Destination guide: Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is one of the most cosmopolitan cities in Spain and Europe.

Barcelona offers an endless number of tourist attractions, such as the Gothic Quarter (where civic activities are carried out and where you can visit the remains of an ancient wall built during the Romen Empire), Gracia Street (built by Gaudi, who infused the city's streets with a touch of Modernism), the Olympic Port and, of course, the nightlife that makes this city so much fun. 

Plan your trip to Barcelona and get ready to enjoy the mildness of its Mediterranean climate, the charm of its historical sites and a diverse cultural scene.

  • Barcelona - Things to do

    Sights

    Casa Batlló

    If La Sagrada Família is his master symphony, then Casa Batlló is Gaudí’s whimsical waltz. The facade, sprinkled with bits of blue, mauve and green tiles, and studded with wave-shaped window frames and balconies, rises to an uneven blue-tiled roof with a solitary tower. The roof represents Sant Jordi (St George) and the dragon, and if you stare long enough at the building, it almost seems like a living being. Inside the main salon overlooking Passeig de Gràcia everything swirls. The ceiling is twisted into a vortex around a sun-like lamp. The doors, windows and skylights are dreamy waves of wood and coloured glass. The same themes continue in the other rooms and covered terrace. The roof, with its twisting chimney pots, is equally astonishing, and provides a chance for a close-up look at the St George-and-the-dragon motif that dominates the view from the street. Queues to get in are frequent and, on occasion, opening hours can be shortened, so try turning up early in the morning.

    Latitude: 41.3915901200000 / Longitude: 2.1648423670000
    Sub-Type: Modernista mansion
    Telephone Number: +34 93 216 03 06
    Opening Hours: 9am-8pm
    Pricing: adult/student, child & senior €17.80/14.25
    Address: Passeig de Gràcia 43 Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Passeig de Gràcia
    Website: www.casabatllo.es

    Església de Santa Maria del Mar

    The Església de Santa Maria del Mar is Barcelona’s finest Gothic church. Built in the 14th century, Santa Maria was lacking in superfluous decoration even before anarchists gutted it in 1909 and 1936. This only serves to highlight its fine proportions, purity of line and sense of space. You may occasionally catch an evening recital of baroque music

    Latitude: 41.3837432900000 / Longitude: 2.1819736960000
    Sub-Type: church
    Telephone Number: +34 93 319 05 16
    Opening Hours: 9am-1.30pm & 4.30-8pm
    Pricing: admission free
    Address: Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Jaume I

    La Pedrera

    Built between 1905 and 1910 as a combined apartment and office block, this is one of Gaudí’s undisputed masterpieces. Formally called the Casa Milà, after the businessman who commissioned it, it’s better known as La Pedrera because of its uneven grey-stone facade, which ripples around the corner of Carrer de Provença. The wave effect is emphasised by elaborate wrought-iron balconies.

    Queues are frequent, so early morning is the best time to try to get in. Visit the lavish top-floor flat, attic and roof, together known as the Espai Gaudí (Gaudí Space). The roof is the most extraordinary element, with its giant chimney pots looking like multicoloured sci-fi versions of medieval knights. In the attic, where you can appreciate Gaudí’s gracious parabolic arches, is a modest museum dedicated to his work. Models and videos bring to life explanations of each of his buildings. Downstairs on the next floor the apartment (El Pis de la Pedrera) spreads out.

    It is fascinating to wander around this elegantly furnished home, done up in the style that a well-to-do family might have enjoyed in the early 20th century. Don’t be surprised if you feel like moving in. Some of the lower floors of the building, especially the grand 1st floor, often host temporary expositions. On hot August evenings, La Pedrera usually stages a series of brief concerts on the roof.

