Tip: The Barcelona card
Before we start our overview of fun things to do and see in Barcelona, there’s something you should know about the Barcelona card. If you’re planning on spending a few days in the Catalonian coastal city, this card is definitely worth the money. It doesn’t only allow for an unlimited use of public transportation, it also gives you heavy discounts (and often free access as well) to some of the top places to visit in Barcelona.
The 33 best sights in Barcelona
There’s a huge amount of well-known and lesser-known sights in Barcelona! I’ll sum up the best ones for you, and will always provide them with a couple of pictures. That way you’ll exactly know what to expect during your city trip to this beautiful metropolis.
The Sagrada Familia
It would be difficult not to start with the most iconic building of the Catalonian capital. The Sagrada Familia represents for Barcelona what the Eiffel Tower means to Paris: an iconic landmark which perfectly embodies the refined grandeur of the city. For over 40 years (of which fourteen exclusively) its celebrated architect Antonio Gaudí devoted to its construction and unfortunately he didn’t live to see its completion. After much hassle this has eventually been planned before 2026. But do not let this discourage you to already visit this imposing church.
The Sagrada Familia attracts five million tourists every year, therefore it’s not unwise to buy a fast-track entrance ticket in advance. That way you’ll get to experience one of the absolute highlights of Barcelona without any stress or worries.
Finally, I’d definitely like to encourage you to also head inside and admire the magnificent interior, because half of the tourists stick to only the facade. That’s a pity, because the inside is at least just as pretty. In that case it’s definitely worth picking a guided tour, in order to learn more about this symbol of Barcelona and the remarkable life of its architect. As a bonus you won’t have to waste any time waiting in line!
Would you like to read more about the Sagrada Familia or perhaps you want to see what this monument looks like from the inside? Then read this blog post as well.
The Sagrada Familia is often mentioned in the same breath as this other marvelous creation of Gaudí: Park Guell. This is without a doubt also one of top places to visit in Barcelona and absolutely can’t be missed. Gaudí wanted to bring a so-called English garden town to Barcelona, on behalf of Eusebi Güell. Therefore, it was the original goal for the (rich) people to come and live here, but that idea might have been too radical to actually have been executed. In addition, its location was also a little bit too far from the city. That’s why the Güell family gifted the park as a present to the city in 1922. Since then it has developed into a World Heritage Site with its highlights being the Hypostyle Room, the colorful undulating bench and the famous mosaic salamander on the stairs. For of all this beauty to be taken good care of, you’ll have to pay a (small) entrance fee of a little over ten euros. If you buy your ticket online, you are guaranteed to get in (with priority!) and on top of that, an electronic ticket is also environmentally-friendly.
Avid Instagrammers can also have a field day here, whether or not in the company of a professional photographer.
Gran Teatre del Liceu
This magnificent theater is located on the Ramblas and can be visited in two ways: you can buy a ticket to one of the (opera) performances, or your can –like I did– plan a guided visit. If you prefer to visit the Liceu Theater with an audio guide, there are also options available (and it’s cheaper as well).
Once you set foot inside this monumental building, you’ll fall in love with the interior. From the fairytale like entrance hall, you’ll be guided along the waiting room and from here on you’ll also get to see the giant theater hall. It almost seems as if everything is coated or decorated with the best and most beautiful materials available. The rather classical interior is a sharp contrast with the beautiful art nouveau that you see elsewhere in Barcelona.
The Gran Teatre del Liceu is one of the biggest opera buildings in the world and it has quite a history! This gorgeous architectural feat knew quite some setbacks. Two fires and even a bombing made sure that the Liceu had to reinvent itself quite a few times. But well… If you ask me, they sure did!
Casa de l’Ardiaca
Not far from the impressive cathedral of Barcelona, you can spot the Casa de l’Ardiaca. This gothic building doesn’t look that interesting from the inside, but once you set foot on the courtyard, you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Try to take in the fine details on the gorgeous sculptured fountain and columns.
Make sure to climb the stairs for a great vantage point over this medieval looking courtyard.
You would definitely not expect it in Barcelona, but here too you can find some Roman influences!
Unfortunately, the biggest part of this tempel has been destroyed or taken away, but still I would say that it’s one of the top sights in Barcelona. The remaining columns now adorn the courtyard of an apartment building and are surrounded by walls and even a roof!
Casa de les Punxes
I personally found this one of the most stunning buildings of Barcelona. This fairytale castle is very striking due to its colorful and spiky towers and shouldn’t be missing on your photos of Barcelona.
