I fell in love with Barcelona in 1998. I was sixteen years old, and it was my first trip to Europe thanks to a school trip my mom, a French teacher at the time, organized for the French and Spanish classes at our high school. Besides hopping over the Maine border into Canada, I had never been outside the USA, and being in Europe certainly left an impression. We only had a day or two to explore Barcelona but it was enough for me to feel the energy of the city and appreciate the incredible architecture, food, and natural beauty. We went to the beach, saw Sagrada Familia (at the time we couldn’t enter), visited La Pedrera, went up Montjuic, and even got lost trying to find Parc Güell (we never did find it). I don’t remember where we stayed, but I do remember the city streets and all of it beckoned me back…for the last 24 years.
Fast forward to fall 2022, and an unexpected opportunity arose. My friend Ashlyn (Middle World Adventures) and I had been planning for a long time to visit the southern Balkans (Albania & North Macedonia) but our time was cut a few days short and ticket prices skyrocketed. So instead we switched gears and jumped at the chance to visit Barcelona for a full week – something I have never done before in ANY European city! The more we researched, the more we realized our days would be packed with things we wanted to do, see and eat. One week isn’t enough to see it all, so we’ll be back someday for sure. Buckle up – this blog is comprehensive and is about 3 blogs in one! Below are highlights from this trip and my best tips for making the most of Barcelona in whatever timeframe you have.
Barcelona was founded by the Romans in 15 BC, and although the city has seen its fair share of battles and various rulers, it has remained a Spanish stronghold for over 2,000 years. Its location on the northeast coast of Spain has made it an ideal shipping location and one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe.
Over time Barcelona established itself as a key port city in Europe, moving textiles, precious metals, and perhaps most profitable, slaves. The slave trade is tightly knit to the legacy of the city, as many prominent buildings were built with wealth accumulated from the slave trade. Today the port of Barcelona remains powerful, as it is the #1 cruise ship port in Europe.
Fun fact: In 1792 French astronomers Jean Delambre and Pierre Méchain calculated the distance between the North Pole and the Equator using the measurement of the meridian arc between Dunkirk and the fortress on Montjuïc in Barcelona compared to the latitude of the two cities. In this way they established the prototype for the measurement of a meter, and it has remained that standard length to this day!
In the late 1800’s there were many improvements made to the city in an effort to host the World’s Fair – the first of its kind in Spain. Ciutadella Park was renovated and the Arc de Triomf was built as a gateway to this successful event. Additionally, a massive statue of Christopher Columbus was erected near the port at the spot where he returned from his infamous journey to meet with Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V, sharing tales, riches, and even humans from the “new world.” At the time of its erection, Columbus was still given credit for the “founding” of the Americas and many Spaniards were eager to claim he was born in Catalonia. Today, of course, the history books tell a different story of Columbus – one of a poor sailor and violent invader responsible for the suffering of many indigenous people. It will be interesting to see how much longer the Columbus statue remains as an icon of the Barcelona cityscape. Read about recent efforts to have it removed and Barcelona’s efforts to reckon with its legacy of slavery here.
In the past 100 years, the people of Barcelona endured violence and oppression under the leadership of fascist Francisco Franco that began in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany supported Franco in deadly bomb attacks on Barcelona in 1938, and he imprisoned thousands of people who spoke out against him (scroll down to see the prison we visited). Franco suppressed the Catalan culture and language until his death in 1975. His death led to a democratic movement in Spain that has endured. Just 17 years later the city overhauled its infrastructure to host the 1992 Olympics and it has been a tourism hotspot ever since. In fact, Barcelona is known as a “beach city” but wasn’t considered this until the coastline was cleaned up and lovely beaches were created for the ’92 Olympics!
Barcelona is the most visited city in Spain, among the busiest airports in Europe, and the largest city on the Mediterranean Sea. It boasts the largest football (soccer) stadium in Europe and more than 10% of the city is covered in parks numbering at 68 – including the largest metropolitan park in the world (8,000 hectare Perc de la Collserola) that is 22 times the size of Central Park in NYC! The city is located in Catalonia – a place with strong established culture and norms such as Catalan/Spanish language schools, a ban on bullfighting, and even a national dance, the Sardana. It is an incredibly friendly city for LGBTQ+ individuals, and is full of UNESCO World Heritage sites. Why visit Barcelona? Come for the fabulous colorful architecture, the fun, the football, and the flavor!
