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Things to Do in Barcelona

As a more than 2,000-year-old city, Barcelona displays a complex yet beguiling cultural heritage, shown in its exquisite art, architecture, and cuisine. Legendary creatives such as Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, and Antoni Gaudí were inspired by the historic Mediterranean town in northeastern Spain, and they each left their distinctive mark. Many sightseeing tours with knowledgeable guides are available to help navigate the multitude of attractions and offer historical perspective. A hop-on hop-off tour bus tour provides an opportunity to see all of Barcelona’s most popular sights quickly, with stops including the historic Gothic Quarter of Las Ramblas; Picasso Museum; FC Barcelona stadium Camp Nou; the Olympic Stadium; and Gaudi’s structural masterpieces, such as Park Güell, Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and the soaring (and unfinished) Sagrada Família. Segway tours, bike tours, walking tours, and private tours are also superb for close-up Barcelona sightseeing. Lines at top attractions can be long during the summer months, making Barcelona tours with skip-the-line tickets a real time-saver. Culturally enriching, scenic day trips around the region include tours of Montserrat monastery, Sitges, the Dali museum in Figueres, and the Costa Brava town of Gironès. For a taste of Barcelona, have a local guide you through the city’s ubiquitous tapas and paellas and to the best local fare at the public market La Boqueria, or take a Barcelona cooking class. An abundance of varietals are produced in the Catalonia region, and wine-tasting tours are available in the city or as part of a day trip.
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Mt. Tibidabo
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The highest mountain in the Collserola range surrounding Barcelona, Tibidabo Mountain offers one of the city’s most famous viewpoints, towering 520 meters between the coastal city and the vast Catalonian hinterlands. A tram line runs half way up the slopes of Tibidabo but to get to the summit, you’ll need to change to the cogwheel railway that runs up to the summit.

Tibidabo’s biggest draw is its spectacular 360-degree panoramic views, taking in the city center, the Mediterranean coastline and stretching inland as far as Montserrat on a clear day. At the summit there are a number of options for viewing points, with the most popular being the Sagrat Cor Cathedral tower, a neogothic style basilica dating back to the early 20th-century, and the Torre de Conserolla, a futuristic television tower and observation deck located at the summit. Alternatively, the Parque d’Atraccions offers a thrilling way to take in the view, a popular amusement park.

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Casa Lleó i Morera
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One of the trio of striking buildings that make up the ‘Illa de la Discordia’ along Barcelona’s famous Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Lleo i Morera stands proudly beside Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló and Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s equally eye-catching Casa Amatller. Elaborately restored in 1902 by architect Lluis Domènech i Muntaner, whose other works include the magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Casa Lleó i Morera was built in 1864 and takes its name from its original owners, the Morera family.

Finally opening its doors to the public in 2014, visitors can now explore the spectacular modernist interiors of Casa Lleó i Morera. Along with the distinctive ornamental façade, highlights of the building include exquisite stained-glass windows, a series of sculptures by Eusebi Arnau, colorful mosaics by artists like Mario Maragliano and Lluís Bru i Salelles and exquisite furnishings, handcrafted by cabinetmaker Gaspar Homar.

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Casa Amatller
36 Tours and Activities

Though Passeig de Gràcia is most famously known for Gaudi-designed masterpieces La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, there’s another curious building to discover here: Casa Amatller. Constructed in the late 19th century, the former home was constructed for its namesake, chocolatier Antoni Amatller, and is just the place to go to see spectacular Modernisme architecture, and minus all the crowds.

Like its neighboring buildings along Passeig de Gràcia’s famous Block of Discord, or Illa de la Discordia, Casa Amatller also mixes things up architecturally, featuring both Flemish and Catalan styles. A visit to its interior is equally impressive, promising exquisitely tiled walls and floors, colorful stained-glass detailing, and rooms decorated with the original furniture.

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Maremagnum
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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.

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National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)
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Housed in the Palau Nacional (National Palace of Montjuic), the National Art Museum of Catalonia (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or MNAC) boasts one of the most spectacular locations in Barcelona, fronted by the dazzling Magic Fountain and overlooked by the towering Montjuic Mountain and Castle. The impressive Neo-Baroque building was designed by Catalan architect Josep Puig i Cadalfach for the legendary 1929 International Exhibition and first hosted the National Art Museum in 1934. One of the city’s most iconic structures, the palace’s majestic façade, exquisite Modernista furnishings and glittering chandeliers are as breathtaking as the art displayed within and a popular tourist attraction in itself.

