NOVEMBER 2019: Barcelona is a city that’s always evolving, and we do our best to keep up. That’s why we’ve just renovated our DO List, rounding up the absolute best things to do in Barcelona, whether it’s your first time visiting or you’ve made the city your home. This time around, you’ll find the Sagrada Família at number one, because no trip to Barcelona is complete without a stop at Antoni Gaudí’s world-renowned masterpiece. Elsewhere, we’ve included more of his pioneering works (Casa Batlló, Casa Milà, Park Güell), Barcelona’s best beaches, La Rambla, the Picasso Museum, Marlowe Bar (possibly the best bar in Spain), Käthe Wohlfahrt (a year-round Christmas shop), the annual 48h Open House event, Barcelona Cathedral, the Gothic Quarter, the Boqueria market, Ciutadella park and Plaça de Catalunya. Phew.
Daunted by the prospect of a trip to Barcelona? There’s so much to do in this thriving cultural capital that you run the risk of going away convinced that you haven’t really seen the place. We live here, and we’re slightly intimidated by the sheer number of brilliant museums, fab restaurants and cutting-edge nightlife venues this city has to offer. But don’t fear – we’re here to make sure you get the most out of your visit with this run-down of the attractions you absolutely can’t miss. Maybe you can’t wait to feast your eyes on the Sagrada Família, or perhaps you’re set on making a beeline straight for those picture-postcard beaches. Whatever your holidaying preferences, read on and start ticking off the city’s most exquisite sights according to us.
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Best things to do in Barcelona
What is it? The life’s work of Catalonia’s most famous son, architect Antoni Gaudí. You couldn’t come to Barcelona without planning a visit to this architectural masterpiece.
Why go? To appreciate the nearly 140 years of work that has gone into this (very) quirky basilica. You can’t help but marvel at its contrasting façades, and the details that are true works of art, whether sculpture or stained glass.
Don’t miss: Though even walking past the building will give you a sense of wonder, you’ll definitely want to head inside to witness all that’s been achieved over the last couple of decades. Plus, check out the crypt, where Gaudí himself is buried.
Discover the best Gaudí works in Barcelona
What is it? There’s some 4.5km of coastline within Barcelona’s city limits, giving you plenty of options and as much beach time as you need.
Why go? You may fancy getting in touch with nature, or maybe you want to play volleyball, swim in the Med or do any number of activities with the word ‘surf’ in them. Or perhaps you’re just very keen not to go back home without the perfect tan.
Don’t miss: Many of the city’s beaches feature beach bars (called chiringuitos), where you can take a break from the sun and sit in the shade with a cool snack and a refreshing cocktail. At night they turn into great little party venues, with spot-on music and even better vibes.
What is it? Easily the most famous street in Barcelona, this 1.2km boulevard starts at Plaça de Catalunya and ends at the statue of Christopher Columbus down by the port.
Why go? You’ll be wandering along La Rambla anyway, but we want to point you to some of the best things to see, eat, drink, do and more. Here they are.
Don’t miss: Since March 2019 there’s been a monument to the victims of the terrorist attack that took place on La Rambla in August 2017. Keep your eyes peeled, as it’s embedded in the ground, just by the Joan Miró mosaic, which you also might walk right over if you’re not paying attention.
What is it? Founded in 1963, this is Barcelona’s very own collection of nearly 4,000 works by Pablo Picasso.
Why go? To see the artist’s formative work and examine how his style very quickly evolved, especially between 1890 and 1904. You’ll find everything from his sketches as a young student to rough landscapes to his early forays into cubism.
Don’t miss: The temporary exhibitions are imaginative and thought-provoking. We particularly liked ‘Picasso Discovers Paris’ and ‘Picasso’s Kitchen’.
Discover the best Barcelona museums
What is it? What it’s not is the Sagrada Família (see number one). These are two very different places of worship. The first foundations of this Gothic cathedral were laid in 1298, though the finishing touches weren’t made until 1913.
Why go? A visit to Barcelona Cathedral is very special indeed. It took so long to build that you’ll find bits dating back to the 11th century, Nordic-inspired elements on the 15th-century façade, and recently reconstructed parts using the same Montserrat stone as the original. Visit the cloister and the crypt, where you’ll see, respectively, 13 contented geese and the remains of the 13-year-old martyr Eulàlia, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. It’s also worth paying the small fee to take the lift to the roof for fab views over the Old City.
