Things to Do in Barcelona
Facing the Olympic Village of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Port Olimpic was built as a part of the redevelopment of the area in preparation for the event. With its proximity to the beach area and its iconic art and sculpture, it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city.
Surrounded on both sides by skyscrapers such as the prominent Torre Mapfre and the Hotel Arts, the port is a marina for over 700 boats. The view of the many yachts on the water is something to see, as is the masterful copper ‘Peix’ or fish sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. This is also the jumping off point for many sailing trips on the Mediterranean Sea. There are dozens of dining and shopping options along the area, as well as that famous Barcelona nightlife once the sun goes down. The Barceloneta and Nova Icaria beaches can be found on either side.
Welcome to the vibrant Catalan capital, Barcelona! With its laid-back Mediterranean setting, exciting Modernist architecture and labyrinthine Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has enough shore excursions and activities to keep you bar-hopping and sightseeing for days.
Barcelona’s cruise terminals are clustered in historic Port Vell at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare. It’s a 10 to 30-minute walk to Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Most visitors catch a shuttle bus to the iconic Christopher Columbus statue, a minute’s stroll from Las Ramblas. A quick taxi ride to the Gothic Quarter takes only 10 minutes from the port.
It’s de rigueur to take a stroll along tree-lined Las Ramblas, with its flower stalls and singing birds. Drop into Barcelona’s historic market for tapas and champagne, then follow winding streets through the Gothic Quarter to the centuries-old cathedral.
La Sagrada Familia is no doubt the most iconic structure in Barcelona. The church, located in L'Eixample, has been a fixture in Barcelona since construction commenced in 1882 and as building continues on today the structure's fame only grows.
Though still a work in progress, the church already is an amazingly intricate structure. Antoni Gaudí spent 43 years on this project and, since his death in 1926, the duty to finish it has been passed on to several architects. Though the responsibility continues to change hands over the years, the architects have all respected Gaudí's vision and have made additions with his design in mind. Inside the church has an impressive stained glass windows line the main room and a lift takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the view. Smaller rooms hold exhibits detailing the history and future of the structure. La Sagrada Familia is projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí.
Strategically located at the meeting point of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, two of Barcelona’s busiest boulevards, Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya) makes a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. More than just a navigational landmark, Catalunya Square is also the symbolic heart of Barcelona and the large, tree-lined plaza is abuzz with activity both day and night.
As well as being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars, including the iconic Cafe Zurich and the Hard Rock Café, Catalunya Square is also home to large department stores like El Corte Inglés, FNAC and Habitat, a pair of dramatically illuminated fountains and a number of monumental sculptures, including the white marble La Deessa by Josep Clara and Josep Subirachs’s Monument of Francesc Macià.
Looming over Barcelona city center from the 170-meter summit of Montjuïc Mountain, the forbidding Montjuïc Castle, or Castell de Montjuïc, adds a dramatic silhouette to the city skyline. Reachable via cable car from the Montjuic Funicular station, the 17th-century fortress is most popular as a lookout point and the Cami del Mar walking track affords spectacular panoramic views over the city, the distant mountains and along the Mediterranean coast.
Behind the castle’s majestic façade lies a grim and gruesome history, used mostly during the late 19th and 20th centuries to house and execute political prisoners. Anarchists, fascists and Republicans have all met their maker within these walls, most famously Lluis Companys, the President of Catalunya who was executed here by firing squad in 1940.
One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats, presiding over the streets of La Ribera, the Palau de la Música Catalana is one of the city’s most popular concert halls, renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors. Built in 1908 to designs by Catalan modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the concert hall was initially built to house the Orfeó Català choir and remains an important venue for a range of traditional Catalan folk music.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the concert hall features décor by some of the era’s most prominent Catalan architects – a sumptuous museum including ceramic mosaics and relief busts by Eusebi Arnau, a stone arch by Pau Gargallo, vibrant mosaics by Lluís Bru and stained glasswork by Antoni Rigalt.
