The writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón once described Barcelona as being a city that’s ‘extremely vain’. But this self-love isn’t without reason, and you can see why in this list of the sights and attractions in Barcelona that are simply unmissable. From the indescribable beauty of the Sagrada Família and other Gaudí wonders to the city’s array of famous beaches and parks where you can soak up the sun, Barcelona has it all. In between stops for tapas and drinks, you can explore hidden attractions or immerse yourself in Catalan culture and art at the city’s best museums. So whether you live in Barcelona or are just visiting for a few days, this ultimate sightseeing hit list is for you.
RECOMMENDED: Full guide to the best things to do in Barcelona
Best places to visit and attractions in Barcelona
Soaring above Barcelona’s cityscape, the Sagrada Família will be the world’s tallest church upon completion (estimated for 2026). This 130-year labour of love, dreamt up by Antoni Gaudí, is one of the world’s most controversial basilicas, but also one of the most visited. Three million tourists flock here each year to gawk at the architectural achievement that has brought nature, light and religion together into one stunning ensemble. The interior is like a giant jigsaw puzzle, with each new architect’s style blending into the rest of Gaudí’s visionary design.
Barcelona has more than 4.5 miles of beaches, from Sant Sebastià to Llevant. Many can be found in Barceloneta, the historic maritime and workers’ neighbourhood that sprung up on the island of Maians from the 17th century. It’s well worth wandering through the streets of Barceloneta to admire its modest yet charming two-storey houses. Another draw is the area’s excellent and varied cuisine, ranging from tapas and vermouth to paella and seafood.
It’s always worth checking out the cathedral of the city you’re visiting, and Barcelona is no exception. Its cathedral is an impressive example of Gothic architecture that’s now a Cultural Heritage Site and, since 1929, a National Historic Monument. It’s 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. Aside from 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 the well-worn engravings on the floor that detail which guild paid for each part of the chapel. If you visit on Saturday or Sunday morning, you might even witness another Catalan tradition, the Sardana dance, performed in the square in front of the cathedral.
FC Barcelona’s home ground, or rather Lionel Messi’s stomping ground, is one of the most visited places in the city. Die-hard fans will want to check out the Camp Nou Experience, which offers a peek inside various players-only areas. Tickets start at €25 and go up to around €140.
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. Just off 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 you’re almost guaranteed to find it here. After strolling around, you can always grab a bite to eat at Quim de la Boqueria.
In just one 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·lià Coquillat, Casa Amatller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí. It was named the ‘Island of Discord’ because of the rivalries between the five architects.
It’s been described as looking like rising dough, molten lava or a stone lung. Casa Milà (popularly known as La Pedrera, ‘the stone quarry’) is a daring example of Gaudí’s use of stone. When La Pedrera, his last civic project, was first commissioned in 1906, the building became a laughing stock for its undulating façade, wrought-iron balconies and vast windows. Today, of course, it’s viewed quite differently, and Gaudí’s innovative, self-supporting stone exterior has won it a spot on Unesco’s World Heritage Site list.
Up in Barcelona’s Horta-Guinardó neighbourhood, this maze of walls and walkways boasts breathtaking hillside views of the whole city. Highlights when visiting include the Hall of One Hundred Columns (though it actually has 86); the mosaic serpent bench; and the salamander on the main steps. You can enter the park for free, but if you want to get into the ‘Monumental zone’, you’ll pay around €10 to see the iconic mosaic bench and dragon (and more).
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, Jaime Sabartès, who donated his collection. More than 3,800 works make up the permanent collection, and it also hosts an array of temporary exhibitions.
This is undoubtedly the most famous street in Barcelona. Stretching from Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya in the centre, La Rambla offers a bevy of shops, flower stands, artworks and attractions. Don’t miss the ornate Canaletes fountain, Boqueria market, Liceu opera house and Teatre Principal.
Not far from the Sagrada Família is another modernista 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, the hospital moved to another, more modern, building and renovation 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.
Most locals will only see this light, music and water show when they’re little kids or when they have to act as tour guides for visitors. But whether you’ve got your own offspring in tow or not, the show brings out childlike wonder in us all. Designed by Carles Buïgas, it’s one of the last remaining attractions made for the 1929 International Exposition.
In 1992, Barcelona captivated the world as 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 brilliantly 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. As well as 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.
For many in Barcelona, Sant Felip Neri is the prettiest square in the whole city – perhaps because of its sheer simplicity. 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’ll notice shrapnel from a bomb thrown by Franco’s forces during the Civil War, tragically killing 42 people, most of them children.
These never feature on the standard city tours, which is 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 sprung up and the residents fought for improvements (electricity, water, bins), and were later rehoused in buildings with better conditions. When Barcelona hosted the Olympic Games in 1992, the city demolished the shacks and abandoned the space. It was locals who later fought for its recognition as a place of historic importance.
Cemetery visits anywhere can help cultivate an appreciation for those who came before us. Graveyards don’t have to be gloomy – instead, consider their artistic value. In Poblenou and Montjuïc, the largest cemeteries in Barcelona, you can find examples of a marvellous array of architectural styles, funerary art and permanent works by renowned artists. Don’t miss the popular night-time excursions (Montjuïc in March and Poblenou in October).
