Set between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees, Barcelona draws weekenders and families with its Modernist architecture, tapas bars, beaches and markets. The city's rich Catalan culture and wealth of museums make it a unique destination on Spain's northeast coast.
Barcelona: city layout
The heart of Barcelona is Plaça de Catalunya, a vast square dotted with fountains and ringed by hotels and department stores. You can visit the underground tourist office before strolling down iconic Rambla de Catalunya, Passeig de Gràcia shopping street and pedestrianised Portal de l'Àngel.
Between Plaça de Catalunya and the Barceloneta beach area lies Ciutat Vella (Old Town) with its atmospheric El Raval and Barri Gòtic districts lined with tapas bars, pastry shops and boutiques. North and west of Plaça de Catalunya is the grid-like Eixample district, shot through by Avinguda Diagonal.
Top attractions in Barcelona
Antoni Gaudí's colourful Modernist masterpieces turn Barcelona into an outdoor gallery, from the Sagrada Família basilica to Park Güell with its mosaics, terraces and picnic spots. Art lovers can dig deeper in Raval's Museu d'Art Contemporani (MACBA) and Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) in Montjuïc.
Looking for street life? You can wander down Las Ramblas past bird sellers and street performers, follow the medieval cobbled lanes of Barri Gòtic to the Cathedral, then stroll along the Port Olímpic marina where buskers entertain beachgoers. L'Aquàrium de Barcelona offers a glimpse of life below the waves, and a cable car up to Montjuïc is a fun way to see the city from above.
The concierge recommends…
Barcelona and its suburbs have hotels to suit every budget and style, from family-friendly accommodation by the beach to trendy urban hotels around Plaça de Catalunya and El Raval.
Business travellers like to stay near Plaça de Espanya and the Fira Barcelona congress centre on Montjuïc mountain. The Poble Espanyol model village makes this area popular with families, too.
Want some beach time? It's a quick metro ride from up-and-coming Poblenou to Bogatell Beach. Here you can pick up a bicing bike – Barcelona's bike-share system – and pedal along the coastal cycle path before lunch.
Barcelona's efficient public transport makes it easy to get around. Peaceful Molins de Rei and Sant Cugat del Vallès are a 20- to 30-minute train ride from central Barcelona. Montmeló, off the AP-7 motorway, is home to the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya race track.
Catalans are passionate about good food and wine. You can join the feast – or shop for a picnic – at La Boqueria Market off Las Ramblas, with its produce stalls, stand-up bars and fresh fruit juices. Another fun, historic food market is Santa Caterina near Barcelona Cathedral.
The cobbled lanes of Ciutat Vella, as well as the wide avenues around Plaça Catalunya, are lined with tapas bars serving pintxos (small portions) of tortilla de patatas (potato omelette), ensaladilla rusa (potato salad) and pata negra ham sliced straight from the bone.
El Raval is packed with halal restaurants, while Poblenou has seafood restaurants serving fresh langoustines and mussels in steaming paellas or hot from the parrilla (grill).
Tip: Catalans eat lunch between 2pm and 4pm, and dinner starts at 9pm or later. There are plenty of restaurants and hotels in Barcelona catering to visitors who prefer to eat earlier.
The chef recommends...
You'll feel like a local shopping in Barcelona's covered markets with their colourful stalls and sellers, but there are plenty of department stores and malls too. International boutiques line the chic avenues of Eixample.
The flagship store of El Corte Inglés, Spain's most iconic department store, dominates Plaça de Catalunya along with FNAC, Apple and other big brands. You'll also find a branch of El Corte Inglés inside L'Illa Diagonal. Other top malls include Maremagnum in the Barceloneta, and Arenas de Barcelona in a former bullring in Plaça de Espanya.
You can window-shop luxury stores northwest from Plaça de Catalunya up Passeig de Gràcia, or head southeast down Portal de l'Àngel for street stalls selling artisan jewellery and crafts.
The cobbled streets of Barri Gòtic and El Raval are lined with bookshops, boutiques and pastelerías (pastry shops). Looking for souvenirs? The studios of Poble Espanyol in Montjuïc spill over with Catalan arts, crafts, jewellery and toys.
Best markets in Barcelona
Barcelona's strong Catalan culture sets it apart from other Spanish cities: in place of flamenco and bullfighting, you'll find locals joining hands for the Catalan national dance, la sardana, and building human towers known as castells.
Innovative cultural projects such as Art Factories – converted industrial spaces for exhibitions and events – join venerable institutions like the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Fundació Joan Miró and Museu Picasso.
High culture in Barcelona revolves around the Liceu opera house and Modernist Palau de la Música Catalana, which hosts concerts by international musicians as well as its own choirs.
Nightlife starts well into the night – clubs don't start hopping until 2am. But around 6pm, tapas joints in Ciutat Vella and trendy bars around Plaça Catalunya fill with locals relaxing with a chilled caña (small beer) and tapas. Many hotels have rooftop terraces where DJs provide a mellow soundtrack and trained “mixologists” shake cocktails – creative cocktail-making is one of the city's favourite pastimes.
To find out what's on in Barcelona, check BCN Més.
Barcelona's best nightclubs
Barcelona is packed with kid-friendly attractions that are fun for adults, too, including parks, beaches and outdoor events. Family-friendly hotels and restaurants are the norm, and tapas menus offer small plates for fussy eaters.
You can spend a morning making sandcastles on the beach at Bogatell or Barceloneta, which have play areas, showers, calm waters and nearby cafés. You'll then be perfectly placed for a cable car ride up to Montjuïc with its Poble Espanyol model village and free Font Màgica water-and-light shows.
On Tibidabo, Barcelona's other mountain, lies Parc d'Atraccions Tibidabo, a vintage amusement park from 1889: think spinning cups, a house of horrors, bumper cars and an iconic 1928 flight simulator. Expect puppet shows and street theatre, along with occasional correfocs (firework parades).
Performing dolphins are the big attraction at Zoo de Barcelona, located in leafy Parc de la Ciutadella. Take a picnic and spend all day here paddling around the boating lake, climbing on the giant fountain and watching street performers at weekends.
Indoor family activities in Barcelona
During heatwaves and rainy days, Barcelona has plenty of indoor family attractions: