No other event has changed Barcelona (Spain) so much as the 1992 Olympic Games, an event that put the city on the map and constituted a watershed regarding the affluence of tourists and the effects of which, almost a quarter of a century later, can be seen on every corner of the city’s old town.
Even though the number of tourists in Barcelona keeps growing every year, the effects of such overcrowding are starting to become apparent and, beyond the benefits that they might bring to the city, the reality is that the most traditional side of Barcelona is being wiped out, especially in those neighbourhoods with tourist sites, whose residents are seen how lifelong stores are being compelled to adjust to the needs of tourists.
The reason why Barcelona raises such interest lies in a privileged Mediterranean weather with a high percentage of sunny days a year combined with a wide gastronomic variety, a unique architectural profile and a manageable and easy size, let alone the fact that it has great urban beaches. But beyond its charms, Barcelona counts with world class monuments and tourist attractions that complete an irresistible offer. Below, there is a list of tourist sites that you cannot miss when visiting Barcelona.
La Rambla is the most famous and busy street in Barcelona, representing the city centre and with lots of points of interest. Starting at Plaza Cataluña all the way down to the Monument to Columbus, the different sections of La Rambla (Canaletas, Estudios, San José, Capuchinos and Santa Mónica) are constantly packed with tourists and eccentric characters, among which human statues, street artists and dozens of street vendors stand out.
Along the way you’ll came across some of the most emblematic buildings in Barcelona, such as the Grand Teatre del Liceu, the Virreina Palace, La Boquería market and the Royal Square, and very close by you’ll find Plaça Sant Jaume (embracing the City Hall building and the Palau de la Generalitat), Barcelona’s Cathedral, the Gothic Quarter and Portal de l’Angel, one of the best areas to go shopping in Barcelona. Now of course, this is a place where you’ll have to be extremely careful with pickpockets.
Heading to the mountains, you’ll find La Rambla de Cataluña, another section of this street that is considered a paradise for clothes and home accessory shopping, as well as an oasis of cafés and restaurants with lovely terraces.
Paseo de Gràcia
Parallel to Rambla de Cataluña, Paseo de Gràcia is also one of the most appreciated tourist spots in Barcelona, basically for its commercial, gastronomic and architectural appeal. What started as a refuge for the bourgeoisie at the beginning of the XX century is now easily one of the most elegant avenues in the city, and it is here where you’ll find the most exclusive brands and hotels.
Besides, you cannot fail to visit the most allegoric monuments by Gaudí: Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, also known as “La Pedrera”. Both are products of the most prolific and creative phase of the Catalonian architect, although they do not constitute the only instances of architecture in the area. Here you’ll also find gems such as Casa Lleó i Morera, Casa Bonet and Casa Amatller, which together with Casa Batlló become “The Apple of Discord”, a compound of some of the greatest works ascribed to the Catalonian modernist movement.
This is, hands down, the most outstanding building in Barcelona. What was meant to be a temple devoted to the Sagrada Familia in a piece of land far from the city centre and surrounded by green fields and animals is now one of the most crowded sites in the Eixample. It is the most popular monument in Spain (more than 3.2 million visitors in 2014) and one of the greatest works of art ever produced by Gaudí, who took over the project in 1883, a year after the works had already started, and who devoted all his efforts to perfect it until his death in 1926.
Almost 90 years after his death, his most representative work is still under construction and still sparks the interest and fascination of thousands of tourists who come out in droves every day to visit this monument, declared a World Heritage site. You can purchase your tickets for La Sagrada Familia online and that way avoid the long queues to go in.
It was the core of the city’s economic power for years, and today it is one of the hot spots in Ciutat Vella (Old City) and one of the best places to enjoy the city’s nightlife.
