home to large department stores like El Corte Inglés, FNAC and Habitat, a pair of dramatically illuminated fountains and a number of monumental sculptures, including the white marble La Deessa by Josep Clara and Josep Subirachs’s Monument of Francesc Macià.

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Sagrada Família
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La Sagrada Familia is no doubt the most iconic structure in Barcelona. The church, located in L'Eixample, has been a fixture in Barcelona since construction commenced in 1882 and as building continues on today the structure's fame only grows.

Though still a work in progress, the church already is an amazingly intricate structure. Antoni Gaudí spent 43 years on this project and, since his death in 1926, the duty to finish it has been passed on to several architects. Though the responsibility continues to change hands over the years, the architects have all respected Gaudí's vision and have made additions with his design in mind. Inside the church has an impressive stained glass windows line the main room and a lift takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the view. Smaller rooms hold exhibits detailing the history and future of the structure. La Sagrada Familia is projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí.

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Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)
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The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso), located in El Raval district, is Barcelona's most visited museum and occupies a medieval mansion that's worth a look for the architecture alone. But inside lay the greatest treasures - the works of Pablo Picasso. The artist had a strong connection to Barcelona, living in and studying mostly in the Ciutat Vella neighborhood from 1895-1904.

The Picasso Museum - or Museu Picasso - is divided into various periods of the artist's career, starting chronologically with his earliest sketches and self-portraits then progressing on to his moody Blue period and ending with his study of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.

Pieces are displayed to give each one adequate attention but with over 3,800 paintings the exhibit is by no means sparse.

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Passeig de Gracia
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Passeig de Gracia is one of the most significant avenues in Barcelona. In addition to being home to some of the most celebrated architecture in the city, it is considered to be the most expensive street in all of Spain. Originally known as Carni de Jesus, the avenue began as a rural lane connecting Barcelona with the then-independent town of Gracia. Pursuant to an urbanization project in the 1820s, it was transformed into a wide avenue that eventually became a favorite of aristocrats. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, both for its architecture and for its shopping.

By the early 1900s, Passeig de Gracia featured homes designed by notable art nouveau/modernista architects such as Antonin Gaudi, Pere Falques, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca.

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Park Güell
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Park Güell is known as one of Gaudí's most colorful works and its expansive display of this artist's playful architecture is what makes it one of Barcelona's top attractions. While the park was originally meant to be a housing development for rich socialites, when the wealthy decided not to move to the hilltop, it became a public playground.

Gaudí spent the first 15 years of the 20th century constructing the numerous fountains, pedestrian walkways and benches in his signature style that are still enjoyed by visitors today. One of the most popular spots in the park is at the top of the hill, where from brightly colored mosaic seats you can take in the panoramic view over Barcelona city and capture some great photos of the park.

Another must-see attraction in Park Güell is the Gaudí House Museum. This pink house near the base of the park is where Gaudí spent the last two decades of his life and it is filled with furniture and other works designed by the artist.

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Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic)
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Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gótic) dates from medieval times. On the streets, passersby find gems tucked away in the little nooks and crannies.. The area's proximity to La Rambla also contributes to its popularity amongst the young, nightlife-loving crowd. Meeting with friends in one of the several placas (plazas) before heading to dinner or a club is customary amongst the locals.

Besides the thriving night scene, there is plenty to see during the daylight hours. Highlights of the Barri Gótic include Barcelona's cathedral, the political hub of Placa Sant Jaume, and some of Barcelona's best surviving stretches of the Roman walls. Full of history, mystery and culture, this district of Barcelona is worth at least a full day on every vacationer's itinerary.

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St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral
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The striking Gothic façade of the St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral, (also known as Cathedral Santa Maria del Mar and Basilica Santa Maria del Maris) one of the most memorable sights of Barcelona’s La Ribera and El Born districts, dating back to the 12th century. Renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, the original cathedral was the work of architects Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig, whose efforts were partially damaged by a number of fires throughout the 14th and 19th century.

Significant parts of the original cathedral still remain intact, including much of the imposing frontage, accompanied by a number of restorations and additions added throughout the 20th century. The cathedral interiors are far less imposing, with stained glass clerestory windows allowing light to stream into the aisles and a ribbed vault supported by dramatic slender columns.

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Casa Batlló
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One of Barcelona’s most fanciful works of architecture, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí between 1904 and 1906 and stands on the famous central avenue of Passeig de Gràcia. The building was commissioned by its namesake Josep Batlló and forms one of a number of innovative structures on the street, locally dubbed the 'Mançana de la Discordia' (‘apple of discord’).

The original 19th-century building was completely remodeled Gaudi with an elaborate Art Noveau façade. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, the Casa Batlló has become one of the city’s most memorable tourist attractions and is often nicknamed the ‘House of Bones’, thanks to its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars.

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Milà House (Casa Milà)
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Officially known as Casa Milà, also known as the Milà House, after the man who commissioned the project, this building is called La Pedrera - The Quarry - by the locals because of its uneven stone exterior. One of Gaudí's several works dotting the city , La Pedrera was started as a dual apartment and office block for the bourgeoisie.

