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30 Ultimate Things to Do in Barcelona
By Benjamin Kemper
Barcelona’s mercats are no longer just places to buy groceries—in the last decade, they’ve become dining hotspots as integral to the social fabric as the city’s restaurants. And they’re a major tourist attraction: La Boqueria welcomes more than 45,000 visitors a day with its abundant and artful displays of the region’s finest cheeses, charcuterie, seafood, and produce. For a market experience free of La Boqueria’s bulldozing crowds, wander the aisles of Mercat de Santa Caterina, a true-blue neighborhood institution. Established as the city’s first-ever covered food market in the 19th century, Santa Caterina underwent a major refurbishment in 2005 that crowned it with its signature colorful, undulating rooftop.
Alessio Catelli /Shutterstock
To gain some perspective on the antiquity of Santa María del Mar—and the resilience of Barcelona’s architectonic tradition— consider that each boulder used in the church’s construction was hauled one at a time from surrounding mountainsides and shoreline by ordinary civilians. When the project was finally complete in 1383, 54 years after the first stone was laid, the citizens marveled at what they’d created: a soaring Gothic temple accented with vivid stained-glass panels, illuminated by natural light, and buttressed by sparse, improbably slender columns. Much of the original structure remains today, despite damages to the interior from an 11-day fire that broke out during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
Like many of Barcelona’s architectural feats, La Sagrada Família was, and continues to be, controversial. For years scholars have debated whether engineers strayed too far from architect Antoni Gaudí’s original vision (he died when just a quarter of the project had been realized). And while many citizens deem La Sagrada Família the greatest achievement of Catalan building, others view the structure as a glaring, expensive parody of it. Academic bickering aside, it’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of this place, which, pending completion in 2026 after 150 years of construction, will be the tallest religious building in Europe. Fusing Gothic and Art Nouveau styles in unprecedented ways, the basilica also draws on nature as a central inspiration. The hyperboloids, bright colors, and unconventional animal representations (e.g., chameleons, turtles, pelicans) epitomize Gaudí’s belief that nature and the divine were inextricably linked. Insider tip: Lines here are notoriously long, so it’s advisable to purchase tickets in advance.
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Gaudí may be the most recognizable face of Catalan Moderniste, but many of his contemporaries left their mark on Barcelona as well. One of them was Lluís Domènech i Monater, the Barcelona-born architect behind the Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music), built in 1908. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the auditorium’s interior bursts with color, pattern, and texture, all of which culminate in a skylight so vast that during daylight hours, performances take place without the flick of a single light switch. Choral, orchestral, and opera music reign supreme here, but that’s not to say the Palau’s program hasn’t featured its share of mainstream artists: Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, and Paco de Lucía have all walked across its stage.
Palau de la Música by Paulo Valdivieso [CC BY-SA 2.0]
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll through Las Ramblas, the wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell. Whether you’re taking in a street performance, ambling beneath the trees, or people-watching from a terrace, there’s never a dull moment here. To get a bird’s-eye view of all the action, finish your Ramblas route at the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument for panoramic views of the city and sea. Just be sure to watch your wallet around these parts: This is pickpocket central.
