Capital of Catalonia and Spain’s second city, Barcelona is utterly incomparable. It’s one of a few must-see cities with its own identity. This is partly down to a generation of early-20th-century artists and architects, like Antoni Gaudí, whose unforgettable buildings are like nothing you’ll see anywhere else.
There’s something to delight everyone in Barcelona. If you’re a food lover then the city has a total of 20 Michelin stars, and if you want culture you’ve got an inexhaustible choice of beautiful buildings and events. Add to this clean urban beaches, world-class nightlife and so much great shopping you won’t know where to begin.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Barcelona:
1. Las Ramblas
Never mind that a lot of locals shun this sequence of promenades that runs from Plaça de Catalunya down to the Columbus Monument at the waterfront.
If you’re a tourist it’s one of those things that you have to do.
In summer you’ll be under the shade of the tall plane trees and shuffling through the crowds that pass living statues, street performers, bird-sellers and flower stands.
Occasionally you’ll catch the whiff of waffles (gofres) being baked.
Once you get to the water you can keep going along the boards to visit the Maremagnum mall or Barcelona’s Aquarium.
2. Sagrada Família
This is where to begin your adventure through Barcelona and the dreamlike works of Antoni Gaudí.
His minor basilica is a project of incredible scale and ambition that is still only around three quarters complete more than a 140 years after Gaudí first became involved.
When its spires are finished it will be the tallest church building in the world, and hardly resembles any religious structure you’ll have seen in your life.
The Sagrada Família combines several architectural styles including Catalan Modernism, Art Nouveau and Spanish Late-Gothic, but Gaudí’s masterpiece defies these kinds of definitions when you look up open-mouthed at the ceiling of the nave.
3. Casa Batlló
Another of Antoni Gaudí’s most postcard-friendly creations, this apartment block wasn’t created from scratch but was a remodel undertaken at the turn of the 20th century.
You won’t need to have visited Barcelona to recognise the building’s roof, the tiles of which are the scales of a great dragon.
Like all of his work the inside and outside of Casa Batlló has that sinuous quality, with few straight lines, and dazzling attention to detail.
Take the mushroom-shaped fireplace on the noble floor, which like a cosy grotto was designed for couples to warm up in winter.
4. Casa Milà
Also known as La Pedrera, as the front of the building looks a bit like the face of a quarry, Casa Milà was completed in 1912 and is another emblematic Gaudí building.
It’s one of several of Catalan modernist works to be UNESCO listed and was the fourth and final Gaudí building on Passeig de Gràcia.
Architects will appreciate the contemporary innovations here, including the self-supporting stone facade and underground car park.
It was designed for the industrialist Pere Milà i Camps to be his family home, with apartments for rent on the upper floors.
The coherence between the design of the building and Casa Milà’s furnishings is a real joy to see, and it’s all from a time when Gaudí was at the top of his game.
5. La Boqueria
This is an iconic sight and educational experience in one. There’s been a Boqueria market in Barcelona since medieval times, though this exact spot has only witnessed trade for about 200 years.
That elegant and distinctive iron and glass roof you’ll see was put up in 1914.
Whether you want to do some food shopping or just take in the sights and sounds of a bustling urban market it’s a real eye-opener.
It’s a grid of permanent stalls selling fruits, vegetables, cold meats, cheese as well as olive products.
The whole market converges on an oval plan of fishmongers in the centre.
Cool off with a beer and a tapa at one of the market’s bars.
6. Camp Nou
In the western Les Corts neighbourhood is the 99,000-seater stadium that has been the home ground of FC Barcelona since 1957.
It’s one of Europe’s football cathedrals and even if you have no affinity for the team you have to visit Camp Nou to appreciate the dizzying scale of the arena.
And if you are a fan you’ll be in heaven, touring the stadium and browsing the memorabilia of one of the world’s most prestigious teams at the museum.
The stadium tour is unavailable on or just before match days so keep an eye on the calendar.
7. Park Güell
Round off your Gaudí experience with a trip to this garden complex on Carmel Hill.
Many make the trip to this part of Gràcia for those gorgeous panoramas over Barcelona from the park’s main terrace.
You’ll have seen these serpentine benches and their mosaics on postcards and in movies.
Elsewhere there are colonnades, fountains and sculptures, all in the architect’s distinctive style.
If you still haven’t had enough Gaudí you can enter his House-Museum, where he lived from 1906 to 1926, with furniture and decorative items designed by him on display.
8. Barcelona City History Museum
The History Museum preserves a few Roman sites across the Gothic Quarter, such as the temple of Augustus and the Funeral Way on Plaça de la Vila de Madrid. But Plaça del Rei is where you can see Barcelona’s ancient history in detailed layers.
You’ll take a lift down to where the remnants of a garum factory, laundries, dyeing shops and parts of ancient Barcino’s walls are all visible.
The site is large, covering 4,000 square metres, which you’ll explore via elevated walkways.
As you rise through the museum building you’ll step forward through time and enter the vaults of the Palau Reial Major, seat of the medieval Dukes of Barcelona.
9. Fundació Joan Miró
Just like Gaudí, Joan Miró was a quintessentially Catalonian artist, and a visit to his museum will give you a more vivid picture of Barcelona’s spirit and style.
The Fundació Joan Miró was set up by the artist in the 60s to encourage contemporary art in Barcelona, and Miró worked closely with the architect Josep Lluís Sert on the museum building’s design.
This means there’s a harmony between the venue and the work inside it that you won’t find very often.
Within there’s a large collection of the artist’s work, including sculptures, drawing and paintings.
There are also temporary exhibitions of 20th and 21st century art, and all sorts of collaborative and educational projects going on.