Things to Do in Catalonia
Sagrada Familia, a UNESCO World Heritage site and Antoni Gaudi’s magnum opus, is undoubtedly the most iconic structure in Barcelona (and the most popular, with nearly 3 million visitors per year). Construction has been ongoing for more than 135 years, and the surreal structure, with its rainbow-hued stained glass windows, is slated for completion in 2026. Even in its unfinished state, it remains an absolute must-see for every visitor to the Catalan capital.
Antoni Gaudi spent 15 years designing and building the whimsical fountains, mosaic benches, pedestrian walkways, and gingerbread house-like buildings within Park Güell, one of the seven Works of Antoni Gaudi buildings that together make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Along with the Sagrada Familia, the hilltop public park sits at the top of Barcelona’s must-see list, and for good reason. The Art Nouveau wonderland adorns many a postcard of the city.
One of Antoni Gaudi’s most intriguing creations, the spectacular Casa Mila—also known as La Pedrera (The Quarry) because of its wave-like stone exterior—caused some controversy among critics when it was first unveiled back in 1910. Today, however, Casa Mila is considered a masterpiece of Catalan Modernisme, with gaggles of visitors coming to see its surreal sculptural roof terrace, the re-created early 20th-century interiors of the Pedrera apartment, and the attic-level Espai Gaudi exhibit, which is devoted to the great Catalan architect’s work.
Located about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Barcelona is Montserrat Mountain, the 'Serrated Mountain.' This unique rock formation, sawed and sculpted by thousands of years of wind and rain, is most famously home to a Benedictine monastery, an important Catholic pilgrimage spot thanks to its 12th-century wooden statue of La Moreneta (The Black Madonna), Catalonia's patron saint. Aside from its religious and cultural importance, the mountain also boasts unbeatable views from its peaks.
Passeig de Gràcia is one of the most beautiful—and expensive—avenues that runs through the center of Barcelona. The thoroughfare links the Placa Catalunya in the Eixample district to the eponymous Gracia neighborhood, and is home to a number of fantastic modernista and art nouveau buildings, including some stunners by Antoni Gaudí.
One of Barcelona’s most fanciful buildings, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by celebrated Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and is nicknamed the “House of Bones” for its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars. Casa Batlló’s interior is equally mind-boggling, featuring rippled walls, exquisite tile work, and sculpted fireplaces.
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) dates back to the Middle Ages, and the neighborhood’s age is evident in its narrow winding roads, shady plazas, and beautiful architecture (including three major cathedrals). Passersby find gems tucked away in the nooks and crannies off the narrow streets—think trendy restaurants, chic bars, and boutique shops. The area's proximity to the La Rambla pedestrian mall also contributes to its popularity among the young, nightlife-loving crowd.
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of the Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (Catedral de Barcelona) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. The cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a Gothic portico where 13 geese wander.
Barcelona's most famous street, Las Ramblas runs from the Columbus Monument in Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya. To walk its tree-shaded pedestrian expanse is to be inundated with sensation: souvenir hawkers selling beach blankets and trinkets, street performers posing for selfies with tourists, florists adjusting their arrangements, restaurants serving tapas and paella at al fresco tables, and artists painting caricatures for passersby. It's a microcosm of Barcelona, and it's almost always busy, day or night.
Old and new Barcelona meet in Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya), the famous plaza in the heart of the city. Two massive avenues, La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia, converge here too, as do many walking tours and other groups. The square is located near some of Barcelona’s top attractions and is filled with cafés, bars, and restaurants.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
Flanked by the Torre Mapfre and Hotel Arts skyscrapers, the Port Olímpic was built as part of the area’s redevelopment in preparation for the 1992 Olympics. With its proximity to the beach and its iconic public art (including Frank Gehry’s Peix), it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city and a busy marina.
The baroque facade of the Girona Cathedral (Catedral de Girona) stands at the top of a grand staircase, high above the old city. The structure was built between the 11th and 18th centuries in a variety of styles: The cathedral boasts a Romanesque cloister and tower, Gothic nave (the widest of its kind in the world), and a baroque exterior.
