Welcome to Barcelona Things To Do. The aim of this site is to refer you to some of the best attractions, tours and activities in the Catalan capital, whatever your tastes and whoever you’re travelling with!
What to do in Barcelona first? Let’s start our guide with five virtually unmissable things to see in the Catalan capital. Deservedly popular, these should really be on your shortlist if you’re a first time visitor to the city…
1. La Sagrada Familia
One of the world’s most iconic buildings, La Sagrada Familia (literally “The Sacred Family”) is the cynosure of Barcelona – the product of the unique genius and limitless vision of the city’s most famous son, Antoni Gaudi. The honeycombed towers, tree trunk-esque pillars and numerous animal motifs were inspired by the architect’s love of the natural world, and indeed the zealously religious Gaudi sought to replicate Mother Nature’s “divine proportions” in every aspect of his work. The city’s number one tourist attraction is insanely busy and it’s essential to buy advance tickets if you don’t want to waste hours in the queue. It’s worth paying extra to climb the towers in my opinion.
Recommended Tour: Skip the line tickets with tour and VIP tower access
2. Gothic Quarter
El Barri Gotic, or El Gotic as it is known locally, is the heart of the city, and whilst many of the ‘Gothic’ trappings were actually added in the late 19th and early 20th century as part of a renovation programme to attract tourists to the city, many of the buildings in this quarter have a genuine medieval history – and in fact you’ll even find remnants of Barcelona’s Roman past if you search carefully. Exploring the district’s narrow streets and discovering resplendent, and sometimes even peaceful squares, is a must and you’ll discover no shortage of excellent shops, bars and restaurants as you go. The Gothic Cathedral is of course the main attraction (even if its facade is only 100 years old!).
More Info: Barcelona Life’s guide to the Gothic Quarter
Recommended Tour: Barcelona Turisme’s official walking tour (10% off if you buy online)
3. Barceloneta Beach
After Ipanema and Copacabana, Barceloneta is surely the world’s most famous urban beach… over 1 kilometre of (artificial!) sand stretching from the twin towers by the Port Olimpic right up the sail-shaped W-Hotel. It’s crowded as hell so if you’re looking for a peaceful sunbathe better try one of the other city beaches or head out of town, but the holiday atmosphere created by so many tourists, as well as locals who love to skateboard, rollerblade, jog and cycle along the beachfront, make it an essential spot for any newcomer. Plus the narrow streets of the adjacent Barceloneta district are packed full of authentic tapas bars. Be sure to try a bomba tapa, the district is famous for them.
4. Picasso Museum
My mother said to me, ‘If you are a soldier, you will become a general. If you are a monk, you will become the Pope.’ Instead, I was a painter, and so I became Picasso. Modest to a fault, the Malaga-born artist spent his formative years in Barcelona, staging his first exhibition in the now legendary Els Quatre Gats cafe, before moving to Paris to become the 20th century’s most famous painter. This museum charts the artist’s development from his early Blue and Rose periods all the way to Cubism and offers a fascinating insight into his working mind. To learn more about Picasso’s relationship with Barcelona check the ‘recommended tour’ link below.
Recommended Tour: Walking Tour plus Museum Tickets
5. The Magic Fountain
As cheesy as a Shakira hit single, Barcelona’s Magic Fountain is a waterjet-powered show of lights, music and H2O best enjoyed from the top of the grand flight of steps leading up the MNAC museum. With 3620 jets and 7 billion possible water and light combinations the fountain is quite a feat of engineering and the 15 minute shows are accompanied by a booming soundtrack of classical and pop hits. The shows take place Weds to Sunday evenings during summer months (June to Sept) at half hour intervals and Thurs to Saturday only for the rest of the year. Best to consult the timetable before you set off.
Gaudi & Modernisme
Gaudi left his mark all around the city… and he wasn’t the only one. Let’s take a look at five masterpieces of Catalan Modernisme-style architecture that have helped established Barcelona as one of the best looking cities in the world. (For La Sagrada Familia check the Top Five section at the top of this page!).
