These are the biggies, the sights and attractions everyone tells you you cannot miss when you're in Barcelona. From the Sagrada Família and other Gaudí wonders to the city's famous beaches and parks, and including hidden temples and top museums – whether you live in Barcelona or are just visiting for a few days, you simply have to see these 50 wonders of the city!
This may be Barcelona's famously unfinished work, but that does not detract from its beauty. Gaudí spent more than 40 years (his last 14 exclusively) working on the Sagrada Família and is buried beneath its nave. The building triggers a wealth of opinions but never indifference. There are the purists, who revere the parts designed by Gaudí, and then there are others who recognise the work done by Subirachs. Either way, it is a modernist gem that deserves a visit, both inside and out, whether you're a tourist or a long-term resident.
Barcelona has more than 4.5 miles of beaches, from Sant Sebastià to Levante. Many of them can be found in Barceloneta, the historic maritime and workers neighbourhood that grew up on the island of Maians from the 17th century. It is well worth wandering through its streets to see its modest yet charming two-storey houses. Another attraction of the area is the excellent and varied cuisine: from tapas and vermouth, to paellas and seafood.
It's always worth seeing the cathedral of the city you're visiting, and Barcelona is no exception. Its cathedral is an impressive example of Gothic architecture that is now a Cultural Heritage Site and, since 1929, a National Historic Monument. It is dedicated to the Holy Cross and to Saint Eulalia, patron saint of Barcelona, who was martyred by the Romans and whose remains lie in the crypt. Apart from seeing the artistic and architectural riches of the interior, you should also visit the cloister with its 13 white geese (one for each year of Saint Eulalia's life) and worn engravings on the floor that detail which guild paid for each part of the chapel.
Camp Nou / FC Barcelona Museum
Before they carry out a multimillion-euro renovation job, fit in a visit to Camp Nou, the temple of FC Barcelona, and its museum, one of the most visited in Catalonia. One of the best options is the Camp Nou Experience, which includes a tour of all the most iconic spaces. Visit the grounds; the museum to find out more about the history of the club and see all its trophies; the Espacio Messi, with his four Golden Balls and three Golden Boots; and the multimedia zone. A paradise for fans!
Mercat de la Boqueria
Its stallholders have had to learn languages and indulge in public relations, because as well as being the main food market in Barcelona, La Boqueria is now a major tourist destination. Located on La Rambla, it's the biggest market in Catalonia with more than 300 stalls and a surface area of 2,583 square metres. Think of some obscure delicacy and it's almost guaranteed that you'll find it here. And after strolling around, you can always get a bite to eat at Quim de la Boqueria. Pure authenticity.
Illa de la Discòrdia
In just one city block in Barcelona, the section of Passeig de Gràcia between C/Aragó and C/Consell de Cent, there are five major buildings from the Catalan modernist era: Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Casa Mulleras by Enric Sagnier, Casa Bonet by Marcel·lí Coquillat, Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Casa Batlló by Gaudí. It was named the 'Island of Discord' (also called the 'Block of Discord' in Spanish) because of the rivalries between the five architects.
Declared a World Heritage Site, Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera (The Quarry), is one of Barcelona's best loved buildings, full of references to marine life and myths. Architects love it for its extraordinary structure: there is no supporting wall and the large asymmetric front windows let in plenty of natural light. As well as being a work of art in its own right, Casa Milà also hosts exhibitions and concerts on the terrace, plus one of the apartments still shows the furniture and decor from the early 1900s.
This is one of the most iconic green spaces in Barcelona, declared a World Heritage Site in 1984, and one of Gaudí's most important works. The architect wanted to emulate English garden cities and became obsessed with integrating nature into his designs. There are several important elements in the park: the Hall of One Hundred Columns (though it actually has 86); the square with the mosaic bench in the form of a serpent, and the salamander on the main steps. Since the end of 2013, a charge was introduced to enter the park; however, there are options for free entry.
If the quality of a museum is measured by the number of people queuing to get in, the Picasso Museum takes first place. The museum was created by the artist himself and his friend and secretary, Jaume Sabartès, who contributed his collection. With more than 3,800 works making up the permanent collection, it shows the artist's formative years along with an extensive programme of temporary exhibitions.
La Rambla is perhaps the most famous street in Barcelona. We suggest walking the whole length from Plaça de Catalunya, the heart of the city, to Port Vell at the other end. La Rambla is teeming with tourists, shoppers, locals and gawkers at all hours, but don't let that stop you from joining in. There are newsstands, flower stalls, historic shops, artists and must-see places, such as the Canaletas Fountain (a traditional spot to celebrate wins by FC Barcelona), the Boqueria Market, the Liceu opera house, the Teatre Principal, and finally, the monument to Columbus. Let yourself be swept up in its vibrant atmosphere.
Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site
Not far from the Sagrada Família is another Modernist gem, the spectacular hospital by Domènech i Montaner. The architect was inspired by hygiene ideals and state-of-the-art hospitals in Europe at the time, so designed a centre with isolation wards (each for a particular speciality), surrounded by gardens and connected by underground passages. Domènech i Montaner believed that aesthetic harmony and a welcoming atmosphere were good for health. After more than 80 years of service to the city, the hospital moved to another, more modern, building and renovation work on the old building began. You can now visit with or without a tour guide to discover the history of one of the oldest hospitals in Europe.
Montjuïc Magic Fountain
The Magic Fountain by Carles Buïgas is another product of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and one of Barcelona's most popular tourist attractions. Its display of music, water and lights forms the central feature of a number of sights from the National Art Museum down to the Plaça d'Espanya.
Nearby is the Mies Van der Rohe pavilion, well, an exact replica, since the original, also created for the Exposition, was demolished soon after.
In 1992, Barcelona captivated the world and the city quickly learned to adapt to hosting an Olympic Games. Taking advantage of the space offered by Montjuïc hill, the 'Olympic Ring' was built. Covering more than 400 hectares, it includes the Calatrava communications tower, the Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium, the Palau Sant Jordi sports hall, the Picornell swimming pools, the head office of the Catalan Institute for Physical Education, as well as the Joan Antoni Samaranch Olympic and Sports Museum, which opened in 2007. In addition to hosting sporting events, both the Olympic Stadium and Palau Sant Jordi are now also major music venues.
CaixaForum is another example of a restored building. Puig i Cadafalch built this former textile factory at the foot of Montjuïc for the entrepreneur Casimir Casaramona. After being abandoned for years, the Fundació La Caixa bought the building, an example of industrial modernism, and gave it a new role, as a cultural, social and educational centre. It opened in 2002 following renovation work by Arata Isozaki, Francisco Javier Asarta, Roberto Luna and Robert Brufau. In addition to permanent collections of contemporary art, there are three spaces for temporary exhibitions and a programme that includes concerts, lectures, screenings, guided tours and children's activities.
Sant Felip Neri
For many in Barcelona, Sant Felip Neri is the prettiest square in the whole city, perhaps because of its simplicity, peacefulness, its fountain and history. You reach it by wandering through the narrow streets of the Old City. The square is built over the old medieval cemetery of Montjuïc del Bisbe and features a church and school of the same name, some Renaissance buildings and the former head offices of the tinker and shoemaker guilds, the latter now housing the Shoe Museum. If you look closely at the façade of the Sant Felip Neri church, you will notice shrapnel from a bomb thrown by Franco's forces during the Civil War, tragically killing 42 people, most of them children.
The Carmel Bunkers
These never feature on the standard city tours and it's a shame because, if you don't visit them, you'll miss some of the best views of Barcelona. The anti-aircraft guns were built in 1937, during the Civil War, when Barcelona was hit by almost 200 bombings a day. From the 1950s, with the boom in immigration, people moved in. A shantytown grew up and the residents fought for improvements (electricity, water, bins), then were later rehoused in buildings with better conditions. When Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games, the city demolished the shacks and abandoned the space. It was the residents of the area who again fought for its recognition as a place of historic importance.
There are some who say you should only enter a cemetery once, then there are those who know how to separate sombre thoughts from the artistic appreciation of gravestones and mausoleums. In the cemeteries of Poblenou and Montjuïc, the largest in Barcelona, numerous architectural styles can be found as well as work by renowned artists. Guided tours are also available so you don't miss any details. Enter without fear...
In September 2013, the Bellesguard Tower, one of the lesser known works of Gaudí, opened its doors to the public. The architect was commissioned by Jaume Figueras and the building is influenced by both Gothic and Modernista styles. Five centuries earlier, in 1409, Martin the Humane, the last king of the House of Barcelona, built his residence in the same spot at the foot of Tibidabo.
Barcelona's botanical garden stretches over 14 hectares and features plants from places around the world with a Mediterranean climate. It is organised into five zones: Australia, California, the Mediterranean, South Africa and Chile. Be sure to visit once you're up on Montjuïc, as much for plants as for the views of the city, the Olympic Ring and the Llobregat delta.
