What to see in Barcelona

Where to start on the sights of Barcelona?  You’re going to have to be tough with yourself – there’s a lot to see and you’re only on holiday for a limited time.

Here’s our top 10 guide to the things to see and do on a short break in Barcelona. Click on a link for a full review, or check out our map guide.


1. Sagrada Familia - The emblem of Barcelona, Gaudi's still unfinished modernista masterpiece

2. Santa Maria Del Mar Church - Stunning 16th Century church in heart of El Born

3. Casa Mila (La Pedrera) - Amazing Gaudi apartment block

4. Picasso Museum - Much vaunted museum of early Picasso works

5. Park Guell - Beautiful oasis of calm, by that man Gaudi again

6. Palau de Música Catalunya - Fabulous modernista concert hall

7. La Rambla - Walk along the historic street with the locals

8. Tibidabo - Look down across the whole of Barcelona from this mountaintop church and fun park

9. The Nou Camp - The enormous football stadium that is the shrine to all things Barcelona FC

10. The Beaches - Chill out, take a dip and enjoy the beach bars

1. The Sagrada Familia

The Sagrada Familia is the iconic emblem of Barcelona - images of it appear on anything even vaguely linked with the city. Even we at Barcelona Update have succumbed to its use at the header of our pages.

But there's good reason for that emblem status. The church was started in the late 19th Century, the brainchild of the great Barcelonan architect Antoni Gaudi, and over 100 years later it is still unfinished. Gaudi devoted the latter half of his life to the Sagrada Familia, believing it to be an atonement of the sins of Catalans and died when runover by a tram, penniless and unrecognised having put all of his money and time into the project. Only six of the 13 towers have so far been constructed and these will eventually be dwarfed by the largest tower representing Christ himself.

Actually only one of the two facades so far completed was done by Gaudi - the complex and beautiful Nativity facade on Carrer Sardenya. The other, more modern, passion facade on Carrer de la Marina is a much later addition, but no less striking itself.

It's the "must-see" of the city - an incredible testament to what a single man with a vision can achieve. But the question is whether to pay to go inside or just enjoy the grandeur from outside. Our advice is that, unless you have a yearning to climb one of the towers, to stick to the outside - inside can be rather building-site like. Once you have taken in the outside you can then head over to La Pedrera for a real understanding of what Gaudi was about and how he worked.

Getting there:
Sagrada Famila Metro is on the L5 (Blue) and L2 (Purple) lines or the Bus Turistic (Red route) stops there

Individual admission: 8 €
With a Bus Turistic pass: 7 €
Lift: 2 €
Tour (45 mins): 3.5 € + entrance fee

October to March, 9am to 6pm
April to September, 9am to 8pm


2. Santa Maria del Mar church

Tucked away in the now trendy El Born area, the Santa Maria del Mar is a stunning 16th century church to rival and even surpass the city's Le Seu Catedral.

Before entering through the main door, look up for the beautiful rose window and wander the enchanting saints alters that line the sides. For us, Santa Maria del Mar is the more authentic of the great churches in central Barcelona.

Getting there:
Carrer Argenteria in El Born, Metro Line 4 (Yellow) Jaume 1


3. Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera)

Another Gaudi spectacular and another not to be missed.

The lines of this original 1890s apartment block are pure Gaudi: not a straight line or right angle in sight, mimicking nature in every way possible. The baclonies are fluid and the hand-made wrought iron ballustrades stunning in their attention to detail. Step back over the other side of Passig de Gracia and the amazing roof just about comes into view.

To get the most out of this visit, we strongly recommend paying the XXXX fee and going inside (watch out for the long queues at weekends though). The interior - at least the bit not still being lived in - houses a fully restored apartment, decked out exactly as it was when built and a museum which takes you through the genius that was Gaudi, complete with re-constructed models and a pictoral timeline of his work, as well as full access to that amazing roof terrace, guarded by Moor-ish chimney stands.


