Barcelona is one of those cities that enchant a visitor both with the variety of attractions and a measure of spirit not found anywhere else. Its major sights may get touristy, making the overall ambiance suffer a bit, but there is so much to take in in this great city that a lasting image of it would still be of beauty, architectural imagination, and sparkle.

La Pedrera

The center of the city can be largely divided into three major sightseeing areas. The Old Town ♥♥ is the historic city center; Eixample ♥♥ is where most of the Modernist delights are; and Montjuïc ♥♥ is a high hill with several attractions of its own.

The landing point for many a visit to Barcelona will be the lively boulevard Las Ramblas ♥. Our most recent stop there disappointed us: We did not see a single live statue (nor we were able to locate the pet market that used to reside on the boulevard).  It could be that we chanced into some sort of “statue strike” or that there is a more fundamental reason in play, but Ramblas lost a lot of its veneer in our eyes.  It retains cafes, flower stalls, and above all crowds, but it may no longer be a place to linger on.

There are many points of interest along and close by to Las Ramblas: Font de Canaletes, a small fountain that is one of the Barcelona symbols; Mercat de Sant Josep ♥, popularly known as “La Boqueria”, one of the best covered-market experiences in the world; Gran Teatre del Liceu, the impressive historic opera house; Museu de Sera, a reputedly delightful waxwork museum.

One of the liveliest and prettiest squares in the city, Plaça Reial ♥, is located just off Las Ramblas.

In the same vicinity is Palau Güell ♥♥, an early important work of Antoni Gaudí. The dark-wood paneling throughout the building makes it look less exuberant than other Gaudí creations, but it is nonetheless an impressive piece of architecture and design, capped by a delightful roof. The audio guide is well-paced and not too overwhelming. Along with several other of Gaudí’s masterpieces, it is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

The Old Town of Barcelona is one of the largest in Europe, but on balance may leave a lesser impression than similar districts elsewhere. Its core part, Barri Gòtic ♥♥, is a maze of streets and squares that contains the relatively compact Gothic Cathedral ♥ and a couple of impressive medieval palaces used for governmental purposes nowadays.

A major point of interest in Barri Gòtic, located on medievally narrow Carrer Montcada ♥, is Museu Picasso. Having endured a long wait to get in, I was disappointed by the collection exhibited therein. Your mileage may vary. Next to Picasso, there are a couple of other art museums that may strike someone’s fancy, Museu Europeu d’Art Modern and Museu Moco Barcelona.

There are several loosely-defined neighborhoods within the limits of the Old Town that warrant exploration. El Raval ♥, anchored by the wide Rambla de Raval, is multi-ethnic and some may even say best avoided late in the evenings. El Born ♥ is hip and happening.

The waterfront areas of Barceloneta ♥ and Port Vell ♥ are full of interesting sites, the former more quaint and historic, the latter more modern, with an IMAX Theater and the Aquarium ♥ that surely will be of interest to kids. Monument a Colom ♥ marks the spot where Columbus stepped ashore upon his return to Spain in 1493 after his trip to America. One can get to the viewing platform on its top, although one local warned me that the platform is really tiny and not overly enjoyable.

Almost at the foot of the monument at the pier, you can find las Golondrinas ♥, double-decker boats that offer sightseeing trips around Barcelona’s harbor. The tours last only about half an hour (although longer tours are available as well), but they are very worthwhile for great perspectives of the city and close looks at ocean liners.

The popular Parc de la Ciutadella ♥♥ has a boating lake with an impressive ornamental cascade, but it is most importantly a relatively tranquil oasis in a bustling city. There are several museums located in various corners of the park, as well as the zoo (Parc Zoològic). The unusual Mudéhar Arc del Triomf ♥, erected in 1888 as the gateway to the Universal Exhibition, is certainly a highlight.

One of the major Modernist masterpieces in town, Palau de la Musica Catalana ♥♥♥ also sits within the confines of Barri Gòtic. The guided tours are offered every half an hour, and nowadays alternate between Spanish and English, so you have plenty of opportunities to visit. The tickets occasionally can be obtained for the next departing tour (we evidenced that even during the peak tourist season), but it is advisable to buy in advance. The visit is entirely worth it.

Among other sights in the Old Town that are worthy of future consideration are Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat and Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar.

Vast and fountain-adorned Plaça Catalunya ♥ connects Las Ramblas with Passeig de Gràcia ♥♥♥, the main artery of the Eixample district. It is on that boulevard that you will find the greatest collection of Art Nouveau buildings in Europe. In Catalonia, that style, of course, is known as the Modernisme.

