Best Things to Do in Barcelona on a Weekend City Break

There are so many things to do in Barcelona that you’ll struggle to visit them all during a short city break. The highlight is the magnificent Sagrada Familia Cathedral but there are plenty more stunning buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí including La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà), Casa Batlló and Park Güell. 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 bus services depart from Plaça de Catalunya providing visitors with a good way to see the main sights of Barcelona.

Top Things to See in Barcelona

Amongst the many things to see in Barcelona, the works of Antoni Gaudí are particularly noteworthy. Gaudí’s unique architectural style is a defining feature of Barcelona’s cityscape. Key Gaudí sites include the unfinished Sagrada Família basilica, Park Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (La Pedrera). Beyond Gaudí’s creations, Barcelona is home to a well-preserved Gothic Quarter, some world-class museums, FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp stadium and many other attractions. A weekend in the Catalan capital will hardly be enough time to see everything that Barcelona has to offer so be prepared to come back time and time again.

Here are some of the main things to see in Barcelona grouped by category:

Main Gaudí Buildings

Sagrada Familia

Antoni Gaudi’s La Sagrada Família is certainly his most famous work and recognised as a symbol of Barcelona worldwide. The architect worked obsessively on the Moderniste cathedral from 1883 until he died in 1926. There are plans to complete the building by 2026 to coincide with the centenary of Gaudí’s death. The Sagrada Familia is extremely busy when cruise ships are in town so it’s worth planning your trip accordingly.

Best Things to Do in Barcelona: Number 1 - Visit the Sagrada Familia

La Pedrera

La Pedrera (Casa Milà) is probably Gaudi’s 2nd most recognisable masterpiece. It was built between 1905 and 1910 as a commission for the wealthy Milà family in the upmarket Gràcia district serving as an apartment and an office block. A visit to the Casa Milà allows you to get a taste of wealthy Catalan society a century ago as you wander through the fascinating rooms of the family home. The roof is particulary interesting with its selection of Modernist sculptures and chimneys from where you can see the Sagrada Familia in the distance. In the evenings during the summer months you can go on the roof of La Pedrera and enjoy ‘La Pedrera de Nit’ when you can enjoy a glass of cava (Catalan champagne) to the accompaniment of classical music.

La Pedrera

Casa Batlló

Just down the Passeig de Gràcia on the other side of the road from La Pedrera is another classic Gaudí structure. This building was also commissioned by a wealthy local businessman, Josep Batlló, to serve mainly as a family home. Although Gaudi originally designed Casa Batlló to look like St George’s Dragon your imagination can run away with you as you stare at the structure from outside. Typical observations are of tiles used to portray fish scales, balconies that look like bird’s nests and a roof than resembles a dinosaur’s back!

Casa Batlló

Park Güell

Park Guell dates back to 1900 when Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudí to build a garden city intended for the elite of Barcelona society. As a real estate venture the property wasn’t a success with only two homes ever being built on it. Today Park Güell is a Gaudí park which is owned by the city of Barcelona and features a breathtaking selection of Gaudi architecture. Look out for the giant coloured lizard which is one of the city’s most photographed attractions. Casa Museu Gaudí is the house at the entrance with a spire where the architect lived for most of his last 20 years.

Parc Guell

Other Gaudí Buildings

As well as the Gaudi buildings described above there are around 25 more spread around the city. Not all of the works are open to the public but they’re still worth looking for. The biggest concentration of these buildings is in the Gràcia district of Barcelona just north of Plaça de Catalunya.

Along the Ramblas

La Rambla

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 Plaça 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.

In Plaça de Catalunya at the northern end of the Ramblas 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.

Travel Tip: Be extremely cautious as you walk along the Ramblas by day and night as this is probably the single worst place in all of Spain for pickpocketing and bag snatching. The times you’re likely to be most vulnerable are if you stop to watch the man operating the ball under three cups scam as pickpockets operate amongst observers.

At night overly pesistent prostitutes appear on the lower Ramblas, just ignore them and watch your wallet. You should also be aware of the ‘legal fleecing’ of unsuspecting visitors at some of the bars that line the Ramblas and charge astronomical prices often for enormous drinks that you hadn’t expected (be warned that a beer could be served in a litre glass!). Check the price list before ordering.