Don’t miss: Tourists are meant to pay an entry fee that’s masked as a donation, but you can get in free pretty much any time before 1pm and after 5pm.
What is it? Restaurants that specialise in traditional Catalan gastronomy.
Why go? To try the local cuisine: canalons at Casa Agustí, where they carefully guard the secret to their version of this iconic winter dish; moreish capipota with chickpeas at Can Vilaró; and the hearty escudella stew at Ca l’Estevet.
Don’t miss: Head to Dos Pebrots to discover modern Catalan creations based on traditional Mediterranean recipes. It’s run by Michelin-starred chef Albert Raurich.
What is it? Another big-hitting Gaudí attraction, Park Güell was free to get into – until the number of visitors here tripled over a very short time. In 2013 the city started charging a fee to get in, both to control the crowds and preserve this modernista masterpiece.
Why go? Because you can’t get enough Gaudí. And to spend a day outside revelling in the maverick architect’s wacky ideas. You can explore the park for free, but you’ll want to pay the entrance fee to the Monumental Zone, where Park Güell’s most famous monuments (and the best views) are found.
Don’t miss: Keep your eyes peeled for the immaculate serpentine bench and the figure of a woman ‘hidden’ among the twisted stone columns. And make sure to trek up to the park’s highest point, marked with a cross, for outstanding views of the city all the way out to sea.
What is it? Barcelona’s best-known municipal market.
Why go? All your senses will be wowed – by the colours of the fresh produce, the smells of the open kitchens, the hollers of the garrulous vendors, the feel of shoppers thronging around you, and the tastes... of pretty much everything you get your hands on.
Discover the best markets in Barcelona
What is it? Officially named Casa Milà and popularly known as La Pedrera, this Gaudí work started out as residential apartments and is now home to a cultural centre that hosts art exhibitions and performances.
Why go? The tour shows off a typical apartment from the early 20th century, and on your way up you can admire classic Gaudí details, like the smooth, wavy bannisters and snail shell-inspired shapes. The rooftop also shouldn’t be missed, both for the striking chimney designs and the stellar city views (which take in many other Gaudí works).
Don’t miss: Casa Milà is the only place you can find a Gaudí interpretation centre, so don’t gloss over it. This is where to head to find out how his most famous works were conceived and built.
What is it? Catalonia’s national art museum.
Why go? Get a complete overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. The highlight is its Romanesque collection, featuring one of the biggest collections of paintings on wood in Europe. The museum’s modern art floor was reopened in 2014, and now boasts sculpture, painting, photography, posters, video pieces and decorative arts going up to the 1950s.
Don’t miss: The climb from Plaça d’Espanya up to the museum is certainly worthwhile, as this side of Montjüic offers still more fantastic panoramic views of the city (and the MNAC is pretty striking in itself, too).
What is it? The seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta serves up some of the city’s best paella.
Why go? Finding decent paella can be a struggle in central Barcelona, but Barceloneta is home to restaurants that get it right more often than not. La Barraca, La Mar Salada, Can Solé, Ca la Nuri and 7 Portes are some of our faves.
Don’t miss: Of all the options on the menu at 7 Portes, we recommend the seafood paella parellada. And at La Mar Salada, the de senyoret rice with razorfish, monkfish and prawns.
What is it? FC Barcelona’s home football pitch (and all-time great Lionel Messi’s stomping ground).
Why go? Having one of the best teams in the world brings huge pride to the city, and even more so when the starting 11 features Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of all time. If Barça aren’t in town, or you can’t get to a match, the Museum is one of the most visited in the whole city, and brings you even closer to the team and their glorious past.
Don’t miss: Die-hard fans will want to check out the Camp Nou Experience, where for €139 you get a sneak peek inside the stadium’s player-only areas.
What is it? One of two Gaudí wonders, originally built to house apartments, on Passeig de Gràcia in the city centre.
Why go? To admire the dazzling colours, wavy architecture, eye-catching balconies, gorgeous rooftop, and a very good augmented reality tour.
Don’t miss: If you’re around between December 2, 2019 and February 9, 2020, get in on the Moon Nights event series, which allows you to explore Casa Batlló at night. A glass of cava is included.
What is it? The Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) is part of Barcelona’s Old City, along with the Born, the Raval and Barceloneta.
Why go? To wander through the narrow medieval streets and quieter squares and get to know the history of central Barcelona. To visit the Barcelona Cathedral, Plaça del Rei, Plaça Sant Jaume and the Jewish Quarter (see number 18).