Between Carrer d’Aragò and Carrer del Consell de Cent on Passeig de Gràcia sits the most famous group of Modernista buildings, Illa de la Discòrdia ♥♥♥. The three principal buildings on the block belong to three different architects and vary in outward appearance greatly, which explains their collective name. We only admired Casa Lleò Morera and Casa Amatller from the outside but went on a tour of Casa Battlò ♥♥, which is another of Gaudí’s WH-recognized masterpieces. The wavy designs with colorful mosaics are a visual feast. The audioguide narration here is slightly over-the-top exuberant, but that was a tolerable negative.

A few blocks up the street stands Gaudí’s greatest contribution to Barcelona’s civic architecture, Casa Milà ♥♥♥, more commonly known as “La Pedrera”. The building with no straight walls anywhere in its design, it is an architectural marvel of rare quality and part of the WH recognition. The roof is one of its most fascinating features, where sculpted air ducts and chimneys look like some sort of an alien army.

Just a couple of streets away from here is the eclectic mixture of styles at Casa Terrades. This apartment block is not open to the public but is worth an exterior look.

A 20-minute walk from La Pedrera (or take the Metro, if you prefer), and you’ll find yourself in front of the church of Sagrada Família ♥♥♥, probably the most emblematic of Barcelona sights. The fantastic cathedral of the kind not seen anywhere in Christendom was started by Gaudí in 1883 and its construction continues today. The star features of the church are the intricate Nativity Façade (the only part of the church fully completed at the time of Gaudí’s death and therefore the only part of the great church that is included on the WH inscription), the Crypt where the architect is buried, the brilliant stained glass mosaics, and the nave where columns resemble palm trees and the ceiling looks like a tropical forest canopy. The Interior of the church was completed around 2010, and it looks as bright and as magnificent as anything we could imagine while looking at the construction-site version of it all the years before. Additional tower construction remains a work in progress, aimed to be completed for the centennial of Gaudí’s death in 2026. There is a museum of the church’s history as well. Taking a lift up one of the towers (with subsequent descent on foot) is quite interesting, but in high season, the wait time can easily exceed 90 minutes.

Please note that in recent years, there is a cap on the number of visitors allowed to tour Sagrada Família on a given day.  In peak tourist season, the tickets may be sold out before the day starts.  Buy yours online at least a couple of days in advance.

Several blocks away from Sagrada Família stands another incredibly impressive Modernist masterpiece, Hospital de Sant Pau.  We never managed to fit a proper visit there in any of our Barcelona itineraries, but it is certainly worthy of an in-depth look. It is also part of a World Heritage site, a different one dedicated to the major works of another Modernist architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner; the other part of the site is the aforementioned incredible Palace of Catalan Music.

Quite at a distance from the city center (definitely go by Metro or taxi) is another famous Gaudí creation, a colorful and enchanting Parc Güell ♥♥♥. Among its delights is the Room of a Hundred Columns (actually, there are only 84 of the crooked pillars in this cavernous hall) and the Gran Plaça Circular, an open space with a balcony of colored mosaics along its perimeter. If you manage to come to Parc Güell before 7:30 am, you’ll be able to share in a great sunrise spectacle with only a fraction of the people that come to the park during normal hours.

The elevated area of Montjuïc can be reached by a funicular from near Metro Paral-lel (the 50-second ride is quite disappointing for those expecting something cool), after which various points of interest on the hill are connected by a cable car system ♥ with fantastic views over the city (one branch of the cable car goes to the Old Port, with even better angles for viewing). Castell de Montjuïc ♥ occupies the highest point of the hill. The main attraction here is the finest views over the port, but an interesting military museum can be visited as well.

There are several other museums in the area, such as Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, located in the magnificent Palau Nacional, Fundacio Joan Miró, devoted to the famous Catalan painter, and CaixaForum, an exhibition center. Poble Espanyol ♥♥ provides a fascinating look into Spanish vernacular architecture styles. Many of its buildings house interesting artisan shops, so plan on lingering for a while.

Halfway between Palau Nacional and Plaça d’Espanya sits illuminated Font Màgica. This attractive fountain is only turned on in the afternoons, and it changes its shape at short intervals throughout the time it is on. It then truly comes to life in an incredible mix of color and music for several performances after dark ♥♥♥ (Thursdays through Sundays during summertime, only weekends otherwise).  It is one of the can’t-miss sights in Barcelona, although the crush of people during peak season diminishes the experience somewhat.

Plaça d’Espanya ♥ is very busy with traffic, but is a grand square, with a splendid fountain, and two towers modeled after the Venetian campanile. The view between the towers towards the Palau Nacional is majestic. The square is also home to the city’s bullring, but Catalans have never taken to bullfighting much, and the arena is primarily used as a music venue. You can, however, get to the top tier of the arena for a rooftop view of the city.

