A stunning medieval city with a remarkable history, Barcelona is visited by around 32 million tourists per year. Many are drawn in by the rich culture, incredible architecture and interesting attractions on offer, with the picturesque landscape providing breathtaking views. Partly why the city is such a popular destination is down to its ability to cater to every demographic of visitor; from groups of friends looking for a vibrant city break to culture lovers, families and couples. Whether you’re looking to recline on a relaxing beach, undergo the adventure of climbing for unmatched views, or take in the culture embedded in the city, Barcelona is the perfect place to find it all.
History and architecture
Barcelona is renowned worldwide for the stunning architecture that lines its streets, with many of the buildings in the bustling centre being inspired by Modernist and Art Nouveau movements. Built up throughout the 19th century after the demolition of medieval walls that surrounded the civilisation, this moment marked a transformation point for the city from a military place with limited growth to a major cultural centre brimming with vibrancy.
The main attractions of the city are concentrated into the centre and focused around the renowned Ramblas promenade. With a variety of street performers, food vendors and stalls to grab a souvenir, ambling down La Ramblas in the afternoon is a remarkable experience. The city was revitalised following their hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games and has since seen great development of both businesses growing in the area and improvements made to the infrastructure of the city.
Things to do
- Take in Gaudí’s works
One of the most famous architects in the world, the extraordinary buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí have become a staple of Barcelona and are a must-see during your visit. It’s well worth making the short journey to take in the astonishing Sagrada Familia. A walk through the city can take you to Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. Nearby, Park Güell boasts a colourful space perfect for families.
- Visit the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is a highlight of the city and has become an astonishing mix between traditional buildings and modern architecture. The labyrinth of narrow streets and vast choice of quirky restaurants and bars found along the way makes this a great location to explore.
- See the skyline from the peak of Montjuïc
The view from the Montjuïc hill is unparalleled. Cable cart rides are available to experience the incredible city from a unique perspective. With a beautiful fountain and various places to eat in the vicinity, a trip up the hill is a great way for those looking for a more adventurous way to spend their day.
- Picasso Museum
Home to one of the most extensive collections of Pablo Picasso’s works, the Picasso Museum is the perfect place for art lovers to spend an afternoon. It’s worth noting that the museum is closed on Mondays, and it is recommended to buy tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
- Relax on the beach
A staple of every luxury getaway, Barcelona boasts some beautiful beaches. Barceloneta is the most famous spot, famed for its long stretch of sand. For a quieter location, Bogatell is the oldest beach in the city and boasts golden sands without the huge crowds. If you’re after a more unconventional experience, with a visit to Sant Sebastia you’ll find an unofficial nudist beach.
- Hit the shops
Barcelona is famed for the variety of shopping options, ideal for a mid-break retail therapy session. Though there are a range of retail outlets available, La Boqueria is a unique experience where you can find fresh and locally-sourced produce. A famous traditional market, stalls range from colourful fruit and vegetables to a rainbow of confectionary and other treats.
What to eat
When dining in Barcelona, small plates are paramount. Many of the bars serve a wide variety of hot and cold pintxos on toothpicks with patrons helping themselves to whichever delicious treats take their fancy and only paying for the number of toothpicks they have acquired in the process. These bars can get incredibly busy but also provide a lively and sociable evening scene.
Start your night at Euskal Etxea – one of the oldest pintxos bars in the city – with a glass of txakoli (a distinctive local white wine). Bar hopping around the Gothic Quarter is also highly encouraged. However, those not wanting to venture far from the beach should dine at La Fonda del Port Olimpic. Despite its tourist-leaning location along the seafront, this charming traditional restaurant is as equally popular with the locals. Order the seafood paella to share for a Catalan take on the Valencian classic.
As the evening nears, Barcelona is a buzzing scene. With trendy clubs to calmer bars, there are ways to spend the night to suit every pace. Lively cocktail bars provide a great place to mix with locals and tourists alike, while La Whiskeria Cocktail Bar offers a quieter and more sophisticated experience. Enjoying a craft beer at CocoVail Beer Hall also creates a calmer atmosphere, great for groups to relax and wind down.
Venturing out to the Gothic Quarter will reveal some less tourist-populated spots, with quirky bars and pubs to be found on every corner. For a trendy scene, Clubhaus in El Born offers a bar and restaurant with table tennis and karaoke, with a nightclub frequented by younger groups ready to party. Heading into Eixample, you’ll find a thriving gay scene which is so popular it has earned the area the nickname ‘Gay-xample’.