6. Casa Mila
This mansion on the sweeping Passeig de Gracia boulevard quickly earned the nickname La Pedrera (‘The Quarry’) thanks to its distinctive undulating facade of sheer white rock. One of Gaudi’s private commissions, it was built for the wealthy property development Pere Mila. Despite the fairly hefty admission fee, it’s worth entering as inside you’ll see the beautiful internal courtyards, La Pedrera Apartment with preserved furnishings and ornaments from the early 20th century, when the mansion was built, and gain access to the rooftop, where you’ll find the world’s most famous chimney decorations – as well as get great views over the Passeig de Gracia. It’s also possible to take a night tour, or an early morning tour.
7. Casa Batllo
Just across the road from the Casa Mila (above), you should stop off outside Casa Batllo at the very least. The exterior is pure fantasy with a kitsch and colourful facade that evokes a coral bed, with balconies shaped like shark skulls adding a macabre aspect. If Skeletor was a shinier happier person, this is where he’d live. Much smaller than Casa Mila, a tour of Casa Batllo takes about an hour with audioguide and allows you to admire the specious stained glass, woodwork and furnishing of the interior, as well as granting you access to the rooftop, which is decorated like a dragon’s back with more of Gaudi’s hallmark chimneys on display. The chimneys are covered in broken coloured tiles using his favourite trencadis technique.
Recommended Tour: Guided tour of Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia
8. Park Guell
Commissioned by his principal patron Eusebi Guell, Gaudi’s foray into landscape gardening resulted in this delightful retreat above the Gracia district. Not content with a mere patch of greenery, Gaudi took advantage of the contours of the hills to fit out his park with sweeping steps, grand viewing terraces and reptilian-esque colonnades. Fans of the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona will recognise the brightly coloured lizard on the main staircase where Javier Bardem casually bumps into Rebecca Hall with barely a tourist in sight… as if! The park is actually busy dawn to dusk with visitors and as with all of Barcelona’s top attractions you need to book your ticket in advance.
9. Palau Guell
One of Gaudi’s earlier works, this palace for his patron Eusebi Guell was completed in 1888. Stylistically it’s very different to Gaudi’s works in his creative pomp, and its facade is quite strict and linear more in the Venetian style (later the architect would all but dispense with straight lines in his work), such that many visitors walk right past it without realising it was designed by Barcelona’s most famous scion. The interior however is lavishly decorated and visitors can check out the old stables, grand reception room and epic rooftop, where you’ll be pleased to know Antoni’s trademark trencadis chimneys are on display.
Recommended Tour: Half Day Gothic Quarter Walking Tour with Palau Guell tickets
10. Palau de la Musica
Much like today, during the late 19th century Catalan nationalism was riding high, and Barcelona’s intellectuals championed a style of architecture called Modernisme, or Catalan art nouveau, to help create a unique aesthetic for their capital. It was Luis Domenech i Montaner, one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, who wrote the manifesto for Modernisme and his masterpiece is the Palau de la Musica, a wonderful red brick palace adorned with elegant porcelain and ironwork. The real treat is inside though where an inverted stained glass dome, representing the sun in the summer sky, adorns the ceiling of the main concert hall. An official guided tour allows you to see this and more.
More Info: Palau de la Musica on Wikipedia
Recommended Tour: Buy advance tickets for the 45 mins guided tour
For more of Gaudi’s sensational creations, as well as works by his similarly talented contemporaries, check our extended list on Antoni Gaudi and Modernista architecture (coming soon!).
Free Things To Do
Travelling on a budget? Here are five activities and attractions you can enjoy without a penny to your name.
11. Placa Reial
With its shaded colonnades, elegant ochre apartments, Gaudi-designed fountain and street lamps, and tall and verdant palm trees, for my money Placa Reial is Barcelona’s most beautiful square. Virtually every address around its rectangular perimeter is a bar, club or restaurant meaning it’s always lively – sometimes even rowdy – and for watching the world go by it’s hard to think of a more colourful place in the city. If you come back at night Ocana is a bar, restaurant and club in one, and definitely the most stylish venue on the quad. Club venues like Sidecar (rock music) and Jamboree (R’n’B and hits) cater to a younger crowd.