Though unfinished, the structure is a popular tourist attraction, where you can visit a floor decorated in the style of its era. The biggest feature to La Pedrera is the rooftop, where you'll find several impressive chimney pots shaped into what look like medieval knights. A fascinating structure, La Pedrera is recognized both as a symbol of the ridiculous opulence of the Catalan elite as well as one of Gaudí's most interesting works.

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More Things to Do in Barcelona

Teatre Poliorama

Teatre Poliorama

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Opened in 1906 as a part of the Royal Academy of Arts and Science of Barcelona, the Teatre Poliorama continues to be a center of Catalan culture and arts. With around 700 seats, the formerly cinematic theater is a smaller, more intimate venue. Designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà, it first opened in 1894. Historically the theater played films, with the introduction of mostly Catalan stage productions after its renovation in 1903.

Many important Catalan performances premiered here until the Spanish Civil War. During the war the building was seized and became the scene of armed battles recounted in Hemingway’s ‘Homage to Catalonia.’ Today the theater holds regular performances of both opera and flamenco, often with live music. There are also musicals and comedy shows shown on occasion. The clock located at its entrance is considered to be the official time of Barcelona to which everyone sets their watch to. It was the first electrical clock in the city.

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Casa Vicens

Casa Vicens

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Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona aren’t limited to popular spots Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. In fact, Gaudi’s first big commission, Casa Vicens, is yet another of his creations that should be on any Gaudi-lover’s list of must-sees. Completed in 1888, the home was commissioned by a wealthy tile manufacturer, hence the building’s dazzling, tile-decorated exterior.

Casa Vicens is located in the Gracia neighborhood, a former town that spreads out at the foot of Parc Güell. Gaudi, fresh out of school, and just developing his style, started his career with a bang by designing Casa Vicens, a wildly eclectic structure, most prominently featuring Oriental and Moorish influences. The exterior is a party of color and texture, including flower-embellished tiles, exposed brickwork, fancily designed chimney pots, and extravagant iron balconies.

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Magic Fountain (Font Màgica)

Magic Fountain (Font Màgica)

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One of Barcelona’s most dazzling attractions, the Magic Fountain, or Font Montjuic, was built in 1929 for the city’s World Exhibition, taking 3000 people almost a year to complete, and later restored during the 1992 Olympic Games. Taking center stage in Plaça Espanya at the foot of Montjuic Mountain, the Fountain is celebrated for its spectacular illuminations display, set against the majestic backdrop of the Montjuic Palace.

This is no ordinary lightshow – the Magic Fountain does its name justice with a kaleidoscope of shimmering fountains, syncing light, motion and music to dramatic effect. The breathtaking display is held throughout the year on weekend evenings (from Thursday to Sunday during summer), when the series of fountains spring to life each half-hour from 9.30pm until 11.30pm, for a vibrant 20-minute show.
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Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

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Las Ramblas, a series of 5 stretches of road that run through central Barcelona, is known collectively just as La Rambla. It's name comes from a stream (raml in Arabic) that used to run along the same path before the land was developed in the 14th century. Now in place of the stream is a 3/4 mi (1.2 km) street with a wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard down the middle. Along the path are numerous shops, cafes and bars as well as some interesting attractions.

Both the Wax - Cera and Erotica museums are situated on La Rambla as are the Grand Opera House - Gran Teatre de Liceu - and the city's most colorful market, Mercat de la Boqueria. A large mosaic by Joan Miro is another iconic piece that warrants at least a second look, if not a photo opportunity. La Rambla is filled day and night with snap-happy tourists as well as locals so there is never a dull moment to be had. No Barcelona experience is complete without a stroll down this boulevard.

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Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc)

Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc)

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Overlooking the southwestern portion of Barcelona, Parc de Montjuic is the city’s green hilltop getaway that is packed with both history and a host of sights. Indeed, it is there that you’ll find the Jewish Cemetery, after which it is believed that the “Mountain of the Jews” is named. Montjuic is also the site of its namesake castle, a military fortress dating back to the 17th century.

But it’s the last century that has brought particular interest to Montjuic: first there was the International Exhibition in 1929, and then the Olympics in 1992. Both of these affairs contributed to the urbanization of this elevated land, and as a result you can expect to find a slew of related sites. These include the water-show-style Magic Fountain, which sits in front of The Palau Nacional, now home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. And then there’s also the Poble Espanyol, a replica of Spanish villages and their various architectural styles.

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Casa Lleó i Morera

Casa Lleó i Morera

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One of the trio of striking buildings that make up the ‘Illa de la Discordia’ along Barcelona’s famous Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Lleo i Morera stands proudly beside Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló and Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s equally eye-catching Casa Amatller. Elaborately restored in 1902 by architect Lluis Domènech i Muntaner, whose other works include the magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Casa Lleó i Morera was built in 1864 and takes its name from its original owners, the Morera family.

Finally opening its doors to the public in 2014, visitors can now explore the spectacular modernist interiors of Casa Lleó i Morera. Along with the distinctive ornamental façade, highlights of the building include exquisite stained-glass windows, a series of sculptures by Eusebi Arnau, colorful mosaics by artists like Mario Maragliano and Lluís Bru i Salelles and exquisite furnishings, handcrafted by cabinetmaker Gaspar Homar.

