Perched on the edge of the Balearic Sea, Barcelona is one of the most captivating corners of Europe. Taste the flavour explosions of Catalan cuisine, roam amidst Antoni Gaudí’s distinctive architecture in Park Güell and the Sagrada Família, and lose yourself in the cobbled backstreets of the Gothic Quarter.
1/6 Built in 1929, the Montjuïc Magic Fountain is one of the city's most iconic attractions, and hosts spectacular light and water shows to audiences – for free – on selected days during the week.
2/6 Other works of Catalan-born architect Antoni Gaudí are synonymous with Barcelona, and include one of the city’s most iconic structures – the Sagrada Familia, a Roman Catholic church.
3/6 Another of Gaudí's major sites in the city is the distinctive Park Güell – replete with colourful mosaic structures and sculptures, and boasting a famously fine view of the city.
4/6 Barcelona’s is known as the one of the best ‘beach cities’ in the world, with nine well-looked after beaches attracting sun-seekers and party-goers making the most of the year-round good weather.
5/6 Packed to the rafters with fresh fruits, cheeses, olives, meats, seafood, and much more, the colourful La Boqueria is known one of the best markets in the world – attracting a mix of locals, tourists, and restauranteurs to its busy La Rambla location.
6/6 Head to an authentic tapas bar, elbow your way to the front, and get stuck into the menu – which could include everything from pan con tomate (fresh bread with tomato, oil, and salt) to fideua, the Catalonian paella.
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
Best beaches in Barcelona
Golden sands and azure waters – a large part of Barcelona’s appeal lies in its beachside location. Join the crowds at Barcelonata Beach, a popular stretch of sand packed with lively seafood restaurants and watersport enthusiasts. The quieter Mar Bella beach was created in the ‘90s as Barcelona invested heavily in urban development prior to hosting the Olympics – today, it attracts students, sporty types, and the nudist community. Or there’s the coastal town of Sitges, an easy thirty minute train ride away. Boasting a wide promenade, sandy beach, and numerous sidewalk cafes, it’s the epitome of laid-back Mediterranean life.
Contemporary Spanish Art
Spain’s vibrant creative scene has produced some of the world’s greatest artists, including Cubist pioneer Pablo Picasso. Barcelona’s Picasso Museum is a must-see for any contemporary art lover, showcasing more than 4,000 works from his formative years in addition to their roster of temporary exhibitions. Wander on to the striking Fundació Joan Miró, a museum built specifically to house the weird and wonderful works of Barcelona-born sculptor and painter Joan Miró. Situated on Montjuic Hill, it’s worth setting aside an afternoon to slowly wander through the modernist, multi-level building and its surrounding gardens.
Find an urban oasis
Amidst Barcelona’s lively streets are lush parks for those seeking a quiet moment. Parc del Laber-int, the city’s oldest garden, was commissioned by an aristocrat for their estate in the late 18th century. Fast forward several hundred years and these romantic grounds – complete with maze created from cypress trees – are enjoyed by the masses. Set just above the city on Montjuïc hill, Jardí Botànic showcases Mediterranean plants in its sprawling botanical garden. Families with older children can sign up for a number of interactive activities while younger kids are entertained at the Science Nest, an area designed to engage them with nature.
This tree-lined boulevard in central Barcelona is the beating heart of the city. Stretching for 1.2km, Las Ramblas is home to fashionable boutiques and bistros, buskers and street artists, museums and converted convents. Shopping enthusiasts should head straight to El Corte Inglés, a Spanish department store that stocks everything from electronics to elegant evening-wear, while art lovers will be amazed by the gigantic Miró murals that decorate the street. More culture can be found at The Gran Teatre del Liceu, the majestic opera house that hosts classical music concerts and ballet, as well as an international line-up of operatic stars.
Barcelona's famous food market
La Boqueria is a well-established stop on the tourist circuit and for good reason – this daily food market is a cacophony of sights and smells. Rumour goes that it’s been servicing Barcelonians with local specialities since 1217; today, it continues to be an essential pitstop for some of the city’s leading restauranteurs. Browse stalls stacked with plump olive and succulent slabs of meat, or simply grab a stool at one of the lunchtime stalls and tuck straight in. A number of Catalonian specialities are on offer here, including cooked cargols (snails) served with alliloi and vinaigrette.
