Best of Barcelona: things to do in the Catalan capital
Barcelona boasts striking architecture and beautiful city beaches that keep the tourists flocking in, but dig a little deeper and you'll also find a distinctive Catalonian culture. Uncover the best of Barcelona with our insider tips on what to see and do.
1. Tour Gaudi's Works
Gaudi's influence on Barcelona is immediately apparent; his work is a fundamental part of the city's landscape. The seven Gaudi sites to visit in Barcelona are Park Guell, Palau Guell, Casa Mila, Casa Vicen, La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo and the crypt of the church at Colonia Guell and it is worth seeing them all first hand, either at your own pace or joining one of the many guided Gaudi walking tours. The Sagrada Familia basilica, Gaudi's signature work, has international recognition as the symbol of Barcelona. Explore rippling columns and atmospheric temples inspired by nature and designed to make the best use of the light, then head to the towers where you can enjoy views of the city skyline. Come back at dusk to see the building lit up against the night sky. €15 for entry, €29 for entry with access to the towers.
2. Head to the beaches
Barcelona is thought to be one of the best city-beach break destinations in the world with 32km of Blue Flag beaches running alongside the centre. Barceloneta Beach is the closest to the city, which due to its proximity can quickly get crowded. Go for the local's favourite instead, and head a little further along the coast to the beaches north of Port Olimpic such as Nova Mar Bella and Bogatell, a 15 minute walk from Barceloneta. Both have parasol and chair hire, ping pong tables and volleyball courts as well as lots of cafes and restaurants nearby. You can get the metro or tram to Selva de Mar to get to Nova Mar Bella, or hire a bike and take the scenic cycle path.
3. Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum is rightly one of Barcelona's top tourist attractions and tells a thorough and fascinating story of the young artist's development, remaining the only Picasso collection opened in his lifetime. Housed in five connected Catalan Gothic palaces in El Born, the museum now is one of the most complete collections of Picasso's works of art, with over 4000 pieces on display. The permanent collection is supported by temporary exhibitions exploring Picasso's life, artistic interests and his love of Barcelona. Tickets are €14 and can be bought online in advance. Can't get enough of Picasso? Visit the definitive Picasso Museum in his hometown of Malaga, one of our top tips for the Andalusian city.
4. Font Magica
The Font Magica (Montjuïc Magic Fountain) is one of Barcelona's most enchanting sights. It was created for the 1929 International Exhibition, located at the Palace of Montjuïc. The ‘magic’ of this fountain happens every weekend (includes Thursdays during the summer), with 30 minute shows in which the water fountains dance to the lights and rhythm of the music. Songs vary from classical music to the Star Wars soundtrack!
5. Parc de la Ciutadella
The city has a staggering 68 parks, but one of the biggest and most popular places to visit in Barcelona is Parc de la Ciutadella. Take a rowing boat on the lake, admire the fountains and medieval Castell dels Tres Dragons or head to Barcelona Zoo. Craving peace and quiet? Santa Caterina's Market is a short walk to the south, so stock up on delicious picnic goodies and find a spot for lunch under the lush green palm trees.
The CaixaForum is a world away from the traditional arts you will see through Barcelona. Formerly a textile factory, it's now been converted into the vibrant CaixaForum, home of contemporary arts, exhibitions, a cinema, children's art workshops, and events. Collections feature Dali, Fragonard and Freud with constantly changing temporary exhibitions that appeal to all the family. Once you've visited the exhibitions head to the terrace for views across Barcelona. Best of all, entry is free, though tickets are required for some exhibitions.
7. Visit El Born
Many flock to La Rambla for shopping or the Gothic Quarter for historic architecture, and if it's your first time in Barcelona then these are not to be missed. However, if you're looking for an area with local charm head to the El Born district, sandwiched between the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Gothic Quarter. Here you will find the Museu Picasso de Barcelona, MUTT Bookshop & Art Gallery and the Museu de la Xocolata (Chocolate Museum). The main shopping street, despite being rather narrow is Carrer dels Flassaders, lined with medieval buildings and filled with boutiques, vintage shops and cool watering holes like the tiny El Born Bar (Passeig del Born). This is also a must for those with an interest in photography, with the Impossible Project Barcelona gallery and many photography workshops and tours based here.
8. Take a cooking class
Barcelonians are proud of their Catalan cuisine and what better way to experience this than through an authentic cooking workshop? BarcelonaCooking offer daily morning and evening cooking classes giving you hands on experience preparing Catalan dishes. A typical class begins with a visit to La Boqueira Mercat to buy local produce for your class before returning to the kitchen to cook appetizers, soup, paella and dessert. Price from €78. Discover more delicious Spanish dishes, with our top foods to try in Spain.
9. Museu d'Historia de Barcelona (Barcelona City History Museum)
Barcelona's City History Museum is a little different to your typical history museum. Across the three levels, the main attraction is underground where you will find excavations of Barcelona from the Roman era, when the city was known as Barcino. The excavations across the 4000sqm area include a factory, a laundry workshop and a church offering a look into the daily life of Romans in the ancient city. Entry is €7 (includes access to the other four MUHBA museums: Museu Casa Verdaguer, Espai Santa Caterina, CCCB and Refugi 307.).
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*Published October 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.