It’s also possible to visit this city palace. For €13.50 you are taken on an audiovisual tour that is split into two parts.
On the outside of the building, you can see beautiful mosaics, including one of George and the Dragon. This legend is very important for the Catalans and to make that clear to the visitors, a fun and interactive tour is given inside the Casa de les Punxes.
After this show you can walk around the house and see how the rich owners used to live here.
Be sure to also take the elevator to the roof terrace. From here you get great views over Barcelona.
La Rambla is a 1,2-kilometer-long street which connects the monument of Christopher Colombus with the Plaça de Catalunya. It’s only accessible to pedestrians and both during the day as well as at night you’ll find a great number of people here. Most travelers stroll around the entire Rambla and enjoy the local character on the road, which manifests itself in flower sellers, street artists and quite the bit of lively little bars. Additionally, en route you’ll see a mosaic of Joan Miro and the Font de Canaletes, a fountain where fans of FC Barcelona often celebrate the victory of their beloved football team.
This seamlessly brings us to one of the next top places to see in Barcelona. A guided tour through this mighty impressive stadium is one of the most fun things to do in Barcelona, especially for fans of the beautiful game. They definitely can’t miss out on the Camp Nou Experience, where you get to relive the most important highlights of the club history through virtual reality. That way it’s like you got to experience them yourself in real life! Although this impressive structure can accommodate no fewer than 99,354 visitors, tickets to a game are in high demand and therefore not cheap. In this respect a football trip is an excellent idea because that way you’re already in town!
The Spanish metropolis it situated by the Balearic Sea and features a little over seven kilometers of beaches. Many of those can be found in Barceloneta, the historic working-class neighborhood which still has kept its charm. Besides, the district is also known for the many restaurants and nightclubs which you will find alongside to the promenade. It’s also the home to one of the biggest aquariums in Europe. Because of its location right next to the sea, the area is also one of the best places in town to enjoy fresh seafood paella, as well as delicious tapas. Aficionados of the latter should definitely try “La Bomba”, a potato ball filled with meat and/or a spicy sauce or aioli (garlic sauce).
Barcelona is in the top ten of European capitals of culture, which is manifested in a great number of interesting museums. One of the top places to visit in Barcelona is the museum of Picasso. It was created by the grandmaster himself and holds over 3,800 creations by his hand. As a consequence, you have a magnificent outlook on his evolution and you can see how he has grown to become one of the best and most famous painters of all time. The icing on this artistic cake is a collection of 58 paintings which are based on the renowned masterpiece ‘Las Meningas’ by Velazquez. If you’d like to learn more about Picasso’s splendid body of work, it is advised to opt for a guided tour. With a Barcelona card you can visit the museum for free, though to be on the safe side it is best to confirm your visit in advance.
One of the top sights in Barcelona people tend to forget is the cathedral, which is a fine example of gothic architecture and has been a national historic monument for almost 90 years. It is hardly surprising that this construction devoted to the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (the patron saint of the city) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Saint Eulalia was as a matter of fact tortured by the Romans and her remains are being kept in the crypt underneath the cathedral. Make sure you visit the monastery as well, which is home to thirteen geese (one for every year Saint Eulalia was alive).
It seems there’s a curse on building huge churches in Barcelona, because even though they started constructing the cathedral already back in 1298, it was only entirely finished in 1913. Therefore, there’s no reason for the Sagrada Familia to panic, since it still has some time left.
There are few architects who have left their mark on a city to such an extent as Antonio Gaudí has exerted influence over Barcelona. Apart from his aforementioned masterpieces which are the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, you will find a great number of other particularly fascinating buildings which are characterized by the creative approach of the art nouveau movement.
The first example hereof is Casa Vicens, which was built between 1883 and 1888 commissioned by a rich family. What is particularly striking about this building is its magnificent facade which is decorated with various ceramics and was influenced by Islamic architecture as well.
La Pedrera is undoubtedly one of his most well-known creations because it’s more a sculpture than a building. The roof terrace is really interesting as well and the perfect place to go for a stroll. Unfortunately, many people have discovered this by now, which is why a skip the line ticket is a wise investment.
Then there’s also Casa Battló, which was originally constructed in 1877, but was renovated in its entirety by Gaudí in 1904. Here you’ll also be struck by the special architectural mix of ceramics, stone and iron. At first it wasn’t to everyone’s liking, but not that much later it was elected one of the three best buildings of that particular year.
Finally, Casa Valvet is probably the most conventional work of the Catalonian master architect. You can clearly see the baroque influences, as well as some traces of his later designs.