NOTE: I am committed to providing free, valuable travel info. If this add-free guide is helpful to you and you’d like to show your appreciation, buy me a coffee! Thank you!
In This Guide:
Click to skip to any section of this blog…
- Best Architecture
- Best Food
- Top 10 Must See Barcelona (with details)
- Honorable Mention Sites
- In Memorium
- Jewish History
- History of Slavery
- History of Fascism
- La Pedrera
- Cituadella Park
- In Memorium
- Other Experiences
- Food Tour
- Walking Tours
- Sample Itineraries
- Streets Gallery
GETTING AROUND: Barcelona is a wonderful city for walking and biking, but it also has Uber and taxi services (fairly pricey) and one of the nicest metro and bus systems in Europe. Depending on how long you are in the city, I recommend getting a 10-pass metro ticket for just shy of €8 and it will last at least 2 days – but expect to do a lot of walking as that’s the best way to appreciate the city. For a fee, there are also cable cars that can take you up Montjuic instead of hiking – either from the bottom of the hill or from across the port (more info below).
WHERE TO STAY: We stayed at the Hampton by Hilton Fira Gran Via as the price was great, it included breakfast, was located between the city and the airport, and was right on a metro stop. If you’re looking for good neighborhoods to stay in, I recommend Gracia, Montjuic, or near Passeig de Gràcia. It would also be fun to stay in Old Town Barcelona, but only if you don’t mind noisy streets and high prices.
SAFETY: We were warned multiple times that Barcelona is a city full of pickpockets. I have also heard this about other cities like Paris, but have never encountered any issues. Of course keep any valuables in zipped up bags close to your body or under your coat, and never put your wallet or cell phone in your back pocket or on a table. Basically, don’t make yourself a target for pickpockets and you’ll be fine. Otherwise, Barcelona is a very safe, friendly city.
LANGUAGE: People speak Spanish and Catalan in Barcelona, but most restaurants and establishments will have English speakers as well.
CLOTHING: Barcelona climate is usually quite comfortable ranging from 45ºF/8ºC as a low in winter to 84ºF/29ºC as a high in summer. The location of the city on the Balearic Sea keeps temperatures fairly consistent. Dress in layers (especially in the fall and winter), bring swimwear in case the beach or spa beckons, and remember comfortable shoes for all the walking.
Because there is SO MUCH beautiful architecture to see in Barcelona, it would be impossible to write a definitive list of what’s worth seeing, but here’s mine. Much of Antoni Gaudí’s work is included in UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona. I’ll highlight my favorites IN ORDER OF MUST SEES below with details and links. Keep in mind it is always cheaper and smarter to purchase your tickets online in advance – you will pay less and ensure you can enter as they do sell out. Don’t expect to show up and get right in – these are popular destinations!
🔸Palau de la Música Catalana
🔸Cathedral of Barcelona
🔸Arc de Triomf
🔸Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
🔸Montjuïc National Palace
🔸Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
🔸Monasterio de Pedralbes
🔸Antic hospital de la Santa Creu
🔸Casa Comalat & Casa de les Punxes
🔸Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, Tibidabo
🔺Torre de Comunicacions de Montjuïc
🔺El Peix d’Or Frank Gehry
🔺Santa Catarina Market
🔺Torre de Gas Natural
🔺The Forum Building
RESTAURANTS: Like many cities in Europe, the food scene is excellent in Barcelona. Expect restaurants to close around 2 PM after lunch and reopen at 7 PM for dinner and plan accordingly. Reservations are recommended. These are our favorite restaurants we were able to try in the city, plus a few more that were on our list but we didn’t have time for! Keep in mind we ate vegetarian, but these restaurants are great no matter what your diet preference.
