There are so many Barcelona attractions that you’ll struggle to visit them all during a short break. Your best bet is to spend some time researching the city and decide a list of priorities so as to ensure that you get to the main sights. Certainly the Sagrada Familia should appear at the top of your list along with some of Gaudi’s other masterpieces such as La Pedrera, Casa Batllo and Parc Guell. In addition, you’ll want to spend a few hours wandering around the Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter and heading over to Port Vell at the end of the Ramblas. The city’s hop-on, hop-off tourist buses depart from Plaça de Catalunya and are a great way to get around all the main sights.
Barcelona’s main tourist attraction is Gaudi’s architecture which is spread out all over the city. The highlight is the magnificent Sagrada Familia Cathedral but there are plenty more stunning buildings designed by Gaudi including La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà) and Casa Batlló which are both on Passeig de Gràcia and can easily be reached on foot from Plaça de Catalunya at the top of the Ramblas. Another highlight is Park Güell which is best accessed by using the Barcelona City Hop-on Hop-off Tour.
In Plaça de Catalunya (Plaça de Catalunya,14) there’s a huge El Corte Inglés department store. Take the escalator to the 9th floor café/restaurant and marvel at the amazing view up Passeig de Gracia and over the rooftops of Modernist Barcelona. It’s a good place to take a break and to work out your bearings.
It’s more than likely that you’ll be staying near the Ramblas on your stay in Barcelona. It will be central to your daily activity and nights out. It is a long boulevard which joins the Monument a Colom (Columbus monument) by the port to Placa de Catalunya. All day long you’ll find all kinds of buskers and mime artists in action as well as stalls selling flowers, newspapers, birds and rabbits. Look out for Palau de la Virreina, a grand 18th-century mansion, which is next to the Boqueria market.
The Boqueria market (Mercat de la Boqueria) is one of Europe’s great food markets, and is well worth well worth a visit. It’s a good spot to visit at breakfast time for excellent Spanish tortilla at one of the internal bars near the back. Further south is Barcelona’s Opera house (Gran Teatre del Liceu) after which the Ramblas begins to get seedy as you approach the sea with peep shows and the like. La Rambla ends at the Columbus Monument which you can go up in a lift for spectacular views up the Ramblas and across the harbour.
At the bottom of La Rambla beyond the Columbus Monument is the bustling area of Port Vell. This was formerly the old port of Barcelona but today is an ultra modern leisure zone with bars, restaurants, shopping arcades, the Barcelona Aquarium and an Imax cinema. Another fun thing to do down here is to take a boat excursion on one of the ‘golondrinas’ which takes you around the harbour and along to Port Olímpic where the sailing events at the 1992 Olympic Games took place.
La Barceloneta & Port Olímpic
If you’re happy strolling around just continue north along the seafront from Port Vell until you reach Barceloneta. Traditionally this was the living area of the port’s fishermen and is still a heavily populated area of narrow streets criss crossing one another with washing hung out to dry from the upstairs windows of run down looking apartments. In spite of its earthy appearance it has become a popular place to visit attracting many locals and tourists to its fine selection of fish restaurants lining Passeig de Joan Borbò. Where the sea meets la Barceloneta you’ll find Barcelona’s best sandy beaches which were created as part of the city’s pre-Olympics regeneration programme. They are very popular at weekends being only a stone’s throw from the city. The Passeig Marítim is a walkway overlooking the beaches which connects La Barceloneta with Port Olímpic which is now a marina with many bars and restaurants. The area is overlooked by the five star Hotel Arts which has become Barcelona’s residence of choice for celebrities visiting the city. There’s an interesting transport option called the ‘Transbordador Aeri’ which is a cable car linking La Barceloneta with Montjuïc.
Montjuïc & La Font Magica
Montjuïc is the hill which overlooks Barcelona from the southwest and is home to the Olympic Stadium which was used in the 1992 Olympic Games. It also has some excellent art galleries including the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Fundació Joan Miró. The best approach is to get to Plaça d’Espanya then climb the steps (or use the escalator) or take the Metro to Paral.lel and then the funicular railway up the Montjuïc hill
On the terraces below the Palau Nacional de Montjuïc are a number of fountains including the largest one known as La Font Magica. Here you can watch a spectacular water, light and music display several times in the evening. From October to the end of June these take place every 30 minutes on Friday and Saturday nights between 7pm and 8.30pm. Between June and September there are displays every 30 minutes between 9.30pm and 11.30pm from Thursday to Sunday nights.
The Catalan capital hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, an event that redefined the face of modern day Barcelona. The main athletics events took place at the Estadi Olimpic in Montjuïc. This impressive stadium with a capacity of 65,000 was originally constructed in 1929 when Barcelona hosted the World Fair. Having fallen into disrepair it was restored for the 1992 Games. The stadium is open to the public at no charge on non-event days. There’s a brilliant swimming pool complex at the Piscines Bernat Picornell right next to the stadium if you fancy a dip during the hot summer months.
The Gothic Quarter is just east off the Ramblas and contains medieval Gothic buildings dating from the 14th and 15th century in what was the centre of old Barcelona. It’s a maze of interconnecting dark streets joining together medieval squares. The main tourist attractions are the magnificent Gothic cathedral, the Ajuntament, Plaça del Rei and the Palau de la Generalitat. The city’s history museum on Carrer de Veguer is well worth a look. There’s a good selection of cafés and bars, especially around Plaça de Sant Jaume, so refreshments are never far away.
At 512 metres Tibidabo is the highest point you can see from Barcelona as you look to the north. It provides great views over the city and has an amusement park which attracts many locals. Spain’s first funicular railway (tramvia blau), built in 1901, gets you to the top from Avinguda de Tibidabo
Address: Avinguda Marques de Comillas
Entrance Fees & Opening Hours at the Poble Espanyol Website
This model Spanish Village was constructed for the 1929 exhibition consisiting of replicas of some of Spain’s most characteriestic buildings. In the evening it also attracts many visitors to the fypical Andalucia flamenco show at the Tablao de Carmen.
Address: Moll d’ Espanya, Port Vell
Check Entrance Fees & Opening Hours at the Barcelona Aquarium Website
The aquarium is located in Port Vell near the Imax cinema and is one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions.
Address: Parc de la Ciutadella
Check Entrance Fees & Opening Hours at the Barcelona Zoo Website
Another popular attraction, especially for children, is the city zoo which has a great range of animals on display. Unfortunately, their most famous long term resident, Snowflake the white gorilla, died in 2003.