145 Best Sights in Barcelona, Spain

Plaça del Pedró

This landmark in medieval Barcelona was the dividing point where ecclesiastical and secular paths parted. The high road, Carrer del Carme, leads to the cathedral and the seat of the bishopric; the low road, Carrer de l'Hospital, heads down to the medieval hospital and the Boqueria market, a clear choice between body and soul. Named for a stone pillar, or pedró (large stone), marking the fork in the road, the square became a cherished landmark for Barcelona Christians after Santa Eulàlia, co-patron of Barcelona, was crucified there in the 4th century after suffering the legendary 13 ordeals designed to persuade her to renounce her faith—which, of course, she heroically refused to do. As the story goes, an overnight snowfall chastely covered her nakedness with virgin snow. The present version of Eulàlia and her cross was sculpted by Barcelona artist Frederic Marès and erected in 1951. The bell tower and vacant alcove at the base of the triangular square belong to the Capella de Sant Llàtzer church, originally built in the open fields in the mid-12th century and used as a leper hospital and place of worship after the 15th century when Sant Llàtzer (St. Lazarus) was officially named patron saint of lepers. Flanked by two ordinary apartment buildings, the Sant Llàtzer chapel has a tiny antique patio and apse visible from the short Carrer de Sant Llàtzer, which cuts behind the church between Carrer del Carme and Carrer Hospital.

Plaça Sant Jaume

Facing each other across this oldest epicenter of Barcelona (and often on politically opposite sides as well) are the seat of Catalonia's regional government, the Generalitat de Catalunya, in the Palau de La Generalitat, and the City Hall, the Ajuntament de Barcelona, in the Casa de la Ciutat. This square was the site of the Roman forum 2,000 years ago, though subsequent construction filled the space with buildings. The square was cleared in the 1840s, but the two imposing government buildings are actually much older: the Ajuntament dates from the 14th century, and the Generalitat was built between the 15th and mid-17th century. 

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Plaça Sant Just

To the left of city hall, down Carrer Hèrcules (named for the mythical founder of Barcelona) are this square and the site of the Església de Sant Just i Pastor, one of the city's oldest Christian churches. Although the present structure dates from 1342, and nothing remains of the original church, founded in 801 by King Louis the Pious, early Christian catacombs are reported to have been found beneath the plaça. The Gothic fountain was built in 1367 by the patrician Joan Fiveller, then the city's Chief Minister. (Fiveller's major claim to fame was to have discovered a spring in the Collserola hills and had the water piped straight to Barcelona.) The fountain in the square bears an image of St. Just, and the city and sovereign count-kings' coats of arms, along with a pair of falcons. The entryway and courtyard to the left of Carrer Bisbe Caçador are for the Palau Moixó, the town house of an important early Barcelona family; down Carrer Bisbe Caçador is the Acadèmia de Bones Lletres, the Catalan Academy of Arts and Letters. The church is dedicated to the boy martyrs Just and Pastor; the Latin inscription over the door translates into English as "Our pious patron is the black and beautiful Virgin, together with the sainted children Just and Pastore."

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Platja de la Barceloneta

Reached by walking down Passeig Joan de Borbó and turning left at Plaça del Mar, the adjacent beaches of Barceloneta and Sant Miquel are the easiest to get to and hence the busiest—though they're also the most fun for people-watching. Note that itinerant beach vendors can be a nuisance, and pickpocketing has become increasingly problematic in recent years. The calm waters are easy for swimming, and there are several companies that provide surfing and paddleboard rentals and lessons. Take note of Rebecca Horn's contemporary sculpture of towering, rusting cubes, L'Estel Ferit, a popular meeting spot on Sant Miquel beach. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming; walking; paddleboarding; surfing (mostly in winter).

Platja de la Mar Bella

Closest to the Poblenou metro stop, this is a thriving gay enclave and the unofficial nudist beach of Barcelona (although clothed bathers are welcome, too). The water-sports center Base Nàutica de la Mar Bella rents equipment for sailing, surfing, and windsurfing. Outfitted with showers, drinking fountains, and a children's play area, La Mar Bella also has lifeguards who warn against swimming near the breakwater. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; nudists; LGBTQ beachgoers; swimming; windsurfing.

Passeig Marítim del Bogatell, 08005, Spain

Platja de la Nova Icària

One of Barcelona's most popular beaches, this strand is just east of Port Olímpic, with a full range of entertainment and refreshment venues close at hand. The wide beach is directly across from the neighborhood built as the residential Olympic Village for Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Games, an interesting housing project that has now become a popular residential neighborhood. Vendors prowl the sand, offering everything from sunglasses to cold drinks to massages. Pickpocketing has been an issue here, too, so keep an eye on your belongings. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets; water sports. Best for: partiers; swimming; walking; windsurfing.

