Barcelona is one of the cultural hubs of Spain, full of fantastic art, architecture, music, and history.
You can wander the streets of the central city and marvel at Gaudi’s unusual architecture, shop on the famous La Rambla avenue, or stop for churros and hot chocolate at one of the many street cafes.
It’s easy to forget the dark days of the city. The military uprising in July 1936 helped start the Spanish Civil War. A series of air strikes in March 1938 killed almost 1,300 people. And you can see Catalan independence flags throughout the city. The artistic and cultural side of the city masks these wounds, though they’re never far from the surface.
If you’re a culture fiend, you’ve got no shortage of galleries and museums to choose from. But with so many options, it’s hard to plan a visit. To get started, here are nine amazing cultural destinations for your list. They’re great for art lovers, chocolate fans, and even dark tourists.
1) Chocolate Museum
We often think of Belgium or Switzerland when we talk about chocolate. But a chocolate museum in Barcelona makes sense. Cocoa beans first entered Europe via Spain in the 15th century.
The Barcelona Confectionery Guild set up the Chocolate Museum in a former convent. It tells the history of chocolate through intricate chocolate sculptures. Among others, see a Sagrada Familia, a Pieta, and a Komodo Dragon – all made from chocolate.
The museum also displays retro advertisements for chocolate. Enjoy the trip back through time while you eat your complimentary chocolate bar. Or try your hand at one of the pastry workshops.
2) Fundació Joan Miró
Head up to Parc de Montjuïc to find the museum dedicated to the art of Joan Miró. The Fundació Joan Miró opened in 1975 to celebrate both the artist and wider contemporary art. Architect Josep Lluís Sert designed the center and is worth seeing if you’re an architecture fan. The building creates a conversation between the artworks and the gallery itself.
Inside, the museum houses over 14,000 works by Miró. They include ceramics, textiles, paintings, sculptures, and drawings. It’s a testament to how diverse his output was.
The building also houses the Joaquim Gomis Archive. It holds 70,000 documents which provide a tantalizing peek into Miró’s artistic process.
The museum also runs temporary exhibitions to celebrate other artists. The program includes filmmakers and photographers, as well as fine artists.
3) Picasso Museum
You couldn’t come to Barcelona and not visit the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso was so prolific that the museum now spans five adjoining palaces. Two of them hold temporary exhibitions which explore themes in his work.
The museum opened in 1963 and was the first to promote Picasso’s work. Don’t expect an overview of his whole career. Instead, the 4,251 works record two major periods in his life. The first is his time at the La Llotja art school. The second is his time spent among the avant-garde of Catalonia at the turn of the century.
You won’t see Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) or his other ‘greatest hits’. But you can enjoy his series of 58 paintings inspired by Las Meninas by Velázquez.
Perhaps his painting, Absinthe Drinker (1901), was inspired by Barcelona bars where you can still buy the powerful spirit.
Even now, Picasso is a popular artist. Avoid the queues by buying tickets online before you go.
4) European Museum of Modern Art
If you’re visiting the Picasso Museum, head to the next street for the European Museum of Modern Art (or MEAM). This less well-known gallery is on a mission – its ‘about’ page is a manifesto in favor of a new concept for contemporary art.
MEAM celebrates figurative sculpture and painting from the 20th and 21st century. Their mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions celebrates a diverse range of artists.
Past shows covered Catalan sculpture, ivory, and contemporary realism. The museum also offers courses and workshops for those who want to make art themselves.
5) Museu Frederic Marès
Spanish sculptor Frederic Marès collected pretty much anything he found fascinating. He set up the Museu Frederic Marès as more of a cabinet of curiosities than a museum.
It opened in 1948 in the Gothic Quarter, in a former royal palace. The courtyard garden is an original feature and an oasis of calm in the hectic city.
One exhibit focuses on medieval Spanish sculptures. Elsewhere, the collection of household items forms a record of daily life in Spain. See a dazzling array of jewelry, pocket watches, keys and pharmacy bottles. You can even find examples of embroidery made using human hair!
A former textile factory now houses a contemporary art space. Built in 1911, Fundació La Caixa restored it after years of neglect. The space reopened in 2002, preserving much of its original terraces.
It now holds over 800 artworks, including contemporary painting and photography. Past exhibitions explored the Assyrian Empire and the work of Max Beckmann. CaixaForum Barcelona also offers conferences, debates, concerts, and tours of its exhibitions.
Head up to the terrace on your own or on a tour. You’ll get amazing views of the building, and the Montjuïc mountain in the distance.
7) Museu del Rei de la Màgia
If you’re interested in 19th-century stage magic, then the Museu del Rei de la Màgia is the place for you.
The Rei de la Màgia is a legendary magic shop a few doors away. Founded in 1881, its goal was to make magic accessible to more people. The museum displays some of its historic items, like conjuring tricks, books, and posters.
If you buy a trick from the shop, they’ll also show you how to work it. You can watch a magic show at the museum. Or do a workshop to learn tricks yourself.
8) Funeral Hearse Museum
We can often learn a lot about a period by exploring how people treated their dead. The Funeral Hearse Museum covers the late 19th to the early 20th century.
This museum dates to 1970 and displays thirteen horse-drawn hearses. Many carriages look less like hearses and more like something from a Cinderella story.
The display also includes six carriages to escort the family to the cemetery. Plenty of mortality symbols adorn the carriages, like hourglasses, angels, and owls. It’s an eerie place to visit but strangely calming.
You’ll find the museum inside the Montjuïc Cemetery, which is also worth a visit. It’s only open between 10 am and 2 pm at the weekend.
9) Anything by Gaudí
This is a bit of a cheat but the whole of Barcelona feels like a gallery for Antoni Gaudí. An obvious destination is the Sagrada Família church. Its beautiful stained-glass windows and forest of stone pillars are a real treat.
Head to Casa Vicens for Gaudí’s first house. Commissioned by a stockbroker, construction work finished in 1888. It’s a heady blend of neoclassical and oriental architecture. Now a museum, its restored interior features a collection of Gaudí furniture. Many consider the house to be Gaudí’s architectural manifesto.
Casa Batlló, also known as the House of Bones, was a redesign project for Gaudí. He overhauled both the facade and the interior to create one of his most famous projects.
The house looks like he’s put the skeleton on the outside, with its bone shapes and skull-like balconies. It’s topped with a scaly, spine-like roof and the roof terrace now hosts music performances. Inside, the corridors feel like you’re walking through the internal organs of a strange beast.
Visit Park Güell to enjoy strolling among Gaudí’s sculptures. Or visit Casa Mila, known as La Pedrera since it looks like an open quarry. The apartment building was Gaudí’s last work, finished in 1912.
Many places in Barcelona tip their hat to Gaudí’s exuberant influence. His colorful style best expresses the character of this vibrant and passionate city.
If you’re interested in Barcelona, Why not check out 14 more weird and wonderful places to see in Spain?
If you’d like to read a thriller that opens at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona continues in a fast-paced adventure through Spain, check out Gates of Hell by J.F.Penn.