Although the concert hall is not renowned for its acoustics, the Palau provides a suitably glittering backdrop to performances, making attending a concert at the venue a rich audio-visual experience.
If you’re a fan of music, or simply a fan of American-style food, then add Barcelona’s Hard Rock Cafe to your list of things to do in the coastal Catalan city. Located in the metropolis’s main square, Plaça de Catalunya, the classic international restaurant serves up the same crowd-pleasing fare that you’ll find in its restaurants around the world.
But of course expect to find a whole new set of intriguing rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia too. Highlights include a jacket worn by Michael Jackson during his Victory tour, a guitar from the collection of Jimi Hendrix and a teddy worn by none other than Madonna. Apart from all the collector’s items, the restaurant also hosts events, such as live music, usually on Sundays. And just as tasty food, good service, and Rock ‘n’ Roll are standard here, so is the onsite shop, where you can get your hands on that much-coveted Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona T-shirt.
A small corner of Barcelona's Cuitat Vella, or Old City, El Born lies just south of La Ribera, close to the city’s coastal ports. With its narrow streets and historic squares teeming with cafés, El Born is full of character and a perfect place to escape the bustle of the city’s more touristy areas.
The tree-lined Passeig del Born is at the heart of the district, casting off its origins as a medieval jousting arena in favor of a modern shopping and nightlife hub, presided over by the imposing façade of the gothic St Mary of the Sea Cathedral. A cosmopolitan blend of locals and tourists fill the square’s many tapas restaurants, cocktail lounges and chic wine bars during the evening hours, making it the perfect place to unwind after a day’s sightseeing or catch up with friends in some of the city’s most fashionable haunts.
El Born also houses some of the city’s key attractions, most significantly the Parc de la Ciutadella, or Ciutadella Park.
Few cities do urban beaches with as much panache as Barcelona and with 4.2 km of sandy coastline, there are plenty of options to choose from. The most popular is the Barceloneta Beach, an easy bus ride from the city center and crammed with locals and tourists during the summer months.
Whether you’re looking to escape the city heat, top up your suntan or take a dip in the cool Mediterranean, Barceloneta has plenty of options to keep beach-goers busy. Sip a sangria at one of the many chiringuitos (beach bars) along the waterfront, join the locals in a game of beach tennis or volleyball; or explore the souvenir stores and cafés crammed along the beachside Passeig Maritim boulevard. Active types can enjoy water sports like surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing or hit the lively boardwalk – a popular spot for walkers, joggers and cyclists.
Some shorelines have lighthouses; Barcelona has the Columbus Monument. Standing 197 feet tall — the top 24 feet of which make up the statue of Columbus himself — the tower is quite hard to miss, especially given its prominent position at the end of Las Ramblas, and along the marina.The monument of Columbus (Colom in Catalan, or Colón in Spanish) was erected in 1888 for the Universal Exposition and in honor of the famous explorer, who returned here after his first expedition to the Americas. Much discussion is made of where he is pointing: some have thought he points to the New World, while others say he points east to his supposed home of Genoa — in reality, however, it seems he points southeast and therefore to nothing in particular but the sea, where he was probably most at home. On your visit here, admire the grand statue from below, or get a look at Columbus’s bird’s-eye view by taking the elevator up to the lookout platform.
More Things to Do in Barcelona
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gótic) dates from medieval times. On the streets, passersby find gems tucked away in the little nooks and crannies.. The area's proximity to La Rambla also contributes to its popularity amongst the young, nightlife-loving crowd. Meeting with friends in one of the several placas (plazas) before heading to dinner or a club is customary amongst the locals.
Besides the thriving night scene, there is plenty to see during the daylight hours. Highlights of the Barri Gótic include Barcelona's cathedral, the political hub of Placa Sant Jaume, and some of Barcelona's best surviving stretches of the Roman walls. Full of history, mystery and culture, this district of Barcelona is worth at least a full day on every vacationer's itinerary.