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Prosecco and other budget sparklers rely on industrial carbonization to make their wines bubble. But Catalan cava, like fine champagne, gets its effervescence and complexity from bottle fermentation. You can taste some of the region’s best bubblies at La Vinya del Senyor, a cozy, understated restaurant with several by-the-glass boutique cavas to choose from. If you’re lucky enough to snag a table on the plaça, you’ll be rewarded with views of Santa María del Mar’s 14th-century façade.On sunny weekend afternoons, neighborhood bars fill up with locals out to fer el vermut, the Catalan ritual of catching up with friends over a few dainty glasses of this aromatic, garnet-red aperitif, customarily garnished with an orange slice and an olive. Barcelona’s best vermouth bars, like Morro Fi, blend their own vermouths by infusing fortified wine with any range of botanicals, but in a pinch, the bottled stuff is perfectly passable, too (just ask the bartender for a quality Catalan brand such as Vermut Yzaguirre).Stay: Duquesa de Cardona
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No place on earth can hold a candle to Barri Gòtic when it comes to concentration and breadth of Gothic architecture. The neighborhood’s arcaded, labyrinthine streets empty onto medieval squares such as the Plaça del Rei, once the center of all noble activity in Barcelona and the site where the Catalan-Aragonese monarchs received Christopher Columbus when he returned from the New World. (Today it houses the Barcelona City History Museum, where you can walk a Roman road and see the remains of a garum factory.) Yet amid all the antiquity, Barri Gòtic boasts some of the city’s best shopping. Handmade espadrilles, or alpargatas as they’re known in Spain, make cheery, affordable souvenirs; find them at La Manual Alpagatera, worth a visit if only to marvel at the floor-to-ceiling stacks of sandals available in every hue and style. For rarer finds, wake up early on a Sunday morning to explore the Mercat Gòtic, where you can treasure hunt for antiques and, if luck strikes, witness a traditional Catalan dance on the plaça called the “Sardana.”Related: Barcelona’s Neighborhood Guide
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Perched on Montjuïc, the hard-to-pronounce hill that rises behind the city center, Fundació Joan Miró was founded in 1968 by the Catalan artist himself with the aim to make his art more accessible to the public. Today more than 10,000 of his masterpieces, from the early Surrealist paintings to the Dada-inspired later works, are on display. Whether you’re inside for a half an hour or an entire afternoon, don’t miss the rather hilarious Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement.
Fundació Joan Miró by Susan Fitzgerald [CC BY-ND 2.0]
Park Güell is Gaudí’s greatest triumph in urban planning and shows the sculptor at his most organic. Using the Collserola foothills as his canvas, Gaudí designed an architectural park whose structures (houses, fountains, pillars, walkways) often appear to be extensions of nature. Columns shoot up like tree trunks, arches are jagged like cave openings, and fountains are guarded by giant lizards with scales fashioned out of mosaic tiles. As you leave the monumental area and follow the steep, uphill path, let the sweeping views awaiting you at the top be your motivation. As with many Barcelona attractions, it’s wise to buy tickets ahead, since the park allows just 400 visitors per half hour.
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Sure, there are plenty of Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces on display at the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art). It’s even home to one of Diego Velázquez’s most famous portraits, San Pablo. But what sets this museum apart is the scope of its Romanesque collection, which is one of the most exhaustive in the world and chronicles the pre-Gothic beginnings of religious art in Catalonia. Be sure to seek out the biblical fresco titled Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll, the crown jewel of the collection.Related: Fodor’s Barcelona Travel Guide
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Pablo Picasso may have hailed from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum. Housing 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving, it’s a virtually complete representation of his portfolio all the way up to the Blue Period. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso, though; the five adjoining 13th- and 14th-century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
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For a crash course in Catalan Moderniste architecture, just walk up Passeig de la Gràcia in the Eixample district to Manzana de la Discòrdia, a city block featuring buildings designed by Barcelona’s four most renowned Modernistas: Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Enric Sagnier. The “discord,” of course, refers to the rivalry among these architects, each of whom was trying to forge his reputation at the time as the leading mind in Modernism. By most counts, Gaudí eclipsed his competition with Casa Batlló, whose undulating façade and kaleidoscopic mosaics make it one of the city’s most emblematic and visited sites.
Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodor's Travel
Better known as La Pedrera (“the quarry”) for its elaborate stonework, Casa Milà was the last civil project Gaudí completed before his death and represents the pinnacle of his career. The building, designed as a residence for Barcelona’s elite, was a radical departure from anything the city had ever seen, with its wavy interior patios, curved walls, and slanting columns. Perhaps the most striking element of the building is its rooftop, whose plunging stairways and lifelike chimneys evoke an otherworldly landscape.
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In ancient times, Passeig del Born was where citizens congregated for celebrations and sporting events. “Born” actually means jousting field—optimal barside banter, should you find yourself enjoying this neighborhood’s vibrant nightlife. Like a less-touristy version of Las Ramblas, this tree-lined promenade is lined with bars of all types. Start your evening with a zippy Menorca-style pomada, an ice-cold gin and lemonade cocktail, at Cal Brut, before tucking into some tapas and local wine at Disset 17 Graus, a trendy little vinoteca just off Plaça Comercial.
