Barcelona is one of Europe's most popular cities to visit. As Barcelona is a fairly large city, there are tons of things to pick from when trying to plan out your itinerary. Listed below are some of the best sights to give you good feel for this vibrant city, from architectural masterpieces by Antoni Gaudí, to ancient historical sights, to delicious food markets to beautiful beaches, Barcelona offers a bit of something for everyone. We spent three days exploring Barcelona - but you could easily fill a week exploring this amazing city.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Day 1: (Experience Works of Gaudí & Explore Montjuïc District)
To start your time in Barcelona, head to one of the world's most beautiful churches and Barcelona's most popular attraction - the Sagrada Familia. Also known as the Basilica of the Holy Family, this is a must visit when visiting Barcelona. After visiting Europe for a week or two, most churches you will visit start to blend together - while each is beautiful, after some time they begin to blur together. The Sagrada Familia is one that will stand out from all other churches - the bright colorful interior and the ornate details are like nothing I've ever seen before in a church. Designed by Catalonia's most famous architect - Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), Gaudí is known for his colorful, nature-inspired, mosaic covered architecture and the Sagrada Familia is his pinnacle piece of architecture. Construction first began in 1882 and construction is still underway today - it was hoped they would finish in 2026 which is the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death, but it looks like things may take longer than expected. Either way, although construction continues, visiting this sight is absolutely amazing! Not only can you enter the main Basilica but you can climb one of the towers - we choose to climb the Nativity Tower and wow - what a cool experience! Just a note though - children under six are not allowed in the towers. Luckily for us, we were visiting with some friends and took turns climbing the towers since our son couldn't go with us. For us, we got an early start with a 9:30am Tower Entrance and 10am Basilica Entry - plan on a good 2+ hours here to enjoy this architectural masterpiece. Pre-booking your tickets is necessary for entry to this popular site - Click Here to visit the official website.
Located on the outskirts in the north of city, Park Guell can be difficult to reach by public transportation. For us, to save on time, we grabbed a taxi to reach this sight. Also designed by Antoni Gaudí, Park Guell was originally designed as a upper class housing development. The area though was never fully developed and today is a park where you can enjoy the public spaces and two of the houses that were completed. So what is so special about an un-finished housing development you might ask? Gaudí - is the answer. Park Guell is just one of his many masterpieces in Barcelona and walking thru this park is absolutely wonderful: the whimsical houses, the serpent bench and the colorful mosaics everywhere you look make for a unique experience, one like you'll never visit anywhere else! Unfortunately for us, a rainstorm rolled in as we were visiting but luckily we had our umbrellas ready and made the most of our visit - even in the pouring down rain! On a clear day, the view over the city from the serpent bench is fabulous, for us the rain put a damper on any such view but we still enjoyed our time here anyways! As one of Barcelona's most popular spot to visit, you WILL need to pre-book a timed entry ticket to visit. Click Here to visit the official website.
PLACA DE ESPANYA
Our next stop of the day was to head to Placa de Espanya located at the foot of the Montjuïc district. While located clear on the other side of the city, we choose to make this our next area of exploration so that we could end our evening out here and view the Magic Fountains at night (more on this below). Upon reaching the Placa de Espanya you are greeted by a grand boulevard that was built to host the 1929 International Exposition. Today as you explore the area you will pass the Venetian Towers that were the entrance into the fair, numerous museums including the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) and the Caxia Forum, the Magic Fountains and the Barcelona Pavilion. After wandering around this grand boulevard enjoying the views, for those that enjoy architecture, make a stop to see the Barcelona Pavilion. Built for the 1929 Exposition, this is an important building for modern architecture and has inspired numerous buildings based on it's simple shape and use of materials (my husband is an architect, so this was a must see for us). After exploring this area, we were now completely soaked from the endless downpour that was passing thru and we decided to spend some time drying off inside the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC).
