Barcelona has stunning public sculpture, sites steeped in history, architectural masterpieces, and parks that are a botanist’s delight. And they’re all right out in the open. We suggest itineraries that link some of the city’s gems.
Click on the arrows to start exploring.
Barcelona was founded by the Romans in the first century AD on Mons Taber, a small hill under what is now Plaça Sant Jaume. Tucked away in the courtyard of the Centre Excursionista de Barcelona, a hiking club, you’ll find an eerily atmospheric reminder of the city’s past: the remains of the Temple of Augustus.
Address: Paradís, 10-12
Visit this impressive building, constructed between the 13th and 14th centuries, to get an idea of the importance of the sea to medieval Barcelona. Since 1941 it has housed the city’s Maritime Museum.
Address: Av. de les Drassanes
This short section of Passeig de Gràcia conveys all the economic and artistic exuberance of Barcelona between the end of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th. Works by the finest Catalan modernista architects are crammed into a single block: Domènech i Montaner’s Casa Lleó Morera, Puig i Cadafalch’s Casa Ametller, Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Enric Sagnier’s Casa Mulleras.
Address: Passeig de Gràcia (between Consell de Cent and Aragó)
The 1992 Olympics transformed the city, and nowhere more so than on the leafy slopes of Montjuïc, where you’ll find the Calatrava communications tower, Arata Isozaki’s Palau Sant Jordi stadium, and the INEF headquarters designed by Ricardo Bofill.
Address: Avinguda de l’Estadi (Montjuïc)
Does such an everyday item deserve to be rendered as a 21-metre-high sculpture? For sculptors Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, artistic collaborators and husband and wife, the answer is yes. These monumental matches remind us that the smallest things can become works of art.
Address: Av. del Cardenal Vidal i Barraquer / Pare Mariana
This superlatively plump cat, the work of Colombian sculptor Fernando Botero, has won a place in Barcelona’s heart. Like a wandering stray finally adopted as a pet, he’s been out on the streets for 23 years, but only found a permanent home on the Rambla del Raval in 2003. And there’s no doubt he looks extremely pleased to be there.
Address: Rambla del Raval
Juan Muñoz’s installation faces San Sebastià beach in Barceloneta. It’s a melancholy work that invites contemplation: its poetic setting – surrounded by trees with the sea as backdrop – softens its vision of the loneliness of modern life.
Address: Plaça del Mar
In a corner of the medieval square, this unassuming and restrained sculpture is still able to make its presence felt. Its quiet power is typical of the work of one of Spain’s most important twentieth century sculptors, Eduardo Chillida.
Address: Plaça del Rei
Josep Granyer’s sculpture – a re-imagining of Rodin’s thinker as a brooding bull – has a companion at the top of the Rambla de Catalunya: Coqueta, a flirtatious giraffe coyly contemplating her hoof. Animals were a characteristic feature of the Barcelona sculptor’s work: he called them his ‘surrealist zoo’, a collection of beasts in very human poses.
Address: Rambla de Catalunya / Gran Via
Barcelona’s most laid-back park had turbulent origins. A fortress was built here to control the city in 1715, and it was 150 years before the area was converted into public gardens. Its 17 hectares now contain more than 100 different species of tree, including some planted at the end of the 19th century.
Address: Passeig de Picasso, 1
Extending over 15 hectares, this park is a stunning example of architecture and nature combined intelligently and harmoniously, without the straitjacket of formal garden design. Gaudí’s genius and unspoilt nature: what more could you ask for?
Address: Olot, 1-3
This space was designed in 1933 by Nicolau Rubió i Tudurí, who took an idealised English garden, with lawns, fountains and lily ponds as his model, adapting it to suit Mediterranean flora. One of his most inspired decisions was to conserve the existing plant life, thanks to which the park boasts exceptionally old and well-grown trees.
Address: Avinguda de Pau Casals, 1
This heavily forested park allows you to stroll through Mediterranean woodland, full of stone pines, holm oaks, red northern oaks, Spanish broom, evergreen shrubs and other typical species – all without leaving Barcelona.
Address: Montevideo, 45
Josep Maria Jujol was one of the masters of Catalan modernisme, but his work tends to be subtle and restrained, a world away from the ornate decoration preferred by some of his contemporaries. The commission for Casa Planells came from a builder, Evelí Planells, and Jujol used it to prove that neither huge plots nor unlimited budgets are necessary to create remarkable architecture. Probably the least known of the modernista masterpieces, it is also one of the most engaging and fascinating.
Address: Diagonal, 323
Towering over the final section of the Diagonal avenue, this 36-storey, 120-metre-high skyscraper is the work of French architect Dominique Perrault. The front half of an enormous rectangular prism seems to slide upwards towards the sky, creating a lithe, elegant profile. As a playful counterpoint, the architect also designed the office block at Diagonal 123, a stack of squat cubes – an architectural game of Tetris on a gigantic scale.
Address: Pere IV, 272-286
Like Gaudí at the Sagrada Familia, French architect Jean Nouvel was inspired by the rocky peaks of Montserrat when he imagined this multicolour rocketship aimed at infinity. Reaching a height of 142 metres – the third-highest building in the city – it has quickly become one of the iconic features of Barcelona’s skyline. There are 4,500 windows (count them), spread over its 38 storeys, and the entire façade turns into a spectacular lightshow at night, thanks to a vast array LED luminous devices.
Address: Diagonal, 211
At the edge of a spreading plaza, Catalan architect Josep Llinàs’s design is composed of distinct volumes whose curved outlines are a conscious rejection of rigid classical forms. The building seems to blend organically into its environment without tension, a freely imagined structure that is perfectly adapted to its surroundings.
Address: Plaça Lesseps, 20-22
Lluís Domènech i Montaner was commissioned to design a 'Palace of Music' for the Orfeó Català, a choral society established only a few years earlier in 1891. To cope with the uneven terrain, he put the auditorium on the first floor, using the ground floor for offices. This was only one of the inspired innovations he deployed to create a modernista masterpiece, conceived as a set of volumes in which natural light takes centre stage.
Address: Sant Francesc de Paula, s/n