REALLY GOOD EATS
- La Cova Fumada – Known by the locals, this small-plate hole in the wall offers a changing menu based on whatever is fresh. Ask them to bring you garlic aioli bread, white beans and seafood of the day. You may end up sharing a table but here, you’re family. $$
- Bodega La Palma – This rustic bodega is known for wine and tapas – and everything is to die for! Ask them what the specials are and let them choose your wine. $$
- Sim Sim – We loved our middle eastern meal here – it was flavorful and the menu had a nice variety! $$
- Xavier Pellicer – For an unforgettable splurge, enjoy this incredible tasting menu (regular or vegetarian) and be transported! I have never had a more memorable tomato in my life. Every dish was exquisite and worth every penny. $$$
- Vegetalia – Great for sharing, lighter bites and drinks. It is in an area with lots of other vegetarian restaurants too, so it would be fun to do a progressive meal here. $$
- Teresa Carles – Healthy, delicious, local and unique food for lunch, but the best menu in the evening. $$
- Fat Veggies – This place is so good, just ask them what you should have or let them bring you food. You won’t regret it! Great prices for high quality food. Try their sister restaurant too, Fat Barbies (meat-centric). $$
- La Raposa – For light bites, this tiny hole in the wall vegan feminist bookstore and library cafe is a fun stop! $
- Flax & Kale – There are several locations for Flax & Kale. They partner with Teresa Carles and have their own line of vegetarian foods you can buy and take home to cook, like a small grocery store. $$
- Rasoterra – What a treat! Everything on our lunch menu was so delicious. Try as many dishes as you can! Very reasonably priced, too. $$
- Pizzeria That’s Amore – We snuck in here to this tiny pizzeria before the football game and were delighted by the authenticity and deliciousness of the pizza. Bonus – it was priced right! $
- Churros – You can find churros on the street all over Barcelona! We were walking down the hill from Parc Güell and ran into a huge churros cart in the square before the metro. They’re fresh, cheap and delicious! A must when in Barca! $
- Rocambolesc – A must visit for build your own gelato, right on Las Ramblas. We liked it so much we went twice! $
- Pincho J – This quick bite lunch spot reminded me a lot of osterias in Venice where I loved the cicchetti – little varieties of bites on bread. Delicious and very cheap! $
- Restaurant 1881 – This rooftop restaurant is not necessarily something I recommend for the service and pricing, but it’s a great place to enjoy a rooftop view over the harbor with a DJ, drinks and small plates. It is located on top of the , entrance is inside and you don’t need tickets to enter. $$
- La Boqueria – The most popular market in Barcelona, and for good reason! Just take a walk through and you can grab-and-go with all kinds of treats in your hand from fried fish to fruit smoothies. Tip: go just before closing to snag last minute deals. $
ALSO ON MY LIST
- Quimet & Quimet (tapas)
- Green&Berry Corner (healthy)
- Cerveseria Catalana (tapas)
- Ramblero de la Boqueria (Mediterranean)
- Bacaro (Italian)
- Bar Restaurant Pinotxo (Catalan)
- El Xampanyet (bar & tapas)
- El Quim de la Boqueria (breakfast, tapas)
TOP 10 MUST SEE IN BARCELONA
SAGRADA FAMILIA: Because this is THE iconic site in Barcelona, it comes first on most people’s must-see list. You can’t visit the city without stopping to gawk at the incredible masterpiece that is still being built high above the Barcelona skyline. I recommend finding time to visit during the day, and also at night in the park nearby. You might also consider getting reservations atop the Sercotel Rosellón (7 days in advance – they sell out fast, or stay there and access is included in your stay) to enjoy one of the best rooftop views at night over this masterpiece! I think it’s an absolute must to go inside, and if you’re brave, ascend the towers. Here is the story of Sagrada Familia so it can be appreciated more fully…
After returning from a trip to the Vatican, bookseller Jose Bocabella envisioned a great cathedral dedicated to the Holy Family. He purchased land on the outskirts of Barcelona for the equivalent of $1034, and commissioned Francisco del Villar to build it. Just one year after construction began, Villar resigned, and in 1883, upcoming architect Antoni Gaudí (then 31) was hired to take over design and construction. It became his magnum opus, working tirelessly for 43 years and only witnessing about 1/4 of its completion before his untimely death in 1926 at age 74. He was struck by a city tram while crossing the street near the cathedral, where he lived and worked in the basement. After his death he was honored by being laid to rest in the crypt of his great creation. During the Spanish Civil War (between 1936-1940) anarchists destroyed much of Gaudí’s work and it took 16 years to recreate his plans. The only reason the cathedral itself wasn’t destroyed was because the bridge between Nativity facade towers were an ideal sniper location for the rebels, so they decided to keep the cathedral intact. Today you can walk across this same bridge for an incredible view from above, out over the city of Barcelona!
