For Mediterranean holidays in Spain, the Sagrada Familia, Montjuïc and La Rambla are the top destinations while Barcelona is a beautiful and vibrant city on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. The capital city of the Catalonia region, it is a popular destination for holidays in Spain because of its attractions, beaches, places to eat and weather. There are many great Barcelona attractions but the following five should be high on your list, especially for short stays.
Things to do in Barcelona
Barcelona is a city on the coast of northeastern Spain. It is the capital and largest city of the autonomous community of Catalonia, as well as the second-most populous municipality of Spain. With a population of 1.6 million within city limits, its urban area extends to numerous neighbouring municipalities within the Province of Barcelona and is home to around 4.8 million people, making it the fifth most populous urban area in the European Union after Paris, the Ruhr area, Madrid, and Milan.
It is one of the largest metropolises on the Mediterranean Sea, located on the coast between the mouths of the rivers Llobregat and Besòs, and bounded to the west by the Serra de Collserola mountain range, the tallest peak of which is 512 metres (1,680 feet) high.
This won’t be enjoyed by everyone, especially those who don’t like to see animals in captivity, but Barcelona Zoo will be a great day out for many people, and children especially will love it. Situated in the Parc de la Ciutadella, the zoo is home to over 2,000 animals belonging to 300 species, including big cats, bears, gorillas and elephants.
A farm area gives a chance for children to ride on ponies and there’s an entertaining dolphin show, plus a chance to get even closer to the lovable mammals in the Aquarama where they swim right up to the glass.
Barcelona Zoo represents better value for money than Barcelona Aquarium as there’s more to see and do and it’s easy to spend an entire day there.
Rising more than 500 metres over Barcelona, Tibidabo is a mountain that combines an amusement park, a telecommunications tower and a Catholic church.
Reaching Tibidabo is half the adventure as you can first take an old-style tram up half the way and then change to a funicular train to complete the journey. But be warned if you have difficulties with heights as the journey up is very steep. Once at the top, there is much to enjoy, not least the amazing views over Barcelona and the Mediterranean. On a clear day, it is possible to see many miles in all directions.
The Tibidabo amusement park is what may bring many people to the mountain and it can be a thrilling experience to enjoy the classic rides hundreds of meters above the city, including a roller coaster, a swinging pirate ship and flying chairs.
Also well worth visiting is the Temple de Sagrat Cor Catholic church a short walk further up. It’s actually two churches, one built on top of the other, and by using a lift and then stairs, it’s possible to reach almost the very top and get a view 575 metres over Barcelona. There’s also the Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, built for the 1992 Summer Olympics, where you can enjoy a 560-metre view.
Combining history, breathtaking views and fun, Tibidabo is a great day out and one of the most recommended Barcelona attractions.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to the famous La Rambla, a pedestrian mall that stretches over one kilometre down towards the harbour. Nearly always crowded both day and night, it features many shops, stalls and places to eat and drink, as well as a variety of entertaining street performers, many of them dressed up. There’s also a huge market with a fantastic selection of fresh foods and just walking through it is a delight for the senses.
A particular delight is to take a rest at one of the many places to eat and enjoy a coffee and pastry while you watch the world go by around you.
La Rambla is a vibrant part of the city and one of the liveliest Barcelona attractions but be careful with your belongings as pickpockets are very numerous there among the crowds.
Montjuïc is a hill rising over 170 metres near the harbour in Barcelona that requires an entire day to explore. Travel up it can be made using a funicular railway (part of the city’s excellent Metro system) and then by a thrilling cable car journey to the top. There you will find Montjuïc Castle, which dates back to the 17th century and with its fortifications has a commanding view over Barcelona and the Mediterranean.
