To gain some perspective on the antiquity of Santa María del Mar—and the resilience of Barcelona’s architectonic tradition— consider that each boulder used in the church’s construction was hauled one at a time from surrounding mountainsides and shoreline by ordinary civilians. When the project was finally complete in 1383, 54 years after the first stone was laid, the citizens marveled at what they’d created: a soaring Gothic temple accented with vivid stained-glass panels, illuminated by natural light, and buttressed by sparse, improbably slender columns. Much of the original structure remains today, despite damages to the interior from an 11-day fire that broke out during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.
Gape at La Sagrada Familia
Like many of Barcelona’s architectural feats, La Sagrada Família was, and continues to be, controversial. For years scholars have debated whether engineers strayed too far from architect Antoni Gaudí’s original vision (he died when just a quarter of the project had been realized). And while many citizens deem La Sagrada Família the greatest achievement of Catalan building, others view the structure as a glaring, expensive parody of it. Academic bickering aside, it’s hard not to get caught up in the magic of this place, which, pending completion in 2026 after 150 years of construction, will be the tallest religious building in Europe. Fusing Gothic and Art Nouveau styles in unprecedented ways, the basilica also draws on nature as a central inspiration.
El Palau de la Musica Catalana
Gaudí may be the most recognizable face of Catalan Moderniste, but many of his contemporaries left their mark on Barcelona as well. One of them was Lluís Domènech i Monater, the Barcelona-born architect behind the Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music), built in 1908. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the auditorium’s interior bursts with color, pattern, and texture, all of which culminate in a skylight so vast that during daylight hours, performances take place without the flick of a single light switch. Choral, orchestral, and opera music reign supreme here, but that’s not to say the Palau’s program hasn’t featured its share of mainstream artists: Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, and Paco de Lucía have all walked across its stage.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll through Las Ramblas, the wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell. Whether you’re taking in a street performance, ambling beneath the trees, or people-watching from a terrace, there’s never a dull moment here. To get a bird’s-eye view of all the action, finish your Ramblas route at the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument for panoramic views of the city and sea.
Fundacio Joan Miro
Perched on Montjuïc, the hard-to-pronounce hill that rises behind the city center, Fundació Joan Miró was founded in 1968 by the Catalan artist himself with the aim to make his art more accessible to the public.
Park Güell is Gaudí’s greatest triumph in urban planning and shows the sculptor at his most organic. Using the Collserola foothills as his canvas, Gaudí designed an architectural park whose structures (houses, fountains, pillars, walkways) often appear to be extensions of nature. Columns shoot up like tree trunks, arches are jagged like cave openings, and fountains are guarded by giant lizards with scales fashioned out of mosaic tiles. As you leave the monumental area and follow the steep, uphill path, let the sweeping views awaiting you at the top be your motivation. As with many Barcelona attractions, it’s wise to buy tickets ahead, since the park allows just 400 visitors per half hour.
Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya
Sure, there are plenty of Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces on display at the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art). It’s even home to one of Diego Velázquez’s most famous portraits, San Pablo. But what sets this museum apart is the scope of its Romanesque collection, which is one of the most exhaustive in the world and chronicles the pre-Gothic beginnings of religious art in Catalonia. Be sure to seek out the biblical fresco titled Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll, the crown jewel of the collection.
Pablo Picasso may have hailed from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum. Housing 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving, it’s a virtually complete representation of his portfolio all the way up to the Blue Period. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso, though; the five adjoining 13th- and 14th-century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Crisscrossing Barcelona on foot can be tiring. To rest your legs, scout out a shady corner of Parc de la Ciutadella, a lush 19th-century park built over the previous site of a military citadel. After a promenade under the trees or a relaxing rowboat ride in the lake, take a moment to admire the handiwork of the central fountain, a Neoclassical work designed by Josep Fontserè.