Things to do in Barcelona: Top 10

Title photography by Ruben Sanchez @lostintv

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August 2018

Take a big bite out of Barcelona with our run-down of the top attractions. The visionary architect Antoni Gaudí is behind the city’s main sights, from Park Güell to the Sagrada Familia. Outside his fantastical creations, there’s the beach, the touristy Las Ramblas and a great Picasso Museum: plenty for the hungry tourist.

1. Step inside the Sagrada Familia

Few city sights are quite as amazing as the Sagrada Familia. This famous church was one of Antoni Gaudí’s final masterpieces. The Catalan architect began the project in 1886, but completed only a quarter before he died. It remains unfinished to this day, but the Sagrada Familia proves that art doesn’t have to be finished to be beautiful.

Visiting the cathedral is made up of two distinct experiences – circumnavigating the exterior and exploring the interior. The outside facade is free to admire. Go and goggle at the profusion of carved sandstone as many times as you like – there’s almost too much to take in in one go. Sculptures both gothic and modern crouch under formidable arches and jut from the writhing walls. By contract, the interior is a serene, smooth sanctuary, bathed in light and populated by soaring columns.

Queues can be huge to enter the church (after all, it’s the most-visited monument in all of Spain), so book in advance online and you’ll be assigned a time slot. Inside, let your instincts guide you through the long, atmospheric nave.

Top tip:

Point your camera directly at the ceiling for kaleidoscopic photographs of the beautiful vaulted roof.

Visit Sagrada Familia and Park Güell

2. Take a victory lap at Camp Nou

The pride of Barcelona is its formidable football team, FC Barcelona. One of the world’s richest football clubs, the largest stadium in Europe. It’s quite a sight when it’s filled to capacity with nearly 100,000 frenzied football fanatics. The players aren’t bad either: Maradona, Guardiola, Ronaldinho – and, more recently the indomitable Messi – have all made history on the pitch. There aren’t many more thrilling experiences for football fans than seeing a match at the club; just book through their website during the season.

No ticket? No problem – on certain days you can tour the stadium. Deliver your own half-time speech in the changing rooms, find Maradona’s jersey in the museum, and visit the quasi-shrine commemorating Messi. The trophy room says all you need to know about the club’s illustrious history: there’s enough silverware in here to sink a ship.

Top tip:

Barça game sold out? Book to see RCD Espanyol play, another first-division team who call Camp Nou their home ground.

Tour the Camp Nou stadium and see the museum

  • Parc Güell. © fotoVoyager.

3. Enjoy panoramic views from Park Güell

In a city this sunny, it would be a shame to confine all the art to museums. Step forward, Park Güell: here you can experience Gaudí’s work sparkling in the sunshine. You have to pay to enter the core of the garden, known rather grandly as the Monumental Zone – but once you’re inside you’ll find terraces, walkways and staircases by Gaudí, all in his singular naturalistic style.

Imbued with his own brand of Catholic symbolism, everything in this park resonates with meaning and wonder. There’s a dragon staircase complete with a much-photographed lizard, a pavilion that looks as delicious as a gingerbread house, and Gaudí’s house, which can be visited for an additional fee. The park has UNESCO World Heritage status – rightly so, you’ll think – once you’re admiring the view from the gorgeous mosaiced terrace.

Top tip:

If you don’t want to pay the entrance fee, the surrounding parkland is free to visit. Climb Turó de les Tres Creus – a viewpoint just below three stone crosses, for a meditative reflection over the city.

4. Get bronzed and beautiful on the Barceloneta

Barceloneta, the main Barcelona beach, has always been a star – it even had a cameo role in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But it only really became a proper beach in 1992, when artificial sand was brought in for the Olympics. These three miles of golden shoreline rival some coastal beach resorts in calibre. It’s a great place to catch a tan. Just hop off the metro at Barceloneta and take a ten-minute walk from here to the coast.

Barceloneta beach is brash and busy. Once you’re here, there’s nothing for it but to embrace the buzz: hawkers hawk, revellers blast out music and sunbathers form a towel patchwork across the sand. Swish hotels frame the shoreline – including the sail-shaped W Barcelona, which will work its way into the backdrop of most of your holiday snaps. Head north to find a quieter spot, or walk south and enjoy Sant Sebastia, the city’s second beach.

Top tip:

Barceloneta was once the city’s fishing district, and it’s still a great place to sniff out a paella. Share one at Barracca, a modern dining destination on the Passeig Marítim Barceloneta, the main seafront promenade.

  • Looking down into the courtyard from the Roof of Casa Mila. © Tracey Whitefoot / Alamy Stock Photo.
  • The colourful Boqueria Market. © Jacques LOIC.
  • Aerial view of the beach at Barceloneta. © Philippe LEJEANVRE.

5. Ramble down Las Ramblas

You ought to stroll along Las Ramblas at least once. This atmospheric, tree-lined street is Barcelona’s main pedestrianised thoroughfare. On any given day it’s clogged with tourists, caricaturists and endlessly inventive ‘living statues’, whilst the Erotic Museum lures giggling hen parties inside with free champagne. Busy it may be, but Las Ramblas is the best route to take to get to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous food market, and El Corte Ingles, one of Spain’s best department stores.

Visit on the 23 April to see Catalonians celebrate the feast of Sant Jordi (St George, of dragon-slaying fame). On this day men and women exchange gifts of flowers and books, and so Las Ramblas becomes lined with rose bouquets and paperback-sellers.

Top tip:

Walking Las Ramblas is a must – but getting fleeced on Las Ramblas at an overpriced restaurant isn’t. Rather than stopping for a drink here, where you could be overcharged, wait until you reach La Boqueria.

