11 Things to See and Do in Barcelona Spain
On the north-eastern coast of Spain, Barcelona is the country's second-largest city and the capital of the Catalonia region. This vibrant city has outstanding architecture, excellent cultural attractions, mouth-watering tapas and one of the best football teams in the world.
Barcelona has a subtropical-Mediterranean climate which essentially means the weather is warm and pleasant almost all year around. Even in the 'cold winter months' (December to February) the temperature is usually around 10-12ºC (50-54ºF) and snow is very unlikely. In the height of the summer in August the temperature stays around 29ºC (85ºF). And being on the coast with fantastic beaches means you can paddle in the Mediterranean sea every day.
The influence of architect/designer/artist Antoni Gaudí can be felt across the city. He played a huge part in the Art Nouveau movement in Spain and created some of the city's most recognisable landmarks.
The jewel in Barcelona's modernist crown is the Gaudí-designed Parc Güell. It is a magical place filled with mosaics, sculptures and flower gardens. Columns shoot up like tree trunks, arches are jagged like cave openings and fountains are guarded by giant lizards with scales fashioned out of multicoloured mosaic tiles. Gaudí loved this area of the city and the Casa Museu Gaudí is in the house where Gaudi lived.
Another of Gaudí's masterpieces in Barcelona, Casa Batlló is one of the strangest residential buildings in Europe. Built in 1904-1906 for the textile manufacturer Josep Batlló i Casanovas, this surreal fairy tale castle is another UNESCO site in the city. Locals know it as the casa dels ossos (house of bones) or casa del drac (house of the dragon) and it's easy to see why. The balconies look like the bony jaws of some strange beast and the roof represents St George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon. It's built in the shape of the animal's back, with shiny mosaic tile scales that appear to change colour. The twisting, tiled chimney pots add a further surreal touch to the roof.
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
Barcelona's most famous landmark, and the most visited monument in Spain, is La Sagrada Familia. Work began on this Roman Catholic church designed by Gaudí in 1882 and it is still not finished – he famously said, "my client is not in a hurry" (by 'client' he meant God).
Originally forecast to take 15 years, Gaudí dedicated over 43 years of his life to the project. It has already been under construction for over 130 years and has a pending completion date of 2026 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death.
This signature example of his surrealist Art Nouveau architecture is rich in religious symbolism intertwined with themes of nature and unusual geometric forms. And it is going to look even more dramatic in the next decade as the plan is for the highest tower to be more than half as high again as those that stand today.
The hidden alleyways of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) are both charming and fascinating. The labyrinthine, Medieval cobbled streets are narrow and traffic-free plus you can even see evidence of the old Roman city wall.
After strolling and feeling inspired by the creative feel of the neighbourhood, do visit the medieval Gothic-style Barcelona Cathedral before enjoying the many cafés with outdoor seating plus quaint courtyards and squares. The area is also fantastic for shopping as there are plenty of independent stores. And there's the Mercat Gòtic flea market on Thursdays for antiques and unique gifts.
It is a real treat in a city to have world-class attractions and a major business hub plus award-winning sandy beaches too so do make the most of that Mediterranean coastline. The main beach is Barceloneta where you can enjoy a morning run along the boardwalk and then join in the water sports including paddle boarding and surfing. And the beach is not just for relaxing as beach volleyball teams are there most days.
This was a fishing village area so the local restaurants and cafes alongside the beach are very good. And there is a nightlife scene too.
MUSEUMS AND GALLERIES
Barcelona has some excellent museums including Museu d'Història de Barcelona (Barcelona City History Museum) in the Gothic Quarter in a building that was once part of the medieval Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace). The Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya NMCA (National Museum of Catalan Art) is housed in the Palau Nacional of Montjuïc, a huge, neo-Baroque, Italian-style building constructed for the International Exposition of 1929. It covers a thousand years of Catalan art from the 10th to the 20th centuries. And the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona) has around 5,000 artworks from the mid-20th century onwards.
