If you haven’t heard of Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume, then its City Hall — called the Casa de la Ciutat, in Catalan — should give you reason to pay this square a visit. The headquarters for local government, the building features a grand façade, which dates back to 1847, and an open-once-weekly interior that you’ll be keen to fit into your travel schedule.
That’s because behind its commanding but relatively simple exterior, there are some pretty exquisite treasures discover, such as the building’s medieval-style 14th-century Saló de Cent, and its mural-covered Hall of Chronicles. The plaza itself is pretty noteworthy too, as this was once the site of the Roman forum, and is also home to the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya (the seat of Catalan government), whose dome-topped building sits just opposite City Hall.
One of the most popular districts in Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella, or Old City, La Ribera is a charming maze of streets at the forefront of the city’s design, entertainment and fashion trends, earning itself the nickname ‘Barcelona’s SoHo’. Located just east of the central Barri Gotic area and encompassing the historic sub-neighborhood of El Born and the picturesque Parc de la Ciutadella, La Ribera is one of the city’s hottest destinations, teeming with intimate cafés, bijou bars and traditional restaurants.
A number of key architectural masterpieces lie in La Ribera, most notably the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palau de la Musica Catalana, a modernist marvel designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and the domineering Gothic Santa Maria del Mar, or St Mary of the Sea Cathedral, built in the 12th century by Berenguer de Montagut and renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture.
There are many reasons to head up to Montjuïc hill’s Olympic Ring, and Palau Sant Jordi is certainly one of them. Designed for the 1992 Olympics, the indoor stadium played host to events including gymnastics, handball, volleyball, as well as various competitions during the Paralympics.
On the outside the structure looks like a square spaceship of sorts, and on the inside it’s nothing but beautiful light that pours through the building’s famous window-checkered ceiling. Today the stadium — which can hold over 16,000 people — still hosts top sports competitions, as well as events, and high-profile concerts for artists ranging from U2 to Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna. Go there to see a show yourself, or simply to admire Palau Sant Jordi’s exterior as you explore the Olympic Ring and its other sights, including the Olympic Stadium and Esplanade.
Barcelona visitors keen to have a shopping experience beyond the hustle and bustle of Passeig de Gracia or the tourist shops of Las Ramblas will find just what they’re looking for at Diagonal Mar. This shopping center, located north of the city’s tourist center, offers 150 different stores, including a range of Spanish and international brands.
The mall also has loads of other mall amenities, from an upper-level food court to kid play area, and even free WiFi. You can also to there for entertainment, too, by catching a flick at Diagonal Mar’s movie theater (which features movies in original, English-language version). The center’s location also provides a good excuse for you to explore this less-touristy part of town by taking a short walk to the nearby beach, or even by heading southwest along the coastline, toward the city, to explore Barcelona’s industrial-meets-innovation Poblenou neighborhood.
In the northeastern suburbs of Barcelona, El Poblenou (‘new village’ in Catalan) is sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Avinguda Diagonal, which slices through the modern heart of the city. As one of Barcelona’s former working-class districts, Poblenou had a somewhat neglected feel prior to the 1992 Olympic Games, which saw vast swathes of the city scrubbed clean and regenerated. It was given a thorough facelift and today the chimneys of the former textile works stand side by side with warehouses converted into gentrified loft apartments. Along with the advent of the gleaming Torre Agbar – brightly illuminated at night – and other sleek modern skyscrapers, Poblenou has gained a reputation for being the home of technical innovation and sparkling creativity.
Down the centuries the Port de Barcelona has played a strategic role in the development of the city it serves; its geographical location on the Mediterranean Sea made it an important trading port that brought great wealth into Catalonia. Today it is a major stopover on cruising itineraries as well as the base for ferry services to the Balearic Islands and Mediterranean ports such as Rome, Genoa and Algiers; it is currently being extended in a development that will see it double in size and capacity.
Port Vell is adjacent to the ferry port, an historic area of fishing fleets and marinas into which new life was breathed in 1995; it is Barcelona’s number-one spot for destination shopping and dining, strolling along the seafront promenades and taking boat trips out onto the Med. It’s also the place to learn about Catalan history in the sprawling 19th-century Palau de Mar and travel by cable-car high above Barcelona to the museums and Olympic stadium at Montjuïc.
The Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) will give you goodreason to head into the gritty streets of the El Raval neighborhood, just west of the tourist-filled Las Ramblas. Partially located in a 19th-century almshouse, the urban culture center is a hub for discovery, debate and reflection.
