The architecture that typifies Barcelona is like something out of a fantastical storybook. That’s, in part, due to the numerous buildings architect Antoni Gaudi designed. With a dash of modernism and impressions from nature, Gaudi built structures — such as Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló — that make everyone take a second look. The stonework, mosaics, sculptures and twisted wrought-iron flourishes make his style unique, and you’ll see it in neighborhoods across Barcelona.
While you explore the city you’ll also find a robust shopping esplanade, a Gothic Quarter, world-class museums, famed food markets and further afield there’s even a beach or two. Barcelona surprises many cruisers who fall head over heels for this city during their day in port.
When visiting Barcelona, don't miss these 10 incredible sights and activities.
Start the morning with a leisurely stroll along this wide, tree-lined shopping thoroughfare. The main drag is just three-quarters of a mile so you can easily walk the length and see sights like the Gran Teatre del Liceu (the opera house), Virreina Palace and the Boqueria Market (which we’ll talk more about below). Our only word of caution: Watch for pickpockets that target tourists in this area.
Where to Find It: From the Columbus Monument at Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya at the city’s center.
Picture yourself in Barcelona of yesteryear when the center of town was actually quite close to the sea. The Gothic Quarter was the epicenter of old Barcelona, and many buildings from medieval days still stand, as do a few from an earlier Roman settlement of the area. This quarter is a maze of winding streets that lead to public squares. Give yourself permission to get lost and just walk and admire the architecture and sights like Barcelona Cathedral and Plaça Reial, which is lined with restaurants and nightclubs.
Where to Find It: From the water to Ronda de Sant Pere and La Rambla to Via Laietana.
While Basílica de la Sagrada Família is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site and more than 130 years old, it is not yet complete. Designed by architect Antoni Gaudi, work began in 1882 to create a basilica with five naves, three transepts and multiple bell towers. Many of the towers have yet to be built. The structure is slated for completion by 2026, with all decorative elements added by 2032. Even though this is an active construction site, you can visit several parts of the building and the museum. Some cruise lines offer shore excursions to the construction site.
Where to Find It: Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013, adjacent to Plaça de Gaudi
While everyone visits the unfinished Gaudi-designed Sagrada Familia, don’t miss his completed Casa Batlló. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and many people believe it’s one of the world’s greatest architectural treasures. This modern structure that was once a personal residence is made of wood, quarried stone, ceramics and glass; it makes you feel as if you’ve stepped into the pages of Alice in Wonderland. The multicolored arched roof and mosaic façade are standout elements of this Art Nouveau design.
Where to Find It: Passeig de Gràcia, 39, in the heart of Barcelona near the Museu del Perfum
Barcelona’s tourism department calls La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà, “a blend of fantasy and functionality.” This landmark at the heart of Barcelona shows Gaudi’s work at its peak. The architect built an entire city block in the city’s Eixample neighborhood from 1906 to 1912. The curved façade was designed to look like the undulating sea, which explains the seaweed motif on the wrought-iron balconies. You can visit a period apartment, the rooftop and the attic of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where to Find It: On Passeig de Gràcia at Carrer de Provenca
The works of Picasso are shown to their best advantage at the Picasso Museum in five townhouses that were built between the 13th and 15th centuries. They are extraordinary examples of the Catalan-Gothic architecture of the times. The extensive collection contains many of the Picasso’s best-known works.
Where to Find It: Carrer de Montcada, 15-23, 08003 near the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar
While there are several food markets of note in Barcelona (especially Santa Caterina Market), La Boqueria is the oldest, dating back to 1217. And it’s the one you should visit since you’ll walk right past it on your tour of La Rambla. Here, you’ll find sellers — some with families that have been selling here for generations — that hawk all manner of fruit (fresh, dried and candied), vegetables, bread, fish, meat and sweets. This is where you can purchase serrano and Iberian ham, Manchego cheese, Spanish olive oil and more. Several tapas bars line the market, so you can stop and have a light bite to eat as well.
Where to Find It: Plaça de la Boqueria on La Rambla, about a half-mile from the Christopher Columbus Monument at Port Vell
You can’t truly get to know a culture without sampling its cuisine. If you really want to get up close and personal with Barcelona, there’s no better way to do it than with a food-tasting tour. Several offered by local operator BCN Food Tours get rave reviews. For a good introduction to the city, take the Boqueria and Rambla Tour, which explores both the city’s major marketplace as well as La Rambla shopping district. The Tapas Tour and Paella Tour allow you the opportunity to sample a variety of dishes that were born in this region, and who could resist a tour centered on the sweet delicacies of the city? BCN Food Tours offers 10 different excursions.
Where to Find It: Each tour has a different meeting point. See BCN Food Tours’ website for details.
If you’re traveling with kids and they’ve seen just about as many Gaudi-designed buildings as they have the patience for, reward them with a trip to Barcelona’s L'aquàrium. Exhibits include tanks for penguins, sharks, rays and beautiful fish. For the little ones, there are more than 50 interactive experiences.
Where to Find It: Moll d’Espanya at Port Vell harbor
If you’ve been to Barcelona before and want to spend your day by the sea instead of exploring the city, take a taxi or the train to Sant Pol de Mar. The wide gold-sand beach does have rocks breaking through the sand at some points, but there is plenty of wide-open space to lay out a beach towel and relax. You’ll find a variety of snack shops right along the beach, and there is an excellent two-star Michelin establishment, Restaurant Sant Pau, nearby.
Where to Find It: The beach is a 45-minute taxi or train ride north of Port Vell.