Things to Do in Catalonia
La Sagrada Familia is no doubt the most iconic structure in Barcelona. The church, located in L'Eixample, has been a fixture in Barcelona since construction commenced in 1882 and as building continues on today the structure's fame only grows.
Though still a work in progress, the church already is an amazingly intricate structure. Antoni Gaudí spent 43 years on this project and, since his death in 1926, the duty to finish it has been passed on to several architects. Though the responsibility continues to change hands over the years, the architects have all respected Gaudí's vision and have made additions with his design in mind. Inside the church has an impressive stained glass windows line the main room and a lift takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the view. Smaller rooms hold exhibits detailing the history and future of the structure. La Sagrada Familia is projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí.
Strategically located at the meeting point of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, two of Barcelona’s busiest boulevards, Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya) makes a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. More than just a navigational landmark, Catalunya Square is also the symbolic heart of Barcelona and the large, tree-lined plaza is abuzz with activity both day and night.
As well as being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars, including the iconic Cafe Zurich and the Hard Rock Café, Catalunya Square is also home to large department stores like El Corte Inglés, FNAC and Habitat, a pair of dramatically illuminated fountains and a number of monumental sculptures, including the white marble La Deessa by Josep Clara and Josep Subirachs’s Monument of Francesc Macià.
One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats, presiding over the streets of La Ribera, the Palau de la Música Catalana is one of the city’s most popular concert halls, renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors. Built in 1908 to designs by Catalan modernista architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the concert hall was initially built to house the Orfeó Català choir and remains an important venue for a range of traditional Catalan folk music.
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997, the concert hall features décor by some of the era’s most prominent Catalan architects – a sumptuous museum including ceramic mosaics and relief busts by Eusebi Arnau, a stone arch by Pau Gargallo, vibrant mosaics by Lluís Bru and stained glasswork by Antoni Rigalt.
Although the concert hall is not renowned for its acoustics, the Palau provides a suitably glittering backdrop to performances, making attending a concert at the venue a rich audio-visual experience.
Welcome to the vibrant Catalan capital, Barcelona! With its laid-back Mediterranean setting, exciting Modernist architecture and labyrinthine Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has enough shore excursions and activities to keep you bar-hopping and sightseeing for days.
Barcelona’s cruise terminals are clustered in historic Port Vell at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare. It’s a 10 to 30-minute walk to Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Most visitors catch a shuttle bus to the iconic Christopher Columbus statue, a minute’s stroll from Las Ramblas. A quick taxi ride to the Gothic Quarter takes only 10 minutes from the port.
It’s de rigueur to take a stroll along tree-lined Las Ramblas, with its flower stalls and singing birds. Drop into Barcelona’s historic market for tapas and champagne, then follow winding streets through the Gothic Quarter to the centuries-old cathedral.
A small corner of Barcelona's Cuitat Vella, or Old City, El Born lies just south of La Ribera, close to the city’s coastal ports. With its narrow streets and historic squares teeming with cafés, El Born is full of character and a perfect place to escape the bustle of the city’s more touristy areas.
The tree-lined Passeig del Born is at the heart of the district, casting off its origins as a medieval jousting arena in favor of a modern shopping and nightlife hub, presided over by the imposing façade of the gothic St Mary of the Sea Cathedral. A cosmopolitan blend of locals and tourists fill the square’s many tapas restaurants, cocktail lounges and chic wine bars during the evening hours, making it the perfect place to unwind after a day’s sightseeing or catch up with friends in some of the city’s most fashionable haunts.
El Born also houses some of the city’s key attractions, most significantly the Parc de la Ciutadella, or Ciutadella Park.
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gótic) dates from medieval times. On the streets, passersby find gems tucked away in the little nooks and crannies.. The area's proximity to La Rambla also contributes to its popularity amongst the young, nightlife-loving crowd. Meeting with friends in one of the several placas (plazas) before heading to dinner or a club is customary amongst the locals.
Besides the thriving night scene, there is plenty to see during the daylight hours. Highlights of the Barri Gótic include Barcelona's cathedral, the political hub of Placa Sant Jaume, and some of Barcelona's best surviving stretches of the Roman walls. Full of history, mystery and culture, this district of Barcelona is worth at least a full day on every vacationer's itinerary.