Platja de Sant Sebastià

Barceloneta's most southwestern platja (at the very end of Passeig Joan de Borbó), Sant Sebastià is the oldest and most historic of the city beaches; it was here that 19th-century locals cavorted in bloomers and bathing costumes. Despite repeated attempts to "clean up" Sant Sebastià, it remains a popular unofficial nudist spot. The famous sail-shaped W Barcelona hotel stands at the far south end. Amenities: food and drink; lifeguards; showers; toilets. Best for: partiers; swimming.

Passeig Maritim de la Barceloneta s/n, 08003, Spain

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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Port de Barcelona

Port Olímpic

Beyond the Columbus monument—behind the ornate Duana (now the Barcelona Port Authority headquarters)—is La Rambla de Mar, a boardwalk with a drawbridge designed to allow boats into and out of the inner harbor. La Rambla de Mar extends out to the Moll d'Espanya, with its ultra-touristy Maremagnum shopping center (open on Sunday, unusual for Barcelona) and the excellent Aquarium. Next to the Duana you can board a Golondrina boat for a tour of the port and the waterfront Trasmediterránea and Baleària passenger ferries leave for Italy and the Balearic Islands from the Moll de Barcelona; at the end of the quay is Barcelona's World Trade Center and the Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel.

Port Olímpic

The Olympic Port is 2 km (1 mile) up the beach from Barceloneta and is marked by the mammoth shimmering goldfish sculpture by starchitect Frank Gehry, with the towering five-star Hotel Arts just behind. A swath of swanky beachfront nightclubs line the promenade here and farther up is a marina packed with oversized yachts. Much of the area is undergoing a significant overhaul, with renovations scheduled to last until the summer of 2024. These include a reimagining of the various docks and piers to make them more accessible to the public and replacing the glut of seedy bars along the Moll de Mestral with a wider variety of businesses. 

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Port Vell

From Pla del Palau, cross to the edge of the port, where the Moll d'Espanya, the Moll de la Fusta, and the Moll de Barceloneta meet (Moll means docks). Just beyond the colorful Roy Lichtenstein sculpture, the modern Port Vell complex—home to the aquarium and Maremagnum shopping mall—stretches seaward to the right on the Moll d'Espanya. The Palau de Mar, with rows of pricey, tourist-oriented quayside terrace restaurants (La Gavina or Merendero de la Mari are okay if you must), stretches down along the Moll de Barceloneta to the left. The rather soulless Maremagnum complex is noteworthy if only for being one of very few shopping options that remains open on Sunday.

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Portaferrissa Fountain

Both the fountain and the ceramic representation of Barcelona's second set of walls and the early Rambla are worth studying carefully. If you can imagine pulling out the left side of the ceramic scene and looking broadside at the amber yellow 13th-century walls that ran down this side of the Rambla, you will see a clear picture of what this spot looked like in medieval times. The sandy Rambla ran along outside the walls, while the portal looked down through the ramparts into the city. As the inscription on the fountain explains, the Porta Ferrica, or Iron Door, was named for the iron measuring stick attached to the wood and used in the 13th and 14th centuries to establish a unified standard for measuring goods. The fountain itself dates to 1680; the ceramic tiles are 20th century.

Portaferrissa 2, 08002, Spain

Projecte SD

Eixample Esquerra

This gallery, located in one of the Eixample's most beautiful little passages, doesn't go easy on its visitors. No show at Projecte SD can be grasped without the explanatory booklet; no piece of art can be fully appreciated in isolation. The pieces exhibited and sold here are complex, philosophical, challenging, and bleedingly conceptual—anything but simply decorative. Projecte SD is really more of a museum than a gallery. That makes every visit an experience and every purchase an audacious act of faith.

Passatge Mercader 8, Barcelona, 08008, Spain
+34-93-488–1360
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Closed Sun. and Mon.

Reial Cercle Artístic

This private fine-arts society, at the bottom of Portal de l'Angel, where it divides and leads off left to the Cathedral, has an art gallery, as well as a restaurant and bar open to the public. It also offers drawing and painting classes and occasional film showings and concerts. Note the elegant Gothic details of the main entrance, with its heavy keystone arch, the stone carvings inside to the right in the Sala Güell, and the stairway sculptures. The El Cercle restaurant upstairs has an intimate feel, though the service can be inconsistent; the best option here is a drink or a light lunch on the terrace, overlooking the passing throngs.

Sala Dalmau

Eixample Esquerra

An old-timer in the established Consell de Cent gallery scene, Sala Dalmau shows an interesting and heterodox range of Catalan and international artists.