The best way to enjoy the beauty of Montjuïc is by walking. There’s a winding, but rewarding, series of pathways that will take you down to the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, a stadium originally built for the 1929 International Exposition but later renovated and used again for the 1992 Summer Olympics. It’s free to enter and you can enjoy a meal there and take pictures in this historic building, which has also been used for concerts by Madonna, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson and many others. The surrounding Olympic Park provides an enjoyable place to stroll around, plus somewhere to cool down in the shade near the many water features.
Walking further down Montjuïc will give you more impressive views of Barcelona before you reach the magnificent National Art Museum of Catalonia near the foot of the hill. Built in 1929, the museum houses many collections of visual arts, including Renaissance and Gothic, and so is a treat for art lovers.
Not to be missed just further down from the museum is the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc, where on certain nights of the week you can enjoy a light and music show with the water shooting far into the air in sync with music from the movies, classics and more. It’s a fantastic way to end the day at one of the best Barcelona attractions.
The work of Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi lies at the very soul of Barcelona, from the Casa Milà building along the Passeig de Gràcia to the Park Güell with its Art Nouveau landscape architecture. But nowhere can Gaudi’s art be better appreciated than the massive and hugely impressive Sagrada Familia Roman Catholic church in the centre of Barcelona.
Construction began in 1882 and is not scheduled for completion until 2026 but visitors are allowed to tour parts of it today and it’s already a building that dominates the skyline. Consisting of three enormous facades (two of which are already complete), the finished church will have a total of eighteen towers, with one tower dedicated to Jesus Christ soaring 170 metres above the city.
Appreciate the Architecture
Barcelona has many impressive buildings scattered throughout the city. These historic and interesting structures prove to be memorable to even Catalonian natives. In the Dreta area of Eixample, visitors can spot the Casa Batllo of Gaudi. Nearby is the Casa Amatller by Pug I Cadafalch, the Casa Lleo Morera, and the Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau. The latter is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site and has exceptional gardens and 20 pavilions, offering a quiet escape from a busy city.
Several cathedrals and churches also provide some attractions in the city. The Sant Pau del Camp is an excellent example of Romanesque architecture, and the Santa Maria del Mar is probably the best surviving example of Catalan Gothic architecture.
Enjoy the Food
Catalan cooking should definitely not be passed up. One excellent restaurant to try is the Cinc Sentits. Canadian-Catalan chef Jordi Artal prepares local classics with a touch of originality. At this venue, you can enjoy flat coca bread with foie gras and crispy leeks, duck magret with apple, Palamos prawns in garlic soup, artisan Catalan cheeses and more. Cinc Sentits is one of the city’s more affordable high-end restaurants.
After dinner, visitors should scout out the best dessert locations in town. Escriba has fine chocolates while Papabubble has a wide assortment of cooked candies.
Learn the Language
One of the most exciting aspects of a trip to any new country is the cultural exposure that you receive while you’re there. Visitors to Barcelona should not forego the opportunity to pick up a few phrases in the native Catalan language. Catalan is similar to Spanish, but is unique to the area and will open doors to the locals. For those who are simply passing through Barcelona on a more extensive tour of the Mediterranean, Catalan is still worth picking up since it is spoken in the Balearic Islands as well.
Watch the People
La Rambla is one of the most famous streets in the world and is worth catching even if you’re in Barcelona for just a short period of time. Food and other merchandise tend to be a little pricy, but the extra expense is worth the sites of the city. The mile-long road is a popular tourist destination and is packed with artists, human statues, fortune tellers, and entertainers. Along La Rambla are a number of flower stalls, markets, and cafes – as well as a Joan Miro mosaic. Visitors should take the time to watch some of the people along the boulevard.
Buy What You Can
Popular vacation spots are notorious for expensive wares, but that shouldn’t deter the motivated visitor from buying at least some of the local merchandise. Famous Spanish labels are not hard to come by in the city. Shoppers should visit the Custo Barcelona if they are in search of bright colours. Shoe searchers will also be glad to find the Mallorca-based echo shoe company, Camper. Camper has gained popularity recently for its notable clogged heels and bowling shoes.