    Latitude: 41.3951454517018 / Longitude: 2.1617424488068
    Sub-Type: Modernista mansion
    Telephone Number: +34 902 400973
    Opening Hours: 9am-8pm
    Pricing: adult/student & EU senior €10/6
    Address: Carrer de Provença 261-265
    Transportation
    Type: underground rail
    Details: Diagonal
    Website: www.fundaciocaixacatalunya.es

    La Sagrada Familia

    If you only have time for one sightseeing outing, this should be it. La Sagrada Família inspires awe with its sheer verticality and, in the true manner of the great medieval cathedrals it emulates, it’s still not finished after more than 100 years. Work is proceeding apace, however, and it might be done between the 2020s and 2040s. If the work should be carried on is the subject of controversy, but Spain’s most visited monument was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in late 2010.

    The main nave is now open for daily mass. Feathers were much ruffled by the high-speed train tunnel project, on which work began in 2010, that will pass in front of the church under Carrer de Mallorca. Church authorities fear that the tunnelling could damage the church’s foundations. You could spend a couple of hours in here – the more you scrutinize decorative details, the more you see. The church was the project to which Antoni Gaudí dedicated the latter part of his life. He stuck to a basic Gothic cross-shaped ground plan, but devised a temple 95m long and 60m wide, with capacity for 13,000 people.

    The completed sections and museum can be explored at leisure. Up to four daily guided tours (€4), lasting 50 minutes, are offered. You can enter from Carrer de Sardenya and Carrer de la Marina. Audioguides (€4) are available and it costs a further €2.50 per ride on the lifts that take you up inside one of the towers on each side of the church. Combined tickets with Casa-Museu Gaudí in Park Güell are available.

    Latitude: 41.4036279326324 / Longitude: 2.1743381023407
    Sub-Type: church
    Telephone Number: +34 93 207 30 31
    Opening Hours: 9am-8pm
    Pricing: adult/senior & student €12/10
    Address: Carrer de Mallorca 401
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Sagrada Família
    Website: www.sagradafamilia.org

    Museu Marítim

    The once mighty Reials Drassanes (Royal Shipyards) are now home to the Museu Marítim, a rare work of civil Gothic architecture that was once the launch pad for medieval fleets. The museum, together with its setting, forms a fascinating tribute to the seafaring that shaped much of Barcelona’s history. You can take a load off afterwards in the pleasant restaurant-cafe.

    The shipyards, first built in the 13th century, gained their present form (a series of long bays divided by stone arches) a century later. Extensions in the 17th century made them big enough to handle the construction of 30 galleons at any one time. In their shipbuilding days (up to the 18th century), the sea came right up to them.

    The centre of the shipyards is dominated by a full-sized replica (made in the 1970s) of Don Juan of Austria’s flagship. A clever audiovisual display aboard the vessel brings to life the ghastly existence of the slaves, prisoners and volunteers (!) who at full steam could haul this vessel along at nine knots.

    The museum was being largely overhauled at the time of research, so only part of the display was on show. It’s free on Sundays after 3pm.

    Latitude: 41.3764204222002 / Longitude: 2.1747865676561
    Sub-Type: Museum
    Telephone Number: +34 93 342 99 20
    Opening Hours: 10am-8pm
    Pricing: adult/senior & student €2.50/1.25
    Address: Avinguda de les Drassanes
    Transportation
    Type: underground rail
    Details
    : Drassanes
    Website: www.mmb.cat

    Eat

    Can Cortada

    More than anything else, it is the setting and the hearty welcome that make this 11th-century estate (complete with the remains of a defensive tower) worth the excursion. Try for a table in the former cellars or on the garden terrace. Lots of Catalan fare, like pollastre amb escamarlans (chicken and crayfish), dominates the menu.

    Sub-Type: Catalan
    Telephone Number: +34 93 427 23 15
    Pricing: meals €40
    Price Range: Moderate
    Address: Avinguda de l’Estatut de Catalunya
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Montbau
    Website: www.gruptravi.com

    Cerveseria Brasseria Gallega

    This traditional Galician eatery fills with locals surrounded by plates of abundant classics from Galicia. The fresh pulpo a la gallega (spicy octopus chunks with potatoes) as starter confirms this place as a cut above the competition.

