Barcelona Spain is about as famous as a city can get and it’s not hard to figure out why. The capital of the autonomous community of Catalonia breaths a magical feeling and thus makes sure its millions of visitors fall in love over and over again. The city just about has it all: the Mediterranean Sea, heavenly food, inspiring art, and absolutely stunning architecture! You will often hear the locals call Barcelona Barca or Barsa.
Barcelona has a long and rich history, drenched – as is usual in Europe – in violent acquisitions and arranged marriages.
The origins of the settlement are unclear, but archeological findings seem to indicate a settlement as early as 5000 BC. Historians are still debating about who lived there and whether or not Hamilcar Barca (the father of Hannibal – yes, the Carthaginian warlord who defeated the Romans during the Punic wars, because he fought on elephants) was the founder of Barcino, later to be called Barcelona. It all gets a little clearer in the first century BC when the Romans claimed the city and even named it the capital of the region a couple of centuries later. Roman influences are still omnipresent in Barcelona today.
In the fifth century the Visigoths took over and it’s thanks to them that we can visit the city’s Gothic Quarter. In the eighth century, it was captured by the Moors, adding that Arabian touch.
After that, the region became divided into counties, with the county of Barcelona as the most important one. The later expansion resulted in the founding of Catalonia. Through marriage, Barcelona was added to the crown of Aragon, but as Madrid became the political center, Barcelona lost its dominance.
In the 17th century, Catalonia fought for its independence from Spain, but was later acquired by Napoleon and given back to the Spanish Crown after the fall of the French empire.
After the Industrial Revolution, the sky was the limit and Barcelona regained all its power and importance. Since 1977 Catalonia has been an autonomous province, however in October 2017, Catalonia’s president Puigdemont declared its independence after a referendum that was considered illegal by the Spanish government.
A crisis then followed as the Spaniards refused to accept this and Puigdemont fled to Belgium. The situation is still unresolved at the moment, however, traveling to Barcelona is not a problem at all.
Things To Do In Barcelona
As Barcelona is a massive city, there are heaps of stuff to be done! We’ll tackle the sights by dividing them into categories. This way you can pick a bit of everything or leave out the things that don’t interest you at all.
Barcelona Sightseeing – Architecture
Barcelona and Gaudí are inseparable and while in the city you have to visit at least one of the unique buildings of this architect slash artist. But not everything is about Gaudí: what makes Barcelona truly mesmerizing is the combination of Gothic and modern architecture. When you visit Barcelona, you will want to see the following Barcelona attractions:
The Sagrada Família: Impressive and stunning doesn’t even begin to describe the looks of this cathedral, which was adopted as the symbol of Barcelona. Construction started in 1882, but Gaudí took over control of the building process a year later, and it quickly became all he would work on. It was and is a massive project and it is (finally!) almost finished. 2026 should be the year that the cathedral is completely done. Take the stairs or elevator up to enjoy the amazing rooftop view! The Sagrada Familia is a Barcelona must-see. Get your ticket now.
The Cathedral of Barcelona: Built between the 13th and 15th centuries, this impressive cathedral was named after Barcelona’s patron saint Eulalia. Its majestic entrance can be found on the Pla de la Seu, which explains its local name of La Seu. The Cathedral is one of the main Barcelona tourist attractions.
Casa Battló & Casa Amatller: These two phenomenal mansions in the Eixample-neighborhood are well worth a visit on your Barcelona trip. The first was designed by Gaudí and is called House of Bones by the locals, as it kinda looks like a skeleton. It is said that the front represents the battle of Saint George and the dragon, whereas the roof is arched like the back of a dragon. The adjacent Casa Amatller was built by Puig I Cadafalch and clashes distinctively with its neighbor. It reminds a bit of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house as it was constructed to honor the chocolate factory background of the Amatller family. Get Casa Battlo tickets.
Park Güell: The communal areas of this colorful park have been designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect. The mosaics are one of Barca’s most known sights and are well worth a visit. To see Gaudí’s artwork, there is an admission fee, but the biggest part of the Park can be entered for free. As it is situated at a hilltop, you get some pretty great views of the city and the ocean too. It is one of the popular places to visit in Barcelona. Get your tickets here.
Things to do in Barcelona – Shopping & Wandering
Mercat de la Boquería: Right in the middle of the famous street Las Ramblas, you can find La Boquería, one of the biggest fresh markets in Spain and even in the world! More than 200 stands can be found under a giant 19th-century iron roof. Feel free to step in and take a look around. Expect a sensory overload of colors and smells, while you shop around the stalls for the best Mediterranean products. Ready meals and cooking workshops are a possibility as well. La Boqueria is one of Barcelona’s landmarks.
Las Ramblas: This 1.2 km long pedestrian street in the center of the city stretches all the way from Plaça de Catalunya until the oldest part of the harbor. Come here to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the boulevard with its living statues, flower shops, and overpriced restaurants.