Born Centre of Culture and Remembrance
After years of excavations, renovations and more than one dispute with the neighbours, in September 2013, the El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria finally opened as a multi-purpose building located in the former Born marketplace. The iron and glass structure was designed by Josep Fontserè in 1876 and was the first market in the city to be built in the Parisian style. Today, visitors can see the archeological remains of the Vilanova de Mar neighbourhood from 1700 and better understand the siege suffered by the city in 1714. Huge walkways now bridge this impressive cultural centre, which also features exhibition spaces, a bookshop and a food hall.
In the middle of Avinguda Diagonal is Casa Planells, a building by Josep Maria Jujol – another of the great Catalan modernists, but more discreet that his contemporaries. In a tiny area he managed to design an impressive building, without overdoing the embellishments and with a rounded façade. Inside, the most striking aspect is the staircase and wrought iron railing.
Jump on the train or in the car and head out of Barcelona to Santa Coloma de Cervelló, in the Baix Llobregat area, to visit the Colonia Güell. The textile industrialist Eusebi Güell moved his facilities from the Sants neighbourhood to this small town to escape social unrest. Gaudí and his team were commissioned for the project, which included a hospital, food hall, school, theatre, shops, cooperative and chapel, plus factories and housing for the workers. Gaudí only managed to build the crypt of the church when Güell's death changed everything and the project was abandoned halfway through.
At noon on Sundays and bank holidays there are guided tours around the historic site, while on Saturday mornings there is a market selling local produce.
Estació de França
This is not your average train station full of escalators and plastic. The 'French Station' (located on Av. Marquès de l'Argentera) is a product of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and the second largest station in Barcelona after Sants. Some compare it to the Paris Orsay Station for its grandeur and elegance. You can admire the vast metal arches, a fine example of cast-iron architecture, full of light and space. While the lobby, by Duran Reynals in the Noucentisme style, today hosts a variety of activities, such as second-hand fairs.
After major renovation works, Barcelona's dockyards, declared a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1976, look better than ever. The Maritime Museum is located there, and is responsible for preserving, studying and publicising one of the most important collections of maritime heritage in the Medierranean. Worth a look simply for its architecture, the museum also has a variety of exhibitions and a garden, with a café, that makes for a very pleasant visit.
Few know that this is the oldest park in the city and that it has a maze, making this a great place to escape the crowds. It's located in the neighbourhood of Horta, near the Sierra de Collserola, and has, beside the labyrinth, a neoclassical 18th-century garden, a 19th-century romantic garden, the family mansion of the Desvalls (who own the land), fountains, a waterfall and several sculptures of Greek mythology. Go and play at being Theseus and the Minotaur.
Mercat Flors / Teatre Lliure
These two cultural centres occupy what was left of the old Palace of Agriculture, which was built on Montjuïc for the 1929 International Exposition. In 1983, the then councillor for culture, Maria Aurèlia Capmany, and the mayor Pasqual Maragall were responsible for turning the old Flower Market into a municipal theatre. Meanwhile, the Lliure de Gràcia Theatre outgrew its headquarters and needed a new home. After the proposed redevelopment of the former Plaça de Toros de les Arenes bullring was rejected, the Palace of Agriculture was the next offer, and it has been there since 2001.
The National Palace, iconic building of the 1929 International Exposition, is home to the National Art Museum of Catalonia. From Plaça d'Espanya, you can see it in the distance, and reach it by climbing the steps that rise up to meet it (or take the usually-working escalators). It contains an important collection of Romanesque art, works by the main artists of Catalan Modernism like Gaudí and Ramon Casas, as well as Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque art and an extensive photography collection.
Palau de la Música Catalana
When you visit the Palau de la Música all your senses sit up and take notice, because every inch tells a story of Modernism, music and Catalonia. It was built in 1908 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Muses watch over the main concert hall, and on the façade are busts of Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven and Wagner. But don't let its grand appearance put you off, because the Palau doesn't schedule only big names in classical music – it also welcomes the stars of contemporary music.
It is hard to imagine a hill with more things to see and do. If you fancy a day's walk through parks and gardens, Montjuïc is a good option. You can visit the castle (originally a fortress and, after the Civil War, a military museum), eat in the Caseta del Migdia with Barcelona at your feet and explore some of the most beautiful landscaped gardens: the Gardens of Laribal (with its lovely waterfall); the Albéniz Mansion (free entry on Sundays and during the Mercè festival); the Gardens of Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer (dedicated to bulbs, rhizomes and aquatic plants) and the Gardens of Joan Brossa (an example of land restoration, since for more than 30 years it was the Montjuïc amusement park).