Don’t miss: Stop by Plaça de Felip Neri, one of our favourite squares in the centre. We cherish its small size, incredible history and sense of calm (unless the local school’s just been let out).
What is it? Everyone knows Barcelona has beaches, but don’t forget about the mountains.
Why go? For exceptional views. Climb up to Tibidabo, Collserola or Montjuïc to take it all in, and don’t panic – when we say climb these mountains, we mean via funicular.
Don’t miss: Thrills for kids and adults alike at Tibidabo’s amusement park; wine and olive oil tastings, and lunch at Can Calopa (in Collserola); and a lovely stroll through the botanical gardens on Montjuïc.
What is it? A less touristy way to discover Catalan modernism.
Why go? Whether you live in Barcelona or are visiting, you might think you’ve seen all the big modernista sights in town: the Sagrada Família, Casa Milà (aka La Pedrera), Casa Batlló, Park Güell... but you might be surprised to know you ain’t seen nothing yet. The Institut del Paisatge Urbà has put together a list of 2,200 buildings that are either 100 percent modernista or have modernista elements. If you haven’t got time to see them all, we can recommend Casa Vicens, Hotel Espanya, Casa Thomas and Casa Planells for starters.
Don’t miss: Casa Vicens only opened its doors to the public for the first time in 2017. It was the first major architectural assignment Antoni Gaudí ever received.
What is it? What started out as a military citadel (‘ciutadella’ in Catalan) some 300 years ago is now a 17-hectare park where you can take a breather from the city.
Why go? To enjoy the rarity that is a park in Barcelona. You can row on the lake in a rented boat, have a picnic, do a bit of exercise, and should you fancy it, drop by Barcelona Zoo. You can’t miss the enormous water feature with statues, all designed by Josep Fontserè and his apprentice, a young Antoni Gaudí. Kids love the woolly mammoth statue, and there’s a rich programme of annual events here, too.
Don’t miss: Anyone interested in politics and/or Catalan secessionism will want to visit the Parliament of Catalonia.
What is it? The Jewish area in Barcelona, in the Gothic Quarter, bordered by the streets Call, Banys Nous and Sant Sever, and Plaça Sant Jaume.
Why go? As you wander through this neighbourhood you’ll no doubt gain a better appreciation for the lives of Jewish people throughout Barcelona’s history. A visit to MUHBA El Call can enhance the experience, too: you can see artefacts such as ritual lamps and gravestones, as well as the ‘Salomó ben Adret de Barcelona (1235-1310). El triunfo de una ortodoxia’ exhibition.
Don’t miss: Barcelona’s synagogue, one of the oldest in Europe.
What is it? One of the oldest second-hand markets in Europe.
Why go? Once you’ve taken the necessary time to appreciate Fermin Vazquez’s undulating reflective roof, get down to the business of shopping. A seemingly endless number of vendors populate the flea market, and we recommend you take your time exploring what’s on offer. You’ll find everything from esoteric knick-knacks to more functional sewing machines and bicycles.
Don’t miss: If you plan to spend the afternoon here, don’t pass up the chance to enjoy the market’s plentiful food options.
What is it? An impressive feat of iron architecture that enjoys protected status from the Catalan Department of Culture.
Why go? This structure was designed by Josep Fontserè and built in the late 19th century. It has a cage-like iron exterior and towering brick columns. Used as a huge party space for the 1888 International Exposition in Barcelona, it now houses a conservatory where plant species from nearly two dozen countries flourish under the arches.
Don’t miss: Take a breather in the spectacular botanical garden, bearing in mind it’s only open weekdays from 10am to 3pm.
What is it? This is where to go for terrific tapas in Barceloneta.
Why go? At La Cova Fumada they don’t concern themselves too much with interior design or style, but you shouldn’t either, because that has no bearing whatsoever on the quality of what comes out of the kitchen. It’s said they invented the spicy potato and mince meat bomba, but they also serve wonderful grilled sardines and artichokes, cod fritters, fresh fish, and all manner of other seafood dishes.
Don’t miss: Try and tease out their renowned bomba recipe between bites. They haven’t spilled the beans yet, but you never know.
What is it? From the oldest in the city to the most modern, all of these temples of vermouth share a passion for the fortified wine.
