Barcelona is the capital of Catalunya, a historical region of Spain. It’s home to over 1.6 million inhabitants, making it the second-most densely populated city in Spain, after Madrid. Some also consider it the capital of the Mediterranean, as it is the largest metropolis that borders these waters.
So, what is Barcelona known for? Barcelona is known for its exceptional soccer and the brilliant architecture of Antoni Gaudi. It’s also famous for its modern art museums, serene parks, golden shoreline, and tasty tapas.
Let’s go over the 14 things that Barcelona is known for.
1. Roman Barcelona
Barcelona was born over 2,000 years ago from the Roman colony of Barcino, founded by Emperor Augustus. Many remains of Barcino still exist in various locations of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
You can take a stroll along a Roman road called Vía Sepulcral, between tombs that mark the resting places of lower and middle-class Roman citizens.
But if you’d rather keep your distance from the deceased, then you should visit the ruins beneath Plaça del Rei that will surely transport you two millennia into the past. Or you could stare at the magnificently tall columns at the Temple of Augustus instead, in what is now Plaça de Sant Jaume.
2. Basílica de la Sagrada Família
Did you know that the second most visited church on the planet is unfinished?
The Basílica de la Sagrada Família has undoubtedly become the symbol of Barcelona. It is essentially a huge church, designed by the notorious Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. Unfortunately, he passed away before he could see his greatest masterpiece complete.
It’s said that construction will end in 2026 but I wouldn’t hold my breath… After all, it’s been over 100 years in the making.
3. The Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is the historic center of the old city of Barcelona. It encompasses the aforementioned old Roman wall and ruins, as well as plenty of medieval landmarks.
Now, don’t let the name fool you, as most of the buildings don’t actually date back to the Middle Ages! There was a massive restoration effort in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to transform the dark neighborhood to lure tourists. But the main attraction, the Gothic Cathedral, is an exception to the rule. Although it was part of the restoration plan, the cathedral is authentic to medieval times
Most of the quarter is closed to regular traffic so you’re free to stroll through the same narrow streets that were once a young Picasso’s stomping grounds.
4. Parque Güell
Parque Güell is an enormous urban park filled with beautifully landscaped gardens and peculiar architectonical elements, done by none other than the legendary Antoni Gaudí.
It was named after Eusebi Güell, a wealthy entrepreneur that was a great fan of Gaudí’s work and ended up financing the project. What was originally meant to be a luxury residential complex, later transformed into a fairytale-worthy scenery.
The park opened nearly a century ago, in 1922, and has since become one of the city’s main tourist attractions. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
Some say you can enjoy the best view of Barcelona at the highest point in the park, a hill with three crosses named Turo de Les Tres Creus, which was initially intended to be a church.
5. Casa Batlló
Casa Batlló is another masterpiece of Gaudí and a key piece of Barcelona’s modernist architecture. More than a building, the former residence of the Battló family hides an entire fantasy universe.
Its façade alone offers numerous elements to interpret and is decorated with a beautiful ceramic mosaic of golden orange and ocean blue. From top to bottom, you’ll find more wonders than you can count, as even the roof of the building is reminiscent of the back of a great reptile.
Located right in the heart of the city, Casa Batlló is one of the most visited and well-rated tourist places in Barcelona.
6. Mediterranean beaches
Barcelona is famous for its several beaches of white sand and crystal clear waters, all perfectly equipped with restaurants, bars, volleyball courts, and anything you might need on your beach trip.
The most famous beach in Barcelona is Barceloneta. It’s easily accessible by public transport which makes it one of the foreign tourists’ favorites, also welcoming young locals who enjoy beach and water sports.
7. Museo Picasso
With a collection of over 3,500 pieces, the Picasso Museum of Barcelona contains the most complete collection in the world of Picasso’s early work. It is the best reference point for the artist’s formative years.
Like mentioned before, Picasso spent a great part of his youth in Barcelona. The city sort of became his muse, which is why the painter himself decided to gift it this eternal souvenir, instead of his hometown of Malaga.