In September 2013, the Bellesguard Tower, one of the lesser-known works by 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.
Enjoy a leisurely stroll through 14 hectares of beautiful greenery from around the globe right here in Barcelona. The botanical garden is split into five areas, with Australian, Californian, Mediterranean, South African and Chilean plants grouped neatly into each. Plus, if you look past the fauna you’ll get a cracking view of the city.
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 multipurpose cultural centre in the former Born marketplace. The iron-and-glass structure was designed by Josep Fontserè in 1876 and was the city’s first market to be built in a Parisian style. Today visitors can see the archaeological remains of the Vilanova de Mar neighbourhood from 1700 and better understand the siege the city suffered in 1714. Huge walkways now criss-cross this impressive cultural centre, which also features exhibition spaces, a bookshop and a food hall.
In the middle of Avinguda Diagonal stands Casa Planells, a building by Josep Maria Jujol – another of the great Catalan modernists, but more discreet than 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 aspects are 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, co-operative and chapel, plus factories and housing for the workers. Gaudí built the church crypt when Güell’s death changed everything and the project was abandoned half-way through.
The ‘French Station’ is a product of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and is the second largest station in Barcelona after Sants. Comparable in elegance and grandeur to Paris’s former Orsay station, its vast metal arches are a fine example of cast-iron architecture. The lobby, by Duran i Reynals in the Noucentisme style, today hosts events including vintage fairs.
Following major renovation works, Barcelona’s dockyards, declared a Historic-Artistic Monument in 1976, look better than ever. The Maritime Museum is responsible for preserving, studying and publicising one of the most important collections of maritime heritage in the Mediterranean. Worth a look simply for its architecture, the museum also hosts a variety of exhibitions, while the garden and café make for a thoroughly pleasant pit stop.
This huge and incredibly well-manicured maze sits within the oldest park in the city. You’ll find it in the Horta neighbourhood, where, if you ever make it out of the labyrinth, you can mooch around a neoclassical 18th-century garden and a 19th-century romantic garden, plus the Desvalls mansion, and an array of fountains and sculptures of mythical Greek characters. Note that there’s a small entrance fee of around €2.
British theatre director Peter Brook is credited with transforming this former flower market into a venue for the performing arts in 1985, when he was looking for a place to stage his legendary production of ‘The Mahabharata’. After decades of fairly diffuse programming, the Mercat has finally focused in on national and international contemporary dance, and offers a strong programme that experiments with unusual formats and mixes in new technologies and live music. It also does a good job of supporting emerging dancers.
Catalonia’s national art museum offers a complete overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. The highlight is its Romanesque collection, featuring one of the oldest and biggest collections of paintings on wood in Europe. The museum’s modern art floor was reopened in 2014, and now boasts pieces in an array of media up to the 1950s, among them sculpture, painting, photography, posters, cinema, architecture and decorative arts. The climb from Plaça d’Espanya up to the museum is just as worthwhile as the museum itself.
When you visit the Palau de la Música all your senses sit up and take notice, because every inch tells a story of modernisme, 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 you’ll find busts of Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven and Wagner. The programme, predictably, is stellar.
It’s 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 then explore some of the most beautiful landscaped gardens in Europe. Among the very best are the Gardens of Laribal (with their 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 (a brilliant example of land restoration; for more than 30 years this was the Montjuïc amusement park).
The Miró Foundation has it all. First, the collection of more than 104,000 Miró works including paintings, sculptures and tapestries, plus almost all of his drawings. Second, the setting, with its spectacular gardens and views of Barcelona from the top of Montjuïc. Third, the building, designed by Josep Lluís Sert, architect, co-founder of GATCPAC (Catalan Architects and Technicians for Progress in Contemporary Architecture) and a great friend of Miró. Fourth, the events they put on, many of which are for families. You can’t afford to miss it!
This is possibly the coolest location for a theme park – on top of a mountain. It’s the only one in the city, and to get there you have to take the steep funicular. There’s a good mix of classic and more modern rides, with many suitable for all ages. It’s also next door to Sagrat Cor, atop which stands a huge statue of Jesus, and you can climb up to its base.
Ciutadella Park is close to the city centre and is the green space most frequented by locals. There’s much to see across its 17 hectares: the zoo, the Catalan Parliament buildings, the church, the lake, the bandstand... But it’s also alive with activities like markets and fairs, sporting events, concerts, DJ sessions, children’s parties, charity events and much more.
Palau Güell may not be Gaudí’s most well-known work, but it was his first major project for the Catalan capital. A perfect combination of old-fashioned opulence and stylised modernism, this Unesco World Heritage mansion will have you picturing yourself rolling up in a horse-drawn carriage. Tucked down a narrow street in the Raval, Palau Güell, designed by Gaudí for his patron, Count Güell, stands today as a symbol of Catalan nationalism. As you explore the house, take note of how the rising levels (from the modest basement to the ostentatiously colourful roof with 20 mosaic chimneys) reflect the motif of wealth.