MUSEU NACIONAL D'ART DE CATALUNYA (MNAC)
Let's be honest, when traveling with a toddler, museums are not usually a great match, but luckily, this museum timed out just right for us. Our son (who was nice and dry in his stroller) was sound asleep and we needed a place to dry off from the outside elements for a bit, so we were able to enjoy a wonderful visit to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. The museum is housed in the beautiful Palau Nacional which was built in 1929 as the main building during the 1929 International Exposition. In 1934, the building became the home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and is one of Spain's largest museums. The museum is home to the most important pieces of Catalan art from the 19th and early 20th century. As a side note, as you visit Barcelona you will really get a sense of the Catalan pride as most locals will tell you they are not Spaniards - but Catalans. In fact, there is a large movement in the area for Catalan independence from Spain.
One of the best things to visit when exploring the Montjuïc district of Barcelona is to visit the Font Màgica de Montjuïc (Magic Fountains). While visiting the fountain during the day time offers great views with the Palau Nacional standing regally nearby - it is night where this fountain really shines. As we were visiting in April, the shows were offered only on Fridays and Saturdays - but be sure to check online for updated showtimes that can fluctuate based on the season. To check the current show times, Click Here. Watching the Magic Fountains was one of our favorite things in Barcelona and are a joy to see - for all ages - our son loved watching the colorful water fountains! The first show dates back to the 1929 International Exposition and has since been improved upon to the now 20 minute, choreographed light and water display that is seen today.
Day 2 - (Explore Old City & Barceloneta Districts)
PLACA DE CATALUNYA
To start off our second day in Barcelona, we headed to Placa de Catalunya - the heart of Barcelona. Lined with shops and department stores and teeming with people, this area connects the Old Town District to the new 19th century modern Eixample District. First built in 1927 by King Alfonso XII, this area is a great place to just sit back and enjoy the vibrant scene around you - spend some time people watching - or better yet, if you're traveling with children, spend some time running thru the plaza chasing pigeons - our son had a blast doing this! For a local treat, located off the east corner of the plaza, head to Planelles Donat. One of the oldest shops in Barcelona, they specialize in local sweets, specifically the almond based turrones otherwise known as nougat. Stop in and grab a box, they make for great gifts for those back home! A few minutes walk further will take you to the famous Els Quatre Gats. This cafe is one of the most historic cafes in Barcelona - dating back to 1897 and was the sight of Picasso's first one man show back in 1900. The Els Quatre Gats (the four cats) was were Barcelona's artists - including Pablo Picasso came to drink and hang out and today offers delicious Catalan food and a chance for Picasso lovers to revel in a bit of history.
Las Ramblas is one of the top things to do while visiting Barcelona. This iconic street is worth a good half day if not more on your itinerary for exploring this wonderful city. Running thru the heart of the city from the Placa de Catalunya to Port Vell, there are numerous things to see and do as you wander this iconic stretch of Barcelona. Interestingly though - the street was initially a sewer filled stream back during the ancient days under Roman rule - although as the city and it's wall expanded to encompass this stream, the water was diverted leaving behind this street. Today this old stream is now a stream of tourists and locals alike enjoying everyday Spanish life. First things first though - this area is a pick-pockets heaven, in fact, it is said that Las Ramblas is the most pick-pocketed street in the world. Yep - hold on tight to your phones and wallets. My husband had his wallet chained to his pants and kept his hand on his wallet and phone at all times as we strolled the street. Luckily we didn't have any issues, but it is something to be aware of so that you don't become a victim.
Here are some of the top sights to visit along Las Ramblas:
FOUNTAIN OF CANALETES
As we made our way down the human sea of Las Ramblas the first sight we came across was the Fountain of Canaletes. Folklore says that if you drink from this fountain, you will fall in love with Barcelona and will return someday - sounds good to me, I definitely hope we will return again one day! The original fountain dates back to the 16th century providing water to the Old City. Today, the iron fountain you see was rebuilt in the 19th century and yes - the water is safe to drink! Unfortunately, I didn't have a bottle with me at the time - but had to have a sip anyways! The fountain is also the meeting place for fans of the F.C. Barcelona to come and celebrate victories - a tradition that dates back to the 1930s.
