The MNAC, CCCB and the Picasso Museum are among those that open their doors to the public on the first Sunday of every month all year round, and others do the same every Sunday afternoon - and they're all on the house.
The Palau Nacional, this noble building dating back to the 1929 World's Fair, houses the Catalan National Museum of Art (MNAC) and its collection of works from sculpture, painting and drawings to prints, posters and photography, and with the objective of explaining the importance of Catalan art from the Romanesque period to the mid-20th century. It's also home to some of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, formerly at the Convent de Pedralbes, and the legacy of Francesc Cambó.
Admission is free every Saturday from 3pm, and on the first Sunday of every month. Admission is also free on 11 and 24 Sep, as well as on 18 May, coinciding with International Museum Day.
Stretching from the Plaça del Rei to the cathedral are some 4,000sq m (43,000sq ft) of subterranean Roman excavations – streets, villas and storage vats for oil and wine, all discovered by accident in the late 1920s when a whole swath of the Gothic Quarter was dug up to make way for the central avenue of Via Laietana. The excavations continued until 1960; today, the labyrinth can be reached via the Casa Padellàs, a merchant's palace dating from 1498, which was laboriously moved from its original location in C/ Mercaders to allow the construction of Via Laietana.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm and the first Sunday of every month all day. Other open days include 12 Feb, 24 Sep and 18 May.
With exhibits spanning from the Lower Paleolithic era right up to Jordi Pujol's proclamation as President of the Generalitat in 1980, the Catalan History Museum offers a virtual chronology of the region's past. There are two floors of text, film, animated models and reproductions of everything from a medieval shoemaker's shop to a 1960s bar. Hands-on activities add a little pzazz to the rather dry early history. Excellent temporary exhibitions typically examine recent aspects of regional politics and history while the huge rooftop café terrace has unbeatable views over the city and marina.
Admission is free the first Sunday of every month, as well as the following dates: 12 Feb, 23 Apr, 18 May, 11 Sep and 24 Sep.
Finally rehoused in the Auditori concert hall in 2007 after six years in hibernation, the Music Museum's collections comprise over 1,600 instruments, displayed like precious jewels in red velvet and glass cases, along with multimedia displays, interactive exhibits and musical paraphernalia. With pieces spanning the ancient world to the modern day, and including instruments from all corners of the world, the museum's high note is the world-class collection of 17th-century guitars.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm, and the first Sunday of every month all day, as well as the following dates: 12 Feb, 18 May, 21 Jun, 24 Sep and 22 Nov.
Kleptomaniac and general magpie Frederic Marès (1893-1991) 'collected' everything he laid his hands on, from hairbrushes to opera glasses and gargoyles. Unlike most private 19th-century collectors, Marès didn't come from a wealthy family, but spent every penny he earned as a sculptor and art professor on broadening his hoardings. Even when the Ajuntament gave him a palace in which to display his collection (and house himself), it wasn't enough; the overflow eventually spread to two other Marès museums in Montblanc and Arenys de Mar. The exhibits here are divided into three main sections: sculpture dating from the Pre-Roman era to the 20th century; the Sentimental Museum, with objects from everyday life; and a room devoted to photography, and Marès' study and library now filled with sculptures, many of them his own.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm, and the first Sunday of every month all day, as well as the following dates: 12 Feb, 18 May and 24 Sep.
La Virreina Image Centre's programme features photography, audiovisual works, election broadcasts, book publishing, literary festivals, talks, digital documentation and expanded literature in the age of the image, among others.With a mission to explore the notion of the image as knowledge and also as a way of sparking new cultural experiences, La Virreina aims to forge its own identity within the network of spaces in Barcelona, as well as working closely with other centres for visual creation.
When it opened in 1963, the museum dedicated to Barcelona's favourite adopted son was housed in the Palau Aguilar. Nearly five decades later, the permanent collection of some 3,800 pieces has now been spread across five adjoining palaces, two of which are devoted to temporary exhibitions. By no means an overview of the artist's work, the Museu Picasso is rather a record of the vital formative years that the young Picasso spent nearby at La Llotja art school (where his father taught), and later hanging out with Catalonia's fin-de-siècle avant-garde. The seamless presentation of Picasso's development from 1890 to 1904, from deft pre-adolescent portraits to sketchy landscapes to the intense innovations of his Blue Period, is unbeatable, then it leaps to a gallery of mature Cubist paintings from 1917. The pièce de résistance is the complete series of 58 canvases based on Velázquez's famous Las Meninas, donated by Picasso himself after the death of Sabartés, and now stretching through the Great Hall. The display later ends with linocuts, engravings and a wonderful collection of ceramics donated by Picasso's widow.
Admission is free every Thursday from 6pm to 9.30pm, and the first Sunday of every month all day, as well as the following dates: 12 Feb, 18 May and 24 Sep.
Spain's largest cultural centre was opened in 1994 at the Casa de la Caritat, a former almshouse, built in 1802 on the site of a medieval monastery. The massive façade and part of the courtyard remain from the original building; the rest was rebuilt in dramatic contrast, all tilting glass and steel, by architects Piñón and Viaplana, known for the Maremàgnum shopping centre. The CCCB's exhibitions can lean toward heavy-handed didacticism, but there are occasional gems.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm to 8pm, and on the following dates: 12 Feb, 17 May (Museum Night), 18 May and 24 Sep.
Even if you can't tell a caravel from a catamaran, the excellent Maritime Museum is worth a visit, as the soaring arches and vaults of the vast former drassanes (shipyards) represent one the most perfectly preserved examples of civil Gothic architecture in Spain. With the aid of an audio guide, the maps, mastheads, nautical instruments, multimedia displays and models show you how shipbuilding and navigation techniques have developed over the years. Admission also includes the beautiful 1917 Santa Eulàlia schooner docked nearby in the Moll de la Fusta, and the Maritime often has some interesting temporary exhibitions.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm, and on 18 May and 24 Sep.
The construction of new access points for the 1992 Olympic Games facilities of the Olympic Games favoured the proposal to create a new botanical garden for the city. On Montjuïc, between the castle and the Olympic Stadium, the shape of the garden's 14 hectares is reminiscent of a great amphitheatre with preserved collections of Mediterranean plants worldwide and magnificent views over the Llobregat delta, the Olympic Ring and part of the metropolitan area of Barcelona.
Admission is free every Sunday from 3pm and the first Sunday of every month all day, as well as the following dates: 12 Feb, 18 May and 24 Sep.