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Barcelona’s famed seaside district may not have the city’s prettiest beaches, but what it lacks in natural beauty, it makes up for in liveliness. Kites fly, vendors call, music hums, waves crash— La Barceloneta is all about the action. After lounging on the beach for a few hours, you’ll probably be peckish. For fine maritime dining, head to Restaurante Barceloneta, whose kitsch nautical décor gets you in the mood for some of the city’s most pristine Catalan seafood.Stay: Hotel Neri
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Millions of soccer fans make the pilgrimage to Barcelona each year to cheer on Barcelona’s home team, Futbol Club Barcelona (“Barça” for short). That level of enthusiasm commands a stadium to match, and Camp Nou delivers: It boasts the highest capacity in Europe and can seat nearly 100,000 spectators. Although nothing compares to attending a live game, Barcelonistas can get a taste of the Barça experience on the guided tour, which brings the game-day rush to life in the “players’ tunnel” that simulates what it’s like to walk into a roaring, full-to-capacity stadium.
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You don’t need a degree in architecture to appreciate the artistic genius of the Barcelona Pavilion, which, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, serves as one of the world’s most defining examples of modern architecture. Its clean lines, symmetrical marble slabs, and frameless doors lend a peaceful airiness to the building, designed by German architect Mies van der Rohe and presented at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The edifice left such a lasting impression on Barcelona citizens that 24 years after the original structure was dismantled (at the close of the event), an exact replica was built in its place.
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For a hands-on food experience free of La Boqueria’s bulldozing crowds, wander through the aisles of Mercat de Santa Caterina, an unpretentious market where you can find melt-in-your-mouth jamón ibérico, dayboat-fresh goose barnacles, and any other gourmet food you may desire. Established as the city’s first-ever covered food market in the 19th century, Santa Caterina completed a major refurbishment in 2005 that includes the installation of an undulating, visually striking rooftop. Catalonia travel expert Teresa Parker of Spanish Journeys swears by Santa Caterina, noting that it’s an essential stop on her organized tours because “it conveys neighborhood market life better than La Boqueria does.” Her pro tip: “The nice guy at Olisoliva is always willing to offer tastes of Spanish and Catalan olive oils. Don’t go home without something special from there.”
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Located in the heart of of Barri Gòtic, Plaça del Rei was once the center of all noble activity in Barcelona. In fact, when Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, it was here that the Catalan-Aragonese monarchs received him. The steps beneath the pointed arches of the Palau Reial (Royal Palace) are a pleasant place to sit and contemplate the history of this medieval square, but for a deeper dive into Barcelona’s past, discover the Barcelona City History Museum, where you can walk a Roman road and see the remains of a garum factory.
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There’s so much art history to digest in Barcelona that one might forget to consider the present. Thankfully the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), a luminous hall designed by American architect Richard Meier, serves as a reminder. With a collection spanning from the mid-20th century to today, MACBA is the ideal place to get acquainted with some of Catalonia’s most celebrated contemporary artists as well as its emerging talent.Related: Fodor’s Barcelona Travel Guide
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Predating La Sagrada Família by six centuries, the Catedral de la Seu (known informally as Catedral de Barcelona) was built as a monument to Eulalia, the co-patron saint of the city. Gargoyles, flying buttresses, and barrel vaults accent this classically Gothic structure, and you can enjoy them from above—along with the city skyline—on a rooftop tour. See if you can spot all 13 geese, said to represent each year of Eulalia’s life before she was martyred, waddling around the cloister.
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Crisscrossing Barcelona on foot can be tiring. To rest your legs, scout out a shady corner of Parc de la Ciutadella, a lush 19th-century park built over the previous site of a military citadel. After a promenade under the trees or a relaxing rowboat ride in the lake, take a moment to admire the handiwork of the central fountain, a Neoclassical work designed by Josep Fontserè.