Taking a quick detour from Las Ramblas, walk 100 yards thru a passageway marked with the hotel name 'Citadines Hotel' and you will come across the ancient ruins of the Roman Necropolis. As was common in Roman times, bodies were buried outside of the city walls, so this site was just outside the ancient walls of 'Barcino' - Barcelona's Roman name. Today you can view 95 tombs from the 2nd and 3rd century that are each marked with a 'cupae' or small monument - the larger the 'cupae' the more wealthy the family was.
LA BOQUERIA MARKET
After a busy morning, stop by the La Boqueria Market - one of Europe's largest food markets for some lunch. Locals and tourists alike flock to this food heaven where you can find local Spanish specialties to various types of international cuisine. We enjoyed a wonderful lunch here as we wandering around enjoying various types of food - from fresh fruit cups, to empanadas to cuts of delicious Iberian ham - there was so much to sample! As you make your way towards the back of the market, you will find the section dedicated to the famous Iberian ham - hams are strung from the ceiling waiting to be sliced and purchased. Paper cones filled with pre-cut slices are ready to grab and go for those wanting a quick taste this delicious local treat.
My absolute favorite plaza when visiting Barcelona was the Placa Reial - lined with palm trees, this square is a beautiful place just off the Las Ramblas to take a break. Grab a seat at one of the cafes lining the square or just hang out in this lively area and spend some time people watching. In the center of the plaza is a large fountain called the 'Fountain of Three Graces' which refers to the three women standing atop the fountain and are said to be the daughters of Zeus. Also, for those interested in the works of Antoni Gaudí, located through the plaza are the lamposts that were Gaudí's first known works in the city of Barcelona.
For those wanting to experience even more Gaudí, located just a few minutes walk off Las Ramblas is the Palau Guell. This mansion was built between 1886 to 1888 by Gaudí, for one of Barcelona's wealthy tycoons - Eusebi Güell. Today, this is one of the more affordable Gaudí buildings to visit with tickets costing 12€. Unfortunately, we were only able to see this building from the outside as we were running short on time for the day.
Arriving to the end of Las Ramblas at Port Vell you will come across the Columbus Monument. Constructed in 1888 for the Universal Exposition of Barcelona, it is built on the site where Christopher Columbus returned to Spain after his first trip to the Americas. The tower sores almost 200 feet into the air with Columbus standing atop pointing out towards the sea. A small elevator can be found inside that will provide you with wonderful views down Las Ramblas or out towards the port.
Continuing towards the waterfront from the Las Ramblas you will enter the Barceloneta District which is known for it's fresh seafood and beautiful Barceloneta Beach. While we didn't get a large amount of time to explore this area, we did enjoy the bit we were able to experience. Below are a couple of the items we would recommend in this area:
LA RAMBLA DE MAR
In the early 2000s the city of Barcelona expanded the historic Las Ramblas out along the restored waterfront of Port Vell. This extension is known as La Rambla de Mar and is a lovely walk out along the waterfront. As you continue walking you'll come across a large wooden bridge with a wavy pattern that will connect you out to Maremàgnum, which is a complex that includes shops, movie theaters and an aquarium.
Continue walking thru the Barceloneta District and you will come across the lovely Barceloneta Beach which offers a lovely area to spend some time - we happened to arrive late in the day as the sun was beginning to go down, but we loved just walking along the promenade enjoying the beach views. As we were visiting in April, it wasn't quite beach weather yet, but I can image spending an afternoon along the golden sands of Barceloneta Beach in the summertime would be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon!
THE FRANK GENRY FISH
Another fun sight while exploring Barceloneta is to include a quick stop to visit the Frank Gehry Fish. The Frank Genry Fish is also known as El Peix and was built in 1992 for the Barcelona Olympics. This art piece is one the most known landmarks along Barceloneta's waterfront. The giant 114 feet tall fish is a fun stop for everyone as who doesn't love seeing a giant fish!