More info: Placa Reial on Barcelona Tourism Website
12. Museums on first Sunday of the month
Can’t afford the steep entrance fees of some of Barcelona’s best museums and cultural attractions? Well if you happen to have timed your visit with the start of the month you’ll be pleased to know that many of the city’s top attractions throw open their doors to the public all day for free on the first Sunday (or sometimes Saturday) of the month, giving both travellers and locals a chance to appreciate them. Amongst those venues that take part are Picasso Museum, Palau Guell, MNAC, Barcelona History Museum, Frederic Mares Museum. During the rest of the month you can still come for free on Sunday but only after 3pm. (Nb. free entry does = massive queues though, esp. for the Picasso Museum and personally I’d recommend going another day and paying if that’s a priority sight for you).
More info: Free museum days on Barcelona Navigator
13. Las Ramblas
London has Oxford Street, Paris has Champs d’Elsyee and Barcelona has Las Ramblas. The city’s famous thoroughfare is not a great place to hang out on a regular basis as it tends to be way too crowded for most people’s tastes (and please, unless you know where you’re going, never ever eat on Las Ramblas… the food is usually terrible!), but every first time visitor should walk its length and take in sights such as the Liceu Theatre, Boqueria Market and Font Canaletes as well as admire the many flower stalls and street performers. If you start at Placa Catalunya your walk will take you right down to the towering Christopher Colombus monument and Port Vell (‘Old Port’).
More info: Las Ramblas on Barcelona Life
14. Parc de la Ciutadella
If Gaudi’s Park Guell (above) is only for being gazed at by tourists, Parc de la Ciutadella is where Barcelonins come to relax and play. The city’s most central park is 18 hectares large and features a rather haphazard series of landmarks such as The Castle of the Three Dragons (now part of the Natural Sciences Museum), the hivernacle green house, an ostentatious fountain by Josep Fontsere, a boating lake, a lifesize statue of a wooly mammoth, children’s play area and the Catalan parliament building. However its the green spaces in between the get the most use and locals sunbathe, picnic, slackline, practice yoga and smoke strange smelling tobacco. If you want to get in touch with the city’s hippy side this is your place. (Note: the Barcelona Zoo runs around the back of the park).
More info: Parc de la Ciutadella on A View on Cities
15. Street Festivals
Barcelona is a city that likes to party, especially during the summer months when virtually every district will down tools for a week to celebrate its ‘festa major‘ (grand party). These festes majores take place on the streets of the barrio, with local bands and DJs setting up on street corners and squares and pop up kiosks vending cheap cervezas and mojitos. If you’re lucky you’ll also get to see some classic Catalan traditions like castellers (human castles) or correfoc (fireruns) – both show an incredible disdain for health and safety, and thrillseekers can join in the latter if they’re up for being showered in sparks. Festes majores are always free to attend.
Barcelona is steeped in beauty, glamour and luxury making it one of the world’s most romantic cities. If you’re coming here with your partner here are some ideas on how to evoke an amorous atmosphere…
16. Sunset Sailing
There’s nothing quite like the tranquil majesty of the Mediterranean sea for stimulating a bit of romance, and no better time to be ploughing a furrow through its waters than when the sun lowers behind Barcelona and glazes its surface with a gentle orange glow. For something a little special I recommend this three hour boat charter for two, when you’ll be taken out to sea on a handsome sailing yacht from where you can enjoy spectacular views back over Barcelona whilst sipping Cava from champagne flutes and nibbling on chocolates.
Info and Reservations: Romantic sunset sailing on the Mediterranean
17. Chocolate Massage
For sheer indulgence this couple’s massage is hard to beat, but it’s not just luxuriant its healthy too. Chocolate’s high caffeine count stimulates your circulation, its antioxidants also give your skin a firmer feel (eliminating those pesky free radicals), whilst the natural oils found in cocoa work into your skin to give it deep moisture. Even the smell of chocolate is supposed to give you a mental boost, and the fact that this heavenly component is being worked tenderly into your skin by expert masseuses makes this a very relaxing treat for two people.
