Barcelona Landmarks: 12 Best Things to Do and See in Barcelona [UPDATED 2019]

June 5, 2017

best things to do in Barcelona

Ranked one of the most popular cities in Europe to visit, unlike its rivals London, Paris, and Rome, Barcelona is also one of the most affordable cities on the continent, according to Forbes magazine.  Barcelona landmarks are also some of the most recognizable in the world.

Walking through Barcelona is like walking around in a semi-dream state of ancient cathedrals and modern sculptures and landmarks. The architecture encompasses everything from surreal Gaudi, to ancient Gothic, to uber-modern skyscrapers and everything in-between. There’s intriguing 2,000-year history, luscious gastronomy and of course, chic Mediterranean beaches. There’s no bad time to visit – the temperature is always conducive to tourists, ranging from a low of 49° F in January to a high of 84 F° in August.

One could spend weeks drifting, or even backpacking around this second largest city in Spain, not to mention the day trips from Barcelona, and not run out of things to do and see. However, for first-time visitors especially, there are a dozen sights that are simply not to be missed.

1.  Gothic Quarter

Gothic Catedral de la Seu

The Gothic Quarter, also known as Barri Gòtic, is Barcelona’s Old Town. It’s a veritable maze of narrow streets and secluded squares with a rich history dating to Roman and medieval times. In the center of the old city stands the Gothic Catedral de la Seu which predates the more famous La Sagrada Família by six centuries. The ornate exterior is styled with gargoyles and flying buttresses, and best viewed from the rooftop of the surrounding buildings.

gothic quarter

This ancient rabbit’s warren of cobblestone streets flanked by towering old stone buildings is my favorite part to wander in Barcelona. The area is awash in cafés, boutiques, and museums. But do take care for it’s very easy to get turned around and lost in the alleys.  Click here for an organized walking tour.

2. La Sagrada Família

La Sagrada Família

Barcelona landmarks include La Sagrada Familia, one of the most recognizable sites in the world.

This massive Roman Catholic Church, designed by renowned Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, is the iconic Barcelona landmarks and part of the city’s Gaudi UNESCO World Heritage Site. Aside from the incredibly stunning design of the building is the fact that the church has never been completed and has been in a perpetual state of construction, renovation, and repair. The church is said to be 70% complete with a tentative completion date of 2026 – the centennial of Gaudí’s death.

The exterior design calls for a total of eighteen unusually shaped spires representing in ascending order of height the Twelve Apostles, the Virgin Mary, the four Evangelists and loftiest for Jesus Christ which upon completion will make La Sagrada Família the tallest church building in the world.

The interior is breathtaking, with an ornate display of stained glass and geometric and colorful details in the ceiling and nave, and visitors must reserve tickets in advance and wait in a long queue before setting eyes on the splendor.

The church is one of the most unique buildings in the world, although not everyone is a fan… George Orwell called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.”

Here’s more information for visiting La Sagrada Familia.

3. Paella, tapas, and cava

Barcelona

Naturally, you can’t go to Barcelona and not indulge in the paella, which is widely considered to be Spain’s national dish. The ingredients vary from chef to chef but usually include bomba rice, beans, tomatoes, onions, peppers, muscles, shrimp, chorizo sausage, chicken garlic, paprika and other spices.

For the most festive dining venue, go to Plaça del Rei in the heart of Barri Gòtic. This square was once the center of all activity in Barcelona. Tapas (appetizer or snack) of all sorts are everywhere, and cava – Spain’s answer to France’s champagne and Italy’s prosecco – is flowing. It’s a lively affair with voices and music, but if you’d prefer quality over entertainment, the best meals are without a doubt outside of the tourist areas.

4. Park Güell

Park Güell

Barcelona landmarks include Park Guell, a colorful and quirky site.

This masterpiece by Antoni Gaudi is arguably the most photo-worthy location in the city. Gaudi took over an unfinished housing project and turned it into a cacophony of building, sculptures, and undulating walls, covered with brightly colored mosaics. Some of the buildings look like they are straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, while others look like gingerbread complete with roofs that appear to be made out of cake icing. Park Güell is wildly popular with tourists, so to get unobstructed photos along the colorful iconic wall with panoramic views of Barcelona, I suggest getting there when the park opens.

5. Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas is a wide tree-lined pedestrian promenade almost a mile long, lined with shops, florists, restaurants, bars, and historic buildings housing operas, theatres, and museums. It’s almost always crowded here, bustling with activity, vendors and street performers. Unfortunately, it’s also a hot spot for pickpockets so keep your wits around you.

6. La Boqueria

Barcelona

Pass through La Boqueria’s grand iron entrance and you’ll be entering one of Europe’s largest and most famous food markets. Riots of colors are everywhere. It’s loud and the ground beneath your feet can get slippery, but lots of fun. Among the wide variety of offerings, you’ll see fresh fruit, vibrant candy, animal carcasses, and fresh seafood.

7. Montserrat

Barcelona

Montserrat is a great day trip from Barcelona. Approaching the heights by train, visitors enter an area of odd, otherworldly peaks piercing the periwinkle horizon. The bizarre-looking rounded rock pillars were formed by thousands of years of wind, rain, and frost. At a height of 4055 feet, Montserrat is the highest point of the Catalan lowlands. The grounds are lovely and worthy of an afternoon stroll. But the main attraction is the monastery of Santa Maria de Montserrat founded in 1025. Its basilica hosts a glistening gold palatial hall where the sweet vocals of choir boys echo their Gregorian chants over the crowd. Catholic pilgrims come from far and wide to see the 12th-century wooden statue of La Moreneta (The Black Virgin), also located in the abbey. There’s a museum on site with works of major artists such as Dali, El Greco, Monet and Giordano

8. Picasso Museum

Barcelona

Barcelona art and architecture is incredible. The Picasso Museum, located in the La Ribera district, houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by the 20th-century Spanish artist. The exhibits are spread across a series of five adjoining medieval buildings, all built around a shared courtyard. The collection includes exquisite examples of his works in painting, drawing, ceramics, and engraving.

