Last updated: November 2017
With so much loveliness all around you, from Barcelona’s inspiring architecture, to the delightful squares and rambling parks, narrowing our list down to 10 was really quite a mission. Our challenge to you is to take a notebook and pen, and draw up your own list of the 10 places that made you feel most warm and squishy inside as you wandered through Barcelona. Feel free to share your findings in the comments below.
1. Barcelona Cathedral
The façade of Barcelona’s largest Gothic masterpiece was recently restored. It now gleams in the sunshine, overlooking Plaça de la Seu, the square that shares the Cathedral’s name. Take a walk around its perimeter and look out for the gargoyles that leer down at you like illustrations from an H.P. Lovecraft story, or admire the tall spires. The cathedral’s interior is every bit as magnificent as you would expect, with a large principal altar and lateral altars dedicated to significant Saints. Its reverential ambience is accentuated by high ceilings, low lighting and musky incense that burns in ornate cast iron thuribles. Barcelona Cathedral is free to visit during certain hours, and a donation is requested at other times.
2. Plaça Espanya
As you step out of the metro, don’t be alarmed by the many lanes of cars that zip around the monument that stands in its centre. Turn your back to the traffic and admire the Palau Nacional building, home to Barcelona’s prestigious National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC). The fountains which line the boulevard are of course none other than the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc which comes to life with an epic choreography of dancing jets, coloured lighting and a popular music soundtrack.
3. Park Güell
If you’re after beautiful places in Barcelona, then Park Güell should definitely be on your list. Not only was it landscaped by Barcelona’s architect extraordinaire Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), its position on the Turó del Carmel hill guarantees awesome views of Barcelona’s famous skyline and the deep azure Mediterranean. Time your visit with the sunset to add a romantic touch. Parks by their very nature are places where beauty can grow in the flowerbeds, uncurl its leaves and petals, and express a symphony of colour and shape that people try copy in countless ways. Gaudí was especially inspired by the asymmetrical curves and contours of the natural world, which you can recognize in the organic caverns and undulating lines of his mosaic works.
4. MACBA Barcelona Contemporary Art Museum
Sharp angles, large glass paneling and solid stone steps, the MACBA’s exterior is no less impressive than the permanent collection and world-class temporary exhibits that grace its cool modern interior. It was one of the first projects that allowed Barcelona’s inner city Raval neighbourhood to start boasting the tagline “up and coming”, and was completed in 1995 by New York architect Richard Meier. If your definition of beautiful includes basking in postmodern architecture, watching skateboarders flip (or flop) their tricks, and catching up on some cool-hunting as you eye up the brands on their hoodies, then order yourself a caña at H Original bar or one of the other cafés in Plaça dels Àngels and soak it all in.
5. Passeig de Gràcia
As far as streets go, this one’s a looker. Its wide avenue is flanked by tall trees, Modernist lamp-posts, and some of the most prestigious shops in town. Say hello to Louis Vuitton, Prada, Hermès and the rest of the luxury catwalk usual suspects. There are high street stores too, so if you’re a fan of Zara, Mango, Bershka and the like, then this is your one-stop-shop for some brand new clothing goodies. The rest of us can appreciate the elegance of the window displays, but most especially the architectural masterpieces that set Passeig de Gràcia apart. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, which is also known as La Pedrera, can both be found here. If the queues are too long, book your tickets online and skip straight to the front tomorrow.
6. El Born
A neighbourhood you cannot miss out on is El Born. This used to be the merchant’s district; its street names reveal some of the professions that once offered their services here, such as Carrer dels Cotoners (cotton), Carrer de la Llana (wool), and Carrer del Oli (oil). La Rambla del Born stretches from the Gothic church of Santa María del Mar to the recently inaugurated Born Cultural Centre, which is free to enter and contains well-preserved ruins of Barcelona’s Medieval city. There are plenty of hidden highlights in the Born neighbourhood, as well as some of the city’s trendiest boutiques, the famous Picasso museum and countless funky restaurants and bars.
According to Matthew’s verse in the Bible, the Devil took Jesus by the hand, led him to the top of a high mountain and gestured towards the magnificent plains and cities below. With a flick of his forked tail he whispered, “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.” The name Tibidabo comes directly from the Latin, meaning “I will give you.” Tibidabo is part of the Collserola mountain range, a beautiful natural reserve covered with hiking trails and bike paths and with views towards Montserrat mountain and the Pyrenees. If you go at the weekend you might come across yellow-jacketed volunteers walking the many dogs from the Tibidabo Animal Shelter. The Sagrat Cor church sits at the highest peak of 512m, with interesting art works inside, and one of Europe’s oldest funfairs outside.
8. Barceloneta beach
Is Barceloneta beautiful? Locals would surely wrinkle their noses and utter a contemptuous “are you kidding?” It’s true that the coves of the Costa Brava and the long sandy stretches of beaches outside Barcelona are nicer. However, if your yardstick for comparison is more akin to Margate or Bournemouth then this is sure to make it onto your list. During the hot summer months Barceloneta gets packed out with tourists and cerveza-beer sellers, but if you go down early in the morning, towards sunset, or out of season, then you’ll be able to really appreciate the beauty of this urban beach.
9. Ciutadella Park
This is one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona, and it’s full of beautiful details. For starters it’s one of the few places with enough lawn to roll around on, spread out a picnic or string a wire to practice tight-rope walking. There is a large boating lake with a vibrant ecosystem of beautiful water plants and ducks. A large golden chariot fountain and waterfall provide the focal point around which the park spreads out, toward the Catalan parliament buildings and the Zoo.
10. Squares in Gràcia
The district of Gràcia was once an independent village, separated by fields from a Barcelona that was contained by high city walls and located in what we now call the Ciutat Vella. It is full of enchanting squares where you can enjoy a morning coffee in the sunshine or some evening tapas. Plaça del Sol is perhaps the best known, and a classic meeting place for students, hipsters, and pickled rumba guitarists. Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia has a great ice-cream shop on the corner and a tall clock tower in the middle. Another especially beautiful square is Plaça de la Virreina, where you’ll find the church of San Joan. Take a stroll through the neighbourhood and enjoy its creative vibe.
Now get your pen and paper ready, (ok, ok, finger-tap it onto a note page on your smartphone…) and suss out for yourself what the 10 most beautiful places in Barcelona really are. There’s a few we didn’t have time to mention… and they’re worth seeing too!