Info and Reservations: Couples’ chocolate massage at Huaira Spa
18. Private Wine Tasting Tour
The Penedes region just outside Barcelona is world famous for its sparkling Cava wines, but also produces highly underrated table wines as well if you’re not so keen on the effervescent stuff. On this tour you’ll be picked up from your hotel by an English speaking guide and sommelier who will reveal the secrets of the idyllic Penedes region by taking you to two boutique family-run vineyards where you’ll learn more about wine production and of course get to taste some truly fine wines. The tour also includes a three course rustic Catalan lunch and private transport back to Barcelona.
Info and Reservations Private wine tours of the Penedes Region (coming soon)
19. Rooftop Bars
Above Barcelona street level there’s a whole another city at play… a city comprised of rooftop terraces. Virtually every building has one, and whilst the majority are private, the good news for visitors are there are plenty of public ones as well, especially those of upmarket hotels whose lavish rooftop pools and patios are usually open for selling you an overpriced cocktail with spectacular view included. Many actively promote weekly events such as after work drinks, parties and concerts. A couple of my favourite rooftop bars are those of Barcelo Raval and Hotel Majestic, but you’ll find more in the link below.
20. Outdoor Cinema
One of my favourite annual events in Barcelona is Sala Montjuic, which is a summer programme of outdoor cinema projected on a vast screen under the ramparts of the old castle up on Montjuic hill. Each film is preceded by a concert and it’s the custom to take a picnic and enjoy a lovely al fresco dinner and drinks with the entertainment. Sala Montjuic is not the only way to enjoy films outdoors in Barcelona however, as there’s also the (free) Cinema Lliure screenings on Barceloneta beach and the Gandules film festival. All are very popular, so get tickets and/or get there early.
More Info and Tickets: Salamontjuic.org
Travelling With Kids
Barcelona is a crowded city with popular attractions often attracting long queues, which might make it seem unsuitable for kids, but if you plan carefully and buy your tickets in advance you can find plenty of cool things to do with children of all ages. The fantasy architecture, lively bustle and the city’s sweet tooth, mean that most kids love Barcelona as much as their parents…
21. The Aquarium
An estimated 14 million people have passed through the doors of L’Aquàrium de Barcelona since it opened in 1995, and with 6 million litres of water providing a home for 11,000 marine creatures from 450 different species it is the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world. The largest of the tanks is called the Oceanarium and an 80m long transparent tunnel runs allows visitors to walk amongst sharks, rays, giltheads, ocean sunfish and many more species. The attraction also has a crowd-pleasing colony of Humboldt penguins which are fed every day at 11:30am and 4:30pm.
22. Barcelona Zoo
Opened in 1892, Barcelona’s Zoo is found right in the centre of the city in the Parc de la Ciutadella. It houses over 400 species and 4000 animals, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, rhinos, hippos, giraffes, gorillas, orangutans, kangaroos and dolphins – majestic animals that are sure to inspire a love of the natural world in your children. Whilst visiting a zoo can raise ethical questions, Barcelona’s one does take part in important conservation projects such as the breeding of endangered Dorcas gazelles for reintroduction into the steppes of Senegal, Africa.
23. Chocolate Museum
Chocolate has formed an important part of the social and economic fabric of Barcelona since the Age of Discovery brought cocoa to European shores. This museum in a former monastery in El Borne chronicles the history of the city’s favourite sweet sensation and its social impact, as well as detailing its medicinal and nutritional value. Little ones are likely to enjoy the elaborate chocolate sculptures on display and they will feel like Charlie Bucket at the Willy Wonka factory when their ticket turns out to be edible. Buy them in advance and they are less than 5 euros for kids, or consider buying a Barcelona Card which grants free entry.
Free Entry Option: Free entry with Barcelona Card
Inquisitive kids will love this science museum on the outskirts of the city. Its permanent exhibitions include “Flooded Forest,” “Geological Wall,” “Room of Matter” and Planetarium, which have earned rave reviews on Tripadvisor and other travel sites. Many of the exhibits are interactive and are suitable for children of school age and above, and the tickets are very reasonably priced, making it an attractive option if you are travelling with a large brood. CosmoCaixa is one of several great attractions that is free with the Barcelona Card, which you can buy securely via Get Your Guide, and it might be worth considering purchasing some if you plan on being especially active during your trip.