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (known formally as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, or La Seu) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. With octagonal bell towers, five aisles and two chapel areas, the hall church has stood since the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of Barcelona, whose body is entombed in the crypt. Large, colorful stained glass windows look over twenty eight total small chapels inside.
The Cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a lush garden, as well as a massive Gothic portico under which thirteen geese can be found wandering. Each goose represents a year of the life of the young Saint Eulalia. As for the exterior, it is carved in great Gothic style detail — and is particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.
While the masses head to Barceloneta Beach, those in search of relatively quieter shores take their towels to Nova Icària Beach. Located between Bogatell and Barceloneta Beaches, Nova Icària offers a 400-meter stretch of sand, along with all the amenities, including showers, lifeguards, rentable umbrellas, and more.
Its ideal location just adds to the appeal: walking southwest along its promenade will lead you to the nearby Port Olimpic and its many restaurants; meanwhile, head inland and you can explore the Poblenou neighborhood, known for its evolving blend of industry meets innovation. The beach is also a paradise of outdoor activity, including volleyball, ping pong, and water-related activities, such as kayak, paddleboard, windsurfing and more.
The striking Gothic façade of the St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral, (also known as Cathedral Santa Maria del Mar and Basilica Santa Maria del Maris) one of the most memorable sights of Barcelona’s La Ribera and El Born districts, dating back to the 12th century. Renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, the original cathedral was the work of architects Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig, whose efforts were partially damaged by a number of fires throughout the 14th and 19th century.
Significant parts of the original cathedral still remain intact, including much of the imposing frontage, accompanied by a number of restorations and additions added throughout the 20th century. The cathedral interiors are far less imposing, with stained glass clerestory windows allowing light to stream into the aisles and a ribbed vault supported by dramatic slender columns.
As the site of the former Roman Forum, Plaça Sant Jaume used to be the center of the old Roman city of Barcino. Originally quite a bit smaller, the large square, which is situated in the Gothic quarter, was partially filled by its namesake church along with its cemetery and other buildings. These days, however, the expansive, cobbled plaza is known as the political center of the city.
Indeed, on one side you’ll set your eyes on the headquarters of local government, City Hall, which features a grand façade that dates back to the late 1800s, and whose interior can be visited once a week on Sundays. Opposite City Hall is the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the seat of the Catalan government, and from where 100 presidents have governed. It too is open for visits, but only guided ones, which take place the second and fourth weekend of every month.
Officially known as Casa Milà, also known as the Milà House, after the man who commissioned the project, this building is called La Pedrera - The Quarry - by the locals because of its uneven stone exterior. One of Gaudí's several works dotting the city , La Pedrera was started as a dual apartment and office block for the bourgeoisie.
Though unfinished, the structure is a popular tourist attraction, where you can visit a floor decorated in the style of its era. The biggest feature to La Pedrera is the rooftop, where you'll find several impressive chimney pots shaped into what look like medieval knights. A fascinating structure, La Pedrera is recognized both as a symbol of the ridiculous opulence of the Catalan elite as well as one of Gaudí's most interesting works.
Football fans won’t want to miss a visit to the Camp Nou Football Stadium, the home ground of FC Barcelona and the largest stadium in Europe. Inaugurated in 1957, the venue has hosted a number of key international games, including the FIFA World Cup, the European Champions’ Cup and two UEFA Champions League Finals.
During your tour of the 55,000-square-meter stadium, designed by architects Francesc Mitjans, Josep Soteras, and Lorenzo García-Barbón, you'll walk through the players’ tunnel and across the pitch. You’ll also get to visit the Chapel, the TV room, the Press Room, the Sports Medicine Center, the Fundacio Zone, team locker rooms and the luxury Presidential Box. End your visit at the FC Barcelona Museum and have your picture taken with the European Champions Cup.
Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular food markets, La Boqueria Market, or Mercat de La Boqueria, is a vibrant hub of Barcelonian culture. The market boasts a long history, with the spot being used as a meat market as far back as the 13th century, but today the market is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall in La Rambla, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914. Whether you’re sourcing ingredients for the perfect paella or just soaking up the unique atmosphere, few experiences are as quintessentially Barcelonian as haggling for produce in the city’s liveliest market.
