• Leslie

Must See Landmarks and Attractions in Barcelona Spain

Updated: May 20

the dramatically lit ceiling of Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia
the dramatically lit ceiling of Antoni Gaudi's Sagrada Familia

Here's my comprehensive guide to 40+ must see landmarks and attractions in Barcelona Spain. I try to be judicious about what cities I describe as "magical." But cultured and cosmopolitan Barcelona is one of the world's treasures. It's a visual feast of a city that deserves the descriptor.

For the avid sightseer, Barcelona's top rated attractions are its surrealistic architecture and impressive monuments. Barcelona elevates architecture to rock star status like no other city.

Barcelona is a veritable architectural wonderland -- home to centuries old Gothic palaces, Modernist fantasias, and cutting edge contemporary architecture. There are no end of wonders, both old and new, famous and secret. Everywhere you turn, you'll find beauty and architectural gems.

Barcelona is most renowned for its exciting late 19th century Modernist architecture, Catalonia's expressionistic take on Art Nouveau. Barcelona's most prominent Modernist architects were the "holy trinity" -- Antoni Gaudi, LLuis Domenech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. They used the Eixample neighborhood as their playground, for devilish and creative experimentation.

Since the time of Gaudi, architects have been treated with reverence in Barcelona. In the 1980s, when it was time to give Barcelona a facelift before the 1992 Summer Olympics, it was again the architects who shined.

There are so many amazing things to see and do in Barcelona. I've separated the attractions into six categories of must see sites: (1) Gaudi-designed masterpieces; (2) Montaner-designed masterpieces; (3) Cadafalch-designed masterpieces; (4) famous churches; (5) contemporary architectural landmarks; and (6) all other landmarks, including some beautifully-housed museums.

the colorful facade of Casa Batllo
the colorful facade of Casa Batllo

40+ Landmarks, Attractions, and Sites You Must See in Barcelona

Gaudi Landmarks

To many Catalonians, Barcelona is Gaudi. Or at least he's the unofficial saint. There's been no artist in history to have such an absolute influence on a city. Gaudi designed everything from mansions, to churches, to public parks -- all in inimitable style.

Seven of Gaudi's creations in Barcelona are designated UNESCO sites. Let's take a look at 11 of his delicious designs.

1. Casa Battlo

Casa Batllo is truly one of the world's most unique buildings. It's Antoni Gaudi at his hallucinatory, dreamlike best. Casa Batllo was an instant hit and nicknamed the "House of Bones" and the "House of Yawns."

Casa Batllo is simultaeously operatic and mischievous. Gaudi conjured a building in the image of a dragon. The strange bone-like facade commands your attention. It's studded with sinister skull mask balconies and capped by a sinuously scaled roof.

Casa Batllo's mosaicked facade is a kaleidoscope of blue, mauve, and green tiles. Though it's a bit hard to see, the facade's actually uneven and slightly wavy, like a calm sea. Its marine-like surface doubles as a dragon's skin.

Casa Batllo's interior is like a jewel box. It's filled with beautiful tiles, sensuous curved wood, serpentine railings, and stained glass -- all in organic forms and curvy shapes. The motif is an undersea grotto lit by skylights shaped like tortoise shells. The ceiling droops and swerves poetically.

The humpback roof adds to the surrealistic feel of Casa Batllo. It's deliberately scaly, like the back of a dragon or dinosaur with iridescent skin and visible raised spines. The riotously colored Trencadis (broken tile) mosaics represent the blood of its victims. The rooftop spire represents the sword of St. George being plunged into the dragon.

One pro tip ... If there's a queue for the rooftop elevator, there's also a secret staircase.You have to hoof it up 8 floors, but it beats waiting in line.

READ: Complete Guide to Casa Batllo

Address: Passeig de Gracia, 43

the undulating facade of La Pedrera
the undulating facade of La Pedrera

2. Casa Mila | La Pedrera

La Pedrera, or Casa Mila, is another UNESCO-listed Gaudi building that's pure art inside and out. In terms of engineering ingenuity, architectural design, and style, it was even more revolutionary than Casa Batllo.

Initially, the locals hated Casa Mila. Because of its jagged, rocky facade and weird undulating shape, it was nicknamed "The Quarry" (or La Pedrera). But Casa Mila is considered one of the crown jewels of the Catalan Art Nouveau movement.

The building evokes a giant sea creature or a piece of coral smoothed by the ocean. In classic Gaudi fashion, Casa Mila was heavily influenced by nature -- by air, sea, and water. The building ripples and waves like a burbling ocean. The tangled balconies look like twisted kelp.