Along the sinuous streets, you’ll find a building with great artistic value such as the Basílica Santa María del Mar, which inspired the novel Cathedral of the Sea and is considered a genuine example of the Catalonian gothic. On the other hand, you cannot leave without visiting the Picasso Museum, the Palau de la Música Catalana (“Palace of Catalan Music”) and El Born Centre Cultural.
Imagination and creativity meet again in Park Güell, the most peculiar of its kind in the city of Barcelona. Initially designed as a series of upscale houses in a piece of land that belonged to Eusebio Güell (one of the greatest promoters of Gaudí’s work), the Park Güell (1900-1914) took off after this initial project failed.
The architecture of Park Güell takes inspiration from the forms of nature and creates spaces that resemble a world of fantasy more than a conventional park; a spectacular place that besides making contact with nature and admiring Gaudí’s creative genius, offers some incredible views over Barcelona.
Over almost a century, Park Güell remained open to the public for free. However, the tourist overcrowding brought about the decision of charging an entrance fee and to cap the number of visitors per hour.
Speaking of incredible views, the Tibidabo mountain does not pale in comparison to Park Güell. Being the highest point of Sierra de Collserola (512 metres), it borders the urban space and becomes one of the natural lungs of the city. It has several tourist attractions that you cannot fail to visit.
Among them there’s the Tibidabo Amusement Park (1899), the first in Spain and the second to open in Europe, the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor, a church that is lit up every night and can be spotted from any part of the city and the Torre de Collserolla, a tower designed by Norman Foster and built in 1992 for the Olympic Games that provides the best viewpoint over the city of Barcelona.
To arrive to Tibidado you can take the Tibidabo funicular, which leaves you at the foot of all these attractions.
One of the most strategically located spots in Barcelona is Montjuïc, a 173-metre hill that overlooks the city and gives home to a lot of points of interest. Montjuic, more than a neighbourhood, is a sort of monumental park filled with natural spaces, gardens, fountains and a lot of the main Olympic arenas. A special mention deserve:
- The Magic Fountain of Montjuic, a legendary show that combines music, lights and water.
- MNAC, Museo National de Arte de Cataluña (“National Art Museum of Catalonia”), Guards a great art collection.
- The Joan Miró Foundation, a museum entirely dedicated to the Catalonian artist.
- Palau Sant Jordi, a multipurpose space devoted to sport and musical events.
- The Calatrava Communications Tower.
- The Olympic stadium Lluis Companys, main stadium of the Olympic Games in 1992.
La Barceloneta is one of the most traditional districts of Barcelona, with a style very different to the rest of the city’s. It used to be a fishermen’s neighbourhood but now La Barceloneta has one of the most famous beaches in the city, and its streets have become a shelter for tourists, contrary to their residents’ wishes.
Besides hosting a great number of restaurants with excellent Mediterranean food, La Barceloneta functions as a kind of meeting and staging point between the Olympic Harbour and the Port of Barcelona, with very popular tourist sites such as Las Golondrinas, Maremagnum, the Port Cable Car or the Sea front, one of the best spots to party in Barcelona.
Camp Nou is one of the most iconic sites in Barcelona, perhaps because is the headquarters of FC Barcelona, one of the most successful football teams in the world. The figures associated to Camp Nou are mind-blowing. With room for almost 100,000 spectators, it is the biggest stadium in Europe and the fifth in the world, and some of the most legendary matches have taken place within its premises.
On top of sports events, it also hosts massive musical events, as it’s the case of the epic shows put on by Bruce Springsteen or U2. But beyond that, visiting Camp Nou involves visiting the FC Barcelona Museum, where all the trophies won by the club are on display and the history and the achievements of the famous club are revisited. A recommended visit even for those who are not football followers.
You can get a discount on your ticket to most tourist attractions by getting the Barcelona Card, which will also give you free limitless access to public transport. If you travel to Barcelona from a country that is not a member of the European Union, remember that the currency in Spain is the Euro, which you will have the opportunity to exchange in the Global Exchange branches once you land in Barcelona-El Prat Airport.