One of the oldest neighborhoods in Barcelona is also one of the trendiest. El Born features character-rich streets lined with tapas bars, quaint bistros, and artsy clubs that give this area a bohemian vibe. Its proximity to many of Barcelona’s top attractions, such as Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter, make El Born an ideal place to stay.
The heart of Barcelona’s Old Town, Plaça del Rei is the city’s best preserved medieval square. The 14th-century Palau Reial Major (Royal Mayor Palace), which dominates the square was home to the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon. The Plaça is now an unofficial open-air museum of fine gothic architecture.
One of Barcelona’s most impressive architectural feats and renowned for its spectacularly ornate interiors, the Palace of Catalan Music (Palau de la Música Catalana) is one of the city’s most popular concert halls. Built in 1908 by Catalan art nouveau architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the venue hosts a range of traditional Catalan folk music performances.
St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral (Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar) stands at the end of Passeig del Born as one of Barcelona’s most magnificent Catalan Gothic churches. Built in the 14th century, the cathedral is characterized by its architectural elegance and harmony. A highlight is the 15th-century stained-glass rose window.
One of Europe’s largest and busiest cruise ports, Barcelona welcomes more than 2.5 million cruise passengers each year to its docks at the foot of Las Ramblas. The Catalan capital makes a popular stop and starting point for Mediterranean cruises, including liners operated by Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, MSC, and Costa.
Overlooking southwest Barcelona, Montjuic Park (Parc de Montjuïc) is the city’s green hilltop getaway, packed with history and attractions, including the historic Jewish Cemetery, 17th-century Montjuic fortress, National Museum of Catalonian Art, Joan Miró Foundation, and the replica Spanish village known as Poble Espanyol.
Located in the Raval district and just steps from Las Ramblas, Güell Palace (or more commonly, Palau Güell) is one of Antoni Gaudí’s first major works. Commissioned by his main patron, Eusebi Güell, for his private residence, it’s acclaimed for its innovative use of space, light, and materials and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Barcelona’s oldest and most popular park, Ciutadella Park (Parc de la Ciutadella) is a picturesque expanse of greenery with several attractions. Its landmark Arc de Triomf, designed by Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, serves as the monumental gateway to the park’s northern entrance, and the park is also home to a boating lake, the Barcelona Zoo, Catalan Parliament, two museums, and a much-celebrated series of sculptures.
With its jumble of stone-brick houses clinging to the edge of a soaring basalt cliff and a backdrop of forested mountains, the tiny town of Castellfollit de la Roca offers some striking photo opportunities. From afar, this is one of Catalonia’s most unmistakable postcard images, but looking out from the 50-meter-high clifftop provides an equally mesmerizing view, spanning the lush valleys of the Fluvia and Toronell rivers.
Despite its magnificent location, Castellfollit de la Roca has little more than 1,000 inhabitants, making it one of Catalonia’s smallest towns and the smallest in Girona. Visitors, however, are plentiful and the narrow streets, medieval squares and 13th-century church of St. Salvador offer a fascinating glimpse into a time long gone.
With its signature red-and-white neo-Mudéjar brickwork, the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona stands tall in the center of the wide Passeig de Lluís Companys. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca, it originally served as the entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, which took place at the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella.
Girona, one of Catalonia’s most atmospheric towns, is also home to one of the world’s best-preserved Jewish quarters, known as El Call. This neighborhood dates back to the 12th century when Girona was home to a thriving Jewish community. Its maze of medieval streets and narrow back alleys hasn’t changed much in the centuries since.
Some shorelines have lighthouses; Barcelona has the Columbus Monument (Mirador de Colom). Standing 197 feet tall — the top 24 feet of which make up the statue of Columbus himself — the tower is quite hard to miss, especially given its prominent position at the end of Las Ramblas, and along the marina.The monument of Columbus (Colom in Catalan, or Colón in Spanish) was erected in 1888 for the Universal Exposition and in honor of the famous explorer, who returned here after his first expedition to the Americas. Much discussion is made of where he is pointing: some have thought he points to the New World, while others say he points east to his supposed home of Genoa — in reality, however, it seems he points southeast and therefore to nothing in particular but the sea, where he was probably most at home. On your visit here, admire the grand statue from below, or get a look at Columbus’s bird’s-eye view by taking the elevator up to the lookout platform.
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