Every major city has its mega-headline attractions - London has Big Ben and Buckingham Palace; Paris has the Champs Elysées and the Louvre. And Barcelona has more than its fair share, with a list of must-sees that make the Catalan city one of Europe's most-visited destinations. Before you visit, get a quick round-up of everything you need to know with our guide to the top attractions in Barcelona.
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La Sagrada Familia
Gaudí's still-unfinished masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, is Barcelona's flagship landmark. The cathedral is a rare example of an attraction that justifies the much-overused tag 'iconic'. Under construction since 1882, it soars above the elegant Eixample grid network just a 30-minute walk from the Gothic Quarter. You can't miss it, and nor should you.
Queues are inevitable if you want to see inside the basilica and its adjoining museum, but lengthy opening hours (9am-8pm in summer, until 7pm out-of-season) mean you shouldn't miss out. Book yourself on a tour, but also take the time to visit swanky Passeig de Gracia - home to the international designers and jewellery merchants - and the commanding Arc de Triomf monument, a few blocks to the south.
Parc Güell and Gràcia
Winding paths, pretty mosaics and a cityscape panorama await in the Gaudí-designed Parc Güell, perched high above the rooftops on Cartmel Hill. This elevated green space in the northern suburb of Gràcia, home to the Gaudí House Museum and Dragon Stairway, is a popular haunt for musicians, artists and street traders, but it's all about the weird and wonderful sculptures and constructions that fill the place - the entire park is a remarkable work of Catalan modernist art.
Take Metro line L3 to Gràcia and head uphill any time between 8:30am and 6:30pm, but expect crowds at peak times and keep an eye on the temperatures. While you're in this artsy part of town, take note of the galleries, independent boutiques and cafe bars, and take a worthwhile detour to another Gaudí Art Nouveau masterpiece, Casa Vicens - formerly a private house and one of the first buildings Gaudí designed, and now a museum.
The Gothic Quarter
Barrio Gotico - the Gothic Quarter - is Barcelona's most-visited neighbourhood, a hotbed of cultural landmarks where the ancient and contemporary Catalan cities collide. Starting with extant sections of the Roman Fort and ancient city wall, make your way along the narrow cobbled alleys to the Cathedral of Barcelona, where guided tours are available on weekday mornings. From here, continue to Plaça de Sant Jaume to see the grand civic buildings of Casa de la Ciutat - Barcelona City Hall - (open Sundays, 10am-1:30pm) and Palau de la Generalitat, the seat of the Catalan government. With both flanks of the neighbourhood served by the Metro, there's no need to retrace your steps. Parc de la Ciutadella, home to Barcelona Zoo, is on the eastern fringe.
Coastal La Barceloneta
On a small triangle of land reclaimed from the sea, an upscale marina with retail and leisure facilities has developed close to Barcelona's sandiest beaches. The old 'fishermen's quarter' of La Barceloneta has been impressively gentrified, largely thanks to the 1992 Olympics, and there are various attractions to draw the crowds, on top of the boats, shops, bars and restaurants. Stroll down Las Ramblas to the coast (or take Metro L4 to Barceloneta) to visit the Maritime Museum, see the Columbus Monument, or take a boat trip out into the Mediterranean Sea - from here you get some of the best views of the city, with its mountain backdrop. For an even better vantage point, ride the historic Transbordador Aeri del Port cable car up Montjuic (10:30am-7pm). The Aerial Tramway operates throughout the year, but expect a bumpy ride on windy days.
Las Ramblas and El Raval
The boisterous Las Ramblas is at the centre of Barcelona's nightlife. Providing you keep your wits about you, the artery is a great start or end point when the sun goes down. On one side of the street you're in the historic, pub-laden Gothic Quarter; on the other is the gateway to colourful El Raval. This former red -light district is on an upward curve, with atmospheric bars and cultural attractions including the Museum of Contemporary Art and Gran Teatre del Liceu - the city's opera house. El Raval has a half-deserved reputation as a gritty part of town that's prone to crime. The neighbourhood does have its seedier side, but stick to the areas where bars and the life of the place are concentrated, like Carrer de Joaquin Costa, and you should avoid it. Keep your wits about you and explore in a group - particularly if safety is a concern for you - and this is a great place to experience some real grassroots nightlife.
Metro Line 3 has handy stops at Drassanes, Liceu and Parallel on the border of El Raval.
The Camp Nou
The dramatic Camp Nou, home of FC Barcelona, is Europe's largest sporting arena, with a capacity of 99,354. This is where Lionel Messi and co. weave their magic, just as many legendary teams and players have throughout the footballing ages. The ground becomes a sea of blue and red on La Liga matchdays from August to May, with near-capacity crowds guaranteed, but you can still can usually get tickets as a visiting neutral. Book in advance via the club's official site if you don't want to chance it. Seats are sold allocated individually rather than as blocks, so you might have to sit in your own, but the experience is worth this small concession.
Take Metro Linde 5 or 9 and disembark at Collblanc - it's a 10-minute walk to the ground from here.