Barcelona is a beautiful and mysterious city, unlike any other in Spain, and known for its stunning architecture – made up of Gothic spikes and ultra-modern curves. It’s a great city to explore during a day in port or before you take off on one of the many Mediterranean cruises from Barcelona.
To properly get to know Barcelona before or after your cruise, it helps to understand the many distinct neighborhoods and districts of this complexly gorgeous city. The old city, or Ciutat Vella, is where you’ll find the heart of the city – museums, cafes, shopping, and more. Port Vell, the area of the city that houses the industrial port (not far from the Barcelona cruise terminal port), is where you’ll find restaurants, bars, an IMAX theater, and the largest aquarium in Europe. Venture to the Gothic Quarter, or Barri Gotic, to see the best of Barcelona’s Gothic architecture along with narrow streets, mystical corridors, old city cafes, and more.
Although the city is quite large, the different neighborhoods and districts are actually not far from each other and are easily accessible by walking, bus, or the city’s easy-to-use metro system.
One major must-see for anyone taking a cruise from Barcelona with time to spare is a stroll down Las Ramblas – the pedestrian walkway in the heart of the city that will take you past restaurants, bars, shopping highlights, souvenirs, street performers, vendors, and an old, historic opera house.
Barcelona’s most iconic monument and an absolute must-see for any visitor is the world-renowned La Sagrada Familia – envisioned and created by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. As a religious man, Gaudi devoted a large part of his life to this majestic, towering cathedral and unfortunately died before its completion.
Still unfinished today, the work is projected to be completed by 2026 – an entire century after Gaudi’s death. The sheer size of its majestic towers and the immaculate detail displayed on every square inch of the cathedral and basilica – both indoors and outdoors – is unparalleled.
La Sagrada Familia was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, and Pope Benedict XVI consecrated the basilica in November of 2010.
Barcelona Cathedral, a dramatic example of the Gothic architectural style for which Barcelona is well known, was begun in 1298 but wasn’t completed until the late 19th century.
Santa Maria del Mar took about 50 years to complete and has an exterior that is quite simple, by comparison. Known as the “people’s church,” portions of the façade of this elegant cathedral sustained irreparable damage during the Spanish Civil War.
In 1905, Pere Mila and his wife Roser Segimon purchased a plot of land measuring over 1,800 square meters, and commissioned Gaudi to build a new property for them. This gigantic structure – often the ridicule of their peers and contemporaries – became their home with attached apartments that the couple would rent for profit. Casa Mila became known as La Pedrera (“the stone quarry”) because its façade seemed nothing like a mansion, but more of a strange stone monstrosity to locals.
Casa Mila was declared an UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984 and was restored and reopened to the public in 1996.
In 1904, Josep Batlló commissioned Gaudi to build this stunning dreamlike structure. Tiny details will astound you and the surprising dragon-shaped roof makes Casa Batlló impossible to miss during your visit to Barcelona.
The imaginative design was inspired by both the ocean waves and dragons, this house stands out – even among the ornately-decorated homes that line the Passeig de Gracia. Tour the grounds using an interactive video guide that accompanies your audio tour, showing you in virtual reality form what the different spaces looked like long ago.
Hidden away in a small medieval-style courtyard in the Gothic Quarter are four Corinthian columns – the only standing remnants from the Roman temple dedicated to Emperor Caesar Augustus. A gem from the past and one of Barcelona’s surprising secrets, this is a sight worth seeing for all history buffs.
A unique window into the heavy war history of this city, this tunnel is only one of over 1,000 built to shelter residents from bomb raids, shrapnel, and debris during the Spanish Civil War. Open to the public every Sunday – and by appointment on weekdays – the tunnel and wartime infirmary showcases this fascinating and significant time period.
Montserrat – or “the Serrated Mountain” is more than 4,000 feet high and is the breathtaking setting for a working monastery that is still home today for a group of Benedictine monks. Originally opened in 1592, the monastery still holds afternoon mass every day, consisting of a short prayer recited in several languages. If you happen to be there at the right time on the right day, you might even have the opportunity to hear the male choir singing Virolai, the hymn of Montserrat.
In addition to the monastery grounds, the highlights of this amazing place include the basilica, where the Black Madonna is housed. There are also shops, cafes, and breathtaking hiking trails for miles in most directions.
The famous pedestrian walkway known as Las Ramblas is nearly a mile long and is one of the city’s major thoroughfares, leading from just across from the Barcelona cruise terminal port to Plaza de Catalunya in the center of old Barcelona.
