Sightseeing In Barcelona, Spain.
Nearly every visitor will spend time wandering down the Ramblas. The old city, the Barri Gotic is also appealing but there are so many attractions, it’s worth planning each day of your stay. Montjuïc, for example, has enough to take up a full day. The red and blue tour buses are an excellent way to get around to most sights.
1: Ramblas And Nearby Areas:
The world-famous Ramblas is at the very heart of Barcelona and it makes finding your way around very easy. It’s not just a lure for tourists, it’s where the locals head for too -- a kilometer-long pedestrian thoroughfare, once a seasonal river.
Plane trees, elegant buildings, and street traders – birds, flowers, fish, books -- who all have kiosks and stalls. There are street performers, artists, bars, and restaurants galore, Plus La Boqueria, one of the world’s great markets. The visitor can enjoy Barcelona simply by sticking to the Ramblas.
It is, in fact, five streets, though you’d be hard pressed to see where Rambla Canaletes becomes Rambla Estudis, then Sant Josep, Caputxins and Santa Monica. At the seaward end is the Mirador de Colon, the Columbus statue. It does get edgier down here, with what’s left of a red light district and pickpockets on the prowl.
2: The Barri Gotic:
Just off the Ramblas is the Gothic quarter. Dating mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries, it centers on the cathedral, La Seu and some superb museums – principally the Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat and the Museu Frederic Mares, both in a former palace.
The medieval alleys make for fascinating wandering and the area is packed with bars, restaurants, boutiques, and galleries. As well as the Cathedral, there is the Placa de Sant Jaume and the elegant restaurant and café-lined Placa Real. Again, it gets seedier near the sea and care is needed after dark.
3: La Seu Cathedral:
One of the great Gothic structures it is noted for its cloister, a lush spot with palm trees and white geese. The Cathedral dates from 1298, finished in 1448 with the façade added some 450 years later -- what’s the point of rushing? La Seu is open 8 am to 1.30pm and 4 pm to 7.30pm (an extra hour at weekends).
4: Carrer de Montcada:
Once the wealthiest part of town, today it’s an attractive medieval street and home to the Picasso Museum, now housed in five old mansion houses.
The International Exhibition of 1929 and the 1992 Olympics transformed the steep hill of Montjuïc and made it a fascinating area to visit. Highlights are the Museu Nacional d’Arte de Catalunya and the famous Poble Espanyol or ‘Spanish Village.’ It’s also linked by cable car across the harbor, an exciting trip with stunning views.
Montjuic covers a large area, so trip planning is a must. You can approach from the north from the Placa d’Espanya with its twin towers. Go up the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina past the imposing International Exhibition buildings. It’s a steep walk but there are outdoor escalators.
Alternatively, take the funicular from Paral Lel Metro to the Fundacio Joan Miró, a must-see visit for the artist’s fans. Buses also run from Placa d’Espana -- #50 passes the Caixa Forum; Poble Espanyol; the Olympic area. The summit is topped by the Castell de Montjuic with more impressive views of the city and port.
Did you know?
The Ramblas is actually five connected streets.
Barcelona Gaudi Sights:
Antoni Gaudí is the architect that put Barcelona on the international map. Today, his influence is still found across the city and most will visit his stunning buildings or the Parc Güell.
1: Sagrada Familia:
Begun in 1882, the Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s most ambitious and famous work. The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia started life as a modest church in a neo-Gothic style – until Gaudi took over the work.
After he finished the Parc Gueill in 1911, Gaudí devoted himself entirely to the church and lived on site in a workshop until he was run over by a tram and died two days later in June 1926. Work stopped and wasn’t resumed until the 1950s, unfortunately without Gaudi’s plans, which were destroyed by anarchists in 1936.
There have been numerous arguments over how to finish the building, or even to leave it as shell and memorial to the architect. But work goes on. It now has a roof over the central nave, and a completion date of 2026 -- the centenary of Gaudi’s death -- is the latest estimate. You can take the lift up the tower – or climb the 400 steps – for an amazing view of both the building and the city.
2: La Pedrera:
Officially the Casa Mila, it’s popularly known as La Pedrera and is one Gaudi’s most famous structures. Built from 1905 to 1911, the apartment block curves around the street corner in a rippling design said to have been inspired by the mountain of Montserrat. There is an exhibition with fascinating models while the crazy rooftop is not to be missed. Night tours are particularly enjoyable.
