Things to do in Barcelona

Barcelona Buildings and Architecture

Intricate carvings, towering columns, and a crypt from the 3rd century. Barcelona has it all. Delight your companions with Barcelona architecture.

Follow in the footsteps of Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí, and Antoni Gaudí with a trip to Barcelona. Known for its sandy beaches, street festivals, and museums, Ciutat Comtal has an eclectic mix of Gothic cathedrals and modernist structures. It’s one of the top destinations for architecture enthusiasts.

Before you try one of the many other things to do in Barcelona, visit these architectural masterpieces.

Modernist Marvels

Barcelona is more than 2,000 years old. It’s home to some of Europe's most stunning examples of modern architecture. The modernist style is all about rejecting conformity and embracing freedom. Look for soaring columns, roomy interiors, and plenty of glass.

1. Sagrada Família

Designed by Gaudí, the Sagrada Família has been under construction since 1882. This makes it the largest unfinished Catholic Church in existence. Despite Gaudí’s grand plans for the structure, the construction process has been delayed by one setback after another.

After Gaudí died, workers stopped building the structure due to the Spanish Civil War. Since then, funding problems and permit issues have stymied efforts to complete the historic building.

Although the church is far from finished, it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in Barcelona. From a distance, it appears like the slender spires are reaching toward the heavens, giving visitors a stronger connection to their faith.

The Sagrada Família also has three facades to represent the most important events in Christ’s life: birth, death, and resurrection. Inside, sunlight dances through stained-glass windows, giving the cathedral a much softer appearance.

Mosaics, carvings, and other design elements make the Sagrada Família one of the most beautiful buildings in Barcelona, Spain.

Photographer: Colin + Meg

2. Casa Batlló

Another one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces, Casa Batlló started as a private residence and looked like something out of a fairy tale. Sunlight dances off the pieces of broken ceramic tiles embedded in the facade, making the roof appear as if it’s made of mermaid scales.

The roof also has a cross with four arms, each representing one of the cardinal points (north, south, east, and west). If you can tear your gaze away from the roof, take a look at the balcony rails. Made from cast iron, the rails look like masks, earning Casa Batlló the nickname “house of masks.”

Bone-shaped columns, oval windows, and whimsical floral elements make this building truly unique.

3. La Pedrera (Casa Milà)

When you visit Barcelona, it seems like you can’t walk more than a few feet without running smack-dab into one of Gaudí’s creations. La Pedrera is yet another example of his architectural genius. This eliminates the need for load-bearing walls, which gave Gaudí more creative freedom than usual.

What makes the building so unique is that Gaudí used curved lines instead of straight lines. As a result, La Pedrera stands out from the more traditional buildings in Barcelona. Although the structure isn’t quite as grand as the Sagrada Família or as whimsical as Casa Batlló, Gaudí drew inspiration from the natural beauty of Spain.

The curved lines of the facade make it appear like ocean waves are rippling across the building. The nature theme continues inside, where Gaudí used starfish and other creatures to continue the aquatic theme.

As you ascend the steps to the roof, look for gently undulating waves of color on the walls. Finish your visit on the Warrior Rooftop, which has chimneys standing at attention like soldiers.

4. Palau de la Música Catalana

Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Palau de la Música Catalana contains a unique blend of sculpture, glass art, and ceramics, making it a true work of art. Created for Orfeó Català, a choral society founded in the late 19th century, the building has an imposing facade with decorative pillars.

In the concert hall, sixteen muses greet you, symbolizing the various styles of music you’ll hear if you’re lucky enough to catch a performance. The space has a skylight and multiple stained-glass windows, allowing natural light to enter. Palau de la Música Catalana also has a rehearsal hall, a modern auditorium, and a foyer.

The rehearsal hall is an intimate space with thick columns, stained glass, and other decorative elements, which contrast the high-tech equipment in the modern auditorium (the Petit Palau). Step into the foyer to glimpse brick arches and ceramics featuring a floral motif.

Photographer: Radubradu

5. Hospital de Sant Pau

If you thought hospitals had to be sterile, depressing environments, think again. Constructed in the 15th century, the Hospital Sant Pau complex looks more like a beachside hotel than a healthcare facility. It also has an unusual history. It also has an unusual history. During the black plague, locals recognized the need for a centralized healthcare system.

