Barcelona is not one of the most sought-after European destinations by chance. Capital of the autonomous community of Catalunya, in northeastern Spain, Barcelona is a major cultural center filled with picturesque constructions, quaint tapas bars, world-class museums, Gothic churches, and charming cobbled streets. Not to mention the perfect location facing the Mediterranean, which turns the city into the perfect summer retreat in Europe.
Barcelona is home to a showcase of attractions, so you’ll never run out of things to do and boredom won’t be a problem. But just in case you’re making your move to this soulful Spanish city in the future, it’s good to know what are the top attractions in the city. That way you can your trip according to your interests, which will help you experience the best things Barcelona has to offer.
If either your a first-timer in Barcelona or just someone who really likes this destination, this post is for you. We’ll break down the top 7 must-see Barcelona attractions.
Barcelona Travel Tips
The capital of Catalunya is the most-visited city in Spain, so in case you want to experience a less crowded Barcelona, try to book your trip for May or early June. During the summer, Barcelona gets filled with tourists from all around the world, and you might not get the chance to fully enjoy the city’s best attractions. If you don’t mind a little bit of cold, you can also go in February, when the average precipitation is not that high, and temperatures range from 15ºC to 5 º C.
To fully enjoy Barcelona, it’s also recommended that you spend 4 or 5 days in the city. There are a lot of things to see and do, and if you have more time, you’ll be able to get a true feel for the city.
The Legendary Barcelona Attractions
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is one of the most precious landmarks of Barcelona. Located in the Eixample district, this Roman-Catholic Basilica is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its construction is still in progress after more than 135 years.
The beginning of the construction of La Sagrada Familia dates back to 1866, when Josep Maria Bocabella I Verdaguer, the owner of a religious bookshop, decided he wanted to build a church inspired by the Basilica Della Santa Casa, in Loreto, Italy. The first project of La Sagrada Familia was designed in Gothic-style by the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar y Lozano who resigned after a while. The project was then given to Antoni Gaudí, the master of Catalan Modernism.
Gaudi dedicated all his final years to the construction of La Sagrada Familia. Not only he worked exclusively for the Expiatory Temple day and night, as he also lived very next to his workshop during his final months. In 1925, the first bell tower was constructed, but unfortunately, It was the only one Gaudí would see in his lifetime. Gaudí died in 1926 when the basilica was between 15 and 25 percent completed. He was buried in the basilica he helped to build, in the chapel of Our Lady of Carmel.
But Gaudí’s death is not the only reason why the basilica is not finished. After World War II, and during the 1960s, Spain was suffering from grinding poverty, which seriously impacted donations. But interestingly enough, other European churches also took a lot of time to be built. Notre Dame, in Paris, took 182 years, Saint Paul’s, in London, took 200 years, the Reims Cathedral, in France, went through different stages spanning 264 years, and the Cologne Church took 600 years.
But what makes La Sagrada Familia so special? Well, this gorgeous construction is the perfect synthesis of Gaudís architectural evolution. The interiors were conceived in an organic style to resemble a forest, with inclined columns representing branching trees. The height of the building is also pretty impressive and, when finished (in 2026 hopefully), it will be the largest religious building in Europe.
Bunker del Carmel
The famous Bunker del Carmel is said to offer the best views of the Barcelona sunset. When climbing the spot, BCN city is seemingly infinite, ending at the coastline of the Mediterranean. From Bunker del Carmel, you can see La Sagrada Familia, and even the Palace of Montjuic surrounded by numerous mountains.
Also known as El Turó de la Rovira, or simply The Bunker, the Bunker Del Carmel also has a special story to it. This place has been occupied throughout centuries, but only recently by tourists. In the 1930s, during the Civil War, the Bunker was used to defend the city from aerial attacks and thereafter was adapted for slam housing, which was only disbanded in the 1990s with the arrival of the Olympics.
Today, you can see much less of the old-age stone walls, but still, the place has one of the most magnificent views of the city, which you can’t miss when visiting Barcelona.
But before you take off to the Bunker del Caramel to watch the sunset, make sure to pack a couple of bottles of cava or a few beers, and a bunch of snacks, as once you get up there there are won’t absolutely any facilities around: no visitor center, no shop, no toilet. But on the other side, you won’t face huge lines like you would in other famous Barcelona attractions.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta
The park is one of the most different from any other attraction you may find in Barcelona.
Although a little tricky to get to, the Parc del Laberint d’Horta is one of the best non-touristic attractions in Barcelona. You can wander the greenery of the formerly private park, or even have a picnic there. Since 1971, when the park was opened to the public, it has been carefully restored and protected. With both neoclassical and romantic parts, Parc del Laberint d’Horta was designed in 1792 by the Italian engineer Domenico Bagutti, and it’s Barcelona’s oldest garden.
What clearly distinguishes this 55-hectare park from all others is the numerous sculptures inspired by Greek mythology and folklore, as well as a multitude of fountains, springs, and pools. The pavilions of the intermediate terrace were chosen by poet Joan Maragall to represent classic plays, and in 1898 the tragedy Iphigenia in Tauris by Goethe, translated by Maragall and directed by Adrià Gual, was first played here.
The name of the park comes from the lower terrace with the hedge maze that gives the park its name, made up of 750 metres of trimmed cypress trees. At the entrance of the labyrinth, there is a marble bas-relief depicting Ariadne and Theseus.
Having a capacity of 750 people at a time, the park won’t make you feel like you’re in a crowded touristic place.
The Cat of Raval
The legendary Cat of Raval will bring you luck, as you brush the chubby cat. And who doesn’t want good luck?
El Gato de Ravel isn’t the only artwork sculpture in Barcelona, and you can see Terminal 2 of Barcelona El Prat airport to see Botero’s oddly shaped horse.
Old Street Art of La Carbonería
The street has a special aura not only because of the artistic drawings on what previously was a coal factory.
During 2008 – 2014, the building was a significant part of the Barcelona Okupa Movement. Over the years, anti-capitalists have occupied many empty buildings to protest to their rights, but the squatters were eventually made to leave La Cabonería by the police in 2014.
While the building was once thought to be brought down to make space for new buildings, the city council protected it as a site of historic and artistic interest instead.
Hospital Torax de Terrassa
If there is any place you would like to explore only by day, it is Hospital Thorax. Set in the suburban Barcelona, it was once a hospital opened next to a pine forest in the 1950s and housed patients with respiratory diseases, at least officially.
The rumours are not as bright, though. During its operation, it had the highest suicide rate of any institution in Spain. The story goes, patients were driven mad by struggling to breathe and the isolation they felt near the forest. The garden is now nicknamed ‘The Jungle’, as it was a common combination to jump off the balcony into the garden. Want it to get greeny – darkish? Listen well and you may hear the sounds of screaming and loud thuds to that of primal jungle noises.
While “The Jungle” sounds more like a rumor than truth, what may very well be true are the inhumane experiments. Claimed true after a patient obtaining a fetus in a jar from the 5th floor of the Hospital de Torax, the place was eventually abandoned by 1997 and has received a lot of attention from ghost hunters ever since.