Day 3: (Explore the Barri Gothic, Eixample & El Born Districts)
PLACA DEL REI
Start off your third day in Barcelona with a bit of history, head to the Barri Gothic district and find the medieval square of Placa del Rei - which means 'The Kings Square' in Catalan. As you enter this walled in square, you will enjoy the best preserved medieval buildings in all of Barcelona, most notable the Palau Reial Major (the royal palace) and it's buildings which include the Watchtower of King Martí overlooking the square. From the 13th to 15th centuries this was the home of Catalan's royalty - and in fact - the stairs you see in the corner of the square are where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella welcomed Christoper Columbus back after his famous first voyage to the New World - how cool is that! Stand on the steps and just picture the history that took place here - such a cool experience! If you have the time, the Palau Reial Major now houses the Museu d'Història de Barcelona which offers a closer look of the history of Barcelona from Roman times to the current.
ROMAN TEMPLE OF AUGUSTUS
If you don't have time for the Museu d'Història de Barcelona, but are still interested in learning a bit about Barcelona's history under Roman rule, make a stop by the Roman Temple of Augustus. Hidden inside a building but available for public viewing are four ancient columns dating back to the beginnings of Barcelona or 'Barcelo' as it was known under Roman rule. Dating back to the first century BC, these columns are over 2,000 years old and were part of the Forum at the ancient heart of the city. These four columns are all that remain from the ancient Temple of Augustus.
PLACA DE SANT JAUME
A few minutes walk will take you to the Placa de Sant Jaume, which is the administrative heart of Catalonia and Barcelona as it is home to both the Casa de la Ciutat (Barcelona City Hall) and the Palau de la Generalitat which is the Seat of Catalonia's autonomous government. The square itself is the home to political protests, sports celebrations and other celebratory occasions. In ancient Roman times, this was the heart of Barcelo as this was the site of the main Roman Forum.
CARRER DEL BISBE BRIDGE
As you continue exploring thru the Barri Gothic district, make a point to find the Carrer Del Bisbe Bridge (Bishop's Bridge). The bridge was built by architect Joan Rubió I Bellver for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition and while not a super old sight, the bridge is beautiful and worth a quick stop. Joan Rubió I Bellver was tasked with beautifying the Barri Gothic district before the Exposition, but his initial plans to rebuild or tear down anything in the neighborhood that was not built in the Gothic style were denied and instead this bridge was the only part of his plan that was approved. If you look closely at the bridge you will find a skull with a dagger in it, which is said to represent the death of his initial proposed project and legend says if the dagger is ever removed, the city of Barcelona will be reduced to rubble.
PLACA FELIP NERI SQUARE
Next, make you way towards the Barcelona Cathedral - but make a quick detour to visit Placa Felip Neri Square. This peaceful square is the sight of a once horrific event - which can still be seen along the battered walls of the Església de Sant Felip Neri. Back during the Spanish Civil War, this church was used to shelter evacuated children and on January 30th, 1938 a bomb was dropped by Franco's air force right in front of the church, killing 30 of the children that were inside. In addition another 12 people were killed when a second bomb was dropped as they were trying to rescue the children inside. The scarred walls of the church are a silent reminder of the horrors of war. Although the square does have a tragic history, the square is a peaceful place to take a break and relax - enjoy the everyday life taking place around you, listen to the sounds of the fountain or the school children nearby - this was a perfect place to let our son run around and enjoy some freedom from his stroller!
PLACA NOVA/ROMAN TOWERS
For a bit more Roman history, visit the Placa Nova or Roman Towers. This was the site of the ancient wall and gates that guarded one of the entrances to the Roman city of Barcelo. Today, two towers remain - although these were remodeled in the 12th century, their origin dates back to sometime between the 1st and 4th centuries. In addition, nearby you can view a reconstruction of the arches showing what the Roman aqueduct would have looked like.
