Art, history, parks, the sea and an unparalleled Mediterranean vibrancy: Barcelona has been ranked one the most visited cities in Spain and the world for many years. And there are many reasons why, including the local council’s attempts to continuously improve the "Catalonian capital", after the 1992 Olympics put the city on the map.
Barcelona is home to an impressive wealth of attractions, including Gaudí’s imaginative buildings (La Pedrera, Casa Batllò, Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia), a grandiose gothic cathedral, Santa Maria del Mar Basilica and museums dedicated to two twentieth-century greats, Joan Mirò and Pablo Picasso, who had a powerful connection with the city. And then there’s the barrio marinero in Barceloneta, where you can relax on the beach or spend the evening at a club or restaurant. You can also visit the holy Camp Nou football stadium to find out about the history of Blaugrana, even if you're not that fussed about fùtbol.
Costa Cruises embarks on numerous trips to Barcelona throughout the year so that you can enjoy the city’s most famous attractions, venture off the beaten track, check out new trends and really get a sense of the city’s spirit as one the most beautiful and beloved places in the world. Here is our selection of the 10 best things to do and see in Barcelona.
Barcelona: The Best Places to Visit
- The Sagrada Familia
- Park Güell
- Barcelona Cathedral
- Santa Maria del Mar Basilica
- The Picasso Museum
- Casa Batlò
- The Mirò Foundation
- Camp Nou Stadium
- La Pedrera
The Sagrada Familia
Barcelona is full of famous symbols, but the Sagrada Familia is perhaps the one that stands out the most. It is also the most visited monument in all of Spain and one of the most visited in the world (over three million people a year). This unfinished masterpiece by Antoni Gaudí, who was looking to create the "perfect temple", stands tall like a sand castle built in the middle of the city, halfway between the sea and Collserola nature park. At 172 metres tall, it is the tallest church in the world and the tallest building in Barcelona.
It has been 137 years since the first stone was laid in 1882, but the Sagrada Familia stills remains unfinished. The building’s complexity, Gaudí’s death and difficulty finding the necessary funds to continue work meant that the monument was left unfinished and is perhaps even more fascinating for it!
In fact, Gaudí did not actually initiate the project. He took over from Francesc de Paula del Villar in 1883, transforming it completely according to his mesmerising vision and turning it into a colossal initiative that would take centuries to complete, as was the case for numerous other great churches (such as St. Peter's Basilica and Milan Cathedral). According to the Construction Commission’s new schedule, the final version of the Sagrada Familia is expected to be completed in 2026, on the 100th anniversary of the Catalan architect's death. Who, aware of the enormity of the enterprise, decided to only initially build the building’s facade.
And it is precisely this section of the church that is so striking, with four towers (out of 18 total) that look almost like giant termites. Entering through one of the three doorways (Faith, Hope, Charity) reveals an interior setting full of decorations and details. Gaudí was inspired by the forest when he designed the Sagrada Familia’s interiors, with tree-shaped helical columns that separate out into branches to support the hyperbolic vaults. Once inside, we recommend venturing down the aisles while admiring the lights, shadows and colours, which change from hour to hour as the sun’s rays filter through the windows. And if you’re good with heights, pop up one of the towers for a view of Barcelona from up high!
You can't leave Barcelona without visiting Park Güell, the city’s most beautiful garden and one of the most original parks in the world. It's another of Antoni Gaudí's creations, a 17-hectare green expanse covering the southern side of Mount Carmel in the Gràcia district.
The story behind Park Güell is quite interesting, and involves an initially failed idea that later turned into a success. The park was built for Eusebi Güell, an entrepreneur belonging to one of Barcelona's most prominent families. He was a lover of the arts and a friend of Gaudí, to whom he entrusted the task of designing a city-garden inspired by the utopian ideas of the late 1800s. A place where city buildings and greenery could cohabit in perfect harmony, with nearby services at your fingertips (schools, church) and a beautiful view over the city. Work began in 1900 and ended in 1926, but the project was ultimately a failure given the lack of interest from local citizens. Only three of the sixty houses were built (Gaudí himself lived in one of them, which is now a museum) and the park was handed over to the local municipality, which subsequently turned it into a public space.
Today you can visit Park Güell to admire this innovative and imaginative creation. As you walk through the two pavilions at the entrance to the park you’ll be greeted by a famous multicoloured, ceramic glass salamander, which will introduce you to a world where fairy tales and architecture go hand in hand. Take the time for explore the park, wandering through its curved buildings, chimneys and ceramic-clad roofs, along with its infinite wave-shaped wall, nooks and crannies populated by amazing animals, stalactite columns, fantastic fountains and last but not least, the 100-Column Hall (although there are actually 86), all of which stand at different heights and support the panoramic terrace above.