Gaudí’s architectural highlights
Barcelona and Antoni Gaudí, the Catalan architect responsible for some of the city’s most unworldly buildings, have become synonymous over the past century. Famed for his wildly distinctive designs – which feature hobbit-like curved walls and elaborate stained glass window panes – Gaudí’s iconic creations dot the cityscape. His unfinished masterpiece, the Sagrada Família, consumed much of his later years – the gothic-inspired cathedral boasts 18 towers and an abundance of Venetian glass and enameled ceramic designs. More fantastical modernism can be found at Casa Batlló, a magnificent residential building built at the start of the 20th-century, or in the fairytale grounds of Park Güell, a public park that he landscaped.
Cocktails and clubbing
Beloved drinking hole Boadas holds the title of Barcelona’s oldest cocktail bar. Opened in 1927 by its Cuban-born proprietor, it’s a low-key place to grab a gin and tonic after a day of shopping along Las Ramblas. If craft cocktails are your jam, Dry Martini continues to wow critics and punters alike with its elegant creations. Catch the eye of a tuxedo-clad mixologist and they’ll whip up a stiff drink – dry martinis are the house speciality. Suitably lubricated, follow the cool kids to La Terraza, an open-air night club perched just above the city on Montjuic Hill.
The Gothic Quarter
Don’t be alarmed by its sinister-sounding name – the Gothic Quarter is a mesmerizing hodgepodge of buildings that reflect the city’s ancient history. Begin at Barcelona Cathedral, a 1500-year-old Christian site whose jagged spires mark the start of the district. Once you’ve explored the church, pause to admire the street entertainers performing in the square before wandering into the quarter’s labyrinth of cobbled streets. Historic architecture and narrow alleyways provide photogenic sightseeing, but those curious to learn more should stop by the imposing Museum of History of Barcelona. As night falls, drop into Bar Lobo for fresh tapas and a reviving jug of fruity Sangria.
Best seafood restaurants
Enjoy coastal Barcelona like the locals do and indulge in the city’s seriously fresh seafood. espai Kru is a favourite for fine dining aficionados, offering a wide selection of raw fish and shellfish. Be sure to save room for sweets – a banana ravioli dessert showcases their creative approach to cooking. At the legendary Botafumeiro, impeccable seafood has been served on white clothed tables since 1975. Order the seafood platter to experience Galician cuisine at its finest. Alternatively, head to the cosy, cave-like La Gambeta and wash down their seafood paella with a bottle of crisp white wine.
Shop 'til you drop
Channel Barcelona’s bohemian aesthetic at Ailanto, a Barcelona-based fashion brand opened by twin brothers. From colourful prints scattered across flowing maxi-dresses to oversized coats and draped ponchos, this boutique is packed with unusual additions to your wardrobe. More funky fashion can be found at Colmillo de Morsa, an independent label founded by designers Isabel Vallecillo and Javier Blanco, who produce all collections in Barcelona and use only European suppliers. A similarly sustainable ethos can be found at Ivori, a boutique that sells eco-friendly womenswear, jewelry and accessories from Catalan designers.
Relax and rejuvenate
Tired of sightseeing? AIRE ancient baths offer the ultimate sanctuary from fast-paced city life. This stone warehouse-turned-upscale spa offers a number of different bathing experiences – from a floating pool to ancient thermal baths – within a cavernous, candlelit space. A range of unusual spa experiences are also available, including one that submerges the patron in a marble well filled with red wine from Spanish Ribera del Duero grapes. Not an oenophile? Book yourself in for the candle oil treatment instead, which combines a four-handed massage with warm candle oil poured across the body.
Marvel at Barcelona’s joyous architecture and spectacular sunsets from one of the city’s rooftop bars. The Skybar at Grand Hotel Central boasts a sleek infinity pool, comfortable booths and ex-pansive views (although it’s only open for non-guests during the summer season). For design lovers, head straight to Me by Melia, a contemporary bar perched on top of French architect Dominique Perrault’s luxury skyscraper. Attracting a well-heeled mix of local and international glitterati, dress up in your finest for this drinking hole. An equally fashionable experience can be found at Hotel Pulitzer’s sixth-floor terrace, which hosts a rotating lineup of DJs and bands for a party-hungry crowd.
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