If you want to learn more about modernism (Catalonian art nouveau), then I can definitely recommend a walking tour which is all about this interesting part of Barcelonan cityscape and history. Learning more about Gaudi is after all one of the most intriguing things to do in Barcelona.
Right next to one of Gaudi’s most famous houses, Casa Batlló, you will find this much less visited masterpiece by yet another architect; Josep Puig i Cadafalch.
The beautiful façade is a modernist response to the beautiful crow-stepped gables that we see so often in Belgium and the Netherlands and looks a bit like a colorful chocolate packaging. It might sound sound like a strange comparison, but the owner of this building had a chocolate factory, so it’s actually not that far fetched!
It seems as if time has stood still in the house, because all furniture and decoration have been retained. During a visit you will get a unique insight into the life of a rich Catalan family in the twentieth century.
This house has only been open to the public since 2015. Because the Amatller family loved chocolate so much, you also get a chocolate tasting when you buy an online ticket. Whether the Catalan chocolate tastes just as good as the Belgian one, I will keep in the middle … 😉
Illa de la Discórdia
The phenomenal constructions of Gaudi are a fantastic introduction to modernism, but the Catalan obviously wasn’t the only modernist architect of that time. If you’re somewhat appealed by this art movement, you should definitely check out the so-called Illa de la Discórdia. This is a city block on the Passeig de Gràcia in the charming Eixample district. Its name means as much as “Block of Disagreement” because here you’ll find four buildings by the hand of the four most important modernist architects of Barcelona. All four of them had a different architectural style which is why the buildings clashed with each other and the surrounding houses. From an architectural point of view, it is definitely one of the most special things to see in Barcelona.
Sant Pau Recinte Modernista
Of the four abovementioned architects Gaudí is of course the most famous one, but another of them isn’t inferior to him when it comes to talent. Obviously we’re talking about Lluís Domènech i Montaner, whose name is as beautiful as his creations. From his many designs the Sant Pau is without a doubt the icing on the architectural cake. This former hospital consists of 20 colorful pavilions characterized by Moorish, Byzantine and gothic influences, as well as lovely gardens.
It is clear that the hospital should bring peace and harmony in the minds of the patients and that’s why it’s extremely pleasant to explore this masterpiece. A guided tour through this UNESCO World Heritage Site is therefore absolutely recommended.
Who’d have thought 200 years ago that his modest outdoor market would develop into the biggest food market in Europe? It’s not in doubt that its location (right next to La Rambla) contributed to this as well, which allowed more and more people (among them a great number of tourists) to find their way to La Boqueria. Because it’s one of the most popular sights in Barcelona, there are of course (many) sellers who overcharge tourists. Although nowadays the latter actually prefer the less touristy markets. Regardless, this is an excellent spot to munch on some local delicacies such as calzones, jamón (Spanish ham) and the various kinds of tapas.
I also recommend getting there early in the morning, when most of the tourists haven’t made it yet to La Boqueria. Foodies will definitely enjoy a paella cooking experience with guided Boqueria tour.
Above the harbor of Barcelona, the Montjuïc hill rises. Due to its strategic position, it played an eminent part in defending the city through the ages. In time this part has developed into one of the most popular things to see in Barcelona. To get there you can take the cable car, which drops you right at the castle. If you’re not that fond of heights, you can just hop on bus 150. The castle is definitely worth the visit, at the very least for the brilliant panoramic view you have from here, allowing you to bask in the splendor of the Catalonian metropolis.
Furthermore, there’s the Joan Miró museum and the Theatre Grec. It’s possible to find some refreshment (especially during those scorching summer months) in the municipal outdoor pool, where –fun fact- they shot the music video for Kylie Minogue’s “Slow” some years ago. At night (and on certain days) you can enjoy the entertaining light show of the so-called “magic” fountain at the castle. Additionally, this is the perfect spot to enjoy the lights of the city amongst the (still remaining) locals.
At the base of the Montjuïc you will find a former textile factory turned into a cultural, social and educational center. This isn’t just the place to be for lovers of the noble arts to admire a permanent exhibition, but it’s also home to three nice spaces which host temporary exhibitions. Moreover, concerts and lectures take place on a regular basis, as well as activities in Barcelona for kids. This makes the CaixaForum to be one of the most interesting places in town. In addition, you have free access to all of this awesomeness with a Barcelona Card!