Since 1940, many architects have worked together to bring his vision to life. Current projections put completion somewhere in the early 2030’s – over 150 years after it began. When it is finished, Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church in the world at 172.5m, surpassing Ulm in Germany (161.5m), and just one meter shy of the height of Montjuïc in Barcelona, as Gaudí believed no human creation should surpass the height of God’s creations. First a church, later a cathedral (seat of the Bishop), and then in 2010 it was declared a basilica by Pope Benedict. Every single detail of this basilica has meaning, and was inspired by nature and the Holy Family. It’s inspiring indeed.
TO VISIT: Purchase tickets here in advance and select a time slot. Tickets are €26-€36 per person. A free audioguide is available in the Sagrada Familia app. If you buy tickets to ascend the towers, I recommend the Nativity over the Passion facade to walk across the famous bridge. Be sure to stay long enough to view the light changing behind the stained glass.
Remember to make a point of visiting Sagrada Familia at night…it has a whole different mystique.
CASA BATLLÓ: Although this was Gaudi’s second commissioned work after Palau Güell, it was another renovation project. Known as the “House of Bones” due to features resembling bones on the facade, it was built with the patron saint of Catalunya in mind, with detail inspired by the story of St. George and the Dragon. For example, the rooftop resembles scales of a dragon (some would say a fish) and giant cross representing the sword that slayed the dragon. The windows and balconies represent skulls and bones that the dragon slayed – or are they Mardi Gras masks? The truth is, Gaudí never explained the symbolism of this work but it’s clear that there is a very distinct marine theme throughout the structure. Inside, the walls, ceilings, stairwells, windows and atriums flow with rounded details and bluish tones that evoke a serene but inspired reflection of the sea. This Gaudí house was among the first in the Eixample neighborhood that became THE model inspiring all other modernist architects who came after him. In my opinion, nothing else comes close to Casa Batlló, and if you can only visit one Gaudí house, it should be this one!
It is also worth noting that Casa Batlló is committed to supporting neuro-divergent causes and autism awareness. Ten percent of profits are donated to Associació Aprenem Autisme and Fundación Adana and many employees have autism. Occasionally there are projection mapping light shows on the facade of Casa Batlló commemorating various anniversaries. Keep an eye out for these as well!
TO VISIT: Purchase tickets here in advance and select a time slot. Tickets vary in price from €35-€45/per person. Children under 12 are free, -€6 for ages 13-17. You can tour with or without a 3D tablet, but an audioguide comes with every ticket. This is one of the busiest Gaudí destinations, so plan to visit at opening if you want to avoid crowds. There is a rooftop bar you can enjoy during the visit, or you can book an evening rooftop event for a unique experience. This visit includes virtual projections and video immersive experiences that could be triggering if you are light-sensitive or have a seizure disorder. There is also a spot to take professional selfies at the upper balcony and purchase the images there. Batlló gift shop is one of my favorites as well!
PALAU DE LA MÚSICA CATALANA
PALAU DE LA MÚSICA CATALANA: This incredible palace was built in three years by the teacher of Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and is one of the most overlooked gems in Barcelona. In a space that used to be occupied by a cathedral, it was a unique challenge to bring his vision to life – a musical palace flooded with natural light. Lluís knocked it out of the park with this masterpiece of color, stained glass and ornamental detailing, and it has the most natural light of any musical performance center in all of Europe. It has been open to the public for over 100 years and is a symbol of Catalan nationalist pride. You can visit without seeing a show, but how amazing would it be to see a matinée performance here? This magnificent building is another UNESCO World Heritage site.
When you visit, take time to look at the facade. It is tucked away in the corner of two avenues and can be difficult to view, but take note that it is an homage to classical music. It is rich in symbolic ornamentation and features famous busts of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, Johann Sebastian Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Richard Wagner. There is also a sculpture representing Catalan music, including a depiction of St George, the patron saint of Catalonia. Inside it will become clear that Lluís was inspired by a garden and incorporated many flowers and statues on stage representing the 18 spirits of music from different places and time periods. The greatest feature is the one-ton stained glass skylight above, made to represent the sun. I was also very impressed by the gilded main entrance staircases!
TO VISIT: Tickets can be purchased here. You can take a timed, guided tour for €20 or enter at your leisure for €15. I recommend entering from the Plaça Lluís Millet street entrance and exiting via the old main entrance on Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt so you can appreciate the old and new sections of the performing arts center. If you take a guided tour, be sure to select your language as they are only available certain times of the day. A guided tour includes a short video about the history of the music hall as well as an organ demonstration.
