Things to Do in Catalonia
Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.
Antoni Gaudi spent 15 years designing and building the whimsical fountains, mosaic benches, pedestrian walkways, and gingerbread house-like buildings within Park Güell, one of the seven Works of Antoni Gaudi buildings that together make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the hilltop public park sits at the top of Barcelona’s must-see list, and for good reason. The Art Nouveau wonderland adorns many a postcard of the city.
One of Barcelona’s most fanciful buildings, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by celebrated Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and is nicknamed the “House of Bones” for its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars. Casa Batlló’s interior is equally mind-boggling, featuring rippled walls, exquisite tile work, and sculpted fireplaces.
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) dates back to the Middle Ages, and the neighborhood’s age is evident in its narrow winding roads, shady plazas, and beautiful architecture (including three major cathedrals). Passersby find gems tucked away in the nooks and crannies off the narrow streets—think trendy restaurants, chic bars, and boutique shops. The area's proximity to the La Rambla pedestrian mall also contributes to its popularity among the young, nightlife-loving crowd.
One of Antoni Gaudi’s most intriguing creations, the spectacular Casa Mila—also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry) because of its wave-like stone exterior—caused some controversy among critics when it was first unveiled back in 1910. Today, however, Casa Mila is considered a masterpiece of Catalan Modernisme, with gaggles of visitors coming to see its surreal sculptural roof terrace, the re-created early 20th-century interiors of the Pedrera apartment, and the attic-level Espai Gaudi exhibit, which is devoted to the great Catalan architect’s work.
Passeig de Gràcia is one of the most beautiful—and expensive—avenues that runs through the center of Barcelona. The thoroughfare links the Placa Catalunya in the Eixample district to the eponymous Gracia neighborhood, and is home to a number of fantastic modernista and art nouveau buildings, including some stunners by Antoni Gaudí.
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of the Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. The cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a Gothic portico where 13 geese wander.
Located about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Barcelona is Montserrat Mountain, the 'Serrated Mountain.' This unique rock formation, sawed and sculpted by thousands of years of wind and rain, is most famously home to a Benedictine monastery, an important Catholic pilgrimage spot thanks to its 12th-century wooden statue of La Moreneta (The Black Madonna), Catalonia's patron saint. Aside from its religious and cultural importance, the mountain also boasts unbeatable views from its peaks.
Barcelona's most famous street, Las Ramblas runs from the Columbus Monument in Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya. To walk its tree-shaded pedestrian expanse is to be inundated with sensation: souvenir hawkers selling beach blankets and trinkets, street performers posing for selfies with tourists, florists adjusting their arrangements, restaurants serving tapas and paella at al fresco tables, and artists painting caricatures for passersby. It's a microcosm of Barcelona, and it's almost always busy, day or night.
Flanked by the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts skyscrapers, the Port Olímpic was built as part of the area’s redevelopment in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. With its proximity to the beach and its iconic public art (including Frank Gehry’s Peix), it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city and a busy marina.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
Old and new Barcelona meet in Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya), the famous plaza in the heart of the city. Two massive avenues, La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia, converge here too, as do many walking tours and other groups. The square is located near some of Barcelona’s top attractions and is filled with cafés, bars, and restaurants.
With its signature red-and-white neo-Mudéjar brickwork, the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona stands tall in the center of the wide Passeig de Lluís Companys. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca, it originally served as the entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, which took place at the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella.
The heart of Barcelona’s Old Town, Plaça del Rei is the city’s best preserved medieval square. The 14th-century Palau Reial Major (Royal Mayor Palace), which dominates the square was home to the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon. The Plaça is now an unofficial open-air museum of fine gothic architecture.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Barcelona is also one of the trendiest. El Born features character-rich streets lined with tapas bars, quaint bistros, and artsy clubs that give this area a bohemian vibe. Its proximity to many of Barcelona’s top attractions, such as Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter, make El Born an ideal place to stay.
St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral (Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar) stands at the end of Passeig del Born as one of Barcelona’s most magnificent Catalan Gothic churches. Built in the 14th century, the cathedral is characterized by its architectural elegance and harmony. A highlight is the 15th-century stained-glass rose window.
One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats and renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors, the Palace of Catalan Music (Palau de la Música Catalana) is one of the city’s most popular concert halls. Built in 1908 by Catalan art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the venue hosts a range of traditional Catalan folk music performances.
Barcelona’s oldest and most popular park, Ciutadella Park (Parc de la Ciutadella) is a picturesque expanse of greenery with several attractions. Its landmark Arc de Triomf, designed by Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, serves as the monumental gateway to the park’s northern entrance, and the park is also home to a boating lake, the Barcelona Zoo, Catalan Parliament, two museums, and a much-celebrated series of sculptures.
Located in the Raval district and just steps from Las Ramblas, Güell Palace (or more commonly, Palau Güell) is one of Antoni Gaudí’s first major works. Commissioned by his main patron, Eusebi Güell, for his private residence, it’s acclaimed for its innovative use of space, light, and materials and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Football fans won’t want to miss Camp Nou stadium, home turf for Lionel Messi and Football Club Barcelona. It’s also the largest stadium in Europe, with 99,354 seats. Inaugurated in 1957, the famous venue has hosted a number of key international games over the years, including the FIFA World Cup, European Champions Cup, and two UEFA Champions League Finals.
Backing onto the former fishing quarter that shares its name, this sandy 0.6-mile (1.1-kilometer) stretch of Mediterranean-facing beach is a beloved summer hangout with locals who flock here to sunbathe, swim, and play volleyball. The beach is lined withchiringuitos (beach bars), public artworks, souvenir shops, and cafés.
Looming dramatically over the Barcelona skyline, Montjuïc Castle (Castell de Montjuïc) is a 17th-century military fortress perched atop Montjuïc Mountain. After a tumultuous history, including various wars, the site now functions as a municipal facility and hosts cultural events—and offers great views of the city and beyond.
La Boqueria Market (Mercat de la Boqueria) is Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular, serving as a vibrant hub of Catalan culture. The market dates back to the 13th century, but today’s version is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914 along La Rambla. 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.
Overlooking southwest Barcelona, Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc) is the city’s green hilltop getaway, packed with history and attractions, including the historic Jewish Cemetery, 17th-century Montjuic fortress, National Museum of Catalonian Art, Joan Miró Foundation, and the replica Spanish village known as Poble Espanyol.
St. James Square (Plaça de Sant Jaume) has been the civic and political center of Barcelona since antiquity, when it was the forum in the Roman city of Barcino. This large square in the Gothic Quarter is a popular local gathering spot and home to the Palau de la Generalitat (Parliament of Catalonia) and Barcelona City Hall (Casa de la Ciutat).