Boqueria Market

The 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.

Boqueria Market Barcelona

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Barcelona Opera House was originally opened in 1847 and is one of the most important opera houses in the world. Most of the building was destroyed by fire in 1994 and had to be rebuilt. You can check upcoming performances on the official Liceu website or simply take a guided tour of the venue.

Barri Gòtic

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.

Port Vell

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.

Barceloneta and Port Olímpic

La Barceloneta

Just a short walk north-east of Port Vell is the lively neighbourhood of La Barceloneta which was traditionally the living area of the port’s fishermen. In spite of its seemingly run-down appearance this heavily populated area has become a popular place to visit attracting many locals and tourists to its fine selection of fish restaurants lining Passeig de Joan Borbò. It is also home to Barcelona’s best sandy beaches which were created as part of the city’s pre-Olympics regeneration programme. These are very popular at weekends being only a stone’s throw from the city. There’s an interesting transport option for visitors called the ‘Transbordador Aeri’ which is a cable car linking La Barceloneta with Montjuïc.

Port Olímpic

There’s a walkway along the seafront called the Passeig Marítim which connects La Barceloneta with the stylish marina of Port Olímpic. As well as serving an important role for the city’s yachting community this entertainment and leisure complex is an important venue on the Barcelona nightlife scene thanks to its stylish bars, restaurants and clubs. It was originally built in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games and is home to the five star Hotel Arts which has become Barcelona’s residence of choice for many celebrities visiting the city.

Parc de Montjuïc

Montjuïc Hill

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 (MNAC) 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.

Olympic Stadium

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.

La Font Magica

On the terraces below the Palau Nacional de Montjuïc are a number of fountains including the largest one known as the ‘Magic Fountain’. 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.

Tourist Attractions Further Afield

FC Barcelona Stadium

FC Barcelona is one of the world’s greatest football teams and everywhere you go in the city you’ll see support for them. Their magnificent 98,000 seater Camp Nou stadium is on the northern route of the hop-on hop-off bus tour. A visit to this legendary stadium is one of the best things to do in Barcelona for sports fans. The FC Barcelona Museum (Carrer d’Aristides Maillol) is located within the grounds of the stadium.

You can choose to simply visit the museum area where there’s a selection of memorabilia including trophies on display or buy a combined ticket for the Nou Camp Experience which also provides access to the changing rooms and allows visitors onto the pitch. Not surprisingly this is one of Barcelona’s most popular tourist attractions.

NOTE: The Nou Camp Stadium is currently being renovated so during the 2023/24 season FC Barcelona will play their home games at the Olympic stadium (Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys) in Montjuic. They hope to return to the Nou Camp the following season with a reduced capacity.

Nou Camp Stadium Barcelona

Tibidabo

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

Poble Espanyol

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 typical Andalucia flamenco show at the Tablao de Carmen.

Barcelona Art Museums

Barcelona is one of Europe’s great cultural capitals which is home to an impressive selection of world-class museums and art galleries. Combined with the city’s stunning Modernist architecture the Catalan capital is without doubt an art lovers paradise where short-break visitors will need to be selective when planning their trip. Some of the main venues that you should consider visiting include the following:

Picasso Museum

The Picasso Museum is home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of the artist’s works and is the most visited of all the art galleries in Barcelona. It is housed in five interconnected medieval palaces in the Gothic Quarter of the city. Pablo Picasso came to Barcelona in 1894 and many of his early paintings were inspired by the city. He would later divide his time between Barcelona and Paris. The Museu Picasso was established here in response to the artist’s wish that his work remain a permanent part of the city long after his death.

Roofs of Barcelona by Pablo Picasso (1903)
Pablo Picasso: The Rooftops of Barcelona (1903)

National Art Gallery of Catalunya (MNAC)

Art enthusiasts visiting Barcelona must pay a visit to the magnificent National Art Gallery of Catalunya (MNAC) which exhibits works of Catalan art from the Romanesque period to the mid-twentieth century. In terms of collection size and quality of exhibits this is one of the best art museums in Spain and no tour of Europe’s art galleries will be complete without at least a day’s visit. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is a combination of three museums and the wide variety in its collection reflects this. In 1990 the collections of the old Museu d’Art de Catalunya and the Museu d’art Modern were united and declared a national museum. The collection is large and due to the spacious halls of the museum most of it is on display.

