9 Best Sights in Montjuic and Poble Sec, Barcelona

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The 1911 Casaramona textile factory, a neo-Mudejar Art Nouveau masterpiece by Josep Puig i Cadafalch (architect of Casa de les Punxes, Casa Amatller, and Casa Quadras), is now a center for temporary art exhibits, as well as concerts, live performances, and other cultural events. The original brickwork is spectacular, while a 2002 restoration added sleek white modern entryway designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, also responsible for the nearby Palau Sant Jordi. 

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Fundació Joan Miró

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Sculpture, Miro, Fundacio Miro, Barcelona, Spain
© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodor’s Travel

The masterpieces by native Barcelona artist Joan Miró (1893–1983) on display at this museum include paintings, sculpture, and textile works from all periods of his life. They coexist with temporary exhibitions of 20th and 21st century artists, and, in the newer Espai 13 space, cutting-edge contemporary art.

The airy white building, with panoramic views north over Barcelona, was designed by the artist's close friend and collaborator Josep Lluís Sert and opened in 1975. Extensions were added by Sert's pupil Jaume Freixa in 1988 and 2000. Miró's playful and colorful style, filled with Mediterranean light and humor, seems a perfect match for the surroundings. Various patios, as well as the roof terrace, are home to notable Miró sculptures, including the bronze Sun, Moon and one Star with a dramatic backdrop of the city. The artist rests in the cemetery on Montjuïc's southern slopes.

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Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

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Museu Nacional dArt de Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain
© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodor’s Travel

Housed in the imposingly domed, towered, frescoed, and columned Palau Nacional, built in 1929 as the centerpiece of the International Exposition, this superb museum was renovated between 1985 and 1992 by Gae Aulenti, architect of the Musée d'Orsay in Paris. In 2004, the museum's four holdings (Romanesque, Gothic, the photography collection, and the Cambó Collection—an eclectic trove, including a Goya, donated by Francesc Cambó) were joined by the 19th- and 20th-century collection of Catalan Impressionist and Moderniste painters. With this influx of artistic treasure, the Museu Nacional has become Catalonia's grand central museum.

Pride of place goes to the Romanesque exhibition, the world's finest collection of Romanesque frescoes, altarpieces, and wood carvings, most of them rescued from chapels in the Pyrenees during the 1920s to save them from deterioration, theft, and art dealers. Many, such as the famous Cristo de Taüll fresco (from the church of Sant Climent de Taüll in Taüll), have been painstakingly removed from crumbling walls of abandoned sites and remounted on ingenious frames that exactly reproduce the contours of their original settings. The stunning central hall of the museum contains an enormous pillared and frescoed cupola.

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Palau Nacional, 08038, Spain
Sight Details
Rate Includes: From €12 (valid for day of purchase and 1 other day in same month); free Sat. after 3 pm and 1st Sun. of month, Closed Mon.

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Castell de Montjuïc

Built in 1640 by rebels against Felipe IV, the castle has had a dark history as a symbol of Barcelona's military domination by foreign powers, usually the Spanish army. The fortress was stormed several times, most famously in 1705 by Lord Peterborough for Archduke Carlos of Austria. In 1808, during the Peninsular War, it was seized by the French under General Dufresne. During an 1842 civil disturbance, Barcelona was bombed from its heights by a Spanish artillery battery. After the 1936–39 civil war, the castle was used as a dungeon for political prisoners. Lluís Companys, president of the Generalitat de Catalunya during the civil war, was executed by firing squad here on October 14, 1940. In 2007 the fortress was formally ceded back to Barcelona.

An excellent visitor center highlights the history of the castle throughout the ages; other spaces are given over to temporary exhibits. The various terraces offer fantastic panoramic views over the city and out to sea. The moat, which contains attractive gardens, is the site of the popular summer Sala Montjuic Open Air Cinema ( www.salamontjuic.org), screening original versions of classic films with live music concerts before the showings.

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Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys

The Olympic Stadium was originally built for the International Exhibition of 1929, with the idea that Barcelona would then host the 1936 Olympics (ultimately staged in Hitler's Berlin). After failing twice to win the nomination, the city celebrated the attainment of its long-cherished goal by renovating the semi-derelict stadium—preserving the original facade and shell—in time for 1992, providing seating for 60,000.

Though you can view the stadium for free from the entrance area, the field and indoor areas are not normally open to the public. That said, tickets to a Barcelona Football Club ( www.fcbarcelona.com) match will get you in. The beloved team will be playing its home games here while Camp Nou undergoes a multiyear renovation (due for completion in Nov. 2024). You can also enter with a concert ticket; the stadium occasionally plays host to major acts like Coldplay and Harry Styles.

The nearby Museu Olímpic i de l'Esport, a museum about the Olympic movement in Barcelona, shows audiovisual replays from the 1992 Olympics, and provides interactive simulations for visitors to experience the training and competition of Olympic athletes. An information center traces the history of the modern Olympics from Athens in 1896 to the present. Next door and just downhill stands the futuristic Palau Sant Jordi sports and concert arena, designed by the noted Japanese architect Arata Isozaki.

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Mies van der Rohe Pavilion

One of the masterpieces of the Bauhaus School, the legendary Pavelló Mies van der Rohe—the German contribution to the 1929 International Exhibition, reassembled between 1983 and 1986—remains a stunning "less is more" study in interlocking planes of white marble, green onyx, and glass. In effect, it is Barcelona's aesthetic opposite to the flamboyant Art Nouveau/Modernisme of Gaudí and his contemporaries.

Note the mirror play of the black carpet inside the pavilion with the reflecting pool outside, and the iconic Barcelona chair designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) and Lilly Reich (1885–1947). Reproductions have graced modern interiors around the world for decades.

Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya

Just downhill to the right of the Palau Nacional, the Museum of Archaeology holds important finds from the Greek ruins at Empúries, on the Costa Brava. These are shown alongside fascinating objects from, and explanations of, megalithic Spain.

Passeig Santa Madrona 39–41, 08038, Spain
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €6; free first Sun. of month, Closed Sun. afternoon and Mon.

Plaça d'Espanya

This busy circle is a good place to avoid, but you'll probably need to cross it to get to the National Art Museum of Catalonia and other nearby Montjuïc attractions. It's dominated by the so-called Venetian Towers, built as the grand entrance to the 1929 International Exposition. They flank the lower end of the Avinguda Maria Cristina (the buildings on both sides are important venues for the trade fairs and industrial expositions that regularly descend on Barcelona).

At the far end is the Font Màgica (the Magic Fountain), which was created by Josep Maria Jujol, the Gaudí collaborator who designed the curvy and colorful benches in Park Güell, and which has a spectacular nighttime display of lights and music. The sculptures are by Miquel Blay, one of the master artists and craftsmen who put together the Palau de la Música. On the opposite side of the circle from the Towers, the neo-Mudejar bullring, Les Arenes, is now a multilevel shopping mall. 

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Poble Espanyol

Created for the 1929 International Exhibition, this faux Spanish village is a sort of open-air architectural museum, with 117 faithful replicas to scale of regional building styles, from an Aragonese Gothic-Mudejar bell tower to the tower walls of Ávila, drawn from all over Spain. The ground-floor spaces are devoted to boutiques, cafés and restaurants, workshops, and artist studios.

The liveliest time to come is at night, and a reservation at one of the half dozen restaurants gets you in for free, as does the purchase of a ticket for either of the two nightclubs or the Tablao del Carmen flamenco show. Its main square also functions as a concert venue, hosting well-known international bands like Bad Religion and Wilco.

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