3: Parc Güell:
Gaudi worked on the park from 1900 for his patron Eusebio Güell. It’s located in the area of Gracia and was the architect’s most ambitious project after the Sagrada Familia. It was planned as a large private housing estate although only two homes were built, one now housing the Casa Museu Gaudi.
The park was opened to the public in 1922 and features pavilions, decorated lizards, a Hall of Columns and a ceramic bench. It all seems excessive, yet it works and is hugely enjoyable with views back over the city. Take the #24 bus from Placa de Catalunya or the metro to Vallcarca and walk from there down Avinguda de l’Hospital.
4: Palau Güell:
Gaudi was fortunate in finding a rich client in the industrialist Eusobio Güell and the Palau Guell was one of his early projects, near the southern (seaward) end of the Ramblas.
It’s decorated with glazed tiles and the arches and ceilings show the typical twists and shapes of his work. There are frequent guided tours in English but queues soon form and it can be a lengthy wait.
Explore the more modern parts of Barcelona and there’s still plenty to delight every visitor. Eixample is to the north of the Ramblas, while Port Vell and Barceloneta are down by the sea. Football fans will find it hard to resist a trip to the Camp Nou stadium.
1: The Eixample:
North of the massive Placa de Catalunya at the top of the Ramblas is Eixample or, in English, ‘Extension’, modern planned addition to the city. It’s designed on a grid pattern with elegant, wide streets and has long been fashionable, with fine apartments, shops, restaurants, and examples of modernist architecture, including many of Gaudi’s most famous designs.
The main streets are the Passeig de Gracia, featuring Gaudi’s La Pedrera, and Rambla de Catalunya. To the east is the Dreta de l’Eixample where the legendary Sagrada Familia church attracts virtually every visitor to the city.
2: Mansana De La Discordia:
The Mansana de la Discordia, or ‘Block of Discord’ is just four blocks from Placa de Catalunya and features a series of buildings by three architects in completely different styles.
The best is the Casa Amatller, with the Centre del Modernisme on the ground floor, and the Gaudi-designed Casa Batllo -- parts of which are open for tours, which we strongly recommend.
3: Port Vell:
It’s down by the sea that there’s been a massive transformation, partly kicked off by the 1992 Olympics with the Olympic Village and Port Olimpic where many of the watersports events were held.
The old port or Port Vell has also been transformed, making this a pleasant and entertaining part of town. It’s across the road from the Columbus statue, at the bottom of the Ramblas.
You cross the wooden swing bridge, or Rambla de Mar to the Maremagnum entertainment complex with bars, restaurants, and shops. It’s a pleasant space by day or at night. Next door is the aquarium and then the IMAX Port Vell cinema.
An early example of town planning, Barceloneta was developed in the 18th century on a grid pattern, with small squares and standardized housing. It’s now popular for its seafood restaurants.
To the north, there are beaches that can offer glorious relief from the summer heat of the city. Or, for a trip to remember, catch the Teleferic from the Torre Sant Sebastia and take a cable car ride across the harbor to Montjuic.
5: Port Olimpic:
There are bars, restaurants, and nightspots galore in the area where 1992 watersports events were held. It is very popular in the summer.
The city’s two tallest buildings are here along with its attractive, if pricey, residential area. Inland, the Poble Nou area is also being gentrified while the older parts can be reached by strolling up the traffic-free Rambla Poble Nou towards the Metro station.
6: Camp Nou, Home of FC Barcelona:
Football fans will want to head to one of the world’s great football stadiums. It’s to the northwest of the city center in Diagonal -- the tour buses stop here -- and can house 120,000 fans.
Football is a near-religion in Barcelona and was an important focus of the Catalan spirit during the Franco era. Today, FC Barcelona has the world’s largest football club membership. The Museu del Barca has fascinating displays and there’s a shop and cafe.
Did you know?
Barcelona won the RIBA gold medal for its architecture, the only city to ever win it.
Barcelona has one of the great markets of the world in La Boqueria. La Ribera and El Ravel are only a short walk away from the Ramblas. If you are looking for a taste of Spain, The Poble Espanyol is well worth a visit. It should be corny, but this series of Spamish villages, squares, and architectural styles do seem to work.
1: La Boqueria Market:
Officially it’s called the Mercat Sant Josep but is known universally as La Boqueria, the city’s best-known produce market. It’s a fascinating place. Here you see, and understand, what makes Mediterranean life so vibrant as enthusiastic traders shout their wares and knowledgeable shoppers buy their daily food.