The multidisciplinary institution is noted for its impressive offering of everything from debates, concerts, readings, festivals and exhibitions. Indeed, it’s those conversation-worthy rotating exhibitions that will draw the everyday visitor, so be sure to check the center’s schedule in advance to see what might be of interest to you. And, since the CCCB sits in the El Raval neighborhood, you have all the more reason to wander this often-unexplored part of Barcelona.
The quirky one-time abode of eccentric traveler Frederic Mares is now a museum devoted to his lifetime’s collection of artifacts – a fascinating space crammed with an eclectic array of curiosities. Open by Mares in 1948 to display his collection, the museum was bequeathed to the city after his death in 1991 and quickly gained acclaim as one of Barcelona’s most distinctive attractions.
If you’re looking for a glimpse into the lifestyle of Barcelona’s upper-class throughout the 20th-century, the Frederic Mares Museum, or Museu Frederic Marès, offers a unique perspective, including a range of daily objects like ticket stubs, train tickets, period clothing, pipes and handbills. The sculpture gallery, featuring a prominent collection of Hispanic works spanning the pre-Roman period to the late 19th century, is one of the most talked about exhibitions, including a fascinating series of polychrome holy carvings.
The Gaudí House Museum (Casa Museu Gaudí) was the home of architect Antoni Gaudí for the last 20 years of his life (1906-1926). It was opened to the public as a museum in 1952 to celebrate the centennial of his birth year.
The house itself was built under Gaudí's direction, the pink exterior and dramatic spire reflecting the artist's unique style. Inside the house, the rooms have been maintained to look how they did while inhabited by Gaudí. Pieces of furniture the artist designed fill the house, and walls are covered with his drawings and other original artwork. There is also a quaint garden behind the house featuring sculptures and an archway by Gaudí.
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.
Showcasing the plant life of six different Mediterranean climate areas and the Canary Island, the Botanical Garden of Barcelona allows for a trip around the world in one place. Vegetation from Australia, South Africa, Chile, and California over 14 hectares make this one of the city’s biggest parks, and a great place to escape the hectic energy of urban life. The Mediterranean theme allows for a closer comparisons of plants growing in a similar climate worldwide.
The park works to preserve a diverse collection plant species, of which there are over 1,500. There is a fascinating sensory garden which emphasizes touch and smell, as well as a collection of medicinal plants. A wide paved path allows for a leisurely stroll through the different sections. Those interested in local plant life will enjoy the orchard consisting of typical Catalan vegetables.
Entertainment, culture, history, and even a scare — these are all things you can expect to find at the Barcelona Wax Museum. Housed in a fancy 19th-century neoclassical palace of sorts, the museum is home to over 300 characters, both real and fictitious.
Wandering the museum’s exceptionally staged galleries, you’ll come face to face with a range of noteworthy figures, such as kings and queens, politicians, and painters, singers and actors. From Albert Einstein to Catalan surrealist Salvador Dali, and frightful personalities such as Frankenstein, there’s no shortage of surprising characters that will stand in your path. The quirkiness doesn’t stop at the wax figures, either, as the museum also has two eccentric cafés — one in the theme of a forested fairytale, the other an avant-garde paradise of origami.
Opened in 1906 as a part of the Royal Academy of Arts and Science of Barcelona, the Teatre Poliorama continues to be a center of Catalan culture and arts. With around 700 seats, the formerly cinematic theater is a smaller, more intimate venue. Designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà, it first opened in 1894. Historically the theater played films, with the introduction of mostly Catalan stage productions after its renovation in 1903.
Many important Catalan performances premiered here until the Spanish Civil War. During the war the building was seized and became the scene of armed battles recounted in Hemingway’s ‘Homage to Catalonia.’ Today the theater holds regular performances of both opera and flamenco, often with live music. There are also musicals and comedy shows shown on occasion. The clock located at its entrance is considered to be the official time of Barcelona to which everyone sets their watch to. It was the first electrical clock in the city.
Tucked away among the countless alleyways and courtyards of Barcelona’s atmospheric Barrio Gotico (Gothic Quarter) east of Las Ramblas, triangular George Orwell Square is named after the English author whose novel Homage to Catalonia was published in 1938 after he had spent six months fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He lived in the square briefly and a small plaque marks his house. Formerly a grungy backwater of the Barrio, the square has been radically refurbished and cleaned up alongside much of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old City), and now has a lively, Bohemian atmosphere; it is surrounded by tall, narrow townhouses decorated with wrought-iron balconies and by cafés, bars and (many vegetarian) restaurants, whose tables spread out on to the square in sunny weather. Standing tall in the center of the square is a bizarre, swirling metal installation by Surrealist Catalan sculptor Leandre Cristòfol.
