Barcelona's Natural Science Museum is spread across three sites. Tucked away in Ciutadella Park, the modernist 'Castle of Three Dragons' houses the Nature Laboratory's geology and paleontology collections. The sprawling Botanical Gardens are dedicated to the conservation of Mediterranean flora. The Blau Museum, a 9,000 square meter architectural marvel, offers temporary exhibitions, interactive learning and a full-sized whale skeleton.
Located 50 kilometers outside of Barcelona, the mountain of Montserrat looms more than 1,000 meters above sea level and is Catalonia's highest peak. It is a symbol of the region's geographical diversity and harbors a Benedictine monastery that thousands of people visit every day to soak in the dramatic vistas and pray to the Virgin of Montserrat.
Collserola Natural Park spans some 8,000 hectares of protected land, with untamed forests and a number of dusty trails and tracks. The Carretera de les Aigües is the most popular route. Tracing the contours of the mountains for 10 kilometers, it offers sweeping views over Barcelona and pleasantly flat conditions that make it popular among hikers, runners and cyclists.
The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau was designed by Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built between 1901 and 1930. Surprisingly, it functioned as a hospital up until 2009. Combined, its ornate façades, landscaped gardens and domed pavilions are celebrated as one of the world's largest examples of Catalan modernism. It was listed by UNESCO in 1997.
Housed in the ornate Neo-Baroque Palau Nacional, at the foot of the Montjuïc mountain, the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is Barcelona's largest and most impressive museum. The exhibitions include the largest collection of Catalan art from the 19th century, as well as the world's largest collection of Roman frescoes.
Off the Beaten Path
Sala Hiroshima is celebrated as Barcelona's most innovative performing arts space. Supporting emerging contemporary artists, exhibitions provide multidisciplinary experiences and focus on small to medium format projects in the fields of dance, new circus, live music and contemporary thinking. There are also workshops for those looking to acquire new artistic skills.
Most Iconic Place
The famously unfinished church of La Sagrada Familia is Spain's most visited landmark and is the unofficial symbol of Barcelona. Local architect Antoni Gaudí drew on Gothic and nature-inspired Art Nouveau design concepts to create what is unquestionably one of the world's most singular religious sites. Invest in a skip-the-line ticket to avoid the lines to get inside.
Tucked away just off the main thoroughfare of Las Ramblas, Plaça Reial (Royal Square) is packed with an eclectic array of restaurants, bars, music venues and nightclubs. Follow the crowds to find the wildest fiestas or dart through the portals that lead into the warren of the Gothic Quarter to seek out cozy cocktail bars and clandestine watering holes.
Neighborhood to Explore
Historically known as Barcelona's red-light district, the Raval barrio was once an area to steer clear of. Today however, after significant investment, it is Barcelona's leading hub of contemporary culture. Take a mind-expanding tour of the MACBA museum of contemporary art and explore the independent boutiques and ethnic eateries that have been drawn here by the more affordable rental prices.
Over the last few years, the leafy residential neighborhood of Sant Antoni has morphed into one of Barcelona's hippest foodie hubs. Bar-lined Carrer de Parlament reached legendary status seemingly overnight. This reputation has been further galvanized by the reopening of the historic Sant Antoni Market, which, after a makeover, is undeniably the most beautiful of Barcelona's many markets.