GOTHIC QUARTER (take a tour!)
GOTHIC QUARTER: The most popular neighborhood in Barcelona is the Gothic Quarter, and it is not to be missed. Located between La Rambla & Via Laietana and from the waterfront to the Ronda de Sant Pere, this is the oldest part of the city, where evidence of its origins still remains. El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, is also located here. I recommend joining a tour such as the free (tips only) Runner Bean Tours of the Gothic Quarter to appreciate it most. There are many things to wander, spot and ponder in this neighborhood, so I recommend giving yourself plenty of time to get lost exploring as many of these things as possible. Here are a few notable places:
- Cathedral of Barcelona
- Carrer del Bisbe
- Sant Felip Neri Square
- Temple of Augustus
- Plaça Sant Jaume
- Plaça del Rei
- Cathedral Santa Maria del Mar
CATHEDRAL OF BARCELONA: Whether you choose to enter this monstrous cathedral or not, it is a must see in the Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. At the moment the central tower is covered with a Samsung cell phone ad, which I found to be rather unsightly and distasteful (especially as there is also a €9 entrance fee). Officially named Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, Barcelona Cathedral has been a centerpiece of the city for almost 600 years. It took over 150 years to build the main building, but the central tower wasn’t added until 1913. Long before the great Sagrada Familia began construction, this grand house of worship welcomed the huge population of Catholics in Barcelona. Thirteen white geese live inside the cloister area, representing Saint Eulalia’s age at her martyrdom death.
TO VISIT: Click here to purchase tickets, or enter during mass for free. If you have a ticket, you will have access to the rooftop, chapter hall and virtual audioguide in addition to the main cathedral.
CARRER DEL BISBE: This striking bridge over Bisbe street is one of the most photographed landmarks in the neighborhood and it is not even 100 years old! Built in 1928, it is very similar to the Bridge of Sighs in Venice and Blinde-Ezelstraat in Brugge. You don’t need tickets to see this striking archway bridge but you do need keen eyes to spot the skull and dagger, said to bring you good luck if you stare at it while walking backwards.
SANT FELIP NERI SQUARE: This square is one of the only places in the city to see evidence of Franco’s attack on Barcelona on 30 January 1938. A bomb hit the cathedral and destroyed all but the facade, killing 30 people – mostly children from the little Catholic Sant Felip Neri school, then a second bomb hit while survivors were clearing the rubble, killing 12 more people. The church and school still remain today. This is a place of great sorrow but also great importance in the endurance of the Catalan people.
TEMPLE OF AUGUSTUS: When Barcelona was founded by the Romans before the turn of the first millennium, most buildings were constructed in Roman style with great columns. Today only a few columns remain, and they are tucked away inside the atrium of an apartment complex. Follow the signs from the street into the courtyard where you can view these grand columns for free and read a little bit about the city’s history. It’s fascinating that some of the columns we can’t see are basically built into people’s apartment walls. These Roman columns are over 2,000 years old.
PLAÇA SANT JAUME: It is hard to miss this great square with political history dating back to the origins of the city. It is flanked with Barcelona city hall and Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, two important government houses of Barcelona culture. Protests take place here as well as celebrations where castellers build great human towers called Castells. The current buildings were built in the early 1800’s, but the space was used for centuries before that for political meetings. And look! You can spot Carrer del Bisbe to the right of the Generalitat Palace.
PLAÇA DEL REI: Wander into this square even if you don’t plan to visit the MUHBA museum (although I recommend that as well! See #9 for details). This plaça is from the medieval times, and is surrounded by a palace where the Catalan counts lived for centuries, a watchtower, and the history museum. It is here you can also view the stones used to build this square that were harvested from ancient Jewish cemeteries (learn more below in “Memorium” section).
CATHEDRAL SANTA MARIA DEL MAR: This beautiful example of medieval architecture was built between 1329 and 1383 – very quickly indeed – during a period of great prosperity thanks to the city’s shipping merchant trades. The name Santa Maria Del Mar pays homage to the sea. This is one of the oldest cathedrals in Barcelona and definitely worth a visit. Entry is free before 1:00 PM or after 5:00 PM, otherwise the entrance fee is €5, with guided tours to the rooftop for €8.50.