Inside, the tiled entrance courtyard resembles an underwater forest. From the courtyard, look up for an incredible views. Light pours in from the roof to the interior apartments. Unlike the dough-ish color of the exterior, inside it's a marine wonderland with sea foam ceilings.

La Pedrera's iconic rooftop is astounding, far superior to Casa Batllo. It has winding pathways and a spiky forest of 30 chimneys. The chimneys are dubbed the "Garden of Warriors." They resemble storm troopers from the Star Wars movies. You also have a nice view of Sagrada Familia from the roof.

In the evenings, a spectacular audiovisual show takes place on the terrace. Casa Mila’s rooftop terrace and stairwells are illuminated with projections set to music. You can enjoy this performance with a glass of cava in hand, which comes with your ticket.

READ: Complete Guide To La Pedrera

Address: Passeig de Gracia, 92

Casa Vicens, Gaudi's first house commission
Casa Vicens, Gaudi's first house commission

3. Casa Vicens

Gaudi’s work dominates the streets of Barcelona. But you may have missed Casa Vicens. North of the city center in the sleepy village of Gracia, Casa Vicens is one of Gaudi’s lesser-known works. It's his first home and a UNESCO-listed site.

The vivacious Casa Vicens splashed onto the Gaudi tourist circuit in November 2017. After 130 years of private ownership and a massive renovation, Casa Vicens opened its doors to the public. The building's exotic, an intense burst of vibrant color and marigold tiles.

Casa Vicens was designed in a Neo-Mudejar style that was once popular in southern Spain, at Seville's Royal Alcazar and Granada's Alhambra. Like those UNESCO sites, Gaudi intended Casa Vicens "to evoke a caliph’s pavilion set in an oasis.”

READ: 10 Day Itinerary for Andalusia

Unlike Gaudi's other creations, Casa Vicens is very rectilinear, defying Gaudi's edict that there are no straight lines in nature. Everything is square -- square tiles, square windows, square balconies. But the seed of the future Gaudi is evident in the building's ornamentation, if not its structure.

The main floor consists of the dining room, smoking room, and covered porch. The bedrooms are on the first floor, full of exuberant leafy decor. The ceilings are blanketed with bushes, vines, and riotous color. The second floor has a display on Casa Vicens' history.

Address: Carrer de les Carolines, 18-24, 08012 Barcelona

facade of Gaudi's Casa Calvet, another early work
facade of Gaudi's Casa Calvet, another early work

4. Casa Calvet

The Neo-Baroque Casa Calvet is the neglected stepchild of Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. It was his first building in Eixample. The house isn’t curvy, crazy, or whimsically colorful. And so it's largely ignored.

Built between 1898-99, Casa Calvet was commissioned by Pere Calvet, a textile manufacturer. In 1900, the Barcelona City Council voted Casa Calvet the best building of the year -- the only time Gaudi won such an honor.

The sandstone facade has curved double gables crowned with iron crosses. The sandstone was quarried from nearby Montjuic. The building's ornamentation is classic Gaudi. It has bulging and curved balconies, which presage the mask-like balconies on Casa Batllo. The wrought iron is highly stylized and similar to La Pedrera's twisting "seaweed" look.

The rear facade is where Gaudi made his mark. Lending a decorative focus to the rear facades was important to Gaudi, as we see from his later work on Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. You can't see it from the street, but it has some elaborate floral designs.

Casa Calvet is privately owned and can’t be accessed by the public. But it does have a restaurant where you can reserve a spot to dine amidst Gaudi decor.

Address: Carrer de Casp, 48

nave of Sagrada Familia, with a forest of columns
nave of Sagrada Familia, with a forest of columns

5. Sagrada Familia

Though Picasso wanted to "send Gaudi and Sagrada Familia to hell," the basilica is Barcelona's #1 attraction and one of Spain's most famous landmarks. Sagrada Familia is Gaudi's wildy creative and unfinished masterpiece, where beige-pink spires culminate in glitter.

Despite being under continuous construction, Sagrada Familia is a place of superlatives both inside and out. Looming like a castle in the sky, it's almost blinding in its prodigiousness. Gaudi sought to create a visual narrative of Christ's life.

The exterior of the basilica is audacious and "gaudy" in appearance, a mountain (or termite hill) almost. It's dramatically designed, with three jarringly different facades, themed for three chapters in Christ's life. Some would call the Sagrada Familia strange looking or outlandish.

But the interior is entirely sublime. Gaudi intended it to be a retreat into nature. And, indeed, you could be standing in a majestic star-lit white forest. It's an astonishing space, an alternative reality full of detail. You'll gasp when you enter.