As you stroll, you’ll pass restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, street performers, street food vendors, and a famous food market called Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (or simply “la Boqueria”). Also along Las Ramblas, you’ll pass Barcelona’s famous circa-1848 opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu – an iconic landmark and wonderful photo opportunity. If you stroll the entire length of Las Ramblas, you’ll end up in Plaza de Catalunya, an enormous square with fountains, street vendors, a small park, and plenty of photo-worthy sights.
Every sports enthusiast will be thrilled to visit the city of Barcelona for its many sports stadiums, whether you’re exploring before or after a cruise from Barcelona. The Olympic Stadium was actually built before the Olympics existed, but it was remodeled for their start in 1992. Soccer fans can visit Camp Nou Stadium, home of FC Barcelona (or ‘Barca’ as the locals call them). Camp Nou holds nearly 99,000 fans and is Europe’s largest stadium; it’s even capable of hosting Champions League finals. Arrange for a tour of the stadium and see everything from the team’s changing rooms to the tunnel, to the press area and more.
Park Güell is yet another stunning representation of Gaudi’s unique design and vision. In 1900, a rich count purchased a huge plot of land and designated it to be a ‘garden city’ for the city’s wealthiest patrons. Gaudi’s design of the park and homes inside the garden city proved to be too elaborate for their time, and the project was unfortunately abandoned in 1914 – yet another testament to Gaudi’s visionary creativity. The two houses and park grounds make up a magical place that will sweep you away as it showcases some of Barcelona’s famous sights and symbols.
Once a quaint little fishing village, this highly sought-after area is now an adorable beachfront neighborhood with brightly colored houses and a charming little beach that faces the Mediterranean Sea. If you continue to follow the waterfront, you eventually reach Port Olimpic with its bars, cafes, and small shops. Even further is Port Vell, where you’ll find an IMAX theater and a large shopping mall. Stop in the Casino de Barcelona to try your luck or enjoy a floor show.
In 1963, this museum was founded in order to display the greatest works of one of the world’s most renowned painters of all time: Pablo Picasso. The museum is situated within several large medieval stone mansions on a long, narrow street – setting the scene perfectly to match Picasso’s style. Although he was born in Malaga, Pablo Picasso spent most of his life in Barcelona, so the museum’s location is fitting. Today, you can stroll through the massive collection of over 3,000 of his paintings and sketches that date anywhere from 1890 to the 1950s.
Motorbike aficionados will flock to the Museu Moto, or Motorcycle Museum, located in the popular Gothic Quarter. In Spain today, Barcelona is the city with the highest number of motorbikes per capita – at one time hosting around 150 different motorcycle manufacturers – and this museum showcases the city’s love affair with motored two-wheel vehicles. Inside, you’ll find the history of some of the first motorcycles, including a chronological display of the Catalan motorcycle and its many transformations from 1905 to present day.
Stroll through a collection of colorful and imaginative works influenced by fauvists, expressionists, and cubists combined. Joan Miro’s work is beautiful and worth seeing again and again for anyone visiting Barcelona.
Barcelona’s oldest park, the Horta Labyrinth Park is a little-known highlight, loved by locals and tourists alike. To preserve the peaceful ambiance, only 750 people are allowed entry each day, and visitors are asked not to linger in the park for more than one hour to allow others to enjoy its beauty.
Therefore, this is a great activity for those who do not have much time to dedicate to sightseeing but want to do something outdoors. Stroll through the park’s maze, gorgeous gardens, fountains, statues and more. The price of admittance is typically about 2 euros per person, making it an affordable thing to do as well.
One of the most well known districts in all of Europe is Barcelona’s well-defined and fascinatingly unique Barri Gotic, or ‘Gothic Quarter.’ Mystical and strange, yet beautiful and cleverly unique, the architecture of Barcelona’s stunning Gothic Quarter is a must-visit highlight. The 13th-century architecture that defines this area has a mystical old Europe feel and the streets are winding and narrow, like corridors running through the city. While visiting the Gothic Quarter, be sure to spend some time in El Born – the trendier neighborhood known for its hip galleries, shops, restaurants, bars, and small cafes.
Discover the parks and museums of Montjuïc – the hill between the city and the sea. Stroll through rolling greens or enjoy the shaded spots during the heat of summer.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants, bars, cafes, and street food vendors along Las Ramblas. However, if you prefer to taste the truly authentic Catalan and Spanish-style cuisine on your Barcelona cruise, it is worth taking a stroll down the backstreets to discover the hidden culinary gems of this city.
Boqueria Food Market
More than just a fresh produce market, this world-renowned attraction plays host to many bar-style restaurants serving freshly prepared local cuisine in a lively setting.
Owned by Pep, one of the friendliest locals you’ll meet, Cal Pep is one of Barcelona’s best-known spots for tapas.