All of these different elements have been designed to blend in harmoniously with and enhance the surrounding nature. Thanks to Gaudí’s architectural and hydraulic ideas, Park Güell is a properly functioning ecosystem that’s rich in biodiversity and encourages spontaneous animal recolonisation in the city, for bird species in particular.
After exploring the park, you can take a moment to relax on a bench in the shape of a sea snake in the Plaza de la Naturaleza for a great view of the city, the Sagrada Familia and Montjuïc!
If the Sagrada Familia is Barcelona's most famous church, it’s most important is definitely the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, named after the city's co-patron (the other is Our Lady of Mercy). It is located in the heart of the Gothic quarter and is the archdiocese’s seat, so much so that it is commonly called the ‘Seu,’ which is Catalan for "seat". It has an ancient history and stands on the foundations of the first early Christian basilica erected in the fourth century and the subsequent Romanesque cathedral, consecrated in 1058. The construction of the current church, which is much larger than the previous ones, began on 1 May 1298 under the reign of King James II of Aragon and ended in the middle of the fifteenth century after 150 years of work. The façade and side bell towers, however, weren’t completed until the end of the nineteenth century and were designed in a neo-gothic style by the architect Josep O. Mestres, who was inspired by the original one five centuries earlier. The grand central spire was finished in 1913. Outside, stop and admire the gothic archway, ornately decorated with sculptures of apostles, prophets, kings and angels. When you look up, you'll notice numerous gargoyles depicting fantastic animals and creatures.
The interior consists of three main aisles and two rows of side chapels, closed at the end by an apse and deambulatory, which are illuminated by high-reaching windows. The crypt houses a tomb with relics of Santa Eulalia. Special attention is also owed the chapel of the Holy Christ of Lepanto, which is home to a statue of Jesus with an arched body. According to legend, the cross was on board the Spanish command ship during the Battle of Lepanto, and the statue would miraculously tilt to avoid a cannonball or to plug a hole, preventing the ship from sinking!
There are a number of other curious traditions related to the cathedral. Inside the beautiful thirteenth-century cloister live thirteen geese, which was Eulalia’s age when he was martyred at the hands of the Romans. During the Corpus Christi feast in the cloister, you can see the ‘ou com balla,’ an egg that stands suspended in a water jet.
Santa Maria del Mar Basilica
While admiring Catalan gothic architecture, you can't afford to miss the Santa Maria del Mar Basilica, a great church located in the Ribera port district with unique importance and personality. Barcelona locals feel a real affinity with it as it’s known as 'the church of the sailors,’ who, before taking to the sea, would stop by to ask for protection from Our Lady. Now it's a favourite place for locals for get married. It's easy to find yourself in the middle of a wedding when you visit it!
Santa Maria del Mar was built in a rather short space of time, between 1329 and 1383, when the city saw considerable economic growth. It’s such a source of pride for the city because the basilica literally belongs to the people. Humble community groups at the time strongly requested it and then paid for its construction so that they could finally have a building of their own. Other churches in the city, including the cathedral, were financed by the monarchy at the time and were reserved for the nobility, members of corporations and high-ranking clergy. It just so happened that the ‘bastaixos,’ who worked as slaves in quarries in the Ribera area, managed to gain freedom in the fourteenth century and formed a mutual aid body. They also used the funds to buy construction materials and manually carried stones from the quarry to Plaça de Santa Maria without demanding compensation. You’ll find a testimony to this story in a bas-relief inside the building.
It was damaged several times over the centuries due to earthquakes and wars, but Santa Maria del Mar was thoroughly restored in the 1970s and can now be admired in its original Catalan Gothic splendour. It’s more horizontal than other North European Gothic buildings, with a compactness that’s owed to its frame and straight lines. The exterior thus evokes a sense of great solidity, as if it were a fortress, while the central façade is bounded by two octagonal towers, which terminate in a terrace, rather than a more classic gothic spire. The side walls are fairly sparse, devoid of the arches and decorations that were commonly seen in French churches belonging to the same era.
The interiors, also characterised by spartan decorations, are much more airy than you would think when looking at the building from the outside. Take the time to admire the numerous stained glass windows and so-called ‘oculos’ (openings between galleries) : this is where the rays of light cleave through the darkness of the three aisles, flooding them with amazing colours. A quick fact: the stained glass windows, which were destroyed over time in one way or another, have been completely rebuilt and now feature Barcelona Football Club’s coat of arms, which financed the works.
The Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum tells the story of an unbreakable bond between the artist and the Catalan city. Pablo Picasso spent his teenage years here and it’s where he came into contact with modernism and began to reveal his talent. Barcelona went on to remain an important point of reference for the Spanish artist, who returned to the city several times. So much so that in 1963, ten years before his death, a museum was founded in his name, where people can learn about the lesser-known works of art within the Spanish artist's immense repertoire and understand how his genius was formed.
Although there are other museums dedicated to Pablo Picasso throughout the world, Barcelona is one of the most famous and well-visited, with a vast permanent collection of works. There are over 4,000 works housed here, a lot of which date back to his teenage years and youth.
The property alone is worth a visit. Paintings and sculptures are located in a medieval palace along Carrer Montcada in the district of Ribera. The interior exhibition rooms are organised according to the stages of the artist's youth and offer an exhaustive overview of his artwork up until the Blue Period.
It's impressive to see how Picasso had already mastered light and shadow at the tender age of 15, and how subjects and forms foreshadowed the art he created in later years. The museum also houses the sombre paintings he created during his winter months spent at the Madrid academy, as well as more joyful ones painted during summer holidays in Horta de San Joan. You can also admire copies of artworks by Velázquez (one of Picasso’s artistic references), a series of clay sculptures, collages, modernist paintings and a few that are lacking in colour given the family’s occasional financial problems (Picasso sometimes painted over other paintings to save money).
Touring Gaudí’s architectural feats definitely means taking a trip to Casa Batlló, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one of his most brilliant works and a masterpiece of Catalan modernism. It looks almost like a living creature or a bustling natural landscape with its curved shapes and changing colours!
Casa Batlló stands tall at 43, passeig de Gràcia, a large boulevard running through the Eixample district. Back in the second half of the nineteenth century, the district became a playground for rich entrepreneurs, who competed to build the most beautiful and flashy building. Textile industrialist Josep Batlli y Casanovas bought the building in 1903 and entrusted the project to Gaudí, essentially giving him a carte blanche. He transformed it completely, both inside and out, creating one of the most amazing buildings in the whole city.
The lower part of the facade incorporates large bone-like columns, while the upper section features a set of balconies that almost look like masks, algae or skulls. The building itself is dotted with coloured majolica tiles and glass that reflect the light. The roof is covered in colourful scales that almost look as if they belong to a large reptile. Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, Casa Battló is also referred to as the "‘house of bones’" or the"‘dragon house".’
Inside, you can admire Gaudí's ability to blend functionality with imagination. Around the bright courtyard are the Battló family apartments, a succession of rooms with wavy shapes that are free from any edges or straight lines and house oak doors and stained glass. The attic features 60 catenary arches (and no columns or vertical walls) , which look almost like a cave or an animal’s rib cage,
In addition to all its artistic and architectural attractions, Barcelona also has... the sea. Barceloneta is the city's most beloved beach, but also one of the most charming barrios, where you can still breathe in the air of this ancient seaside district. A special corner of the city that makes it that bit more intriguing.
Barceloneta belongs to Barcelona's ancient core, the Ciutat Vella. The neighbourhood was founded in the eighteenth century to provide accommodation for fishermen. In this district, you’ll find narrow streets, colourful buildings featuring clotheslines and children running around everywhere. Walking through these streets, you can easily see how Barceloneta was once a popular and turbulent area; today, it's one of the liveliest neighbourhoods in the city, animated day and night.
The best way to explore Barceloneta is on foot, starting from the statue of Christopher Columbus and following the Ronda Litoral route. To reach the sea, head down Passeig de Joan de Borbò, which leads onto narrow streets down to the beach. Here, you can relax on the sand, admire the surfers and get involved in a spontaneous football or beach volleyball match. Why not also enjoy a few snacks or cocktails at one of the many chiringuitos or bars crowding the Passeig Maritim and inner carrers. Here, you really feel like you’re on the beach, while also in the centre of Barcelona, it’s an intriguing feeling!
The Miró Foundation
Along with Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró is Barcelona's other artistic soul, to which a fantastic museum has also been dedicated: the Fundacia Joan Miró. It is located in Montjuïc Park, a hill that represents the city's green lung and is home to a number of attractions, such as the Castle and Olympic Park.