9. Modern Architecture

Barcelona

Two of my favorite structures are Torre Agbar – a dazzling bullet-shaped skyscraper that dominates the landscape around it. The structure has 4500 windows each with different colors that can be lit up into different patterns.

Barcelona

The other exceptional building is Hotel Porta Fira. You can’t miss it. The whimsical red skyscraper is eye-catching. Rooms are spacious and well-appointed in upscale contemporary décor which does not detract from the gorgeous city view from the wall-to-ceiling windows.

10. Barceloneta Beach

Barcelona

Tourists generally do not flock to Barcelona specifically for the beaches, but the location on the Mediterranean makes at least a day in the sun hard to resist. Barceloneta is by far the most popular. It’s a high-energy spot with vendors, music, kite flying, and lots of umbrellas.

11. Montjuïc

Barcelona

Photo credit Albert T M

Montjuïc is a small mountain overlooking Barcelona. Most people choose to arrive by cable car so they can enjoy a panoramic view of the city. The area surrounding Montjuïc area offers a lot to do as well. The Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, located within the lavish Palau Nacional, is a showcase of an extensive collection of Catalan art, sculpture, and paintings.

12. Barcelon Landmarks Downtown

Barcelona

Just get out and stroll around downtown Barcelona — you’ll find some neighborhoods you’ll love.  The vibe is crowded but pleasant, and you’ll be rubbing elbows with everyone from tourist families, approachable elderly locals to friendly (read: fresh) young Barcelonan men. Everywhere you look up you’ll see splendid buildings like Gaudi’s Casa Milà and Casa Batlló as well as other architects’ works. Stop at an outdoor café to savor a steaming mug of coffee and a slice of flan – custard dessert with a layer of soft caramel on top, while absorbing the fun, frenetic energy of this wonderful city.

Click on image to PIN:

Barcelona

Read more about Barcelona here.

About the Author

Patti MorrowPatti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.”  Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.

Patti has traveled six continents looking for fabulous places and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer (and Gen X!) tribe. You can follow Patti on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

Read more about Patti Morrow.

16 comments

  1. Pingback: Barcelona: Casa Batllo - Adventure, baby!

  2. Comment by George St Petersburg Russia

    George St Petersburg Russia Reply September 20, 2017 at 5:38 am

    Wow! Barcelona is my love! I spent there wonderful days. Thank You!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 21, 2017 at 5:57 pm

      I love Barcelona too! Looking forward to going back soon.

  3. Comment by Doreen Pendgracs

    Doreen Pendgracs Reply June 10, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Fabulous post on one of my favourite cities! I remember being pulled kicking and screaming into the cab as I didn’t want to leave this wonderful city. Such a visual and culinary treat!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:14 pm

      Haha! My sentiments exactly! Barcelona is a hard city to leave!

  4. Comment by karen escalera

    karen escalera Reply June 9, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Selections are right on! When I went to Barcelona the hotel (not sure if it’s still around, the Casanova) offered a chef’s tour of La Boqueria and then a cooking class with the ingredients from the market. Maybe other hotels offer that now?

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:15 pm

      A cooking class would be so much fun! I’ll have to look into that next time I’m in Barcelona!

  5. Comment by jane

    jane Reply June 7, 2017 at 11:38 am

    I absolutely LOVE Gaudi’s imaginative architecture, and am just debating whether I wait till 2026 to visit Barcelona, or avoid the hype around the ‘completion’ of the Sagrada Familia….this certainly whets my appetite for a visit sooner rather than later!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:18 pm

      Wow, 2026 is a long way off! Why put off until tomorrow what you can do today? Barcelona awaits!

  6. Comment by Debbra Dunning Brouillette

    Debbra Dunning Brouillette Reply June 7, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Wow! I have long wanted to visit Barcelona, if only to see Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia, but your list has me wanting to so for so much more! I love the architecture and also am a huge fan of paella! I will look for ways to get there sooner rather than later!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      It’s one of Europe’s most amazing cities! You simply must go to Barcelona!

  7. Comment by Tony

    Tony Reply June 7, 2017 at 2:05 am

    Wow what beautiful photos! I really love the architectures of Barcelona and seeing them alone would make the trip worth while. Then there’s also all the food to enjoy too! Thank you for a great post 🙂

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply July 19, 2017 at 7:19 pm

      You would absolutely love Barcelona, Tony!

  8. Comment by Donna Janke

    Donna Janke Reply June 5, 2017 at 7:53 pm

    I visited Barcelona a few years ago with my sister and LOVED it. This post brought back wonderful memories. There are two items on your list I didn’t have time to get to: Montserrat and Montjuïc. I guess that gives me a good reason to go back.

  9. Comment by Penny

    Penny Reply June 5, 2017 at 4:50 pm

    Barcelona is one of my favorite cities on the planet, and you really have hit the high points.

  10. Comment by michele h peterson

    michele h peterson Reply June 5, 2017 at 4:29 pm

    I’ve totally love to dive into that giant paella you’ve got in front of you! I can’t believe I haven’t yet been to Barcelona….must get there SOON!

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