The highest point of Barcelona is Tibidabo ♥, which is some ways outside of the city center. There is an amusement park at the top of the mountain and two very interesting churches, but most importantly, there are fantastic views over the city to be had from here.

An attraction slightly off the beaten path, Parc del Laberint d’Horta is a quiet park with a British-style labyrinth as its main point of interest. It is located more than a dozen metro stops north of the city center. The park boasts several picture-worthy spots but evokes a somewhat neglected feeling in places.

One of the most heart-warming sights in Barcelona is the Saturday folk dancing ♥♥♥ on the cathedral square. A band plays Catalan tunes and the locals get in circles and dance Sardana. It is not so much a performance dance, but rather a devoted celebration of the native culture by everyone with a heart to dance. Most of the circles are made up of people of advanced age, but there are some youth clubs that participate as well. Because the dance is a group exercise, it is important to hold your own, and the determination of the teens to stay in rhythm and to execute seemingly simple moves flawlessly is remarkable. Don’t be surprised if after finishing one song they will invite you into their circle for the next one.

Flamenco is not as big in Catalonia as it is in Andalusia, but there are several places to see it in Barcelona. Most of those offer a dinner-and-show or drinks-and-show combo which costs a considerable amount per spectator. One time we decided to see a show, we opted for Los Tarantos, a tablao on Plaça Reial, which offers a 30-minute show for just €8 per person, in a theater seating with drinks completely optional. The show is billed as faithfully representative of the Andalusian school of flamenco. There was a slight “it’s too short” feeling at the end of the show – and it was no less touristy than the more expensive versions – but if you don’t want to spend too much money, it is a reasonable option.

There are a couple of other attractions outside of the city center that may interest some people, namely, Camp Nou stadium and museum, home of FC Barcelona, and Palau Reial de Pedralbes, both located off Avinguda Diagonal several metro stops northwest.


The Metro system in Barcelona is largely convenient and the trains run frequently enough. Buses, trams, funiculars, and cable cars provide useful connections for some harder-to-get-to points of interest, but most of the sights are within walking distance of a metro station.

Taxis a plentiful and not too expensive.  Most of the trips between major points of interest (as far as Font Magica or Parc Güell) will run under €15.


Accommodation-wise, no location in Barcelona will be within walking distance to all major points of interest, since the city is vast. Eixample provides the most options of reasonable accommodations, but various rental platforms have plenty of options in the Old City as well. The extensive transport options make staying even somewhere outside of the city center workable as well.


As far as eating out is concerned, whether you reserve a table in advance based on online ratings or just pick a restaurant at random, it is hard to have a truly disappointing meal in Barcelona. I personally prefer local vibes in less touristy areas, but sometimes sitting down in an eatery on a crowded square can have its rewards.

Worthy of specific recommendations are: Los Belotta (on Carrer de la Marina around the block from Sagrada Família), with an excellent tapa-centric menu; La Fonda (on Carrer dels Escudellers in Barri Gòtic), with fun space and great food;  L’Olive (on Carrer de Balmes in Eixample), with an excellent selection of Catalan staples in a refined setting; Luz de Gas Port Vell, the only floating café in Barceloneta harbor, whose touristy feel should not turn you off, since the tapas here are as good as anywhere else.

A special mention should be reserved to Bar Pinotxo at La Boqueria market, which is a frequent guidebook recommendation for a cool meal in Barcelona. Its long-time proprietor passed away in 2023, and I am not sure that the place will survive his passing in the same shape. But in times past, Joan Bayen, known as “Juanito”, would look you in the eye and suggest a dish fully expecting you to agree. And it would be utterly delicious. With only fifteen or so seats, there was often a crowd waiting to get a turn. On my next trip, I will certainly pay respects.

For the completeness of the narrative, a small note on cafés in the tourist-heavy areas, especially along Las Ramblas. They firmly fall under the aforementioned heading of having their rewards – as long as people-watching is part of what interests you. Otherwise, you will undoubtedly receive a middling culinary experience at inflated prices. A waiter once told me with a measure of indignity when I indicated my surprise at the cost of a drink, “What do you expect, this is Ramblas”. Your mileage may vary. In any case, consider sharing a bowl of sangria with two straws, as opposed to getting a bowl for each person.

Beyond Barcelona

Quite a few destinations in Catalunya can be fairly easily reached from Barcelona, including Girona, Costa Brava, other points of interest in the north of the province, Tarragona, Montserrat, Poblet, and even Andorra. Many would easily support longer visits. See this article for notes.

Furthermore, locations in the South of France, such as Carcassonne, Villefranche-de-Conflent, Albi, Toulouse, Perpignan, and others, are all within reach for intraday or overnight excursions. You fill find notes on them in this article.

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