Rising proudly over the Barri Gothic district is the beautiful Barcelona Cathedral. Dating back to the 13th century, construction wasn't actually completed until the 15th century. The Gothic architecture of this church is stunning, although unfortunately for us, the interior was closed to tourists while we were visiting. But - the Cloisters were open and provided for a great alternative in getting to enjoy this wonderful cathedral. For a small fee, spend some time exploring the beautiful cloisters and viewing it's famous residents - the white geese. The beautiful gardens of the cloister are home to precisely 13 geese which relates to the age of Saint Eulalia who was just 13 when she died. Saint Eulalia of Barcelona is the co-patron saint of Barcelona and the official name of the church is actually the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Although it was a bit disappointing to not be able to view the inside of the church, we happened to be visiting on a Sunday and were able to experience the traditional Catalan dance called the 'Sardana'. Taking place each Sunday in front of the Barcelona Cathedral, locals gather to dance the 'Sardana' by taking hands and dancing in a circle as a display of Catalan pride. Under the rule of Dictator Franco who ruled from the late 1940s to 1975, Catalan culture and traditions were banned, which included the 'Sardana' dance. Today, the sense of Catalan pride is felt all around the city of Barcelona as you see the Catalonia flag flying proudly throughout the city. In fact, a large number of locals will tell you they are Catalans and in fact - not Spanish, as a large movement exists for the independence of Catalonia from Spain's rule.
MAZANA DE LA DISCORDIA
Located in Barcelona's Eixample district the Mazana de la Discordia or 'Block of Discord' is where you can view some of Barcelona's best modernist buildings built between 1898 and 1906 - all in one block. Three different architects left their district mark along this one block creating buildings that are so dis-similar to one another the area is known as the 'Block of Discord'. Originally these buildings were full of controversy due to their unusual facade, today these three buildings: Casa Lleo-Morera, Casa Amatller and Casa Batllo are visited by hordes of tourists coming to view some of the best examples of modernist buildings found anywhere.
Originally built in 1864, owner Francesca Morera commissioned famous architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner to remodel Casa Lleo-Morera in 1902. Today the building stands as one of the best examples of modernist architecture found in Barcelona. Views from the exterior are wonderful but the building also offers guided tours of the interior. Be sure to book tickets ahead of time, as tickets are not available for sale at the building itself.
Just down the street, you will find Casa Amatller. Originally built in 1875, the building was also remodeled by another famous architect - Joseph Puig i Cadafalch. Built with the neo-Gothic style of architecture combined with a facade that is inspired by the homes of the Netherlands, looking at this building is a treat and is completely different from the buildings found on either side of it. Built for the Amatller family - who are actually chocolate makers, the first floor is open to the public and houses an Amatller Chocolate shop where you can purchase some of the delicious Amatller Chocolates or grab a cup of delicious hot chocolate. Amatller Chocolate has been produced in Barcelona since 1797 and is a wonderful place to grab some delicious chocolate souvenirs to take home.
The third building is probably the most famous along the 'Block of Discord' and that is Casa Batllo which was another one of Antoni Gaudí's modernist masterpieces. Casa Batllo is one of the most photographed sites in Barcelona and is one of nine UNESCO Heritage Sites in Barcelona. Super unfortunate for us though, was the fact that the exterior of this exquisite building was being worked on while we visited. This was a big disappointment as the exterior is absolutely stunning. As we had already booked our tickets for entrance, we hopped in line and waited for our turn to explore this magnificent building. Inside, the use of windows, color, tiles and curved shapes create a whimsical, extravagant interior that is wonderful to explore. Out on the roof-top the architectural brilliance continues as a dragon like tiled figure winds it way around the chimneys along with a large cross of St. George - the patron saint of Barcelona. Again, with the maintenance taking place, part of the roof was blocked as we visited. Someday I would love to return and visit this amazing place to see it, in it's full glory without maintenance restrictions interrupting the experience. It is recommended to pre-book your tickets ahead of time, so that you don't have to queue in line for too long. Click Here to visit the official website of Casa Batllo.
