Barcelona is a city steeped in culture and history. The capital of Catalan-speaking Catalonia (Catalunya in Catalan) has become one of the most visited European tourist destinations. It truly is a city that never sleeps. Sited between the Mediterranean Sea and Serra de Collserola mountains, Barcelona is a city of never-ending choices.
Barcelona doesn’t do anything by half and their history of excellence in trade, commerce, media, fashion and science strongly influences the way they approach tourism and culture.
After a day in this city, I promise you’ll never want to leave. Even Guadí struggled to stay away.
My top 10 sites to see in Barcelona are as follows:
1) Park Güell
Image Source: Park Guell
Every city has a public park. Only Barcelona has a public park as impressive as Park Güell. Designed by Gaudí as a private residential park, this stunning park is home to extraordinary statues and structures influenced by natural shapes. This is one of Gaudí’s major works in Barcelona, and there are many buildings touched by his artistic hands in this city. A colourfully tiled dragon greets you as you enter and pillars of gnarled rock sprout out of the ground like ancient tree trunks. The top level of the park also provides the perfect vantage point to survey the city. You’ll need at least half a day for this mesmerising piece of modernist art.
2) Fontana Magica
Ever the lover of a spectacle, the Fontana Magica isn’t much to look at during the day but return to the Plaça d'Espanya after dark and revel in the atmosphere. Watch the water jets, highlighted in shifting shades and colours, dance accompanied by light and music. It’s captivating. And if you want even more of a spectacle time your visit to coincide with the “Piromusical” at the end of September and revel in the additional firework display.
3) Sagrada Familia
When you think of Barcelona, the very first thing that comes to mind is the Sagrada Familia, the, as yet incomplete giant Basilica which consumed the last 12 years of Gaudí’s life. It is by far his most famous work and one which was inspired by one man’s need to stop the sins of leftist political ideologies in their tracks. I’m not sure that worked out too well but the building definitely screams conservative Catholic, but in a fashionable, easy on the eyes manner.
Slated for completion in 2026, this is one site anyone visiting Barcelona does not want to miss no matter how long you have in the city. The contrast between old and modern building techniques and materials makes the Sagrada Familia an intriguing and highly controversial homage to Catholicism. All entrance fees are funnelled directly into the completion and upkeep of the Sagrada. A worthy cause given the beauty awaiting you inside.
4) Barceloneta Beach
When in Spain and all that. After a long day’s sightseeing, give yourself a break and bask in the sunshine on one of Barcelona’s manmade beaches. This one is the closest to the city and located in the traditional fishing district.
5) La Seu
Image Source: Turismo Catalunya
Also known as the Cathedral of Barcelona. In the heart of Barcelona, dominating the Barri Gòtic, you’ll find this magnificent Gothic cathedral dating from the 13th century, although it wasn’t completed until the early 20th century – are you sensing a pattern here? For a bit of a spectacle be sure to stop by on a Sunday and experience the traditional sardanes dancing, traditional Catalonian folk dancing, in front of the cathedral. You won’t regret it.
Image SourceL Barcelona.com
Now Montjuïc is a hill. A hill that provides amazing views of the city granted but that’s not the most spectacular part. No, if you’re going to climb Montjuïc, although I’d recommend the cable cars, then you really need to do it for the park and the castle. And by castle, I mean fortress obviously. Atop the hill, you’ll find an old military fortress dating as far back as 1640. Infamous for its role in the Spanish Civil War as a prison, torture facility, and execution spot.
Although the museum inaugurated by Franco has been closed for some time, you can still enjoy the grounds and view the entire city from the roof.
7) Poble Espanyol
As far as museums go, I think I enjoyed this one the most. Poble Espanyol (translated Spanish Village) is an open-air museum of Spanish life. Originally opened in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition, the designers aimed to create the ideal Spanish village with aspects drawn from towns all over the Iberian Peninsula. It was such a success that the site never closed down. 117 buildings, streets, and squares portray different regions of Spain with 40 handicraft shops and an array of restaurant and bars.
8) Monserrat Monastery
If you’ve got time spare, then take a trip 45 km outside of the city confines and experience the spectacular beauty offered by the Montserrat mountain range which holds a Benedictine monk mountain retreat. As well as the scenery surrounding the monastery, visitors can lay eyes on works by major artists such as Monet, Dali, and El Greco. The area is also great for walks so be sure to allow enough time to enjoy everything it has to offer.
9) Monastery Pedralbes
Although if you are short on time and determined to visit one of Barcelona’s monasteries then the Monastery of Pedralbes, named for the stone originally used in its construction, dates to 1326 and currently houses collections denoting the history of Barcelona. The gothic monastery was gifted national monument status in 1991 and is considered one of the best examples of Catalan gothic architecture.
10) El Bosc de Les Fades
And when all that walking has worn you down, drink with the fairies at El Bosc de Les Fades, or as it’s more fondly known, the Fairy Bar. You’ll find this unique bar off Las Ramblas by the Wax Museum (it’s a little difficult to find). Its insides are decorated with running waterfalls with trees adorned with lights and fairies. Kick back and enjoy one of their delicious cocktails. Just don’t do what I did and text home claiming to see fairies. Those things make people worry it seems.
These are but a few of the sites Barcelona has to offer. There are many, many more and if you want to cover as much as possible, I’d recommend getting a two-day pass for one of the hop-on-hop-off buses. It’ll save you so much time.