If you’re a fan of music, or simply a fan of American-style food, then add Barcelona’s Hard Rock Cafe to your list of things to do in the coastal Catalan city. Located in the metropolis’s main square, Plaça de Catalunya, the classic international restaurant serves up the same crowd-pleasing fare that you’ll find in its restaurants around the world.
But of course expect to find a whole new set of intriguing rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia too. Highlights include a jacket worn by Michael Jackson during his Victory tour, a guitar from the collection of Jimi Hendrix and a teddy worn by none other than Madonna. Apart from all the collector’s items, the restaurant also hosts events, such as live music, usually on Sundays. And just as tasty food, good service, and Rock ‘n’ Roll are standard here, so is the onsite shop, where you can get your hands on that much-coveted Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona T-shirt.
One of Barcelona’s most fanciful works of architecture, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí between 1904 and 1906 and stands on the famous central avenue of Passeig de Gràcia. The building was commissioned by its namesake Josep Batlló and forms one of a number of innovative structures on the street, locally dubbed the 'Mançana de la Discordia' (‘apple of discord’).
The original 19th-century building was completely remodeled Gaudi with an elaborate Art Noveau façade. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, the Casa Batlló has become one of the city’s most memorable tourist attractions and is often nicknamed the ‘House of Bones’, thanks to its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars.
Officially known as Casa Milà, also known as the Milà House, after the man who commissioned the project, this building is called La Pedrera - The Quarry - by the locals because of its uneven stone exterior. One of Gaudí's several works dotting the city , La Pedrera was started as a dual apartment and office block for the bourgeoisie.
Though unfinished, the structure is a popular tourist attraction, where you can visit a floor decorated in the style of its era. The biggest feature to La Pedrera is the rooftop, where you'll find several impressive chimney pots shaped into what look like medieval knights. A fascinating structure, La Pedrera is recognized both as a symbol of the ridiculous opulence of the Catalan elite as well as one of Gaudí's most interesting works.
Passeig de Gracia is one of the most significant avenues in Barcelona. In addition to being home to some of the most celebrated architecture in the city, it is considered to be the most expensive street in all of Spain. Originally known as Carni de Jesus, the avenue began as a rural lane connecting Barcelona with the then-independent town of Gracia. Pursuant to an urbanization project in the 1820s, it was transformed into a wide avenue that eventually became a favorite of aristocrats. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, both for its architecture and for its shopping.
By the early 1900s, Passeig de Gracia featured homes designed by notable art nouveau/modernista architects such as Antonin Gaudi, Pere Falques, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
Park Güell is known as one of Gaudí's most colorful works and its expansive display of this artist's playful architecture is what makes it one of Barcelona's top attractions. While the park was originally meant to be a housing development for rich socialites, when the wealthy decided not to move to the hilltop, it became a public playground.
Gaudí spent the first 15 years of the 20th century constructing the numerous fountains, pedestrian walkways and benches in his signature style that are still enjoyed by visitors today. One of the most popular spots in the park is at the top of the hill, where from brightly colored mosaic seats you can take in the panoramic view over Barcelona city and capture some great photos of the park.
Another must-see attraction in Park Güell is the Gaudí House Museum. This pink house near the base of the park is where Gaudí spent the last two decades of his life and it is filled with furniture and other works designed by the artist.
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (known formally as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, or La Seu) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. With octagonal bell towers, five aisles and two chapel areas, the hall church has stood since the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of Barcelona, whose body is entombed in the crypt. Large, colorful stained glass windows look over twenty eight total small chapels inside.
The Cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a lush garden, as well as a massive Gothic portico under which thirteen geese can be found wandering. Each goose represents a year of the life of the young Saint Eulalia. As for the exterior, it is carved in great Gothic style detail — and is particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.
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.
With its signature red and white brickwork, the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona stands tall in the center of a wide boulevard as a unique piece of architecture in a creative city. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca, it was originally meant for an exhibition entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, which took place at the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella. It was created with Islamic style influences in the Neo-Mudéjar style, which originated in 12th-century Iberia, and now stands in tribute as a memorial.
Various friezes in stone and tile along the sides of the arch represent advancements in technology, the arts, and agriculture. At the top of the arch are the coats of arms for 49 provinces of Spain, overseen by the coat of arms for Barcelona. Another relief is a symbol meaning "Barcelona welcomes the nations." It now marks the passage of a promenade which is pleasant for long walks. Classical in shape, it now stands as a landmark for the city of Barcelona.
