This vibrant city is a major embarkation and disembarkation port for Mediterranean cruises, and you’ll want to extend your trip to have time to experience the city’s charms. Barcelona has a look all its own, thanks to the unique architecture, as well as art museums dedicated to some of Spain’s most famous artists. There’s also an incredible food scene, with creative tapas, fresh seafood, churros, and that famous jamon, which often comes paired with a bottle of Tempranillo (check out our picks for the top places to eat in Barcelona). Best of all, the cruise ship terminal itself is right at the foot of Las Ramblas, the city’s street performer-filled avenue, which runs along the edge of the Gothic Quarter. Here, our picks for the top things to do in Barcelona.
1. Sagrada Família
Master surrealist architect Antonio Gaudí’s perpetually unfinished masterpiece is the most iconic building in Barcelona, and even if you’ve seen a thousand pictures of the church and its soaring towers, this modernist take on a gothic cathedral will still take your breath away. You need to have a timed ticket, and slots do sell out: Book as soon as you set your dates, and go early in the day to avoid the biggest crowds. It’s worth the extra fee to a ticket for the towers, which includes an elevator ride up to a viewing platform where you can look out over the city, get a closer look at the exterior, and watch workers continue to craft the church.
2. Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria
This market off Las Ramblas is the perfect introduction to Barcelona’s food scene. Vendors range from fishmongers to bakers, and some of the stalls are actually restaurants where you can grab a stool and order tapas. There are also lots of ready-made treats throughout the market that don’t require a kitchen to enjoy, including cones filled with sliced jamon serrano and chorizo; chocolates in all shapes and sizes; olives and peppers stuffed with manchego or almonds; and cut and juiced fruit in a rainbow of colors.
3. Park Güell
It’s free to stroll this terraced public park, where you can saunter under the stone viaducts and find shade among towering trees lining the paths. Fans of Gaudí’s work should purchase timed tickets to the Monumental Zone for up-close views of the iconic mosaic dragon and an esplanade lined with mosaics.
4. Montjüic Cable Car
This cable car will take you 270 feet up for breathtaking views of the city below. While on Montjüic you can also tour the 17th-century Montjüic Castle, visit a museum dedicated to the works of artist Joan Miró, and wander the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, where the collection ranges from medieval art to avant-garde works from artists including Salvador Dalí.
5. Palau Güell
Gaudí left many marks on Barcelona thanks to his wealthy benefactor, Eusebi Güell. The tycoon’s mansion, built in 1888, is now a museum and monument to Gaudí’s intricate style. Admission includes an audio guide, which leads you through rooms filled with art nouveau touches to the rooftop terrace, where even the chimneys are covered in the architect’s signature mosaics.
6. Picasso Museum
Pablo Picasso’s family moved to Barcelona when he was 4 years old, and this museum — housed in five connected historic mansions in the Gothic Quarter — contains a wide range of this work. Highlights include pieces Picasso made when he was just 12 years old, showing his early skill, as well as pottery.
Barcelona isn’t just a city of museums, parks, and markets — it’s also a beach town. Crowds descend on the sandy stretch on sunny days — of which there are many — and a boardwalk lined with restaurants and bars winds along the beach and marina. After you’ve sufficiently gotten sun, the best thing to do is to head to one of the outdoor cafés for paella and people watching.