Sant Felip Neri
One of the prettiest and less known sights in Barcelona probably is this astonishing square, which was built on an ancient medieval cemetery. You’ll find beauty in its simplicity. In terms of buildings you’ll only see a church and some premises dating from the renaissance, whereby one of them has been turned into a shoe museum. Moreover, it’s the perfect place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and chill out for a bit.
This tower is one of the more obscure constructions of Gaudi. Martin of Aragon used to live here, the last king of the house of Barcelona. Five centuries later Jame Figuerares assigned Gaudi the daunting task to build him a home on the very same spot. The latter found inspiration for the design in medieval castles, which resulted in this tower, which is also decorated with small balconies that are adorned with colored glass. Gaudi also included a couple of religious symbols and references to Catalan nationalism, an ideology which strives for the independence of Catalonia.
Only since 2013 it has been opened to the public. A combined visit with the Sagrada Familia is by the way absolutely recommended.
The botanical gardens
One of the most fun and most relaxing things to do in Barcelona is a visit to the botanical gardens. These stretch out over fourteen hectares with flowers and plants from all over the world. The Jardi Botanic as they’re so beautifully called in the local language, can be divided into five areas. Here you’ll independently find Australian, Californian, Mediterranean, South African and Chilean plants. The magnificent view of the city is the cherry on top.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The old city district of Barcelona may seem like a maze at times, because of its many alleys, but did you know that there’s an actual maze in Barcelona? For this you have head down to the Parc del Labertin d’Horta, where the Desvalls family used to live back in the eighteenth century. They hired the Italian architect Domenico Bagutti to design their garden (including a romantic little river and waterfall), with in the middle of it an actual labyrinth. Because of its entrance fee of barely 2,23 euros it is one of the cheapest fun things to do in Barcelona.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
When it comes to cultural sights in Barcelona, few rank as high as the national museum. With a slogan like “One museum, 1000 years of art” you actually can’t go wrong. Here you will find an impressive Catalonian art collection ranging from the twelfth to the twentieth century. The Roman part in particular is absolutely astonishing, because they transported murals from churches in the Pyrenees to the museum. In addition, you can admire a number of paintings from the Catalonian grand masters such as Gaudi, Huguet and Martorell amongst others.
But you can’t only gaze at paintings and frescoes, also modernist furniture and a brilliant photo collection are on display.
Palau de la Musica Catalana
Since we’re on the subject of Catalonian museums, the museum of Catalonian music can’t be forgotten by any means. It was constructed in 1908 by Lluis Domenech i Montaner and was later added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. In the magnificent concert hall, you will see busts of Bach, Beethoven and Wagner. Fun fact: the right part of the arch over the podium comprises statues of Wagner’s Valkyries riding over the bust of Beethoven. The left part on the other hand depicts the Catalonian composer Anselm Clavé who is sat right across young girls who are singing the traditional Catalonian song ‘Flors de Maig’. If you can’t score any concert tickets, you can always visit it through a guided tour.
Parc de la Ciutadella
You don’t need to be Spanish to understand that ‘ciutadella’ means citadel and when you head down to this park, you’ll be amazed to discover that there’s no citadel to be found here. This is because the former citadel (where they used to keep the people under their thumb) was destroyed in the twentieth century by general Juan Prim and his men. Afterwards it was turned into a park where the citizens of this more and more industrialized (and overpopulated) city could get some fresh air.
Also in this day and age it’s a really popular spot where sporty types come for a run or ride on their bikes or people have a pleasant picnic. In addition, you’ll also find the zoo and the geological and zoological museums here.
Furthermore, mostly the waterfall in the northern part of the park will catch your eye. This was designed by Josep Fontseré and his apprentice, none other than Antonio Gaudi.
Many activities such as concerts and markets are organized here as well, which makes it a place where there’s always some action.
Mercat de Sant Antoni
One of the most fun and original things to do in Barcelona is a visit to the market of Sant Antoni, which can be found in the imposing iron building that was designed by Rovira i Trias. Each part of the building was arranged for individual purposes, such as a section where fresh products are being sold. On Sundays collectors from all over the city come here to snoop the fantastic second-hand book collection. Literature aficionados surely can’t miss out on this spot, because a great number of literary gems can be found here.
Plaça dels Angels and the MACBA
We’ve already briefly mentioned authentic historical squares, but if contemporary architecture is more your cup of tea, then the Plaça dels Angels is exactly what you’re looking for.
Here you will find the MACBA, or Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, that was designed by the American Richard Meier. The huge glass front jumps at you straight away, in which straight lines and cylindrical shapes are being combined. Since 1995 you can admire the best collection of contemporary art in town, which consists of around 5000 works of art. If you have a Barcelona card, the entrance is free as well.