Joan Miró Foundation
The Miró Foundation has it all. One, the collection of works by the artist, with more than 104,000 pieces including paintings, sculptures and tapestries, plus almost all of Miró's drawings. Two, the setting, spectacular gardens and views of Barcelona from the top of Montjuïc. Three, the building, designed by Josep Lluís Sert, architect, co-founder of GATCPAC (Catalan Architects and Technicians for Progress in Contemporary Architecture) and great friend of Miró. Four, the activities they organise, many of which are for families. You can't afford to miss it!
Tibidabo boasts Barcelona's only amusement park, one of the oldest in the world which has stood the test of time. There are more than 25 attractions for all ages, from the newest to the more 'classic', which add a bit of vintage magic to the park. Among the most famous attractions are the Miramiralls (a maze of concave and convex mirrors which distort your image), the Talaia (opened in 1921, it's the only one of its kind in the world), the Avión (a replica of the first plane to fly from Barcelona to Madrid with some of the original features inside) and also... the city of Barcelona, since you get stunning views from the mountain. Take the Tramvia Blau tram and funicular to reach the park in style.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Ciutadella Park is close to the centre of the city and it's the park most used by locals. Within its 17 hectares, there is much to see: the zoo, the Catalan Parliament buildings, the church, the lake, the bandstand... But it's also alive with activities: from markets and fairs to sporting events, concerts, DJ sessions, children's parties and charity events.
Despite being Gaudí's first major commission, his other buildings have stolen the limelight from Palau Güell somewhat. The building, located in the Raval, belongs to the architect's Oriental period and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984. It has six floors, a conical space that connects and ventilates the upper floors and a spectacular roof with 20 chimneys and decorated stacks. It was a forerunner to what he would later do at La Pedrera.
Santa María del Mar
This church inspired the celebrated novel 'Cathedral of the Sea' by Ildefonso Falcones, and no wonder because Santa María del Mar is gorgeous despite its austerity. It is dedicated to the patron saint of sailors and is one of the best examples of Catalan Gothic architecture. Whether religious or not, you can't helped but be moved by its spacious, light interior that transmits a sense of calm. While in the area, take the time to visit the neighbouring Fossar de les Moreres, a memorial to victims of the 1714 siege of Barcelona. The square became a mass grave during the seige and now features a torch with an eternal flame.
This is the most famous cat in the Raval, in fact, in the whole of Barcelona. Since the Council bought it from Colombian artist Fernando Botero in 1987, the poor cat has been moved several times. First it was in Parc de la Ciutadella, near the zoo; then, to coincide with the 1992 Olympic Games, it was moved to the Olympic Stadium; then several years later it was moved again, to a square behind Drassanes. It now seems very happy in its home in the Rambla del Raval, and the neighbours love it.
Plaça de la Virreina
Gràcia is full of beautiful squares and great bars; this square, however, is the one with the most appeal for us. For its friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere; for the church that overlooks it; for being a meeting place for neighbourhood locals and the rest of Barcelona; and for the healthy rivalry that exists between the three main bars. Try them all! And if you come here on a Sunday morning, it's more than likely you'll also see people dancing the lindy hop.
Mercat de Sant Antoni
Grandparents, parents and children have spent more than one or two Sundays in this market exchanging picture cards or looking for second-hand books. It is unique in the city – located in the market area of Sant Antoni – a heritage site where every Sunday it becomes a collectors' paradise: out-of-print books, stamps, comics of every type and age... Even if you have no intention of buying, stroll among the stalls and watch the crowds who have flocked here for decades to truly understand the importance of this great little market.
The most important building in Plaça de la Universitat is, clearly, the historic building of Barcelona University. It became a centre for education in 1871 and for an entire century housed Barcelona's main faculties and departments, divided into an Arts quadrangle and a Science quadrangle. It now houses the maths and philology departments. If you want to visit you don't need to be a student – from October to July, there are monthly guided tours (for up to 30 people) of the most impressive areas of the building: the main lobby, the staircase of honour, the cloisters and the assembly hall.
Plaça de Sant Jaume
This square is the administrative centre of Barcelona, housing the Catalan Autonomous Government and City Hall. It is named after the church that once stood here in medieval times, and was the site of the main crossroads in the Roman settlement of Barcino. The Roman forum and Temple of Augustus were also situated here, and four columns can still be seen in C/Paradís. Today, most protests and demonstrations pass through the square, while at Chirstmas it features a large nativity scene that changes every year.
Situated next to the MACBA, this is one of the Raval's historic buildings. It was once the poorhouse, functioning as such until 1957 when the building was abandoned. In 1989, Barcelona Council and City Hall approved the creation of the Centre for Contemporary Culture, as part of the Raval's wider urban renovation scheme. The CCCB opened in 1995 and most of the building is given over to exhibitions, but it also hosts music festivals, films, lectures and debates. And on the first Sunday of every month, you can visit its lookout for free.