Sant Agustí

El Raval

This unfinished church is one of Barcelona's most unusual structures, with jagged stone sections projecting down the left side, and the upper part of the front entrance on Plaça Sant Agustí waiting to be covered with a facade. The church has had an unhappy history: originally part of an Augustinian monastery, it was first built between 1349 and 1700. It was later abandoned and rebuilt only to be destroyed in 1714 during the War of the Spanish Succession, rebuilt again, then burned in the antireligious riots of 1825 when the cloisters were demolished. The church was looted and torched once more in the closing days of the Civil War. Sant Agustí comes alive on May 22, feast day of Santa Rita, patron saint of "los imposibles," meaning lost causes. Unhappily married women, unrequited lovers, and all-but-hopeless sufferers of every sort form long lines through the square and down Carrer Hospital. Each carries a rose that will be blessed at the chapel of Santa Rita on the right side of the altar.

Pl. Sant Agustí s/n, Barcelona, 08001, Spain
+34-93-318–3863

Sant Miquel del Port

Have a close look at this baroque church with its modern (1992), pseudo-bodybuilder version of the winged archangel Michael himself, complete with sword and chain, in the alcove on the facade. (The figure is a replica; the original was destroyed in 1936.) One of the first buildings to be completed in Barceloneta, Sant Miquel del Port was begun in 1753 and finished by 1755 under the direction of architect Damià Ribes. Due to strict orders to keep Barceloneta low enough to fire La Ciutadella's cannon over, Sant Miquel del Port had no bell tower and only a small cupola until Elies Rogent added a new one in 1853. Interesting to note are the metopes: palm-sized gilt bas-relief sculptures around the interior cornice and repeated outside at the top of the facade. These 74 Latin-inscribed allegories each allude to different attributes of St. Michael. For example, the image of a boat and the Latin inscription "iam in tuto" (finally safe), alludes to the saint's protection against the perils of the sea.

Sant Pere de les Puelles

Sant Pere

One of the oldest medieval churches in Barcelona has been destroyed and restored so many times that there is little left of its past to see except the beautiful stained-glass window that lets light into the stark interior. The word puelles is from the Latin puella (girl); the convent here was known for the beauty and nobility of its young women, and was the setting for some of medieval Barcelona's most tragic stories of impossible love. Legend has it that the puellae, when threatened with rape and murder by the invading Moors under Al-Mansur in 986, disfigured themselves by slicing off their own ears and noses in an (apparently futile) attempt to save themselves.

Lluís El Piadós 1, Barcelona, 08003, Spain
93-268–0742
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Rate Includes: Weekdays 9 am–1 pm and 5–7:30 pm, Sat. 9 am–1 pm and 4:30–6 pm, Sun. 11 am–3:15 pm

Sarrià

Sarrià

Originally a cluster of farms and country houses, Sarrià is now a premier residential neighborhood overlooking Barcelona from the hills. Start an exploration at the main square, Plaça de Sarrià—the site of Tuesday antique and bric-a-brac markets; Sunday morning sardana dances; Christmas pageants; and concerts, book fairs, and artisanal food and wine events at various times during the year. The 10th-century Romanesque Church of Sant Vicenç dominates this square, and its bell tower, illuminated on weekend nights, is truly impressive. Across Passeig de la Reina Elisenda from the church is the Mercat de Sarrià, a Moderniste gem built in 1911, with its intricate brickwork facade, wrought-iron girders and stained-glass windows.

On the cobblestone street behind the Mercat is the Centre i Teatre de Sarrià ( Pare Miquel de Sarrià 8  93/03–9772) a fixture in the village for the past 125 years, with a lovely 340-seat theater (it has red plush seats and gilded fixtures) that hosts a wide range of programs, films, dance performances, and drama—and two or three times a year, professional opera. The Centre also has an indoor café and a pleasant terrace fronting the theater, just right for a short break in your village ramble.

From the square, cut through the Placeta del Roser to the left of the church to the elegant Town Hall (1896) in the Plaça de la Vila. Note the buxom bronze sculpture of Pomona, goddess of fruit, by famed Sarrià sculptor Josep Clarà (1878–1958). Follow tiny Carrer dels Paletes, to the left of the Town Hall (the saint enshrined in the niche is Sant Antoni, patron saint of paletes, or bricklayers). Turn right on Major de Sarrià, the High Street of the village and then left onto Carrer Canet. The two-story row houses on the right—built for workers on the village estates—and the houses opposite at Nos. 15, 21, and 23 are among the few remaining original village structures in Sarrià.