National Art Gallery of Catalunya
National Art Gallery of Catalunya

Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA)

The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) has been the catalyst in the urban regeneration of the El Raval district of central Barcelona located just off the Ramblas. If you’re staying in this area it’s well worth a visit even though you might find some of the exhibits rather weird. Whether you’re a student of art, a fan of exceptional architecture or just looking to enjoy walking around a beautiful building that has something to offer at every turn, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona can show you some of the best of the last half-century of art and expose you to some of the most extraordinary architecture to be seen in Barcelona.

Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art

Joan Miró Foundation

The Fundació de Joan Miró is a modern art museum located in Montjuïc which is dedicated to the works of Joan Miró, Catalonia’s greatest 20th century artist. Only a selection of his many paintings, sculptures and drawings are on display at any one time with a tendency to focus mainly on the last 20 years of Miró’s life.

More Things to Do in Barcelona

Attend Some Festivals in Barcelona

Barcelona’s vibrant festival calendar celebrates Catalan culture and traditions throughout the year. Major festivals in Barcelona include the summer music blast of Sónar and concerts at the Grec Festival, the colourful street party of Gràcia Festival in August and the lively beachfront celebration of Sant Joan in June. September brings crowds for the spectacular fireworks of the La Mercè festival. Other highlights are the elaborate Easter processions of Semana Santa, the feasting and parades of Carnival and the romantic exchange of books and roses on Sant Jordi in April.

Take a Day Excursion from Barcelona

There are so many sights in Barcelona that most visitors find that they don’t have time to consider any day trips beyond the city limits. However, if you do have time available you really should consider taking one of the many popular day trips from Barcelona to exciting destinations which lie within close proximity of the Catalan capital. Some of the most popular ones are as follows:

Montserrat

Lying 65km north-west of Barcelona this Benedictine Abbey is tucked away in the mountains of Montserrat. Its main attraction is a 12th-century Black Madonna located on the basilica’s altar. A visit to Montserrat is the most popular short excursion from Barcelona. There are plenty coach excursions to the monastery or you can get there by train.

Salvador Dalí Museum in Figueres

Located 175km north-east of Barcelona, the Dalí Museum in Figueres is one of Spain’s most visited museums. It can be reached by train or on coach tours which often include a visit to the nearby city of Girona.

Take a Wine Tour to Penedès

The Penedès wine growing region is centred on the town of Vilafranca del Penedès which is just 55km from Barcelona. Nearby is Sant Sadurní d’Anoia which is home to the main Cava bodegas. Visitors can get there by train or bus from Barcelona but organised wine tours are recommended.

FAQs About Barcelona City Breaks

When is the Best Time to Visit Barcelona?

Due to its location on the Mediterranean the weather in Barcelona involves pleasant temperatures all year round without the blistering heat of some other Spanish cities but certainly hot enough in summer for most people’s liking. It does tend to have a reasonable amount of rain throughout the year but there are also many clear, sunny days all year. The temperatures seldom if ever fall to 0ºC even on the coldest winter’s day and for a lot of the year you can eat and drink on the outdoor terraces of the bars and restaurants. The city has 4 kilometres of beach which you can also enjoy for most of the year with some good seafood restaurants along the front.

Where Should I Stay in Barcelona

For first-time visitors to Barcelona, several areas are recommended for accommodation based on their proximity to attractions and overall experience. The Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) and El Born are centrally located, offering easy access to historical sites and a vibrant atmosphere. Eixample is known for its Modernist architecture, including many of Gaudí’s works and is divided into the upscale Dreta de l’Eixample and the more bohemian Esquerra de l’Eixample. Gràcia provides a more local experience with its village-like feel and is well-connected by public transport.