Today, the MNAC is Catalonia’s largest museum with some 260,000 works and home to the world’s most important collection of Romanesque Art, alongside a wide selection of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque masterpieces.

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Placa d'Espanya
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A large and significant square lined with trees and fountains, Placa Espanya is one of the busiest, most central hubs of activity in Barcelona. Many main roads intersect here, including Para•llel and Gran Via. As it is both a main metro and train stop, it is a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike. It is known for its beautiful architecture, statues, and nearby shopping as well.

The Placa Espanya ends on one side with the Font Magica, or Magic Fountain, a large fountain that becomes a light and sound show in the evenings. On the opposite end lies the Palau Nacional (National Palace,) with excellent city views from its steps. It is scenically set against the tall mountain Montjuic, with the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC) located just inside. Two towers on the Avinguda Maria Cristina, reminiscent of those in Venice, stand tall over the square.

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Montjuïc Castle (Castell de Montjuïc)
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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.

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Casa Vicens
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Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona aren’t limited to popular spots Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. In fact, Gaudi’s first big commission, Casa Vicens, is yet another of his creations that should be on any Gaudi-lover’s list of must-sees. Completed in 1888, the home was commissioned by a wealthy tile manufacturer, hence the building’s dazzling, tile-decorated exterior.

Casa Vicens is located in the Gracia neighborhood, a former town that spreads out at the foot of Parc Güell. Gaudi, fresh out of school, and just developing his style, started his career with a bang by designing Casa Vicens, a wildly eclectic structure, most prominently featuring Oriental and Moorish influences. The exterior is a party of color and texture, including flower-embellished tiles, exposed brickwork, fancily designed chimney pots, and extravagant iron balconies.

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Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso)
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The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso), located in El Raval district, is Barcelona's most visited museum and occupies a medieval mansion that's worth a look for the architecture alone. But inside lay the greatest treasures - the works of Pablo Picasso. The artist had a strong connection to Barcelona, living in and studying mostly in the Ciutat Vella neighborhood from 1895-1904.

The Picasso Museum - or Museu Picasso - is divided into various periods of the artist's career, starting chronologically with his earliest sketches and self-portraits then progressing on to his moody Blue period and ending with his study of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.

Pieces are displayed to give each one adequate attention but with over 3,800 paintings the exhibit is by no means sparse.

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More Things to Do in Barcelona

Els Quatre Gats

Els Quatre Gats

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Tucked down a side street in Barcelona’s Barrio Gotico (Gothic District), Els Quatre Gats (meaning ‘The Four Cats’, or ‘a few people’ in Catalan slang) is one of the city’s most famous bar-restaurants and a memorable location to sample some delicious traditional Catalan cuisine. The Parisian-style tavern was the brainchild of local businessman Pere Romeu, taking its inspiration from Paris’ atmospheric cabaret bar, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), and creating a bohemian ambiance that immediately resonated with the city’s artists and writers. Opening its doors in 1897, Els Quatre Gats quickly amassed a number of legendary patrons, becoming the favorite haunt of Picasso, who held his first 2 exhibitions in the main dining room, and a popular meeting point for revered architect Gaudi.

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L'Eixample

L'Eixample

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Meaning “extension,” L’Eixample neighborhood was built in the 19th century to enlarge the city of Barcelona so that it connected with smaller surrounding towns, such as Gracià (now a neighborhood itself). Ingeniously designed, the upscale district displays long avenues with cut-corner, octagonal blocks that allow for openness, light and ventilation.

The area is also home to some of the city’s most popular tourist draws, particularly along its bustling avenue, Passeig de Gràcia. This is where you’ll find Gaudi’s famous La Pedrera, a building known for its undulating façade and spectacular rooftop views. Then, not too far away await more architectural favorites, including Gaudi-designed Casa Batlló, as well as the Flemish- and Catalan-styled Casa Amatller. Meanwhile, the masses come here for more than just sightseeing but also for shopping, as Passeig de Gràcia is packed with Barcelona’s top high-end shops.

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Ciutat Vella (Old Town)

Ciutat Vella (Old Town)

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The historic heart of Barcelona is the Cuitat Vella, or Old City, home to the majority of the city’s tourist attractions and encompassing the districts of El Raval, Barri Gotic, La Ribera and Barceloneta. With its abundance of iconic architecture, world-class museums and historic sights, most visitors to the city find themselves spending the majority of their time in the Cuitat Vella.