For those that love art - plan at stop at the Picasso Museum. Just don't expect to see the more famous Picasso pieces at this museum as this museum focuses more on Picasso's early years and following his development into a Cubist artist. But, this is the world's largest collection of Picassos and offers a view into the different stages of his life and is worth a visit if you have the time. We were lucky enough to snag free tickets to the museum since we were visiting on the first Sunday on the month. Each month, the first Sunday is free but you must still pre-book your tickets online, which are available four days in advance. Free entry is also available on Thursday from 4 to 7pm. Click Here to pre-book your tickets.
For our last dinner in Barcelona, we ate at Los Caracoles. While we experienced numerous amazing restaurants in Barcelona, this dinner was probably our favorite and most memorable. Located in the Barri Gothic district and dating back to 1835, this was the perfect last dinner in Barcelona. As you enter the restaurant you will actually walk thru the kitchen to reach the dining area which is filled with pictures of famous people that have dined at Los Caracoles. The interior is filled with cured hams hanging from the ceiling, and of course snail decor - yep snails. Caracoles actually means snails and is one of the restaurant's specialties. We enjoyed a delicious snail and rabbit paella that even our 2 1/2 year old son loved! No but worries - if snails aren't your thing, there are plenty of other delicious menu items to choose from.
To close out our time in Barcelona, we enjoyed an evening tour of Gaudí's Casa Pedrera which is also known as Casa Pedrera or Casa Mila (Mila was the name of the residents who commissioned the building). Visiting Casa Pedrera included a guided tour thru the architectural brilliance of the interior of Casa Pedrera as well as a visit to the famous whimsical rooftop. On the rooftop you are greeted to the beautiful chimneys and ventilation towers that create a unique experience as you gaze out over the rooftops of Barcelona while enjoying the light and sound display that takes place each evening on the rooftop. The tour then concludes with a glass of cava to cap off the evening. Built between 1906 and 1912, the Casa Pedrera - which means 'stone quarry' and was quite controversial when initially built due to it's unusual facade. Today the building has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a wonderful place to visit while in Barcelona.
Interested in planning your own trip to Barcelona, Spain? Below is our summarized itinerary for you to follow or adjust to your own preferences. ENJOY!
Day 1: Experience Works of Gaudí & Explore Montjuïc District: Start off your day at the Sagrada Familia. Book the 9:30am Tower Entrance and 10am Basilica Entry - plan on a good 2-3 hours. Then to save time, grab a taxi to Park Guell for a 2pm entrance. Then head across town to Placa de Espanya: Explore the area and see the Barcelona Pavilion, Palau Naciona, Magic Fountains. If time, head to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya to view some Catalonia's best art. Catch the Magic Fountains at night - shows run each 15 minutes from from 9-10pm.
Explore the Old City district: Placa de Catalunya, then side stops to visit Planelles Donat and Els Quatre Gats, then walk down Las Ramblas: visit the Fountain of Canaletes, take a 100 yard detour through a passageway marked with the hotel name - Citadines Hotel to the Roman Necropolis, La Boqueria Market, Placa Reial - Gaudi Lampposts, if time stop at Palau Guell €12, Columbus Monument. Continue to the Barceloneta District: walk along the La Rambla de Mar (newer extension at the waterfront), wander the boardwalk along Barceloneta Beach, see the Frank Gehry Fish.
Day 3: Explore the Barri Gotic district: Start at Placa del Rei (Royal Palace, Chapel of St. Agatha), Roman Temple of Agustus, Placa de Sant Jaume, Carrer del Bisbe Bridge, Placa Felip Neri Square, Barcelona Cathedral (€3 for cloisters), Placa Nov/Roman Towers, Take Metro from Jaume stop to Passeig de Gracia stop (about 11 minutes). Walk to Mazana de la Discordia. Explore the Eixample district: Mazana de la Discordia: (Casa Lleo-Morera, Casa Batllo (1:30pm entrance, plan on 2 hours) if time allows/interested, take a tour of Casa Amatller €19 for 45 minute audio tour). Continue over to El Born district: Picasso Museum (5:00 pm entrance tickets, open until 7pm). Last evening out visiting the Casa Pedrera (9:20pm entrance).