From architecture to contemporary art, Barcelona bursts at the seams with artistic excellence. For culture vultures, it’s an absolute dream but with so many sites to see, narrowing down what to prioritise can be an issue if you’re short on time. Here’s the best Barcelona cultural landmarks to check out and spoiler: there’s a lot of Gaudi.
This otherworldly structure on Passeig de Gracia is one of the most photographed buildings in Barcelona – and with good reason. Widely regarded as the famed architect Gaudi’s best work, this skeletal home has been described as a dragon with its undulating spinal roof and it only gets better inside with its gorgeous modernist detailing. Unsurprisingly, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site – so there’s one off the bucket list.
There’s no describing the chills you get when walking into Sant Pau’s main courtyard, which is lined with Art Nouveau buildings straight out of another century. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s always filled with tourists keen to drink in its grandeur and there’s lots to see. From exhibitions at the Sant Salvador Pavilion to its mysterious underground tunnels, it’s easy to spend an entire afternoon here before you’ve even realised it.
Venture out to CaixaForum, a former textile factory which has since been given a second lease on life as one of Barcelona’s most exciting artistic venues. It houses both permanent and temporary art collections with the likes of Dali, Goya, Delacroix and Lucien Freud gracing its walls. Beyond that, the building itself has been named a Historical Monument of Interest and remains significant to Catalan creativity today.
This unique UNESCO World Heritage Site is an architectural marvel and – you guessed it – another one of Gaudi’s creations. Its name translates to ‘the stone quarry’ and is true to the architect’s distinctive style with undulating walls, attention-grabbing chimneys and a breathtaking roof terrace covered in ceramic and glass mosaics (which doubles as a great place to see the city from). Due to the ambitious nature of the building, Gaudi actually had to design all of its furniture and they’re all preserved beautifully to this day.
As the champion of Catalan culture, it’s no surprise that Gaudi’s crypt is as superb as his vast architectural portfolio. Designed by Gaudi on commission by Eusebio Guell, Guell gave him no limitations on the project and Gaudi ran with it – as only Gaudi could. He blended together his life’s work of architectural styles to create the masterpiece which he said should have rivalled La Sagrada Familia had it been finished. It has been designated a Heritage of Cultural Interest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since.
Only a few people have had the luck to grace this art nouveau building’s halls, as it was only reopened to the public last year after an entire century. With stained glass windows, paintings and an amazing facade, there’s an entire rooftop exhibition dedicated to the Catalan architect Puig i Cadafalch who designed the structure (as well as those who lent him a hand). You’ll be able to spot it easily from a distance, tip: it’s the building that looks like a little spiky castle.
The likes of Pavarotti and Domingo have filled this historical opera house with the sheer power of their voices and thousands of culture vultures have poured over in nearly 200 years, filling its crimson seats. Designed by Miquel Garriga i Roca, the Renaissance style theatre is a feast for the senses with its gilded horseshoe theatre and sparkling mirror hall. Luckily, they offer a free guided tour if you’ve got a Barcelona Pass and you’ll be taken behind the scenes of the working theatre.
Looking for a place to sightsee, drink and be merry? Poble Espanyol is your best bet for a cultural afternoon. This tightly packed area is a mish-mash of independent boutiques, museums, restaurants and workshops perfect for poking your head in. If you’re an architecture buff, the Architectural Museum is a must-visit while contemporary art lovers should head to the Fran Daurel Museum for their fill. Don’t forget check out the sculptural garden before grabbing a souvenir and a bite at one of the nearby establishments.
Forget Madame Tussaud’s – Museu de Cera de Barcelona is Catalonia’s own take on wax museums and they do it pretty well. Like the famed chain, this neoclassical museum displays lifelike wax figures and has a collection of over three hundred. Say hi to Salvador Dali with his iconic twirled moustache and witness the beauty of Cleopatra up close.
Even though it’s not technically done, Gaudi’s final work is an iconic feature of Barcelona’s skyline and attracts thousands of tourists every year. This breathtaking place of worship is true to Gaudi’s signature surreal yet organic style, with coral-like towers reaching up to the sky and a new marvel around every corner. While it’s still technically under construction, visitors are allowed to step into its halls and explore the architectural masterpiece.