    Latitude: 41.3931171500000 / Longitude: 2.1489234250000
    Sub-Type: Tapa
    Telephone Number: +34 93 439 41 28
    Opening Hours: Mon-Sat
    Pricing: meals €30
    Price Range: Moderate
    Address: Carrer de Casanova 238
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Hospital Clínico

    Restaurant Me

    The chefs here create superb Asian dishes with the occasional New Orleans and international intrusion. Some vegetarian options, like the banh xeo (Vietnamese pancake filled with bamboo, seitan and mushrooms), accompany such self-indulgent choices as stuffed New Orleans prawns with tartare sauce.

    Latitude: 41.3921600800000 / Longitude: 2.1515992050000
    Sub-Type
    : Pan-Asian
    Telephone Number: +34 93 419 49 33
    Opening Hours: lunch & dinner Tue-Sat, dinner Sun
    Pricing: meals €25-30
    Price Range: Moderate
    Address
    : Carrer de París 162
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details
    : Diagonal
    Website: www.catarsiscuisine.com

    Entertainment

    Dry Martini

    Well-dressed waiters serve up the best dry martini in town, or whatever else your heart desires, in this classic cocktail lounge. Sink into a leather lounge and nurse a huge G&T.

    Latitude: 41.3923123461874 / Longitude: 2.1539318561554
    Type: Drink
    Sub-Type: cocktail bar
    Telephone Number: +34 93 217 50 72
    Opening Hours: 5pm-3am
    Address: Carrer del Consell de Cent 247
    Transportation Type: train
    Details: FGC Provença
    Website: www.drymartinibcn.com

    Harlem Jazz Club

    This narrow, smoky, old-town dive is one of the best spots in town for jazz. Every now and then it mixes it up with a little rock, Latin or blues. There are usually two sessions in an evening.

    Latitude: 41.3809142879566 / Longitude: 2.1783399581909
    Type:
    Night
    Sub-Type: music bar
    Telephone Number: +34 93 310 07 55
    Opening Hours: 8pm-4am Tue-Thu & Sun, 8pm-5am Fri & Sat
    Pricing: admission up to €10
    Address: Carrer de la Comtessa de Sobradiel 8
    Transportation
    Type: underground rail
    Details: Drassanes
    Website: www.harlemjazzclub.es

    Sala Tarantos

    This basement locale is the stage for some of the best flamenco to pass through Barcelona. You have to keep an eye out for quality acts, otherwise you can pop by for the more pedestrian regular performances. The place converts into a club later.

    Latitude: 41.3797340400000 / Longitude: 2.1750571730000
    Type: Night
    Sub-Type: music bar, Flamenco
    Telephone Number: +34 93 319 17 89
    Opening Hours: performances 8.30pm, 9.30pm & 10.30pm daily
    Pricing: admission from €7
    Address: Plaça Reial 17
    Transportation Type: underground rail
    Details: Liceu
    Website: www.masimas.net

    Events Overview

    Whether it’s being chased by fire-spitting demons or joining parades of giants, meandering through the decorated streets of Barcelona’s barris (neighbourhoods) with beer in hand, or crowding into a mega-concert at the Fòrum, the city proffers a plethora of festivals.

    Many are steeped in colourful tradition, while others are modern affairs focused on concerts, theatre or sport. Some envelop the entire city; other lively local festes are limited to a particular barri. Events take place throughout much of the year, although there is more activity in the warmer months.

    January

    Any Nou/Año Nuevo (New Year’s Day)

    Like Cap d’Any/Noche Vieja (New Year’s Eve) anywhere, this occasion can create but not always fulfil expectations. Many locals arrange parties in their homes as restaurants, bars and clubs fill to bursting and charge like wounded bulls. Rowdy folks also gather around Plaça de Catalunya.

    Reis/Reyes

    Epifanía (Epiphany) on 6 January is also known as the Dia dels Reis Mags/Día de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings’ Day), or simply Reis/Reyes, perhaps the most important day on a Barcelona kid’s calendar. According to tradition, this is when they receive gifts (although Christmas has made heavy inroads). The holiday itself is quiet, but on 5 January children delight in the Cavalcada dels Reis Mags (Parade of the Three Kings), a colourful parade of floats and music.

    Festes dels Tres Tombs

    A key part of the festival of Sant Antoni Abat, the patron saint of domestic and carriage animals, is this Feast of the Three Circuits, a parade of horse-drawn carts in the Eixample near the Mercat de Sant Antoni every 17 January.

    February

    Barcelona VisualSound

    This 10-day festival brings together audiovisual creators in a celebration of emerging stars in the making of anything from video to multimedia art.

    www.bcnvisualsound.org

    BarnaSants

    Each year the city’s main live-music venues host a bevy of Spanish and Latin American singer-songwriters for concerts spread over a period from the end of January until about mid-March.

    Carnestoltes/Carnaval

    Celebrated in February or March, this festival involves several days of fancy-dress parades and merrymaking, ending on the Tuesday 47 days before Easter Sunday. The Gran Rua (Grand Parade) takes place on the Saturday evening from 5.30pm. Down in Sitges a much wilder version takes place. The gay community stages gaudy parades and party-goers keep the bars and clubs heaving for several days running.

    Festes de Santa Eulàlia

    Coinciding roughly with Carnival, this is the feast of Barcelona’s first patron saint, Eulàlia (or ‘la Laia’ for short). The Ajuntament (town hall) organises a week of cultural events, from concerts through to performances by castellers (human-castle builders).

    www.bcn.cat/santaeulalia

    Festival de Jazz

    A major season of jazz concerts from mid-February to mid-March in the nearby city of Terrassa.

    www.jazzterrassa.org

    March /April

    Divendres Sant/Viernes Santo (Good Friday)

    Transport yourself to southern Spain with the Easter processions from the Església de Sant Agustí in El Raval on Good Friday. They start at 5pm and end in front of La Catedral three hours later.

    Ral.li Barcelona-Sitges

    Dozens of classic cars converge on Barcelona towards the end of March for this annual rally. You can see the cars on show on the Saturday morning in Plaça de Sant Jaume, or position yourself on the route here or in Sitges.

    www.rallyesitges.com

    Dia de Sant Jordi

    Catalonia celebrates the feast of its patron sain, St George, on 23 April. At the same time, the Dia del Llibre (Day of the Book) is observed – men give women a rose, women give men a book, publishers launch new titles and La Rambla and Plaça de Sant Jaume fill with book and flower stalls.

    Feria de Abril De catalunya

    Andalucía comes to town with this traditional southern festival staged by and for the city’s big Andalucian population. It lasts for about a week from late April and has recently been held in the Fòrum.

    Festival de Música Antiga de Barcelona

    A month-long festival of ancient music, which reaches back centuries and across cultures to create a varied series of concerts at l’Auditori.

    www.auditori.com

    May

    L’ou com Balla

    A curious tradition, the ‘Dancing Egg’ is an empty shell that bobs on top of the flower-festooned fountain in the cloister of La Catedral. This spectacle is Barcelona’s way of celebrating Corpus Christi (the Thursday following the eighth Sunday after Easter Sunday).

    Festa de Sant Ponç

    To commemorate the patron saint of bee-keepers and herbalists, locals fill Carrer de l’Hospital in El Raval on 11 May with the chatter and bustle of a street market.

    Primavera Sound

    For three days in late May (or early June) the Auditori Fòrum and other locations around town a host of international DJs and musicians.

    www.primaverasound.com

    Festival de Flamenco de Ciutat Vella

    One of the best occasions to see great flamenco in Barcelona, this festival is held over four days at the CCCB. In the district of Nou Barris, a smaller three-day festival is usually held around the middle of the month in a local civic centre. Keep your eyes open for flyers.

    www.tallerdemusics.com

    June

    Sónar

    Sónar is Barcelona’s celebration of electronic music and is said to be Europe’s biggest such event. Locations and dates change each year.

    www.sonar.es

    De Cajón Festival Flamenco

    A major flamenco fest running for a week in June and early July in one of the city’s major venues.

    www.theproject.es

    Festival del Grec

    Passeig de Santa Madrona; [metro] Espanya

    This eclectic programme of theatre, dance and music runs for most of the summer. Performances are held all over the city, including at the Teatre Grec amphitheatre on Montjuïc from which the festival takes its name.

    www.barcelonafestival.com

    Dia de Sant Joan/Día de San Juan Bautista

    The night before the Feast of St John the Baptist (24 June), the people of Barcelona hit the streets or hold parties at home to celebrate the Berbena de Sant Joan (St John’s Night), which involves drinking, dancing, bonfires and fireworks.