Though you can get to known Barcelona’s favorite son, Antoni Gaudí, by seeing the sights, you’ll really get a better understanding of the artist by exploring his fantastical world at the Gaudí Experience. This is where you can learn more about the architect via large interactive boards (available in nine languages, no less), and especially by watching the 4D movie, which is what really makes the experience a proper experience.
An experience, indeed, as the movie involves more than just pretty visuals but also moving seats and even other sensory details such as mist. During the adventure, you’ll travel the streets of old Barcelona, exploring Gaudí’s creations and his dreamlike world. Narration-free, it’s an especially ideal way for kids to get a more entertaining look at one of the most intriguing sides of Barcelona.
This delicious museum tells the story of chocolate across Europe, including its history, trade, manufacturing, and various uses. It traces the origins back to South America, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadores. Since the 15th century chocolate played an important role in Barcelona’s economy, with the import and export through its port. Historically the city soldiers were even given pieces of chocolate with bread for breakfast.
It is one of the city’s smaller museums, but is in the top ten in terms of visitors. Fun chocolate experiences, from sculpting or painting with chocolate, are on display. Many of the sculptures are famous Barcelona landmarks made of chocolate. Those who visit do indeed receive a piece of chocolate upon entering, but the smell of chocolate permeates long before then. Tastings are very much part of the experience, so be sure to come hungry.
This small museum is the only one dedicated to displaying Catalan modernisme art. It was converted from a textile factory in 2010, and exhibits some of the finest pieces of art nouveau furniture constructed in Catalunya. Most of the collection comes from two antique dealers, who have added their private collection to be shared with the public. There are over 350 works of art across several mediums, with premier modernista artists like Ramón Casas, Joan Busquets, and of course, Antoni Gaudi. A range of everything from paintings and sculptures to decorative arts and furniture can be found. The museum has become a bit of a cultural center for the city, unique to showcasing this very specific type of art created right in Catalunya. The museum is housed in a modernista building designed by architect Enric Sagnier, with original floors kept intact. Don’t miss Gaudi’s couch designed in the shape of lips, or the exquisite stained glass on the first floor.
Music lover or not, you’re bound to walk away singing a satisfied tune after visiting this museum. Barcelona’s Museu de la Musica sets out to take visitors on an educational and sweet-sounding tour through the evolution of music across culture and time — and all via its on-display collection of some 500 instruments.
While exploring the museum’s exhibits, you’ll have the chance to check out one of the world’s most important collections of classic guitars, and even play some tunes yourself on various instruments via an interactive gallery. The experience is all the more rich given the themed itineraries, including one for the general public, another for youngsters, and others that are more specialized.
Barcelona is filled with parks and unique art, and the Parque del Laberinto de Horta is one of the city’s oldest and least well known. The historic artistic gardens are part of a large former estate, containing both an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th century romantic garden. The neoclassical garden was designed with the help of an Italian architect, while the romantic garden added details such as gazebos, waterfalls, and additional beds of colorful flowers.
Once the site of garden parties and socialite events, it was handed over to the city of Barcelona by the Devalls family in 1967. Visitors can still see the original mansion that the family once lived in, built in neogothic and neoarabic styles. A stroll throughout the grounds offers views of the many classical statues, fountains, Italian-style pavilions, and the hedge maze that gives the garden its name.
The Barcelona Pavilion was built for the city’s 1929 International Exposition by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and stands today as important building for both the city and the modern architecture movement. It once served as the official opening for the German section of the exhibition, and is now admired for its simple design and intelligent use of special materials. It was constructed in less than one year, following World War I, with materials such as travertine, Greek marble, steel, glass, and golden onyx. Its emphasis on simplistic structure and minimalism makes this a peaceful place to visit, and still a model of expert design.
Perhaps the highlight of a visit to the Barcelona Pavilion is the prestigious and iconic Barcelona Chair, also designed by Mies van der Rohe. The Barcelona Chair was purposefully designed and keeps with the minimalistic style of the building. The Barcelona Pavilion continues to inspire modernist artists all over the world.