Unlike Picasso, Miró is a true Barcelonian. He was born in the city in 1893 and, despite having died in Palma de Mallorca in 1983, is buried in Montjuïc cemetery, a short walk from the Foundation. The museum was created by the artist himself, who founded it in 1968 as a space to showcase international artistic trends and to exhibit his own works. Walking through the building is an absolute pleasure: two floors, large open rooms, swimming pools, terraces overlooking the city and gardens filled with sculptures.
Inside, you’re greeted by a gigantic tapestry at the entrance. You can then follow a path that leads you from Miró’s first sketches as a youth to the large paintings created in his final years. There are over 10,000 works in the museum, including paintings, sculptures, drawings and huge tapestries. Football fans will also be pleased to see a series of logos and graphics designed by Miró for the 1982 Spanish World Cup.
Beyond the museum, the whole of Barcelona is littered with colourful works by Miró, such as the mural at Prat airport, the Pla de l'Os mosaic at the opening to the Rambla (it is tradition to step on it) and the famous 22-metre-high "Obelisk" entitled ‘Dona i ocell’ (woman and bird) in the Parc de Joan Miró in the Eixample district.
Camp Nou isBarcelona Football Club’s famous football grounds and one of the most beloved and glorious stadiums in the world. It’s also one of the largest: with 99,354 seats, making it the biggest in Europe and the third largest in the world. Indeed, historical football matches have been played on its grass since 1957 by champions such as Cruyff, Maradona, Ronaldo and Messi.
Visiting Camp Nou is also a must for those who do not particularly like football. Here, you can come to understand more about a local passion and the ‘blaugrana’ colours. "‘Màs que un club’", you’ll hear and see this phrase written everywhere in Barcelona and it means: "more than a club"!
From the outside, Camp Nou doesn’t look all that great, but once you’re inside you’ll be amazed by the immensity of the stands, their perfect curved lines and the incredible feeling of great football in the air. The best way to explore it is to do a tour, which lasts about an hour and a half and includes a walk through the locker room,the tunnel players emerge from, the benches and the press room. Don't miss the museum, where you can take a look back at the history of the club thanks to a large archive of trophies, photos, videos, memorabilia, facts and works of art.
If you plan to go and see a Barça home game, make sure you leave yourself enough time. Tickets for the most important matches are regularly sold out and it is better to book them online months ahead. It's also good practice to arrive early to enjoy the pre-match atmosphere, a crescendo of exciting choruses and choreography. Most passionate fans choose to sit by the curves behind the door, as watching a match from here guarantees maximum involvement.
Another must-see stop on a tour of Gaudí's Barcelona is Casa Milà, or La Pedrera as it is commonly known. It’s the last private building built by the architect and can be found on 93, Passeig de Gràcia on the corner of Carrer de Provena.
It was commissioned by the entrepreneur Roser Segimon and his wife, the wealthy heiress Roser Segimon. The works were extended from 1906 to 1912 after meeting several bureaucratic hurdles. Gaudí’s original avant-garde architectural solutions often clashed with urban norms. Casa Milà consists of two large blocks, each of which is centred around an inner courtyard guaranteeing optimal lighting to all apartments. The supporting structure consists of stone, brick and iron columns that eliminate the need for supporting walls. This architectural feature means that the inner apartment walls have a purely decorative function and can be moved, demolished and rebuilt freely.
But it’s the building’s façade that really does justice to Gaudí's innovative and provocative insistence to do away with straight lines. The front section features curved and wavy lines that look to be asymmetrical to the naked eye. The façade was built using over 6,000 blocks of raw, natural-looking limestone, so much so that the windows look like caves or holes dug into the rock by man. And that’s why Casa Milà was given the nickname ‘La Pedrera,’ or, "‘the stone quarry".’
Take a good look at the roof terrace. It's a real wonder. Every functional element of the building – from service stair entrances, to ventilation ducts, and its numerous fireplaces – is transformed into a piece of art with a fluid and twisted shape. The structure also features a number of very unique chimneys that look as if they’re wearing warrior helmets. Gaudí considered roofs to be a fundamental element of his projects and not just a simple covering. And you can even go up and walk along the dreamlike, surreal Casa Milà rooftop.
Map of Barcelona
Visit Barcelona with Costa Cruise
Visiting Barcelona is an exhilarating experience, which you should make sure to do at least once in your lifetime. And with a cruise, you can see it from a number of different perspectives: including from the sea, with a unique view that only our guests can enjoy while on an excursion in search of the jewels in this city’s crown!