These must-visit museums showcase some of the best art in Barcelona.
Spain is known for its artistic creativity and incredible history and much of that art and spirit is on display in Barcelona, in some of the country’s top museums. From the early works of Picasso to historical artifacts to Modernist sculpture, you can experience the artistic creativity of Spanish and Catalan artists in Spain’s most popular city.
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Museu Maritim de Barcelona
Spain’s reputation as a seafaring nation is legendary and–for better or worse–Spanish explorers crossed the globe and established a powerful empire. Venture inside this museum’s enormous vaulted chambers and you’ll find a veritable shrine to the country’s maritime history. The collection houses both art and artifacts in all forms, including navigational tools, nautical maps, paintings, and even entire ships. Keep an eye out for the exhibit on the Ictíneo I and Ictíneo II, two wooden submarines built in the 1800s.
While Pablo Picasso the man is an increasingly controversial figure, his art remains iconic both in terms of skill and originality of vision. The Museu Picasso, housed in five adjoining medieval stone mansions, has over 4,000 works in its permanent collection, making it one of the best places to explore the artist’s legacy. The collection features a substantial number of early works and highlights how Barcelona as a city influenced the artist.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC)
Like nearby Poble Espanyol, the palatial Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) was built as part of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition to showcase Spanish art and culture to the world. Today, the classical-style building–whose dome was modeled after St. Peter’s Basilica–houses a massive and diverse collection of Catalan and Spanish art from multiple styles and centuries, including medieval, Renaissance, and Modernist. At more than 50,000 square feet, there’s a lot of ground to cover so you’ll want to stay awhile.
Fundació Joan Miró
Located on Montjuïc hill (with a stunning city view from its terrace), and designed by architect Josep lluis Sert with surrealist artist Joan Miró, the minimalist Fundació Joan Miró building houses hundreds of paintings, sculptures, ceramics, and tapestries from the icon.
Fundació Antoni Tàpies
Atop the Catalan Modernist building which houses Fundació Antoni Tàpies and foundation sits Cloud and Chair, an enormous nest of steel and aluminum designed to represent a chair emerging from a large cloud. This work, as with the collections inside the museum–both permanent and rotating–reflects the abstract and avant-garde sensibilities of the artist, which are said to have been birthed during two teenage years spent recuperating from a tuberculosis-related heart attack. This museum’s role as both an exhibition spot for other artists, and a place to see its founders’ work, makes it an important center of art in Barcelona and a must-stop for those interested in Catalan Modernism.
Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)
A temple of modern Spanish and Catalan art, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) houses a rotating collection of approximately 5,000 pieces of art representing three distinct eras beginning in the mid-20th century. While the collection itself is noteworthy, the same can be said for the large “fridge-like” building whose enormous glass front is both an architectural feature and a way of allowing in natural light. The MACBA is a distinctive museum perfect for those looking for broad exposure to Spanish Modernism.
While MAPFRE is an insurance company based in Madrid, the company’s associated nonprofit–Fundación MAPFRE–maintains museums and exhibition halls featuring a rotating array of artists. The Barcelona Exhibition Hall, Casa Garriga Nogués, an exceptionally grand and elegant space, focuses on the early stages of modern painting (1850-1950) and on major photographers.
Museu d'Història de Catalunya
Dedicated to the history of Catalonia, the Museu d’Història de Catalunya’s exhibits examine the cultural, social, and political evolution of the region, from the Paleolithic era to contemporary society. Housed inside a former warehouse, this museum’s focus on photographs, artifacts, and historical recreations makes it an interesting departure from other museums in Barcelona. If you’re curious about what it means to be Catalan and to be from this part of the world, including during the era of the brutal military dictator Francisco Franco, this museum is a worthy stop.