If you’re eager for views of the sea, lots of photo opportunities, and wide, open spaces, then head toward the northernmost coastline of Barcelona to the Parc del Forum. This architectural park of sorts was built in 2004 for the Universal Forum of Cultures, and continues to serve as a giant venue for events and exploration.
Though many of its attractions come and go — such as Primavera Sound, an annual music festival that takes place in June — the forum is always a worthy destination, beyond just checking out the architecture. Go there to visit the natural history-focused Museu Blau, which is situated in the park’s iconic triangular-shaped Forum Building; to take a dip in the Mediterranean from the sand-free, direct-to-the-water Forum marina and bathing area; or to let the kids burn off some energy at the seaside play area.
Few cities do urban beaches with as much panache as Barcelona and with 4.2 km of sandy coastline, there are plenty of options to choose from. The most popular is the Barceloneta Beach, an easy bus ride from the city center and crammed with locals and tourists during the summer months.
Whether you’re looking to escape the city heat, top up your suntan or take a dip in the cool Mediterranean, Barceloneta has plenty of options to keep beach-goers busy. Sip a sangria at one of the many chiringuitos (beach bars) along the waterfront, join the locals in a game of beach tennis or volleyball; or explore the souvenir stores and cafés crammed along the beachside Passeig Maritim boulevard. Active types can enjoy water sports like surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing or hit the lively boardwalk – a popular spot for walkers, joggers and cyclists.
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.
Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular food markets, La Boqueria Market, or Mercat de La Boqueria, is a vibrant hub of Barcelonian culture. The market boasts a long history, with the spot being used as a meat market as far back as the 13th century, but today the market is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall in La Rambla, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914. Whether you’re sourcing ingredients for the perfect paella or just soaking up the unique atmosphere, few experiences are as quintessentially Barcelonian as haggling for produce in the city’s liveliest market.
Over 200 stalls stand in the market and weaving through the crowds of locals and tourists, there’s a myriad of produce on display. 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.
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.
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.
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.
Facing the Olympic Village of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Port Olimpic was built as a part of the redevelopment of the area in preparation for the event. With its proximity to the beach area and its iconic art and sculpture, it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city.
Surrounded on both sides by skyscrapers such as the prominent Torre Mapfre and the Hotel Arts, the port is a marina for over 700 boats. The view of the many yachts on the water is something to see, as is the masterful copper ‘Peix’ or fish sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. This is also the jumping off point for many sailing trips on the Mediterranean Sea. There are dozens of dining and shopping options along the area, as well as that famous Barcelona nightlife once the sun goes down. The Barceloneta and Nova Icaria beaches can be found on either side.
Montjuïc is the hill situated on the southwestern border of Barcelona. The name of the hill translates to "Mountain of the Jews," which refers to the Jewish cemetery and possible settlement there at one time. Home to Barcelona's World Exhibition in 1929 and then the 1992 Olympics, Montjuïc has been developed to include a number of attractions, including museums, theatres and clubs. An old castle still stands on the hill as well, dating back to days when political prisoners were executed en masse by the Spanish government.
Popular attractions include the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and CaixaForum, both of which house interesting collections of art, ranging from medieval to modern. Other famous points of interest are the Poble Espanyol - Spanish Village - and Joan Miro museum. Come nightfall, find people from all over the city perched on ledges to watch the spectacle that is La Font Magica show, a colorful water display in the main fountain that is set to music.
Barcelona’s oldest and most popular central park, the Parc de la Ciutadella is a picturesque expanse of greenery located just northeast of the city center, not far from the Barceloneta beach. The 74-acre park was designed in 1872 by architect Josep Fontsère, who also created the impressive Baroque Cascada inside the park - a 19th-century triumphal arch and fountain – and was famously assisted by a young Gaudí. At the northern entrance, the landmark Arc de Triomf designed by Josep Vilaseca, serves as the monumental gateway to the park, perched at the head of a wide pedestrian walkway.
Today the park is home to a boating lake, several museums and a much-celebrated series of sculptures, including the modern 'Monument to the World Fair' by Antoni Clavé, a giant stone mammoth, and pieces by Frederic Marès, Eusebi Arnau, Josep Llimona, Pau Gargallo and Manuel Fuxà, among others.
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