Over 200 stalls stand in the market and weaving through the crowds of locals and tourists, there’s a myriad of produce on display. Piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, pails of glistening olives and huge slabs of cheese and foie gras line the stalls, alongside an array of local seafood and varying cuts of meat, including the odd pig head.
Standing tall in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, the Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century church in the Placa del Pi. Its Gothic architecture, including the many gargoyles and the large Gothic arch that frames its entrance, remain well intact. Its octagonal bell tower rises 54 meters high, creating a memorable mark of the history of this area of the city. Its tolling bell can be heard throughout the day while walking around the Gothic Quarter.
Both the church, the square, and the nearby street Carrer del Pi are named for a tall pine tree that once stood in the square. Though it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1936, it was fully restored and reopened in 1940. The basilica has high vaulted ceilings, intricate stained glass windows and lattice work. Its enormous rose window placed at the entrance is of particular note; it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Park Güell is known as one of Gaudí's most colorful works and its expansive display of this artist's playful architecture is what makes it one of Barcelona's top attractions. While the park was originally meant to be a housing development for rich socialites, when the wealthy decided not to move to the hilltop, it became a public playground.
Gaudí spent the first 15 years of the 20th century constructing the numerous fountains, pedestrian walkways and benches in his signature style that are still enjoyed by visitors today. One of the most popular spots in the park is at the top of the hill, where from brightly colored mosaic seats you can take in the panoramic view over Barcelona city and capture some great photos of the park.
Another must-see attraction in Park Güell is the Gaudí House Museum. This pink house near the base of the park is where Gaudí spent the last two decades of his life and it is filled with furniture and other works designed by the artist.
Framed by its wave-shaped walkway leading from the city out onto the water, Maremagnum is recognizable from many sections of the Barcelona beaches. The shopping center is home to many big name brands, as well as local restaurants and a cinema. Two floors of shops range from home goods and electronics to clothing and jewelry. You’ll also find Spanish brands such as Desigual, and other European retailers.
Many of the cafes and restaurants are open-air, making them especially nice on a sunny day. People come to leisurely watch boats pull in and out of the nearby port and absorb a bit of the Barcelona waterfront. The structure itself, like many of the buildings in Barcelona, is unique and well-designed. Its curved, mirrored walls reflect the light off of the nearby water and make an interesting contrast to the natural wooden pier. Walking down the central boulevard, Las Ramblas, toward the ocean will lead you straight there.
The noble heart of Barcelona’s Old Town, tucked beneath the Roman walls that once ringed the ancient city, the Plaça del Rei is the city’s best preserved medieval square, home to a cluster of grand buildings. Largely celebrated as the most significant remainder of Barcelona’s medieval past, the square now exists as an unofficial open-air museum of fine gothic architecture, with many of the buildings open to the public for viewing.
Once home to the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon, the 14th century Palau Reial Major, or the Royal Mayor Palace, dominates the square, including the Watchtower of King Martí and the exquisite Salo del Tinell, a Gothic banqueting hall which backs onto the picturesque Palau Reial Gardens. The Plaça del Rei is also home to the Palau del Lloctinent, or Lieutenant’s Palace, where the Archive of the Crown of Aragon is housed and the 14th-century royal chapel of Santa Àgata, most famous for housing Jaume Huguet’s Contestable altarpiece.
Passeig de Gracia is one of the most significant avenues in Barcelona. In addition to being home to some of the most celebrated architecture in the city, it is considered to be the most expensive street in all of Spain. Originally known as Carni de Jesus, the avenue began as a rural lane connecting Barcelona with the then-independent town of Gracia. Pursuant to an urbanization project in the 1820s, it was transformed into a wide avenue that eventually became a favorite of aristocrats. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, both for its architecture and for its shopping.
By the early 1900s, Passeig de Gracia featured homes designed by notable art nouveau/modernista architects such as Antonin Gaudi, Pere Falques, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca.
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