For beach access, Barceloneta is ideal, though it can be busy during peak seasons. Las Ramblas, while centrally located, is often crowded and can be more expensive. Each area has its own character and benefits, so visitors should consider their priorities when choosing. It’s advisable to book accommodations in Barcelona well in advance and to check the exact location in relation to public transportation options. Here are a few recommended hotels:

Hotel Arts (Carrer de la Marina, 19-21): Five-star luxury hotel located on the beachfront, featuring contemporary design, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant, a spa and panoramic views of the Mediterranean Sea and Barcelona skyline.

Hotel Claris (Pau Claris, 150): Superb luxury hotel with an excellent restaurant and a rooftop terrace giving fine views over the city. One of the best hotels in Barcelona.

Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina (Moll de Barcelona): This deluxe 5 star hotel is located in Barcelona’s Port Vell, perfectly located to explore the city.

Hotel Majestic Residence (Paseo de Gracia, 68): A charming hotel on the Passeig de Gracia with one of the city’s top restaurants and a superb rooftop swimming pool.

Hotel Condes de Barcelona (Passeig de Gràcia, 73-75): Excellent hotel in a beautifully renovated classic building on the stylish Passeig de Gracia.

Hotel Derby (C/Loreto, 21-25): Very comfortable and welcoming hotel located in the city’s commercial district, away from the tourist centre. Ideal location for getting to FC Barcelona’s football stadium.

Hotel Rivoli Ramblas (La Ramblas, 128): A charming hotel situated right on the Ramblas near Plaza Catalunya in the heart of the tourist centre of the city.

Hotel Colón (Avda Catedral, 7): A superb hotel with a superb location overlooking the Cathedral square in the Gothic Quarter.

Hotel Avenida Palace (Gran Via Corts Catalanes 605-607): Old style elegance just north of Plaza Catalunya.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around Barcelona

Most visitors to Barcelona begin their sightseeing with a walk along the Ramblas and the neighbouring Gothic Quarter. Many are also happy to walk north from Plaça de Catalunya along Passeig de Gràcia to visit Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and La Pedrera or head south of the Ramblas to Port Vell. However, Barcelona has many tourist attractions which aren’t easily accessible on foot so some form of transport is recommended for going further afield to the likes of Montjuïc, Park Güell and FC Barcelona’s Nou Camp football stadium.

Hop-on, Hop-off Bus Service

The hop-on, hop-off bus service is the best way to visit Barcelona in a day or two with all tours beginning from in front of El Corte Inglés in Plaça de Catalunya. You can get on and get off the bus at any one of the programmed stops on the three routes which include stops at nearly all of Barcelona’s main tourist attractions. Buses come every 20 to 30 minutes. Tickets are valid on all routes and can be purchased online. Tickets are delivered directly to your mobile phone which you simply present to the driver as you get onboard.

Metro de Barcelona

The Barcelona underground rail system is an extensive system of around 125km of lines connecting all parts of the city. The Metro is probably the easiest way to get around the city but you may need buses or suburban trains to reach some places. It’s a good idea to buy the 10 journey “Targeta T-10” which gives you ten single journeys within Zone 1 in the central area of Barcelona. This ticket provides worthwhile savings over single tickets and is valid on the Metro system, RENFE local trains, city buses and FGC suburban trains. It can be used on the RENFE airport train but NOT the airport bus.

The “Targeta T-10” allows you to transfer between different modes of transport within a 1hr 15mins period on the same ticket. Therefore, you can leave a Metro station then jump on a bus provided the journey is completed within the time limit. Buses run along most city routes every few minutes. You can also buy one ticket and share it provided you pass it back to the other person as you go through ticket barriers so it isn’t necessary to buy two tickets for two people.

Tickets are sold at all Metro stations and at the airport as you approach the train. The “Targeta T-DIA” is an alternative ticket that you might be interested in which allows for unlimited travel on all these forms of transport for one day.

Barcelona City Taxis

Because of the time spent sitting in traffic jams and the relatively high cost of taking taxis they can’t be recommended for getting around the tourist sights. Tourists can flag down these distinctive black and yellow vehicles all over the city or can take one from a taxi rank (there’s one in Plaça de Catalunya and at the bottom of the Ramblas near Plaça de Colom). Taxis fares include a basic charge as soon as you get in the taxi then a meter charge per kilometre.