Be prepared to crane your neck skyward at the starry ceiling. The ceiling and stained glass are absolutely mesmerizing. You can't help but be slack jawed.

The interior is effectively a spiritual sculpture, reinvented as architecture. The nave has shimmering gold tiles on the floor. It's lined with 36 pale columns in different heights and widths. The columns form a forest, branching out like trees.

If you want to go up one the towers of Sagrada Familia, you need to buy a ticket that includes the tower. You have to choose between inspecting the Nativity or Passion Facade. You can get a gargoyle's eye view of the basilica up close. But there will also be scaffolding. There are better viewing places and plenty of rooftop bars in Barcelona, if you don't add the tower option.

READ: Complete Guide to Sagrada Familia

Address: Carrer de Mallorca, 401

entrance to Palau Guell in the Gothic Quarter
entrance to Palau Guell in the Gothic Quarter

6. Palau Guell

Located off La Rambla, Palau Güell, or Güell Palace, doesn't immediately scream Gaudi. It's more traditional and dark, almost like a luxurious Venetian palace. It has a creepy Gothic vibe. And I mean that in a good way. Don't miss this wondrous building.

The Palau Güell commission came at the outset of Gaudi's career, when he was establishing himself as an architect. Built between 1886-88, it was designed for Eusebi Güell, a prominent industrialist and Gaudi's greatest patron. It was the family's residence until they moved to Park Güell in 1910. The original period furniture is still in place.

The home centers on a main room that was used to entertain wealthy guests. It has a 17 meter high ceiling crowned by a parabolic dome. Small holes are perforated near the top, where lanterns are hung at night to give the appearance of a starlit sky. It's almost like a planetarium experience.

dramatic ceiling in Palau Guell
dramatic ceiling in Palau Guell

rooftop of Palau Guell
rooftop of Palau Guell

another view of the rooftop of Palau Guell
another view of the rooftop of Palau Guell

Most of Gaudi's experimentation is in the basement, which reflects Gaudi's early enthusiasm for using natural shapes, with pillars in the form of mushrooms.

The roof, like many Gaudi creations, also features colorful ceramic shapes and 20 chimneys. One conical chimney looks like a stack of green olives smooshed together. Gaudi tended to put his most innovative work in the top and bottom of buildings to avoid the ire of his clients.

Address: Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 3-5

entrance to Colonia Guell
entrance to Colonia Guell

7. Colonia Guell

Colonia Guell is 10 miles from the center of Barcelona. But it can still be reached in about 25 minutes by public transport. So don’t let the distance put you off visiting this amazing Barcelona attraction.

Colonia Guell is located in the sleepy village of Santa Coloma de Cervello. Commissioned by Eusebi Guell, it was intended as a utopian community, where workers at Guell's textile factory could live. The entire complex comprises a factory area, a residential area, and the Gaudi church crypt.

Gaudi began work on the church of Colonia Guell in 1908. Due to lack of funds, only the crypt-like lower nave was completed. In 1915, the lower nave was blessed by Barcelona’s bishop. In 2005, it became a UNESCO site.

the UNESCO-listed crypt of Colonia Guell
the UNESCO-listed crypt of Colonia Guell

stained glass windows of Colonia Guell
stained glass windows of Colonia Guell

The crypt has functioned as a church ever since. Gaudi used the crypt as a "lab." It was here that Gaudi developed unique and surprising structural concepts and biomorphic forms that he would later use in Sagrada Familia. The interior almost looks like a daddy long leg spider or a space ship.

The crypt's exterior has whimsical jewel-like glass windows. Inside, it's an intimate, earthy space with a circular nave, held up by dramaticaly lurching stone pilars. There's a giant clam shell repurposed as a holy water font and and beautiful ergonomic pews designed by Gaudi himself.

Address: Claudi Guell, 6

Park Guell, a Gaudi wonderland
Park Guell, a Gaudi wonderland

8. Park Guell

Park Guell might be Gaudi's most fantastical creation. It's a 45 acre public park and garden complex, with stunning mosaic art, located on Carmel Hill in Barcelona. You should definitely enjoy a gorgeous sunset view and stroll in Barcelona’s finest park.

Initially, Eusebi Güell asked Gaudi to design a mini city with luxury homes. Gaudi worked on the project from 1900-14. But the plan backfired; it was a commercial flop. Only 4 of the planned 60 houses were built.

But Gaudi managed to create a plaza, two Hansel and Gretel gatehouses, a serpentine bench, colonnaded walkways, and a dramatic stairway. The most famous icon at Park Guell is the multicolored mosaic lizard known as "El Drac," or the dragon.

serpentine bench in Park Guell
serpentine bench in Park Guell

Gaudi purchased one of the Park Guell homes. He lived there for almost 20 years before he moved into Sagrada Familia for good. His home is now the Gaudi House Museum.

