Things to Do in Barcelona
Montjuïc is the hill situated on the southwestern border of Barcelona. The name of the hill translates to "Mountain of the Jews," which refers to the Jewish cemetery and possible settlement there at one time. Home to Barcelona's World Exhibition in 1929 and then the 1992 Olympics, Montjuïc has been developed to include a number of attractions, including museums, theatres and clubs. An old castle still stands on the hill as well, dating back to days when political prisoners were executed en masse by the Spanish government.
Popular attractions include the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and CaixaForum, both of which house interesting collections of art, ranging from medieval to modern. Other famous points of interest are the Poble Espanyol - Spanish Village - and Joan Miro museum. Come nightfall, find people from all over the city perched on ledges to watch the spectacle that is La Font Magica show, a colorful water display in the main fountain that is set to music.
The oldest building in the city’s grand Pedralbes quarter, dating back to 1326, the church and monastery of Monestir de Pedralbes is now a museum and remains one of the city’s most stunning examples of religious architecture. Named for its characteristic white stones (pedres albes), the complex is acclaimed for its Catalan Gothic style, featuring a central courtyard garden, herb garden and fountain. The monastery, which once housed the nuns of the Franciscan Order of Saint Clare, was commissioned by the wife of James II of Aragon, Queen Elisenda, who famously took up residence in the monastery after her husband’s death.
Those interested in uncovering some of Barcelona’s rich religious history will find wandering the museum of the Monestir de Pedralbes an enlightening experience, devoted to showcasing the lives of the nuns who served in the building during the 14th century.
There are many reasons to head up to Montjuïc hill’s Olympic Ring, and Palau Sant Jordi is certainly one of them. Designed for the 1992 Olympics, the indoor stadium played host to events including gymnastics, handball, volleyball, as well as various competitions during the Paralympics.
On the outside the structure looks like a square spaceship of sorts, and on the inside it’s nothing but beautiful light that pours through the building’s famous window-checkered ceiling. Today the stadium — which can hold over 16,000 people — still hosts top sports competitions, as well as events, and high-profile concerts for artists ranging from U2 to Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna. Go there to see a show yourself, or simply to admire Palau Sant Jordi’s exterior as you explore the Olympic Ring and its other sights, including the Olympic Stadium and Esplanade.
Though Egypt may not come to mind when you think of Barcelona, think again, as the city’s Egyptian Museum displays an impressive collection of some 1,000 ancient artifacts from the African country. The pieces once belonged to the museum’s founder, Catalan Jordi Clos, and are now on display in the intimate and relatively crowd-free galleries found just off the main drag of Passeig de Gracia.
The diverse permanent collection spans everything from ceramics to jewelry, mummies, and a host of items related to the culture and funeral practices. Meanwhile, rotating exhibitions offer other themed looks into Egypt’s distant past. Cap off your visit with a snack at the outdoor terrace and a visit the museum’s Egypt-inspired store.
The quirky one-time abode of eccentric traveler Frederic Mares is now a museum devoted to his lifetime’s collection of artifacts – a fascinating space crammed with an eclectic array of curiosities. Open by Mares in 1948 to display his collection, the museum was bequeathed to the city after his death in 1991 and quickly gained acclaim as one of Barcelona’s most distinctive attractions.
If you’re looking for a glimpse into the lifestyle of Barcelona’s upper-class throughout the 20th-century, the Frederic Mares Museum, or Museu Frederic Marès, offers a unique perspective, including a range of daily objects like ticket stubs, train tickets, period clothing, pipes and handbills. The sculpture gallery, featuring a prominent collection of Hispanic works spanning the pre-Roman period to the late 19th century, is one of the most talked about exhibitions, including a fascinating series of polychrome holy carvings.
Showcasing the plant life of six different Mediterranean climate areas and the Canary Island, the Botanical Garden of Barcelona allows for a trip around the world in one place. Vegetation from Australia, South Africa, Chile, and California over 14 hectares make this one of the city’s biggest parks, and a great place to escape the hectic energy of urban life. The Mediterranean theme allows for a closer comparisons of plants growing in a similar climate worldwide.
The park works to preserve a diverse collection plant species, of which there are over 1,500. There is a fascinating sensory garden which emphasizes touch and smell, as well as a collection of medicinal plants. A wide paved path allows for a leisurely stroll through the different sections. Those interested in local plant life will enjoy the orchard consisting of typical Catalan vegetables.
The Gaudí House Museum (Casa Museu Gaudí) was the home of architect Antoni Gaudí for the last 20 years of his life (1906-1926). It was opened to the public as a museum in 1952 to celebrate the centennial of his birth year.
The house itself was built under Gaudí's direction, the pink exterior and dramatic spire reflecting the artist's unique style. Inside the house, the rooms have been maintained to look how they did while inhabited by Gaudí. Pieces of furniture the artist designed fill the house, and walls are covered with his drawings and other original artwork. There is also a quaint garden behind the house featuring sculptures and an archway by Gaudí.
The highest mountain in the Collserola range surrounding Barcelona, Tibidabo Mountain offers one of the city’s most famous viewpoints, towering 520 meters between the coastal city and the vast Catalonian hinterlands. A tram line runs half way up the slopes of Tibidabo but to get to the summit, you’ll need to change to the cogwheel railway that runs up to the summit.
Tibidabo’s biggest draw is its spectacular 360-degree panoramic views, taking in the city center, the Mediterranean coastline and stretching inland as far as Montserrat on a clear day. At the summit there are a number of options for viewing points, with the most popular being the Sagrat Cor Cathedral tower, a neogothic style basilica dating back to the early 20th-century, and the Torre de Conserolla, a futuristic television tower and observation deck located at the summit. Alternatively, the Parque d’Atraccions offers a thrilling way to take in the view, a popular amusement park.
The latest addition to the Barcelona Science Museum, Museu Blau opened its doors in 2011, and is housed in the landmark Forum Building - a futuristic blue building designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron.
Devoted primarily to natural history, the highlight of the Museu Blau is a vast permanent exhibition entitled Planet Life, chronicling the history of life on earth through fascinating interactive displays and multimedia exhibits. More than 4,500 items are on display, including animal fossils, dinosaur skeletons, rocks and minerals, along with the skeleton of a whale beached on Catalan shores in 1862.
The 9,000-square-meter museum also features temporary exhibition space, a kid’s discovery zone and a small Mediterranean garden, plus a café and gift shop.
More Things to Do in Barcelona
Entertainment, culture, history, and even a scare — these are all things you can expect to find at the Barcelona Wax Museum. Housed in a fancy 19th-century neoclassical palace of sorts, the museum is home to over 300 characters, both real and fictitious.
Wandering the museum’s exceptionally staged galleries, you’ll come face to face with a range of noteworthy figures, such as kings and queens, politicians, and painters, singers and actors. From Albert Einstein to Catalan surrealist Salvador Dali, and frightful personalities such as Frankenstein, there’s no shortage of surprising characters that will stand in your path. The quirkiness doesn’t stop at the wax figures, either, as the museum also has two eccentric cafés — one in the theme of a forested fairytale, the other an avant-garde paradise of origami.
Down the centuries the Port de Barcelona has played a strategic role in the development of the city it serves; its geographical location on the Mediterranean Sea made it an important trading port that brought great wealth into Catalonia. Today it is a major stopover on cruising itineraries as well as the base for ferry services to the Balearic Islands and Mediterranean ports such as Rome, Genoa and Algiers; it is currently being extended in a development that will see it double in size and capacity.
Port Vell is adjacent to the ferry port, an historic area of fishing fleets and marinas into which new life was breathed in 1995; it is Barcelona’s number-one spot for destination shopping and dining, strolling along the seafront promenades and taking boat trips out onto the Med. It’s also the place to learn about Catalan history in the sprawling 19th-century Palau de Mar and travel by cable-car high above Barcelona to the museums and Olympic stadium at Montjuïc.
The sister museum to Madrid’s popular CaixaForum cultural center, CaixaForum Barcelona was inaugurated in 2002 and has since made a name for itself as one of the city’s premium modern art galleries. With a permanent exhibition that features over 700 thematically displayed works, it’s one of the biggest modern art collections in Spain, including works by Salvador Dalí, William Turner, William Hogarth, Joseph Beuys and Sol Lewitt. Along with its 5 exhibition rooms, the center also houses a 350-seat auditorium, a children’s art workshop and a café-restaurant, and hosts a number of temporary exhibitions, art workshops, film showings and concerts.
Even the building itself is impressive, a former factory building designed by Puig I Cadafalch in 1910, which stands opposite the stylish Mies van der Rohe pavilion. Resembling a modernist castle with its intricate crenellated brickwork, the dramatic building now features a striking metal and glass canopy frontage.