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You can tell you’ve left the metropolitan Eixample district and arrived in Gràcia when English-menu-touting restaurants and chain stores give way to mom-and-pop joints and hip cafés. Lauren Aloise, who organizes Gràcia neighborhood food tours through her company Devour Barcelona, calls it “a place where you might find a tiny 30-year-old neighborhood bar next to a Nordic-inspired organic bakery.” Aside from its exciting culinary scene, Gràcia is best known for the Festa Mayor, a Bacchanalian street fair that takes place every August.Related: Best Restaurants in Barcelona
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Whether you’re in the mood for some quiet reading, a hopping party, or a surfing session, Barcelona has a beach for every type of traveler. If time is at a premium, though, the scenic beaches and yacht-filled quays at Port Olímpic are a short metro ride away. A tranquil place for a daytime stroll, at night the party heats up at discotecas like Mac Arena Mar, an Ibiza-style dance party held right on the beach, and Shoko Restaurant & Lounge Club, where you can drink tropical cocktails late into the evening against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea.
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Despite what you may have heard, the most jaw-dropping views of Barcelona’s skyline aren’t at Park Güell. A slice of serenity completely off the tourist track, Carretera de les Aigües is an ancient road that winds around the mountains overlooking the city and the Mediterranean. A funicular ride away (hop on the Funicular de Vallvidrera), it’s been converted into more than 20 kilometers of relatively flat pedestrian and bike paths.
Carretera de les Aigües by Steve [CC BY-SA 2.0]
In Barcelona there’s a party going on at every hour of the night—and morning—seven days a week. Start your evening in one of the city’s neighborhood xampanyerias, such as La Vinya del Senyor or El Xampanyet, raucous cava bars where locals gather to sip sparkling wine (made an hour south in the vineyards of Penedès) and munch on unfussy tapas. Then catch some live music at Milano Cocktail-Bar, a favorite jazz haunt, or at Sala Apolo, popular among trendsters for its indie and electronic shows. Discotecas like Razzmatazz (five rooms of raving), Marula Café (funk and disco jams), and Macarena (sweaty deep house vibes) heat up around 2 a.m. and blast the beats until 6.
Towering above Barcelona’s northern rim, the 1,700-foot peak of Tibidabo is the best vantage point to take in panoramic views of the variegated cityscape against the cobalt-blue backdrop of the Mediterranean. There are countless ways to make the most of the mountain including hikes through the 31-square-mile Parc de Collserola, tours of the fairytale-like Sagrat Cor basilica, and day passes to Tibidabo’s retro theme park (unanimously loved by kids) complete with a ferris wheel and old-timey carousel.
Parc d’atraccions Tibidabo
Tapas may not be traditional in Catalonia, where sit-down meals are the norm, but that doesn’t make them any less thrilling—what better way to get to know a city than by sampling dozens of its most delectable dishes in miniature? Seek out independently run bars away from the tourist center, like Casa Pagès (for meatballs and patatas bravas) or La Llavor dels Orígens (for black rice) in the Gràcia neighborhood, and Bar Tomás (for meat-filled bombas) or Cafetí (for paella) in Sarrià and El Raval, respectively. Beer, wine, and locally bottled vermut make optimal sidekicks.
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Barcelona’s high-octane bustle can frazzle even the steeliest nerves, so it helps to have an escape route ready, especially if you’re planning on spending more than a few days in the city. To the northeast, Girona and Figueres are the most popular day-trip destinations; the former has Game of Thrones-worthy Gothic architecture (many scenes in season six were filmed here) and the latter boasts a theater-museum designed by Salvador Dalí. Sitges, 25 miles south of the city center, is the Catalan equivalent of Provincetown or Fire Island, an LGBT-friendly beach paradise with bumping nightlife. Farther afield yet well worth the trip for wine lovers are Penedés, the region famous for its exquisite cava, and Priorat, whose lusty reds feature on some of the world’s trendiest wine lists.
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Barcelona may be a coastal city, but let’s be honest: Its main beach, La Barceloneta, is out of the way and not particularly rave-worthy. If you’re crunched for time and can’t escape to a nearby beach town, take a dip in a rooftop pool instead. The sexy pool decks of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona and Hotel Olha boast bird’s-eye views of the skyline, which you can soak in with a well-made cocktail in hand. The W Barcelona and Pullman Barcelona Skipper, on the other hand, face out toward the open Mediterranean.
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