Top Things to Do in Barcelona: Architectural Wonders

For a city that boasts not only Antoni Gaudí but also a history of Gothic architecture, it's no wonder that Barcelona is a dream for those who love design. 

We can thank Gaudí, a prominent player in the Modernism (Catalan Art Nouveau) movement, for some of the most stunning design found in Europe. His creations range from his soaring late-19th-century Sagrada Familia (still unfinished), to Park Güell with its organic swirls and the whimsical Casa Mila and mosiac details.

Futher back, the heart of Barcelona has been the Barri Gòtic, the old city center and with Gothic design galore. Here's where you'll see the elegent Plaça Reial, the soaring columns of the Catedral, and Basilicia de Santa Maria del Mar—whose columns were said to influence La Sagrada Familia.

Spain loves its opera, so it's no wonder that two of its most majestic landmarks are both theaters: Gran Teatre Del Liceu, dating back to the mid 19th century, and Palau de la Musica Catalana, built in the early 20th century. 


Plaça Reial

This beautiful square in Barri Gotic (Reial means royal in Catalan) is a busy spot, especially in the evening. It was built in the mid 19th century to honor King Ferdinand VII, with the fountain of the Three Graces at its center. It's now surrounded by palm trees, restaurants and bars.

Basilica de la Sagrada Família

The craggy Nativity Façade, completed shortly before Gaudí’s death in 1926, is a magical introduction to this masterpiece.
 Its soaring bulbous spires are seen from all over the city.

Palau de la Música Catalana

This opulent Modernista auditorium completed in 1908 is a feast for the eyes, a Unesco World Heritage Site recently renovated. The concert auditorium hosts world premieres, symphonic and choral music, with an organ over the stage and central skylight.

Arc de Triomf

The red brick, Moorish-style ceremonial archway was built as an entrance for the 1888 World Exposition, which was held in the Parc de la Ciutadella. Designed by Modernista architect Josep Vilaseca, it is packed with sculpural symbolism depicting elements of the city and region.

Palau Reial Major (Royal Palace)

The medieval Plaça del Rei, heart of the Gothic Quarter, is thought to be the site of Columbus’s return from his first voyage to the New World, and packed with historic gems. The palace was the official royal residence, with a 14th-century banquet hall and Royal Chapel and 15th-century watchtower.

Catedral de Barcelona (La Seu)

At the huge Gothic cathedral, built between 1298 and 1450,
 a lift transports you up to experience the dizzying views among the gargoyles. Highlights include the carved choir stalls of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, the sculpted organ loft and tomb of Santa Eulalia in the crypt. Open daily 8am-7.30pm; donation requested.

Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

Gaudí’s huge, curved apartment building was dubbed 
La Pedrera (The Stone Quarry) by locals when it was completed in 1912. There isn’t a straight line anywhere, including inside the apartments, of which one is open to visitors. All the Modernista furniture and fittings were created by the finest craftsmen of the era.

Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA)

Richard Meier’s huge, glassy Museum opened in the Raval area in 1995, spearheading the neighborhood’s redevelopment. It’s the perfect showcase for celebrated Catalan painters such as Antoni Tàpies, Spain’s best-known living artist, and newer artists like Miquel Barceló, Perejaume and Susana Solano. Adult €10.

Barri Gòtic

This Gothic Quarter is one of the best-preserved medieval neighborhoods in Europe. This was the original heart of Barcelona and now beautifully preserved—it's compact, and best explored on foot. Look out for its medieval alleyways, the 13th-century cathedral and tucked-away bars.   

Palau Güell

This palace was Gaudí’s first major commission for his biggest patron, Eusebi Güell, and completed in 1888. The rooms are set around a lofty central hall overlooked by a dome with tiny shards of light that represent the heavens. The playful roof topped by mosaic-covered chimneys really shows off his imagination.

Basilica de Santa María del Mar

Looming above the streets in the hip neighborhood of El Born, this church is a prime example of 14th-century Catalan Gothic architecture. It boasts a soaring central nave and flat-topped octagonal towers, and a simple interior burned by locals in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. Regular concerts are held here.

Gran Teatre del Liceu

Barcelona's much-loved opera house, Gran Teatre del Liceu, founded in 1847, is extremely popular so book tickets as early as possible. It hosts regular well-known opera, dance, recitals and concerts in its main auditorium. The small stage in the basement holds performances for children.