Things to do in Barcelona: Attractions and places to visit

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It took a long time for linguists to agree on what the inhabitants of Barcelona are called. Barcelonaese or Barcelonese? Hardly anyone could make friends with both versions. Finally they agreed on “Barceloniner”.

For the people in the Catalonian metropolis, this will at best trigger a shrug of the shoulders, because they know one thing very well: most Catalonians are convinced that their city is not only “beyond Spain”, but that it is also a pearl on the Mediterranean.

The inhabitants of Barcelona were obviously always unruly, as according to a tradition, the Catalan king used to observe the discussions in the city hall in the 13th century from a hatch in the ceiling. And if something did not please him, he should have spat down on the participants.

Below we present you the most exciting tours, the most beautiful attractions and the best sights in Barcelona.

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Barcelona (Jorge Franganillo)  [flickr.com]  CC BY 
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1. La Rambla

The promenade of Barcelona is almost exactly 1,300 metres long and winds its way up from the Columbus column at the harbour to the lively traffic junction Placa Catalunya. Originally this was the bed of a small river, which can be read from the Arabic translation. Rambla” is equated with “sandy soil”.

In the course of the centuries the street was framed by some monasteries. The Rambla became a promenade in the 18th century. Today it is something like a playground for street artists, jugglers, card readers, puppeteers – and unfortunately also for pickpockets. But it is undoubtedly the heart and, as it were, the most important sight in Barcelona.

2. Barri Gotic

Barri Gotic is the oldest and probably most interesting part of Barcelona. Almost around every corner there are remains of walls from the Roman era of the city or Gothic palaces. On the Centre dels Excursionistes de Catalunya even some columns of the ancient Augustus temple have survived the times. And at the Placa Villa de Madrid, almost seventy years ago, a Roman necropolis was brought to light.

In a palace from the 15th century the government of Catalonia got its seat, and above the entrance the statue of Sant Jordi as dragon slayer cannot be overlooked. On Saturday evenings, the asphalt in front of the palace regularly becomes the scene of the Catalan National Dance.

3. La Seu Cathedral

Barcelona’s cathedral has three aisles – but only one apse. Over a long period of history, the fa├žade appeared very sober. What the believers in the port city didn’t like either. At the beginning of the 20th century the external appearance changed. Today it presents itself in neo-Gothic style.

Worth seeing is the cloister with some chapels, shady gardens and fountains. By the way, 13 white geese live here, whose chattering can be heard from time to time inside the cathedral. They symbolize the age of Saint Eulàlia, who fell victim to the first persecution of Christians.

4. Placa del Rei

Placa del Rei is one of the most beautiful squares of the old city and one of the most visited sights in Barcelona. Since the acoustics are so excellent, concerts are often held on the square, especially in the summer months.

The royal palace stands out among the magnificent buildings. There the so-called Sal├│ del Tinell can be visited, where Christopher Columbus was received after his return from America. One of the buildings houses the Museum of City History.

5. Sagrada Familia

Perhaps it is the most famous construction site in the world, because the Sagrada Familia is still unfinished. Work on the impressive church began around 130 years ago. Antoni Gaudi, one of Barcelona’s great sons, who left numerous interesting buildings to posterity, was the initiator of the Sagrada Familia. According to his plans, this important sight in Barcelona is still being built today. In the year 2026, the hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death, his work is to shine in all grandeur.

Meanwhile: In Barcelona, nobody really believes in it and for the visitors this is also secondary, as the Sagrada Familia is also unfinished a masterpiece and one of the biggest sightseeings of Europe. On 7 November, the church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI and elevated to the status of papal Basilica minor. This is a tribute that is otherwise only reserved for pilgrimage churches.

6. Fundaci├▓ Joan Mir├│

High above the rooftops of Barcelona, in the Parc de Montjuic, a kind of memorial was created for the ingenious Spanish painter Joan Mir├│. He was one of the most famous surrealist artists of his time.

The impressive museum’s collection comprises over 10,000 works. A friend of Mir├│’s, the architect Josep Lluis Sert and a pupil of Le Corbusier, designed the house with clear and cubist forms.

7. Museu Picasso

The museum was housed in no less than five Gothic palaces, which were built between the 13th and 15th centuries on today’s Carrer de Montcada. It shows around five hundred works by Pablo Picasso, making it one of the most important cultural attractions in Barcelona. Most of his works date from the early period of his career. The range of exhibits extends from oil paintings to pencil drawings and ceramics.

Picasso lived and worked in Barcelona for some time during his young years. He studied at the La Llotja Art Academy – also because his father was employed there as a professor. The shop on the ground floor of the impressive museum developed into a treasure trove for those interested in art.

8. Mercat de la Boqueria

This market on the edge of the Rambla is a must see! The Mercat de la Boqueria was first mentioned in ancient documents in 1217. With the exception of Sunday, it is open daily between 7 am and 7 pm. Not only the inhabitants of Barcelona find it an extraordinary experience to shop here.

Under glass and steel there are sales areas of more than 2,500 square metres at the stands. The market hall was given an official character in 1853. Where pigs in particular were traded in the Middle Ages, fruit, vegetables and the freshly caught fish of the Mediterranean are offered today.

9. The ports of Barcelona

Barcelona has three ports. The Port Vell (old port), the Port Franc, where the big cruise ships also anchor, and the Port Olimpic, which served as the venue for the sailing competitions at the 1992 Summer Olympics. The former Olympic harbour is today reserved for the numerous yachts and is lined by numerous first-class restaurants, discotheques and bars. The luxurious Hotel Arts also established itself there. Many inhabitants of the city prefer the quiet beach sections in the extension of the Port Olimpics.

Immediately next to the Columbus monument, which rises to a height of 60 metres at the end (or beginning) of the Rambla, the old harbour building is a photogenic motif. The so-called “Rambla del Mar” is laid out with a wooden floor. It is slightly wavy and symbolizes the gentle waves of the Mediterranean. The Maremagnum is an interesting centre with shops and restaurants. The Port Franc is above all an industrial port, but also the place where the passengers of the big ships start for the visit of Barcelona.

10. Casa Milà and Park Güell

The inhabitants of Barcelona have come up with a rather disparaging name for one of their most interesting buildings: “The Quarry”. Casa Mil├á is something like the legacy of the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudi. But since the sand-lime brick fa├žade gave the house an unusual character, the neighbours saw it more like a “quarry”. But “La Pedrera” still fascinates architects from all over the world because of its unique construction.

A further work of art worth seeing in Gaudi is the Park G├╝ell. He saw it as a tribute to nature, and he created a fairytale garden with imaginative columns and a labyrinth of paths, arbours and bridges. The oversized salamander made of fracture ceramics is world-famous in Park G├╝ell. He became a landmark of the city.

More things to do and activities for your Barcelona holiday

Best time to visit Barcelona

We recommend the following months as best time to travel for exploring the attractions and acivities of Barcelona:

May, June, July, August, September, and October

You can find more information about the weather, including all climate data, on our climate page for Barcelona.

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