Barcelona is a historical and cultural mecca, the capital and largest city of the Catalonia region. Award-winning author Andrew Barger once said, “even the moon was embarrassed by the beauty of Barcelona.” What you consider the best thing to do in Barcelona will depend upon your tastes for art, nightlife and beachgoing.
Barcelona offers visitors an impressive array of events, museums, and attractions – not to mention its beautiful Mediterranean weather – drawing millions of tourists annually. Food? You bet. Twenty-one Michelin starred restaurants call Barcelona home.
You could spend a lifetime discovering the charms of this city, but for starters, knock off some of the highlights sampling the best thing to do in Barcelona.
Things to do in Barcelona Spain
The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca once said that Las Rambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” Beginning in Barcelona’s city center, Placa De Catalunya, and continuing to the water in front of the Columbus monument, Las Ramblas is a 1.2-kilometer tree-lined pedestrian street in central Barcelona noted for its shopping and cultural attractions.
These include the Font de Canaletes fountain, open-air flower market, Church of Bethlehem, Liceu Opera House and Rambla de Santa Mònica arts center. Bask in the shade of the tall trees in summer while shopping, dining and watching the passing crowds or make your way along the waterfront boardwalk to Barcelona’s Aquarium.
La Sagrada Familia
There is no other cathedral in the world like it, and there never will be. La Sagrada, designed and partially built by Barcelona resident Antoni Gaudi, remains the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world. It will likely still be so when everyone reading this passes on.
Construction began 140 years ago and as of 2020, the project was only about 75 percent complete. Work continues to this day.
Parts of its exterior appear almost like a monumental drip-sand castle. Its three distinct and uniquely designed grand facades reflect Gaudi’s artistic representation of the nativity, passion, and glory of Jesus Christ.
Architect critic Paul Goldberger describes it as, “the most extraordinary personal interpretation of Gothic architecture since the Middle Ages.” Eleven of 18 spires are finished and upon completion of the central 566-foot main tower, it will be the tallest church in the world.
Gaudi’s blend of Spanish Late-Gothic, Catalan Modernism and Art Noveau has indeed created a masterpiece, even if its not finished.
Breathtaking, mesmerizing and astonishing. Words fall short in describing yet another of Gaudi’s magnificent architectural works. Each of its whimsical, eccentric and bizarre floors, rooms, towers and balconies, seem to have a distinctive, yet harmonious, character. Bold colors, odd shapes and sinuous patterns abound throughout. The roof of this building is world-renowned with its unusual dragon-scale tiling.
Despite being remodeled in the 20th century, Gaudi’s singular creative footprint and those of his assistants have transformed this building into a timeless piece of art. Today, Casa Batllo joins a row of houses referred to as Mansana de la Discòrdiathe, the Block of Discord, part of four buildings by noted Modernista architects of Barcelona.
You can’t visit Barcelona and get too much of Antoni Gaudi. The Casa Milà is another emblematic Gaudi building, erected in 1912. UNESCO listed, it is the fourth and last building by Gaudi on the Passeig de Gracia avenue. True to Gaudi’s penchant for the unexpected, this building is also known as La Pedrera due to its strong resemblance to a stone quarry.
Built for Pere Milà i Camps, a Spanish lawyer, as his family home, Casa Milà was the last private residence designed by the famed architect. Today it is admired for its undulating self-supporting stone facade, twisting wrought iron balconies, free-floor plan, underground garage and the spectacular roof terrace.
With its perfect climate and long coastline bordering the beautiful western Mediterranean, Barcelona beaches and boardwalks stretch for miles. Extending from the northeast to the southwest, these fabulous beaches draw throngs of sun-seekers and sarong sellers virtually year-round.
Centrally located, Barceloneta Beach is the most popular strip of sand in the city. This golden shoreline is entirely manmade with a lovely palm-tree-lined promenade.
Nova Icària Beach is Barcelona’s best beach for families. Sports-minded beach-goers love playing beach volleyball on Bogatella beaches. Crescent-shaped Nova Mar Bella Beach is where the locals tend to hangout. Named for the nearby 18th-century Barceloneta church, Sant Miquel Beach is one of the oldest beaches in Barcelona and sits in close proximity to the old city.
No matter where you stay in Barcelona, a beautiful beach often surrounded by trendy bars and shops with outdoor seating and terraces will be just minutes away.
This large public market in the Ciutat Vella district is one of the city’s top tourist landmarks. Dating back to the medieval period, the eclectic market sports a wrought-iron roof constructed in 1914 with an entrance from La Rambla, not far from the Liceu, Barcelona’s opera house.
Whether you are simply browsing or looking to make a purchase, this modern market is guaranteed to satisfy all tastes. You can find an array of stalls selling cheese, olive oil, fresh vegetables, fruit, fish and cold meats or you can relax in any of the bars nearby and treat yourself to a cold refreshing libation.