One of the best surviving examples of the Catalan Gothic style, this graceful basilica stands out for its characteristic horizontal lines, plain surfaces, square buttresses and flat-topped octagonal towers. Its superb unity of style is down to the fact that it was built relatively quickly, with construction taking just 55 years (1329 to 1384). There’s also some stunning stained glass, especially the great 15th-century rose window above the main door. The original window fell down during an earthquake, killing 25. The incongruous modern window at the other end was a 1997 addition, belatedly celebrating the Olympics.
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. Now it seems very happy in its home in the Rambla del Raval, and the neighbours love it.
Gràcia is full of beautiful squares and great bars; this plaça, however, has the most appeal for us. For its friendly, cosmopolitan atmosphere, for the church that overlooks it, for being a meeting place for 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.
After almost a decade of renovations, in 2018 the traders of the provisional market of Sant Antoni returned to the impressive Rovira i Trias building. The octagonal dome is the crown that structures the market’s cross-shaped corridors. In those closest to the market façade, you’ll find the Encants market. Each part can be visited independently, since they have different schedules. On Sundays, stop by the book market just outside on Carrer del Comte d'Urgell.
The most important building in Plaça de la Universitat is, obviously, the historic home 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 – there are group guided tours of the most impressive areas of the building: the main lobby, the staircase of honour, the cloisters and the assembly hall.
This square is the administrative centre of Barcelona, housing the Catalan Autonomous Government and City Hall. It’s 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 located here, and four columns can still be seen in C/Paradís. Today, most major protests and demonstrations pass through the square, while at Christmas it features a huge nativity scene that changes every year.
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 Maremagnum shopping centre at the Barcelona port. 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.
Slowly the skaters are taking over this square, but they cannot take away from the imposing Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona, or 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 in all its forms.
You can explore Cervantes Park by walking up from Avinguda 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 both 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 four hectares of just one small part of the park. And in early May, the garden hosts Barcelona’s International New Rose Competition.
Sant Pere de les Puel·les may not be one of the better-known churches in Barcelona, though it should be. It was formerly 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.
Built in 1846, the Mercat de Santa Caterina is the city’s second oldest market. The recent renovation project was carried out by a team of architects led by Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, its most distinctive feature probably being the gorgeous mosaic roof made with 325,000 pieces whose colours echo the fruit and vegetable stands beneath. If wandering among so much fresh produce makes you hungry, you can eat at Cuines de Santa Caterina, a bustling restaurant with international dishes available from its various bars.
If you head towards the ocean, you’ll probably stumble through Plaça Reial. It contains a handful of palm trees and has a fountain in the middle known as Three Graces. This neoclassical water feature was designed by Antoni Rovira i Trias, while the chunky lampposts are Gaudí’s. Restaurants and bars surround the square, making for a lively hub in the evenings. And yes, it’s worth keeping a keen eye on your belongings as you pass through.
Four stunning fluted Corinthian columns dating from the first century BC soar out of their podium in the most unlikely of places: a back patio of the Mountaineering Centre of Catalonia. Part of the rear corner of the temple devoted to the Roman emperor Augustus (who after his death was elevated to the Pantheon), the columns were discovered and isolated from the structure of a medieval building in 1835. The current layout is actually a slight fudging of the original as the right-hand column resided separately in Plaça del Rei until it was slotted next to the other three in 1956.
The ancient synagogue of Barcelona – the oldest in Europe – can be found in the Old Jewish Quarter between C/ del Call, Plaça Sant Jaume, C/ Banys Nous and C/ Sant Sever. The narrow streets are a joy to wander and contain an array of Jewish cultural institutions. At the MUHBA El Call, for instance, you can see ritual lamps, headstones, and some great temporary exhibitions.
Poblenou’s most emblematic square is also home to some of its oldest residences. The humble, white 19th-century buildings that line the square were home to fishermen when Poblenou was a fishing village. Plaça de 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 a restaurant! Els Pescadors has the privilege of exclusive terrace rights and it’s imperative you get stuck in to a selection of their fresh seafood dishes to set everything right with the world.
The main façade of this Catalan Gothic-style church in Plaça del Pi features a large rosette of 12 branches from the 14th century. It was destroyed in the fire of 1936 and rebuilt between 1939 and 1943 by architect Josep Maria Jujol. As well as admiring the two octagonal towers that flank it, the enormous bell tower and the image of the Virgin Mary with Child on the tympanum, visitors can catch classical guitar concerts and exhibitions here as well.
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 Glòries (formerly Torre Agbar), from architect Jean Nouvel, that changed the city’s skyline, and on the other is the Mercat de Bellcaire (aka ‘Encants’) flea with its impressive wavy roof designed by Fermín Vázquez. But there’s also the Disseny Hub Barcelona, home to the city’s design museum; the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, by Ricardo Bofill; and L’Auditori, by Rafael Moneo.
Looking for somewhere amazing to stay?
Beyond the tapas and the sights, getting the best hotel for you is the most important ingredient for having a top experience during your city break. We’ve chosen a selection of the very best hotels in Barcelona – notable for their stunning views, cultural programmes, idyllic pools and delicious food.