Getting there:
Passeig de Gracia with Provenca, Eixample. Provenca or Diagonal Metro stations on the Blue (L3) or Green (L5) lines or Provenca train station

Individual admission: 8 €
With a Bus Turistic pass: 7€

October to March, 9am to 6pm
April to September, 9am to 8pm


4. Picasso Museum

The Picasso museum is housed in a 14th century manor house, in what used to be the rich area of town where merchants built their mini-palaces outside of the old city walls.

It mainly houses the earlier period of Picasso's work dating from when he actually lived in Barcelona.

What can we say - if you're a Picasso fan, its a fabulous insight into what made the artist what he eventually became. If you're not, it can be a little long-winded and possibly not the best introduction to his work.

Getting there:
At the top of Carrer Montcada, where it meets Carrer Princessa

Individual admission: 9€

Tues - Sun: 10am - 8pm; Closed Mon


5. Park Guell

An oasis that fuses calm and daring architecture. Beyond the Gracia area of the city, this was originally designed by Gaudi to be the grounds of an exclusive community, but when that project fell through was bought by the council and turned into a park.

All of the usual Gaudi touches are there - the flowing lines and acute attention to detail, but here they mix side by side with the source of his inspiration - nature itself. Take in the famous lizard, arches and benches, then allow yourself to wander through the park to get the real experience. If you can, head for the cross at the highest point to get a great view over Barcelona.

A bit of a treck from the centre, Park Guell requires a half day, ideally in spring or summer, so may be a step too far for those of you on a short trip.

Getting there: Metro Lesseps, Line 3 (Green Line) then follow signs


Nov - Feb: 10am - 6pm; Mar & Oct 10am - 8pm; May - Aug 10am - 9pm

6. Palau de Música Catalunya

As the name suggests the Palau de Historia de Musica Catalana (Palace of the history of Catalan Music) is so much more than a concert hall. Designed in the modernista style by Puig I Domenech in the 1880s, it is both a powerful design, designed to inspire both musicians and audience alike, and a symbol of Catalan culture that endured and supported the city through the dark Franco era years.

Taking a place on one of the English language tours is the only way to see the inside of the Palau, but it is well worth it. The design is pure fantasy and opulence, from the teardrop stained glass ceiling centrepiece to the Valkyries that ride out from the walls heading directly for the stage.

Concerts here are well attended, but tickets are available if you book well enough in advance. The heady mixture of the music and architecture is highly recommended.

Getting there:
Palau de la Música, 4 - at the top of Via Laietena. Urquinoana (Yellow, line 4 and Red, line 1) is the closest Metro

Individual admission: 10 €

Daily: 10am - 3.30pm
English tours: 10.00, 11.00, 12 noon, 1.00, 2.00 and 3.00 pm

7. La Rambla

The pulsating jugular of Barcelona, La Ramblas is a wide street cutting a swathe between the Barri Gotic and El Raval areas in the heart of the city.

As a tourist attraction it can be hard to pinpoint where the attraction part actually lies. It is often packed to the point where it is difficult to keep waliking in any straight line with both tourists and locals. The cafes, bars and restaurants are of generally pretty poor quality and prices can be extortionate. And the performers, mostly made up of human statues are of fairly variable quality.

And yet it draws people back to soak up the mix of beautiful, fascinitating, seedy and austere that is unmistakably Barcelona. Our advice: sample the walk, but resist buying anything along the way.

Getting there:
Right in the centre - you can't miss it! Runs from Placa Catalunya down to Drassanes Metro.



8. Tibidabo

Overlooking Barcelona from the mountains behind the city, Tibidabo houses a fabulous church and a kids amusement park, as well as affording stunning views over the city.

