Barcelona tourist attractions – what to see in the capital of Catalonia, Spain
It is not without a reason that Barcelona ranks as the third most visited city in Europe, after London and Paris.
The second largest city of Spain and the capital Catalonia regiion, Barcelona offers a mesmerising choice of unique tourist attractions, to satisfy every traveller’s tastes. Blessed with beautiful coastline and beaches (and easy access to other, more low-key destinations along Costa Brava and Costa Dorada), Barcelona boasts also a wealth of cultural sites and museums. The city is, perhaps most famous for its unique and diverse architectural style in which Roman era monuments, co-exist with modernism masterpieces by Antoni Gaudi and the ultra-modern skyscrapers as for example the 38-storey Torre Agbar.
In the vibrating city of Barcelona you will not feel a shortage of more mundane attractions; Catalonia’s capital is home to one of world’s most popular football teams, FC Barcelona and football is an important aspect of the city’s life. Plenty of fun for younger public or families with children visiting Barcelona, is guaranteed in PortAventura, Spain’s most visited theme park, just a short drive from the city centre.
Find out below a few suggestions on what not to miss on while in Barcelona.
Gaudi’s Barcelona – La Sagrada Familia and Eixample distirct
Barcelona is a wonderful showcase of the Catalan modernism, or Modernista style which found its more characteristic representation in the architecture.
La Sagrada Familia church, elevated recently to the rank of a basilica, is by far the most iconic landmark of Barcelona with its characteristic Gothic-inspired towers dominating over the city centre. The construction of Gaudi’s monumental project was initiated in 1882 and is still in progress, currently financed by private donations. Admire the imposing façade of the church and step inside to be mesmerised by the stunning dimensions of the construction and attention to the detail, especially the somewhat surreal lay of light filtered through the elaborate stained glasswork.
However, when visiting la Sagrada Familia, much like in case of any major church in Spain, be aware that obeying a dress-code is expected; no bare shoulders or legs are permitted inside the temple. La Sagrada Familia is one of the 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Barcelona.
Although the eccentric, colourful and curvy Modernista architecture can be found in different city’s locations, it is best represented in the Eixample district, spreading north-west of the Old City. Often referred to as the “playground of the Modernista architects”, the Eixample was developed in the 19th and early 20th century, when the affluent Catalonians commissioned construction of new residential buildings by the architects of the time: Antoni Gaudi, but also Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, Enric Sagnier i Villavecchia and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Batllo are the most notable buildings of the Eixample district; do not overlook, however, works of other architects lining the streets and avenues of the Eixample.
Other significant Gaudi’s work outside the Eixample district are Parc Guell in La Salut neighbourhood and Palau Guell palace, near La Rambla. Please note that Parc Guell and Guell Palace are located in a considerable distance (around an hour walk) from each other.
Barcelona Old Quarter - Barri Gotic and Les Ramblas
The historic quarter of Barcelona, locally referred to as Ciutat Vella (Old City) is divided in several distinct areas. In its very heart lies the tourists’ favourite Barri Gotic. As the name suggests, this part of Barcelona abounds in Gothic architecture, with many well preserved buildings dating back to the medieval times. Basilica La Merce, Santa Maria del Pi church, Plaça del Lei or Carrer del Bisbe are just some of the most important landmarks of Barri Gotic. Many tourists, however, visit this part of Barcelona just to take in the unique atmosphere of a place frozen in time, evoking the past just a step away from the hustle and bustle of a modern European city.
The narrow and tangled streets of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter reflect the struggle common for all medieval walled towns - the lack of space. If you are on a self-driven holiday in Barcelona, do leave your car safely parked outside of the historic quarter and simply take a stroll in Barri Gotic to enjoy its quiet grandeur without unnecessary hassle. See map of Barcelona Ciutat Vella.
From the Old Town a major boulevard Las Ramblas (or la Rambla) leads to Port Vell in Barcelona’s harbour. The nearly mile long, tree-lined pedestrian avenue is a favourite location for both locals and tourists to stroll, sip coffee in one of its many cafés, watch street artists performing or purchase souvenirs and crafts from the street vendors. A curious fact: a section of La Rambla near Liceu Theatre boasts a circular tile mosaic signed by Miró.
Montjuic - scenic views of Barcelona
Barcelona has several viewpoints. It is also possible to admire the city’s waterfront from the water, on board of the Las Golondrinas leisure cruise boats. After the boat trip you can board the Transbordador Aeri cable car from the port to Montjuic, a scenic hilltop overlooking the Barcelona’s harbour, where the city’s first fortifications were built. Montjuic Castle, well preserved medieval fortress on top of the hill is open for visiting.
Montujuic hill can also be reached by the Montjuic cable car which runs from the Montjuic Park:
The capital and the main gateway to Costa Brava, Barcelona, has over 2.5 miles of sandy beaches, located just a short walk away from the city centre. Barceloneta is the most popular and most central beach of Barcelona. Here, apart from a wide strip of sand and warm waters of the Mediterranean plentiful leisure and water sports activities await the holidaymakers. Barceloneta offers a well-developed infrastructure with changing rooms and showers, sun loungers and beach umbrellas, children play area and a vast choice of restaurants and tapas bars.
Within an easy access by public transportation from the city centre are other Barcelona beaches: Playa de la Mar Bella, Playa de Bogatell and Playa de Icária. A short train ride is necessary to get from Barcelona to Sitges beaches, approx. 25 miles west of the city.
Heaven for culture buffs, Barcelona boasts an impressive range of museums and art galleries. Below are just the highlights of Barcelona cultural offer (click on the names to get more detailed information about opening times and ticket prices):
- Museu Picasso
- Fundació Joan Miró Barcelona
- Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya MNAC
- Museu de Arte Contemporaneo Barcelona MACBA
- Archaeological Museum of Catalonia / MAC Barcelona
- Cosmo Caixa Barcelona (science museum)
- Poble Espanhol / The Spanish Village, the open air museum of Spanish architecture.
Montserrat - an idea for a daytrip from Barcelona
Should your time in Catalonia’s province allow it, take opportunity to visit the stunning, multi-peaked mountain range Monsterrat, approx. 38 miles north-west of Barcelona city centre. It takes around an hour to drive to Monserrat from Barcelona.
The unusual rock formations of Montserrat provide great settings for outdoor activities such as hiking and rock climbing. Montserrat is also an important place of religious pilgrimage: the beautiful Benedictine monastery of Montserrat hosts the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat (Black Virgin), Catalonia’s most loved saint.
Barcelona with kids – PortAventura
Near the seaside resort of Salou, approx. 80 miles west of Barcelona, Spain’s largest theme park, PortAventura awaits families with children and, generally, fun seeking visitors to Barcelona.
The park spreading over 296 acres is divided between five different themed areas: Mexico, China, Far West, Mediterranean and Polynesia, as well as the recent addition, the Sesame Street themed area. PortAventura features a wide choice of attractions for different age range, from the adenaline pumping rides such as Dragon Khan or Hurakan Condor, to plunge pools for toddlers.
See map of PortAventura.
For more information, tickets and opening times check PortAventura official website.
Barcelona for football fans
Although football mean much throughout all of Spain, is has a particular importance in the capital of Catalonia. The city’s home team, FC Barcelona remains amongst world’s best filling the Catalonians with pride. FC Barcelona’s stadium, Camp Nou, with a sitting capacity of nearly 10 000 is the largest stadium in Europe and one of the largest in the world. Apart from football matches, other important events take place at this impressive venue. For football fans from around the world visits to Camp Nou and the FC Barcelona Museum are a highlight of the visit in Barcelona. Find out more about Barcelona Camp Nou experience.