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.
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.
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 Europe’s oldest theme parks, the enchanting Tibidabo Amusement Park (Parc d’Atraccions Tibidabo) has been a Barcelona staple for more than a century. Poised overlooking the city on the verdant Mt. Tibidabo, which stands some 1,680 feet (512 meters) tall, the park is celebrated for its family-friendly attractions and killer views.
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.
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.
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.
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 Barcelona’s most dazzling attractions, the Magic Fountain (Font Màgica) was built in 1929 for the city’s World Exhibition. Travelers can still watch the fountain’s spectacular illumination displays, which feature music and a kaleidoscope of shimmering lights, all set against the majestic backdrop of Montjuic Palace.
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.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
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.
Home to more than 4,000 works by the incomparable Pablo Picasso, the Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso) is Barcelona's most-visited art collection. Housed within five adjoining Gothic mansions in the Old City, the collection traces Picasso’s career, from his early childhood sketches to works from his Cubism and Blue Periods.
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.
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.
The small coastal town of Figueres, just north of Barcelona, is known for one thing: Salvador Dalí. Though the artist's fame brought him to more glamorous parts of Spain, Dalí eventually returned to his hometown of Figueres to build his greatest masterpiece, the Dalí Theatre-Museum (Teatro-Museo Dalí). Located in the town's former Municipal Theatre, the site is a work of art in itself. Since this quirky museum was designed by Dalí to showcase his paintings, it offers insight into his imagination with a maze of his works displayed according to his own strange tastes. The museum also houses his crypt and grave.
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.
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.
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.
Whether you like your animals fluffy or ferocious, there's something that fits the bill at Barcelona Zoo. Sitting on 35 acres (14 hectares) inside Parc de la Ciutadella, there are 7,000 animals and 400 different species that call the zoo home, with everything from dolphins to rhinoceros living in quarters that mimic natural habitats.
One of Europe’s largest and busiest cruise ports, Barcelona welcomes more than 2.5 million cruise passengers each year to its docks at the foot of Las Ramblas. The Catalan capital makes a popular stop and starting point for Mediterranean cruises, including liners operated by Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Costa.
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.
Plaça d'Espanya is one of the busiest hubs of activity in Barcelona. Its Magic Fountain (Font Màgica) is the site of an evening light-and-sound show, while its National Palace (Palau Nacional) houses Catalonia’s national art museum. Reminiscent of those in Venice, the two towers on the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina are city landmarks.
Between France and Spain lie the Pyrenees mountains, a 305-mile (491-kilometer) range stretching from the Bay of Biscay to the Mediterranean, separating the Iberian Peninsula from the rest of Europe. These snow-dusted mountains have long been a playground for outdoor adventure, but the hilltop castles and alpine villages beckon as well.
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.
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