8. La Pedrera
Another of Gaudí’s works, La Pedrera is so named after its stony appearance.
The most peculiar part of La Pedrera is the rooftop, where you’ll discover the vents and chimneys are shaped like petrified warriors. There, you can also appreciate a spectacular view of the center of Barcelona from above.
9. Port Olímpic Barcelona
Built for the 1992 Olympic Games, the Olympic Port of Barcelona is one of the most recognized leisure harbors on the Mediterranean coast. It is also one of the city’s main touristic points.
It’s located in front of the Olympic Village, nestled between the beaches of Somorrostro and Nova Icària.
There’s plenty to do here: you can take a pleasant walk at any time of the day, enjoy its vibrant nightlife or even just go shopping at the Marina Village mall.
10. Parc de la Ciutadella
Built on the grounds of the ancient fortress of the city, Parc de la Ciutadella is one of the main lungs of the city and an oasis away from traffic and stress. This magnificent park was built for the Barcelona Universal Exhibition of 1888 and Antoni Gaudí himself collaborated on the project.
The most remarkable element of the park might be the stunning cascade formed by an enormous monumental set and Castillo de Los Tres Dragones (Three Dragon Castle), which is the current Museum of Zoology.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, with the arrival of many Andalusians to the city, live flamenco shows blossomed all across Barcelona. Currently, this city is considered the third capital of flamenco in Spain, surpassed only by Andalusia and Madrid.
You might have heard of Rosalía, a Barcelona native singer-songwriter known for her contemporary interpretations of flamenco music which received international attention and praise.
Great flamenco shows can be seen at the Palacio del Flamenco (the largest flamenco theatre in the city) or at the Palau de la Música Catalana (a spectacular modernist auditorium declared World Heritage Site). You may also enjoy a show at one of the many restaurants that have a flamenco stage, like Tablao Cordobés or Tablao de Carmen.
12. Escalivada & Fideuá
Surely you’ve heard of tapas, the popular appetizers of Spanish cuisine, but you might want to write down a few of these suggestions of what to eat in Barcelona.
Escalivada is a healthy, typically catalán delight. It’s made with roasted red pepper, aubergine and onions, seasoned with olive oil and garlic. It may be served on a nice piece of toasted bread (greased with olive oil, of course) or as a side to a meat or fish main.
Fideuá is a great pasta alternative to the notorious paella. The rice is swapped for a spaghetti-like pasta and it’s accompanied by a lovely aioli sauce that enriches the seafood elements.
Lastly, I’d recommend the queen of catalán desserts: Crema Catalana. It’s a cream made with milk, egg yolks, sugar, starch, lemon zest, and cinnamon. The final touch is a crunchy caramel surface, made out of torched sugar.
13. FC Barcelona
Barcelona is famous for its hometown soccer club FC Barcelona, also known as Barça. Locals are extremely passionate about the sport and competition, just like you would expect from other major European cities.
Founded in 1899, the club has since become a symbol for the region and has seen some of soccer’s greats wear its colors, like Argentinians Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi or Brazilian Romario.
If you happen to be in town during soccer season, try to get your hand on tickets and experience the thrill of this sport at Camp Nou Stadium.
14. Great souvenirs
At the end of your trip, you might want to shop for souvenirs, either for yourself or your loved ones back home. For magnets, ceramics, keychains, and all those other souvenir staples, you’ll surely come across plenty of small shops in tourist areas.
If what you seek is a unique item, you should consider visiting Carrer de la Princessa e Carrer de l’Argenteria, with its trendy fashion boutiques and exclusive shops, located in the Born neighborhood. If you’d rather bring back an edible gift or an old book, Antoni Market is known as the meeting point for collectors and will surely not let you down.
It’s hard to resist the enchantments of beautiful Barcelona. It’s a place where the sea meets the city and the architecture, history, culture, art, nightlife, and music will provide you with more than enough to explore.
Now that you know what Barcelona is known for, it’s time to plan your trip!