Las Rablas is the Old City’s main thoroughfare, separating the residential neighborhood and red light district of El Raval from the largely pedestrianized Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter. The Barri Gotic makes a popular starting point for a walking tour of the city, with sights including the historic Placa del Rei; the 14th century Palau Reial Major; the Gothic Barcelona Cathedral; the glitzy shopping street of Portal del Angel; the lively La Boqueria food market; and several Gaudi masterpieces, including the Palau Güell.

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Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc)

Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc)

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Overlooking the southwestern portion of Barcelona, Parc de Montjuic is the city’s green hilltop getaway that is packed with both history and a host of sights. Indeed, it is there that you’ll find the Jewish Cemetery, after which it is believed that the “Mountain of the Jews” is named. Montjuic is also the site of its namesake castle, a military fortress dating back to the 17th century.

But it’s the last century that has brought particular interest to Montjuic: first there was the International Exhibition in 1929, and then the Olympics in 1992. Both of these affairs contributed to the urbanization of this elevated land, and as a result you can expect to find a slew of related sites. These include the water-show-style Magic Fountain, which sits in front of The Palau Nacional, now home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. And then there’s also the Poble Espanyol, a replica of Spanish villages and their various architectural styles.

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Joan Miró Museum (Fundació Joan Miró)

Joan Miró Museum (Fundació Joan Miró)

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The works of Joan Miró, one of Barcelona's most famous 20th century artists, are displayed in this building in the Parc de Montjuïc. The gallery itself is a piece of modern art, its design incorporating terraces and interior courtyards to direct the flow of visitors and give the space an open air feel. Over 14,000 pieces of Miró's works are displayed here on a rotating basis, including everything from raw sketches to sculptures and coming from various periods in the artist's career. Most popular are the works made in his signature "childlike" style of bold shapes and bright colors. Never committing himself to a specific art movement, Miró dabbled in Surrealism and Expressionism as well as experimented with various types of media.
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Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colom)

Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colom)

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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.

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Olympic Stadium

Olympic Stadium

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The 1992 Olympics were transformative for the city of Barcelona. With the arrival of the games, areas were restored and construction for new structures was initiated. As such, the city was updated and rejuvenated in many ways. One such structure, which remains a draw for visitors today, is the Olympic Stadium — which is now home to the city’s second futbol team, Espanyol. It was originally constructed in 1929 for the International Exposition, and was updated in preparation for the games. It can seat more than 65,000 people. A visit now offers a glimpse into sports history, as well as some great views of the city. It was the venue for both the opening and closing ceremonies of that year’s Olympics. Walking through the competitor’s tunnel, you can really get a feel for how athletes must have felt as they experienced the vastness of the grounds.

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St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral

St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral

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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.

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St. James Square (Plaça de Sant Jaume)

St. James Square (Plaça de Sant Jaume)

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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.

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Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi

Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi

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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.

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Catalan Regional Government Building (Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya)

Catalan Regional Government Building (Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya)

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Plaça de Sant Jaume’s Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya is much more than just a building with a pretty neoclassical façade: this is the seat of the Catalan government, from where 100 presidents have governed. Constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, the building is a symbol of Catalan perseverance, having stood the test of time through many historic challenges.

It’s not just special because of its history, either. Apart from the attractive dome-topped exterior, its interior is perhaps even more impressive. It features a Gothic chapel, elaborate ceremonial halls, loads of paintings and sculptures, and a sunlight-filled Courtyard of Orange Trees, or Pati dels Tarongers — among other Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance elements.

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Placa del Rei

Placa del Rei

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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.

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Placa de Sant Felip Neri

Placa de Sant Felip Neri

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It might seem next to impossible to find a quiet getaway in the big Barcelona city, but Plaça Sant Felip Neri offers you just the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle. This seemingly hidden square, with its trickling fountain and shade-offering trees, is located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and is enclosed by old-world buildings.

It’s more than just a tranquil respite, though, but also an important, albeit tragic part of Barcelona history. Indeed, this is where you’ll find the square’s namesake church, which was bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, killing many people, most of whom were children. The church’s heavily bomb-pocked walls serve as a still-visible reminder of this sad event. Come here to contemplate the square’s somber past while you savor a moment of quiet and calm.

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