Capital of Catalonia and Spain’s second city, Barcelona is utterly incomparable. There’s so much to do in this thriving cultural capital that you run the risk of going away convinced that you haven’t really seen the place.
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:
Be awestruck by the Sagrada Família
What is it? The life’s work of Catalonia’s most famous son, architect Antoni Gaudí. You couldn’t come to Barcelona without planning a visit to this architectural masterpiece.
Why go? To appreciate the nearly 140 years of work that has gone into this (very) quirky basilica. You can’t help but marvel at its contrasting façades, and the details that are true works of art, whether sculpture or stained glass.
Don’t miss: Though even walking past the building will give you a sense of wonder, you’ll definitely want to head inside to witness all that’s been achieved over the last couple of decades. Plus, check out the crypt, where Gaudí himself is buried.
Taste Everything at La Boqueria
Barcelona’s mercats are no longer just places to buy groceries—in the last decade, they’ve become dining hotspots as integral to the social fabric as the city’s restaurants. And they’re a major tourist attraction: La Boqueria welcomes more than 45,000 visitors a day with its abundant and artful displays of the region’s finest cheeses, charcuterie, seafood, and produce. For a market experience free of La Boqueria’s bulldozing crowds, wander the aisles of Mercat de Santa Caterina, a true-blue neighborhood institution. Established as the city’s first-ever covered food market in the 19th century, Santa Caterina underwent a major refurbishment in 2005 that crowned it with its signature colorful, undulating rooftop.
It’s easy to see why Casa Batlló has been likened to Claude Monet’s Water Lilies: Covered in shards of stained glass, it sometimes appears blue, then green, then shimmering like the glassy layer of a lake. Textile industrialist Josep Batlló commissioned Gaudí to design this home after seeing what Gaudí had done with Park Güell. Influenced by nature, Casa Batlló has no straight lines (because they don’t exist in nature, said Gaudí), stone pillars that contort like animal bones, and a tall, ocean-blue stairwell that’s very Jules Verne. The result is both grand and intimate.
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.
Chill out in the sun at Barcelona’s beaches
What is it? There’s some 4.5km of coastline within Barcelona’s city limits, giving you plenty of options and as much beach time as you need.
Why go? You may fancy getting in touch with nature, or maybe you want to play volleyball, swim in the Med or do any number of activities with the word ‘surf’ in them. Or perhaps you’re just very keen not to go back home without the perfect tan.
Don’t miss: Many of the city’s beaches feature beach bars (called chiringuitos), where you can take a break from the sun and sit in the shade with a cool snack and a refreshing cocktail. At night they turn into great little party venues, with spot-on music and even better vibes.
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.
Study Pablo’s early works at the Picasso Museum
What is it? Founded in 1963, this is Barcelona’s very own collection of nearly 4,000 works by Pablo Picasso.
Why go? To see the artist’s formative work and examine how his style very quickly evolved, especially between 1890 and 1904. You’ll find everything from his sketches as a young student to rough landscapes to his early forays into cubism.
Don’t miss: The temporary exhibitions are imaginative and thought-provoking. We particularly liked ‘Picasso Discovers Paris’ and ‘Picasso’s Kitchen’.
Check out Fundacio Joan Miro
Perched on Montjuïc, the hard-to-pronounce hill that rises behind the city center, Fundació Joan Miró was founded in 1968 by the Catalan artist himself with the aim to make his art more accessible to the public. Today more than 10,000 of his masterpieces, from the early Surrealist paintings to the Dada-inspired later works, are on display. Whether you’re inside for a half an hour or an entire afternoon, don’t miss the rather hilarious Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement.
Hear the words “fairground on a hill,” and your instinct likely jumps to, “Um, really?” And while Tibidabo mountain is a fairground, it’s also so much more. You’ll first notice it from the city center: high on a summit, the silhouette of a majestic temple makes you curious to go. Officially called the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (or Sacred Heart church, easier on the tongue), its roof is topped with an enormous bronze statue of Jesus that you can take an elevator to. Mind-blown (and a little breeze-blown), you suddenly see the charm of the amusement park next to it—like its retro-styled attractions, such as a Ferris wheel with color-pop seating pods, built for the views as much as the screams. Adults love the views; kids love the rides.
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.
Soak up phenomenal city views at Gaudí’s Park Güell
What is it? Another big-hitting Gaudí attraction, Park Güell was free to get into – until the number of visitors here tripled over a very short time. In 2013 the city started charging a fee to get in, both to control the crowds and preserve this modernista masterpiece.
Why go? Because you can’t get enough Gaudí. And to spend a day outside revelling in the maverick architect’s wacky ideas. You can explore the park for free, but you’ll want to pay the entrance fee to the Monumental Zone, where Park Güell’s most famous monuments (and the best views) are found.
Don’t miss: Keep your eyes peeled for the immaculate serpentine bench and the figure of a woman ‘hidden’ among the twisted stone columns. And make sure to trek up to the park’s highest point, marked with a cross, for outstanding views of the city all the way out to sea.
Bar Hop at Passeig del Born
In ancient times, Passeig del Born was where citizens congregated for celebrations and sporting events. “Born” actually means jousting field—optimal barside banter, should you find yourself enjoying this neighborhood’s vibrant nightlife. Like a less-touristy version of Las Ramblas, this tree-lined promenade is lined with bars of all types. Start your evening with a zippy Menorca-style pomada, an ice-cold gin and lemonade cocktail, at Cal Brut, before tucking into some tapas and local wine at Disset 17 Graus, a trendy little vinoteca just off Plaça Comercial.
Wanderbeak Tours Barcelona – Born to Eat – Tapas & Wine Tour
With reservations-only groups topped at eight people, Wanderbeak—a portmanteau of wandering while pecking at food—feels like a chatty stroll with that gastronomically savvy friend who’s fun to spend a day with. The flagship tour, Born To Eat, is a fact- and food-filled meander around the historic alleys of El Born. It’s a not-too-strenuous kilometer stroll that’s fully wheelchair accessible, with three stops for tapas, plus a four-glass wine tasting.
If you wonder what life is like in the small towns of Catalonia then a visit to Gràcia is a way to find out.
This area wasn’t even part of Barcelona until the 20th century, and thanks to its layout of tapered streets and little squares, feels like a different place.
It’s a young, stylish and cosmopolitan area with students and artists, so there’s a multitude of bars, cafes and independent shops to be found.
If you come to Gràcia during the Festa Major in August the area is transformed as the residents come together to decorate individual streets in imaginative ways to be the best in the neighbourhood.
Enjoy beachside paella at La Mar Salada
What is it? The seaside neighbourhood of Barceloneta serves up some of the city’s best paella.
Why go? Finding decent paella can be a struggle in central Barcelona, but Barceloneta is home to restaurants that get it right more often than not. La Barraca, La Mar Salada, Can Solé, Ca la Nuri and 7 Portes are some of our faves.
Don’t miss: Of all the options on the menu at 7 Portes, we recommend the seafood paella parellada. And at La Mar Salada, the de senyoret rice with razorfish, monkfish and prawns.