You will definitely find yourself here at least once on your trip, but make sure to protect your personal items – this is the case for Barcelona in general but especially in busy places like Las Ramblas.
The Gothic quarter: This neighborhood might be the most charming part of Barcelona, with its maze of little streets and tranquil squares. You can learn more about Barcelona’s Jewish past, Picasso or simply wander around and absorb the charm.
With over 70 museums to choose from, everyone can find something to their liking. The ones most worth mentioning are:
- the Picasso Museum & the Miró museum: both artists spent a part of their life in the city
- the historical Museum of Catalunya: which covers the tumultuous history of the region
- the science museum CosmoCaixa: a perfect place to spend a rainy afternoon with kids
- the chocolate museum: learn about and taste some great chocolate
Sports & Relaxation
Camp Nou: Camp Nou is the home stadium of FC Barcelona and can seat up to almost 100 000 people. It was the venue for the soccer competition of the 1992 summer Olympics – where Spain gained the gold medal. Depending on your ticket, you can tour the stadium, visit the museum, get a guided tour or even sneak a peek into the changing room and get some professional photos. Many locals and tourists alike, can be found at Camp Nou or any bar in the city watching Fútbol club Barcelona play a match, especially when it is against Real Madrid. Get your private tour tickets here.
Barceloneta: when you’ve had your fill of architecture, culture, or just city life in general, head over to one of several Barcelona beaches. That’s right, Barcelona is situated on the Mediterranean, so in a couple of minutes you get to enjoy the sand between your toes. You won’t find any desolate beaches, but, hey, what more do you want 10 minutes on foot from Barcelona city center.
DAY TRIPS FROM THE CITY
If you want to broaden your horizon but you don’t feel like heading to the beach or into nature, Girona might be the place to be. It is often referred to as the Venice of Spain with both its rivers crisscrossing through the city. The bridges and explosion of colors complete the charming feeling. Oh, and added bonus: part of the 6th season of Game of Thrones was filmed here (there’s even a Game of Thrones walking tour!).
You can spend an entire city trip in Girona, so if you want to do this on a day trip, you’ll have to pick and choose. Wandering around the 14th -century city walls is one of the best attractions. But you can get lost in the well preserved Jewish quarter, admire the beautiful historical building,s and visit the Cathedral and the square in front of it as well.
May is an extra special month to visit Girona, as the streets are decorated with flowers for the flower festival Temps de Flor.
You can get to the city in only 38 minutes by highspeed AVE-train from the Barcelona Sants Renfe/subway station.
Figueres is the city to visit if you are a Dalí-lover. The small city is famous as the birthplace and resting place of the Surrealist painter. El Teatro de Figueres, the former theater, houses the prestigious Dalí-museum with the only remaining tower of de medieval walls, Torre Gorgot, as a part of it. The museum is definitely Figueres biggest attraction, but it is a charming city in itself as well.
You can reach Figueres by highspeed AVE-train from Barcelona Sants in a little less than an hour.
Hidden in the mountains of Catalunya lies the monastic community of Montserrat. The Santa Maria monastery became an important religious attraction as it contains a statue of the Virgin of Montserrat that was made out of black wood (hence its nickname: the Black Madonna).
But it does not only attract pilgrims. The mountain range is a perfect place for some quiet time after busy Barcelona. You can hike for hours, practice your rock-climbing techniques or you can just enjoy the scenic cable ride up the Montserrat mountain and stare in awe at the view from the top.
From Barcelona Sants, take the R4 to Martorell Central (35 min) and then the R5 to Monistrol de Montserrat (20 min). At this stop, you can take the funicular to get up to the monastery (15 min).
Get your Barcelona City Guide now.
If you are looking for better beaches than the Barcelona beaches near the city center, you can hop on the train and travel up or down along the coast. When you take the train in the direction of Maçanet-Massanes, you’ll head North into the Costa Brava. In about 15 minutes you’ll arrive at the first little beach town.
Should you just be looking for a relaxing beach feeling, then just about any town will do. There are, however, a couple of places that enforce a visit of their own:
Tossa de Mar is the last medieval village along the Costa Brava and offers stunning ocean views with a charming feeling. The largest beach Plaja Gran is colored with bobbing boats and sunbathers in summer, but make sure to discover the small, hidden bays in the area as well. Instead of the R1-train, you better take bus 2 from Barcelona’s Northern bus station. It should take you about 1 hour and 20 minutes to reach the town.
The former fishing village of Blanes combines picturesque bays and a pleasant promenade along the beach with a historical part. You can visit the castle San Juan which offers stunning views on Blanes and the coastline. The botanical gardens are well worth a visit too. During summer, the town hosts one of the most important fireworks festivals in Europe. To get to Blanes, take the R1 train, it takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes from Barcelona Sants.
