Excited for your trip to Barcelona? You should be. The Catalan seaside city offers stunning, otherworldly architecture, a fluourishing Michelin-starred restaurant scene, and a beach holiday and city break rolled into one. But if your upcoming journey has you drowning guidebooks filled with sticky notes with multiple tabs and your workmate’s half-remembered recommendations, save yourself the hassle by planning your travels with our guide to the top 20 best sightseeing spots in Barcelona. From the prettiest parks and the best places to soak up some culture, to the must-visit places off the beaten track, you’ll be ticking off that to-do list in no time.
Best sightseeing spots in Barcelona
While some reckon Gaudí is a bit too, well, gaudy, the Basílica de la Sagrada Família most definitely delivers the wow factor. It’ll floor you with its exquisitely carved human figures, floral details and geometric symbols, all of which hang suspended like dripping candle wax. No picture really does it justice so you’ll have to hop on a plane and drink in those architectural details with your own eyes.
A stroll down La Rambla de les Flors is an essential part of any Barcelona trip. Where else can you pick up a fresh bouquet like the locals would have 100 years ago? Only at the Flors María stand, that’s where. Back in the 19th century, La Rambla was the only place you could pick up a beautiful bunch of blooms, and it still maintains that old-school charm, even as the snap-happy tourists wave their selfie sticks around.
Holidays are the perfect form of escapism, and Park Güell is the ideal place to shake off your worries and lose yourself in the fairytale extremes of Gaudí's imagination. The Catalan architect sacked off the original idea of creating an English garden city and went on to build this fantastical grotto, with life-size mechanical gazelles, multicoloured mosaics, and gatehouses done out in the style of ‘Hänsel and Gretel’. Look out for the red and white mushroom for a roof. It’ll be like you fell asleep under a tree and woke up in Wonderland.
Whether you’re in the business of catching rays or waves, rest assured you can do both in Barcelona. Just pack your shades and lay down a towel along the city’s seafront, where you’ll find a seven-kilometre stretch of golden sand. Starving after an afternoon on the surf? Just hit up one of the many seafood restaurants in Barceloneta.
If you want to know where the cool cats hang out, cross over La Rambla into the less polished area of El Raval. Here you can get your modern art fix at Richard Meier’s monumental MACBA, snoop around Gaudí's medievalist Palau Güell or just wander through the colourful graffiti-marked streets like a local.
The Montjuïc Magic Fountain isn’t just any old fountain: it’s an all-singing, all-dancing affair and probably one of the most elaborate water features you’ll see in all of Spain. As water jets out of the 3,600 pieces of tubing and 4,500 bulbs pulsate to the tune of ‘1812 Overture’ or Freddie Mercury, you’ll want nothing more than to grab a beer, sit back and enjoy the show.
Bask in the setting of some of the finest things to have ever happened on a football pitch – most of them coming from the feet of little Lionel Messi. A pre-match tour at Barça's home stadium includes views of the field, a nosy in the press room, and a snoop around the away side’s changing room. The scale of Camp Nou is frankly out of this league and will win round even the most reluctant of football fans.
The Carmel Bunkers
For the most spectacular views over Barcelona, trek to the top of Turó de la Rovira hill in the district of El Carmel. You’ll get a sweat on for sure, but seeing Barcelona laid out like a holiday brochure will be worth those aching limbs.
Swap the strip-lit, sterile aisles of a Carrefour for a lively stroll down Europe’s biggest fresh food market, the Boqueria, which has been trading merrily for over 200 years. Prepare for this foodie mecca to leave you in a food coma after you’ve cooked up a feast with all the fresh produce you’re about to pick up. Arrive hungry, leave happy!
If you’re a sucker for a hidden gem, you’ll adore this little square near the centre. Behind this Baroque church’s lovely exterior lurks a rather sombre past. The façade was damaged by Italian bombing during the Spanish Civil War, killing 200 people, 30 refugee children among them. If you look closely, you can even make out the shrapnel damage.
It’s hard to miss Antoni Gaudí’s white, curvacious quarry-like building. With its strange combination of bricks, mortar and smashed-up cava bottles, and an interior held up by pillars alone, Casa Milà (informally known as La Pedrera) is Barelona architecture at its most daring. Though it was the laughing stock of the street when it was completed in 1912, it’s now a well-loved exhibition space and well worth the visit.
Get to know the Spanish artist and one-time Barcelona resident, not through his iconic works but through the art he created in those early years, spent nearby at La Llotja art school (where his father taught). If you’re passionate about Picasso, pick up an audio guide and prepare to geek out.
This awe-inspiring concert hall was built as a love letter to the talents of the classical music world – but it’s as easy on the eyes as it is on the ears. Columns adorned with floral patterns and topped with the busts of Bach, Beethoven and Palestrina line the main façade, while inside it’s all stunning stained glass, natural motifs and singing sculptures (not literally).
Stroll through this old castle like you’re Catalan royalty, and trot up to the battlements to survey your land (and soak up those views). Make sure to bring a picnic if you fancy eating in the grassy moat as the servants who have long departed once did – although there is a café in the Plaça de Armes if you get peckish and haven't prepared brought your blanket and basket.
Are you looking for your next culture fix? Make it a Joan Miró special at this massive museum dedicated to the Catalan painter, sculptor and ceramicist. Its spacious walls house an extensive collection made up of 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró’s graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings. Wear your comfiest gallery-hopping shoes.
When the mad traffic and packs of tourists get too much, make your getaway to these glorious gardens. There’s a proper maze, a pretty stream, a calming waterfall and plenty of potential picnic sites. Besides, getting lost in a perfectly trimmed maze can be way more fun – and way more relaxing – than losing your way in the big bad city.
Illa de la Discòrdia
Illa de la Discòrdia, which translates as the Block of Discord, might not sound like the most inviting place to spend your precious holiday hours, but it’s nothing to do with the vibe and all to do with the achitecture. Come here to see five contrasting buildings (Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Mulleras, Casa Bonet, Casa Amatller and Casa Batlló) by leading Catalan architects (Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Enric Sagnier, Marcel·lí Coquillat, Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Antoni Gaudí) battle it out in perfectly discordant harmony.
Even if you aren’t into full-blown opera, you’ll definitely see the appeal of the Liceu once you’re settled into a plush red seat AND you’re surrounded by extravagant gold leaf and ornate carvings. Plus, there are seat-back subtitles and a big basement bar, so you can immerse yourself in the story or the booze.