25. Tibidabo Amusement Park
A mix of vintage and modern rides make up this amusement park, whose charm Woody Allen used to good effect in his hit movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona. A rollercoaster, ferris wheel and model airplane are amongst the rides, whilst the park also features the Automata Museum (could Barcelona be the stage for the next Westworld!?) and scary Krueger Hotel. From the top of Tibidabo mountain you can see the whole of Barcelona unfurl beneath you, making this attraction well worth the journey for the vistas alone.
Tickets: Full day tickets via Get Your Guide
There are plenty of different ways of exploring Barcelona, starting with using your own two feet to buckling on a helmet and stepping onto a Segway. Let’s look at some of the possibilities.
26. Walking Tours
The slow pace of exploring on two feet is a big advantage if you want to really get under the skin of the city and get detailed information about its history and culture. Especially in the Old Town districts of the Gothic Quarter, El Borne and Raval, which are close and compact (for other areas you may need to consider some of the options below!). Barcelona’s official tourism website offers a total of 36 walking experiences with different emphases, from historic and cultural insight to gastronomical themed walkabouts for a literal taste of the city.
Reservations: Choose from 36 different tours on foot
27. Bike Tours
With its warm and dry climate, largely flat terrain and over 200km of bike paths, Barcelona is a city made to be explored from the saddle. There are a slew of companies offering either bike hire or guided tours, but one of the best is Steel Donkey Bike Tours (boasting a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence for 5 years running!) as they take you out of the overcrowded and narrow alleys of the Old Town and show you instead some of the lesser known sights, like local markets, hidden squares and hip districts. Best of all they only ride with a maximum of eight people, so you don’t feel like another tourist on the treadmill.
28. The Tourist Bus
For getting to grips with the sheer scope of the city and taking in all the major sights Barcelona’s Tourist Bus is a great choice. With three different routes and 44 stops, the bus will take you to pretty much every major point of interest in the city, including more out of the way stops like Camp Nou, The Olympic Stadium on Montjuic and Tibidabo. You can buy a one or two day ticket and with that you can hop off and hop on as many times you like along any of the routes. An audioguide in 16 languages gives handy information about attractions for when you prefer to stay on the bus.
Tickets: Hop on Hop Off Sightseeing Bus
29. Coach Tours
For maximum comfort and convenience, many visitors to Barcelona consider a coach tour the best way to explore the city. I would personally recommend this five hour Barcelona Highlights Tour as it takes in virtually all the essential attractions, such as Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and the Olympic Ring but also includes guided visits of La Sagrada Familia and Poble Espanyol, a beautiful ‘Spanish village’ found on Montjuic hill, making it excellent value for money at just €68. The coaches run on low emission engines.
Reservations: Buy tickets for Barcelona Highlights Tour
30. Segway Tours
A fun and original way to see the city, riding a Segway is surprisingly easy and enables you to cover ground a bit more readily than on your own two feet. Perhaps that’s why they’ve proven so popular with tourists in the last few years. You can find different tours exploring different parts and aspects of the city, but all include some initial training (5 minutes is normally enough) and an experienced guide. I would consider the recommended tour below as it covers both the Old Town and the beach, and at 2 hours is about the right length.
Recommended Tour: Reserve a two hour Segway tour
The Barcelona Card
Barcelona’s official tourist card can be a pretty nifty purchase, if you’re keen to visit a lot of the city’s best sights. Prices start at 45 euros for an adult three day pass (only 21 euros for kids aged 4 to 12), and for that price you get free admission and skip the line privileges to a range of museums that include the aforementioned Picasso Museum, Chocolate Museum and CosmoCaixa, plus the Catalan Art Museum (MNAC), Joan Miró Foundation, A. Tàpies Foundation, Contemporary Art Museum (MACBA), the Egyptian Museum and many more. You also get unlimited free travel on public transport (with the exception of the Aerobus and night buses) and a map of the metro network. The card comes with a guidebook in six languages (English, Catalan, Spanish, French, German and Italian) and this includes information about free deals and discounts with their location on the city map.