6. Find your fantasy apartment in Casa Mila

Apartment blocks don’t always have to be so… blockish. Gaudí’s Casa Mila is all curves. This UNESCO-listed building is a modernist masterpiece with sweeping limestone and decorative wrought iron. Just imagine living here. The Milà family did: they commissioned Gaudí to build the block in 1906, a task he took on with gusto, fighting the city council when his unconventional designs didn’t meet Barcelona’s building codes.

You’ll have to go inside to see why Casa Mila has the nickname ‘La Pedrera’ (the quarry): two lovely hidden courtyards let light into the apartments – the irregular walls rise high above, giving the impression of a roughly-excavated space. Tours take you straight to the rooftop, and you’ll work your way down from here, through the attic and down for a glimpse into a show apartment. (However, you shouldn’t poke around, since people still live here, and you might walk in on someone’s siesta). Book your entrance fee online in advance to save some money and skip the queue.

Top tip:

Look out for evening rooftop concerts in the summer months. Whilst you’re up here, check out the great view of the illuminated Sagrada Familia against the night sky.

Skip the line at La Pedrera

  • The entrance to the monastery of Montserrat. © Tacstef.

    Just heavenly

    A boys' choir sings at Monserrat basilica every day at 1pm. Don't miss this soul-stirring performance, in one of Europe's most spectacular settings.

7. Explore Casa Batlló

Unfurnished, brightly decorated and smaller than Casa Mila – but perhaps more exquisite, Casa Battlo is a fairy tale of a house. There’s nowhere quite like it. Gaudí’s 1904 design features stained glass, mosaic and flowing stonework. The roof is said to represent a sleeping dragon: a wave of glistening, scale-like tiles. A refreshingly cool, blue-tile stairwell runs through the centre of the building like a drinking straw.

Locals call it the ‘house of bones’ – but it’s more like wandering through a jewellery box. Trying to spot a straight line as you wander through the rooms proves near-impossible. Kids might prefer it here to Casa Mila – as it’s a quicker and more colourful tour.

Top tip:

The house is unfurnished. Wishful thinkers can visualise how their three-piece suite might look in the front rooms. Or you can download an augmented reality app which shows you how the interior design looked when it was first built.

Buy advance tickets for Casa Batlló

8. Meet a masterpiece at the Museo Picasso

Take half a day to immerse yourself in art at the Museo Picasso. One of Barcelona’s most important museums is dedicated solely to the work of Pablo Picasso, the 20th century genius who grew up in the city. Its collection runs into the thousands and there are teeming paintings and ceramics on display.

Whilst you won’t find every one of his masterpieces here (everyone wants a piece of Picasso and his works are spread across the world), you’ll get a great overview of his life – especially his excellent Blue Period, which is hung in Room 8. Make sure you also leave time for Las Meninas in rooms 12,13,14. Picasso painted this cryptic series of grouped figures in response to a Velazquez painting. These works are among the most impressive in the museum, if only because of their sheer number; there are 58 of them.

Top tip:

Spend some time in the Gothic Quarter once you’ve stepped out of the museum. You’ll find sweet hidden plazas and charming architecture when you wander down these streets.

Buy a Barcelona Card for ticket reductions

9. Take a day trip to Monserrat Monastery

High in the mountains, and once hidden from the world, the monastery at Montserrat is easier to reach than you think. Just an hour out from Barcelona by train, an impressive bald rock massif rises from the plain with an 11th century monastery cradled in its arms. It’s traditional for Catalonian students to make a night-time pilgrimage up on foot – starting at the bottom and arriving in the upper climes by sunrise. You might prefer the cable car or train. This site has weathered centuries of invasion, occupation and partial destruction. Whilst 80 monks still call it home, the main attractions available to visitors come in the shape of an ornate basilica and well-stocked museum – look for a St Jerome by Caravaggio. And, of course, the views from up here are incredible.

Top tip:

You can hike from the cable car on a number of shorter routes. Greet passing climbers with a nod as you ascend, breathless, to the top of the massif via Saint Jerome’s hermitage.

Take a day trip to Monserrat Monastery

10. End the day at the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc

There are plenty of fun things to do in Barcelona in the evenings. When the sun goes down, the crowds rev up for clubbing, the tapas platters are laid out at the bars, and outdoor tables are corralled by friends drinking bottles of Estrella.

Everyone comes together, though – to end their day or start their night out in one place: The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. One of the rare free things to do in Barcelona, this fountain attracts thousands every evening for its regular displays. With the impressive Palau Nacional lit up in the background, in these 20-minute ‘shows’, coloured light and music bring the huge water jets to life and people watch in awe. It’s a bit of a walk from the old quarter to the Plaça de Carles Buïgas, and whilst it’s not on the same scale as the Bellagio fountains of Las Vegas, it’s still some light relief after a day at the museums. And, who knows? This could be the start of the best night of your life.

Top tip:

Be prepared for surprisingly enormous crowds at nearly every show. People are seemingly drawn to this fountain’s magic. Once you’ve made sure your belongings are safely stowed, relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

Where to stay

H10 Marina

This four-star hotel's rooftop pool and bar are a great place to while away an afternoon. Upgrade to a suite for access to the literally-named Privilege Lounge: you'll get complimentary snacks and drinks served throughout the day.

Book a stay

Barcelona Universal

This popular four star has a pool area and sits just above a handy Metro station. It's just 20 minutes' walk from the hotel to the magic fountain.

Book a stay

Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona

This four-star hotel has the best pool in the city, thanks to Purobeach Barcelona, the beach club that sits on its roof. The beach itself is just a ten-minute walk away – as is Las Ramblas.

Book a stay