Mercat de Santa Caterina
If you’d like to visit a food market in Barcelona, but the thought of thousands of tourists in La Boqueria is giving you severe anxiety attacks, then I have good news for you. You see, there is an alternative which hasn’t been discovered by the masses yet. The market of Santa Caterina immediately stands out because of its colorful wavy roof and apart from that it’s also the second oldest market in town. If you don’t want to cook yourself with the numerous products at your fingertips, I can highly recommend a meal in the Cuines de Santa Caterina restaurant.
This royal square is dominated by a tropical atmosphere and this is partly due to the palm trees and the fountain in the middle, which was designed by the same architect as the above Mercat de Sant Antoni. This however isn’t the most famous architectural jewel of the square, because those undoubtedly are the lampposts designed by Gaudi. Because the Plaça Reial is surrounded by little bars and restaurants, this is one of the best places to spend a cozy night in Barcelona.
Plaça de Prim
We end our list of the the 33 top sights in Barcelona with a gem that hasn’t been discovered yet by the public at large. In the Pobleneu neighborhood you will find a simple yet astonishing little square where you’ll stumble on sober nineteenth-century houses, which used to be the homes of fishermen. It’s like you’ve stepped into a time machine and came out in an era where Barcelona was still characterized by simpler times, far away from the millions of tourists who flood the city nowadays.
In addition, there’s another reason why you should make your way to this square and that’s the brilliant Els Pescadors restaurant, where you can enjoy the best fish and seafood in town.
3x top sights near Barcelona
Barcelona is one of those cities where you keep want to return to and after a couple of visits, you’ve seen all the top places to see in Barcelona itself. Luckily, there are also many fun things to do near Barcelona.
The monastery of Montserrat
48 kilometers from the Catalonian capital on top of a rock lies the monastery of Montserrat, surrounded by staggering cliffs. Its name basically means ‘serrated mountain’ and you’ll immediately understand why when you take in the imposing landscape.
Already in back in 1025 this jewel was built and it developed quickly into a popular place of pilgrimage. You see, the Virgin Mary was said to perform miracles here. It’s therefore hardly surprising that her statue (known as La Moreneta) is being worshipped here.
If you don’t have a car, it’s best to take the train to Monistrol, from where you can take the cable car and get to enjoy the breath-taking mountain landscape. You can also book a tour (€35) where everything is arranged for you.
From a height of 1236 meters you have a fantastic view of Catalonia and on a clear day you can even see Mallorca.
After a train journey of 38 minutes (an hour and a half when traveling by bus or by car), you will reach the tremendous Girona. This medieval walled city lies by the Onyar river; alongside whose waterside you can marvel at the numerous colorful little houses. Besides, this city is mostly characterized by the cultural melting pot that it is. Through the centuries the Romans as well as the Arabs and the Jews have been able to leave their mark on the city’s architectural layout. This makes it one of the top things to do near Barcelona. You can snap up a guided tour from Barcelona for €35 per person.
Just a little bit closer, at 42 kilometers to be precise, lies the picturesque Sitges (tours from Barcelona start from €60 per person). It is mainly known for its great beach, where you can have a wonderful swim. Moreover, there’s also a historic center which has two lovely churches (the Iglesia de Sant Bartomeu and the Iglesia de Santa Tecla). Modernism has reached Sitges as well, with its most famous example being the Cau Ferrat, the house of the Spanish writer and artist Santiago Rusinol.
In addition, with the likes of the fantastic Tarragona, the museum of Salvador Dali in Figueres and the charming Vic, there are quite a few other fun things to do near Barcelona. Add all the highlights of Barcelona itself to the mix and you’ll realize every visit to the Catalonian capital is basically way too short.
Video: The top sights in Barcelona
Above you have already seen a lot of pictures of Barcelona, but I if you want to see even more imagery, I suggest to look at this video too. There’s quite some nice places in this city, eh?!
Tours and tickets for Barcelona
As you saw above, there is a lot to do in Barcelona. This is one of the most visited cities in the world, so you can be sure that sometimes you’ll need to wait in line before entering one of the sights or places of interest… Especially if you visit this city in a busy period!
This is exactly why it is not a bad idea to purchase a few tickets and tours in advance. Via GetYourGuide you can also cancel all tours / tickets free of charge up to 24 hours in advance. You never know!
Check out TicketBar as well, as they sometimes offer cheaper tickets.
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.