PARC GÜELL: There are many parks in Barcelona worth visiting including Ciutadella Park and Parc del Guinardó, but my favorite is Parc Güell. This incredible park located on the outskirts of Barcelona is a must see for Gaudí fans. Construction began in 1900 during the greatest city development in Europe of the time. It is my favorite park in all of Barcelona (and we know there are many parks) thanks to Gaudí’s ingenuity and vision. Although this park is not free to visit, it is still worth a stroll. Give yourself 1-2 hours to wander the paths and take in all the creations Gaudí intended to be savored.
Don’t miss the most famous features of the park: Greek theatre, hypostyle room, escalinata monumental, pòrtic de la bugadera, el viaducto dels enamorats, passeig de las palmeras, the two pavillions, and the salamander. There are also three houses – this park was originally intended as a posh neighborhood but that never came to fruition – Escola Baldiri Reixac, Gaudi House Museum, and Casa Trias.
TO VISIT: Purchase tickets here for €10. You must enter within a reasonable time from the time slot you selected. Keep in mind it is most busy mid day through sunset. Arrive early if you want to peruse the park without the crowds. Opening hours are from 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM. I recommend entering from one side of the park and exiting from another (we started at the “top” entrance by the bus parking and wandered down to the exit by the guard house).
LA BOQUERIA: There are several markets in Barcelona including Barceloneta, El Encants, Mercat de Sant Antoni, and Santa Caterina Market. The most famous one is located near Las Ramblas and is not to be missed – La Boqueria! It’s a market, so it’s free to enter. So much colorful, delicious food can be found here at quite reasonable prices including grab and go bites, smoothies, croquets, and pantry staples. There are many notable restaurants as well, including:
- El Quim de la Boquería
- Bar Restaurant Pinotxo
- Ramblero de la Boqueria
- Bar Central
- Direkte Boquería
Hot tip: arrive late in the day before closing for grab-and-go deals on smoothies, fruit, and items that need to be sold!
MUSEU NACIONAL D’ART DE CATALUNYA
MONTJUÏC NATIONAL PALACE: You don’t need to visit this place inside to appreciate it, but the building, plaza, and whole area around the palace museum is incredible! It is especially magnificent when the fountains are running, but sadly they weren’t on when we visited (likely due to drought risk). The great palace was built for the 1929 International Exposition (World Expo), but today it houses the national art museum of Catalonia. In the plaza you will see four huge Roman pillars, many fountains, surrounding gardens, and even sets of escalators to help move people from promenade between Plaça d’Espanya and the palace. This is a great spot to stop if you’re also visiting nearby Poble Espanyol (detailed below) or spending the day on Montjuïc.
TO VISIT: Wander the grounds for free, or visit on Saturday after 3PM or the first Sunday of the month after 3PM to enter the museum for free. Even if the tickets are free, you still must click here to reserve a time slot. Adults are €12 and children under 16 are free.
LAS RAMBLAS: This is the most famous street in Barcelona! It is hopping with eateries, shops, and kiosks, as well as several notable landmarks. Walk all the way from Plaça de Catalunya down to the Columbus Monument, taking a peek at Plaça Reial, Palau Güell, and maybe take in a Flamenco Show (at Los Tarantos) in the evening. Grab ice cream at Rocambolesc. This is also where you can find La Boqueria (detailed above), and several notable fountains – some of which you can still fill up your water bottle at! You probably will find yourself wandering down Las Ramblas several times on your visit to Barcelona, but it will always be bustling with street vendors and colorful people! If there is one place to take extra care of your belongings, it is here – unfortunately, Las Ramblas is notable for pickpockets. At the north end of Las Ramblas across the Plaça de Catalunya is El Corte Ingles, Europe’s largest and Spain’s only department store chain.
OTHER NOTABLE STREETS: Passeig de Gracia, Waterfront promenade, Portal de l’Àngel, Carrer dels Tallers, Passeig del Born, Carrer de Montcada, Enric Granados.
MUSEUMS: This is a tough category because it depends on your taste – are you an art fan or a history buff? Do you like architecture or science? There are several notable museums in Barcelona, but you likely won’t have time to visit them all. Here are the top museums I recommend.
- Poble Espanyol
- MUHBA History Museum
- Picasso Museum
- Museu de la Ciència CosmoCaixa (Science Museum)
POBLE ESPANYOL: Technically this is an outdoor, living, architectural museum of sorts. It is an exhibit of architecture from all the regions of Spain so you can basically “walk through” all of Spain in one visit. I love how they decorate for the seasons and also have various events here. Again built for the 1929 International Exhibition, it is now used as a living museum. There are lots of little shops including food and art from all over Spain in the various “regions” of the little village. It was not at all busy when we visited in the evening. Opening hours are from 10AM-midnight most days.