Most of the Park Guell is free to visit and you'll have some nice views over the city. But the central Monumental Zone has a fee. If you want to visit Gaudi's home, the house-museum is located just outside the Monumental Zone in the park's free section.

Address: Calle Claudi Güell

Torre Bellesguard
Torre Bellesguard

9. Torre Bellesguard

Torre Bellesguard was commissioned by Maria Sagues in 1900. She loved Gaudi's Modernist architecture. Bellesguard was constructed on the ruins of the medieval castle of Martin of Aragon, the last king of the Catalan dynasty.

Gaudi lead the construction team for nine years. Then, it was completed by Domenec Sugranes i Gras. He created the colorful mosaics that give a pop of color to the mud colored building. But the symbolism, curves, and nature motifs of Torre Bellesguard are pure Gaudi.

As we saw with Casa Batllo, Gaudi was obsessed with the myth of St. George and the Dragon. At Bellesguard, Gaudi repeated the theme, conjuring a roof with a built-in dragon face and angled rocks that double as dragon scales. It's also topped with a tower-sword.

On either side of the entrance door are brightly covered seats, which symbolize the Golden Age of Catalonian rule. The interior is a mix of brightness and tranquility. White walls are juxtaposed with blue and yellow tile and stained glass chandeliers and windows.

Address: Carrer de Bellesguard, 20, 08022 Barcelona

Gaudi's dragon gate in the Pavellons Guell
Gaudi's dragon gate in the Pavellons Guell

10. Guell Pavilion

The first commission Gaudi received from his great patron Guell was to design entrance pavilions for Guell's property. Gaudi worked on them between 1884 and 1887, when Gaudi was strongly influenced by Islamic architecture.

One of the most eye-catching features is the fantastical wrought iron dragon gate on Avinguda de Pedralbes. The dragon was originally polychromatic with red jaws and glass eye sockets. But it still stands impressively with its bare metallic hues, dynamic shapes, and curves.

You can usually peer inside on guided visits. But the Pavilion is closed for renovations until 2024.

Address: Av. de Pedralbes, 7

Fountain in Parc del la Ciutadella
Fountain in Parc del la Ciutadella

11. Fountain in Parc de la Ciutadella

Need a break from the hurly burly of big city Barcelona? Once you pass through the Arc de Triomf, you land in the Ciutadella Park. It's one of Barcelona's most photogenic places. The beautiful 74 acre park is a green oasis in the middle of a bustling city, where you can find a sense of serenity.

The park has many attractions -- a boating lake, a collection of statues, a tropical greenhouse, the Barcelona Zoo, and the Catalan Parliament buildings. The highlight is the ornamental fountain, which was designed by Josep Fontsere and a young Gaudi.

The fountain is nicknamed the "Cascada." It's a reference to the triumphal arch at the center of the fountain's waterfall. There's a statue of Venus in a clamshell, perhaps a reference to Botticelli's Birth of Venus in Florence's Uffizi Gallery. On top of the arch, Aurora rides in a chariot of four horses.

Address: Passeig de Picasso, 21

facade of Casa Lleo Morera
facade of Casa Lleo Morera

Montaner Architectural Landmarks

LLuis Domenech i Montaner is an under-sung hero of Catalan Modernism. Montaner was known as the "most modern" of the Modernists, with a mastery of lightweight steel construction. More than Gaudi, Montaner was influenced by the English Arts & Crafts Movement of Ruskin and Morris.

12. Casa LLeo Morera

Casa Lleo Morera is one of Barcelona's best preserved and most beautiful Modernist buildings. Casa Lleo Morera was revolutionary in its day for the different forms of artistry on the exterior.

On 1902, Francesca Morera i Ortiz commissioned Montaner to completely renovate the exterior and interior of the building in an Art Nouveau style. Sadly, Oritz died in 1904 before the mansion was completed. Her son, Albert Lleo i Morera, moved in with his family, bestowing the current name on the house. Lleo Morera means the "Lion and Mulberry Tree House."

stained glass windows by Rigault in Casa LLeo Morera
stained glass windows by Rigault in Casa LLeo Morera

The most striking facade detail is the beautiful curved balconies with ornate floral designs and lions. The ones on the second floor are elongated. The ones on the third floor are rounded. The fourth floor has a set of gallery windows, topped with a wedding cake turret. The overall effect evokes a convent cloister.