Barcelona is synonymous not only with architecture, but also a football mecca. FC Barcelona rivals Real Madrid as the premier football club in all of Spain and all the world. Messi donned the iconic vertical blue and red striped “kit” of FC Barcelona. So did Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Maradona and Johan Cruyff. Its massive stadium Camp Nou been the club’s home since its completion in 1957. For Barca’s millions of fans worldwide, this is undoubtedly the best thing to do in Barcelona!
It has also hosted many historic concerts and events with such notables as Pope John Paul II, Julio Iglesias, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, the Three Tenors and U2.
You don’t have to love football to enjoy a visit to this stadium. The staggering structure and sheer scale of the venue will amaze anyone. Seating nearly 100,000 raucous fans, Camp Nou is the largest football stadium in Europe and the third largest in the world.
While it is a joy to explore the stadium and examine the memorabilia within this world-famous football cathedral, it’s important to note that visitor access to the stadium is forbidden on or before a match day.
This is the best way to complete your Gaudi experience. Situated on Carmel Hill, this privatized park system and garden features enchanting sculptures, fountains and colonnades all adorned with bright mosaics. The park was built from 1900 to 1914 and was officially opened as a public park in 1926. In 1984, Park Güell was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
When Gaudi was handed his degree, the director of the Barcelona Architectural School, Elies Rogent, said: “We have given this academic title either to a fool or a genius. Time will show.”
Time has indeed shown the genius of Antoni Gaudi. Park Güell is like something straight from a fairytale. Originally inspired by the English garden city movement, Gaudi added his whimsical creativity to nature-themed pieces of functional art that truly make this park a must-see attraction.
You can also visit the house that Gaudi lived in from 1906 to 1926, featuring decorations and furniture all designed by the artist himself.
The History Museum of Barcelona
This museum protects, conserves, and exhibits historic city sites from its origins in Roman times to present day. Inaugurated in 1943, the museum’s headquarters are located on Plaça del Rei, in the Barcelona Gothic Quarter. It also manages a host of historic sites across the city. These include many ancient Roman archaeological sites and others dating back to medieval times, the Jewish Quarter, and the Palau Reial Major, a medieval royal palace.
Take an elevator down to the basement to discover what remains of the Garum factory, dyeing shops, and laundries. The original Roman city can also be viewed in the basement from elevated walkways.
The museum also exhibits objects witnessing the history of Barcelona leading into modern times, covering the government, guilds, civic celebrations, conflicts, crafts and trade leading to Barcelona’s transformation in the industrial era.
This broad, shallow, flat-topped hill overlooking Barcelona’s harbor southwest of the city center is hill is host to Palau Nacional, a massive, Italian-style building dating to 1929 intended to house international exhibitions. Today, Palau Nacional is home to a variety of highly rated museums including the Museum of Archaeology, the National Museum of Catalan Art and the Museum of Ethnology. Take a cable car to the top.
The Museum of Art stands out from the others owing to the breathtaking view of the city visible from the stone steps leading to the entrance. Below the Museum is the Magic Fountain. During weekends, the fountain shoots bursts of water, brilliantly illuminated by colored lights, with its dancing streams choreographed to music.
Below the top of Monjuic is the site of several fortifications including the 17th century Castle of Montjuïc that remains today.
Dining out in Barcelona is a joy Catalan cuisine relies heavily on ingredients sourced along the Mediterranean coast including fresh tomato, garlic, eggplant and artichoke, pasta, olive oils, wines, mushrooms, cheeses, and nuts. Meat items include pork in all its various forms, poultry, lamb, and lots of fish and seafood including prawns, squid, sea snails and sea urchins.
Meat and seafood elements are frequently fused together in the Catalan version of surf and turf, known as mar i muntanya. These may include chicken with lobster (pollastre amb llagosta), chicken with crayfish (pollastre amb escarmalans), rice with meat and seafood (arròs mar i muntanya) and cuttlefish with meatballs (sipia amb mandonguilles).
For lighter fare, pintxos are especially popular among tourists and locals. They are a Basque-style snack usually eaten in bars, comprised of a tiny slice of bread piled high with various toppings. Another typical Catalan snack is Pa amb tomaquet, a slice of rustic bread, toasted and topped off with crushed tomatoes and olive oil.
For something sweeter, a bowl crema Catalana is the perfect way to finish off your meal. It is similar to a creme brûlée, but with the addition of orange zest and a hint of cinnamon.
Where to Stay in Barcelona
As a major global tourist destination, Barcelona is chalk full of hotel rooms. Name your price, name your location, use the map below to help get you started.
Rich in history, flush with great art and architecture, Barcelona dazzles the senses leaving an unforgettable impression on all who bask under its warm and welcoming sun.artBarcelonadestinationhistoricseaside