Vibrant and artistic, Barcelona moves to the beat of its own drum. A convergence of Gaudí’s candy-colored modernisme, hidden Gothic gems, a lively tapas bar scene and sunny Mediterranean influence—there is so much to discover. Here are five can’t-miss sights that show off the many sides of this dynamic city, known to locals simply as “Barça.”
1. Port Olímpic
Originally built for the sailing events of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games, today the port is a bustling marina lined with restaurants, cafes and water sports rentals. It’s a popular spot for both travelers and locals alike and serves up some of the city’s best seafood. Take a seat, enjoy dinner that’s fresh from the sea and take in the views of the boats, the twinkling Mapfre Tower and the bold goldfish sculpture at the base of the Hotel Arts.
2. Park Güell
A wonderland of vibrant mosaic structures and wooded paths, Park Güell is more than your standard park. It was originally meant to be a luxury residential complex helmed by Count Güell, but the housing project was unsuccessful and only two residences were built, one of which became home to the park’s visionary designer, Antoni Gaudí, and his family. Count Güell was an avid fan and deep-rooted friend of Gaudí, and also one of the few Spanish elite who saw the brilliance in Gaudí’s work. Although the sprawling land was used for events, it remained a private estate until after Güell’s death when it was given over to the city as a public park. Today, it’s unlike any other site in the world. Beyond the serpentine sculptures and spectacularly colored tiles of the park itself, its location on the sea-facing side of Mount Carmel offers unbeatable panoramic views of the Barcelona cityscape below.
Montjuïc is the hill at the southwestern edge of the city overlooking the harbor, which can be reached by a funicular. The hilltop has several interesting sites worth exploring any time of day: Olympic stadiums, a 17th-century castle fortress and the Palau Nacional, which houses renowned paintings and sculptures in the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. If you visit during the evening, the Magic Fountain is the must-see site of the hill. Taking on new life at nightfall, the fountain features synchronized jets, colored lights and music.
4. La Sagrada Família
Considered the personal masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí, and perhaps the whole Catalan Modernisme movement, La Sagrada Família remains incomplete and under construction to this day. The structure is slated to be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. The exterior design uses catenary arches, a Gaudí signature, to support the church’s towering facade, while the interior features a web of twisting columns representing a forest canopy. Visitors can walk among the unfinished church and even travel up the towers.
5. Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas, the web of streets extending from the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard named La Rambla, is an always-lively area full of shops, restaurants and street vendors. It’s a whole feast for the senses—the pavement is inlaid with mosaics, the sidewalks are lined with street performers and the air is fragrant with the aromas of nearby tapas bars. While La Rambla includes attractions such as the Liceu opera house and La Boquería market, the dynamic atmosphere of the actual street is the biggest draw of the area.
6. La Boquería
A kaleidoscope of bright colors, La Boquería market is stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables, local seafood, meats and sugary confections. Popular among travelers and locals alike, visitors can make their way through a maze of packed stalls, sampling and shopping along the way. The history of La Boquería is far-reaching: a market has stood at this site dating back to 1217 and has evolved through several iterations.
Have you been to Barcelona? What was on your must-see list? Tell us in the comments below!