The hams, an amazing variety of fish and shellfish, superb vegetables, herbs and fruit, the noise and sheer atmosphere, will have food fans licking their lips and considering a permanent move to Barcelona.
It’s also a great place to eat. The Garduna restaurant for lunch, perhaps, or the numerous stand-up snack bars such as the Bar Central La Boqueria.
2: La Ribera And Picasso Museum:
East of the Barri Gotic is the more modern area of La Ribera, home to the Museu Picasso. The artist lived in Barcelona from the age of 14 to 23 and the museum includes much of his early work such as his art school studies and painting from his Toulouse-Lautrec influenced period.
There are gaps, which will disappoint some, but there are works from his Blue and Pink Periods as well as Cubist and Neoclassical works. The museum opened in 1963 and is housed in specially converted medieval palaces, an attraction in their own right.
3: El Ravel:
West of the Ramblas lies El Ravel, a once-seedy area that housed a notorious red light district -- the Barri Xines -- but is now being modernized. The main attraction is the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), large collections of art from 1945, all in a huge, white building. It’s located west of the northern end of the Ramblas.
Further south, just off the Ramblas, is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi’s early works and a remarkable example that shows off his use of tiles, arches, and twisted chimneys. You have to join a guided tour to see the interior. The tours are in English.
4: Poble Espanyol:
Not strictly a museum, but a fascinating look at Spanish life and architecture on a grand scale. On Montjuïc, and so much better than it sounds, it consists of streets, squares, buildings, workshops, all typical of the regions of Spain.
Its main square is lined with cafes, there are restaurants and you can see numerous artisans at work including glass making, weaving, pottery, and engraving.
It claims ‘Get to know Spain in one hour’ – in reality, you’ll be happy to spend longer here in a giant exhibit that was built back in 1929. It opens at 9 am every day, so it’s ideal on Mondays when so many other museums are closed.
5: The Olympics:
The 1992 Olympics, which played a huge part in the renaissance of the city, were based on Montjuic with the main stadium – now home to the Espanyol football club – the Sports University, swimming pool and sports complex, plus the 17,000 seater Palau Sant Jordi.
Curiously, there had been an earlier ‘Olympics’ planned for the area. The ‘People’s Olympics’ were scheduled for 1936 as an alternative to the Nazi-run Berlin Olympics, but the Spanish Civil War broke out the day before the scheduled start and prompted their cancellation.
Travel guide to museums in Barcelona.
There’s an amazing variety of museums in Barcelona. We have only highlighted the best and most popular. Many are closed on Mondays and most open at 10 am with various closing times.
1: Museu Picasso:
For many, this is ‘the’ Barcelona museum. Picasso arrived in Barcelona in 1894 when he was 14 and lived here until he was 23. The museum includes much of his early work.
It is housed in five medieval palaces in the Barri Gotic. There are more than 3,500 works in the permanent collection.
C/ Montcada. Tel: (34) 933 196 310. Closed Mondays
2: Barcelona Contemporary Art Museum:
To the west of the northern end of the Ramblas, the MACBA focuses on art from 1945, with many temporary exhibitions. The huge, white building, designed by American Richard Meier opened in 1995.
Plaça Àngels. Tel: (34) 934 120 810. Closed Tuesdays
3: Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat:
In the heart of the Barri Gotic, the museum’s collection covers the city’s history from Roman times in a beautiful old mansion with a central courtyard, the casa Clariana-Padellas.
There’s an underground tour along Roman roads, houses, bathrooms, sewers, and the old city walls. You can also trace the evolution of Barcelona through plans, sketches, and models. The nearby Capella de Santa Agata offers views of the Barri Gotic from the Torre del Rey Marti
Placa del Rei Tel: (34) 933 151 111. Closed Mondays
4: Museu Frederic Mares:
In the Barri Gotic, just behind the Cathedral, this museum has a massive collection of medieval sculpture housed in an ancient palace with large courtyards and soaring ceilings.
Placa de Sant lu. Tel: (34) 933 105 800. Closed Mondays
5: Fundacio Antoni Tapies:
The Barcelona artist Tapies is considered by many to be Spain’s greatest contemporary artist. The Domenech I Montaner-designed building in Eixample features a sculpture on the roof. There are works by several artists and a good library.
Aragó . Tel: (34) 934 870 315. Closed Mondays.
6: Caixa Forum:
Near the Placa d’Espanya, arts and cultural center is the Cosmocaixa science museum that lifted the European Museum of the Year Award in 2006.