Lluís Domènech i Montaner hit it out of the park (pun intended) when he decided to create a relaxing environment filled with natural elements. The complex has multiple gardens lined with trees, making it a tranquil place for patients to breathe fresh air.

Hospital Sant Pau also has orange trees, horse chestnut, and medicinal plants, producing pleasant scents and a riot of colors. Although the hospital stopped serving patients in 2009, you can still tour Sant Salvador Pavilion, Sant Rafael Pavilion, the tunnel system, and the outdoor area.

Gothic Grandeur

Gothic architecture was extremely popular in Europe from the 12th century to the 16th century. Originally called Opus Francigenum, this architectural style features thin walls, vaulted spaces, and large windows.

Architects also used flying buttresses to support heavy walls. These did the job without detracting from the aesthetic appeal of their designs. While you’re in Barcelona, check out these examples of Gothic grandeur.

6. Catedral de Barcelona

The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, better known as Catedral de Barcelona, is a pseudo-basilica constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. When José Oriol Mestres designed the facade, urban planning wasn’t considered. It was all about creating a space for worship and quiet reflection.

Catedral de Barcelona honors Saint Eulalia, a 13-year-old martyr who was tortured to death in the 3rd century. As you walk through the Portal de San Ivo, the main entrance to the building, look for sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

It also has spires that soar toward the sky, reinforcing the connection between heaven and earth. As you walk through the Portal de San Ivo, which serves as one of the main entrances to the building, look for sculptures depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ.

Ribbed vaults and stained-glass windows cause shadows to dance through the space. It's an ideal spot for quiet contemplation.

7. Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar

Tucked away in the El Born district, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar is a can’t-miss example of Gothic architecture. The imposing facade is extremely symmetrical, contributing to a well-balanced structure that blends form with function. Like other Gothic buildings, height plays a major role in the appearance of the basilica.

When you see the sandstone walls rising to meet the sky, you can’t help but appreciate the craftsmanship of builders who didn’t have access to even the most basic power tools. Inside, large stained-glass windows filter the sun’s rays, leaving the walls dappled with soft light.

The basilica also has many sculptures, paintings, and other artworks created to honor the Virgin Mary, so take time to appreciate them as you walk through the vast space. Before you leave, spend a little time in the outdoor plaza. It’s the perfect place to relax after a long day of sightseeing.

8. Gothic Quarter’s Ancient Streets

Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia (Catalunya in the local language), so it’s one of the busiest cities in the region. If you’re in the mood for people-watching, head to the Gothic Quarter, a bustling neighborhood filled with a maze of streets.

The Gothic Quarter is close to the Mediterranean Sea. It's also home to many of Barcelona’s architectural masterpieces, so it’s the perfect starting point for any tour. In addition to modern shops and restaurants, the Gothic Quarter has ancient ruins, making it one of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona.

Photographer: Brandon Gurney

Contemporary Constructions

Contemporary architecture incorporates modern materials and techniques, resulting in asymmetrical buildings with relatively plain facades. In this context, contemporary refers to a building constructed from the late 20th century onward.

Although Barcelona was initially settled by the Romans, it’s home to many contemporary buildings. Be sure to visit them the next time you’re in town.

9. Torre Glòries (formerly Torre Agbar)

Previously known as the Torre Agbar,Torre Glòries is a futuristic skyscraper that looks almost like one of the grain silos you’d see in the Midwest.

Standing more than 472 ft. high, the building is home to several offices and technical facilities. It's one of the most important structures in the city’s high-tech district. Architect Jean Nouvel drew inspiration from Montserrat mountain, so Torre Glòries combines reinforced concrete with glass and several thousand panes of window glass.

10. W Barcelona (Hotel Vela)

There’s no shortage of things to do in Barcelona, but if you need a break from swimming, shopping, and sightseeing, stop by W Barcelona for lunch or dinner.

Designed by Ricardo Bofill, the five-star building sits right on the harbor, making it one of the best places to visit if you want to look out over the water as you sip a glass of wine. Architecture buffs appreciate the building’s sail shape, which pays homage to its harbor location.

11. Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)

If you’re interested in Barcelona architecture, you can’t go wrong with a visit to Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, better known as MACBA. Designed by Richard Meier, the museum complex is home to Convent dels Àngels, a Gothic chapel from the 16th century.

After you visit the chapel, head to the Meier building, a stunning example of contemporary architecture. Meier combined straight and curved elements, making it easier for museum staff to create enticing displays.

When you view an exhibit, imagine yourself visiting an intimate art gallery in Barcelona. Each area is quiet and filled with plenty of natural light, so it’s easy to forget you’re in a large museum packed with people and artwork.

Photographer: Frans Ruiter

Public Spaces and Parks

Rather than staying indoors, locals spend much of their time in parks, plazas, and other public spaces. If you need a little downtime after visiting some of Barcelona’s architectural wonders, head to Park Güell or Ciutadella Park for a picnic or an afternoon of sunbathing.

Once you regain some of your energy, continue your architectural tour or head to one of the many museums in Barcelona. 

12. Park Güell

Barcelona's architecture is legendary, but the city is also home to many inviting outdoor spaces. Park Güell is one of the best examples. The park started when Eusebi Güell asked Antoni Gaudí to draw up plans for an estate dedicated to Barcelona’s wealthiest families.

The building site offered breathtaking views of the sea, so Gaudí decided to enhance the property with Mediterranean plants. Although several families purchased plots on the estate, the plan turned out to be unworkable due to limited transportation and the use of complicated contracts.

In 1914, Güell started allowing members of the public to view the private garden. Upon Güell’s death, city officials agreed to buy the estate and turn it into a park. In 1963, the Gaudí House Museum opened in Gaudí’s original home.

If you’re fascinated by the Güells, don’t leave Barcelona without visiting Palau Güell or Colònia Güell.

13. Ciutadella Park

Parque de la Ciutadella (Ciutadella Park) serves as a quiet oasis in the bustling city of Barcelona. You can have a picnic, row a boat across the lake, or simply enjoy the sunshine and fresh air while hundreds of people pass you by. Its central location makes Ciutadella Park a convenient starting point for tours of local museums and other landmarks.

For example, the park is home to the Catalan Parliament, a geological museum, and a zoo. Although Josep Fontserè designed the overall park, Antoni Gaudí helped by designing a waterfall, one of the park’s most attractive features.

Historical and Cultural Sites

In the 1st century BCE, Romans established a colony called Barcino, setting the stage for centuries of development. Thanks to its long history, Barcelona has plenty of historical and cultural sites, including Poble Espanyol and The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc.

14. Poble Espanyol

Poble Espanyol blends several architectural styles with a museum and a handicraft center. You’ll see a Romanesque monastery, more than 100 recreations of famous buildings, and an Andalusian neighborhood all in one place. It's the ideal destination for art enthusiasts.

Then, it’s time to stop at the museum, which holds a large collection of works by Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and other modern artists. Finish your visit by observing artists paint, sculpt, and create custom jewelry. If you visit at the right time, you may even be able to participate in a hands-on craft workshop. 

15. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc

Cap off your visit to Barcelona with a spectacular sound-and-light show. The Magic Fountain of Montjuïc features geysers of water shooting into the air in time to music.

As a bonus, colorful lights dance through the air as spectators “ooh” and “ahh” their way through the evening. The fountain show is a great way to slow down after a day shopping along Carrer de Mallorca or Passeig de Gràcia.

Photographer: nosolomarcas

Celebrating Barcelona's Architectural Heritage

Barcelona has some of Europe's most alluring architecture, from Gothic cathedrals to modern skyscrapers. Whether you’re on your honeymoon or visiting the city for work, don’t miss the opportunity to view these magnificent structures.

We’re all about artistic expression. Just like Gaudí, Meier, and other architects used their talents to shape Barcelona, our performers put their hearts and souls into every show.

Alegría depicts the struggle between the desire to innovate and the tendency to cling to tradition, reflecting the transition from the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles to the sleeker buildings designed today.

Buy tickets to one of our shows in Barcelona to discover how this power struggle plays out on the stage.

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