Taking the R1 train in the Southern direction, it’s easy to step out and jump straight into the ocean. The long beaches tend to have finer sands and clearer waters than the ones at the Costa Brava and they are less steep, making it a better choice for travelers with (small) children.
Tarragona is the Costa Dorada’s own UNESCO world heritage site, filled with Roman ruins. Take the archeological walk through the city to encounter the most important ancient sights. Very impressive is the amphitheater overlooking the Mediterranean. But there is more to Tarragona than archeology: you can get lost in the tiny streets as well as explore the Jewish neighborhood, the buildings in Modernism-style and the boulevard along the beach. Tarragona can be reached in a little over an hour with the R-express train from Barcelona Sants. You can get there in 30 minutes as well with the high-velocity train AVE or ALVIA, but the station in Tarragona is another 15km from the city center.
Calafell is a charming holiday town that consists of 3 parts: the old city, the Segur quarter and Calafell Playa – the beach. That last one offers a wide stretch of sand that slowly descends into the sea, which makes it perfect for a day at the beach with kids. Calafell, the village is popular with tourists and locals alike, where everybody likes to stroll around the promenade or the pedestrian shopping streets. The most important sight of the town is the Santa Creu castle: a Medieval complex on a hilltop overlooking the ocean. To get to Calafell, take the R2S-train from Barcelona Sants, it should take you a little less than an hour.
ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT INFORMATION
- Barcelona is a big city – the second largest in Spain in fact. Top that with its fame and it won’t come as a surprise that you should look out for your personal items. Violent crimes are very rare, so no need to worry about your safety. However, do take extra measures for petty theft, because Barcelona holds the inglorious title of pickpocket capital of the world.
- Both Spanish (Espanyol) and Catalan are official languages in Barcelona. You can get along just fine with English as well.
- Barcelona weather is wonderful. The climate is the Mediterranean, which means it is hot and dry in the summer with average temperatures around 28°C. Winters aren’t too cold, as the city is protected from the harsh winds because of the Pyrenees. The average winter temperature is 13°C.
- As it is located in the Eurozone, the currency is the Euro.
- As in the rest of Spain, the traditional siesta is still enacted. This resting period during the hot hours of the day ensures that a lot of shops close up between 2 and 5 PM. However, in Barcelona, many supermarkets and department stores stay open during those hours.
- Lunch is the most important meal of the day and is generally eaten between 1 and 4 PM. Restaurants open for dinner between 8 and 11 PM.
HOW/ALTERNATE WAYS TO GET THERE
The most common way to reach Barcelona is by plane. In Europe, you can easily use low-cost airlines like Ryanair, Vueling or Easyjet to hop from one country to the other. Most airlines fly to the international airport of Barcelona – El Prat, however sometimes they use the airports of Girona or Reus. Always check beforehand, but as train connections are frequent and easy, that should be no reason for not booking your flight.
To get from the airport to the city center you can hop onto the R2N-train. It takes about 30 minutes to reach Barcelona Sants and a one-way ticket costs €6 (October 2019). An alternate way is to catch the blue Aerobus, which brings you – for €6 as well – to the Plaça de Catalunya.
You can reach Barcelona by train as well. Intercity trains are regular and fasts, so it’s easy to get around Spain. International trains are possible too. There is a direct connection with Paris (6h15), but if you don’t mind stepovers, you can get to just about anywhere in Europe.
In the last couple of years, long-distance buses became popular in Europe. Check out the companies Flixbus and Eurolines and discover all destinations from and to Barcelona.
- On the first Sunday of the month, you can visit most museums for free
- Barcelona tourism is high with about 8 million visitors a year, you can expect to spend a lot of time in lines. However, most sights sell their tickets online, so skip those lines and head straight to the entrance. (We avoided a waiting line of about 1h30 at the Aquarium by doing this!)
- Buying your tickets in advance is a good idea as well, as – especially in the summer months – tickets sometimes sell out.
- Use the subway system to get around the city. It is cheap (€10, for 10 rides) and very easy to use. Buses aren’t too difficult either, as the next stop is shown on an electronic board on the front of the bus.
- If you’re going to check out the major sights, buy a Barcelona city pass. For € 69,5 you receive a return transfer from the airport to the city center, entrance (without queues!) to the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, and an additional 20% on museums, Barcelona attractions, and Barcelona tours. Everything is arranged beforehand online, you just have to pick a date for the airport transfers and the days you want to visit the sights.
Written by Barbara Rodrigus
“Born for traveling” is how Babs likes to describe herself. Together with her wife Kath and their daughter Norah, she enjoys tropical beaches, charming little towns, and stunning hilltop views. Whenever they are not off traveling the world, the girls spend their time exploring home country Belgium. As part-time digital nomads, they are working on making Travel Gear for Kids big, a blog about travel equipment for children. They’ve recently traveled to the Costa Brava but spend a couple of days in Barcelona as well after their flight was canceled due to strikes and they couldn’t get home.