Av. Marquès de Comillas. Tel: (34) 934 768 600
7: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya:
One of Spain’s great museum’s houses medieval, 19th and 20th-century art from Catalonia. Housed in the Palau Nacional, on Montjuic, its Romanesque collection is reckoned to be the world’s finest.
There are several frescoes and Gothic works on the lives and deaths of saints – some not for the fainthearted. It is also noted for its Modernista collection.
Palau Nacional, Parc de Montjuïc. Tel: (34) 93 622 03 76 Closed Mondays
8: Fundacio Joan Miro:
Miro fans will love the collection here. Miró experimented with painting, sculpture, printing, ceramics, theatre, and tapestry. Bemused visitors can learn about ‘drippism’ and wonder if some paintings are simply cracks in the wall. There are also works by Matisse and Henry Moore.
Parc de Montjuïc. Tel. (34) 934 439 470 Closed Mondays
9: Maritime Museum:
The Drassanes are medieval shipyards at the seaward end of the Ramblas, now home to the Museu Maritim. There is a copy of a 16th century Royal Galley, old maps, charts and even a virtual dive in a submarine.
Av. de les Drassanes. Tel: (34) 933 429 920. Open every day.
10: Museu d’Historia de Catalunya:
Down in Port Vell, a converted warehouse is home to an exhibition on Catalan history. Exhibits include ‘The Birth of a Nation; ‘Our Sea’; ‘On the Edge of the Empire’; ‘A Steam-powered Nation’; ‘The Electric Years’ and ‘Defeat and Recovery’.
Palau de Mar Tel: (34) 932 254 244 Closed Mondays
Travel guide to popular places near Barcelona.
The excellent public transport system makes it easy to travel out to nearby sights. Montserrat is probably the most popular, but on a clear day consider Mount Tibidabo, the funfair topped mountain you can see from the city center.
1: Mount Tibidabo:
It’s only a short trip out of the city by FGC metro to Avenida Tibidabo, then by Tramvia Blau tram to Peu de Funicular and finally the funicular railway to the summit. It sounds complicated but it isn’t, and it is a fabulous way to spend a few hours away from the city.
On a clear day, Mount Tibidabo offers unsurpassed views of Barcelona and also inland to Montserrat and the Pyrenees. On the northwestern edge of Barcelona, the mountain’s slopes are crisscrossed with wooded walks, while the summit is crowned with an old-style amusement park – try the airplane ride, a local icon, which has been in operation since 1928.
There’s also the Museu d’Automates, a collection of working coin-operated fairground machines. There are a stylish bar and cafe for refreshments.
About 60km northwest of Barcelona, this is one of the most popular tourist trips out of the city. The peaks of Montserrat have been a major pilgrimage destination for centuries.
There’s an exciting cable car ride from the railway station to the monastery. There are splendid views of the rugged mountain scenery that also provides some good walks.
Numerous miracles are said to have occurred here, centered on the icon of La Moreneta (Black Virgin), allegedly hidden away here by St Peter. The monastery and its accompanying museum feature paintings by masters such as El Greco, Caravaggio, and Picasso. The mountain itself has a wealth of hermitages and caves, which can be reached on foot along a network of mountain paths.
The basilica opens daily 7.30am – 8:30 pm (June to September) and 8 am – 6 pm (October to May).
To get to Montserrat, take the FGC train from Espanya station in Barcelona – they leave hourly – to the cable car terminus at Aeri de Montserrat. The cable car is closed annually for maintenance in February when alternative bus service is laid on.
3: Figueres and the Dali Museum:
The town of Figueres is 145km northeast of Barcelona and can be reached by motorway or by rail from Passeig de Gràcia. The main attraction is the Teatre-Museu Dali -- a showcase of Dali’s eccentric imagination. It was created by Dalí himself, out of the former town theatre where he held his first exhibition. It also holds the artist’s tomb.
Open daily 9 am – 7.45pm (July to September) and Tuesday to Saturday 10.30am -5.45pm (October to June) Tel: 97 267 7500; website: www.dali-estate.org
4: The Spanish Coast:
You can visit several fine beaches along the coast from Barcelona such as at Sitges, a lively resort 40km tot he south of the city and 40 minutes by train from Barcelona-Sants rail station.
Tossa de Mar, is 40km north of Barcelona, with several fine beaches and small bays, an attractive old town, and a good museum. Buses from Barcelona are frequent throughout the summer but private transport might be required at other times. This could, of course, be an advantage, with fewer tourists getting in your way.