    Dia per l’Alliberament Lesbià i Gai

    Día del Orgullo Gay (Gay Pride Day) celebrations take place on the Saturday nearest 28 June and are a boisterous affair, centering on a demonstration and party on Plaça de l’Universitat.

    July

    Summercase

    Since 2006 this weekend music festival in mid-July has drawn huge crowds for top contemporary acts (among those in 2008 were M.I.A., Primal Scream, Blondie and, in revival, The Stranglers) to the Parc del Fòrum.

    www.summercase.com

    August

    Festa Major de Gràcia

    This local festival, which takes place over about nine days around 15 August, is one of the biggest in Barcelona. More than a dozen streets in Gràcia are decorated by their inhabitants as part of a competition for the most imaginative street. People pour in to listen to bands in the streets and squares, fuel on snacks and drink at countless street stands.

    www.festamajordegracia.org

    Festa Major de Sants

    The district of Sants launches its own week-long version of decorated mayhem, held around 24 August, hard on the heels of Gràcia.

    Festes de Sant Roc

    For four days in mid-August, Plaça Nova in the Barri Gòtic becomes the scene of parades, correfoc (fire race), a market, traditional music and magic shows for kids.

    September

    Diada Nacional de Catalunya

    Catalonia’s national day commemorates, curiously, Barcelona’s surrender on 11 ­September 1714 to the Bourbon monarchy of Spain, at the conclusion of the War of the Spanish Succession.

    Festes de la Mercè

    This four-day fest sparks a final burst of pre-winter madness. Nostra Senyora de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy), Barcelona’s co-patron saint, is celebrated in the city’s festa major. There’s a swimming race across the harbour, a fun run, outstanding free concerts (such as Barcelona Acció Musica, or BAM; www.bcn.cat/bam) and a bewildering programme of cultural events. Adding to the local colour are all the ingredients of a major Catalan festa: castellers, sardanes (traditional Catalan folk dancing), parades of gegants and capgrossos (giants and big heads), and a huge correfoc.

    www.bcn.cat/merce

    Weekend Dance

    This two-city dance-music festival takes place over a weekend in Madrid and ­Barcelona’s Parc Forùm. Half the bands play each in one city the first night and swap over for the other.

    www.weekendance.es

    Mostra de Vins i Caves de ­Catalunya

    An excellent chance to taste a wide range of Catalan wine and cava, this expo is usually held at Maremàgnum over four days towards the end of September.

    Festa Major de la Barceloneta

    Barcelona’s party-goers usually have only a short wait until the next opportunity for merrymaking. Although on a small scale, La Barceloneta’s gig, to celebrate the local patron saint, Sant Miquel, on 29 September, lasts about a week and involves plenty of dancing and drinking (especially on the beach).

    October

    Festival de Tardor

    Four days of live music, workshops and more in bars and other locations around La Ribera.

    www.weekendance.es

    November

    Festival Internacional de Jazz de Barcelona

    For most of the month, the big venues (from the Auditori down) across town host a plethora of international jazz acts. At the same time, a more home-spun jazz fest takes place for about a month in bars across Ciutat Vella.

    www.theproject.es

    December

    Nadal/Navidad (Christmas)

    Catalans tend to have their main Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, although many have a big lunch the following day. An odd event to mark the occasion is the annual (freezing) 200m swimming dash from Maremàgnum to the Moll de les Drassanes.

    Primavera Club

    The winter equivalent of Primavera Sound in May.

    www.primaverasound.com