Local specialty dishes are the main draw of Can Culleretes, one of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona.
Famous for its caracoles – or snails – Los Caracoles is another of the oldest restaurants in Barcelona, and it is also unique for its outside stone rotisserie.
Bars in Barcelona
Barcelona is known as a city where you can find tapas bars, patios and terraces, cafes, and even chocolate bars. While in Barcelona, you can find typical craft beer establishments, ‘whiskerias,’ cocktail bars, Xampanyerias (where you can taste Catalan Cava), as well as the Catalan classic ‘vermuteria’ where you can try vermut, a local favorite.
Nightclubs in Barcelona
Barcelona’s nightlife, as in most European cities, starts late and goes all night. Most locals gather first for a late tapas dinner and drinks with friends, which could easily extend past 1 a.m. Afterward is when the true nightlife begins. In the city and surrounding area, there is no shortage of options for nightclubs, dance clubs, discotheques, lounges, wineries, breweries, and even dive bars.
The earliest settlement date of Barcelona is not exact, but ruins of early settlements, including tombs and early dwellings dating as early as 5000 BC or earlier, have been found. There are two legends that describe the story of Barcelona’s founding – one attributing the city’s foundation to the mythological demi-god Hercules and the other that states that Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, Hannibal’s father, founded the city in the 3rd century BC and named it Barcino after his family’s lineage.
Although there is no historical evidence of Hamilcar Barca’s founding of the city, it is known that the city was conquered and inhabited by the Visigoths in the early 5th century, transforming it into the capital of all Hispania for a few years. It was again conquered in 801 by Charlemagne’s son Louis, who announced the city as the new seat of the Carolingian ‘Hispanic March’ – a buffer zone that was controlled at the time by the Count of Barcelona.
Barcelona became a hub for Catalan Separatism during the Catalan Revolt of 1640 to 1652 against Philip IV of Spain. From 1650 to 1654, a great plague wreaked havoc on the entire area and effectively cut the population in half. During the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona continued to thrive as the second largest city in Spain, in the center of a region that remained relatively prosperous in spite of the devastation of war across the country. As a result, the poorer, less prosperous areas of Spain began a large-scale immigration into Barcelona and the surrounding area, leading to a rapid rise in urbanization.
In recent history, the Summer Olympics came to Barcelona in 1992. Up to that point the city had been primarily industrial. To prepare for the games and the massive crowds that would accompany them, many industrial buildings and businesses that lined the waterfront in Barcelona were demolished to make room for a two-mile beach for tourists to enjoy. New builds and construction projects popped up all around the city, resulting in a 17% increase in road capacity, 27% increase in sewage capacity, and most impressively, a 78% increase in the number of beaches, parks, and nature-centered areas city-wide. Additionally, Barcelona saw a doubling in the number of available hotel rooms between 1990 and 2004. All these changes and improvements to city life – both for locals and tourists alike – resulted in bumping Barcelona up to 12th on the list of most popular city destinations in the world in 2012 (and 5th among cities in Europe).
Barcelona’s port has nine total terminals – seven of which are cruise terminals that serve as ports of call for visiting ships as well as cruises from Barcelona since it’s a popular departure port. The largest cruise ships typically dock in the primary two piers. From the Barcelona cruise port, if you choose to walk to Las Ramblas, your walk will be through very pretty parts of the city, but not short.
You can opt to take the Blue Bus shuttle service that runs between the port terminals and the famous Christopher Columbus monument that rests at the foot of Las Ramblas. The other option is to travel by taxi.
Port Terminal to Las Ramblas: Take shuttle bus T3 PORTBUS, known locally as the "Blue Bus."
Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour: If you don’t have a lot of time to explore the city and want to see as much as possible in a short period of time, a good option is to take the Hop-On, Hop-Off Tour around the city. The tour picks up and drops off in two places conveniently located near the cruise terminals.
Taxi: A taxi ride from the port to the city center is quick and not too expensive, taking only about 10 minutes.
The street stalls, vendors, and small shops that line Las Ramblas are an excellent place to find inexpensive souvenirs, such as FC Barcelona football memorabilia and small trinkets that will easily fit in your suitcase.
Other great options for take-home treasures are leather bags and shoes, as well as hand-crafted ceramics or lacework made by local artists.
In Barcelona, as in most European cities, the currency is the euro. You won’t have any trouble finding ATMs throughout the city, especially in heavily populated areas like Las Ramblas, the Gothic Quarter, etc. Should you need currency exchange services, you will find these in the airport, most major banks, and in currency exchange offices on Las Ramblas. The exchange offices are typically open for later hours than banks, but you will receive a better exchange rate at most banks.