Why go? What’s referred to locally as ‘vermouth hour’ has long been a tradition in Barcelona, though it’s seen a surge in popularity in recent years among younger people. Hundreds of bars around town now serve their own home-made variety with the usual accompaniments of sardines, olives, crisps and the like to whet your appetite before lunch. Some of them have been around for nearly a century, like El Xampanyet, Bar Castells and La Vermuteria del Tano. Others are more modern yet take pride in keeping the tradition going, like Balius in Poblenou.
Don’t miss: Keep your eyes open for neighbourhood vermouth routes, where you can sample from several bars, often with special prices and offers on tapas.
What is it? The Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona’s opera house.
Why go? The Liceu is a true landmark. For about a century after its inauguration in 1847, the Liceu was the epicentre of Barcelona’s artistic, social and political life. After a fire in 1994, the main hall was remodelled in the style of its 1909 renewal, with some improvements.
Don’t miss: More than just an opera house, the Liceu also hosts ballet performances and concerts. Keep your eyes peeled for ticket offers at very affordable prices.
What is it? For many, it’s the best LGBTQ+ party in town.
Why go? They started out in a small space in the Raval and, in September 2012, made the leap to Sala Apolo. Churros con Chocolate is a free monthly party that starts on a Sunday evening and goes on until the wee hours. It’s a fun, raucous event that draws a diverse crowd, features a different theme every month, and offers a playlist spanning everything from old Spanish classics to the latest international pop hits.
Don’t miss: Get there in the first hour for your snack of actual churros with chocolate.
Discover the best LGBTQ+ parties in Barcelona
What is it? This hilltop is home to an anti-aircraft battery built in 1937, when Barcelona was the target of hundreds of bombing runs a day during the Spanish Civil War.
Why go? Referred to as ‘the bunkers’, the area is an important part of Barcelona’s history and Catalonia’s resistance to Francisco Franco’s forces during the war. In the 1950s and the following immigration boom, the area was occupied by slums and other run-down housing. Years later, when the dwellings were abandoned, locals fought to preserve the site as an important historical monument.
Don’t miss: Once you’ve had a look around and appreciated the history here, be sure to take some time to simply sit and enjoy one of the best views you’ll find in Barcelona. If you’re there at sunset on a clear day, even better.
What is it? Throughout the year, Barcelona hosts some of the biggest and best music festivals in Spain and Europe.
Why go? If you have the budget (and energy), we challenge you to go to the three most popular musical festivals that Barcelona hosts through spring and summer: Sónar, Primavera Sound and Cruïlla. Each one has a different focus and vibe, but they all have something in common – there’s nowhere else you’d rather be.
Don’t miss: As well as the stellar line-ups, which include many legendary and up-and-coming international acts, the festivals also put on other free concerts and parties around the city.
What is it? A light, music and water show at the Montjuïc fountain.
Why go? Most locals will only see this show when they’re little kids or 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.
Don’t miss: Get there in time to get a good spot to witness some of the whopping seven billion water choreography combinations – expect a mash-up of 1980s hits, classical Spanish music and well-known film soundtracks.
What is it? Barcelona's most traditional Christmas market, in the square just in front of the cathedral.
Why go? You don’t have to be a Christmas fanatic or even someone who celebrates it to enjoy this festive outdoor market, where you can pick up all kinds of gifts for your home, your family and friends, or yourself. If Christmas is your thing, you’ll find no shortage of cribs, decoration, figurines, moss, lights, mistletoe, handmade goods... you name it, they’ve got it.
Don’t miss: One of the star items at the fair is the caganer. The traditional caganer is represented by a farmer wearing a barretina (red hat) with his trousers down around his ankles as he squats to relieve himself. And yes, a pile of poop is included. It’s said to bring good luck for future crops, though nowadays you can even get the little shitters in the form of famous politicians, footballers and members of the clergy.
What is it? At Tickets, the famed Adrià brothers have triumphed again with their ambitious spin on tapas. But if it’s booked out, don’t forget there are two dozen other restaurants in Barcelona that have earned coveted Michelin stars.
Why go? A meal at Tickets has four distinct parts – seafood, the grill, sweet treats, and ‘surprises’ – each involving El Bulli-style tapas from all around Spain. Though the city’s restaurants with one, two or three Michelin stars aren’t suitable for all budgets, if a stellar meal is your thing, make sure to set aside a bit more dollar.
Don’t miss: Ask for the tasting and pairing menus. If you want to explore beyond the city while you’re at it, bear in mind there are even more restaurants with Michelin stars throughout Catalonia.