Plaça dels Àngels (MACBA)
Slowly the skaters are taking over this square, but they cannot take away from the presence of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, known as the MACBA. It's an impressive building, designed by the American architect Richard Meier, with a large glass façade and a combination of straight lines and cylindrical shapes. Since opening in 1995, the MACBA has become the city's top institution for contemporary art and cultural practice.
You can explore Cervantes Park by walking up from Av. Diagonal, where the main entrance is, or down from the Ronda de Dalt for a more relaxed stroll. This large green space is much appreciated by walkers and athletes for its wide paths and sunny and shady spots. But if anything, it's known for its rose garden. From the beginning of spring through autumn, more than 10,000 roses fill 4 hectares of one area of the park. And in early May, the garden hosts Barcelona's International New Rose Competition.
Sant Pere de les Puel·les
Sant Pere de les Puel·les is not one of the better known churches in Barcelona. It was a Benedictine monastery but only the church remains from the original building, which was rebuilt after a fire in 1909. Along with its pretty square, with restaurants and terraces, this little-known gem is more than worth a visit.
Mercat de Santa Caterina
Santa Caterina Market is instantly recognisable by its wavy roof, evoking Gaudí with its 325,000 tiles reflecting the colours of the fruit and veg stalls below. It is the second oldest market in Barcelona after La Boqueria. Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue were responsible for the renovations, while the original portico was retained and rebuilt in 1988. Inside, you will find the usual buzz of a municipal market, but with a wooden roof that gives it a particularly warm atmosphere. And if wandering among so much fresh produce makes you hungry, you can eat at Cuines de Santa Caterina, an intriguing restaurant with international dishes available from its various bars.
Walking down La Rambla toward the sea you'll find this square on your left. It's one of only squares in Barcelona with palm trees and arcades. In the centre is the Three Graces fountain, designed by Antoni Rovira i Trias, while the streetlights were designed by Antoni Gaudí. It's one of the liveliest squares in the city, especially at night, as it's full of restaurants, bars and clubs. And yes, it is worth holding onto your bag as you walk through it.
The Temple of Augustus
Another example of Roman Barcelona, this was once a temple dedicated to Augustus that occupied a central area of the Forum. Time has destroyed the Forum, but in the late 19th century, during construction of the Centro Excursionista de Catalunya, three columns were found. A fourth column, which was displayed in the Plaça del Rei until the late 1950s, is now with the other three. They can be found behind the centre, in C/Paradís.
The Jewish quarter (El Call)
Barcelona's Jewish quarter was located in what's now the Barri Gòtic, between C/del Call, Plaça Sant Jaume, C/Banys Nous and C/Sant Sever. In addition to enjoying a stroll through the streets of 'El Call', if you want to explore the community further, head to the MUHBA El Call, where you'll see objects such as ritual lamps and headstones, as well as the exhibition ‘Salomó ben Adret de Barcelona (1235-1310). The Triumph of an Orthodoxy’. Also stop and give the old synagogue a visit.
Poblenou's most emblematic square is the one that also houses the oldest residences. These humble, white 19th-century buildings that line the square were the homes of fishermen when Poblenou was a fishing village. Small and sweet Plaça Prim doesn't need a lot of frills to seduce passers-by. Three fantastic ombú trees, a less-than-spectacular fountain, a few benches and a single restaurant ... but what restaurant! Els Pescadors has the privilege of exclusive terrace rights and, while you can become a part of the exclusive set with cash or credit card, it's imperative that you get stuck in to a selection of their fresh seafood dishes in the square to set everything right with the world.
Santa Maria del Pi
Santa Maria del Pi is a Catalan Gothic-style church in Plaça del Pi which was declared a National Heritage Site in 1931. Not only can you admire its architectural beauty, but you can also try to catch the classical guitar concerts they host, or a weekend exhibition featuring various artists who also sell their paintings in the square itself.
All around Plaça de las Glòries, you'll find quite a few of Barcelona's architectural and cultural landmarks. On one side you've got the Torre Agbar, from Jean Nouvel, that changed the city's skyline, and on the other is the Mercat de Bellcaire (aka 'Encants') with an impressive wavy roof, brought to you by Fermín Vázquez, that reflects the hubbub of the market. But there's also the Disseny Hub Barcelona, the future home of the Museo del Diseño; the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, a work by Ricardo Bofill; and L'Auditori, designed by Rafael Moneo.