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Casa Amatller

Casa Amatller

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Though Passeig de Gràcia is most famously known for Gaudi-designed masterpieces La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, there’s another curious building to discover here: Casa Amatller. Constructed in the late 19th century, the former home was constructed for its namesake, chocolatier Antoni Amatller, and is just the place to go to see spectacular Modernisme architecture, and minus all the crowds.

Like its neighboring buildings along Passeig de Gràcia’s famous Block of Discord, or Illa de la Discordia, Casa Amatller also mixes things up architecturally, featuring both Flemish and Catalan styles. A visit to its interior is equally impressive, promising exquisitely tiled walls and floors, colorful stained-glass detailing, and rooms decorated with the original furniture.

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Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

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Güell Palace (Palau Güell)

Güell Palace (Palau Güell)

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Before La Pedrera, before Parc Güell, and certainly before the still-under-construction La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi conjured up a mansion called Palau Güell. This palatial home was built in the 1880s for one of Gaudi’s main benefactors, Eusebi Güell. The goal was to accommodate the wealthy industrialist’s private and social life, and, after you explore the home, it’s not hard to imagine that Gaudi must have lived up to the task.

Acclaimed for the innovative use of space and light, the Modernist palace is especially loved for its main hall, formed by a parabolic arch design, and which comes complete with a star-pricked ceiling (an illusion created by holes in the roof) and sneak-peek windows from which residents above spied on newly arrived guests below. Given its lower entrance fee (with included audio tour) — as compared to other Gaudi sights — and convenient old town location in El Raval, it makes a worthy addition to any Barcelona sightseeing itinerary.

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National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)

National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)

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Housed in the Palau Nacional (National Palace of Montjuic), the National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or MNAC) boasts one of the most spectacular locations in Barcelona, fronted by the dazzling Magic Fountain and overlooked by the towering Montjuic Mountain and Castle. The impressive Neo-Baroque building was designed by Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadalfach for the legendary 1929 International Exhibition and first hosted the National Art Museum in 1934. One of the city’s most iconic structures, the palace’s majestic façade, exquisite Modernista furnishings and glittering chandeliers are as breathtaking as the art displayed within and a popular tourist attraction in itself.

Today, the MNAC is Catalonia’s largest museum with some 260,000 works and home to the world’s most important collection of Romanesque Art, alongside a wide selection of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.

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Placa d'Espanya

Placa d'Espanya

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A large and significant square lined with trees and fountains, Placa Espanya is one of the busiest, most central hubs of activity in Barcelona. Many main roads intersect here, including Para•llel and Gran Via. As it is both a main metro and train stop, it is a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike. It is known for its beautiful architecture, statues, and nearby shopping as well.

The Placa Espanya ends on one side with the Font Magica, or Magic Fountain, a large fountain that becomes a light and sound show in the evenings. On the opposite end lies the Palau Nacional (National Palace,) with excellent city views from its steps. It is scenically set against the tall mountain Montjuic, with the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC) located just inside. Two towers on the Avinguda Maria Cristina, reminiscent of those in Venice, stand tall over the square.

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Joan Miró Museum (Fundació Joan Miró)

Joan Miró Museum (Fundació Joan Miró)

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The works of Joan Miró, one of Barcelona's most famous 20th century artists, are displayed in this building in the Parc de Montjuïc. The gallery itself is a piece of modern art, its design incorporating terraces and interior courtyards to direct the flow of visitors and give the space an open air feel. Over 14,000 pieces of Miró's works are displayed here on a rotating basis, including everything from raw sketches to sculptures and coming from various periods in the artist's career. Most popular are the works made in his signature "childlike" style of bold shapes and bright colors. Never committing himself to a specific art movement, Miró dabbled in Surrealism and Expressionism as well as experimented with various types of media.
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Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona)

Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona)

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Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (known formally as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, or La Seu) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. With octagonal bell towers, five aisles and two chapel areas, the hall church has stood since the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of Barcelona, whose body is entombed in the crypt. Large, colorful stained glass windows look over twenty eight total small chapels inside.

The Cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a lush garden, as well as a massive Gothic portico under which thirteen geese can be found wandering. Each goose represents a year of the life of the young Saint Eulalia. As for the exterior, it is carved in great Gothic style detail — and is particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.

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Forum Park (Parc del Forum)

Forum Park (Parc del Forum)

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If you’re eager for views of the sea, lots of photo opportunities, and wide, open spaces, then head toward the northernmost coastline of Barcelona to the Parc del Forum. This architectural park of sorts was built in 2004 for the Universal Forum of Cultures, and continues to serve as a giant venue for events and exploration.

Though many of its attractions come and go — such as Primavera Sound, an annual music festival that takes place in June — the forum is always a worthy destination, beyond just checking out the architecture. Go there to visit the natural history-focused Museu Blau, which is situated in the park’s iconic triangular-shaped Forum Building; to take a dip in the Mediterranean from the sand-free, direct-to-the-water Forum marina and bathing area; or to let the kids burn off some energy at the seaside play area.

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