Inside, the Noble Floor is stunning. The piece de resistance of Casa Lleo Morera is in the large area that comprises the dining room and living room. There's a brilliantly colored semi-circular stained glass window created by Antoni Rigalt, who worked with Montana on all his projects. You can almost hear the birds chirping.

You can take a guided tour of Casa Lleo Morera, which lasts 55 minutes. Click here to buy a ticket.

Address: Passeig de Gracia, 35

the complex of Sant Pau Recinte Modernism
the complex of Sant Pau Recinte Modernism

13. Sant Pau Recinte Modernista

Barcelona isn't just regal museum-homes built for wealthy families. At Sant Pau, you'll find a former hospital outfitted with exuberant Art Nouveau architecture and decoration. The Montaner-designed hospital is also known as the Hospital of the Holy Cross and Saint Paul. It takes up 10 city blocks on the northern edge of Eixample.

Never were patients so well tended. More theater than hospital, the unique building is an ode to the curative effects of beauty. Here, patients could heal their souls as well as their bodies.

Opened in 1930, and just a short 15 minute walk from Sagrada Família down Avenida de Gaudi, the Hospital de Sant Pau was built as an optimistic and philanthropic gesture by Pau Gil, who commissioned the very popular architect Montaner. This may be Montaner's masterpiece.

In 1997, the hospital was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It functioned as a hospital until 2009. In 2016, Hospital Sant Pau underwent restoration and reopened as a museum and cultural center. Like Casa Vicens and Casa Amatller, it's one of Barcelona's newer tourist attractions.

The complex is gorgeous, inside and out. The 27 ornate and beautiful tiled pavilions are seemingly independent, like little cities within a city. But they're connected by underground tunnels, which you'll see on your visit.

The gorgeous Main Hall dazzles with mosaicked vaulted ceilings, stone carvings, stained glass windows, and tiled domes. Every detail of the interior is worth admiring. In the street level Cafe Vienes, you can sip cava and admire a vaulted ceiling and a forest of marble columns.

Address: Sant Antoni M. Claret, 167, the entrance is on the corner of Carrer Dos de Maig

concert hall of Palau de la Musica Catalana
concert hall of Palau de la Musica Catalana

14. Palau de la Musica Catalana

Palau de la Musica Catalana is a gaudy rose-covered wonderland and must see site in Barcelona. Montaner also designed this magnificent concert hall in 1905-08.

You have to see it to believe it. Musicians love its acoustics. Tourists love its unique design. It's a veritable symphony of stained glass, mosaics, and sculptures.

Palau de la Musica is shoehorned into a claustrophobic, densely packed street in the Gothic Quarter. Montaner countered the claustrophobia with color and levity. The arches and intricate mosaic columns draw your eye up to the roofline. Stained glass windows bring in the natural light.

You begin at the marble Lluis Millet Grand Staircase, named after a famous Catalan composer. As you ascend, gaze up at the eye catching ceramic glazed ceiling. You’ll enter a waiting area, the Lluis Millet Hall, enveloped in massive stained glass windows. Parts of the panels are clear so you can see the dramatic mosaic columns outside by Sala Millet.

mosaic columns of Palau de la Musica
mosaic columns of Palau de la Musica

The auditorium is almost overwhelming. The piece de resistance is the intricate stained glass sun by Antoni Rigalt. It seems to float in midair from the ceiling's inverted dome.

Iron and glass chandeliers create a starry night effect. And sculptures curve up the sides of the stage, including a glowering Beethoven and Valkeries from Richard Wagner's operas.

Palau is now a UNESCO site. But it wasn't embraced initially. Josep Pla, a doyen of Catalan literature, condemned it as "horrible" for its theatrical excesses. Montaner himself was peeved. He skipped the opening ceremony because he hadn't been paid.

Address: C/ Palau de la Musica, 4-6,

Tapies Foundation
Tapies Foundation

15. Tapies Foundation

The Tapies Foundation is a modern and contemporary art cultural space. It's housed in a beautiful Modernist building designed by Montaner. The building was a very early Modernist structure, built around 1880. The building marked the transition from 19th century eclectic architecture to the Art Nouveau style.

The Tapies Foundation was declared a historic monument in 1997. From 2008-10, the building was fully renovated.

The exterior facade is eye catching, with exposed brick and an intricate iron sculpture on top by artist Antoni Tapies, called Chair and Cloud. The sculpture was intended to elevate the building's height. The sculpture represents a chair jutting out of a thick cloud or iron wires. The chair is in the center top.

Founded in 1984 and moved to its current location in 1990, the museum is dedicated mainly to the art work of Tapies, a great 20th century conceptual artist, who was a contemporary of Picasso. But it also serves to advance contemporary art and has a fantastic library.