Turn right at the first corner on Carrer Cornet i Mas and walk two blocks down to Carrer Jaume Piquet. On the left is No. 30, Barcelona's most perfect small-format Moderniste house. Thought to be the work of architect Domènech i Montaner, it features faux-medieval upper windows, wrought-iron grillwork, floral and fruited ornamentation, and organically curved and carved wooden doors either by or inspired by Gaudí himself. The next stop down Cornet i Mas is Sarrià's prettiest square, Plaça Sant Vicens, a leafy space ringed by old Sarrià houses and centered on a statue of Sarrià's patron St. Vicenç, portrayed (as always) beside the millstone used to sink him to the bottom of the Mediterranean after he was martyred in Valencia in AD 302. Can Pau, the café on the lower corner with Carrer Mañé i Flaquer, is the local hangout, once a haven for authors Gabriel García Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa, who lived in Sarrià in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Other Sarrià landmarks include the two Foix de Sarrià pastry shops, one at Plaça Sarrià 12–13 and the other at Major de Sarrià 57, above Bar Tomás. The late J. V. Foix (1893–1987), son of the shop's founder, was one of the great Catalan poets of the 20th century, a key player in keeping the Catalan language alive during the 40-year Franco regime. The shop on Major de Sarrià has a bronze plaque identifying the house as the poet's birthplace and inscribed with one of his most memorable verses, translated as, "Every love is latent in the other love / every language is the juice of a common tongue / every country touches the fatherland of all / every faith will be the lifeblood of a higher faith."

Temple d'August

The highest point in Roman Barcelona is marked with a circular millstone at the entrance to the Centre Excursionista de Catalunya, a club dedicated to exploring the mountains and highlands of Catalonia on foot and on skis. Inside the entryway on the right are some of the best-preserved 1st- and 2nd-century Corinthian Roman columns in Europe. Massive, fluted, and crowned with the typical Corinthian acanthus leaves in two distinct rows under eight fluted sheaths, these columns remain only because Barcelona's early Christians elected, atypically, not to build their cathedral over the site of the previous temple. The Temple of Augustus, dedicated to the Roman emperor, occupied the northwest corner of the Roman Forum, which coincided approximately with today's Plaça Sant Jaume.

Tibidabo

Tibidabo

One of Barcelona's two promontories, this hill bears a distinctive name, generally translated as "To Thee I Will Give." It refers to the Catalan legend that this was the spot from which Satan tempted Christ with all the riches of the earth below (namely, Barcelona). On a clear day, the views from this 1,789-foot peak are legendary. Tibidabo's skyline is marked by a neo-Gothic church, the work of Enric Sagnier in 1902, and—off to one side, near the village of Vallvidrera—the 854-foot communications tower, the Torre de Collserola, designed by Sir Norman Foster. If you're with kids, take the San Francisco–style Tramvía Blau (Blue Trolley) from Plaça Kennedy to the overlook at the top, and transfer to the funicular to the 100-year-old amusement park at the summit.

Tibidabo

One of Barcelona's two promontories bears a distinctive name, generally translated as "To Thee I Will Give." It refers to the Catalan legend that this was the spot from which Satan tempted Christ with all the riches of the Earth below (namely, Barcelona). On a clear day, the views from this 1,789-foot peak are legendary.

Tibidabo's skyline is marked by a neo-Gothic church, the work of Enric Sagnier in 1902, and—off to one side, near the village of Vallvidrera—the 854-foot communications tower, the Torre de Collserola, designed by Sir Norman Foster. If you're with kids, take the San Francisco–style Tramvía Blau (Blue Trolley) from Plaça Kennedy to the overlook at the top, and transfer to the funicular to the 100-year-old amusement park at the summit.

Universitat Central

Eixample Esquerra

Barcelona's Central University was built between 1863 and 1882 by Elies Rogent. In its neo-Romanesque style alluding, no doubt, to classical knowledge, the university's two-tiered Pati de Lletres (Literary Patio) is its most harmonious element, along with the vestibule, gardens, and Paraninfo (main assembly hall). Originally founded as a medical school in 1401 by King Martí I (dubbed "the Humane"), the university was exiled to the town of Cervera 100 km (62 miles) west of Barcelona in 1717 by Felipe V as part of his reprisal for Catalonia supporting the Habsburg contender in the War of the Spanish Succession. The town became Catalonia's version of Oxford or Cambridge until the university was invited back to Barcelona in 1823.

Vallvidrera

This perched village is a quiet respite from Barcelona's headlong race. Oddly, there's nothing exclusive or upmarket—for now—about Vallvidrera, as most well-off barcelonins prefer to be closer to the center. From Plaça Pep Ventura, in front of the Moderniste funicular station, there are superb views over the Vallvidrera houses and the Montserrat. Vallvidrera can be reached from the Peu Funicular train stop and the Vallvidrera funicular, by road, or on foot from Tibidabo or Vil·la Joana. The cozy Can Trampa at the center of town in Plaça de Vallvidrera, and Can Martí down below are fine spots for a meal.

Zoo

La Ciutadella

Barcelona's zoo occupies the whole eastern end of the Parc de la Ciutadella. There's a superb reptile house and a full assortment of African animals.