What is it? A tour with or without a guide through Barcelona’s cemeteries.
Why go? Cemetery visits make for an unusual (and often spine-tingling) way to get to know a city. But graveyards don’t have to be gloomy – instead, consider their artistic value. In Poblenou and Montjuïc, the largest cemeteries in Barcelona, you can find graves in an array of architectural styles, funerary art and works by renowned artists.
Don’t miss: The nighttime excursions into the Montjuïc (in March) and Poblenou (in October) cemeteries.
What is it? The Best Bar in Spain, according to the 2019 International Fair of Cocktail Bars. (Note that Barcelona's Dr. Stravinsky was also in the running!) What was once a four-decades-old bar called Gimlet has been transformed into an uber-cool hangout whose name and décor are inspired by Raymond Chandler’s Detective Philip Marlowe.
Why go? Obviously you have to be sure the award is well earned. You should also come to appreciate the elegant surroundings and try a Gimlet just like Marlowe drank, or a perfectly balanced signature spin on the Gold Standard, served in a chilled martini glass.
Don’t miss: Treat yourself to La Mirada de Marlowe. What’s in it is between you and your bartender, and it’s based on your own personality.
Discover the best bars in Barcelona
What is it? Barcelona’s first museum of urban art.
Why go? This is not a collection of painted walls torn from streets and buildings, rather a space where more than 20 artists have come to splash original pieces directly on the exterior of Nau Bostik. In addition to works by renowned muralists (Sixe Paredes, Sheone, Sebastien Waknine, BToy, Fasim, Manu Manu, Sam3, and more), Bostik Murals offer their walls to students and artists from other disciplines who want to try their hand at murals.
Don’t miss: Be sure to check the website before you go: graffiti art is ephemeral even here, and if you don’t want to miss a piece you’ve heard great things about, the website will let you know if it’s still there or not.
What is it? Two days (usually at the end of October) when dozens of buildings in Barcelona that are normally closed to the public open their doors for all to explore.
Why go? This is a fantastic chance for architecture buffs, or anyone who likes to snoop around places they’re usually not allowed, to check out private and out-of-bounds spaces, like the interior of the Montjuïc Magic Fountain (see number 27).
Don’t miss: Definitely check the website before you head out, as each space has a different slot when you can visit, and you’ll likely find queues. There are guided tours in many locations, but be aware that, like the website, the tours might not be in your language of choice.
What is it? The largest, most central square in Barcelona.
Why go? You’re bound to find yourself in Plaça de Catalunya at some point, whether it’s to get the metro, hop on a regional train, visit the tourist information centre or just stand in the middle of that star and feed the pigeons. You’re surrounded by plenty of shops, including the massive El Corte Inglés department store and El Triangle shopping complex, as well as bars, restaurants, souvenir shops, tour bus stops, hotels and... more pigeons.
Don’t miss: Admire the gorgeous fountains (fingers crossed they’re on when you’re around) and don’t forget to pay a visit to ‘The Goddess’ statue, a copy of the original by Catalan artist Josep Clarà.
What is it? The spirit of Christmas embodied in a single shop. With its origins in Germany, Käthe Wohlfahrt sells traditional, hand-crafted ornaments and decorations.
Why go? For those moments when you need a little bit of festive spirit in your life.
Don’t miss: The objects made specially for the Barcelona shops, including glass blown in the shape of the city taxis, chimneys from Gaudí’s Palau Güell, and a Black Virgin (as seen in Montserrat).
What is it? A winery and bodega right in actual Barcelona.
Why go? Can Calopa is a 16th-century farmhouse with vineyards over three hectares. Since 2010, Can Calopa has been managed by the L’Olivera cooperative in collaboration with the social project Vallbona de les Monges, whose work includes offering homes and work to young people with psychiatric disabilities. The winery produces around 8,000 bottles of Garnacha and Syrah red wine a year.
Don’t miss: Wine and olive oil tastings. For €11 you can visit the oil mill and wine cellar, including two tastings, and for €15 you can enjoy a late breakfast with a wine pairing. If you’re trying to save a few cents, you can opt for just wine or olive oil for less than €10 per person.
Discover the best Barcelona wine bars
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Going out and doing things satisfies our need to explore, to learn and to grow (and then to brag about it on social media). Our hope is that the DO List becomes not just your bucket list, but your inspiration to experience and appreciate the corners of magic in the world.