Museu Picasso has one of the most extensive collections of artworks by this 20th-century Spanish artist. There are over 4,000 of Picasso's early works on display in sculpture, paint and engraving up to 1904. As he was apprenticed in Barcelona it seems fitting that the works seen here cover Picasso's earliest years. And perched on Montjuïc, Fundació Joan Miró is a modern art museum dedicated to Joan Miró who was born and raised in Barcelona. This leading Surrealist artist created the foundation with works from his private collection and it now has more than 10,000 of his masterpieces, from the early Surrealist paintings to the Dada-inspired later works. The gleaming white building is as stunning as the artworks inside.
There are two cable cars in Barcelona: the Montjuïc Cable Car and the Port Cable Car.
The Transbordador Aeri del Port (Port Cable Car) was built for the 1929 Barcelona Universal Exposition and links the Barceloneta beach to Montjuïc. The red and white cabins can hold 20 people max. and it takes 8 minutes to complete the journey, crossing the port at a height of between 70 and 90 metres. The journey begins with a lift ride to the top of the cable car tower and there are no seats in the cars but you are rewarded with stunning views of the city.
The Telefèric de Montjuïc (Montjuïc Cable Car) is on Montjuïc mountain itself. Each car holds only four people and it is newer and a shorter ride connecting Estaciò Funicular on Avenida Miramar, which is halfway up Montjuïc and near to the station where the Port Cable Car drops you, to Montjuïc Castle at the top. This additional cable car is for those who wish to see the castle and the views from the top of the mountain.
This mile-long, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard is one of the longest and most famous main streets in Europe. Las Ramblas runs from Plaça de Catalunya to the waterfront dividing the Old Town into two parts. This wide, shady avenue is a popular place for a daytime or evening stroll. There are plenty of street entertainers along the promenade plus shops selling flowers and souvenirs. You can also enjoy dinner at one of the many outdoor cafés and restaurants.
Gaudí features again at the centre of Las Ramblas where you can see his Fountain of the Three Graces.
You will already know the Mediterranean diet is one of the most nutritious and healthy diets in the world. And you can find authentic local food at La Boquería market on Las Ramblas. This traditional market was initially for selling meat and fish so the fish carousel at the centre of the building remains one of the highlights. If you don't fancy cooking, simply make sure you choose seafood from a Barcelona menu as it is as fresh as can be and tastes amazing in a delicious paella. The market also has fruit, vegetables, spices and other food products.
In a city famous for its artists, it makes perfect sense that there would be amazing street art here too. Head to the Gothic Quarter to see impressive street art down the alleyways in this historic neighbourhood. The old buildings are usually respected and the street art appears on doorways and road signs.
Street artists can paint freely at Jardins de les 3 Xemeneies (Gardens of the Three Chimneys) as it is a purpose-built graffiti park. The murals are painted over on a weekly basis so you are never quite what you will see. You can find more street art in the elegant and bohemian Gracia district and in the up-and-coming Poblenou neighbourhood as it has many disused factories and warehouses.
Camp Nou is not only the home of one of the world's most famous football teams, but it is also the largest stadium in Europe with a capacity of nearly 100,000. If you can't get match tickets, you can visit the home of FC Barcelona (popularly known as Barça) for the Barça Stadium Tour & Museum. You get to see behind-the-scenes at the stadium – including an area dedicated to Messi – and admire the club trophies, memorabilia and original football shirts. There is a Virtual Experience option too so with VR glasses you can sit in the stands and relive the most exciting goals and moments as if you were really there.
WHERE TO STAY
Capri by Fraser Barcelona is in the fashionable 22@ business district and just 15 minutes from the beach. You get the freedom of a luxury serviced apartment for a more independent stay plus a gym open 24/7 and the Caprilicious Restaurant for when you don't feel like cooking. There is a terrace to dine al-fresco or head up to the exclusive Rooftop Solarium to relax. And you can get local tips, such as the latest restaurant openings, from the concierges who enjoy helping guests discover more of Barcelona and the taste of real Catalonian life.
Written by Laura Porter - Travel writer for Capri by Fraser