TO VISIT: Purchase tickets at the box office or here prior to arriving. Adult: 11,20€ advance online / 14€ (same day online or box office), Children (4-12 years): €9 in advance online / €10 (same day online or box office).
BARCELONA HISTORY MUSEUM MUHBA: This is the only place to go underground and see what remains of the Roman era that founded Barcelona. MUHBA is an open archaeological site where you can view ruins and learn about the origins of the city. This museum is very well done and affordable to visit – tickets are only €7, free for children under 16, and can be purchased here in advance or in person at the entrance. (Note: the museum is closed on Mondays.) You can spend anywhere from 1-2 hours here walking along the platforms that wind through the ruins. I especially appreciated seeing the tools found in the site, the huge vats used to store fish, and the Baptismal bath area.
PABLO PICASSO MUSEUM: Open from 10AM-7PM every day but Monday, this is the most comprehensive museum honoring the Spanish artist Picasso that there is. Artwork from when he was just 14 years old can be viewed here, and all forms from realism to abstract are on display. You can enter for free from 4-7PM on Thursdays, or pay €12-€14 to enter the museum and/or view the temporary exhibits. Entry is always free for children under 18 years old. Don’t miss this museum if you’re a Picasso fan! Learn more here.
COSMOCAIXA SCIENCE MUSEUM: I tend to visit science museums with the kids – and this one is great! For only €6 you can learn about the universe, see fossils, and see different ecological and geological exhibits. The building is modern and beautiful, too. There is even a planetarium and lab – everything is very interactive! Learn more here.
OHER NOTABLE MUSEUMS: MOCO Art Museum, Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Museu d’Història de Catalunya (also has a great rooftop bar view), Barcelona Erotic Museum, Museum of Illusions, Museu de la Xocolata, Museu de la Música de Barcelona, Joan Miró Foundation Museum.
MONTSERRAT: The ONLY reason Montserrat comes in at number ten is because it’s not technically in the city, so if you don’t have a day to dedicate to visiting, that makes it very difficult. It is one of the most memorable places in and around Barcelona for me though, so I highly recommend it if you can swing it! This “serrated mountain” region is home to the Benedictine abbey Santa Maria de Montserrat, known for its dramatic location, legend of the black madonna, and boys’ choir. Visiting the abbey is free, but if you decide to join a tour, it will cost about €50 per person – which is a good deal, as it isn’t free to reach the abbey. We used GetYourGuide and had an excellent experience. They took care of all the transportation, and we learned a lot from the tour guide, too.
Montserrat abbey was built in the 11th century and has operated for over 1,000 years. There have always been between 70-80 Benedictine monks living and operating the abbey. The buildings visible today have been reconstructed and updated in the last 200 years, most notably the basilica which was re-built in 1811. The black madonna has an interesting legend attached – and it became the patron saint of Catalonia. It is said that in 880 a group of shepards saw light coming from the mountain, then followed the light and found the black madonna statue in a cave. They attempted to bring the statue down the mountain, but it was too heavy. When they couldn’t move any more, they decided to build the chapel for her in that spot. Quite the legend! If you’re a star wars fan, you might think some of the mountain’s rock formations resemble Jabba the Hutt! This is fitting, because it is said George Lucas was inspired by Gaudí’s “soldiers” on La Pedrera and Sagrada Familia for his storm troopers, so perhaps he was inspired by the mountains of Montserrat as well?
Once at the monastery, there are several things you can do. I recommend taking the funicular St Joan (€14 round trip) up the to the top the mountain to walk around and enjoy views from above. This will take about one hour or more if you decide to hike around. You can also hike all the way up, but that might not fit into the time frame if you’re on a tour. At the monastery you can wait with the crowd to hear the boys’ choir perform at 1PM each weekday, or wait in another line to visit the famous black madonna in the chapel behind the altar. Take note of the architecture here – the archways are beautiful. There are lovely shops and a couple of eateries plus free, clean bathrooms. For an added fee (€8) you can also visit the art museum that contains works from Picasso, Monet, Dalí and more. Finally there is a virtual audio-visual experience you can bundle with the museum ticket as well.