Tucked away among the countless alleyways and courtyards of Barcelona’s atmospheric Barrio Gotico (Gothic Quarter) east of Las Ramblas, triangular George Orwell Square is named after the English author whose novel Homage to Catalonia was published in 1938 after he had spent six months fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He lived in the square briefly and a small plaque marks his house. Formerly a grungy backwater of the Barrio, the square has been radically refurbished and cleaned up alongside much of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old City), and now has a lively, Bohemian atmosphere; it is surrounded by tall, narrow townhouses decorated with wrought-iron balconies and by cafés, bars and (many vegetarian) restaurants, whose tables spread out on to the square in sunny weather. Standing tall in the center of the square is a bizarre, swirling metal installation by Surrealist Catalan sculptor Leandre Cristòfol.
This delicious museum tells the story of chocolate across Europe, including its history, trade, manufacturing, and various uses. It traces the origins back to South America, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadores. Since the 15th century chocolate played an important role in Barcelona’s economy, with the import and export through its port. Historically the city soldiers were even given pieces of chocolate with bread for breakfast.
It is one of the city’s smaller museums, but is in the top ten in terms of visitors. Fun chocolate experiences, from sculpting or painting with chocolate, are on display. Many of the sculptures are famous Barcelona landmarks made of chocolate. Those who visit do indeed receive a piece of chocolate upon entering, but the smell of chocolate permeates long before then. Tastings are very much part of the experience, so be sure to come hungry.
Barcelona is filled with parks and unique art, and the Parque del Laberinto de Horta is one of the city’s oldest and least well known. The historic artistic gardens are part of a large former estate, containing both an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th century romantic garden. The neoclassical garden was designed with the help of an Italian architect, while the romantic garden added details such as gazebos, waterfalls, and additional beds of colorful flowers.
Once the site of garden parties and socialite events, it was handed over to the city of Barcelona by the Devalls family in 1967. Visitors can still see the original mansion that the family once lived in, built in neogothic and neoarabic styles. A stroll throughout the grounds offers views of the many classical statues, fountains, Italian-style pavilions, and the hedge maze that gives the garden its name.
This small museum is the only one dedicated to displaying Catalan modernisme art. It was converted from a textile factory in 2010, and exhibits some of the finest pieces of art nouveau furniture constructed in Catalunya. Most of the collection comes from two antique dealers, who have added their private collection to be shared with the public. There are over 350 works of art across several mediums, with premier modernista artists like Ramón Casas, Joan Busquets, and of course, Antoni Gaudi. A range of everything from paintings and sculptures to decorative arts and furniture can be found. The museum has become a bit of a cultural center for the city, unique to showcasing this very specific type of art created right in Catalunya. The museum is housed in a modernista building designed by architect Enric Sagnier, with original floors kept intact. Don’t miss Gaudi’s couch designed in the shape of lips, or the exquisite stained glass on the first floor.
The Barcelona Pavilion was built for the city’s 1929 International Exposition by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and stands today as important building for both the city and the modern architecture movement. It once served as the official opening for the German section of the exhibition, and is now admired for its simple design and intelligent use of special materials. It was constructed in less than one year, following World War I, with materials such as travertine, Greek marble, steel, glass, and golden onyx. Its emphasis on simplistic structure and minimalism makes this a peaceful place to visit, and still a model of expert design.
Perhaps the highlight of a visit to the Barcelona Pavilion is the prestigious and iconic Barcelona Chair, also designed by Mies van der Rohe. The Barcelona Chair was purposefully designed and keeps with the minimalistic style of the building. The Barcelona Pavilion continues to inspire modernist artists all over the world.
Music lover or not, you’re bound to walk away singing a satisfied tune after visiting this museum. Barcelona’s Museu de la Musica sets out to take visitors on an educational and sweet-sounding tour through the evolution of music across culture and time — and all via its on-display collection of some 500 instruments.
While exploring the museum’s exhibits, you’ll have the chance to check out one of the world’s most important collections of classic guitars, and even play some tunes yourself on various instruments via an interactive gallery. The experience is all the more rich given the themed itineraries, including one for the general public, another for youngsters, and others that are more specialized.
Opened in 1906 as a part of the Royal Academy of Arts and Science of Barcelona, the Teatre Poliorama continues to be a center of Catalan culture and arts. With around 700 seats, the formerly cinematic theater is a smaller, more intimate venue. Designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà, it first opened in 1894. Historically the theater played films, with the introduction of mostly Catalan stage productions after its renovation in 1903.
Many important Catalan performances premiered here until the Spanish Civil War. During the war the building was seized and became the scene of armed battles recounted in Hemingway’s ‘Homage to Catalonia.’ Today the theater holds regular performances of both opera and flamenco, often with live music. There are also musicals and comedy shows shown on occasion. The clock located at its entrance is considered to be the official time of Barcelona to which everyone sets their watch to. It was the first electrical clock in the city.
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