Look back towards the mountains at any point while wandering along the shop and restaurant lined streets of Passeig de Gracia, Rambla de Catalunya or Carrer Balmes and you'll find yourself gazing at what looks like a mountaintop citadel, flanked by a huge commucations ariel - these are the Sagrat Cor Church and Norman Foster's Torre de Collserola on top of Tibidabo. The church is worth seeing in itself (less so the tower), but its the magnificent view that's the real pull here - the whole of Barcelona spread out panoramically before you from Sagrada Familia, Montjuic and La Rambla to the beaches.

(In fact the name refers to the view - "Tibi Dabo" is taken from an early latin version of the bible, quoting the passage where the devil takes Jesus to a mountaintop and says - All these things "I will give to you" ... )

Strangely, right next to the fabulous church, where you might expect an austere monument or graveyar, there is a kids amusement park, aimed at the younger 4-12 years range. The park isn't cheap, but is one of the few places where everyone will be kept amused, kids and adults alike.

This is not the easiest to get to. There is the easy route - a straighforward bus that goes from Plaza Catalunya - and a "fun" route - train, then old fashioned tram, then cable car. Take your pick.

Getting there:
Summer: Tibibus from Placa Catalunya outside of El Corte Ingles, every 30 mins
Anytime: Train (FGC 7) from Placa Catalunya to Av Tibidabo; Tram from Avenue Tibidabo to Placa del Funincular then Funincular (cable car) to top
Bus Turustic to Placa del Funincular then Funincular (cable car) to top

Park entrance per person: €24; Child under 1.2m: €7; lots of concessions and discounts apply - chck the site

Amusement Park:
Check the web site for exact times, but roughly:
Mar - May: Sat Midday - 9pm and Sun Midday - 8pm
Jun: Wed & Thur 10am - 5pm; Sat Midday - 10pm; Sun Midday - 9pm
Jul - mid Sep: Wed - Sun Midday - 9pm or later
Mid Sep to end Oct: Sat & Sun Midday - 6pm
Nov - Dec: Sat & Sun Midday - 6pm
Closed Jan and Feb


9. The Nou Camp

Believe it or not, the Nou Camp, home of Barcelona Football Club, is the most visited "museum" in the city, ranking even ahead of the Picasso museum in terms of visitor numbers. Quite impressive for something which is, in essence, just a football stadium.

Of course, it represents much more than that to the locals (hence their slogan "mes que un club" - more than a club). It was one of the few cultural activities which were allowed during the Franco years, making it a symbol of the Catalan passive resistance to the regime. It is one of the few clubs in the world to be privately owned, mostly by supporters. And its success over the years, particularly in European compeitition and against arch rivals Real Madrid, has been important in the pride and self-worth of the Barcelonans.

Against this background, as a tourist destination the Nou Camp is disappointing. The "tour" of the ground is actually nothing more than a freedom to wander, led by arrows through corridors with the only commentary provided by an audio guide (at an additional €5!). Admittedly the stadium inside is impressive and the museum provides some of the history, but it is very clinical and cold without the supporters and an actual game going on.

Our advice: If you're a real football fanatic, there are some interesting parts, but for most the only way to really experience the Nou Camp is for a game.

Getting there:
Metro Maria Christina (L3 - Green line) or Bus Turistic

Museum only: €12
Museum and tour: €17
Audio guide: Additional €5

Mon - Sat 10am-6.30pm
Sun & Holidays 10am- 2pm


10. Beaches

In some ways the beaches are what sets Barcelona apart from other destinations in Europe. There are about 3 miles of beaches in Barcelona, ranging from Barceloneta right along to Diagonal Mar.

The beaches are open year round, except for 2 weeks in March when they are deep cleaned, but most of the facilities, including bars and lifeguards are closed up for the winter season. 

The seasons cover:

Winter season (everything closed) :      November to March

“Mid” season (limited facilities open) :      May and Late September

High season (everything open) :      June to Mid September and some weekends in April, May, September and October

All beaches are closed at night
– usually from around midnight onwards for cleaning.

For a full map of Barcelona’s Beaches check out the local council’s site.

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